It was a very good year

Now it’s New Year’s Eve.  Like most of the New Year’s Eves of my life, I’m not really doing anything special.  Except that everything is different.

I’m sitting here on a sofa in England–not my friend’s sofa, but my husband’s (and now mine).  I knew this would be a big year at the start of it, but I didn’t know just how big.  Last December 31st I was newly engaged, but also in a long distance relationship and preparing to say goodbye to my husband the very next day.  We were vaguely beginning to plan a wedding in England and a life in New York.  The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men go aft agley.

So without any further ado, here’s what actually happened in 2012.

1) The world didn’t end.

I’ll admit–the Mayans had me scared.  It all goes back to this Nostradamus special I watched when I was 14 that scared the bejeezus out of me.  Quite literally–I had the scariest dream involving a floating crucifix after that special.  Then leading up to 2012 all this scary stuff started happening, like cities being leveled (hurricane Katrina), and I remembered something about a seven year war with the third antichrist (OMG Bin Laden!).  Of course I should have seen the flaw in this when they called the first antichrist Napoleon on that special, because Napoleon was certainly a megalomaniac but certainly not an antichrist.  Anyway, 2012 seemed like this far off Jetsons-era date and yet we were closing in on it–surely the world would end.

I knew in my head that was pure silliness, but I couldn’t shake the fear.  Apocalyptic movies like 2012 troubled me to the point where I couldn’t watch them, even if they were hilariously bad.  Last year for Christmas as a joke gift I got an end of the world scenario page a day calendar from MR.

Then, slowly but inexorably, Dec 21st came creeping up.  In June it was still a little worrying, but in December, when it was a week away, and then two days away, I would think “The end of the world is the day after tomorrow?  That can’t be right.”  It wasn’t some mystical far-off future, but a date I could see on the calendar.  It didn’t feel like the world could end.  And of course, it didn’t, dispelling all the apocalyptic fears I’ve had since childhood.

Well played, Mayans.

2) My world did change.

According to the Mayan prophecy interpretation I have gleaned from news reports, 2012 isn’t the end of the world but the end of an era, the start of a new one.  Now that was certainly true.  Everything changed for me in 2012.  But I have to say that not only was I due a change, the changes were pretty fabulous.

I’m living abroad.  Not studying abroad and doing it for awhile, actually living in another country.  I have a semi-permanent visa which can be renewed ad infinitum.  In just a few weeks, I will own a house in this other country.  I didn’t even dream of owning a house in NYC (that makes sense considering the real estate prices).

I thought my visa days were over, and when my passport with my student visa expired I remember being sad because those days would never come again, and I wouldn’t have a visa in another passport.  How silly of me.  How very, very silly.  Now I am an actual immigrant, with all the pains that come with it.  Although admittedly I forget sometimes to look around at how far I’ve come.  It’s easy for life to go on as life–I need to appreciate this adventure for what it is.  Originally we wanted to live in NYC, but American immigration rules being what they are, doing so meant at the very least a nine month separation after we were married.  Considering all the time we’ve had together since September, I know I made the right decision.  Back when I was deciding people were telling me nine months was a drop in the bucket of life, but after spending these months together and not with the ache of being apart, I know that’s not true.  We met each other so late, we have to seize all the time we can.  So I moved to another country to be with him because he was prohibited from doing the same for me.  But I have to remember that on a certain level, this move was for me too.

Speaking of that…

3) I got married!!!

Boy, did I think that was never going to happen.  I was the most hopeless singleton you could ever meet, someone who lived in fear of the opposite sex yet hope desperately that one of those creatures would deign to recognize her…while she was still in her house.  Against all odds, this happened.  At the beginning of this year I knew I would be married, because MR proposed on Boxing Day 2011, surprising the hell out of me.  But now I actually am.  I have to change my name on stuff.  I’m officially Mrs MR (or Mrs GeekErgoSum if you follow his blog).

I got all the fun of being a bride, of having the people I loved around me while I said my vows, of saying those vows, of having my first dance in a 14th Century Guild Hall (see: reasons to get married in England).  I got the big dress and the honeymoon in the Maldives, and it was all so utterly fabulous that I’m really sad to see 2012 go.  It was certainly one of the biggest years, and one of the best.  I definitely did not come out of this year the same as I went into it.  I was a fiancee and now I’m a wife.  At the start of 2012 the biggest thing ahead of me was my wedding, now it’s the rest of my life.

