An expat’s perspective
Remember when you were a kid and your parents would go to parties that you weren’t invited to?
When I was growing up, the couple who lived next door used to throw a yearly party which they called “A Goddess Party”. The tall windows in the room I shared with my sister looked out onto our neighbors’ beautifully designed backyard (they made their living as landscape architects and could transform even a city yard into a small, skinny paradise). Through the thin glass, we usually saw and heard everything that went on there, even with the window shut. So once a year in the summertime, my sister and I would lie awake in our bunkbeds late into the night, listening to the raucous screams and laughter of what seemed like hundreds of women next door, while watching their outlines lit up by lanterns and candles wavering against the closed window screen. Then I’d hear the click of the front door and know that our mother had ducked out to join them.
I’d always wonder indignantly to the ceiling, why couldn’t we come with? We always travelled as a unit in those days, a mother and her two daughters, sharing every adventure. And while the party raged late into the night, I couldn’t help imagining what was happening there and dreaming myself into the backyard, a small child dancing with the tall, lovely ladies.
The feelings I have about my country right now are surprisingly similar to what I felt about the Goddess Party. Just like I had been for the party, I’ve been separated from the group yet I am still trying to get a gist of what’s happening through a closed window. I can hear what’s taking place inside, but I am not a part of it. This is how I feel about the United States, my old – and currently enraged – native soil. I chose to move to another country, and whilst I am still an American this choice, in this political climate, has left me feeling estranged, disoriented, and helpless.
Right now, the American society is reeling, fueled by anger, fear, and defiance. And while those are the feelings which stir my fingers to write, my current surroundings are much different.
For the last six months, I have been teaching English in Poland. While living in the small city of Gliwice in the south, I’ve come to know the country relatively well. Through learning the bus routes to the companies where I teach, celebrating the customs and holidays (especially Tłusty Czwartek, or Fat Thursday, on which we got to eat doughnuts all day), and attempting to learn the language, the country has become a part of me. But it’s a two-way street and I, too, am becoming a part of Poland, from all the money I spend at Żabka -the Polish equivalent of 7/11, to my friends, students, and boyfriend.
So which country am I a part of? I am of my old society but I am not in that society. Can I still call myself an American if I am barely taking part in the heated movement now sweeping the country? Or I am just a lonely individual who has been left out? The same as anyone who has been refused admission into a closed party, I can’t help looking back as I walk away, wondering what I am missing.
Last year, I flew out of O’Hare airport in Chicago, headed west as I had done so many times before. But in previous years, I had always left my country in a relatively stable position—as much as any country can be—and returned to find it the same as when I had left. But after my upcoming return in May 2017, I don’t know what I will find. When I think about going back to Chicago, I no longer feel the quiet sense of comfort that used to flood over me. Now I feel afraid.
After a brief stint in Ireland, I flew to Poland to begin my new job as an English teacher in the small Silesian town of Gliwice. I immersed myself in the country, in its long, divided history, old-fashioned religious customs and with its current state of affairs. I grew more accustomed to hearing complaints about the Polish government from my students than I was about my own.
But the U.S. election season was growing so heated that even my Polish friends were discussing it. When asked, I would give my opinion along with assurances of my absentee vote and then move onto easier, more appealing conversation topics that did not turn my blood blue in fear.
The talk would then turn to a discussion of the current Polish government which is run by a party that many of my friends and students have compared to the American conservatives and a prime minister who they have compared to Trump. But though they complain about their government to no end, it still seems to me that I am living in a functional country with resources, relatively satisfied people, and a rising economy.
Of course, Protests did rise up in early October over a contentious abortion bill, proposed by the Polish government, which would have made almost all abortions illegal. Thousands of women reacted by taking to the streets in protest, causing the bill to be shut down. News of the protests reached American newspapers from the New York Times to the Huffington Post and I began to get texts from friends reading about it. For a brief moment, I found myself in the country everyone else was watching. And in the strong, unified action of Polish women, I found hope for my own country and began thinking that we would be all right even if the unthinkable happened and we elected the candidate that I was so opposed to.
Perhaps it was all the episodes I watched of SNL’s cold open or all the sarcastic political commentary that I listened to through NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, but the U.S. election season didn’t seem real. I listened to the news and I watched most of the debates on YouTube. The week before the election, I drew the lines on my ballot and mailed it. Of course I took the situation seriously, but I was living so far away that it still didn’t affect me that much.
