“(T)here: Writings on Returnings” edited by Brandi Dawn Henderson

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 8.42.29 PMTitle: (T)here: Writings on Returnings
Editor: Brandi Dawn Henderson
ISBN: 9780615970554
Pages: 258
Release date: February 23, 2014
Publisher: Martlet & Mare Books
Genre: Nonfiction anthology
Format: ARC
Source: Review copy
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I always thought I would live abroad. Instead I travel only in short bursts, two or three weeks, hardly long enough to get used to a new place before I’m back home. Culture shock for me is a feeling that comes in small moments: forgetting which direction to check for traffic before crossing the street, or telling time on a 12-hour clock again. It’s difficult for me to place the much larger issues that I bump up against on my brief trips in the context of a real life, and so I find myself focusing upon the minutiae.

I had thought that the “large moments” of life—wondering where my true home was, feeling as though I belonged everywhere and nowhere, fitting what I see in other parts of the world into my life back home—wouldn’t belong to me. I had not earned them, whether through distance traveled or time spent or special occasion missed. But this book quickly corrected me. Culture shock—and reverse culture shock—can happen to anyone, anywhere, and with anyone else.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized the extent to which my personality has been shaped by culture shock and its reverse. I adjusted quickly to life in a big city after growing up in a rural area; I learned how to survive at a respected university after a childhood spent homeschooling; I thrived in new, challenging jobs. And I learned the reverse of those experiences: I moved back to the small town where my family lived; I graduated from school; I took on new jobs and more challenging interests. Each time I traveled back and forth between one life and another, I felt pieces of who I thought I was slipping away, and I discovered other facets of myself—both good and bad—that I had little clue existed.

That’s the value of a collection like this: It shows so perfectly the extent to which we are all products of culture shock. You don’t have to leave everything you know and love behind; those “large moments” for which I’ve yearned may be achieved in the smallest gestures. From new careers to new homes, from mania and depression to illness and recovery, we navigate new worlds every day.

The voices in (T)here: Writings on Returnings are delightfully diverse, but they all point to one truth: The home you return to is rarely the same home you left. Even the shortest journeys—across countries and careers, states and states of mind—bring about lasting transformations.

Of course, in every essay collection, there is unevenness. I liked certain chapters much more than others, but the good passages made it all worthwhile. Colleen Wells’ “Other Lives” spoke to me more than any other essay in recent memory. Here are a few more passage that resonated with me:

I realize two months is probably a blink of the eye for more seasoned travelers, but I am a novice at the nomadic life. I am too quick at rooting myself, and so, I am not a leaver… I have always been a heavy traveler, bringing my entire world with me wherever I go. Upon my return, I seem to have brought Thimphu back with me, under my skin, and it is unbalancing me.
-Ujwalla Bhandari, “Alight, Heavy Traveler”

Tree branches snapped like gunshots as smoke hesitated sideways from a neighbor’s chimney.
-Donna Girouard, “Going Home”

It will break you, and it will put you back together, if you let it―that country.
-Carol Smallwood, “A Returning”

Nothing seemed quite as important, as terrible, or as beautiful as the country I had just left behind.
-Eva KL Miller, “Home is a Foreign Country”

God, sometimes normal is too damned dark a ride for some people…. That’s when I feel as though the lights should go on for everyone, the choirs should start singing – maybe Dad’s favorite prison song, If I had the wings of an angel, and far from these walls I could fly –; that’s when I feel as though we should all get it, deal with it, let it go, and understand when somebody says that they can’t go out to the store that day; maybe they never had to go to the store before, and if they did, maybe that time seems so, so far away, irretrievable.
-Rhonda Poynter, “The Wings of an Angel”

You can’t use words that you don’t know how to say.
-Ren Diller, “With Love to My (S)motherland”

Interested? (T)here: Writings on Returnings is available on Amazon in paperback. Each sale from this link helps support Melody & Words.

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