Category: Memoir

After countless revisions, edits and sleepless nights, I finally sent out queries for my maiden novel, Wild Echoes Flying. The act of submitting my creative baby to the unwavering scrutiny of industry professionals is both exhilarating and horrifying. I had successfully pitched this first round of agents, who’d all expressed some interest in the concept. I should be more hopeful, right? Instead, I realize I’ll now be judged solely on my writing, no way to soften the potential blows to my nascent creative confidence.

I’ve gone to conferences, participated in writing groups and classes, submitted pages for critiques, even hired a professional editor whose detailed, yet insightful, notes almost pushed me over the edge. I’m reviewing the business of writing, studying how to effectively promote my book if it’s published, and even explored the basics of publishing contracts.

Despite all this preparation, I find myself transported back to grade school desperately waiting for someone to pick me for a team, invite me to a party or include me in a game. The act of writing is so personal. Regardless of the topic, it is self-reflective.  All the research, editing, critiquing in the world doesn’t change my voice, my story, my idea. Even when I acquiesce to the suggestions of others, those are my decisions. It’s all on me.

But if writing is entirely subjective, so is reading. No book, novel, work of art — not even the classics — appeal to everyone. I know this. I should be mature enough to believe in my own creation. Still I crave the validation of my peers, of professionals, of others.

And, yet, despite the fear, dread and nail-biting suspense, I feel liberated, brave, powerful. After a lifetime of avoiding rejection, I’m now courting it. Good for me.

And so I wait.

Issues of citizenship, nationality and belonging have been in the news recently. The great ‘immigration debate’ rages as Americans try to wrestle with exactly when someone becomes “American”. But these questions are not just abstract legal issues or economic ones. They represent an essential component of how we define who we are. For the vast majority of people in the world, this poses no problem. But for some of us  – and our numbers are growing — questions arise.
Citizenship is a legal term, it refers to a country within which you, as a citizen, have certain rights and for whom the government has certain responsibilities. You can have, as do  I and many I know, dual, triple or even quadruple citizenship. You can get citizenship through birth, from your parents, from your spouse or through legal means such as naturalization. Citizenship is conferred differently by different countries. In some, it’s fairly difficult to attain. In others, quite easy.

Nationality is less precise. According to my American Heritage Dictionary, nationality is “the status of belonging to a particular nation by origin, birth or naturalization.” or “a people having common origins or traditions”. But what nationality are you if you’re born one place, of parents of another country and grew up yet somewhere else? Nationality can be defined by others. The Chinese government reserves the right to claim as Chinese nationals all ethnic Chinese from any community anywhere in the world, regardless of how long it has been since any family member has ever set foot in China. A friend of mine who was of Japanese descent – several generations ago – found it very difficult when she visited Japan because she found that there was an expectation that despite her foreign ‘citizenship’, upbringing etc. that she would continue to be fully and completely ‘Japanese’ including how she walked, talked and moved. She told me she grew tired of being criticized for how she stood while waiting for a subway.

For me, questions such as “Where are you from?” Or “What are you?” always provoked a feeling of discomfort. Where was I from? I was born in Brazil, spent little time in the U.S. growing up so certainly I didn’t feel as if I was from the U.S. But did that make me ‘Brazilian’? Not really. My parents were from the United States, I received a largely U.S. style education, and spent much of my adult life representing the U.S. overseas. So I must be ‘American’.

I spent only four years of my first 18 in the U.S., the rest I was in Guatemala, Cuba and Brazil. When I was a teenager I was so rabidly, wholeheartedly and fanatically Brazilian, that my American parents, fearing I would lose my American identity entirely, insisted in my returning to the U.S. to go to college. When they moved to Tunisia during my college years, I ended up with no family or roots to return to in Brazil, so I settled into life in the U.S. Ironically because I wanted to get back overseas, I ended up becoming an American foreign service officer and took as my job ‘explaining America’ to the rest of the world But I never relinquished my Brazilian citizenship and I always maintained a brazilian heart.

My latest ‘identity crisis’ was triggered by  the World Cup. The World Cup tested my national loyalties. I have now lived and worked in so many countries – in North America, South America, Africa and the Far East – that I have emotional ties to them all. When Spain faced Tunisia, who should I root for? When the U.S. faced Ghana? (Sorry, but I just had to root for the Africans on this one). What about when Brazil faced Ghana? How I envied those friends whose loyalties were clear.
But then I remembered two important points. First, while it may be confusing and at times lonely feeling no strong sense of belonging to one place, I get such great joy from feeling connected to so many places.  As the World Cup went on those who rooted so passionately for one team, lost so much after their team was eliminated. But I just kept finding a new team to which I had an emotional attachment.

