The following transcript of Dialogue2010: Mapping the Hybrid Life held on Sunday, February 28, 2010 has been edited for readability. Italics and [brackets] have been used for emphasis, notes, additions, or missing words. Links to relevant posts written by the participants have been added. I hope it is a pleasure to dip into our vibrant and moving conversation!
Listen to the original podcast here.
Moderator Rose Deniz: Welcome to the first installment of Dialogue 2010, curated and moderated by me, Rose Deniz, and hosted by expat+HAREM. Our conversation today is inspired by the idea that a hybrid identity requires an abandonment of the map in order to live more fully. We will be exploring how one’s worldview literally shifts as a result of location. This dialogue stems from my project, Art is Dialogue, putting into practice the belief that art can be created in conversation, that art can be formed in the exchange of ideas.
With me today are nine cultural innovators writing, thinking, creating artwork and asking questions about this very subject in the work they do, across five different countries and multiple ethnicities.
Tara Lutman-Agacayak is a creative entrepreneur and professional blogger who believes that people can change the world by doing what they love. Karen Armstrong-Quatarone is a life design coach in Italy who empowers women to consciously create lives they love. Anastasia Ashman is a writer-producer of cultural entertainment and the founder of expat+HAREM, the global niche. California native Catherine Salter-Bayar creates knitwear, seeks textile treasure, lives near the splendid ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus and writes about it all in her upcoming book Weaving Our Way Home. By day, Elmira Bayrasli takes care of press in New York for a global non-profit that supports entrepreneurs. By night, she’s a writer and a yogi. Jocelyn Eikenberg is the writer and Chinese translator behind her blog “Speaking of China“. Adult Third Culture kid Sezin Koehler lives and writes from Prague, The Czech Republic. DutchessAbroad Judith Van Praag, a true arts dependent, writes from the Pacific Northwest where she creates portraits and landscapes in words and color. Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Catherine Yigit is a writer and mother now living near Canakkale in Northwestern Turkey. And I’m American artist and writer Rose Deniz, founder of Art is Dialogue, a series of dynamic conversations where art is in the words spoken. I explore the intersection of art and domesticity on my blog “Love, Rose,” and I’m writing my first novel.
Dialogue 2010 is Art is Dialogue’s inaugural project.
Rose: The first question I would be most interested in knowing would be your definition of a hybrid lifestyle. Let’s start by describing the three characteristics you think one needs. We can form a kind of mobile definition of what that might mean [to live a hybrid lifestyle] and how it applies to all of us.
Karen: I think simply it’s a way of living that mixes languages, cultures, and/or geographic locations. That’s basically a rough definition that I have in my mind. The three characteristics I think that someone needs to lead a hybrid lifestyle is open-mindedness, flexibility, and being non-judgmental.
Rose: Is there anyone else who has those characteristics in mind?
Catherine Bayar: I also would say flexibility, curiosity to the extreme, and patience. And to me, a hybrid lifestyle is one that thrives on multiple energies. I equate it sort of like to the current trend with hybrid vehicles; you’re powered on lots of different kinds of fuels. And that’s how you have to be for a hybrid lifestyle, you have to be able to seek change and be very flexible.
Sezin: That’s so funny. For me, I’m totally the opposite now. When I was younger, yeah, definitely there were those qualities of flexibility and open-mindedness and all of that. But now things have changed a bit and for me, the three characteristics at least when I look at my hybrid life… number one is a predisposition. So I was raised to be like this, living all over the world. My mom worked for the UN. That was just a part of our life was just moving around. And so I think that definitely played a part.
The second thing is courage because it takes a lot to decide that I don’t want to live like that. I want to live like this. Even if it’s difficult, it’s still something that’s there and you have to do it.
And the third thing is determination. Because again once you put your mind to living a life that’s different than maybe most of the grain, you have to stick with your guns, right? Just go for it.
Rose: Something interesting being mentioned is predisposition. Is there anybody else that thinks that you’re kind of born with the desire to live a hybrid lifestyle, or challenge traditional notions of living where you’re born?
Jocelyn: I’d say that I was kind of the opposite [not hybrid] when I was a kid. I was shy. I didn’t want to leave my house ever. I cried when I went to camp for a week. I didn’t want to sleep away from my parents.
And for me, to end up spending a good chunk of my early 20’s to mid-20s in a foreign country, that was just like a huge leap for me from my childhood. But I think as you go through life, I feel like my identity [changes] and maybe that’s the case where others have progressed to a point where I’m [—]. When I think about three characteristics, I think of two similar ones that reflect the fact that it took a lot of courage for me to live abroad.
Just being adventurous and having that willingness to take a risk. It’s a real risk to place yourself in foreign location, to live away that might be different from what you have experienced as a child. And being creative. You have to think differently to understand what your place is in the world and who you are, especially when it’s different from what you know as a child.
Elmira: Jocelyn, that’s quite interesting because I grew up the opposite. I grew up as the daughter of immigrants in the United States and I was forced into a hybrid lifestyle by that very nature. And I, contrary to you crying, I was the only kid in kindergarten who was so happy to be there on the first day and couldn’t leave the school. I didn’t understand why everybody was crying and I thought this was the greatest thing in the world.
When I think about living a hybrid lifestyle, in addition to all the other things that were said about open-mindedness, courage and patience, I had written down compassion and empathy. It takes a lot to empathize with both cultures to look at what the good and the bad are.
