If you have not already visited his blog, prepare yourself for a fun and often unpredictable 'ride'. Every post is a story and you are immediately swept up in the hypnotic rhythm of his words. The signs and symbols along the way seem to mark the ultimate destination ... ah, but don't jump too fast to your conclusions ... Without knowing quite when it happened along the read/ride, a turn will be taken that you didn't notice. And oooops, you end up scratching your head saying how did he take me from there to here - finding that 'here' is always an interesting place to be.
You would think that knowing this, I would not get swept up by the ride ... every single time ... but I do. I hope you will use the link provided at the end of this post to climb aboard the Expat From Hell express. He will, no doubt, capture and hypnotize you too.
Okay Expat, could you give us a brief overview are who you are, where you live, current interests or preoccupations?
My name is Kent, and I currently live in Dallas, Texas. My present-day interests seem focused and intent upon reflection of the world around me - at least as it appears now that I have repatriated to the USA, as well as in re-entering the world of work and productivity once more.
Could you name a couple of your strengths?
I am extremely perceptive. I have an innate ability to read a person fairly well and fairly quickly, and can develop grounds for good and honest communication with a wide range of personalities.
Name one weakness.
Again, I am - also unfortunately - extremely perceptive. It also allows me to see hate, prejudice, and antagonism just as quickly. The process is often painful, damaging, and crippling as I attempt to move forward from these encounters. The weakness is that I have often in the past gone ahead - in spite of these perceptions - and engaged these types of people as friends, colleagues, and acquaintances - with disastrous results.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Taking my dear wife and two children (ages 7 and 11 at the time) to Japan - cold turkey - in mid-1991. Sold my interest in the family business, leased our home in Los Angeles, sold our cars, took the kids out of their schools, and just got on the plane. The rest, as they say, is history. For which I remain eternally content and pleased.
What a daring adventure! Can you share a bit of what you learned from that experience?
Japan gave all four of us some valuable perspective that has not waned over the passing years. First, as Americans, we saw how the world views our home country. It isn't nearly as important - nor is it the center of the Earth - as we once believed. In fact, the rest of the world seems to get on just fine without us. More often than not, actually! The second most important lesson was - as white people - we were in a tiny minority in the part of Japan where we lived. It helped us gain some understanding - and lasting empathy - for the plight of those who come to our country as minorities - either racial, cultural, or religions - and then try to assimilate. Lasting and searing impressions.
Do you speak Japanese? Are you conversant in any other languages?
Yes, I do. Also read and write (with the help of a computer program, of course). I have a natural inclination toward languages, and have plodded along in Spanish, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, and French (my mother is Canadian) in past years.
What quality do you value most in your friends?
Loyalty and honesty. To that end, I have done a rather poor job in finding those souls who possess these virtues. My list of long-time friendships (that haven't ended in physical or emotional tragedy) is intolerably short.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
To flick that guy off of my shoulder, the one who keeps whispering in my ear that I am stupid, without merit, and have nothing to offer others.
You are a natural storyteller with a unique ironic style. Were you always a writer of wry social and political commentary?
Not always a writer, to be sure. My view of life, political and social commentary, and even employment has been from a rather wry and critical (even self-critical) point of view.
In your blog you often make references to popular music and sports. Tell us about the role of music in your life.
My mother is an accomplished pianist, and got me into music at a very early age. It has been something that has helped me - I guess you could call it my musical soul - through times of difficulty, of isolation, and of challenge. I was the lead guitarist in a 50's and 60's rock and roll band for twelve years - from college until I was in my mid-30's - so I still live much of my life with the background music of Chuck Berry, Dion and the Belmonts, and Franki Valli coursing through my sub-conscious.
What do you consider the most over-rated virtue?
Humility. Having had this beaten into me through my Evangelical-Fundamentalist childhood, I frequently saw that it was not only ridiculously over-rated, but often not even present as a virtue among those who prided themselves - such irony there - as being humble. I can feel the bile welling up inside of me as I recall these silly people, even now.
Which living person do you most admire?
The American (former) President, Jimmy Carter. He was unabashed in expressing his faith (even though most American Fundamentalists hated him anyway - another reason I like him), not afraid to proclaim that which he truly believed in, regardless of the popularity or consequence. His views on human rights, the environment, and managing global conflicts were horribly unpopular at the time, but seemingly have gained traction over the past decades. He lived these concepts anyway (even had solar panels installed in the White House!), and was hated, eventually voted out of office, and excoriated for years thereafter. He remains my #1 hero.
Along with Sandy Koufax, of course.
Is there a historical figure, or a figure from literature, you identify with?
Thomas Jefferson. Extremely intellectual, very solitary, creative, knew the limitations of the "faithful" that were all around him, daring, yet compassionate all at the same time. Also, an Expat. To France! There's a man after my own heart.
How do you play?
It used to be physical - being in a band, playing softball. Now it's vicarious - I have always liked smoky night clubs - single malt scotches and draft beers alongside, of course - mostly jazz and piano bars nowadays. Funny enough, I also find some solace in the blogosphere, including social networking sites. It is intellectually stimulating to express myself in these venues, or - better yet - be the gadfly with the contrarian opinions out there.
How do you attend to your spiritual needs?
I actually don't these days. I used to write in a journal, spend time in some form of self-adulating prayer, meditation. Recently I am so pained and anxious when I am in touch with my deeper levels that I don't like to tend to those demons, as it were.
