Red, White, and Guns

I am from Florida. Most of my family still lives in Florida. I want my heart to break for the school victims, I want to cry and scream, and it did and I do, but my heart can’t break much more because it’s already broken.

It broke with Sandy Hook. It gave up with Sandy Hook. If little children dying in gunfire did not wake my country up, if little children watching their classmates die did not shock my country into change, nothing will. Little children.

The truth is guns are why I didn’t go home. It’s why I chose Canada.

My husband works in South Sudan. And he feels safer there than he would in the US. When a UN employee goes to a new country there is always a security briefing on that country. When going to the US he was  told to always avoid confrontation. No matter what, to walk away. Because in the US you must assume everyone has a gun.

You must assume everyone has a gun.

It’s been a fascinating journey to explore what it means to be an American outside of my culture. When I say, “I’m an American,” what I am saying, in essence, is I am an individual. I, capitalized. America as the myth where anyone can make it, where you can be and do whatever you want, you as YOU. And that is beautiful and powerful and intoxicating. But where is the WE? Yes, you can be a New Yorker, or a mid-Westerner, a California girl or guy, or have deep Southern pride, but what does it mean to be an American? What binds us all? The safety of our children should bind us all.

I recently became a Permanent Resident of Canada. At the end of my interview and swearing in the consular said, welcome to Canada, you may now work, and will forever have health care.

I cried. I hugged my husband and thanked him. I thanked him for giving me a new country to call home. A country where the collective is bigger than the individual. A country where my rights are tied to my obligations. I am a part of something, and my happiness is tied to my neighbors and my communities, my province, and I am humbled and awed and honored to play my part.

I love the US. My children are American as well as Canadian and I hope that one day they will be able to go and be a part of something larger than themselves there as well. That the good-for-all overcomes the me and my rights.

The US is not all bad and Canada is far from all good, but I love that I feel so less important here. I love just being a petal on the flower.

Go to the dogs

California is hot. Then cold. Then hot. Cold. Nothing that  happened the day before can prepare you for the next. I’ve taken to wearing my swimsuit under my parka.

I’ve been back for 2 months. I felt a tug, or more like I was thrown overboard after attaching my anchor to a speeding boat passing by on its way to refuel and somehow landed here.

Americans are nice. So nice. And they’re everywhere here in America.

I’ve often told people abroad, when faced with not-so-nice comments about my birth country, to think of Americans like puppies. We’re new, young, inexperienced. We can be awfully cute and really like to play. Okay, so sometimes we pee on your rug, but if you just scratch us behind our ears you’ll see our foot stomp as pure ecstasy crosses over our face, and really all we want to do is ride really fast with our heads out the window, panting.

I didn’t expect the refitting to be so awkward. My summers in NY were a homecoming, yet I knew they were a short stop on a u-turn back. This California detour will be a little longer and I find my head doesn’t fit out the window so easily anymore. It’s thicker with the things I’ve seen, the difference I have tasted, so instead of the ride blowing back my ears, I remain in the passenger seat watchful, even as the air feels lovely.

Being an ex-pat is hard. You live alone, isolated from comfort, but it stretches you like silly putty and you start to be able to press against anything and find its image somewhere in the shallows. The more you stretch, the softer you become, reflecting even more, perhaps something now stuck deep within.

I am happy I am back for a while. But it doesn’t feel like a full stop. It doesn’t really feel like home anymore in a weird way. Just another adventure to be had along the road.





I had a very interesting conversation yesterday with an African-American now living here in Rome. I brought up the subject of racism and asked him what his experience has been since being here. Many warned us, including an Italian, that discrimination was rampant in Rome and being a biracial family, we might encounter some hostility. We have experienced nothing, however, except warmth and kindness, and an overabundant generosity of candy. I was wondering perhaps if this was because our daughter was just a child and if his experience had been more along the lines of what we had been told. He replied that he, too, had been warned and was quite nervous about moving here but, as I did, was following love so was willing to risk. And like us, he has experienced nothing but kindness (if not so much candy). What is so incredible, though, is he said that it was the first time in his life he wasn’t constantly aware of being black. He explained that in the US, as a black man, he was always black first. That wherever he went, whatever he did, he felt his blackness reflected back at him. But here, he’s an American first. When people see him, talk to him, they are talking to an American, not a “black American.” As he told me his story, he reached his arms wide and he reached them high, and smiled.

The American

In my Italian language class the teacher went around the room and asked each of us where we were from. I was the lone American. An hour later, when break time came round, a young man, from somewhere quite cold and we’ll leave it at that, leaned into me and whispered into my ear, “So, it’s not true that Americans never travel anywhere?” Well, I replied the only way I could: I unbuttoned my jeans, put my feet up on the desk, pulled out a Big Mac with a side of fries and a 2 liter bottle of Coke, turned up the portable radio I had fastened to my shoulder and  screamed as loud as I could, “We don’t.”

Prairie voles

I recently read an article about prairie voles. When boy p. vole meets girl p. vole and sparks fly they embark upon a 24-hour copulate-a-thon. The boy p. vole literally memorizes, imprints girl p. vole into his brain, thus unable to see all the other lovely girl (or boy if you will) voles and with this he becomes hers only. I’ve started to think of this in relation to culture: how we grow and are imprinted with our beginnings. How we, I, keep searching for my “vole” out here in the greater world. When I hear an American voice I turn without thought, something in me pulling towards a home and a hope of an understanding of who I am. A potential mirror to reflect an image back and show my flesh and blood, not the ghost I sometimes feel I am while living in new worlds.

Yesterday I happened upon a Kurdistan demonstration in a small patch of grass amongst the ruins. The sky was perfectly blue, the sun bouncing off marble and brick. The newly warm air relaxing all it held, history holding us up. The men gather there daily to dance the most beautiful tribal dance to the most beautiful music I’ve heard in a long time. They chant and pray for peace and democracy to come to the land they claim as their own, so that they can go home.

Perhaps we can learn to be a part of something else. Crawl through a window if a crack in one appears. Marry into another, as I did.  Or try and take our culture with us, like my French friends in Uganda who import wine with cheese and oysters, my Italian friends who arrived with a crate full of pasta, or my American friends who left and came back with boxes of maple syrup and coffee (and some nice Ziploc bags). But perhaps no matter how much we try to shed our skin, the imprint—and pull—of where we started won’t fade, or ever really let us go.