And another characteristic that might be a little provocative but I also think is very true if you’re going to live a hybrid lifestyle, is moderation. I think there is truth to taking risks in order to live a hybrid lifestyle but I also think there’s truth to being moderate and understanding both sides.
Anastasia: I also have compassion as one of my qualities. And I guess it’s similar in the way that Elmira mentions that it was compassion for basic differences. They might intersect, and I may not always agree or understand or choose those things myself, but I find that life is more pleasant if I don’t get too hard-hearted about it, because there’s going to be a lot of things like that.
My other two: one is kind of similar to what Sezin said, which is that my sense of self I find is my most valuable expatriate possession. A well-developed understanding of who I am is something that is really important for me to live a hybrid lifestyle, because you can easily get knocked off what you’re expecting so you really need to know how to get back to who you are.
The third one is sort of related to buoyancy, being able to go with the flow but not get lost in it. I think of myself sometimes as being tied to a point deep below the surface of my changing options, and I need to be anchored that way but I also need, as other people have said, the flexibility to go a little wide sometimes.
Catherine Yigit: That echoes what I had [thought about three characteristics of a hybrid lifestyle]. Flexibility was my first characteristic. The second one was to have a strong core so that you know who you are and you can work from that and build from that. And the last one was communication because you have to be able to talk not only to other people around you but also within yourself so that you don’t end up with a split personality.
I defined a hybrid lifestyle as one that involves growth in several different directions at the same time. And it can be a bit overwhelming at times. As we feel we’re adapting, we’re pulled in several different directions, but it can be very fulfilling at times, too.
Tara: I just want to add to the things that everyone has said. I’m remarking about the different things that people have brought up and also the things that are similar.
I wrote down something similar to what Karen said. She said open-mindedness and I wrote openness, just being open to anything that you’re going to encounter.
And the other two things I said were will and commitment. And I think for me, If I hadn’t been committed to living this hybrid life with my Turkish husband, I don’t think I could have stayed in Turkey. As much as I love it and as much as I enjoy who I’ve become in Turkey, I don’t think if I had been committed to this kind of life that I could have withstood all of the difficulties in the first few years of our marriage.
So having a strong will and a strong commitment to living that kind of life, and being flexible, being open and patient and all the things that you all have brought up, I think that those things have helped me.
Judith: I will second everything everybody else said. Although of course, there are differences in upbringing.
I was the child who grew up without other children around, so I was also really happy to go to kindergarten and smile at everybody, to make contact. I think as I cosmopolitan expat hybrid, you need a sense of humor, to catch yourself when you stumble and to make up for the mistakes you make. I think having a smile is a great help when you don’t know what else to do. Adaptability and self-awareness, knowing what it is that you bring to the table. And opening up to what the others bring.
Rose: Thank you, Judith. I think everybody has had a chance to give a definition [of the hybrid lifestyle] and three characteristics. And I think they’re all really great examples of how it reflects the individual, but it also taps into sort of this larger idea of what it means to live a hybrid lifestyle.
The three things that have been really important to me living abroad and living a hybrid lifestyle have been a sense of balance and being able to manage the various conflicting feelings that happen. Having flexibility when I encounter things I don’t understand. I don’t [always] have a way to problem-solve immediately. I need some time. There might be a certain amount of delay before I’m able to actually fully comprehend or make a decision about something.
The sense of really needing to challenge my own personal boundaries relates to [the] courage and risk that other people have mentioned. But really for me, it’s an internal thing that the more open I get in my personal boundaries, the more I am able to adapt. From that comes adaptability.
Does anyone have anything that they’d like to add? Another kind of definition or another characteristic that came to mind while the others were talking?
Karen: Just to echo what Tara said, I thought it was interesting about her commitment. [Tara] said that you need to have a very strong commitment to living a hybrid lifestyle. A commitment both to the idea of living it, and a commitment to the relationship you’re in if that’s what maintaining the hybrid lifestyle. You really need to be committed to that relationship because living abroad and living this hybrid lifestyle comes about in different ways for different people, whether people go abroad on their own or live a hybrid lifestyle because they themselves desire it, or because they’re living it committed to a partnership. Being committed to that partnership, not only living that hybrid lifestyle, but also really committed to that partnership, I think really needs to be there. I just wanted to echo that.
Elmira: But what if you’re someone like me who didn’t choose to be in this situation? And I know that I have a choice now as an adult, but growing up, as a child growing up in a household where I was surrounded by Turkish traditions, but lived in America, I didn’t really have that choice to have that commitment.
Sezin: Elmira and I [are] from different backgrounds, but we’re on the same page with that. With me, I also didn’t have a choice of all the different places that we moved to based on my mom’s job. That was just what we did. So now, it’s tough me for me to decide, “OK, I’m going to stay somewhere,” because once I hit about the five-year mark, I’m ready to go somewhere else. And even though I hate moving and I really don’t like traveling anymore, I get this urge in me because I grew up like that.
It’s psychological, I know, [and] I’ve been reading a lot of stuff about Third Culture kids. It’s something that we all develop. All Third Culture kids, depending how long they spend in different places all go through this. Then you have this internal conflict trying to figure out – do I really want to move or is it just because I always have moved? And that’s something that I struggle with all the time.
Rose: Thank you. Sezin. Karen, do you want to answer Elmira’s question and [address] Sezin’s thoughts?
Karen: Elmira, you bring up the Third Culture kid aspect and that’s yet another aspect of having a hybrid lifestyle. That’s certainly valid as well. I was just bringing up the two options that came to mind: living a hybrid lifestyle on your own because you’ve chosen it as an adult, or living the hybrid lifestyle because you’re committed to a partnership. The Third Culture Kid model, if you will, is another valid one as well.
