Rolling stone: how are you shaped by the places you’ve been?

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in American culture,ANASTASIA ASHMAN,culture,identity,society

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By ANASTASIA ASHMAN

I’d been on the move for a decade when I reviewed Pico Iyer’s Tropical Classical for the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asia’s pioneering newsweekly magazine closed by its owner Dow Jones in 2009.

…first I’d escaped the radical provincialism of my hometown by shipping off to a ruggedly urbane college; traded suburban Philly rhythms for the pulse of Manhattan; sought relief from the big-city crush by moving to big-sky LA, and finally enticed to boomtown Asia. As one person put it, “taking the geographical cure.”

Iyer’s a travel writer, Third Culture Kid and global nomad, an ethnic Indian raised in California, settled in Japan. He reasoned in his 1997 collection of essays about society, culture and the human spirit that if nowhere in the world is home, all the world is home.

The happy syllogism — or is it rootless predicament? — resonated with me as I jockeyed for a foothold in Asia. I wondered if my acclimation was helped or hindered by a progressive Western upbringing laced by traditional Eastern influences: Kodokan judo instructors, Asian-American summer camps, ‘Asian-cluster’ classrooms. I knew far too much about the East to ignore it for my Western convenience but that didn’t make me Asian.

A decade later PEN American Center’s World Voices festival of international literature asked panelists (Iyer among the writers-in-exile) “How do we define the places we live and how do they define us?”

Where I’ve lived has made the world more accessible but leaves me craving opposing aspects of other places and other mes. New York, California. East, West. Country, cosmopolis. Even though 2009 marks the longest I’ve stayed in one spot for 20 years Istanbul won’t remain my base forever.

How have the places you’ve lived defined you, and shaped your idea of home? Do you feel at home now?
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Anastasia Ashman is a California-born writer/producer of neoculture entertainment based in Istanbul. This series covers what’s crossing the mind and desk of expat+HAREM’s founder.
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  • SM Reidy

    Growing up, my parents always had long-term guests: college and advanced-degree students from different countries. We had students from India, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Japan and Nigeria, just to name a few. I learned, very early on, that we’re part of a much larger world. Home for me simply means the place where the people that I care about have lived and do live and gather. That includes all the wonderful students and their own homes that made up my childhood. Happily, we continue this and have had different people living with us. I love to learn about (and, perhaps in the future, see!) different ways of living around the world.

    • http://about.me/anastasia.ashman Anastasia

      That’s a great way to perceive home, Sarah, in constant flux of people, time and place — as well as living styles and conditions. Good to see you here…. (everyone: Sarah kindly hosted an Expat Harem book tour event, a brown bag lunch near Dupont Circle, in Washington DC!!)

    • Anonymous

      I like your definition of home Sarah. I can relate to it. For me too, home is not so much a place as it is people.

  • http://www.dimackey.com/blog Di

    Loved this.  I’ve enjoyed Pico’s words too, and wondered about that place called ‘home’.  I’m always looking for a sense of ‘home’ and yet, when I stop and consider that idea, I realise I left home 9 years ago.  I recently wondered if I want to go back in time, rather than back to a place. 

    • http://about.me/anastasia.ashman Anastasia

      Yes Di! The place is different. The people are different. You are different. So there is no ‘going back.’

      By the way, Catherine Yigit wrote about this sensation of missing an atmosphere that no longer exists –> “Same river, never twice” http://www.expatharem.com/2009/12/14/same-river-never-twice/

    • Anonymous

      I read an interview of Cat Stevens once where he said half of life is leaving home and the other half is coming back to it. The last time I visited my hometown I had this feeling that I was always in the wrong place – my husband was back in Istanbul, I was in California, but no matter where I was, I felt like I should be with my mother, my sister, my grandmother … finally I sensed that my center-of-gravity was smack dab in the middle of my own being so that wherever I was was the right place. Wherever I was was home. What an interesting observation – about going back to a time, rather than to a place. Kind of like going back to a feeling.

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  • http://www.retaggr.com/Card/AnastasiaAshman Anastasia M. Ashman

    I think it’s especially hard, Tara, to try to fit into a new life that already exists (seemingly complete) than to adjust to a variety of changed circumstances while maintaining your own life foremost.

    How one approaches this issue is certainly the main struggle of expatriatism — and marriage, for that matter. Managing the combination, at the same time, is a lot to ask!

    As for the phenomenon of being a rolling stone accused of “taking the geographical cure”, this week longterm traveller NomadicMatt blogs about being told he’s running away from life (rather than toward a life he wants). http://tr.im/CSeI

  • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

    I think it’s especially hard, Tara, to try to fit into a new life that already exists (seemingly complete) than to adjust to a variety of changed circumstances while maintaining your own life foremost.

    How one approaches this issue is certainly the main struggle of expatriatism — and marriage, for that matter. Managing the combination, at the same time, is a lot to ask!

