Category: Uncategorized

Let’s Talk

I’m no technophobe or Luddite, but I admit to longing for the sound of a human voice. A real human’s voice.

I use text and e-mail, but regard them as information tools. When I converse, I want to talk. I don’t need to talk long, but I prefer to hear someone’s reaction, tune into the subtleties of tone and rhythm. I particularly resent endless backing and forthing by text to iron out details of a meeting, plan or idea, which could be settled in one minute on the phone.

Before you protest, I understand texting can be done when you’re otherwise engaged — in a meeting, on a date, during a meal or at work. But such multitasking comes with its own perils.

And has everyone missed the irony that at a time when we are talking to each other less and less, we are being bombarded by devices offering to talk to us or allow us to talk to them? Truth be told, half the time when I’m texting I use the voice feature to speed up the process.

In the grand scheme my current pet peeve may be small potatoes. Studies seem to indicate babies, animals and children do not thrive if deprived of physical, tactile and real world interactions.  I can’t help but suspect the same holds true for adults.

After a week of campaigning, elections and then endless dissections of the elections, I needed something to remind me of the infinity of good things, ideas and fun the world holds.

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.

I am addicted to traveling. I admit it. I jump at the chance to take a road trip. I yearn to revisit old haunts or set off on new adventures. I love big cities, untamed wilderness, dry deserts and frozen tundra.  

Of course these days the act of traveling — of getting from point A to point B — is often an exercise in endurance and superhuman patience. And I have been known to sit in an airport and swear I’ll never travel again.

But I could never give up marveling as I watch men haggle over a squirming sheep —  “See the thick hair.” “Ah, but look at the poor teeth.” Acting out a scene that hasn’t changed in hundreds, maybe thousands of years, except for that cell phone the buyer is using to check in with his boss.

I have too much fun losing myself in the mazes of souks and bazaars. Where spicy aromas and brilliant colors mix with electrical supplies, dishwashing liquid and paper goods.

And I get such joy catching a glimpse of a Piggly Wiggly supermarket as I drive through the south (really how great a name is that).

Traveling reminds me just how enchanting what others consider mundane can be. And conversely how exciting my everyday life may seem to others.

And that helps me appreciate my life just a bit more, even when I’m not traveling.


The temperature is in the upper nineties here in Miami, the air thick with tropical humidity.
So today I dream of far off lands: Antarctica, the Lemaire Channel. P1000299

Excuse Me While I Estivate

Miami is having a very hot summer. I know, I know, we always have hot summers. But this year seems particularly brutal. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve been focusing on walking my dogs at least two miles a day, outside, in the heat.
This got me thinking about the fact that if you can hibernate in winter to survive the worst of the cold, you should be able to do the something similar in summer to escape the heat.

This random thought must have triggered waves out into the universe because — swear this is true — not two days later I’m doing the NY Times crossword and the clue was “Stay inactive over the summer”. Bingo. Answer was “Estivate.”

Perfect, now I can respond to those mad dogs and Englishmen who want to bike, hike, swim, rollerblade, or simply run around in the summer sun.
“Excuse me but I’m estivating. Call me in the fall and we’ll see.” (By then I’ll come up with some new excuses.)
Lena 1Charlie 1
Now if I could only convince my dogs to do the same.

One reason I love travel is that it not only exposes me to the rich tapestry of different cultures and their unique approaches to life, beauty, time, etc., but it also reminds me of how much we share. And not all of what we share is the good stuff.

It is extremely embarrassing to me that despite all the time I spent living and working in Taiwan, traveling in Japan and mainland China, studying spoken Chinese, I still find it very difficult to distinguish between not only different individual Chinese (unless I know them well), but the various ethnic groups as well.

But during my tenure in Taiwan I learned that this failing is not, as I assumed, a simple reflection of my Euro-centricity, but that Chinese suffer from a similar issue when distinguishing between those of us of European origin.

My boss in Taiwan was married to a Swiss-American. She and I were similar in height and weight. But I at the time had dark auburn hair and a ruddy complexion with freckles. My boss’ wife had porcelain white skin and pale blond hair. To our Western colleagues we were very distinct. But after two years and multiple meetings — both official and social — the mayor of the city where I served could not tell the difference between us.

Towards the end of my stay, I commented on this fact to my assistant, someone whom I saw daily. “You’d think he’d at least notice we have different color hair.” I said.

Now here’s the kicker. “You do?” She answered.

That’s when I realized that Westerners filter certain characteristics when they look at someone. We automatically consider hair color, skin color, eye color. We then move on to type of hair — straight or curly, and other distinguishing features. Chinese use othere differences: shape of face, width of cheeks, and other facial structures. After all, there’s no point in noticing hair color — always black, eye color — always dark, type of hair — always straight. Similarly we generally won’t notice shape of face, width of cheeks, etc.

