Monday, December 13, 2010

Chameleon thru Ex-Pat thru Cop And Into Writing

No, I am not referring to having been an androgynous Pat, but rather having lived abroad. This post was started as a reply to the lovely Carolina Valdez-Miller's wonderfully evocative post 'Pieces'.

She writes freely and well of the pain and pleasures of living abroad as an adult, but didn't relate those feelings and that experience to writing overmuch. Here is my reply to that missing portion. As usual, I might have taken it too far.

Having lived in foreign lands for more than a bit of my younger days, I have to say that this does inform and relate to my writing: I think I understand what it is to be the outsider, to be the one who doesn't understand that which seems so clear everyone else.

I also know first hand the what opportunity moving elsewhere is to reinvent yourself. No one knows you; the fact that you might have been held back in third grade, or that your older brother beat up so many of his schoolmates you'll never have to fight, that the vip-vip sound of your corduroy pants accompanied you through much of your childhood, that you are no longer solely defined by the sports you participated in.

I believe such experiences make it easier for me to step into character. I know what it is to assemble a character: what is needed for it to be believable, what they might sound like, how they look, what they might feel about certain things in life.

I will always be from Peoria, Illinois. I will also always be the guy from Peoria who lived in Spain and Switzerland, and came back different. I suppose it is much like going off to university for those that have not lived abroad.

Entering my day job was an experience of this: Aware of how different I was from the men and women of most police departments and families, I made myself over. I adapted, trained, reached a point where the culture of cop is my own, all the while aware (and in a bit of pain) over the fact that it will never really be my culture. Working informants, interrogating people, walking a beat, even the little undercover work I've done have all benefitted from the learning experiences of my youth. Of trying to communicate with the unknown.

If this seems odd or false of me, I suppose I cannot argue save to say that, like all the most successful of survival mechanisms, it knows little of morality.

No matter where you go, there you are.


  1. What a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing your feelings!

  2. I understand that feeling well, standing outside of things looking in. It informed much of my childhood, and to some extent, my adulthood. Moving moving moving, and then of course, by virtue of having been who I was, now being the sort of person that doesn't always know how to be a part of things. Sometimes I fake it well though, but perhaps that comes from years of hard-earned lessons. Because, like you said, standing outside of things does allow you to become an astute observer, and you can either learn how to fake it or hide. I hid for a long time. And then I moved abroad (again) and like you, I reinvented myself--or rather, discovered who I'd been hiding. Returning to my previous life felt like it just might suffocate me. But I didn't realize that in finding myself, I'd also found my confidence, and I could be who I was no matter where I was. Very liberating.

    So, even though I've never been a cop, I relate to the idea that you can be anything, wear any hat and make it your own, while still feeling a part of yourself long for a different hat--or hats, as the case may be. I think those who have lived in different places, discovered the different sides of themselves, might never feel fully content to stay put or to be only one thing.

    Beautiful post. I'm heartened by it, and by the fact that you felt inspired by something I'd written...