Thursday, March 24, 2016

A traveling life. The life more Americans need.

"I can go on the road–because I can come home. I come home–because I am free to leave. Each way of being is more valued in the presence of the other. This balance between making camp and following the seasons is both very ancient and very new We all need both."

–Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road

Writer Abroad just finished a wonderful memoir by Gloria Steinem. The best part (sorry to spoil) was the above quote at the end. I think most travelers, expatriates, and repatriates can probably relate to it.

It wasn't until the end of Steinem's life that she actually had a permanent structure to call home. She traveled nomadically from place to place with her family and later, as an organizer. At the very end of her book she says:

"My father did not have to trade dying alone for the joys of the road. My mother did not have to give up a journey of her own to have a home. Neither do I. Neither do you."

In her repatriate way, Writer Abroad is discovering that you don't always need to live far from family to embrace the joys of traveling. Or to feel foreign (you can go to the local Asian grocery store for that). But what Writer Abroad is finding difficult in her home country is convincing her countrymen of the benefits of basic social programs that she enjoyed in Switzerland.

She tries to convince any American that will listen that really, it's ok to demand public transport that doesn't leave you stranded. It's ok to demand paid family leave. It's ok to demand a healthcare system that won't leave you in debt if you have a medical issue.

The hard thing (please someone explain why) is to find Americans who aren't afraid of a foreign version of better. Too many scream socialism in your face when they don't even understand its definition. This only shows Writer Abroad how badly some Americans need to travel. Because if you see the world, if you experience other ways of life, you come to understand that sometimes other nations have good ideas. America is not Denmark. Or Sweden. Or Switzerland. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't borrow some of their good ideas, does it?

After all, T.S. Eliot once said, "Good writers borrow. Great writers steal."

The same could be applied to nations too.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Is journalism dead?

Writer Abroad has learned quite a bit about writing and democracy over the last few years. So much so, that she’s now shopping around a novel that deals with this very topic.

Unfortunately, much of what she’s learned, especially in the last few weeks, is very disturbing.

Most recently, there was this piece in The Nation: These Journalists Dedicated Their Lives to Telling Other People’s Stories. What Happens When No One Wants to Print Their Words Anymore? It talked about the end of journalism (and therefore democracy) as we know it.

Writer Abroad has experienced some of the things discussed in The Nation article and that’s why she really believes the end of journalism to be one of the most dangerous issues facing America today.

Here’s why. Once media companies (including some well-known newspapers you might recognize) force freelance writers like those mentioned in The Nation article to sign contracts that force them to be entirely liable for anything they write for that publication, you have basically ended journalism’s role in upholding democracy. Because how can any writer afford to write about controversial subjects and be held liable for their investigations—especially if they involve large corporations with huge pockets? They can’t. So the stories don’t get written.

This system is not fair to journalists and it’s not fair to Americans who rely on journalists to be watchdogs. What we have now is a media system that is owned by corporations and run by corporations and that only tells the stories the corporations want told.

What’s the solution? Well, instead of reading what the press has to say, we should try to read between the lines at what it is not saying. For example, even when Bernie Sanders wins a state in the democratic primaries, like Michigan, headlines about him are negative—he still doesn’t have a chance. To reinterpret these headlines without the corporate spin, they would probably read: Bernie Sanders takes his revolution to new heights scaring an establishment that depends on regular Americans to make up for their billion-dollar tax breaks.

What else tells Writer Abroad that something is wrong with journalism? Well, over the last year, Writer Abroad has published essays and articles on many topics and with many big publications. The topics that she’s been successful with are expat and repatriate life, work-life balance, and parenting, etc. But she can’t seem to get a positive essay about Bernie Sanders published anywhere. No. With those pieces come rejections and/or silence from the big media companies. It’s frustrating. And revealing.

What is the solution? Well, it may be up to writers and journalists to develop their own ways to get the stories out there. They can develop their own publishing companies, their own blogs or social networks, etc. For instance, Writer Abroad may post her pieces that are unacceptable to big media companies on her blog. Because while Writer Abroad would rather have a million readers than 10,000, she still thinks it’s more important that some of these topics get out there rather than having them sit, waiting for eternity, for the slim possibility that they will ever see the light of day on a corporate-owned publication masquerading as today’s American newspaper.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The most honest way to write about your country: as an outsider

Writer Abroad loves being back in the U.S. for one main reason (besides being close to family): libraries. Writer Abroad loves libraries. Specifically libraries filled with English books (no offense to all the Swiss libraries filled with German books, of course).

Being an author, sometimes she thinks she should buy every book she reads to support her fellow writers. But the problem is, even though she has escaped her tiny Swiss apartment and moved into a big American house, there is still no place to put all the books she already has. Many are still sitting in their moving boxes in the basement over a year later. (God bless American basements.)

She could buy e-books, like she used to do when she was living abroad. But here’s a little secret: she’s old fashioned. She loves actual paper books. Holding them. Feeling their size and weight.

So sorry to any authors she may have offended, but Writer Abroad does use her local library almost every week. It’s a mere three blocks from her house. One of the main reasons she chose the location of her house.

She’s found some good books lately. Probably the best book she’s read this year is Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It proves that you don’t need a long book to make a big statement. This book lets the reader see the world through the point of view of a black man in present day America. It is horrific, eye opening, and, if you’re not already a black American man, a way to see an outsider’s view of America without getting a passport.

Which is the dilemma, of course. It’s an outsider’s view of the U.S. told by an American in the U.S. No American should ever be subjected to such outsider status in their own country. But they are.

At one point, Coates says, “The writer, and that was what I was becoming, must be wary of every Dream and every nation, even his own nation. Perhaps his nation more than any other, precisely because it was his own.”


That’s why, if you’re not an outsider in America, you must go outside of America to be able to write about your country in an honest way.

Moving to Switzerland was Writer Abroad’s solution to seeing her own country, which has inspired her next book, American Life: 30 Things I Wish I’d Known, which she is working on now. She couldn’t be writing it without having left America. Sadly, Coates could have.

At one point, Coates makes a point about U.S. exceptionalism. He says we need to step outside of our country to see it for what it really is—often, a bully, both globally and locally. Going abroad, if you’re a white American, will probably make you come to similar conclusions. Or if you’re not going abroad, this book will give you an outsider perspective. It should be required reading for every American. For a majority of Americans, the book is a passport to another world: their own.

Have you read a good book about seeing America as an outsider lately?


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