Catherine Bayar: I think it’s interesting that we’re talking about this [as] I have a post that addresses this exact thing coming up on Expat Harem shortly. I’ve chosen my identity as a hybrid; as an expat, I’ve chosen where to live, whereas my husband is more divided as a Third Culture kid. We’re both hybrids but in a different way. I’ve learned a lot and he’s learned from me. He had it forced upon him much more like Elmira and Sezin. It’s interesting that we look at it from different perspectives.
Rose: I think it will be interesting to move into the question of what you have to leave behind in order to live more fully because it ties us in to this most recent set of comments
Catherine Yigit: You have to be able to take risks. You have to make very hard decisions that are going to hurt the people that we care about perhaps, especially if you’re moving abroad away from your family, for instance. But that’s necessary in order for you to live a full life of your own. And that could be a really tough thing to come to terms with, that while you really want to do this, you still have to hurt people in order to do [it]. So I think you have to be a bit uncaring at times, and yet at the same time, have a lot of empathy and compassion to help people deal with your decision, too.
I’d say we never fully leave anything behind. Some of it gets put aside. We can’t deal with [it] or we can’t use it at this particular time, but that doesn’t mean that in the future, we can’t pick it up again.
Elmira: The one thing that I’ve learned how to leave behind is anger* and this feeling that there are two worlds [from which] I have to make a choice. I’ve come to really embrace the fact that it’s actually liberating to be part of two worlds and have a hybrid life, that I could choose the best from [both] of them and become my own person. And to [add to] Catherine Bayar’s point, I can be a hybrid person. [*See Elmira’s follow-up blog post on taking back her anger.]
Anastasia: I feel that one of the things I left behind is the idea that I’m the sole operator because so much of what I do now relies on other people. Whereas before, I was really living the hybrid life, sort of just exploring, and then I could pick and choose where I went. But as I settled into the hybrid life, suddenly I was doing things that maybe I didn’t want to do. Maybe I was sitting and having tea in a way that’s socially acceptable but I didn’t really want to be doing that anymore. It wasn’t really my choice to be doing that, but it was part of a bigger choice.
The image of myself as 100% extrovert. It turns out I actually have this inward-leaning character, even if I do crave connection with far-flung people and the rest of the planet. Like Sezin said, that she doesn’t really feel like getting on a plane, although she kind of has the urge to, she doesn’t really enjoy that any more. That’s something that I’ve noticed, too. Even my image of myself in the past was just definitely [about] leaving [something] behind, people saying back at home that they’re exploring the world vicariously through me. But [now] I am exploring the world vicariously. I don’t want to be in a crowded bus with a backpack. I don’t want to be bushwhacking my way through the jungle. I’ve done both things and I don’t really like it. I don’t like the bugs. I don’t like the heat. You know what I mean?
Once you had a little [taste of what you don’t want], you know that it’s not for you. So I think I feel like I’m pioneering plenty [now]. This is the way that I rationalize the things that I don’t want to do anymore.
Sezin: I totally agree with Anastasia. I feel so much that the one thing I just may have left behind is the idea that I want to travel. I think that’s something that I always thought I would do for the rest of my life. But now, I’m not thinking that I’m going to do this for much longer.
The thing that I’ve left behind, ever since childhood, growing up as a Third Culture kid, is this idea of home. And I’ve really struggled with feeling like I have a place I consider home. I’ve never had that. Since I’ve gotten married, that’s really changed things for me because now, I do have a home with my husband. And yeah, it’s a fluid home. We’ve lived in three countries since we’ve been married, but when I think about home, I think about our life together. And it’s actually something that makes me feel much more secure inside than I ever had.
I had to let go of this idea of having a stable home like a lot of my friends did, knowing that “I’m from Milwaukee” or “I’m from Berkeley” or wherever. I never really felt like that and now, when I think about it, I still don’t have a place I consider home but I have a person that I’ve built a home with. And that helps me. It helps me a lot.
Catherine Bayar: The idea of where home [is] and being flexible… what I had to leave behind was sort of a feeling of security of what I should have, the house and the husband and the car and the 2.5 kids, or whatever it is. [Leaving behind] all the American Dream accouterments, all of those things.
To do the expat or the hybrid life, I felt like I had to leave that. Yes, I’m a Southern Californian and I have all this stuff. However, I found myself, and more of my happiness, by putting myself out there and taking the risk. I don’t miss being on the expected sort of “this is what you should do the rest of your life” kind of thing that I see when I come back to the States.
My sense of home is much like what Sezin was saying. It’s now about me and my husband and where we find ourselves, and security in the relationship. And that defined home much more than a place I’ve left behind.
Tara: The things that Sezin and Catherine Bayar just said about home being more about who you’re building it with and not a place, that really touched me in a way that I haven’t expected. I feel that, too, but I hadn’t really thought about it that way [until now]. I feel that way about my family that I left in California because I really have a [very] close relationship with them and that was the hardest thing that I had to do, leave them.
Catherine Yigit also said to have empathy and compassion for those people that you end up hurting. I definitely relate to those feelings, too. What I said about what I had to leave behind was any expectations about how my life would turn out. Catherine Bayar said that, too, security, about what I was going to have in my life, [and] my expectations about what it was going to be, because any expectations of the life I would have had in California is certainly not what it’s turning out to be here. It’s kind of more exciting not to know. I mean, I have plans about what I’d like it to be, and we move towards that as much as possible, but not to be attached to anything is very freeing also.
