Wednesday, 17 September 2014

On Independence,Citizenship, and Identity


Today, September 17, is Citizenship (AKA Constitution) Day here in the US, my home country (it still feels weird to say that!). Tomorrow, September 18, my former home country, Scotland, will be voting in a referendum on becoming independent or remaining with the United Kingdom.

This post has been forming in my mind since before I first stepped onto US soil as a Permanent Resident.

It is not just a post about Scottish independence. It is about expatriation and what that does to an expat's concept of self and country.

I made a fleeting appearance in the movie Britain in a Day explaining that choosing between my husband and my country had been a (surprisingly!) tough decision to make. I knew when I moved that I was effectively disenfranchising myself for a bit. I can't vote in the US because I'm not a citizen, and I can't vote in the UK because I'm not a resident. And for now, I think that's absolutely the way it should be. I have been very privileged to have had the freedom to move from one democratic country to another just because I wanted to.

And technically, moving to the US is not the first time I have moved country either. I moved from England to Scotland when I was a young kid. Moving from one part of the UK to another might not count when the passport is the same, but it wasn't easy. Throughout growing up I would meet people who didn't like me because of my English accent, who hated me simply because of where I was born. It was, and still is, and always will be, absolutely crushing, especially as I became more Scottish in my own identity.

In January a friend now living in continental Europe interviewed me over my Scottish identity. I meant to post it here back then, but here is the crux:

I'd be really interested in knowing how you think of yourself in terms of national identity. Do you feel you have a nationality and if so what identity/s do you identify as? Has this/can this change at all? .
…My national identity often depends on where I am/where I am not. Now I live in the USA and people interchangeably call me British or Scottish, which I don't mind at all. But when I'm in Scotland people never call me Scottish and I feel very awkward about laying claim to having any Scottishness... which is funny seeing as my maiden name is a Scottish clan name and my family in England think I have a Scottish accent!

I always knew that I would not be able to take part in Scotland's referendum, and accepted that as part of the process of expatriation. I had (and have) my personal feelings on the issue, but also recognized that it was not my decision to make anymore. In a way, because I chose to leave Scotland, and because I wasn't actually born there, I believed that my opinion on its future was unwarranted. I became a bystander.

Until a few days ago. When a friend in Scotland posted on Facebook:

"Right ranty bods, here's your chance. I'm undecided. I have the facts and I have a vote."

My friend wanted personal reasons for voting one way or the other. Not facts, they're already out there. And it hit me: This is a huge moment for my country, for my citizenship and my identity. And I really care. And what's more, not only am I allowed an opinion as an expat, I should have an opinion. National identity, as Americans know so well, is something to cherish, and even nurture. So I responded. Here is part of what I said:

I was born in SE England, grew up in NE England, and spent most of my life living in Scotland. I know I am one of a minority (about 10%) who self-identified as British in the last census. 
My stepfather was a miner in NE of England in the 80s. I got free school meals because my mum was an unemployed art student. Neither was a fan of Maggie. 
We moved to Scotland when I was 8. When I started high school I was bullied a little for being English.
I fell in love with Scotland regardless and actually love to identify as Scottish. But every now and then I'd get into a taxi in Glasgow and be told "you're not from round here..." And I wouldn't know what to say. Was I? Could I say I was? 
Now I live in America, and I can be what I want because, frankly, that's America for you. People call me Scottish, and I take pride in being Scottish, teaching Gaelic phrases to Americans, discussing Scottish art and culture and geography. I am also English, and proud of that too, even though I was often made to feel ashamed of it at school.

The lead up to the referendum has been a very exciting and engaging demonstration of political debate and discourse. My friends are fairly representative of the debate happening in the UK, and are pretty evenly split on either side. Both sides are deeply passionate about their beliefs and their identities. People are debating economics and politics, and they are also discussing - and questioning - the very concept of identity.