    As for the phenomenon of being a rolling stone accused of “taking the geographical cure”, this week longterm traveller NomadicMatt blogs about being told he’s running away from life (rather than toward a life he wants). http://tr.im/CSeI

  • http://www.taralutmanagacayak.blogspot.com Tara

    When I first moved to Turkey (reluctantly, but by choice) I struggled because the home I moved into was where my husband lived before we were married (including all his bachelor furniture and other such items). It didn’t reflect me at all and along with adjusting to a new culture where I felt so out of place, the home where we lived did nothing to soften that transition.

    And then one day I decided that if I didn’t change my attitude life was going to remain pretty miserable, so I decided to be happy where I was and bloom regardless of the circumstances.

    I agree with Karen – that home is where my heart is. And it’s not just a place but a decision.

  • http://www.taralutmanagacayak.blogspot.com Tara

    When I first moved to Turkey (reluctantly, but by choice) I struggled because the home I moved into was where my husband lived before we were married (including all his bachelor furniture and other such items). It didn’t reflect me at all and along with adjusting to a new culture where I felt so out of place, the home where we lived did nothing to soften that transition.

    And then one day I decided that if I didn’t change my attitude life was going to remain pretty miserable, so I decided to be happy where I was and bloom regardless of the circumstances.

    I agree with Karen – that home is where my heart is. And it’s not just a place but a decision.

    • Judy Rickatson

      There’s a quote I’ve heard Ruth Van Reken make several times in connection with what you’re describing, Tara, “unpack your bags and plant your trees.”  Making a conscious decision that a new location is home (however temporary it might be) has a huge impact on your adjustment.    Just love “And it’s not just a place but a decision” – that’s a keeper!

  • http://www.retaggr.com/Card/AnastasiaAshman Anastasia M. Ashman

    Lon, Robin, Robin, Karen, Emmanuelle and Catherine, thank you for sharing your thoughts of home.

    Thanks too to a man in another forum who responded “as your hometown casts you out, the rest of the world takes you in.” He catalogued the ways in which an American town once equalled home (“large extended family, a cat which was fond of me, many successful and important friends”) and how deaths, divorce, estrangement and financial crisis make him a stranger there now. “Even the neighborhood where I grew up seems foreign while people in places I visit for the first time treat me like family.”

    He mentioned a phenomenon we global nomads can certainly identify with — this new social order where geography no longer determines social circles and “common interests trump location, nationality and even family.”

    The poster suggested reading more by John Robb, whose initial work in counterterrorism (Al Qaeda as ‘open source warfare’) highlights important changes in our lives — like the increasing value of virtual networks.

    On another note about homesickness and lifestyle nostalgia: a recent op-ed on the New York Times “Happy Days” blog points out “one of the hardest things to look at in this life is the lives we didn’t lead.”

  • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

    Lon, Robin, Robin, Karen, Emmanuelle and Catherine, thank you for sharing your thoughts of home.

    Thanks too to a man in another forum who responded “as your hometown casts you out, the rest of the world takes you in.” He catalogued the ways in which an American town once equalled home (“large extended family, a cat which was fond of me, many successful and important friends”) and how deaths, divorce, estrangement and financial crisis make him a stranger there now. “Even the neighborhood where I grew up seems foreign while people in places I visit for the first time treat me like family.”

    He mentioned a phenomenon we global nomads can certainly identify with — this new social order where geography no longer determines social circles and “common interests trump location, nationality and even family.”

    The poster suggested reading more by John Robb, whose initial work in counterterrorism (Al Qaeda as ‘open source warfare’) highlights important changes in our lives — like the increasing value of virtual networks.

    On another note about homesickness and lifestyle nostalgia: a recent op-ed on the New York Times “Happy Days” blog points out “one of the hardest things to look at in this life is the lives we didn’t lead.”

  • http://skaiangates.blogspot.com Catherine Yigit

    Just because a place has become home doesn’t prevent us from missing the advantages that living elsewhere once gave us. Canakkale is my home, perhaps more importantly it’s the only home my kids have known so far. If I don’t accept that as being true, for the moment anyway, I’d end up living in a daze of homesickness for what I’m missing.
    It won’t be home forever but it will always be the place my kids were born and somewhere they might see as home.

  • http://www.skaiangates.com Yazarc

    Just because a place has become home doesn’t prevent us from missing the advantages that living elsewhere once gave us. Canakkale is my home, perhaps more importantly it’s the only home my kids have known so far. If I don’t accept that as being true, for the moment anyway, I’d end up living in a daze of homesickness for what I’m missing.
    It won’t be home forever but it will always be the place my kids were born and somewhere they might see as home.

  • http://www.winningaway.com/blog Emmanuelle

    Hi Anastasia,

    Where home is never was an “either / or” proposition to me – in my case, France is home, and Canada is home too, and a handful of other cities around the world are home as well.