My flat mate Angel is another American living abroad. He commented to me that because of our separation from the majority of Americans, we couldn’t see the opposition. We only heard the viewpoints of Europeans and our friends, most of which were similar to our own liberal leanings. He told me that when he went home for Christmas, his Dad had pointed out a neighborhood nearby his home on the East coast and said,
“In this area, everyone loves Trump. There are signs everywhere, make America great again, you know—”. But seeing the evidence of real-life Trump supporters came as a surprise to Angel, who has been living in Poland for almost a year now. “Being here,” Angel continued, “you only know the opinions of a few people. You can’t talk to other people. That’s why we thought everything was okay.” The newspapers we read and the radio stations we listened to, indicated that Trump wouldn’t be elected. However, these were the newspapers and radio stations that spoke to me and people who held similar ideologies.
For all of us, it still wasn’t real. These were only YouTube videos and Buzzfeed fantasies. The whole situation seemed like an elaborate media gag with no real influence on my life. Voting at the poles even in high school gymnasiums and church basements had felt secret, secure, and official. But voting on my living room table a world away only added to this political joke’s surrealism. If I could fill in the document which reflected one of my primary rights as an American citizen in the same place as I drank wine, had parties and watched Netflix over dinner, than I too was lumping my ballot in with the comedy. The site of my vote was almost comical and seemed fitting with everything else that had happened so far in the campaign season: a joke ballot sent in against a joke candidate tailed by a stream of media jokes that stretched for miles.
Then I opened my phone on November 8th at 5:30 am in Poland (10:30pm in Chicago) and I read the polls like I was listening to the worst punchline that had even been offered after an already poor joke. Trump had been elected.
I was thunderstruck but still, it didn’t feel real.
Then the text messages from over the Atlantic began to stream in.
“I feel like I’m in shock.”
“America is divided.”
“I am afraid.”
“It is bad right now, it is sooooo baaaad.”
“I’m literally sick.”
I let the impact of the words of my friends and family members wash over me until something clicked. Then I, too, entered a state of shock and depression like everyone else I knew.
I consider myself to be a cheerful person, In fact, my main compliment from students has been their appreciation of my positivity; sitting in my classes helps lift them up from whatever dark mood work left their spirits in and into the sunny world of Lucy. But on that day, my usually bright demeanor dimmed gray and I had only grimaces and foreboding remarks to offer my students.
Time has flown since then to the present moment, only eleven days after the inauguration. I find myself typing away at the same spot in my Polish flat where I filled in my ballot. Though Trump has only been president for about a week and a half, he is already moving fast. To hold true to his campaign promises, he is beginning to work on building that infamous wall on the Mexican border, dismantling Obama’s affordable healthcare act, and has input immigration legislation that has sent much of the country into an uproar of protests and outrage. Of course this is common knowledge for many people around the world as it affects countries outside of the U.S., but with these new actions, the feeling of being an outsider from my old society has strengthened.
If I was in Chicago right now, the city I was born in and which I am proud to call my home, I would be living in a completely different environment. My friends there have been protesting at the airport and in the streets, they are taking action. The atmosphere is tense and excited, charged with high emotion and urgency. My friend Ryan told me about the protest he had taken part in right after the election.
“We shut down Michigan Ave during rush hour, which was pretty crazy,” he said, which seemed incredible, as Michigan Avenue is an enormous street that runs through downtown, bordered by towering skyscrapers on one side and parks and museums on the other. Even in the dead of night, it is a street that is never empty. Throughout the protest he heard chants of, “Not my president”, “Pussy grabs back”, “Black/gay/trans lives matter” and “Hey hey, ho ho, Trump has got to go”.
In recent days, people have taken to the streets again to protest and are probably shouting similar chants as they shut down giant streets in other big cities across the country. From here it seems to me that we are living in a terrifying and historic time. This is an era that will change our lives, one in which even moderate democrats must be driven to join and fight.
But it is still an era that I feel barely a part of - I am scratching at the window of my neighbors’ party again and I am craning my neck to see in over the well-trimmed bushes. I have never felt more frustrated. I am of Chicago, but I am not in Chicago.
My flat mate Angel echoed this feeling back to me. “I can’t go protest. I can’t go take my signs. I feel helpless and I can’t do anything. It’s like somebody is choking me, like I’m suffocating.”
Despite the turmoil at home, Angel and I still plan to move back once our contracts end. Somehow this frustration is pushing me to act more than I might have at home. Every day I have discussions with my international circle of friends, trying to narrow down the problem as we circle around courses of action. I think about what I can do from here and once I’m home. I follow the news more closely than ever and keep up with my friends who are in New York, Chicago, and other centers of heavy action around the country.
