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  Has your life taken a curve in the road?

On every Why Not Wednesday weekly feature, I feature a new Detourist every week…(are YOU a Detourist?)

I’m sure your life has taken a detour here and there – we all have detours.  So learn how to share your own detour story here!  What’s a Detourist? Find out in my TEDx Talk.  Or…let Karen tell you about her Detour!


Finding My Perfect Creative Space

My name is Karen Hunt…and I am a Detourist!

Two years ago I whittled down my belongings and put everything that was left into a 10 x 10 storage unit. I hopped on a plane bound for Istanbul and haven’t looked back since.

For the past twenty years I had lived in Los Angeles, raising my kids. And now they were all grown up. There was no longer any reason for me to live this conventional static life. As a child, my family had traveled the world. As an adult, in the 1980s I had married the man of my dreams, a Yugoslavian rock star, and proceeded to live between London and a village in Slovenia. The marriage that had appeared so perfect had turned out to be a study in brutality. I retreated into a private world, saved from suicide by my art and my writing. And by the birth of my daughter, who was born in 1982. When my husband almost strangled me to death, I managed to find our hidden passports and get on a plane with my daughter and a small suitcase back to Los Angeles.

I moved back in with my conservative Christian parents, a humbling experience. Although I didn’t agree with their narrow views, it was a loving environment for my daughter and exactly the stability she needed. When you have nothing, you take the detours that are given to you with thankfulness and make the best of them. Before long, I had four contracts for children’s books I was writing and illustrating. I bought a car and put my daughter in private school.

Walking one day on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, I met what I thought was a normal guy. After my fist marriage “normal” was what I was looking for. He wore conservative clothes and actually went to work every day. We got married, a big wedding with a reception at the Los Angeles Country Club. I became part of one of California’s oldest and established real estate families. Sadly, it didn’t take long for me to realize I had exchanged one form of abuse for another. Within seven years, I was divorced again. A single mother with two sons and a daughter to care for. One of the reasons my second husband divorced me was that I had started a creative writing program in Central Juvenile Hall called InsideOUT Writers. When he told me stop working with those criminals or he would divorce me, I refused to obey the command. He began threatening me, following me, acting in an extremely paranoid manner. I now realize he had mental issues, since his behavior became increasingly erratic and strange. For at least the past six years he has been institutionalized with what I have been told is Alzheimer’s.

During the years before he was diagnosed, I raised my kids and built the nonprofit, all the while my ex attacking me in courts, forcing me to spend money I did not have to defend myself and my kids. I lost my house due to court bills, but I never lost my kids. When the kids were old enough to testify and an attorney was appointed on their behalf, the courts finally listened to them and my ex had to admit defeat. The psychological toll these years took on my sons was extreme.

Despite everything that happened, my sons love their dad and my wish more than anything would have been for them to have experienced what it was like to have a father. Despite the abuse I suffered from my first husband, I always made sure to take my daughter to Slovenia to visit her family. I love and get on well with all of them to this day. I didn’t want my daughter to lose that rich heritage that was a part of her, nor did I wish that for my sons.

During these years I struggled to be an artist and a writer. Both my husbands hated the artist in me. To them, once we were married, I should drop it. I tried to explain that it was like asking me not to breathe. I couldn’t just stop being who I was. My first husband would tear up my art and throw it in the fire, once, he punched me in the face and broke my nose. My second husband, who was wealthy beyond most people’s dreams, would deride me for the time I spent on my paintings. I thought he would be proud of my achievements as a published writer, have faith that as time went on I would establish my career. But no. I should give it all up.

One of the things that sustained me was my commitment to martial arts training. I vowed I would never again cower in front of someone abusing me. I have trained now for thirty years. Whenever I am feeling depressed or sad, I go to the gym, wrap my hands and beat up a bag.

If I look back on the skinny, fearful young woman I once was in London, it is hard to recognize her. But every part of me, every experience I have had along the winding and unexpected road has made me who I am today. And that is a powerful gift.

So, back to the storage unit.