It has ignited in me a deep awareness of my identity. It is a fuzzy concept, but highly emotional and compelling nonetheless. Identity can be a unifying factor, and it can also be a dividing factor. I consider myself British, both English and Scottish. But it took the prospect of leaving my country to discover my identity, after growing up with unease over whether I am 'Scottish' enough and allowed to be 'English'.

In a day or two we should know the result of the referendum. If independence comes to pass my British passport will no longer represent both elements of my identity (it seems likely that I will be eligible to apply for a Scottish one, and so could become multi-national citizen).

By Citizenship Day next year I will also be eligible to apply for US citizenship. That will give me a US passport and the right to vote, possibly even in the 2016 elections. I won't take the decision to apply for a US passport lightly, because citizenship, and formally adopting a new dimension to one's self-identity, is something that should be a carefully considered decision.

Applying for a Green Card was emotional because it entailed moving transatlantically, leaving friends and family, and being reunited with my husband. My conditional Green Card expired a few months ago. I was granted an extension while waiting for my full 10 year one, and those forms and the process felt like a formality compared to first time round.

Applying for citizenship and a passport feels different though. I'll literally be saying the pledge of allegiance to the United States, a statement of who I am and who I will be.

And in a way, that is a similar statement that each person in Scotland is making at the ballot box tomorrow. Some, I know, are making decisions purely on economics and governance. But I also know that personal feeling and identity plays a huge role. For some, who don't feel represented by Westminster, it is a notion of not identifying with what Britain's governance represents. For others, there is a feeling that Scotland is strongest as part of a union of identities and governance systems, that can converge and diverge at times.

Whether Scotland becomes independent, or remains in the Union (and it seems too close to call right now), citizens are determining the future of their country.

Self-determination is not how you vote, it's that you do. Whatever the result, the hard work begins on Friday to regather. And whatever the result, I'll still pure love ye, Scotland, mon.


Monday, 28 April 2014

29

I turned 29 recently. I guess I really can't pretend I'm early to mid twenties anymore, right?
Turning 29 actually got me excited about turning 30 next year. It gave me great cause to reflect back on the past ten years or so. There's so much I want to achieve, personally and professionally, that I haven't done yet. And sometimes the "haven't dones" can overshadow the "have dones".

I almost wrote a bucket list (I hate that phrase, sorry), but instead decided to remind myself of the past decade and what I did achieve.

Here's how I summed it up:

I'm entering the twilight year of my twenties, and that's cool. I graduated, got a job, left a job, lost a job, graduated, wedded, worked, and emigrated, switched careers, faced fears, made friends, saw bands, learned my faults and the worth of my salt. I also took a thousand photos of fibreglass cows, visited the grave of the man who invented the word 'robot', lived in Harlem, and was published in an academic journal for a subject I never studied. My new goals are to work harder, play softer, and pay more attention to my family. Have at it, 29.


*The typeface here is Comic Neue, a brand new reinvention of the world's worst (and most misused) font: Comic Sans. Comic Neue is kind of genius and even a little bit beautiful. I thought it perfect for a short piece about realizing that you're grown up. It's free, so download and share it with everyone who needs a friendly, accessible tone in writing - from your kindergarten teacher to the dentist's office!

Monday, 3 February 2014

The Big Game's Biggest Tweets

Once again I successfully predicted the Super Bowl winner (okay I said the Seahorses would win, but you know what I mean).

As a Brit, I'm still not really too clear on how American Football works. But I do understand how social media works, so spending an evening watching Twitter drama unfold, over wings and beer, was just as entertaining. So instead of a usually Monday media post from me here, read this run down I wrote on the 8 Top Social Moments from the Big Game.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

How to be a Successful Blogger (by breaking all the rules)

Know the 'rules' of blogging before you start, they say. There are steps to successful blogging. I know these 'rules', and I follow a lot of them, just not at the same time.

Most of the time I'm breaking the rules.