4) My career has taken some interesting turns

I was a teacher for eight years.  I suppose I still am, though can you call yourself a teacher if you don’t have a classroom?  I absolutely love teaching, but the thing about it is it’s always going to be kind of the same.  Always pretty awesome, but nothing really changes.  And, thankfully, huge amounts of job stability.  I happened to be teaching at my alma mater, which was so fun.  I am a freak who loved high school, because rather than the experience so many have of feeling like a misfit, I felt like I belonged there, in this world of nerds and geeks where getting a high SAT score and playing in the band made you cool.  I got to return to that as a teacher and live out my Dead Poet’s Society fantasies.  This year I left all that to come to the other side of the pond (see above), and I experienced a period of government imposed unemployment–the longest in my working life, I might add.  I’m still not sure how I feel about not working.  On the one hand the rest is nice.  On the other I miss the challenges.  It’s nice to have so much time to do things I want and work on my writing and for once, be somewhat neat in my home, but it’s also a bit isolating.

2013 will most likely be back to teaching, but having some time to myself has been interesting to ruminate on.

5) Oh, you’ve heard of Les Mis?  It’s only everywhere

And my most favorite musical *of all time.*  As a geek, I relished in the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings mania.  I certainly loved when the Chronicles of Narnia came out, but it never got to be that huge.  But nothing compares to the awesomeness of hearing everyone gush about the musical that I have been gushing about since I was fourteen.  The musical I made my then eight year old cousin listen to and memorize when I cast him as Gavroche in our family singalongs.  The musical my sister had to reference in her maid of honor toast.  I’ve read the book, memorized the lyrics in French, and the entire libretto in English, and until now, only a few people would even remotely understand.  I had met less than ten who understood my fervor when discussing the merits of Peter Lockyer as Marius and the finer points of the various cast recordings, or who could sympathize when I was gutted that they cut out Combeferre’s lines after Javert is exposed as a spy.

But now I understand fully what all the LOTR fans who had Frodo Lives! bumper stickers felt when the movie came out 12 (!) years ago.  Validation.  Sweet, sweet validation, that I liked something that was intrinsically cool all along.  It only needed Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway to show the world.

A downside to living in England, though–the movie has not come out here yet!  I am dying.  But at least that’s something to look forward to in 2013.  I need something, because it will be really hard to top 2012.

5) Bucket list item–accomplished

I went to the Olympics.  It was an early football/ soccer match of Belarus versus…someone I cant remember.  I was with a friend who is a die hard football fan, and he said it was not exactly thrilling play.  It was in Coventry the day before the opening ceremonies.  BUT IT WAS STILL THE OLYMPICS, DAMMIT.  I have always, always wanted to go to the Olympics, and now I have.  The Ricoh arena was covered with the London 2012 purple.  The Olympic rings stood proudly on roundabouts and banners lined the A45.  My ticket, which I of course saved, has the official Olympic rings on it.  I still want to go again, and be there for the opening ceremony live, but I went.  And the rest I watched on BBC, which was as good as being there because they don’t package anything and there are no commercial breaks.  We can at least give the BBC the Olympics, despite their humiliating failures elsewhere.

 

I remember thinking 1992 was an amazing year.  In retrospect, it’s hard to pinpoint why–I got chicken pox and my family lost our house thanks to a pre-Clinton recession.  Nevertheless, the movies, the music, the *Olympics*–it was the first year I felt alive, part of the world instead of a kid living in my own bubble. 1992 was amazing.  I remember the Queen saying she was very glad to see the end of 1992.  I remember there was a fire in Windsor Castle and Prince Charles and Princess Diana separated so fair play to her–not a great year for her Majesty.  Still, though, when that statement was publicized, I remember feeling personally affronted that this year that I loved living in was just a waste of time to others.  There have been some “Phew, thank goodness 2012 is over!” posts on Facebook, and while I get that not everyone had a banner year, I still feel that same sting when the world is happy to put 2012 behind them as though it never happened, because it was monumental for me.  Perhaps that is a bit narcissistic, but I can’t help the sting even so.  I hope you out there, whoever you are, are both as sad to see 2012 go as I am and yet also looking forward to big things in 2013.

