I was born in Philly. For the first five years of my life, I lived just off Rising Sun Avenue. That changed when my parents loaded the three of us into a U-Haul and drove us nearly eight hours away to Akron, Ohio.
Little did I realize at age five that I would move more than 20 times and eventually live in 5 countries and 20 cities around the world.
When it comes to overdoing it, moving is kind of my thing.
My biggest move came in 2012 when I moved from Houston, TX, to Mumbai, India. That’s when I gave up a promising career as a technical editor and became an expat wife.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re imagining a blond woman sipping gin and tonics, practicing yoga, taking long leisurely lunches at five-star hotels, and spending all her husband’s money shopping.
The truth is…
I’m not blond, and I hate shopping. And honestly, most of that other stuff isn’t true either.
What is true is that it took me the better part of two years to realize what I had given up. I remember standing at a coffee morning at Botticino (an award-winning Italian restaurant at the Trident hotel in BKC) and mentally listing the top five questions I got at a coffee.
- What’s your name?
- Where are you from?
- What’s your husband do?
- How long is his contract?
- What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?
I might have made that last one up.
The fifth question varied, but it was never…
What do you do?
The material questions revolved around my husband. My identity had become secondary to his, subsumed within his. I was now Ms. Spraker. The hyphenated form of my last name was dropped.
So…what did I do? The answer was quite a lot. Like most expat wives, I spent my time volunteering. I was on the board of the American Women’s Club and worked with local charities. I spent about half my day in the car traveling to events around the city.
And I wrote.
The first step on my writing journey began almost immediately with a blog about my India experience. Everyone had so many questions, and I hoped to have answers. I wrote about many expat adventures. From the mundane vet visit in which I discovered Peanut was a girl to the “exotic” vacations we would take. Elephants and palaces and all the other tropes were there, of course.
I took the second step when Mumbai Connexions asked me to write for their Chalo! magazine. I wrote monthly about our supported charities and Indian culture. I also contributed occasional travel columns. My columns were popular with members and fed my blog’s success.
Once, a woman approached me in the grocery store to tell me that she decided to go to Singapore because she had read my column. As I walked out of the store that day, I thought, “I wish I could get paid for this work.” But, I couldn’t. Because…visas.
In 2016, I took the third step in my writing journey. By then, we had relocated to Seoul, and my marriage was failing. To avoid and delay the pain a little longer, I did what I do best. I moved. On a whim, I applied to attend Anita’s Attic writing workshop with bestselling author Anita Nair. I received my acceptance the day before my birthday. I quickly made my travel plans and relocated to Bangalore by myself for six months. My goal was to finish the book I had started. I sent the finished draft to a few readers just a few weeks after Diwali.
Even if I never published the book, at least I had met my goal. Having accomplished my goal, however, I then had to return to Seoul, to my husband, and to the end of my marriage. I returned just in time for Christmas.
Ho! Ho! Ho!
About a month later, I was eating alone in an overpriced steak house outside Seoul Station writing through my options. Toward the end of dinner, I wrote “Philly,” the city where I was born, the city I had left at age 5.
No idea what I wanted to do. No job. No prospects. No nothing.
Just a deep sense that if I returned to my roots, that I would find my place, finally. After so many years of searching in so many places.
The last year has not been easy.
Sure, it’s been fun getting to know the city again. I have loved walking in Center City and “discovering” new places that locals have known for years.
But, reaching out, making connections with people has been harder here than anywhere else. Slowly, slowly, I am connecting, but what I found so easy to do in India has not come as easily to me here. Even though I have family here. You see, my harsh words spoken in grief and anger hurt people I love. I attempted an apology, but alienation followed.
The job proved harder to get than I imagined, and I am still looking. I was unable to decide whether I really wanted to return to editing or pursue writing or marketing. My job applications folder reflected that indecision. Meanwhile, I’ve freelanced and have found that I excel at ghostwriting. I have had some great interviews at highly selective employers.
In these interviews, I seemed to stumble when asked what took me overseas… a perfectly logical question. My answer inevitably involved my husband. Yes, even in interviews. I knew I wasn’t supposed to say that. I’ve been coached to give another answer, but in the interview, the truth just tumbled out. I blew it, and my confidence plummeted. After so long in my surrogate role, I still struggled to see my experience as separate. I needed a job to move forward and let go, yet I sabotaged myself in my answer.
But, how could I reframe the answer without him?
A few months ago, I sent a personal essay to Anita for input. Her advice was that I needed to identify the hero thread. I had written a personal essay in the first person and not written myself as the hero. After I recovered from that little truth bomb, I reframed the essay. I moved content, deleted content, added content, and bled all over my laptop. You know, the usual. I managed to make myself the hero in my own story after all, but I still hadn’t done it in my own life.
Then, I began volunteering with First Person Arts. I had participated in a StorySlam event and wandered onto their website one day. They were looking for committee volunteers. I interviewed, and they suggested the Marketing Communications committee. A perfect match. I attended a few meetings and provided input on their website redesign. I also started volunteering at StorySlam events and prepared my story for each event. I attended the First Person Arts Festival, and I wrote about Hungry Live. My confidence grew. I provided feedback on their annual appeal and next StorySlam announcement. My confidence grew some more.
This Tuesday, I attended the Overdoing it StorySlam event and prepared a talk. While preparing, I finally realized that the answer to the question “what took you overseas” is simple.
It was the first step in my hero’s journey.
India was my departure. I have undergone many trials and been initiated into the sacred order of the Knights Who Can Move Small Animals Through Large Borders. Now, I am ready to return and complete my hero’s journey here in Philly. Perhaps, like Bilbo Baggins, I will finally finish my book.