I've always admired the rugged ability of certain adventurer-writers to appear masterful in the wider world.
True or not, it’s easy to envision legendary expatriate authors like Karen Blixen and Ernest Hemingway crushing it in their overseas exploits. Satisfying wanderlust. Surviving exotic illness. Operating transnational businesses. Donning local garb or exploration gear. Pictured alone on the landscape, or comfortably surrounded by teeming locals. Iconic.
Larger-than-life expat writer personalities seem in tune with far-flung surroundings, able to produce their best work from foreign atmospheres.
These two predecessors were clearly troubled. Alcoholism. Venereal disease. Financial ruin. Divorce. Suicide. However, aspiring to their ultimate of travel feats -- achieving a personal and professional high point -- remains an urge for writers abroad like me.
I explore my own brush with the weight of expat image expectation at a colleague's blog this week by delving into the photos that correspond with a highlight and a lowlight of my expat experience. Despite previous and future international depths, it only takes one flashbulb moment to remind us we too can outdo ourselves abroad. And that memory can empower us and our expat life for a long time. Take a peek at Unrecognizable vs. Iconic.
Which expat icons do you admire -- and when have you found authority overseas?
People abroad have often turned to writing when other options for work and expression were limited. It tends to be a location-independent profession and pasttime.
Technology and the times now challenge writers abroad to do even more. Because we can -- and must.
We can make a bigger impact with less resources. Plus, even if we wanted to, we can no longer depend solely on high-barrier traditional routes. We writers are now producers, and directors, and engineers of content.
Revisiting all my entertainment projects in development in this new light: how to tell the story of my ‘forensic memoir of friendship’ using 25-years worth of multimedia? Can two screenplays be converted to enhanced ebooks for iPhone or iPad -- incorporating images, sound, text -- or even made into a graphic novel?
What recent technology or industry shift both lowers a traditional barrier for you and raises your game?
A round up of my quotes from interviews, profiles and articles by or about me that keep coming back.
"Expat Harem women are challenged to redefine their lives, definitions of spirituality, femininity, sensuality and self."
-- introduction to Tales from the Expat Harem, with Jennifer Eaton Gökmen, 2005
THE NEGOTIATION OF FOREIGN WOMEN IN TURKEY:Commitment Now asks: "Do you think many of the foreign women who have made Turkey their home have found that their adjustments are one-way?"
Anastasia: "Not in my life or for most foreign women I know. If anything we’re in a constant state of negotiating which way the street is going at any given time to accommodate both our instincts and those of the people around us.
"There's a huge spectrum of society in Turkey, all with their own quotients of modernity and comfort with Western traditions. My Turkish family is secular, modern to the point of being trendy, and highly Europeanized."
-- travel author interview with Commitment Now, 2009
TURKEY'S BOND OF METAMORPHOSIS WITH THE EXPAT HAREM: "Foreign women on Turkish soil are neither what nor who they used to be, yet not fully transformed by their brush with Turkey. Aligned in their ever-shifting contexts, both Turkey and the expatriate share a bond of constant metamorphosis.
THE DAMAGING CULTURAL FACTOR SEX TOURISTS EXPORT: "Writing from the sex-toured Near East, the damaging potential of each disposable liaison is empirical evidence that Western culture is morally corrupt. One forgettable fling has the power to affect systems far larger than the person, family, village or region which witnessed and absorbed the behavior.
"The environment of sexual predation many Western women face overseas is also bound to be heightened by the wanton and culturally inappropriate choices of 'sex pilgrims'.
"Travelers and expatriates striving to modulate their behavior to find social acceptance with native friends, families and colleagues must struggle to differentiate themselves from sexual opportunists who don't have to lie in the messy bed they've made."
-- book review of Romance on the Road: Traveling Women Who Love Foreign Men, Perceptive Travel, 7/06
ON THE PARALLEL IDENTITY STRUGGLES OF TURKEY, AND GLOBAL NOMADS: “Turkey is asking itself some of the world’s most difficult questions these days,” said Ashman, comparing the nation’s quest with her own identity issues as a global nomad and the questions central to her work. “Expat Harem asked 30 foreign women what modern Turkey taught them about themselves.