Karen: In line with what Tara just said, and Catherine Yigit, I had to leave behind the idea that it’s my responsibility as a daughter to live close to my parents. I’m like Tara; I’m very close with my family. Growing up, I always thought I’d live maybe a maximum of three or four- hour drive from them. That’s my definition of close, within [the] distance [of an] easy weekend home by car.
I had to leave the idea behind that it’s my responsibility, my obligation as a daughter to live near my parents. I realize now that I need to support them in every way I can as they age. But I’m free to live where I want. I’m not obligated. I wasn’t born into this world with a set of restrictions [about] what I could do and where I could live. Realizing that my first priority is not my parents. It’s the partnership I have with my husband. So that was probably the hardest. That’s the thing I had to most leave behind in order to live more fully this hybrid lifestyle.
Judith: I felt for years that I had one foot in the Netherlands and one in the United States. I was hopping from one to the next, back and forth. I was keeping myself from really finding a life in America by remaining so attached to the old country, which of course, for me had to do with my mother. And I kept on going back to see her. But what I really had to leave behind, even although I went back regularly, was recognition in the eyes of other people. In the Netherlands, everybody in the arts scene knew who I was. I knew everybody. I had access to a lot of possibilities, and coming to Seattle, I really felt invisible. In order to become visible, I had to make a decision to really be in America and not to be a half-washed statue person.
Jocelyn: I definitely agree with you that home is really not a place. It’s totally something that’s within me and something that’s because of my husband and my family. I think it was Catherine Bayar who mentioned security. I wrote down fear as one thing that I had to leave behind in order to leave more fully. I went to a country where… I went to China [where] I couldn’t speak any Chinese at all.
I was put into this position where I was making mistakes everyday. And there was this part of me that’s perfectionist. Afraid to make mistakes in public, and I had to make mistakes in public all the time. Getting over that really helped me to [say] it’s OK not to be perfect, learning along the way as you go, and that helped a lot. Another thing that I wrote down might seem very silly. I thought about attachment to stuff that I had to leave behind, just a lot of stuff in general to be able to live more fully. I think when my husband and I moved to China from the US, we had to leave behind so much. When we moved [back] to my hometown on the east coast, we then had to move to Idaho because he’d gotten into graduate school. Gas prices were so high and we could not move everything. We ended up selling all of our furniture, which at first was the last thing I wanted to do, but we sold everything and it was so liberating.
My husband always told me that you can’t take it all with you, and people say that when you die, you can’t take it with you. But I think that being less attached to stuff right now could free you if you’re willing to embrace that.
Rose: I’m going to echo Jocelyn on leaving stuff behind. When I came to Turkey, I only had three suitcases. Leaving now, if I go in reverse, I’ll have to get rid of all my stuff again. I’ve accumulated so much. I can really relate to the idea of [being a] perfectionist and wanting to speak perfectly in Turkish, wanting to be able to see my plans and my goals, [wanting to be able to] manifest, which seems related to the fact what I had to leave behind impatience.
Leaving behind impatience is still a work in progress, and I don’t think it’s something that comes naturally to me at all. I want things to happen when I want them to happen. And that is something that I deal with daily in living fully.
Now, what have you held onto in order to live an expansive life? [We’ve talked about] what we’ve let go of, and now we’re going to talk about what we have kept as essential components.
Judith: I have held on to being an anthropologist, foremost. I’ve always been that, I think. I try not to lose that fresh eye, the curiosity. Also, very importantly, I do not want to forget what my background is, what I bring to the table, and what I see differently than the people around me. I think it’s very important to hold on to that part of myself that is European and not American.
Catherine Yigit: I have to agree with Judith that my power of observation has increased, and I want to hold onto that. No matter how much I adapt to Turkish life, I still want to be able to see things a bit differently by not being completely Turkish. Another thing that I hold onto is strength and courage, because in order to take the leap and move here [and start] a family, that took a lot of strength. Sometimes when I’m not feeling very strong, that can help me, because I know I did it once so maybe I’ll be able to do it again.
And also my creativity has increased because I needed an outlet and so that was how I came to writing. That’s another thing I am holding onto and trying to nurture.
Sezin: The thing I held onto is my writing. I’ve been writing ever since I can remember. I have all [my] journals here to prove it, too. That’s been a way [of] release. It’s been how I figure out how I’m feeling about things. It’s been how I deal. And not just writing about what is happening to me, but all of my scary stories and all my poems and all that stuff that I’ve been doing, that is something that’s just a fundamental part of me. I think if I couldn’t do that, my head would just explode. The main thing that I’ve held onto, and I’ve had to let go of so much, when I think back, is just the words. I’m really lucky that I have all these journals. Finally, I have all the journals here with me, which [was] a really big deal when finally my mom sent all my stuff over.
It was the first time in almost 15 years that I could say I was living in the same home as my journals. It is just [such] a great feeling, [and] I have them in a special box that my husband gave me last year. I don’t necessarily read them, but there’s something that makes me feel really great when I open the box and I see them and [they] smell a little moldy and I just love that.
Jocelyn: I have to echo Sezin and Catherine’s comments about writing. Writing is what I’ve had to hold on to. Especially living out here in Idaho, just like a lot of you were surprised that I’m in Idaho, a lot of people that come to my website have no idea I’m out in Idaho.
