Fun having this piece on trailing spouses, accidental expats, and re-entry blues in the Wall Street Journal‘s Expat Blog today, co-authored with a new friend who is a military spouse based in Tokyo, the blogger Susan Dalzell. In it, we give a series of tips for surviving the dreaded “re-entry” phase back into your expat country after even a short trip home.
For those of us who are trailing spouses or “accidental expats”—drawn abroad not necessarily for our own careers or sense of wanderlust but for a partner’s job, family or nationality—global life presents unique challenges and sacrifices. Western culture in particular glamorizes expatriate existence, suggesting a life of global travel, international panache, and a social circle of like-minded explorers: a slightly more multicultural, perhaps sober, version of Hemingway and his brood.
Reality can hew a little rougher, though…
My favorite tip we include is this one, drawn in part from the struggles I explore and the lessons I learn in The Good Shufu:
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t always (or even ever) love your expat “home.” As a trailing spouse–especially if you’re married to someone from the country where you live–you may have asked yourself when you’re going to fall in love with your overseas home just as you once fell in love with the partner who brought you there. If you’ve recently been back to your native country, you may have heard friends and family comment on how exciting your expat life must be and how lucky you are to live abroad. But don’t let this guilt you into thinking you always–or frankly ever–have to love the land you’re in….As long as you’re fascinated by it, or even continually learning from it, you’ll have an expat life worth its weight in yen or euros or…
See our handful of other tips for surviving the re-entry blues in the full article at the Wall Street Journal online–and add some coping strategies of your own, if you have any new ones!
And in other fun news across the pond, the very cool HIPPO Reads names the book on their list of suggested reads for arts & culture, and–blushing here a little–Pop Sugar names the book one of sweetest + sexiest books of the 2015.
This weekend, one of the most thoughtful explorations yet of The Good Shufu appeared in the Wall Street Journal’s Expat Blog by writer Debra Bruno. What I love most about Bruno’s interview is how it captured so many of the nuances and complications of both expat life and multicultural, multilingual love + marriage.
Author Tracy Slater, an American writer and academic who fell in love with a Japanese man, married him, and now lives with him and their daughter in Japan, describes her journey in a new book, “The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Life and Home on the Far Side of the World.” (Shufu means “housewife” in Japanese.)
The book is a warts-and-all account of how Ms. Slater, 48, who had barely traveled outside the U.S. when she first visited Japan to teach business English, fell in love with an Osaka salaryman, adjusted to a new culture, made the tough decision to give up her life in Boston, and spent years helping to care for an ailing father-in-law and trying to have a child in her 40s.
Ms. Slater chatted with WSJ Expat about the complications of being a western woman married to an Asian man, why she never really became fluent in Japanese, and how she struggled to keep her sense of self in Japan. An edited conversation follows.
See the full interview here. And thanks, WSJ!
So happy & honored to have this piece up on Brain, Child Magazine‘s homepage. It’s about how caring for my beloved father-in-law as he died made me both a sadder and a bigger person, about how he “convinced me I could care for a child, that I’d grown big enough in the shadow of his decline to be a mother.”
My Father-in-Law Made Me the Mother I Am
By the time I married my husband, I’d already fallen in love with my father-in-law too. Not in any weird way, but alongside all the passion and love for my husband was a deep affection for the man he lived with, the man he called Otousan.
My husband, Toru, is Japanese, and in Japan, it’s not uncommon for people to live with their parents until they marry. Toru was chonan, the oldest son, the one who should care for his parents as they age. When Toru’s mother died in a car accident, he left his company-backed MBA program at the university in Boston where I taught writing, and he moved back to Osaka. Soon after, I went too.
We moved into an apartment a few blocks from Otousan’s. Most nights, I’d cook dinner either at our place or Otousan’s, and we’d all eat together. My father-in-law spoke little English, and like many older Japanese men, he wasn’t what you’d call a loquacious fellow. But in between his silent welcoming of me as family in a country where marriage to foreigners can spell shame; his kind laugh at my dismal attempts to learn his language; and his grateful head-dips towards the tea I poured him after every meal, I grew to love him.
I may have loved my father-in-law, but I was terrified of having his grandchildren—or any child, for that matter. Not because of who or how Otousan was, but simply because having children is terrifying if you go into it with eyes-wide-open. At age 40, the year Toru and I wed, my eyes were pretty wide open.
I knew it was a myth that every mother bonds easily with her baby. I knew people who’d never bonded with their child, and one who said that, if she had to do it all again, she might choose not to procreate at all. I could imagine becoming one of these mothers.