    If anything, my concept of home has undergone a kind of fragmentation over the years: it feels like my roots are in France, my heart is in Beirut, my soul belongs in Egypt, and my mind and my body are now firmly rooted in Vancouver.

    It’s a strange combination, whereby I sometimes feel nostalgic about two or three places at once…
    At the same time, it makes me acutely aware that there is no point in romanticising one country in particular. Even if I were to move back to one of the places I love, I would still miss the others – so the best course of action is to live in the present and actively enjoy the place where I happen to be living now!

  • http://www.winningaway.com/blog Emmanuelle

    Hi Anastasia,

    Where home is never was an “either / or” proposition to me – in my case, France is home, and Canada is home too, and a handful of other cities around the world are home as well.

    If anything, my concept of home has undergone a kind of fragmentation over the years: it feels like my roots are in France, my heart is in Beirut, my soul belongs in Egypt, and my mind and my body are now firmly rooted in Vancouver.

    It’s a strange combination, whereby I sometimes feel nostalgic about two or three places at once…
    At the same time, it makes me acutely aware that there is no point in romanticising one country in particular. Even if I were to move back to one of the places I love, I would still miss the others – so the best course of action is to live in the present and actively enjoy the place where I happen to be living now!

  • http://www.expatwomenentrepreneurs.com Karen Armstrong

    When I first came to Italy (where I live now) I thought I’d be moving back to the United States (where I’m from), so I didn’t really settled in. “Home” for me was always Long Island, New York (hello Lon!) where my family is from.

    After getting married to an Italian – and realizing that moving back to the States wasn’t going to happen anytime soon – my idea of “home” started to get blurry. It wasn’t the States anymore, so maybe it would be Italy?

    Now my husband and I are moving to Egypt for a year. We plan on returning to Italy when that year’s up, but Italy won’t be home.

    As cliche as it sounds, “home” for me really is where the heart is… where my life partner is. At the end of the day, as long as we’re together, it doesn’t matter where we are geographically… I’m “home.”

  • http://www.expatwomenentrepreneurs.com Karen Armstrong

    When I first came to Italy (where I live now) I thought I’d be moving back to the United States (where I’m from), so I didn’t really settled in. “Home” for me was always Long Island, New York (hello Lon!) where my family is from.

    After getting married to an Italian – and realizing that moving back to the States wasn’t going to happen anytime soon – my idea of “home” started to get blurry. It wasn’t the States anymore, so maybe it would be Italy?

    Now my husband and I are moving to Egypt for a year. We plan on returning to Italy when that year’s up, but Italy won’t be home.

    As cliche as it sounds, “home” for me really is where the heart is… where my life partner is. At the end of the day, as long as we’re together, it doesn’t matter where we are geographically… I’m “home.”

  • http://www.robinsparks.com Robin Sparks

    Nice essay Anastasia,

    About Pico Iyer…I heard Pico Ayer speak at the Book Passages Travel Writers’ Conference (Bay Area, California) in 1996 and he was indeed an amazing speaker. I have read and marked up every book he has written. Especially loved Tropical Classical. And Global Soul is one of my bibles…I drag my copy from country to country. I read Video Nights in Kathmandu while living in Kathmandu…

    For 10 years I have tasted life as a foreigner in Belize, Brazil, Argentina, Paris, Bangkok, Bali, and for the past 3 years – Istanbul. Do I feel at home in Istanbul? I once did. I am packing up and will hit the road next week. Back to Bali (via stopovers in London and Bangkok).

    My work life is in Istanbul, my spiritual life is in Bali, and my family life is in California . Thanks to the internet I can do my “work” remotely. But I’m finding it more of a challenge to do spiritual and family life remotely!

    What is home? And how do we know when we’ve found it? These are some of the questions I am asking. Take care and I look forward to reading more of your blogs.

    Robin Sparks
    Oneworld ltd
    http://www.robinsparks.com

  • http://www.robinsparks.com Robin Sparks

    Nice essay Anastasia,

    About Pico Iyer…I heard Pico Ayer speak at the Book Passages Travel Writers’ Conference (Bay Area, California) in 1996 and he was indeed an amazing speaker. I have read and marked up every book he has written. Especially loved Tropical Classical. And Global Soul is one of my bibles…I drag my copy from country to country. I read Video Nights in Kathmandu while living in Kathmandu…

    For 10 years I have tasted life as a foreigner in Belize, Brazil, Argentina, Paris, Bangkok, Bali, and for the past 3 years – Istanbul. Do I feel at home in Istanbul? I once did. I am packing up and will hit the road next week. Back to Bali (via stopovers in London and Bangkok).