"Turkey as a crucible of the self, a mirror on our own possibilities as citizens of the world.
"We chose tonight’s topic because it is relevant to Global Nomads who are concerned with the concepts of personal identity, community and belonging, and the balance of cultural influences that can sometimes be at odds.”
EXPATS' AGILE AND UNIQUE NATURE IS KEY TO SUCCESS ABROAD: "Being an expatriate you’re naturally a person in transition. Your worst days can leave you feeling unmoored, and alienated. Your best days bring a sense of your agile nature and the qualities that make you unique from the people who surround you and the people back home.
"Working toward an understanding of what it will take for you to feel your best in your environment is extremely worthwhile.
"Your answers perfectly define you and the more closely they are incorporated into your business plans the better chance you have of career success abroad."
EXPATRIATISM AS FOURTH GENERATION IMMIGRATION: "Being an expat to me may be more akin to someone who simply isn’t living where they started. I’m just farther away. I guess you could say I’m a fourth generation immigrant, since my parents and their parents and their parents before them all left their homelands or their cities in search of better opportunities in the west. Coming to Europe completes that loop for my family.
"When I'm slathering Mediterranean olive oil on a wild arugula salad I am enjoying something a distant ancestor once did but that my closer relatives did not, as they served Spam in Chicago and tofu taco salad in California."
ON PUBLISHING AND THE DIGITAL WORLD CITIZEN: "Geographic disadvantage demands I compete in my home market virtually...and my global audience is now virtual.
"I’m shifting to new school thinking in distribution, promotion, and sales.
"Internet access equalized my ‘90s expat reality. Now Twitter closes the professional morass as Tweetdeck columns resonate thought leadership across publishing, technology, and marketing. I’ve got Web 3.0 plans for my second book not only because as a contemporary author abroad I must connect with readers and offer dynamic interaction with the material, but because as a digital citizen I can."
SOCIAL MEDIA ERASES THE TRADITIONAL DISADVANTAGES OF EXPATRIATISM: "Social media affords expats location-independence (work where you are and where you'll go), self-actualization (be an expert in whatever you choose), language (communicate in your preferred tongue), and flexibility (time and location become irrelevant).
"You can be current, involved, and a player in your field thanks to the new platforms. Once upon a time we expats were disconnected from our bases of operation that our countrymen back home had available to them.
"Now, the divide is digital. Virtual. Non-existent for the expat who makes use of technology."
WRITERS ABROAD BUILD NETWORK FOR NEW ROLE AS CONTENT ENGINEERS: "Reach beyond readers, other writers and even publishing folk. Seek out thought leaders in marketing, interactive tech people, small business owners and creative entrepreneurs. These are all fields that a contemporary author and content producer is entering whether she knows it or not.
"I’ve been revisiting all my projects to see how I can bring them to life in the most current way -- in terms of technology and distribution distinct from the low-percentage, high-barrier traditional paths.
"Writers are now producers, and directors, and engineers of content."
THE 'PROBLEM' OF GLOBAL CITIZENSHIP -- AN IDENTITY SUSPENDED BETWEEN MULTIPLE WORLDS -- CAN BE A SOLUTION FOR 21st CENTURY WOMEN: "We often dream about a spot where *our* kind of people live, where we can lead *our* chosen lifestyle.
"Today the bittersweet psychic limbo of global citizenship frees the multifaceted woman. Frees us to bond around common interest. Experience. World view.
"Through the digital nomadism pioneered by location independent people and use of self-actualizing social media, we can now operate independently of where we live and tap into a sense of ourselves both unique and as big as we can be."
-- She's Next digital media series, inspiring 60 second video interviews to cultivate happiness and leadership in 21st century women, 10/28/10
ASTUTE PORTFOLIO BUILDING: "I knew I could benefit from a more professional approach to the craft.