This feeling and sense of urgency leading to plans of direct action contradicts how I ordinarily behave. I’ve always been the compromising center point in my family and circle of friends. While the conflict whirls around me, I do my best to resolve it. I keep my mouth shut about my own opinion, only occasionally opening up to expand on one or two points when I know I can back myself up fully. I attended one of the most liberal colleges in the country where students were prone to direct action and resistance, but I always preferred to learn about resistance rather than taking part in it. I attended a march and a protest, but perhaps due to the writer I am at heart, I joined in partially so that I could understand the experience and people involved rather than becoming one of those people myself.
But now my isolation and inability to act while abroad is pushing me past my comfort zone. Now I want to take action. I need to take action, because I, too, am feeling suffocated by my own silence.
A realization I’ve come to as a frequent traveller and current expat is that as an American, you can never truly leave American society behind. It goes back to the idea that no matter how far you run, you can never escape where you come from. But you especially can’t if you are from a country that produces the pop culture that the rest of the world consumes. That’s why I was able to move to another country in the first place, to teach the language of cultural conquerors, a language that most people find themselves needing in order to survive in our modern, globalized world.
While I feel like I’ve been living in a constant state of anxiety and fear for the last few months, the momentum to go back has been growing. The U.S. needs me more than Poland does and I cannot escape the call from my all-pervasive society.
During our conversation, Angel asked me if I was patriotic. I shuddered as the catchy slogan “Make America Great Again” flashed through my mind.
“No, definitely not,” I answered firmly. But now that I think about it, maybe I’m more patriotic than I’d like to admit.
I have a lot of negative associations tied up with the word. When I hear it, I think of nationalists who want to force their views of America’s superiority onto everyone else. It makes me think of racism and the fear of others. Yet I’m also reminded about the ideals of life, love and the pursuit of happiness, and I remember that these are still American ideals that I want to support and uphold. Standing by these ideals is what makes me patriotic.
Unfortunately, the conflicting meanings of the word “patriotic” reflect the current state of my country. Rather than upholding an ideal of being united by our differences, we are being torn apart by them. And now Trump is capitalizing on our fear of those differences. If we stand divided, then together we will fall and the pillars of our society will tumble before we can realize what is happening.
Yet it is my hope that this is only the beginning of our resistance. If President Trump has accomplishing anything, it’s to ensure that Americans are going to fight back against intolerance and exclusion, even those who were politically inactive before or those who live on distant shores. Together we will stand, together we must stand, as a society, or divided we will fall.
Women of Independence is a documentary photo series that focuses on eighteen Japanese professional pole dancers and burlesque performers.
Since I was born, my brother and I were constantly surrounded by independent women from all walks of life. My mother, an extremely independent woman, raised my brother and I on her own in Battle Creek, Michigan. As a result, to this day my brother and I always believe deeply in gender equality.
While living in Japan over the past five years, however, I've noticed that not everyone is respected. In particular, women are not treated with the same degree of respect as men. Women are often seen as submissive and dependent and not being able to think for themselves. This came
as a real surprise to me, but I also understood that the seeming submissiveness of Japanese women does not describe the entirety of the Japanese society.
Later, a friend mentioned to me that burlesque was popping up all over Australia. I asked one of my good Japanese friends if she knew any Japanese performers and by a stroke of luck, I was then thrust into this world of women who are proud to be who they are while wearing the bruises, pride, and the hard work of their art on their bodies. They live by their own rules and train to do the craft they love. Despite traveling internationally and being recognized around the world, I found it odd that they were only known in certain circles in their own country.
So I started photographing these burlesque dancers who uphold the ideal of feminism being women’s freedom of choice. The career as a burlesque dancer will never be as glamorous as it may appear to an outsider, but these women are proud of what they do, because it is their choice and no one else's. Many people misjudge this profession, but in fact there is no stripping that occurs during their performances. It's all about the show that they themselves came up with. After seeing so many people writing burlesque off as performances that show women as sex objects, I decided I'd prove them otherwise with my own photography.
The goal of getting people to know and understand the stories behind these burlesque dancers was what carried me through. Taking photos of these eighteen women on and off the stage while also interviewing them was nothing short of a life-changing event for me. I found myself growing as a person after hearing about their struggles and understanding how they rose to every challenge.
I can't say enough how these independent women have inspired me to pursue my dreams harder than before, and it's an honor to share their stories with the world.
Women of Independence is independently published and released by my own company, Rising Up Studio. It is available now on blurb.com (ships internationally) and will soon be in bookstores
Nice to huddle down in a sleeping-bag,
like the others here, keeping winter’s chill
away with tins of cheap lager and heat
from shared cigs and spliffs. Not much we can do,
this raw night, but watch the treacly river
wambling the reflections of city lights.
