My friend Lisa and I go way back, and by ‘go way back’ I mean I started reading her blog about life in Laos a couple years ago. You would correctly guess that Laos and Japan are quite different, but being a foreigner in a charming and sometimes bewildering culture transcends geographical boundaries, plus our baby boys are just weeks apart. In fact, we seemed to have so much in common I actually checked facebook to see if we had mutual friends. We do not. Yet.
So with that introduction, Passport/Sunshine State Diaries is delighted to host Lisa McKay today as she launches her second book, Love at the Speed of Email.
Love at the Speed of Email is about a man and a woman on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean who build a relationship entirely through email—a classic romance via modern technology. Part of that process means Lisa, a self-described global nomad who’s lived in eight different countries, has to answer some big questions about what home and commitment—to a person, to a place, to a career—really look like.
Passport Diaries: A lot of my friends and I are military wives, so I really relate to being semi-nomadic and finding yourself in a situation where you have to develop and maintain a relationship across the ocean. In what ways did your email courtship progress your relationship that regular face-to-face dating couldn’t have?
|Mike, Lisa, Dominic|
Lisa McKay: Writing all those letters to each other – a whole books worth – gave us time and space to ask and answer questions. We wrote about anything and everything. About childhood and work and what we’re passionate about and the little details of how our days had been and what we were reading …
This helped pace us – it allowed us to get to know one another in a measured, thoughtful, way before anything else entered the picture. It meant that when we did meet in Australia for the first time we had a really solid foundation of respect and liking to build upon. I think it’s possible that months of writing letters enabled us to learn more about each other than we would have learned if we’d been dating more
traditionally and living in the same city.
PD: Do you have any tips for good email communication across time zones?
LM: Here are a couple of tips I’ve tried to keep in mind for long-distance dating (and long-distance marriage, which we’ve also had our share of!):
1. Figure out what generally works for you: Talk explicitly about how you prefer to generally communicate (talking via skype, writing emails, sending texts, etc) and how often. You may have to compromise on this one.
2. Make communicating a priority: Treat that communication the same way you’d treat a commitment to have dinner with that person face to face. Sure, there will be some days when you might have to reschedule a phone call or you’re too tired to write a letter, but make sure you’re prioritizing communicating most days. Also, if you’re just too tired to write a lot, dashing a quick note saying that and sending love will mean a lot to the other person!
3. Ask and answer questions that go beyond “what did you do today/yesterday”? I have a free e-book coming out in a month or two called 201 Great Questions for Couples in Long Distance Relationships. Find a copy of that or something like that and use it to help you ask questions about bigger picture “stuff”.
PD: Good suggestions. Hopefully that can take some of the trial and error out of unending deployments.
I love the review you posted from your grandmother: “Oh, dear. I had to stop reading. I felt like I was prying into your life. It felt like I was reading your journal.” I wanted to read your book anyway, but now I am itching for my copy to show up. Sanctioned nosiness: my favorite! Do you know which chapter she was on when she made that comment? And has she been able to continue?
LM: A funny side note to this one, after I quoted that comment in the blog post you read it in, I got a letter from my 87-year-old grandpa who has only just learned how to use the net and type this year. It’s so great. Anyway, the last line of the little note was “Nanna was shocked to find her comments included. She said she’ll be much more careful in the future.”
PD: Ha ha!
LM: I don’t know when she stopped reading, actually, but I think it was something like page 20. Not very far, anyway, so she probably has no idea she’s quoted in the second to last chapter and that I write about her briefly in the one before that.
PD: That’s excellent. While we’re being nosy, what was the hardest part of this memoir to write? And what was your favorite part to write?
LM: I had been involved in several long distance relationships that had not ended happily-ever-after before I met Mike. I found it difficult to write about these previous romantic relationships – especially ways in which I had failed others and myself.
One chapter, in particular, I must have completely rewritten a dozen times. I went over that story over and over again, trying to pin down what had happened during that time and especially how I had contributed to the unhealthy dynamics of that relationship.
It was a difficult process, but I couldn’t leave those parts of the story out. Those relationships and some of the mistakes I made helped shape the person I had become when Mike and I met.
