My Foreign Native Language

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I enjoy discovering new words (well, new to me), especially those evocative of home or homesickness. Hireth and coddiwomple are two favourites. I recently heard another: hygge, pronounced ‘hoo-ga’. Translated as ‘cosiness’ once it leaves Danish waters, hygge means more than an evening in sheepskin slippers with a hot chocolate. In Denmark, it’s an entire lifestyle of living in the moment and forgetting life’s worries in tranquil, informal spaces. It’s about warmth and candlelight.

I discovered hygge in a BBC article, dated October 2015. It said the Danish concept had invaded the United Kingdom—but I’d never heard of it. And we all know reclusive authors are the first to hear of new fads and trends. By the way, there’s this Canadian singer called Justin Bieber about to hit the airwaves …

Anyway, turns out I missed hygge completely. In the United Kingdom, the word is already passé. The furniture stores advertising hygge sofas and designers touting hygge room layouts have moved on. The restaurants dolloping hygge comfort food onto rustic plates are serving something else. According to Ideal Home, the Swedish word lagom, meaning ‘just the right amount’ replaced hygge in 2017 in the UK.

But I feel cheated. I miss hygge. I want to be part of the hygge phenomenon, to prove I’m ‘current’ on the goings on in my native culture and language. I know, I know—Danish isn’t my native language, but try and keep up here. The point is, something else has come and gone in my homeland that I was completely unaware of. So, does a lack of hygge knowledge make me less British?

Think I’ll make some hot chocolate, light a candle, and ponder that for a while.

Something Old, Something New

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When you live far from home, you tend to spend your holidays going … well, home. There’s Mum to see, and Dad to see, and sisters and cousins and friends to see. You want your children to live the other half of their heritage and your non-British spouse to understand your weird jokes about cricket and suet pudding. You want to be part of weddings and funerals and family reunions. So, you go home as often as you can. Your friends in your adopted country think it’s exotic, asking, ‘Are you off to Paris/London/Timbuktu? Lucky you.’

Well, yes and no. A funeral, anywhere in the world, is definitely not exotic. That family reunion? Comes with the same baggage, whether it’s across the planet or down the road. Uncle Albert’s just as you remember him—unfortunately. But you need to be there, so you go. Then, one day, your children look at you and ask, ‘Do we have to go to Paris/London/Timbuktu again?’ And you wonder. Do we? Should we? Have the same lucky forces that made our children dual citizens and/or frequent flyers restricted them in the variety of places they go?

As spoiled as it may sound, as ‘First World Problem’ as it is, when you start recognizing the flight crews, you feel maybe it’s time to reassess your destination. When was the last time you scrolled through the TripAdvisor website looking for a new world to explore? French Polynesia looks so cool!  But what excuse will you come up with when you tell Dad your holiday won’t be spent at home? Of course, your family won’t make a fuss. They’ll understand.

But then it hits you. One day your children will be finding excuses not to visit you. You have a decision to make …

‘Hi, Jackie. Yes, we’re going home again. Looks like a full flight today. How are your kids? Captain Mike okay? Good. Yes, we’ll have the chicken. Same as last time.’

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Hireth-Tinted Glasses

Rose tinted glasses Derek Gavey

I’ve just returned from a visit to England. I wore different glasses on this trip. Not rose-tinted—or is that hireth-tinted?—glasses, but realistic, magnifying, research glasses. I was on a mission to find answers to some important questions: Is Exmoor really the place my husband and I can live? Permanently? With purpose? In harmony with both the natives and each other? All very different questions to the ones I’ve asked over the last few decades: Can we have a great time on holiday? Can the children ride a pony? What time does the tea shop open? Tee shirts or raincoats for the hike?

I began this visit by looking at the area through the lens of a Californian. My husband’s birthplace offers the Pacific Ocean and endless sunshine. Exmoor offers the Severn Estuary and no one’s idea of a perfect climate. I worry he’ll notice. But he’ll also notice the sparkly clear skies and the scent of heather that leave his smoggy air and car fumy smells in the dust.

Big issue: he doesn’t like clotted cream. How could I have missed such a basic character flaw? But will that flaw grow into a major fault line when he lands in this creamy mecca? Will it turn into nights on the couch? Marriage counselling? And is there even a marriage counsellor in Porlock? The organist at our Porlock wedding years ago was the local milkman. Is the counsellor the post lady? I think I need to do more research …

But enough about husbands. What about me?