Secondly my sense of belonging in the U.S. as a whole may be tenuous at times, but I do very much feel a part of Miami.  After all, Miami is  the community version of me. So many loyalties, so many identities, so many citizenships. I could hardly have found a more appropriate place to live.

And finally as I fret about my multiple identities I can’t help but be aware of the millions of refugees that don’t have any — no citizenship, no nationality, no home. So now I’ll stop worrying about my crisis of too many identities and  focus on ways — however small — I can help those who have lost all  of theirs.

Let the Story Lead You: Spain

I grew up traveling — lived in different countries, visited others. It’s a pattern I carried into my adult life.  And I was particularly lucky that I had parents who really knew how to travel.  They were adventurous, curious and open. That doesn’t mean they climbed the Himalayas or hitchhiked across Patagonia.  But they were readers. And through their reading they learned about new places, people and cultures. Often they would then venture forth and experience them in person.

They’d always have one real guidebook — given my father’s complete inability to get from point A to point B without visiting points D, K and L first.  But the books they used to guide them were memoirs, travelogues and novels.  I vividly remember the first time I became aware of their ingenious travel secret.  They were living in Spain and we had decided to do a cross-country trip from Barcelona to Madrid.

For that trip we used James Michner’s Iberia,  a memoir of his time in Spain during the nineteen-sixties. The writing is amazing. His images breathtaking.  Spain had changed enormously by the late seventies when we took our trip. But using him as our guide gave us so much appreciation of what was enduring and what was changing.

When we got to Granada,  I found an old copy of Rudyard Kipling’s Tales of the Alhambra.  It was a weekday and past tourist season, so I had time to roam or linger with little disruption. As I sat in the cool shade near of one of the courtyards reading “The Legend of the Three Beautiful Princesses,”  I was transported back in time. I could see the valley they gazed over. I had walked past the fountains of the gardens in their gilded cage. I could picture their escape. What a magical afternoon.

If you venture to Spain, I heartily recommend you consider reading Iberia and Tales of the Alhambra before or as you go. There are lots of other books, of course. Here are some of my personal recommendations:

Two classics set during the Spanish Civil War:
Homage to Catalonia  by George Orwell
For Whom the Bell Tolls  by Ernest Hemingway

And a couple more modern contributions:
Shadow of the Wind  by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (translated by Lucia Graves), again partially set during the Civil War. This is a rich, lyrical, mystical, very Spanish work — I personally enjoyed it most in the audio version.
Madrid Tales  — an anthology of Spanish short stories translated by Helen Constantine and Margaret Jull Costa. Not all the stories will appeal, but they are a great initiation into modern Madrid, and Spain.

Happy reading and bon voyage.




Every once in a while I push myself to do something I’ve just been too chicken to try. A while ago I decided to skydive. I had gotten a pilot’s license (small single-engine planes) while I was living in Kenya. But I when skydiving came up, I would assert that I saw “no reason to jump out of a perfectly good airplane.”

Truth is I have a terror of falling and was sure I wouldn’t even make it out of the plane, much less survive the actual skydive (I’m not the most graceful or athletic). But one day a friend was talking about her skydiving experience and I found myself wondering if I dared.1916437_1190578448020_6490572_n

Before I could talk myself out of it, I called a small skydiving company in South Miami and booked myself a dive (tandem, of course).

I decided to make the trip down alone just in case I chickened out or made a total ass of myself. It was a perfect morning — bright blue sky, not too hot, not too cold.

As I crawled in the small, rickety, old plane that was piloted by a young man who I doubted was out of high school, I figured I had a better chance of dying from the plane falling apart than from the dive.

1916437_1190578488021_2487389_nWhen I got over the shock of flying with an open side door (I was sitting right next to it), the hard part turned out to be getting my legs to swing out in preparation for the drop. My head kept saying move, the legs were adamant that they wanted to stay right where they were. But eventually we were all set. 1916437_1190578688026_5500300_n (1)

Then my instructor and I were out the door free falling. What a sensation.

After a minute or so the chute opened. And we drifted peacefully over open countryside. There was no sound, no distraction, no fear. Just gentle rocking.


I had worried about the landing. But my instructor guided us in so carefully I barely felt my butt meet the ground.

The result: An amazing experience, truly the thrill of a lifetime.