Goodbye 2012.  You weren’t the end of all things, but now you’re ending, and I shall miss you.  You changed everything.

2013, take notice.  You have a lot to live up to.

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The finish line

I am not by nature a finisher.

This is a trait of mine that has always annoyed me.  I’m not really troubled by my procrastination, because I’m always able to get my work done, even if it means an all nighter on occasion, and my grades or job has never suffered for it.  On reflection though, it’s probably part of the same thing.

There’s something in me that hates finishing a project.  I’ll start almost anything with gusto, but those last little bits of a project irritate me, and I leave them unfinished.  I have a thousand examples of this, most notably my undergraduate English thesis.  It was a 75 page opus comparing depictions of childhood in the writings of Charles Dickens and Mark Twain.  My thesis advisor kept suggesting ideas to add, and I dutifully added all of them.  I read critical article after critical article, and read through Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Huck Finn, and Tom Sawyer.  I structured a thoughtful comparative analysis and drew conclusions about the American spirit of adventure and stuff.  And then I never proofread the essay.  It’s sitting there in the library of Hartwick College with (citation needed) in some places, instead of the actual article I was talking about, and probably more than a few typos.

This is me all over.  I’ll undertake these huge, complicated projects, and never complete them.  I really enjoy handicrafts, including counted cross stitch.  In my lifetime I’ve undertaken several tapestry-like cross stitch projects only to abandon them, uncompleted.

I recently experienced something of a victory though.  I decided I was going to make Christmas presents this year for my sister and sister-in-law.  For my sister I did a table runner in lace crochet and edged napkins to match, and for my sister-in-law I embroidered a cushion.  I was frantically sewing the cushion on Christmas eve, but all were completed and well received.

This has left me with a flush of pride.  I finished something, and it went over really well.  My sister is emphatic that I need to start an Etsy store, and I started daydreaming about it.  It makes perfect sense–I do this stuff anyway, and MR is not one for superfluous decoration, so the stuff I make wouldn’t find a home in our house.  (Sidenote: I realize I could battle him on this one and force him to have some doilies, but we’ve been doing pretty well making our decorative tastes meet when it comes to our new house, so I see no need to rock the boat.  Besides, there are really only so many doilies a person can have lying around.)  I could do something I do for fun and get paid for it.  Boxing Day morning I lay in bed daydreaming of taking orders and finishing them off, and charging tidy sums for said projects because so much work goes into them, which would be very nice as we could certainly use the money.

When MR woke up, I told him of my plan, he frowned and grew thoughtful.  Then he told me I shouldn’t do it.  I was surprised, because a common theme among us lately is how without me working, we could really use a little more money.  Not a lot, just  a bit more to make us more comfortable.  He said he worried how I would handle multiple orders–which is a good point.  But more than that, he said he noticed that working on those Christmas presents had really taken me away from my writing, and that he doesn’t want to see that become a pipe dream.

There is a lot of truth to this.  I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I certainly have a lot of projects begun, but I have very few finished ones. Very few indeed–I have one complete novel draft, a handful of short stories (all written for assignments), and a few fan fictions.  There’s a novel I had an idea for when I was 15 that is as yet incomplete.  I did National Novel Writing Month one year and got the aforementioned novel draft, which is frankly terrible and needs a major overhaul.  I did it again and wrote 50,000 words, but didn’t come close to finishing the story.  I did it this year and I didn’t finish.

But I finished those napkins, and that table runner, and that pillow.  And the fact remains that while crocheting and embroidery take some skill and time, they don’t require a lot of brain power.  I can sit there stitching and watching endless hours of junk tv.  Writing is a much, much harder creative task, and maybe there’s some truth in the fact that I’m avoiding it.  Because I think I won’t finish.  Because I’m scared that if I do finish, I’ll fail.  So it’s easier to imagine myself an Etsy queen than to face the beast of fear and wrestle with my creativity.  The fact remains, however, that for years I have called myself a writer.  I have shaped my schooling around being a writer.  As a kid I never said I wanted to crochet for a living.  I wanted to write.

I’m lucky that my husband takes me seriously when I say I want to write.  I used to think that a lot of people didn’t believe how serious I was about writing.  I don’t really blame them–there are a lot of people out there who say they’re writers, but never seem to produce any writing.  I could all too easily be classed as one of them.  But at a critical moment when I’m thinking of hiding he says no, I need to go for my dream.  He helps me make plans for how to market myself when my book is done.  Part of his Christmas present to me is a website for my writing, in all its forms.