"[When I pitched a profile to the Village Voice I ended up publishing] a profile/book review/event announcement -- the managing editor’s hybrid idea when I emphasized the curating work my multimedia poet interviewee was doing at St. Mark’s Poetry Project, and an upcoming performance there of a new Brion Gysin book.
"If an editor was gracious enough to tell me exactly what he could use all I needed to do was accept the challenge."
HISTORICAL TRAVELOGUE CAN HELP FIND YOUR PLACE: "Long-term travelers, expatriates and global citizens often struggle to make sense of life's evolutions abroad, as well as find meaningful access to their new surroundings. Whether I'm simply passing through, or putting down roots in a place, I've come to crave a certain type of book.
"Historical travelogue and portraits of adventurous women travelers who came before me often helps connect me to the land, and remind me of the transformative tradition of female travel."
Turkey often makes the news for suppressing its authors. Ironically, as an American expatriate in Istanbul I found my voice -- by creating a literary harem of my expat peers.
My third month in Istanbul I found my way to an American women's social club. Milling among the crowd at the consul general's residence, I introduced myself by describing my writing project.
"At 40? You're too young to write a memoir," snorted a white haired librarian as she arranged second-hand books on a card table.
"Istanbul's such chaos, I'd be surprised if you can concentrate," thought a freckled socialite in tasseled loafers.
My memoir was going to happen. It had to. It was the cornerstone of my survival plan.
MY BRILLIANT CAREER WAS PORTABLE. I moved to Istanbul in 2003 so my Turkish husband could take a job in mobile telecommunications. Even though I lacked a formal proposal for my high-concept travel memoir charting the peaks and valleys of what I was calling “an adventurous life,” I already had a literary agent waiting to champion it. I was thrilled my spouse would be developing the kind of advanced cell phone software that excites him and that emerging economies demand. Yet my international move required a defense strategy.
"I'm not going to waste a minute sitting in language classes, diminishing my facility with English," I informed him.
"Whatever makes you happy," he replied.
In my mind I'd be on an extended writer's retreat, free from the daily distractions of our “real life” in New York City, where we had met.
I'd be an asocial expatriate writer who would one day emerge at the border clutching my passport and a masterpiece.
This exotic vision had been percolating since I'd last been an expat—in Malaysia. I’d spent five years rotting away in the tropics like a less-prolific—and more sober—Somerset Maugham.
Foremost to decay in the equatorial heat was my personality—the core of my writing voice.
In steamy Southeast Asia, my first long-term stint overseas, language and cultural barriers prevented me from expressing even the simplest aspects of my identity. When I told people I was a writer they'd reply, "Horses?"
I WAS DECOMPOSING at time-lapse speed. Vintage handbags and L.A. sandals sprouted green fungus overnight, while silvery bugs infested my college texts and a decade of diaries. I was also mistaken for a very different kind of Western woman in Asia, like when a crew of Indonesian laborers working at my house wondered when I was going to drink a beer and take off my shirt.
Three years later, in cosmopolitan Istanbul, I was a resurrected ambitious American prepared for my future. I imagined a successful literary life abroad—supported by a defensive version of expatriatism. "This move won't turn my world upside down," I cockily assured worried friends and relatives, who recalled my anguished Kuala Lumpur days.
Now I was all about the work. My plan to avoid alienation in Turkey was foolproof.
Istanbul, a hilly metropolis of 12 million, made Kuala Lumpur look like the sleepy river town it is. I couldn't envision navigating a car on its traffic-logged streets or squeezing into public minibuses or straying too far alone without a translator. I couldn't wait to hole up at home with my computer, DSL connection and a view of the Bosphorus.
Upon my arrival I joined an expat social club for some English speaking company. There I met the scolding librarian and the socialite. I also ran into an upbeat Michigan writer named Jennifer Gökmen, a 10-year émigré also married to a Turk. She had no doubt I would write my memoir. We both needed some writing support so we created a workshop with a handful of other American women.