Recently I posted we had Chinese New Year at our university, and Phil, my husband, and I were the host. I posted some photos on that and then some guy posted a comment and said, “So you were the host of something going on in China?” I said, “No. Idaho.” I actually have been able to create kind of a little piece of China of myself in a place where China in the minds of people and China for all intents and purposes didn’t really exist that much. So it really keeps that connection alive for me.
Anastasia: One of the things that kind of ties in both with what Jocelyn just said and also our last question about what we left behind [is] I think one of the things I left behind was the feeling that learning languages was going to be a key for me at all. That means that I had to learn another way to remain fluent and I mean what people have mentioned: writing. It’s exactly what has been key for me to remain fluent and also to understand.
The whole idea of Expat Harem [was] to find people that I could communicate with regardless of where they worked, that they were actually close to me in ways other than physically, and that they were people that I could interact with. I didn’t want to lose that fluency in the world.
This idea that physically where I am is not a limit on the where and how I live in the world, and so like Jocelyn, creating a piece of wherever it is that I want it to be. It’s not a particular place, like China. But it does have to be a place that feels like home. And it does have to be a place with some kindred spirit. I think that that’s what I’ve held onto, and a way that people can see I’ve held onto that with my language and the way that I run my household and my general lifestyle. Even if I am in Turkey, there are plenty of things that I do that way I want to do. And maybe, they’re not even the way people back home do them. They’re the way that I do them.
Elmira: Judith, you said when you opened up you held onto your curiosity, and that really resonates with me. And interestingly enough and building up on Jocelyn’s point about having Chinese New Year in Idaho, I feel that the one thing that I’ve been able to hold on to is my curiosity not just for the hybrid life that I lead in the two cultures that I love and know, but also being able to go into other cultures and be curious about those and integrating them in some way into my life. And while I do that, I find that when I go out and explore other cultures and I learn more about China or Cambodia or India or these many places that I travel to, I come to appreciate my traditions and my values that I grew up with here in New York, be it the ‘nazar’ [blue beads to ward off evil spirits] in Turkey or the Fourth of July and having hotdogs. I can be so incredibly hokey about it.
I have my blue ‘nazar’ everywhere and it’s on my arm and it’s in my apartment. And on the Fourth of July, it’s all about the hotdogs and [I’ve] got to put the flag out.
Rose: Those are real symbols, in fact, that you’ve held onto. I think that’s interesting [they are] physical things as well as emotional and immaterial.
Judith: I didn’t mention writing because it’s so much part of my life. I don’t even think of it as a separate thing. I think it’s harder for me to remember my art if I don’t have all my equipment around me, if I don’t see paintings I’ve made before or other works that I’ve made before.
But the writing, yeah, I’ve got journals, too. I also feel very, very rich to have the journals that I see right beside me here. And sometimes I read them; sometimes I pluck material out of them for something I’m writing. But the writing, verbalizing for myself and for others what’s going on, what I see is almost second nature. It’s what sustains me. Of course, it’s what the anthropologist has to do in the end, make it so you can share it with others as well.
Catherine Bayar: I agree with a lot of [what] you are all saying. What I hold on to the most strongly is my creativity, which takes so many different forms. And in Turkey it blossomed into writing. But before, it was sketching and painting and knitting and creating textiles and all sorts of things. If I had the physical tools, a few things, not so many, that I bring with me, it reminds me of my creativity, nurtures my muse.
Another thing that’s very important, and which a couple of you have touched on, is the ability to look at different situations from different perspectives. I can celebrate the Turkish-ness, the ‘nazar’ which I’ve got on my wrist right now, and the different American holidays and all those different things, and realize that my point of view and my way of being is not the only one. I’m sort of at the center of a lot of these things and I could pick and choose what to celebrate. Retaining my freedom to live on my own terms, and to say that I’ve lived in these multicultural places. I now live in a place that’s a little bit perceived as a more closed traditional culture, but I’ve blossomed and flourished more [there] in my identity than anywhere else.
Maybe it’s just a culmination of decades of being creative and suddenly it’s unleashed in the most unlikely of places. But the sense of creativity is something that I absolutely, whatever form it takes, could not live without.
Tara: One of the things, Catherine that you were talking about was having a choice, and I think Elmira you said this, too, having a choice and being able to celebrate different holidays. Or what you said, Catherine, that mine was not the only one; my holidays aren’t the only one.
For me, I can be so adaptable that I lose myself, get so caught up in different cultures or other people’s enthusiasm that I forget about myself. Living this hybrid lifestyle really gave me a sense of who I am because I had to look at that really critically. I said that my values were something that I held on to, that as I compared my American life with my Turkish life, I found those things that are in common that I think really define me. In the core, they aren’t really an American or Turkish, but they are Tara.
The thing that symbolizes that for me is my name. I’ve had a lot of people ask me in Turkey why I didn’t change my first name. I did take my husband’s name. And I think it’s traditional that if you convert to Islam that you take on a Muslim name. So when they see that I still call myself Tara, I have lots of people ask me why I didn’t change my name, I say, “Because that’s the name I’ve always had and I don’t intend changing that.” So that symbolizes that for me. That’s really the core of me.
Karen: In line with what Judith said about her holding on to being European, as opposed to being American to retain her identity, what makes me most obviously different from people around me is that I’m not Italian. What I’ve held onto to retain my identity is being American. I live in Italy. I’m fluent in the language and love the culture but I’m not Italian and never will be.
