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Current and historical attempts to chronicle my life and thoughts
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Monday, October 6, 2008


[This essay was originally posted to a blog on Weebly. In transferring it I have updated and made corrections where necessary.]

We who have chosen to be expats (whether perpetual, like myself, or temporary, like many) are often asked: "So why'd ya do it?"

It's not an easy question to answer. I made an attempt to explain it just after moving to Shenzhen in 2004; you can read it in this post on You Are That.).

But since then, I've come to formulate it more simply. My revised answer goes like this:

"How much of me is human, how much is American, and how much is just James?"

To explain further, I want to know how much of my "selfness" is:

  • Universal: Shared by all people, and maybe even a trans-species thing (many animals care for their young, etc.)
  • Cultural: How much of me was shaped by being a boomer: born in Cold-War America; having home life center around the TV; remembering the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and MLK; the upheaval of the 60s; dreading the possibility of going to fight in Vietnam; witnessing man's first arrival on the moon; civil rights, environmental, and women's movements--in short, being an American born in 1955.
  • Personal: idiosyncratic, shaped by my own personal peculiarities.

So in my reading, traveling, listening, conversations, I am constantly trying to figure out what makes me tick. Wherever possible, I try to apply my insights to becoming a "complete human being." It's never easy; sometimes this hard work makes me cranky, and far less likeable than I'd like to be.

But the need is incessant. Here's a gem from my listening that sums it up, and confirms that this is definitely a universal trait:

What is the point of this story? What information pertains?The thought that life could be better is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.
--Paul Simon, "Train in the Distance"


Mitch Lilly:

Hi James, I left (or tried to leave) a comment here a week or so ago, but it looks like it never posted.

I've now forgotten what I wrote!

Sort of reminds me about how meaningless all of this seems sometimes, yet somehow, on a spiritual level of universal connectedness, every single word counts for something.

I commend your soul searching, your quest for the truth of who you really are.

I think you're the sum of all those faces at the top of your blog, the end product of all your earthly and spiritual cravings, and much more.

Life is such a mystery, but it sure is fun to explore it!

Keep writing my American expat amigo!


My Reply:

Thanks, Mitch. Yeah, sorry we didn't get to see the previous comment. I think Weebly is wobbly!

Which reminds me of a joke. There was a really windy pasture where all the cows kept getting blown over. But the bulls, although shaken, never actually got knocked flat. When some of the cows asked how they did it, the bulls chanted in chorus:

"We bulls wobble but we don't fall down!"

(If you don't know about Weebles, this won't make sense!)

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