Within weeks, the memoir stalled as I struggled to map my entire existence... dear god, what's the arc of my life? Maybe that caustic librarian was right! My resistance to Turkey started to wear down.
Jennifer and I began playing with a proposal of our own: an anthology incorporating essays about our Turkish lives.
I was bursting with that kind of material. The cultural gauntlet I faced on my first trip to meet the family. My glitzy Istanbul wedding. Inspired by the original harem of the 15th century Ottoman sultans, where foreign-born women shared their cultural wisdoms, new arrivals comparing notes with old hands, we figured we formed a modern version: the Expat Harem.
And that’s when the harem walls closed in.
SILENCED BY WHOOPING COUGH: I contracted a mysterious and ancient ailment of the pharynx. Local doctors unfamiliar with the diagnosis prescribed medications for asthma and antibiotics to treat a lung infection, neither of which I had. I passed the cough to Jennifer. For the next six months we were both homebound, hacking to the point of incontinence, succumbing to every little flu. I avoided anything that might incite a new round of spasms, like conversation and laughter, the coal smoke emanating from rural shanties, chills from the ancient city's stone walls, gusts of autumn blowing down from the Black Sea. The only thing Jennifer and I were suited for was speechlessly working, and we only wanted to think about the anthology.
"Embedded here, we're destined to be alien."
I brainstormed in an email to Jennifer, pointing out the dilemma of life abroad—even for those who want to blend in to local culture, it’s near impossible. Our cultural instincts will forever lead us to different choices— from simple aesthetics like lipstick color to complicated interpersonal communications.
"The Expat Harem is a place of female power," she shot back, linking us to an Eastern feminist continuum little known in the Western world.
Harem communities offered women the possibility of power—in the imperial harem, they offered the greatest power available to women in this region. These women had the sultan's ear, they were the mothers of sultans. Several harem women shadow-ran the Ottoman empire, while others co-ruled.
Giddy with our anachronistic metaphor, I replied.
"Ethnocentric prison or refuge of peers—sometimes it's hard to tell which way the door is swinging!"
Like a secret password, news spread as we called for submissions from writers, travelers and Turkophiles. Fascinating women from fourteen nations poured their stories into our in-boxes. They shared how their lives had been transformed by this Mediterranean country in the past 50 years, moments that challenged their values and their destinies as nurses and scientists, Peace Corps volunteers and artists.
These women's tales were not universally known.
Many had never before been published and all were minority voices in a Muslim country with a reputation for censorship.
ALTERNATE REALITIES flooded over me: eerie Sufi pilgrimages to Konya, the intimacies of anthropological fieldwork on the Black Sea, glimpses of '70s civic unrest in Ankara, a wistful gardener's search for the perfect Ottoman rose in Afyon. Many represented a depth of involvement with the country I couldn't imagine: harvesting dusty hazelnuts on a brambly hillside, trying to follow the 9/8 rhythms of a clapping Gypsy, sharing space on a city bus with a dancing bear in the Technicolor 1950s.
I whispered to Jennifer, "Compared to these women, I'm a cultural wimp!"
Their struggles to assimilate nudged me to forgive my own resistance, and inspired me to discover the country, the culture and the Turkish people.
Now I could use the editing skills I had been suppressing since I was an infuriating child who returned people's letters corrected with red pen. From the comfort of my home office-with-a-foreign-zipcode, I was able to shape other writers’ stories. The anthology rewarded me for postponing the memoir, by laying the foundations for a more insightful next book. The joys of collaborating with writers from my home office clarified confusing aspects of my character—like how I am a prickly introvert who nevertheless craves connection with people.
One late winter day Jennifer and I stopped coughing and sold Tales from the Expat Harem to Doğan Kitap, a prominent Turkish publisher.
"That's more like it," snapped the librarian when I next saw her at a club meeting, my reputation somewhat rehabilitated in her eyes.