Our arches have been shuttered off
from the scrubby ground where we could walk –
a change from freezing arses outside banks:
the developers whose JCBs smashed
the trees a few years ago have fulfilled
a terminator’s promise to be back.
Though this land is soured with industrial waste
their cranes are raising flat-pack apartments
for those who appreciate riverside
graffiti and have jobs that’ll pay the rent.
They won’t want us anywhere near. We know
we’ll be moved on soon; homeless yet again.
Cynthia stared at the stars
Night after night,
On the lonely beach,
Looking for a meaning to all that had happened.
But the stars wouldn’t give it to her-
They were selfish in their beauty.
Night after night,
She watched how the sea
Swallowed the orange sun,
Until it became so dark,
And tiny crabs enjoyed a last evening dance
Before the cold foam curled up onto the shore
And hustled them off into little craters in the sand.
wished the waves might carry her
through crests and troughs
Far, far away with them.
Fatou sits there in a dark prison cell,
Rejected by all,
The Medea of modern times.
Night after night,
She sees her children in her dreams
And the one that never was -
The Unwelcome One.
‘It will only be a matter of a few minutes’
said the agent at the Electricity shop.
And she had thought of her children who needed light.
Village whispers had spread from door to door
Trickling like a runnel of poison into her worn heart ;
Her husband had taken a second wife,
And the money from Europe had stopped coming.
So she had made a deal and thought of her children
As she laid down her virtue on the cold cement floor.
The minutes went by and the the light came back
But Darkness took over,
In the shape of a swollen belly.
And so she threw herself down flights of sharp stairs,
But her body would not rid her of her
‘Let us get married’, he had said to Cynthia
As he pulled her closer and touched her hair,
But the stars looked down in subtle mockery
For Love was another Continent ;
Cowardly in its nature and never to be-
Promises recoiled at news of the Unannounced.
His voice at first a muffled sound,
Stretched thick with anger as time narrowed down.
‘You must get rid of it !’ he screamed at her,
‘It is only a matter of a few minutes !’
Insomnia stiffened her eyelids,
Loosened the bounderies
Between heart and reason.
Cut-out, ready-made thoughts,
Tugged at one and then the other-
In her Darkness she had wanted to rip off her skin
-she could stand the feel of it no longer.
It was not hers-
It was not she.
Then time was up
And with clouds in her eyes and lead at her feet,
Along to the clinic she went,
Where sympathetic white overcoats greeted her
And wheeled her through pristine white corridors.
The neon lights turned into foggy bright blobs
As slumber bloomed inside of her.
Minutes went by and when she awoke,
Relief poured through her veins in faded colours.
And later one night on the cold, empty beach,
The stars at last told her the story,
Of the death of godhood
And the beginning of Life.
Fatou sat in the courtroom and listened to the verdict,
Her eyes were vacant and her pulse subdued.
Even the agent from the Electricity shop was there ;
‘I know her not,’ he told the judge with hands raised high.
In a nearby forest the villagers had found
The murdered infant wrapped in white cloth,
And knew it to be hers.
With wrath-filled mouths they chased her from the village,
Into the twisted claws of Justice.
Five years of vicious solitude in a dark prison cell,
Had smoldered her spirit, consumed her words, unfed-
As she had spoken and no-one had listened.
And when at last she stepped outside,
A solitary skeletal figure,
The skeins of her hair heavy on her fragile head,
She lifted her neck to breathe the warm air,
A flicker of anger lit her abandoned heart-
It was, she felt, the beginning of Hope.
Lavinia grew up in the UK, Switzerland, Germany and France. She studied German and Politics at Nottingham University and went on to train at drama schools in Paris and New York. She appeared in several plays and also wrote for the stage ( 'Célébrité: Mode d'Emploi' and 'The Saint Factory'). In 2015 she wrote and directed 'What Happened to Manfred' which received a nomination for 'Best Screenplay' and 'Best Actor' at the Bucharest Shortcut Cineast and was part of the official selection of the Stonefair International film festival. Recently she wrote and directed 'Kaba', (in post-production), while living in West Africa. She is now based in London. Follow her @laviniasabbott
Chen Chieh-jen was born in 1960 in Taoyuan, Taiwan. He graduated from a vocational high school for the arts. He currently lives and works in Taipei, Taiwan. Since the 1980s, he has been developing a body of work that is closely connected with the history of Taiwan, including Lingchi (2002), Factory (2003), Empire’s Borders I (2008-2009), Realm of Reverberations (2014).