And there are very good reasons for breaking the rules of blogging, both in corporate and personal/lifestyle blogging. It really depends on your goals.

I tend not to define myself as a 'blogger' because blogging is just one part of what I do, both personally and professionally. Here I am, blogging, but this blog here is not my career, it's not my business, and it's not my entire lifestyle. And yet this blog has been hugely successful - by my own terms!

So here are some 'rules' of blogging that I know I break, and why I break them:

Broken Rule # 1: (Don't) Find a Niche and Stick to it


Personally: I'm an expat, millennial, career-changing digital native, and for a long time I couldn't decide how to narrow my niche. I love the differences between American and UK cultures but I didn't want a pure expat blog. The blogs I read on a daily basis cover a broad range of interests, and rarely overlap. So for 2014 I'm picking three themes and running with them: Building (and re-building) a career as a millennial, blogging/marketing, and my expat life. They're not as distinct as they might seem and I have several blog posts planned that fit into more than one theme.

So if you can't choose a specific niche, or don't want to be pigeonholed, don't choose a niche! Try picking a few key themes that interest you, and you'll soon work out how they can tie together into one overall brand.

Broken Rule # 2: (Don't) Share your Blog Posts all over Social Media


You've written a snappy, relevant, or thought-provoking post and you want to share it with the world. But stop: Where are you going to share it, and when?

Don't feel like you should just blast it all over every social account you have. Use your social accounts wisely and mindfully. Twitter is the place to craft an irresistible headline or two and share throughout the day. Pinterest and Facebook both drive traffic with visual content, but at opposite times of the day. And sometimes more is not always better - too much can be less effective than not enough.

For every post you craft, determine the best social accounts to share on. This works equally for personal and corporate blogging, especially when you're clear on what you want to achieve - whether it's traffic, sales, or shares.

Broken Rule # 3: (Don't) Be an Expert


Sometimes the most interesting blogs are about people learning their way. Whether it's a new mom, a new blogger, a new lawyer, a new fashionista, or someone who's in a new country, sharing first-time experiences can be more genuine and engaging than advice from thought-leaders. And that goes for pictures too - photos from 'behind the scenes' give a fascinating insight. 

Unpolished: Behind the scenes. NOT what I wear professionally!
Don't forget that blogging is allowed to be immediate and a bit unpolished! That includes, writing, photography, your outfit, your baby - whatever. Some personal blogs look professional, and some professional blogs look homespun. And that's totally ok. Life's like that, so go with it. Share what you don't know, as well as what you do.

Broken Rule # 4: (Don't) Break all the Rules


Read all the 'rules' of blogging that you can find, and read all the rulebreakers (ahem). Then decide what you need to do. Knowing how and why tricks and tactics work in social media and blogging helps you to discover what works for you.

So the one rule I recommend you do follow is to set out a goal for your blog. Even if you've been blogging for ages. And when you achieve that goal or your goal eventually changes, take a step back and re-evaluate, because your tactics will alter depending on what you want to achieve.

Some people like sharing memes and pictures, some people like essays and ideas, some like a mixture of both. Some people want to sell products, others want to build an audience, and others still just want to explore and have fun whether anyone's reading or not. Catch-all rules or rule-breaking won't work for every blog the same way.

Broken Rule # 5: (Don't) Define Success According to Others


And finally, remember that everyone does have a different goal. Me? I'm not a fashion blogger, so I don't do outfit posts, even though I tried them. I'm not into giveaways or sponsorships, even though I tried them and they absolutely work. They're 'rules' I don't want to follow

I don't blog every day, I don't have a huge readership, and I feel successful

I've met some fun people, switched careers, learned and expanded skills. I get to test ideas at 'play' in my personal blogspace, on projects with no real deadline and no real purpose, then test ideas out at work. 

So here's how I'm defining my (personal) blogging success this year: I'm going to take my three themes, and try to create a cohesive personal brand. Even if my brand is millennial expat career-changing digital native!