Four decades’ worth of expatriate self-discoveries earned its shelf space, more than my own 40-year life story would have.
"It's a love-letter to the country. I put it on my house guests' pillows!" shared the smiling socialite.
My literary career and conflicted mindset about life abroad now had a promising new cultural context in the expat harem.
I FOUND MY THEORETICAL HOME. I arrived an insular writer afraid of losing my voice. In a temporary silence, Turkey suggested an empowering metaphor. It seems the country not only connected me to a worldwide band of my global nomad and expat writing peers, it provided a place to flourish out of restriction -- and raised my voice in the cultural conversation.
[This essay first appeared in JANERA: The Voice of Global Nomads, January 2008]
What surprise context has your location provided you?
My software developer husband and I designed and built a new web-based writing tool. It was inspired by my experience as a freelance nonfiction writer. This online service provides a basic foundation for writers to get organized by recording revisions, tracking submissions, compiling market information and registering rights and income.
For the past six months my husband and I have been designing and building a new web-based writer's tool. In this season of resolutions, we're happy to announce the launch of Writer's Desk, an online workspace to improve the way writers spend their time. We'd be honored if you pass the opportunity to colleagues and friends -- writers of all kinds -- who may have resolved to get organized this year.
Being a writer often sneaks up on a person. Not many train for the vocation nor start with all the equipment, contacts, long view. It's no wonder that eventually the snowball of success or dogged enthusiasm becomes an avalanche of produce - or expectation. Then buried writers inch along using outdated, poorly conceived systems to track work; repeatedly resolve to better keep writing in circulation; dream of one day expanding to new markets.
My computer scientist husband watched me -- a New York-based freelance writer -- function in this typical writerly way. But unlike sympathetic others in the writing trade, he found observing me in action unbearable. So we pooled my professional nightmare with his software developing expertise to construct a website that has revolutionized the way I work and is too useful not to share with the wider writing community.
If you can operate a web browser anywhere in the world you can use this online service to simplify the logistics of being an active writer. Subscription is less than USD20 per year and while the site is optimized for the U.S. market, feedback from international users will help make it a global service.
Register for a thirty day free trial at www.writers-desk.com to judge if Writer's Desk improves your current method to:
Track writing objectives and submissions
Compile editorial guidelines and publishing contacts
Register rights granted, income earned
Trace the development and history of work - and more!
We just opened it to the public as a subscription service. You can find the creative and business workspace at www.writers-desk.com
Writers use tools to *write* and tools to *sell the work*. Writer's Desk is a bit of a cross between the two since it helps a writer envision her portfolio, both published and unpublished; encourages hierarchical thinking about projects and other writing ideas in order to more deeply develop material; offers a place to consolidate market contact information and notes; and helps track submissions, rights and income.
I can upload documents to the web service for retrieval on the fly -- and open and update my account from any computer with Internet access. So for me, logging on to Writer's Desk every day affords a quick overview of what I've done, what I must do today, what I plan to do and what I hope to do.
A superb and versatile tool to manage song submissions and grant applications.
-- songwriter, Seattle, WA
Smart use of web technology. Finally I'm not tethered to my laptop.
-- journalist, New York, NY
Perfect for disorganized writers. Especially helps follow up with editors and agents!
-- novelist, Lawrence, KS
Portfolio overview is priceless. Great to develop new ideas, exploit material.
-- essayist, Des Moines, IA
Suits my purposes: developing scripts, tracking festival submissions.
As a writing friend or associate of mine, I’d like to cordially invite you to beta-test WRITER’S DESK. This new web-based writer's tool was designed by my computer scientist husband after unbearably observing me in action. Too useful not to share, we soon plan to launch it as an online subscription service. If you can operate a web browser, you can use this database software intended to simplify the logistics of being an active writer.
