Exploring bridges: burning them, building them, and what it all means.

I literally took a trip down memory lane the other day. I was asked to drop a file off at a building across from where I lived when I first moved to the city. At first, the thought of going there filled me with absolute dread – it had been a really weird time in my life when I lived in a grim, box-sized room. I had been overwhelemed by the city, threatened to be swallowed whole by the dirt and the noise; overstimulated but also lonely. I was young, with no coping mechanisms in place – it is not a time I remember fondly.

I saw the pub on the corner, the familiar trees on either side of the road. I walked slowly down the street, expecting that feeling of dread to fill and suffocate me. What happened next was weird – it didn’t happen at all. The large Georgian building made me feel next to nothing. I was merely an observer, and it was merely a building. I realised I’d given it so much power in my mind, only to realise it was just bricks and concrete.

It seemed that perhaps without the shadowing of subjective memory, all these bad times that I hold in the back of my mind with near reverence were the same, just times. Would it be the same for some of the other periods in my life? The flat in Greece we were burgled in, the inner-city hospital that saw my first big loss? The school I struggled to fit into? Have I been carrying all these bad memories, cards tightly held against my chest, for nothing?

As a third culture kid (TCK), I’ve become used to leaving places and likely never going back, leaving people and likely never seeing them again. It’s my modus operandi, my protection; never looking back was something I thought was beneficial. The other day made me realise, however, that sometimes going back is good. Sometimes confronting the skeletons in your closet, or the places that saw your perceived worst, can be beneficial in order to truly move forward. Sometimes, on closer inspection, they don’t actually look like skeletons at all.

New Years’ Eve: My Favourite Way to Celebrate

Even better than Christmas, or the summer solstice, New Year’s Eve (capitalising it to show it the respect it deserves) is my single most favourite time of the year. Why? Do I love making self-punishing ‘resolutions’, or drinking overpriced sparkling wine masquerading as champagne? Well, of course not. My love for this time of year goes way back to when I was a little kid.

My parents were business consultants, constantly evaluating processes and striving to improve them. Sometimes this resulted in an embarrassing moment trying to pick up a hire car, and sometimes it resulted in a series of reflections on the past year over a new years’ eve eve family dinner. I remember when I was ten, twelve, fourteen, they were generally only school-related. It’s strange and sometimes odd to reflect on your year as a kid, you have had no real bearing on what you participated in and therefore it’s tricky to make any real plans for the next year. My parents picked the summer holiday destination (Greece), I just went to school. Okay, I had received an A sometimes (sometimes!), and sometimes I got grounded. This New Years’ reflection ritual was boring and tedious for me then, and possibly even a bit cringe-y. Fast forward to adult life, I realised I had never really learned these skills of reflection, they were just assimilated from watching my parents. I’m definitely a culprit of having some seriously deep thoughts on any long train or plane journey, but New Years’ eve is the time to wallow in self-reflection and planning for the next twelve months. I’ve become the reflector I never thought I’d be!

I may seem biased because I made some major personal strides in 2018, and am excited to see where 2019 will take me. It can seem that New Years’ is to celebrate accomplishments, however this is not necessarily true and once the previous year has been reviewed and the emphasis moved towards plans for the next, there is the possibility of feeling less like a victim and feeling more in control. Even if just for one night.

I know, that even on the bad years, especially on the bad years, it was nice to have a ritual to separate ‘now’ me from ‘old’ me going through whatever it was. I know that some years may be good, some tedious, and some downright terrible, but no value can be placed on this point of rebirth and hope. True, though a lot of this excitement often dissipates on Jan 1st, whether due to alcohol or the novelty wearing off when actually being in the new year; it never detracts from the moment of pure anticipation the 31st brings. It’s one night to dress up and celebrate in any way (on the sofa or in a restaurant, alone or with friends) and be reborn.

New Year’s reflections should focus on the year just completed, and plans to do more of what worked or felt good in the next. No new gym memberships, or nicotine patches required. Did you like seeing a specific friend? Text them and make plans to do more! Did you enjoy how waking up 15 minutes earlier every day made you feel? Keep doing it, and maybe throw in some meditation or listening to a podcast! Did you like how you said no to something you did not want to do? Remember to bring that tool out again in the next year if you need it. It’s all about feeling good, and letting your New Years’ reflections be a beacon of light guiding you back to who you are when they are most needed in the next twelve months.

The Art of Simple have a fantastic set of New Year’s Reflection questions, that can either be answered in a journal, or cut out and pulled out of a bowl as a bit of a group exercise. I look forward to doing this particular set of questions with my SO tomorrow, and will definitely keep the answers to compare with this time next year. Give it a try!

Blending in and Belonging: a Third Culture Kid’s Story

I was born in urban Johannesburg, South Africa to Irish and South African parents. At the age of nine, the family relocated to suburban Athens, Greece. After a few years, we relocated to rural Ireland. I went from swimming pools to giant forests in my backyard with just a few years inbetween. The countries separate my developmental stages, child, pre-adolescent, adolescent, and young adult. Every move I sought to reinvent myself, but found myself mostly staying the same. The same, but indescribably different.

I have always been confused about where home is to me, I both resent and exploit the eccentricities of my upbringing. When in one of My Countries, I tell people I’m from The Other. I have always wanted to belong, blend in, wave to neighbours in the street. I also like to be the new girl, the blank slate, the one who makes small, silly blunders of colloquialism and translation. I am a walking naughties flick chick caricature.

Learning about bugs, or something

I have reached a point where I have stayed in the same city for seven years, and the same country for ten (gulp). I have itchy feet, wanderlust, and dream of foreign shores daily. Yet I am still here. Here but not here. Always I wonder: do I not belong because I don’t put down roots, or do I not put down roots because I feel I don’t belong? I’m not sure I’ll ever know the answer; and yet I remain untethered, ready to leave at a moment’s notice. I too am a Millenial, a member of Generation Rent, does that help me or hinder me?

Actual, barefoot me

I was born into Apartheid, was barely past a toddler when South Africa had her first black president. I have travelled deserts, walked barefoot without my feet touching shoes for days on end, and felt the feeling of nearly drowning many times in the Indian Ocean. I have seen wild fires ravaging parched land, ancient archaeological sites with marble smooth and shiny from millenia of footsteps. I have snowmobiled in Yellowstone, and skied in the shadow of Mount Olympus. I have made and lost more friends I can count; some great, some merely transient anyway.

How can I possibly tell anyone everything I have seen? Everything I know, everything I worry about? People who have stayed in the same city all their lives – with a back-catalogue of friends from playschool to present – how can I possibly compare, communicate? My language is Greek and English, art and Afrikaans, weather, music, starry nights and French and Spanish. I grew up bilingual but also learned foreign languages before both my parents. As a ten-year old my juice stall in a different alphabet, language and currency than what I was born into.

The final question, is can this void in me ever be filled? I plan holidays and I travel. When I travel, I travel incognito, with my local’s disguise. I dread someone finding out who I am – what I am – but what am I? What is it I live in fear of being discovered? A fake, a fraud? Or someone who knows ‘home is where you hang your hat’? Do I try and blend in, or do I open my messy self up for examination?

Do I tell them who I am?