Maryah Converse was a Peace Corps educator in Jordan, 2004–2006, and was studying in Cairo during the 2011 Arab Spring. She has written for From Sac, New Madrid Journal, Gulf Stream Literary Magazine, Silk Road Review, Newfound, and Stoneboat Literary Journal. She pays the bills as a grant writer in Manhattan, teaches Arabic, and blogs at desertmirror.blogspot.com
Malik Ameer Crumpler
Malik Ameer Crumpler is a poet, fiction writer, rapper and music producer that’s released many albums, short films and five books of poetry. He founded Satori Ideas Media and co-founded the literary journals: Madmens Calling, Visceral Brooklyn and Those That This. He is the new co-curator of Poets Live in Paris, France, has an MFA in Creative Writing from LIU Brooklyn and performs regularly in Paris and New York.
Rebecca Henderson holds a Master’s in German and a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing. Best expressing herself through the written word, she enjoys the smell of burning rubber and can recite the ABC’s of the automotive world upon command. Rebecca hopes to shift your world perspective through her words, because looking out the same window every day hardly makes for an interesting life.
Lucy Holden has been published in ARTPublika Magazine, Rollick Magazine, Polaris Lit, Pocket Lint, and Writer’s Slate. She earned degrees in Creative Writing and Theatre at Beloit College where she was a managing editor for the Beloit Fiction Journal. She currently makes her living teaching English in the small Silesian city of Gliwice, Poland. When she's not off gallivanting around the continent, she spends her time writing at home, playing violin, and reading P.G. Wodehouse. You can find more of her work on her online portfolio here: http://lucyholden894.wixsite.com/artistportfolio.
Catherine McGuire has 3 decades of poetry in publications such as New Verse News, FutureCycle, Portland Lights, Fireweed, and on a bus for Poetry In Motion. She has four chapbooks: Palimpsests (Uttered Chaos) and three self-published (www.cathymcguire.com), a full-length book of poetry, Elegy for the 21st Century (FutureCycle Press) and upcoming a deindustrial science fiction novel Lifeline (Founders House Publishing) in 2017. Her website is www.cathymcguire.com.
Benjamin Lawrance Miller
Benjamin Lawrance Miller grew up in Wheeling, West Virginia and currently lives in New York City. He has a MFA degree in Writing from CalArts and is Assistant Professor in the English Department at Queensborough Community College (CUNY).
Born in the United States, and still subject to the long arm of the I.R.S., Richard moved to Britain many years ago where he delved deeply into the culture of public life, that is to say life in a pub, as well as rugby. Moving to Belgium in 1996 he eventually, established himself as a statistical programmer in the Pharmaceutical industry. More recently, however, he's returned to his love of writing and songwriting. He’s currently wrestling with a ragtag bunch of musicians emerging from 1950s Los Angeles, a sleepy town nestled deep in the Appalachian mountains inhabited by eccentrics, a ghost and a (generally) friend black bear, and living in the 21st century. He has also contributed a piece to State of the Union, an anthology containing reflections on the 2016 American presidential election. Each Friday he posts a short, minute form, poem on his website to start the weekend with a smile, which, most of the time, shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Feel free to drop in at: https://vanishingpirates.com/ and watch him grow, very very slowly.
Retired after four decades' prizewinning print and broadcast journalism in Hartford CT, Don Noel received his MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University in 2013. His work has so far been chosen for publication by Calliope, Shark Reef, Drunk Monkeys, The Tau, Indian River Review, Midnight Circus, Oracle, Clare Literary Magazine, The Raven's Perch, The Violet Hour, Literary Heist, Dime Show Review, Yellow Chair Review, Meat for Tea, The Penmen Review, 99 Pine Street, KYSO Flash, Darkhouse Books, Simone Press and Zimbell House. His website is www.dononoel.com
Karen Wolf has an undergraduate degree in Education from the University of Toledo and a Master of Arts degree from Bowling Green State University. She has retired from a 30-year teaching career and is semi-retired from her own pet sitting company. She has been published in Smokey Blue Literary and Art Magazine, Dime Store Review, Tree House An Exhibition of the Arts, The Wagon Magazine (an international publication), Oasis Journal, and Artificium: The Journal, and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. She also received the E.E. Cummings Free Verse award and the Creative Challenge Award from PRIZM Art-A-Fair 2016. She says that poetry soothes the savage beast and opens her eyes to the beauty that abounds within the world.
Mantz Yorke lives in Manchester, England. His poems have appeared in a number of print magazines, anthologies and e-magazines in the UK, Ireland, Israel, Canada, the US and Hong Kong.