An online centralized place to store and manage information to maximize your writing potential, WRITER’S DESK can help you:
TRACK SUBMISSIONS AND MONITOR PROGRESS
Identify publications and presses where your work is currently under consideration
Display a history of your submissions to a specific outlet
Distinguish agents and editors you’ve followed up with and their reactions
Map the exposure of different incarnations of your work
Register the rights granted and income earned on each project
DEVELOP YOUR WRITING GOALS
Brainstorm overarching project ideas
Pinpoint specific directions to go with your material
Note thematic patterns in your publication history to strengthen your portfolio or phase-out beats of little interest
Log unpublished or unused material and make plans to capitalize on it
Chart a publication path to your dream gigs
ORGANIZE YOUR RESOURCES
Plan well-received approaches based on editorial and submission guidelines of your target presses, publications, and editors
Compile, annotate and manage a database of publishing world contacts
Upload document files for access on the fly
Search your projects and files by keyword or word count
HOW TO BE A BETA TESTER
The beta test starts in October. During the test period, use the tool to its fullest extent to evaluate how it works for you. While using and in an exit questionnaire, share your impressions about any and all aspects of the tool. (If you lack sufficient time or motivation right now, but want to be kept abreast of WRITER’S DESK developments, let me know by email before October 1. I will be happy to notify you when we launch so you can enjoy the software at your own pace.)
In exchange for your active participation as a beta tester, I am pleased to offer the online service free for a year, with significantly discounted membership thereafter. A considerable additional benefit of being a beta tester is that later versions -- customized with your valuable feedback – may align not only with the way you truly work, but how you have always dreamed of working.
Interested beta testers, please email me by Tuesday, October 1 and let me know what computer system and version of IE or Netscape you plan to use. Soon you will receive a detailed email with a link to the tool and the start date of the test.
Thank you for taking a moment to consider assessing WRITER’S DESK beta version, I appreciate it!
Welcome to the WRITER’S DESK beta test. Thank you for trying this new web service, your enthusiasm and sense of adventure are appreciated! Here are further details of the test -- which begins today -- and a link to the tool.
The test you are about to participate in is a controlled beta test, which means that it is not open to users beyond those who are initially invited. Any new accounts registered after the beta group has enrolled will be blocked. Others will be able to try the system for free when we launch.
However, feel free to refer associates who might be interested in trying WRITER’S DESK in an expanded test.
Since this is a beta, we will regularly update the site, incorporating fixes and changes based on the results of testing and your feedback. An update takes about five minutes, but for now we ask you not use the site between 11:00 p.m. – 11:30 p.m. nightly. If or when the schedule changes, you will be notified by email. We will also alert you to longer updates.
Like all beta versions, the WRITER’S DESK software you are about to use is potentially unstable. While no data has been lost during development and alpha, we recommend you safeguard the information you enter in the tool by printing it out. Also make sure you keep a copy of any documents you upload from your personal computer. The database will be backed up daily and transferred to a remote machine, but not the documents you have uploaded.
By participating in this beta you agree that you will refrain from sharing details -- large and small -- about WRITER’S DESK with anyone from the start of the beta period until we publicly announce launch of the service. We apologize if this goes against your communal grain. When we launch we would be more than happy if you mention the web tool to others!
BEING A TESTER
During the beta period, use the tool as often as you can and to its fullest extent to best evaluate how it functions for you. But also test its limits: don’t fill in every field or only partially fill a field. Enter what you think might be bad data and see how the system reacts. DO ODD THINGS! If all goes as planned, you will know when the system fails when you end up on an error page, on which the path of the page that generated the error will be displayed. But any other odd behavior should be reported. Let us know what happens to you, and while you work, share what you’re thinking by jotting observations and questions in the feedback form. Which sections seem gratuitous, which are vital, what is missing?
When the beta ends, in an exit survey we will solicit your opinion on possible new features, based on our own plans for developing the service, and your feedback while testing it.
Proceed to http://www.writers-desk.com. Register. Preview the Getting Started page, and you’re on your way!
We look forward to hearing what you think of WRITER’S DESK and thank you for your time.