Not sure what the lesson in all this is, but I’ve learned to be less judgmental of myself (and others) in this regard and to humbly realize that I’m only as individual as the person looking at me notices.

Exactly a year ago I wrote a post Why I Don’t Write.

Today I’ve finished a novel that is in it’s fifth rewrite and which I am preparing to send out to agents. So what’s changed? That’s as much a mystery to me as why I wasn’t writing was a year ago. But I’m going to try to pinpoint some key changes that seemed to have made a difference.

First, I decided I wanted to be published. I’m a story teller. I don’t write for myself, never have. Before deciding to make being published my goal, my writing was simply too much of an abstract exercise. This simple shift in focus helped me go from having written the first forty pages of my novel in the beginning of August last year to a finished first draft of three hundred thirty odd pages by the middle of December. I’d been writing those first forty pages for over fifteen years.

Second, I told people I was writing a novel. I went to conferences and participated as someone with a work in progress, not someone considering writing. I had my first ten pages critiqued by an agent and by fellow writers.

Third, I joined a writer’s group. I’m lucky because there’s a fantastic writer’s group here in Miami, the Friday Night Writers, where thirty or more local writers of a wide range of works — novels, memoirs, poetry, short stories — gave me invaluable feedback on what was working and what wasn’t.

Fourth, I began looking at my writing as a business, not just an artistic endeavor. That included the less “creative” aspects such as what it would take to be published, how to get an agent, what I would need to do now and later to get my book into the hands of readers. In this endeavor I’ve been enormously helped by tapping into the resources of The Writers Digest. Most recently I attended their conference in New York City where I not only participated in a Pitch Slam (words cannot describe the terror) and a series of presentations on all the ways a writer can find an agent, be published and become their own best advocate.

Finally, and perhaps most critically, I now consider myself a writer. Not “someone who writes,” not “I’m trying to write,” and NOT “I hope to become a writer someday.” Difficult as it is for me to say out loud (that inner voice keeps crying “fraud, fraud, fraud”), now I’m a writer and I’m doing what writer’s do. I write.


What do we remember? Why do we remember it? And how real is what we remember?

These are just some of the questions that come up when I start trying to “remember” my childhood. My earliest memories are nothing more than snapshots or maybe short videos. The experience of an observer rather than participant.

Then we moved to Cuba. These memories were like those of high school or college. I couldn’t tell you what happened every single day but they form an integral part of my current consciousness.

Even so, I am chagrined to realize I can’t think of one ‘friend’ from Cuba. I remember Maria who conspired with me to make my favorite cubed steak, black beans and rice when my parents were out. I remember our dog escaping the house and running down the two blocks to my school. I can still hear her jangling tags in the hallway and feel myself cringe in embarrassment as she bound into the room (the doors were left open to allow for cross ventilation) and down the aisle to plop herself proudly at my feet. I remember when Castro reached Havana. I remember visiting the Hershey cocoa farm. I remember some of my likes (horses) and dislikes (practicing piano). I remember being me.

From Cuba on my memories become richer, more complex, more complete. I remember people, places, events,

There is, however, another ‘memory’ from my early life. When I was in my 30’s, my father dragged out old home movies. I watched as jerky images with no sound or color chronicled my life from infancy onward. We were just about through our stay in Guatemala (ages three through five) when there I was smiling happily into the camera holding a doll. I was sitting on the deck of the freighter that we were taking to move back to the U.S. I laughed as my mother remembered that the Guatemalan jacket I was wearing was a match for ones she and my father both had which I later ‘stole’. Suddenly I was overcome with the darkest, deepest despair I have ever experienced. A voice in my head said “That girl is so-o unhappy.” It took me a minute or two to come back to what was happening around me. I had no idea what to make of what had happened, but the sense of great sadness persisted.

Was this a memory? I honestly don’t ‘remember’ being on the boat. I don’t even remember Guatemala. But I feel this was a true recollection of something that I did experience. And I still grieve for that smiling child who was me yet oddly not me.


Much is made of the fact that dogs teach owners about unconditional love. But they also can teach us about unconditional self acceptance.

I have two dogs. Marlena is brown, young, strong, beautiful and timid. Charlie is a small, blond, funny looking, feisty and 14-years old



Marlena who is something of a galloping galoot doesn’t regret that she isn’t smaller, blonder, more agile. She revels in her strength, her speed, her energy. And she sees her inability to be a lapdog as my problem not hers.




While Charlie struts his long hair and interesting looks down the middle of the sidewalk confident that he is perfection, king of his universe, totally unfazed by his size and quite happy that he is able to commandeer any lap in the vicinity.

My dogs learn, change and grow, but they don’t compare themselves to other dogs.

I, on the other hand, have spent far too much of my life wishing I were as thin as, or as pretty as, or as organized as …. you get the picture.

Whose smarter?