When I returned to Los Angeles at the end of the 80s with my daughter and one suitcase, I didn’t expect to stay for over twenty more years. I raised my kids there, but I never formed an attachment to places or possessions. I am at heart a traveler. And so, once my kids grew up and I had finished that most important of jobs, I lightened the load, and took off for the horizon.

Along the way, I have found people with whom I can train and gyms where I can teach. I founded My World Project, connecting children in remote villages around the world through art and writing. In this way, I do what I can to break down barriers and build understanding in a world that is increasingly hate-filled and dangerous. We should listen to the voices of our children, telling us that they want peace.  

Above all, I am committed to my art. Throughout my life, as a daughter, a wife, a mother, I have fought to be a writer and an artist. I have been through the fire and survived.

I have a worn leather backpack that I love. Inside is nestled my laptop, holding all the words that I have poured out over the past two years. If I scroll down my files, the titles remind me of places, smells, food, adventures, each title tells a story deeper and more complex than what is written there. Wherever I go, I create my perfect space for writing, for my martial arts, for living the life that I love.

Much of my time is spent in the solitary pursuit of my writing. And then, there is the bustling outside world, inhabited by fascinating people. Children who want to share their stories with those who live beyond the borders of their villages or forests. Adults who train with me and want to push themselves to reach a higher potential. Or, just that person I meet in an airport or over a coffee or in a market and we connect for a brief moment in time. Together, we learn from one another and we inspire one another to be better. I strongly believe in the necessity of sending out positive energy to balance the negative. Those connections that we make when we travel create a web of love across the world and out into the universe.

In and out of one another’s lives we all go, for a few hours or days or months, and it is up to each of us how we will interpret those encounters. The experiences flow into my stories and the inner world that I create.

It doesn’t matter if I am in a café in Phoenix; wrapped in blankets on a freezing night in the Sahara Desert; or writing with a view of Arenal volcano, four fans on full blast to keep the sweat from landing on my computer.  I could be in a penthouse suite overlooking the Bosporus, or on a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, or maybe a train across India (a goal of mine). Each space has an atmosphere that speaks to my spirit and sparks my imagination. Each view, whether dark or light, colorful or noisy, joins together to become an added layer in my life.

The shrinking of my possessions has meant the growing of my freedom. The giving up of a static living space has opened a door to the universe. I am not bound to one location, one thought, or one experience. My feet move in any direction I point them, light and free.

Thanks to two marriages that sent me on massive detours, I have found I am not defined by external things. Who I am is defined by how I choose to spend my days and nights and who I choose to spend them with. I am defined by my adventures, by those moments of clarity when I have climbed a mountain and can sit and look out at an endless sea. I am defined by how much I give in the ring when I fight. I am defined by how much I give of myself to the youth I work with, many of whom have also suffered abuse or violence. I am defined by how much I give by encouraging the women I train to overcome fear with courage and self-respect.

Wherever I am on any given day, in any given country, in any challenging or peaceful situation, I am open to new paths. I create my own adventure. This is what I love. Building worlds within worlds, jumping into new situations, learning and growing, fighting and teaching and, above all, writing.


Bio: Karen Hunt aka KH Mezek is the author and/or illustrator of nineteen children’s books. Her award-winning essays deal with raising kids as a single mother on the mean streets of Los Angeles suburbia and her world travels as a child. She is the co-founder of InsideOUT Writers, a creative writing program for incarcerated youth, and the founder of the MY WORLD PROJECT, connecting youth in remote areas through art and writing. Her essay Reflections from Istanbul won the 2015 New Millennium Writers Nonfiction Award. She is a 2nd degree black belt in Tang Soo Do, a first degree brown belt in Eskrima, and a boxing and kick-boxing trainer. She has spent the past two years traveling the world having adventures and writing her childhood travel memoir and her YA Urban Fantasy series, NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES.

So, now it’s your turn!

Are you a Detourist?
Yep – you totally are!  How can you share your detour?

Safe travels, Detourists!

Watch an inspiring TEDx talk about getting through any “detour” in life! #LoveMyDetour [click to tweet]

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