All I used to need from Exmoor was a horse—make that multiple horses—a place to dance and the occasional train ride to London for more exciting options in entertainment and shopping. Look at me now: a former horse-riding expat, who’s grown used to robust water pressure in showers and twenty-four-hour pharmacies and grocery stores. Dancing? Unless it starts at four in the afternoon, the volume is turned way down low and there’s a selection of fruit teas at the bar, you’re not going to find me in any nightclub. Is Mr. B’s nightclub even still open in Minehead? If I asked a local youngster, he’d probably look at me like I was a visiting professor of prehistoric history. Hey, kiddo, I used to get up at five in the morning, show horses all day, then dance until two the following morning, often repeating the process that same weekend. Oh, and I danced at Studio 54 in New York, by the way. What? No, I don’t need help crossing the road. Clear off! Cheeky blighter.

But seriously, before packing the shipping container with all our worldly goods, we must look long and hard through multiple lenses at our lives. What do my husband and I need to feel settled now? Does Exmoor check new boxes that weren’t even the tiniest consideration decades ago? Like a small community that knows us: check. Opportunities to volunteer, with both local and national endeavours close to our hearts: check. (The National Trust and endangered Exmoor ponies are top of a very long list.)

Montacute Gardens Geograph

We need a place the children will want to visit: check. They’ll be back often—maybe too often. (We stupidly offered to pay airfares.) A place to write: heck yes on that one. And stately homes and beautiful gardens and stone walls and bluebells and cottages and teapots and no one thinking I have an accent and … and … a connection to my heritage. Check, check, and check again.

Oh, and one more thing: peace. We can find that on Exmoor in spades.

My research from this trip tells me Exmoor will work. Unless my husband’s clotted cream issues interfere. I need to go and talk to the post lady. Wish me luck.  

If you want to help the endangered Exmoor pony, visit  http://www.exmoorponycentre.org.uk/. Tell them Dunster sent you.

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Images: Rose-tinted glasses by Derek Gavey, Montacute Gardens by Geograph, Exmoor pony by author

Once Upon a Hireth

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As I look back on my first full year of authoring, who’d have thought the feelings of discontent that precipitated my transition could lead to such fulfilment? Wishing to be somewhere else led me here, to this place. But it’s not the place I thought I was looking for, as I haven’t returned to England yet. The place turned out to be an occupation.

This occupation, this writer’s life, allows me to live wherever I want, even if it’s only in my imagination, and that has made living where I reside so much easier. Rather than seeing where I am as second best, I can focus on the joy of writing from wherever I am. The thrill and the freedom of putting visions of home on the page have been liberating. So, though hireth is still present, it’s not present in a stifling way, a distracting way, an I’m-wasting-my-life-somewhere-I-shouldn’t-be way. Hireth is now productive and useful and stimulating. It’s marvellous.

Marvellous.

A word I haven’t used in a long time.  One doesn’t talk about marvellous SUVs, or marvellous weather, or marvellous baseball games in the United States. These things are awesome, not marvellous. Marvellous is a good British sentiment. I catch more and more British words and sayings flowing from my mouth and keyboard now; buried deep for almost thirty years but becoming familiar again. I feel more native, relishing the opportunity to reconnect with my homeland, both linguistically and emotionally. Hireth leads home. Old connections rise to the surface. But not in a desperate way anymore.

I feared at the beginning of this journey, I may just be chasing old feelings, friends, lifestyles, and dreams. That maybe I’d be disappointed as I peered through the scratches and dents of thirty-year-old rose-tinted glasses and realised the need for a new prescription. Turns out my sense of loss and longing, of hireth, hasn’t led just to a search for the past. The real highlight of this first full year authoring has been establishing a new future.

Feedback from readers tells me I’ve tapped into their world in some way. So we are now connected in this new future.This future includes writers, fellow ex pats, Anglophiles, pony lovers, Exmoor lovers, and people who didn’t know they loved ponies or Exmoor, but discovered a new passion in “Dunster’s Calling.” And it definitely includes my fellow hireth sufferers, many of whom have told me they didn’t know the word for their feelings but fully understand the word now. I didn’t know I would find all these kindred spirits. I live each day with every inhabitant of this new world, with great relish and much appreciation. I owe hireth so much.

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I would have missed it all if hireth hadn’t pushed me into this new reality. I’d have missed playing with ponies on Exmoor and talking with Sylvia in Scotland about the North Berwick Ponies. I’d have missed the fabulous Exmoor pony community as a whole. They have embraced Dunster as one of their own.

