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3.2.04 Retiree... Or Expatriate?

When I was getting ready to leave my job for the interesting new work of reinventing myself, my activities kept reminding me of getting ready for a long trip. Not planning exactly, but getting my act together. Something akin to buying a set of colored pens and fresh notebooks before the first day of school.

The metaphor of a journey seemed apt.

And so the journey began. Two months along, does it feel like a journey? I'm certainly in a different place. In my new mental landscape, I am exploring, but not necessarily traveling. When I get calls from people I used to work with, it's as if I am on a rum-enhanced island in the Caribbean or sipping espresso in a sidewalk cafe in Paris. The call is definitely long distance. I can be the cool advisor or I can join my caller in a rant about workplace politics. I still know exactly what they are talking about, but my eyes are filled with different scenery.

So, yesterday I started playing with the idea of being an expatriate. A woman on self-imposed exile from a land I once loved, then grew disaffected from. Don't you think "expatriate" fits me so much better than "retiree"?

The notion came to me after we watched a documentary on the life of Paul Bowles, an American writer who lived most of his life in Tangier, Morocco. After being an early success as a music composer, he moved to Morocco to spend the rest of his life writing.

I'm also thinking of Hemingway and Fitzgerald in Paris of course.

Voluntary expatriates are people whose home country is not comfortable to them for some reason. They are misfits. They need distance.

The distance can be good -- a new perspective on the old landscape. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about the great American myth in "The Great Gatsby" while in Paris. Maybe there is some danger there for us mere mortals, who don't have Fitzgerald's genius. We lose touch with the old world and it becomes fixed in our memories. Our friends remain perfect, the idiots never learn, the politics never shift.

Yesterday an old colleague called with a simple question about how to change a diagram. When L. explained the purpose, I not only provided diagram advice, but gave my sharp little opinion about why the changes were a bad idea. L. got defensive. I wound up feeling insensitive to the daily pressures and politics my old friend has to endure... while I am sipping espresso on the Riviera of my new country.

Hemingway called his last book "Islands in the Stream." The expatriate artist lives on an island in the Gulf Stream. He is fixed, while the world rushes past him.

It is interesting to think about these things.

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