I’ve seen other foreigners here [and] if it’s fine for them [if] they want to become Italian. I’m not. I’m not Italian and never will be even though I know the culture. I’ve absorbed so much of it. Some of my cadence in speaking English has changed slightly since I’ve been here. But I’m not Italian. I’m American. So holding onto that, my being American is something that I’ve felt that I really needed to do. What that means practically speaking is that [it appears] in two ways: one is that I haven’t taken on Italian citizenship in addition to my American citizenship. It’s sort of my way of saying, “No, I am not Italian. I’m American.” The other way is that since we live here, and visit the States, it’s important to me to celebrate American holidays here. My Italian family, my in-laws, celebrates Thanksgiving with me and they find it novel, “What’s this, turkey? What are we eating?” Celebrating the holidays, the American holidays, is important to me to hold onto that.
Rose: What I had to retain was my sense of myself, my core, and my core is something that may change to a certain degree, but it also stems from being an artist and a writer. I don’t think that has changed for me at all. No matter what kind of life challenges or changes I may face, even during change, upheaval, grief, and joy, whatever the circumstances may be, if I have my core, if I know who I am, then I can anchor myself wherever I am in whatever situation.
Judith: Rose, when you moved to Turkey, did it take a while before your core caught up with you or just…?
Rose: Judith, that’s a fantastic question. Actually, to be quite honest it took me a good year to make a painting. I really struggled initially to really be able to translate anything I was experiencing into a creative outlet. One of the things that helped me was to work in a completely different medium. I switched from painting. I started writing more, but I also started working with textiles and that’s what led me to develop three lines of handbags that I had made here in Turkey.
Once I was able to satisfy that part of me that needed to make something creatively, though it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing, I actually sort of let it go and have gone back to painting and writing. That doesn’t mean I won’t [return] to textiles, but that creativity that so many of you had mentioned that you had to keep, was what allowed me, I think, to navigate those first couple of years that were very challenging. As long as I could pick up something and do something with my hands, I would be OK.
How do we define a hybrid lifestyle?
Anastasia: It’s a lifestyle that intersects the many worlds that we belong to, on different levels and for different reasons. Like our blood, our upbringing, our schooling, our surroundings, the chance meeting of life that has pulled us one way or another in the pursuit of our interests. World travel, marrying across culture, these are all just some of the ways that I think we’re split beings. And trying to live in a way that honors all those different parts of ourselves is the hybrid lifestyle.
Judith: Catherine said earlier that the hybrid lifestyle makes her think of the car, and that was exactly what I was thinking as well. Just like the car that drives on what is it, electricity? I think we can bounce back by using what is part of our upbringing and past whenever we can’t quite figure it out in the new world or with what we understand of that. So in a way, we could have more bounce as people who live in a hybrid lifestyle, because there is that little extra that we bring in. As long as we remain aware of that, and we know to turn on the switch or make to switch when necessary.
Catherine Bayar: It’s the ability to be able to read the map and to go navigate our lives with a GPS if needed, but also know when to switch it off. Just to go off the beaten path and just see where it takes you, the freedom and the courage to do that, to flip off the GPS, get on the road and see where it goes and where it intersects, see if it conflicts. How can you see if it provides the exciting mix that you find yourself in or maybe you have to get back to the map? It’s just being able to sort of switch in and out of that, and the flexibility of that.
Elmira: If we’re going to go on the technology analogy, I think before the invention of HDTV, I would have said that I think people that don’t lead a hybrid lifestyle really are looking at a black and white television. It’s very one-dimensional. I think Catherine Yigit, you said this, about how you have different panels and your world vision has been expanded. A hybrid lifestyle is full-color HDTV. And for me, it’s even more than that. It’s really not only getting the color. You’re taking the different aspects of the different cultures and you’re able to synthesize it. I mean in a way, you’re really making it poetic, musical and into a symphony. I’m not surprised that everyone involved in this discussion is a writer, is passionate about creativity, is thinking about design, is thinking on those terms, because we are constantly weaving in that and creating our own masterpieces.
Sezin: I’m just going to take it a little bit further and I’m not going to talk about designing a hybrid lifestyle. I’d like to just talk about being a hybrid. For me, my mom is American. My dad is from Sri Lanka but like I’ve said, we’ve lived all over the world.
This is really what has shaped me, obviously. It had to. I think it’s one reason why I’m really into horror and why I like monsters so much. It’s because I’ve always felt like a perpetual outsider.
I look different whenever I go to America. People say, “Where are you from?” Whenever I’m in Sri Lanka, “Oh, where are you from? Oh. You’re American.” I’m always from somewhere else.
The idea of monsters is something that really appeals to me because they’re hybrids, too. They’re made of two disparate things or several disparate things, and they stand out in a lot of ways.
I feel sort of empowered by the monster metaphor because if you always feel like an outsider, then it’s sort of good to have a little bit of other people’s fear on your side. So they might not know exactly what you’re going to do. Or you’re sort of unpredictable to them. And that’s something that I really embrace about being a hybrid.
Anastasia: There are lots of lovable monsters out there.
Sezin: Yup, I love monsters. My favorite!
Tara: The answer to this question I wrote in a tweet was [that] the definition of a hybrid life is both and neither. I’m both of the cultures and neither of them at the same time. Sezin, what you’re saying is that you are the hybrid. It’s not a hybrid lifestyle. You are that.
Touching on the question, “How has your world view shifted?” I think I see a lot more possibilities than I saw before just having one perspective. And Elmira, I think you’re talking about this life in color, this symphony, that is something that I have experienced because I can see many more ways to do things, many more solutions to problems, many different words for the same object or the same idea. My life has become richer in possibility because of changing where I live.