I’d have missed Natalie in Spain, the first to like a photo or add a comment to my Facebook postings, which begs the question: when does she sleep as there’s a huge time difference between Wisconsin and Spain? I’d have missed June in Seattle, a British ex pat living the American dream, but wondering if she made the right decision. And Rodney, a fellow author, who shared his story about moving back to England after fifty years in the US in my August blog. He keeps me grounded with realistic expectations as I plan my own repatriation. I’d have missed Kelly in Alice Springs, a second cousin I lost track of decades ago, who popped up again thanks to the miracle of social media and a love of reading all things English. I’d have missed so many of you.

I’d also have missed the reviews of “Dunster’s Calling” on Amazon and Goodreads. All of them encourage and validate my efforts. Many are complete strangers to me, such as the reader in Australia, known only by her review name, Caroline. I marvel at how Caroline found me in this sea of books and authors, struggling to swim against the tidal wave of new publications. It is incredibly difficult to get reviews. I’m thrilled with each one. That a stranger so far away took the time to comment on my work is marvellous. Movingly marvellous.

I’d have missed out on the professional development too: my writing group, Tuesdays with Story, the editors and book cover designers, and formatters and conference speakers and website designers who have all contributed to my joy in this new world.

I hear from people who didn’t know they had hireth, but now understand their condition. I hear from people who’ve never heard of Exmoor but who now feel a connection strong enough to plan visits. I hear from people who are planning to return home, wherever that is for them, and those who’ve found new homes that speak to them more deeply than their birthplace. Sharing our stories makes me feel like I’m home. With family. With friends. With kindred spirits.

So, is home a published novel, a website, and an author Facebook page? If you’ve never felt the need to write, that notion will seem trite. And I know my pull towards England won’t abate. But for one who felt something was missing for so long, this new “writer’s home” is … marvellous.

Happy New Year.

Hireth and Hooray

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When I took this photo of a rather average sunset from Hurlstone Point in England on June 23rd 2016, I didn’t know the sun was setting on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union. The results of the ‘Brexit’ referendum weren’t in yet. I couldn’t vote, as I’d lived outside the United Kingdom for more than fifteen years, but I had friends and family voting on both sides of the issue. Things should change, things shouldn’t change—there were so many conflicting opinions. On June 24th, we heard the vote was to leave the EU. And so, a new chapter begins with big changes expected in my homeland.

But for me, regardless of whether the vote had been to remain or leave, England has already changed. Of course it’s changed! It’s been nearly thirty years since I lived there. It’s the little things: not knowing the phone calling codes, a new coin, higher prices, a road where I used to play in a wood, and celebrity names I don’t recognize anymore. And then there are the big changes: demographics, government rulings, banking laws, residency requirements. The list goes on and on. The thought of returning permanently can be daunting. Do I really know my homeland at all?

And does my homeland know me? The 1980s ‘Me’ doesn’t exist either. The child, the teenager, the early twenties, the horse rider, the carefree, mortgage-free, child-free, hireth-free ‘Me’ is as far from me now as 2016 England is to 1980s England. Hireth, a Cornish word meaning a longing to return to a place that may not exist anymore, is a universal concept felt by many who live away from home for extended periods. It also has meaning for those who have never left home. They, too, can long for a time when life was simpler in their own hometown, a time that may never really have existed.

Writing Dunster’s Calling has helped me explore both my nostalgia and my present reality, wrapped in humor, ponies, foreign adventures, and clotted cream. I wasn’t Exmoor born and breed. I never owned an Exmoor pony. But, like Samantha in the book, I did marry a man from a foreign land, never planning to be an émigré. And, like Samantha, my soul does seem to crave one particular place on the planet. Don’t ask me why. It’s not logical or rational, having spent many more years away than I ever spent at ‘home.’ But as I listen to others discussing Dunster’s Calling, I realize many have lived this story, though maybe without the crazy goats, the cake disasters, the running away from home, and the politics of small town living. But they’ve lived a split life: past in one place, present in another, future in flux. I’m not alone.

So enough about the hireth, what about the hooray? Well, from hireth comes a new world for me. A world as a writer, which feels like home. A fixer-upper, maybe, but home nevertheless. Hireth led to the opportunity to make others laugh and cry, to assess their own choices, and, maybe, given current events I couldn’t possibly have imagined when I began writing, the opportunity to look at others from other places in a new light. Maybe Dunster’s Calling will make you realize you’re searching for home yourself. Or make you realize you’ve been home all along. Either way, you’re not alone.