    My work life is in Istanbul, my spiritual life is in Bali, and my family life is in California . Thanks to the internet I can do my “work” remotely. But I’m finding it more of a challenge to do spiritual and family life remotely!

    What is home? And how do we know when we’ve found it? These are some of the questions I am asking. Take care and I look forward to reading more of your blogs.

    Robin Sparks
    Oneworld ltd
    http://www.robinsparks.com

  • http://www.expatexpert.com Robin Pascoe

    Anastasia

    Pico Iyer keynoted a Families in Global Transition conference http://www.figt.org several years ago and I interviewed him for the Weekly Telegraph then (he’s so down to earth and was so passionate about meeting people at the conference, unlike so many keynoters).. He was without a doubt the best speaker I have ever heard (spoke without a single note!) and focussed at that time on his book The Global Soul. I think that book resonated with so many people because that’s where home is for me, I think, as you ask…the globe!

    I live in Vancouver but it’s not really ‘home’ to me although having spent so many years in Asia, I will admit that living in that part of the world for some many years, and then ending up in Vancouver, a very Asian city, really helped make this place less foreign to me…to hear Asian languages all around me (sushi restaurants are run by mainland Chinese; my local village has several Korean merchants I can use my limited language skills on; the fish store which also sells sushi is run buy Thais…) and on it goes…

    Can’t believe by the way that the Far Eastern Economic Review was closed..one of my first articles was in that publication…on traditional Thai massage!

    keep up this excellent blog! Robin

  • http://www.expatexpert.com Robin Pascoe

    Anastasia

    Pico Iyer keynoted a Families in Global Transition conference http://www.figt.org several years ago and I interviewed him for the Weekly Telegraph then (he’s so down to earth and was so passionate about meeting people at the conference, unlike so many keynoters).. He was without a doubt the best speaker I have ever heard (spoke without a single note!) and focussed at that time on his book The Global Soul. I think that book resonated with so many people because that’s where home is for me, I think, as you ask…the globe!

    I live in Vancouver but it’s not really ‘home’ to me although having spent so many years in Asia, I will admit that living in that part of the world for some many years, and then ending up in Vancouver, a very Asian city, really helped make this place less foreign to me…to hear Asian languages all around me (sushi restaurants are run by mainland Chinese; my local village has several Korean merchants I can use my limited language skills on; the fish store which also sells sushi is run buy Thais…) and on it goes…

    Can’t believe by the way that the Far Eastern Economic Review was closed..one of my first articles was in that publication…on traditional Thai massage!

    keep up this excellent blog! Robin

  • http://www.lonscohen.com Lon S. Cohen

    It’s funny. I definitely feel a concrete sense of home where I live (on Long Island, NY) but there are so many places I want to visit and I dream of eventually breaking out and living for short times in other places, some even as exotic as Istanbul. I went on a trip to Istanbul and found it fascinating and friendly. I think with a family it’s hard to move around so much but once the kids are grown and settled my wife and I have plans to travel to work and live in other places.

    As for having the place I live define me there is no doubt. At times I lived in the suburbs and in the city. I find myself attracted to both styles of living but that sense of specific geography that is the New York metropolitan area has had a profound influence on who I am and how I think. I’ve met plenty of people who do not have that same adherence to a place they grew up. I think a cultural influence of a specific region is a great thing to have, whether it’s where I live or an Asian suburb. There are hyper local traits that, I believe, are important to self identity.

    That’s not to say someone who has grown up “out of place” or with no firm grasp of a hometown is any less developed. Like the quote above says, “if nowhere in the world is home, all the world is home.” If you can find that connection to the larger world and make it work then you are better than someone who is lost.

    We all are influenced by our homes, whether they be a string of geographic places or a cozy little town somewhere.

  • http://www.lonscohen.com Lon S. Cohen

    It’s funny. I definitely feel a concrete sense of home where I live (on Long Island, NY) but there are so many places I want to visit and I dream of eventually breaking out and living for short times in other places, some even as exotic as Istanbul. I went on a trip to Istanbul and found it fascinating and friendly. I think with a family it’s hard to move around so much but once the kids are grown and settled my wife and I have plans to travel to work and live in other places.

    As for having the place I live define me there is no doubt. At times I lived in the suburbs and in the city. I find myself attracted to both styles of living but that sense of specific geography that is the New York metropolitan area has had a profound influence on who I am and how I think. I’ve met plenty of people who do not have that same adherence to a place they grew up. I think a cultural influence of a specific region is a great thing to have, whether it’s where I live or an Asian suburb. There are hyper local traits that, I believe, are important to self identity.

    That’s not to say someone who has grown up “out of place” or with no firm grasp of a hometown is any less developed. Like the quote above says, “if nowhere in the world is home, all the world is home.” If you can find that connection to the larger world and make it work then you are better than someone who is lost.

    We all are influenced by our homes, whether they be a string of geographic places or a cozy little town somewhere.

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