LM: As for favorite – one of my favorite scenes was introducing Mike to my parents. We had been writing letters to each other for three months when he flew to Australia so that we could meet in person. When I picked him up in Brisbane airport and we met for the first time we had never even spoken to each other before! After we met in the airport we drove the two hours back to my parent’s place (where I was staying on holiday) and I dropped him right in the middle of my entire family.
The first conversation he had with my parents ended up being … ridiculous.
PD: How did your friends and family feel about appearing in your book?
LM: So far everyone seems to have taken it well. I only changed two characters names – everyone else appeared under their own name – so before I finalized the manuscript I did send it to almost everyone who has a significant “speaking” role with a list of page numbers where they appeared and a request to let me know if they had any questions or concerns. I didn’t give them veto power, per se, but I did want them to see what I’d written and to hear their thoughts.
The trickiest part of navigating this wasn’t with family, it was with friends and previous boyfriends. However contacting previous love interests to let them know what I’d written about them before I made it public actually proved to be a healing exercise for me. (You can read a whole post on this topic here).
PD: Oh yeah, that was an excellent post. In this book you write about “the internal and unwinnable war between the longing for Adventure and Home.” Are we the same person? I need to hear more about your war. How are adventure and home playing out in your life currently?
LM: We might be related, I think (I love your blog by the way, and hope we get to cross paths in person someday).
I told Mike about this question and he joked that he wants Adventure and I want Home. He’s not far wrong, actually. After years of living abroad and traveling the world for work there’s a big part of me now that has started to yearn for a stable community, a white picket fence and an idle passport.
It’s not the season for that quite yet, if it ever will be. We’re currently living in Northern Laos. Mike works for a humanitarian organization here, helping oversee programs related to child and maternal health, food security, education and water and sanitation. I do some work as a consultant psychologist around issues related to stress, trauma and resilience. I do a lot more work as a mother, however. We had our first child just nine months ago and, phew, mothering is a bit relentless, isn’t it?
So I’d say Adventure is still edging out Home, but we are managing to create a Home together in some important ways here in Laos.
PD: Ah, the ever elusive balances of life: Home vs. Adventure, Wife vs. Mom vs. Individual, Stability vs. Excitement, Cake vs. Health. How will having a tiny baby affect your nomadic tendencies? Are you in Laos for the long haul? Is that covered in the book?
LM: The book ends right around the time we got married, so neither Laos nor baby was on the scene yet.
Hmmm… baby plus nomadism. We’re still trying to figure that one out. We’re not going to be in Laos for the long haul (if by long haul you mean 5-10 years) but we don’t know where we’re headed post Laos. I’ll keep you posted.
PD: Please do! Speaking of that tiny baby, will the story of his parents’ relationship be required reading for him at some point? How do you feel about his reading it someday?
LM: Gosh, this might sound odd, but I really haven’t thought much about Dominic reading it. I assume he’ll want to, one day. And I was going to say “I feel fine” about it, then I remembered a couple of scenes in there that make me cringe and suddenly I feel a bit weird about it. It’ll certainly help him see us in a different light, I would imagine.
PD: Would you please tell us about the Laos charities that a portion of your book proceeds will benefit? Why did you decide to do that?
LM: Yes, a portion of my profits on this book will be going to support charities operating here in Laos. The two I have in mind at present are two organizations that focus on literacy and education, Pencils of Promise and the Luang Prabang Boat Library. Pencils of Promise builds schools and trains teachers. The Library Boat carries books up and down the Mekong to villages that can only be accessed by boat.
You can’t live somewhere like Laos without realizing how fortunate you are in comparison to so many people in this world, and it seemed fitting to direct some of anything I earn on this book to organizations who are working to get books into the hands of children and improve education in this country.
OK, I think I’ve gone on long enough. Kudos if you’re still reading! Mari, thanks for having me on your excellent blog. Speaking of which, I’m looking for ways to get the word out about this book this summer, so if anyone reading would like me to visit their blog just let me know.
PD: Thanks for joining us, Lisa!
|Mike, Dominic, Lisa|