Karen: Like Tara, I really like Elmira’s analogy of a hybrid lifestyle being TV in color rather than in black and white because life is so much richer. Tara, you were mentioning words, that you have another word for different objects. In mixing a language in a hybrid lifestyle, there are expressions in Italian that express an idea or a concept that didn’t exist for me before, didn’t exist in English. So life is so much richer. It’s not black and white. There are just so many facets to a hybrid lifestyle.
Catherine Yigit: I think the TV idea is great, but I say it also a bit like a stereo-radio where we have multiple inputs coming in. And that’s stimulating us to grow or to be creative in a way that maybe people living in single culture don’t really get. It could be from a simple idea where two people from different cultures approach a problem so differently. We can see that and observe that and then translate into our own lives. That’s what a hybrid life is.
Jocelyn: I’ve been the quiet one sitting in the corner. I have to say that I really — Sezin, what you said about being an outsider, that really resonated with me. Even though I actually grew up in the Midwest with two white parents in white suburbia, I felt like such an outsider. I think I was an outsider for most of my life, even in college, until I actually went abroad. [Now] my whole life has kind of been sort of adapting, something fluid and changing with the circumstances as things emerged. I guess that kind of influenced my definition, because I said that a hybrid lifestyle for me is kind of fluid, willing to bend, flex and change.
I didn’t, for most of my life, even imagine myself as a writer, or even imagine myself in China or even think that I would speak Chinese or learn the language. I didn’t imagine any of that. It all came out of just this random decision to go to China, this sort of serendipitous decision that I wanted to go to China. My life just sort of in this kind of Taoist way emerged, changed, and grew. I adapted and I learned things from being in the culture.
Rose: Jocelyn, I could relate to the unpredictability and impulse in wanting to go somewhere. My definition includes the idea of being open to the unknown and merging these disparate parts of not just myself, but also the culture, in my case there’s two. As we encounter other cultures, it grows and expands. Having that openness allowed these different things to exist somewhat harmoniously in a hybrid lifestyle.
The discussion became not just about living the hybrid lifestyle but about being hybrid in and of itself, and I think it is a very interesting development in this conversation so far.
Anastasia: Jocelyn just said it for me that I think for many of us we were hybrid long before our lifestyle was technically hybrid. And so living a hybrid lifestyle has made sense, not only our lives, but also who we’ve been all along and maybe weren’t getting support or understanding from the people around us for those urges.
Jocelyn: Anastasia, that’s so true. I’m so glad you said that because we talked about support. I know that growing up. My parents told me, “Go into science. Get a biology degree.” I love biology but it didn’t resonate with me. I had to arrive at this creative sort of hybrid lifestyle on my own, without that kind of support.
My husband supports me now. He’s my biggest supporter and every time I second-guess myself, or say if I don’t [know] if this is right or I don’t know what I’m doing, this is crazy, he’s the one saying, “No, no, no, you’ve got to move forward.” That’s fantastic.
Rose: Let’s answer this last question. Tara, you already mentioned it a little bit in your most recent answer “How has your world view shifted as a result of location?” Do you want to start or add to that?
Tara: I want to piggyback on what Jocelyn said already, and [what] Anastasia [said] about being hybrid. When I came to Turkey, I actually found myself. When I was in California, not that I was dead, [but] maybe I was searching. When I came to Turkey, I felt that I really knew myself so much better, and that I found myself. Maybe as a result of that, how my worldview shifted is that I saw things through different eyes now, I knew myself better. I knew more clearly the questions I was trying to answer in my life and I’m exploring where to go and find those answers. Having a different language and having a different viewpoint has really made me feel that my life is so much more fulfilling.
Sezin: Wow, that’s interesting because since I’ve moved to Prague, I also really feel like this is the place I’ve really come into myself as a woman as a hybrid creature, as a writer, as so many things, as a wife, as a friend. It’s weird because this place has really not been the easiest for me. The weather is unbearable. I’m just not made for this. I’ve really had to toughen up. I complained about it a lot. That’s just one of the ways that I vent. But since I’ve been here, so much amazing stuff has happened. When I put it all into perspective, OK, yeah, the weather is really awful but everything else in my life is going so well. I’ve actually never felt my life go as easy as it does here in spite of all the challenging aspects of living here.
There’s really a creative fount here, and I’ve tapped into it and I’m part of it and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m here for another 10 years, which is weird for me to say that. So answering the question how my worldview has shifted, Prague has absolutely changed my life and I don’t think these changes would have happened. If I hadn’t come here, I think they might have happened to some degree. It might have taken me a bit longer, but something about me being here, this is where I am supposed to be and I’m with the person I’m supposed to be with. And my life just all of a sudden started to make sense.
Catherine Bayar: And very much what Sezin is saying about sometimes, it’s the tougher places that are most unexpected, where you do become fully yourself. Maybe you’re challenged because it is so much tougher and off the map. Some of what Tara was saying, too, in California, I was on autopilot with my life before. And it was sort of a planned out route and it was all sort of nice and lovely but very superficial. When I moved to Turkey, it was spur of the moment. I just heard there was something calling me and I had to go. Something was telling me to go this way, go off the map.
My world view just flipped on its head because all my preconceived ideas about a lot of things just went out the window, and I had to see my world view just changed by everybody around me, not just the Turks but also the people, since I lived in a tourist town and the world comes through there. I was talking to all people around the world on a daily basis, so my worldview was shifting so rapidly that I didn’t need TV. Everybody was coming to me. It was just an amazing experience. Going someplace, you’re just compelled, like Sezin said, to go some place where it all comes together, as unlikely as it may be. My worldview was shifted by going off that path.
