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This weekend’s live-recorded call in the Dialogue2010 series left me reeling. Ten women scattered in Turkey, the Czech Republic, Italy and four U.S. states came together to discuss mapping the hybrid life, moderated by Rose Deniz.

Orchid

Orchid by A.Ashman

The hour was early for those of us in Europe and Asia so we could catch the late night callers in Washington and California — but that’s not the reason for the ringing in my ears.

The 90-minute talk, touching on what we hold on to and what we leave behind and the qualities we rely on to live in several different worlds at once, was so resonant it felt like being part of a carillon.

Bells were going off with each speaker’s comment, one percussion setting off the next.

We represented wildly different notes: a Third Culture Kid with a parent in the United Nations who grew up on airplanes, the daughter of Turkish emigrants in New York who was thrilled to start school and join a wider community, a Dutchwoman grappling with a new size of the world in the Pacific Northwest, an American who suspected she was destined for something far outside of her Midwestern suburbia but didn’t know exactly what until she went to China.

A surprise chord struck during the call: we all write and do other creative work, and everyone credited this self-expression as a survival tool, a way to process the high-definition drama of hybrid life.

I wonder about this breed of kindred spirits: were we born with some kind of hybrid gene? Obviously predisposed to compassion for other cultures like the Turkish emigrant, or more subtly drawn to the exotic like the suburban Midwesterner?

What comes first, the hybrid self or the hybrid life? Are our most resonant peers made or born?

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For an anthology* I recently wrote an essay about why the practice wasn’t cool in my Berkeley family — even though our 1969 Volkswagen bus was a hitch-hiker’s dream, even though it seemed everyone in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s was hitch-hiking. My parents were big city people who didn’t buy the hitch-hiking compact.  Plus, hitch-hiking was at the heart of serial killer lore for this California kid —  the Zodiac Killer’s San Francisco, the Hillside Strangler‘s Los Angeles.  One September 1978 day my family’s mindset — and a half a mile — separated me from a teenage girl who was mutilated after sticking out her thumb.

*In 2005 Tom and Simon Sykes produced No Such Thing As A Free Ride? in the UK, serialized by London Times and named Travel Book of the Week by the Observer. The new volume aims to capture what hitch-hiking means to Americans, and America.

What did hitch-hiking mean to your family (and your community) when you were a child and how did it affect your practices when you reached adolescence/adulthood?

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