What blogging rules do you follow? Which ones do you break? How do you define your blogging success?

Saturday, 25 January 2014

A Pennsylvania Blogger Meet-Up

This post is way overdue. Months and months ago I responded to a blog post by one of my favorite bloggers, Katherine from Of Corgis and Cocktails, inviting PA bloggers to lunch.

That's me on the left! Then Kate, Stephanie, Becky, Katherine, and Marisa! Photo courtesy of Katherine.
And so in October I borrowed my husband's car and drove down to Terrain in Glen Mills to eat lunch with some lovely girls I'd never met before. The journey down was an adventure. The car was literally falling apart due to some bad repairs carried out by a garage (which we later got fixed at no charge because the garage made so many mistakes). Scooting down the highway was a bit scary as I needed to avoid potholes and braking too hard. Plus it was the furthest I'd driven by myself since moving to the US, and I had no clue where I was going, or where I was meeting my fellow blogettes!

But it was a very nice afternoon, meeting some lovely local ladies, and poking around a gorgeous store.
From the buttery bread served in flower pots and fresh water in mason jars, to the beautiful displays and delicious aromas (check out their soaps…mmm), Terrain was a great place to meet up.

And as it was nearing Halloween (hence all the pumpkins), we gave each other little treats, most of which my husband and I snarfed immediately when I got home. Let me tell you, these bloggers have skills

When my husband saw the photo at the top of all of us, he asked how I managed to find the five girls in Pennsylvania with the same style as me. I told him it made complete sense - we all follow the blogs that attract us the most, and blog the things that interest us the most, or that we hope others like us will find interesting. People on social media, and bloggers especially, get knocked for image crafting, but to me that's entirely the point. I'm going to talk more about this in a future post, so watch out for it.

Of course I'll do my due diligence and link to Katherine's outfit post and Marisa's outfit post so you can find out where they got their cute dresses (and see more photos of Terrain). And my dress? It's from UK store Trollied Dolly. I wore it here too. Their dresses are so fabulous that I have several, and my husband even proposed to me while I was wearing one!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Snow in Pennsylvania

This winter we've had plenty of snow days, including yesterday and our last few days before Christmas in the UK.

Luckily I wear a number of professional hats, so it doesn't create too much turmoil for me. I currently work for a cute little country club in the ruralburbs, and I also do freelance work for a creative marketing agency. When I'm not doing one I'm doing the other, and a snow day gives me a chance to catch up with copywriting, reports, and walkies.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Max Ehrmann's Desiderata is one of those pieces of writing I often return to for a moment's meditation. And the holiday season (especially the week between Christmas and New Year) is a perfect time to collect and recollect, and plan for the year ahead.

Last year I did a series of photographs named 12 Days of Gladness, reflecting on the year when I up and left my job to move to be in the US with my husband.

I thought Desiderata would be the ideal way to reintroduce myself to blogging in 2014. All these photos are mine from the past year or so (except the first one which my husband took!)

I didn't learn much more in the way of photographic skills last year, but I did learn a lot about myself, the world I live in, and what I want to achieve for 2014. So I've spent most of January making considered and decided plans and goals for this year, and I'll share these ideas with you over the next few weeks.

I've also made some decisions about the kind of blog I want. I've always felt a little stuck between expat blogging, 'lifestyle' blogging, and blogging about more solid things relating to my career aspirations. I've decided that it's okay to mix all three!

I threw these photos together last night, and my husband found me at my desk as I was working on the last one. It's a photo from Camden in London, taken a few weeks ago. He'd never heard of Desiderata before, and he also didn't know that I'd taken that picture. The whole thing struck him much more profoundly than I expected - so I hope you enjoy it too!

Which poem or piece of writing inspires you? Or where do you take inspiration from? I'd love to hear. For now, I'm going to get back to reading my Bloglovin backlog…