Anastasia: Coming to Turkey, I had lived abroad in two other places before this in Kuala Lumpur and Rome, but coming to Turkey actually helped put together those experiences as well, as I was saying before, this general hybrid self that I already had. It made sense, a reality that I always felt but was uncomfortable with. Yes, we go off the map, but we go off the map for some reason. We have some kind of motivation for leaving the map, because I think frankly the map is a well-worn groove for so many of us so I think it takes extra energy to jump that groove.
Having spent that energy to jump that groove or whatever it is that bumps us off our planned life, I found that when I came to Turkey, I hit upon the whole idea of the Expat Harem. It actually provided a theoretical home for me and my conflicted feelings about ex-patriotism and my literary career. This is a new cultural context that I would not have had if I stayed home or if I’d gone somewhere else. I really don’t know what I’d be doing right now.
Elmira: Building on that, it’s interesting because even though I feel I’ve lived a hybrid life my entire life, it’s only when I’ve moved to Bosnia with a culture I did not know at all that I really came to appreciate what this hybrid life is and how my world view shifted.
I always grew up with this sense of “The Americans do this better” or “The Turks do this better.” When I went to Bosnia, I was both. I was a Turkish-American, and I had to shift my thinking to looking at, OK, so what do Bosnians do better?
I appreciate a world view that I wish a lot more politicians would adopt, that people, where there’s a post-conflict country or a Third World country or a developing country, aren’t necessarily disadvantaged or not talented, that there is a lot of promise or talent. It’s just that they don’t have the opportunity to help themselves.
Catherine Yigit: I’d say that my world view expanded in a lot of ways but that may not be actually linked to location at all, especially in the days of social media. In terms of coming to Turkey, it’s given me a much better appreciation of the complexity of things. It’s very easy when you only see one point of view to make your judgments based on that. But when you can see a different way of doing it, a different opinion on things and a different background and culture, that backs all that experience up, it’s not that easy to dismiss things. It’s given me a much deeper appreciation of the complexity of life, of culture, of the differences between countries and that could reflect in politics as well, of course.
Jocelyn: Catherine Yigit, I thought that was perfect what you said about noticing those differences. I think about when I went to China and how there is so much more international news over there. It made me see how US-centric, how American, everything is in the US news. Most of it is about the US. We get his little teeny bit about what’s going on throughout the world. Over in China, sure they talk about China, but they also talk about these things around the world. I didn’t realize what was going on. I got to know so much about, for example, South Korea, that I would never have heard about in the US. And it’s given me appreciation. My husband always says the media over here is biased. Now I know that yes, it is biased and I’ve experienced it.
Karen: In line with what Jocelyn said about news in the States being mostly about the United States, it’s interesting because my worldview shifted in that as an American, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the world revolves around the United States. That’s one of the reasons that it happens, the news is mostly focused on the US. But living outside of the States now for almost eight years, I see the folly in that way of thinking. I love my country and I also see that it’s not the center of the universe.
In line with what Elmira was saying, different countries have their own strengths. So seeing that the United States is not at the center of the universe, that’s primarily how my world view has shifted from being in a different location.
Judith: I live in Washington State and I’m from the Netherlands. The Netherlands fit five times in Washington State and yet in the Netherlands, we the Dutch think that everything revolves around the Netherlands. The Netherlands as a country is comparable to a Chihuahua with the mind of a Great Dane. Coming to America, I felt like a small fish in a big pond all of a sudden. It’s been very educational. I don’t know if my worldview has shifted, but what has changed for me is that having all this space around me, being in this enormous country where people are really able to puff themselves up and be big in whatever they do.
I am challenged to let go of some of my Calvinist background. Even though I was not raised as a Calvinist, I was raised Jewish, Calvinism is I think in every Dutchman and every Dutchwoman’s blood. In Holland, as they say, to act normal is crazy enough. In other words, don’t call too much attention for yourself. I worked in the theater in the Netherlands, always illustrating other people’s stories. What coming to America has done for me is that I am bit by bit more able to tell my own story and to take my place as a small fish in a big pond and feel comfortable showing myself, which in that fishbowl that my little country is, is really, really scary.
Rose: I have this constant need to realign my own compass. To gauge where I’m going, where I come from, where I am at the moment. This has forced me to reconcile the macro and the micro. So while I have these daily experiences that may greatly affect my perception of my world, my self, my family on a micro level, on a larger level, I have to rectify these two different cultures and where I’m situated right now in history. So in fact, even in sort of pressing up against that challenge, it allows me to focus on what’s really important.
We have come to the end of our discussion! But I want to leave you with a final question that you can take home [with you], and maybe it will lead to another discussion down the line because this has been fantastic, completely amazing.
How do you integrate the various aspects of your hybrid lifestyle into a whole? And can you identify the tools that best help you to do so?
I want to say an enormous thank you to all of you who have joined me live today. I cannot even believe this has happened… it’s such an exciting prospect to think that our conversation alone unites continents and time zones at one moment in time. By meeting online, we have defied boundaries in a real sense and made a real time conversation possible.
I want to extend a huge thank you to Anastasia Ashman who hosted this conversation today at expat+HAREM. And to Tara Lutman Agacayak who helped support Dialogue 2010 and Art is Dialogue in conception and realization.
Thank you all.
I look forward to talking to all of you in cyberspace. I feel energized and excited.
Have a wonderful day or wonderful sleep. – Rose Deniz, curator, Art is Dialogue