Read the full piece at Brain, Child Magazine online,
Japan’s AERA Magazine says….well, actually, I have no idea what they say. But I’m thankful for their profile of The Good Shufu (I think). Bonus points for anyone who can translate enough to summarize the article and let us know what it says!
The shogun was particularly unhelpful with this one. His insight was that it says “something about love and your book.” Oy.
See the article online @ http://dot.asahi.com/aera/2015110400088.html
Last week, I had the pleasure of joining the award-winning poet Jessica Goodfellow at the Japan Writers Conference 2015 to discuss writing and publishing as an expat, comparing my experience publishing with a Big Five press versus hers bringing out books with various small and indie presses.
We talked about what we learned from our own recent book publication journeys, covering ways of making necessary industry contacts (including agents and publishers), connecting with potential readers, types of publishing models prevalent in different genres, and more.
One other topic we discussed: the importance of supporting other writers, especially as an expat. In the spirit of this camaraderie, please feel free to get in touch if you’re interested in our list of almost 100 resources and tips that we handed out about increasing your chances of getting noticed by presses big and small. There’s a private, protected form you can use to contact me here, and I’ll be happy to send them along.
Oh, and also in the spirit of expat camaraderie, here’s a picture of me, Jessica, and our lovely friend Lisa (both of whom make repeated cameos in The Good Shufu, by the way!) sharing some bubbles post-conference.
A friend just snapped this picture for me in the Kinokuniya bookstore in Tokyo’s Shibuya neighborhood. Fun to be hanging with the best-sellers like Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up & Matt Goulding’s Rice, Noodles, Fish! Although let’s be honest: Their books are truly about being a good cleaner and/or culinary expert, while mine offers a, let’s say, more ironic approach to tidying and cooking.
Excited to have my first piece in The Washington Post‘s “On Parenting” site, one of my favorite new columns. I originally titled the post “Let’s Keep Books & Babies Separate,” although it’s been renamed by On Parenting’s wonderful editor, Amy Joyce, to “Writing a book is like giving birth? No, not at all.”
Here’s how it starts:
As any reading parent knows, a common claim made by writers—female and male—is that ‘writing is like giving birth.’
As a woman in my 40s who couldn’t sustain a pregnancy but who finally scored a memoir deal, few comparisons rankled me more. Now, as a 47-year-old new parent with a spanking new book to boot, I’m still frankly baffled by the equation.
When, after nearly five years trying and failing to have a baby, well-meaning friends tried to cheer me with, “Well, at least you’ll be giving birth to your book soon,” I wanted to respond, Really? But I bit my tongue. I was thrilled to have a book deal. Who I was to complain? (Out loud, at least.)
But truthfully, the book deal didn’t come close to compensating for, or even seem relevant to, the experience of turning 45 and hearing doctors tell me I had statistically a zero-percent chance of ever getting to meet my baby.
Then I became pregnant naturally at 45 and half. I live in Japan, where my husband is from, and at four months past my 46th birthday, I gave birth in Osaka to a healthy baby girl. So I suppose I had one more chance to compare the experiences—the incredible good luck!—of creating a book and a baby that would both live to see the light of day….
See the full piece here at The Washington Post online, and learn why I think the experiences of pushing out a book and a baby have about zero in common.
Here’s a short video clip from my reading at the Tokyo launch party for The Good Shufu at Four Stories Tokyo.
It narrates what happened just before my first kiss with the shogun.
PS. Apologies for the background noise. We like the Four Stories events to be festive so we encourage eating and drinking even during the readings. The upside is the funny, tipsy questions we get at the end. The downside is the occasional background noise!
I’ve loved and been deeply touched by the reader comments and reviews for The Good Shufu, and by the beyond-awesome support I’ve gotten from friends, family, and the book’s lovely readers. But I do have to admit that some people have expressed consternation by my admission that my husband still isn’t totally fluent in English and–most chagrin-inducing–that I haven’t made much headway in studying Japanese.
How can you be married to someone and not share a fluency? people tend to ask with some incredulity. (A related question involves how I can live in Japan and still be ambivalent about immersing myself in another culture, but this is a topic I’ll address another time.)
So here’s a little video clip that answers, at least in part, what I actually like about being married to someone who doesn’t always understand me, and whom I don’t always understand. (Sounds like a lot of partnerships, actually, doesn’t it? Even ones conducted in one native language…. A point I make more fully here.)
This video is from my reading at Newtonville Books. A truly awesome bookstore.