Is there one thing you wish you had learned or discovered earlier in your life?
I wish I had become bi-lingual as a teenager. It opened up so many doors for me when I finally gained that skill, and I can only wonder how my life's trajectory would have changed if I had acquired that earlier in my life. Frankly, I am almost happy I didn't. Going to the Christian college that I eventually graduated from, I probably would have become a missionary - or a preacher. Can you imagine that? The Missionary From Hell. Sheesh.
What do you still want to learn?
More languages. I am fiddling with the idea that I want to take on yet another. Korean intrigues me, as does Chinese. Plenty of folks out there with whom to practice!
How do you make your life meaningful?
I have to write. There is so little else in the form of edifying communication for me these days. I love to read, love to watch political dramas on the television and on the Internet. But the writing - I hung up my guitar some years ago - is the only thing that gives me a sense of release and true expression any more.
What is your greatest fear?
That I have become what the demons tell me I am. They are often loud, insistent, and very demeaning.
What sustains you through difficult times?
I have some strange inner strength that keeps me going - getting back on my feet after yet another knock-down. Maybe it's self-abuse, maybe it's masochism, but it seems to remain with me - regardless of my situation. Plus I am married to an incredible woman, and she seems to have even more inner strength than I do. It's a good example to live around, to observe. To be encouraged by.
What two or three pieces of advice would you give to a young person just starting out?
Get - the hell - out of your local environment. If you're American, get the hell out of the USA as quickly as you can. Otherwise, you will be doomed to this self-indulgent mind-set that is so prevalent here. It will ruin your life; or, worse yet, make you an "American". If you can gain perspective - really, from anywhere but here - it will be something you will treasure forever. I have seen this in others, even those who took the leap for a relatively short time. Exchange students, Peace Corp volunteers, even back-pack travelers.
What brought you to blogging?
My repatriation to the US and subsequent unemployment. I knew I had something to say, something frankly to simply whine about. Once I found this particular venue, it was rather easy to get started.
What keeps you blogging?
Actually, it seems to be getting more difficult these days. I used to get inspired and motivated on a daily basis. That seems to have slowed down of late. Sometimes I find myself trying to conjure things up - almost mental masturbation - to see if I can get something out there that's worthwhile. It rarely works. I am not a very patient person.
What have you learned from the experience of blogging?
That there are others out there - at least a few - who can relate, who can understand, who can come alongside and be supportive and encourage. It actually has sustained me through some very dark months - you and your work included, good friend.
Oh, that's good to hear. What is one thing about you, Kent, that would surprise the readers of your blog?
What two books would you recommend to readers of your blog?
Robert Bly's "The Sibling Society" changed me forever.
Thomas Merton's "Seeds of Contemplation" helped me get free of my Christian shackles and into a more meaningful spiritual life.
Kent, what is the significance of the title of your blog, "Expat From Hell"?
I had always - from childhood - wanted to be an Expat. Wanted to live, work, and function overseas. When I had the (second) chance recently, I was sent first to Japan, then Portugal, then Latvia - by a company that I thought was the perfect match for me and my skill set. I couldn't have been more wrong. It was a mismatch from the get-go. I hated the philosophy, the culture, and many of the personalities in this company - it has scarred me very deeply as a result. I found the whole experience horrible and regrettable. Even though, in spite of this, I made some lifelong friends during those years in those places. After a while, it was preferable to be somewhere - anywhere - else, even if it meant extended unemployment. So that's what I chose to do, and I truly don't regret that. Although there has certainly been plenty to supplant that anxiety, now that I'm back home and looking for work in this economy.
What is your favorite word?
Yatta. It's Japanese for "I did it". As you can see from the phonetic arrangement, you can really bite this off when the sense of accomplishment and success is compelling. I hope I have the opportunity to use it more frequently in the future.
What is your least favorite word?
Misandry. I learned it recently when I found that I was encountering more than my share of females who seemed to have a penchant against men. The more I explored that concept, of course, I found that there were often very legitimate reasons for this mind-set. Needless to say, however, I didn't like being the object of said emotion - I have had a couple of female bosses who were really quite abusive - and it made me worry that I somehow was a lightning rod for this type of personality.
It makes me want to just stay home at times.
What sound or noise do you love?
The crack of the baseball bat. When you know you hit the ball with the right spot on that wooden bat, and this one is going to the parking lot.
What sound or noise do you hate?
Anything off key. I have a very refined sense of tune, and can't stand to hear anything that isn't right on pitch. I think that's why I don't like live choral music - choirs, choruses, etc. I can usually tell pretty quickly if someone in the group isn't right on the money. It is almost painful to me to hear - also amateur bands where the guitarist or bassist has let one or two strings get away - I guess that's why I prefer recorded (and engineered) music most of the time.
What question have I neglected to ask that would have given readers more insight into who you are?
What makes you come alive? What is your passion, in other words?
And finally Kent, what is the answer to that question?
Reaching out. Going where no one else wants to go. Making a bridge, developing a line of communication with another - one who is maybe difficult to reach. Making a difference, and coming back to tell about it, even if the audience is small. Going against the grain; being the nail that sticks up - sticks out. Doing what needs to be done, especially when no one else wants to do it.
Thank you Expat for being so candid. To visit Expat From Hell click here.
More interviews will appear soon. In the meantime leave a comment about this post and maybe Expat will respond to you here.