It’s easy to get sidetracked from your dreams, and I think that’s really what leads to them never happening.  Fear that it’s too hard or that we’re not good enough plague us at every turn, and it’s all too easy to find an excuse to turn away, say we’re too busy, say that something else came up, misquote John Lennon and say “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”  That’s true–life surprises us.  But it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make plans.  Dreams take more than ideas.  Just because you envision yourself as something doesn’t mean you are that–it takes work to get there.  Lots of hard work, and lots of little details to see to before crossing the finish line.  That’s what makes any creative endeavor a marathon.  If I get my act in gear, then maybe I can be as prolific as the writers I analyzed.

 

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

I meant to get this post out before Christmas, but then Christmas happened quite suddenly.  Nevertheless…

I’m pretty proud of myself this year.  I not only managed to make a few presents, which I’m happy to see were well received, but I also sent out Christmas cards and mailed Christmas boxes home and to friends.

This may not seem like a feat worth being proud of.  After all, people send Christmas cards all the time.  It’s the done thing.  But this has always been my trouble–I’m often one for thoughtful ideas, but I never carry them out.  I do think of all those little social niceties, but I rarely go so far as to carry them out.  I have a friend, who I greatly admire for being a pro at this.  She is the queen of finding inexpensive but awesome presents, of getting you something just because she thought of you.  When I dog sat for her once, as a thank you she included a gift certificate for a manicure and pedicure at a place we liked to go to together.

I love little gestures like this–they go a long way to making people feel special.  That’s the thing about Christmas cards too–it shows you were thinking of this person enough to hand write a message, however brief, and what’s really special in this day and age, pay for a stamp.  My husband’s family is very big on cards.  They are extremely important parts of birthdays and Christmas, and at Christmas the standard boxed cards won’t do.  They get each other the personalized ones that say “To my brother and his wife” or “To my son and daughter-in-law.”  My family is not so big on cards–in fact, I don’t think my parents have ever gotten me one and it’s never so much as crossed my mind, let alone bothered me.  On reflection, though, I think it’s part of the same thing–people like that little effort because it makes them feel special.  And that’s what makes the little gestures so important.

I’ve always recognized this, and I’ve always wanted to be the person who does those little gestures.  I get little brainstorms all the time for things I could do, but then I always fail in the execution.  My thoughtful friend has produced fantastic Christmas and birthday gifts (the coolest post it note set ever inside a box inlaid with mother-of-pearl from her trip to Syria, for example, or a handmade star from a German market are examples that leap to mine).  I know her taste exactly, partly because our tastes can be very similar, but somehow I never remember to get things in time for birthdays or Christmas.  And I always *want* to.  It just never happens.  The same is true with my husband.  I’ll be thinking I’m thirsty and yet am too lazy to get up and get something to drink and then all at once he brings me a glass of water.  I make him plenty of tea, but I never think to do it randomly, and I never do it without asking if he wants it.

I’m not entirely sure why this is.  Sometimes I know it’s a confidence thing.  I don’t want to be pushy, or ‘creepy’ as my mother-in-law uses it, meaning someone who seems to be currying favor instead of making an honest gesture.  I also hate the thought of doing something nice and having the gesture received with bemusement or contempt.  Which is crazy of course, because I well know how lovely those little gestures are.

Another part, it has to be said, is that impulse which prevents me from finishing things.  It’s laziness, but also something else, something that keeps me from going all the way through with a project.  And then there’s the fact that I tend to have very grand ideas which can’t be accomplished in time.  I used to think that each Christmas card had to have a long and thoughtful note with it.  That means each card can take as much as 15 minutes, and who has the willpower to sit there and write cards for over 8 hours?

This year, something changed.  When I was in Edinburgh, I saw something that was perfect for my friend.  Instead of looking at it and thinking how I should get it and subsequently walking away, I bought it.  I did miss sending it for her November birthday, but I got myself together enough to buy presents for her and her husband and their two small kids.  Not only did I buy them, I went to the post office and *sent* them.  I cannot stress the fact that somewhere along the way in previous years, something would have collapsed with this plan.  I would have been missing one present, or never made it to the post office.  The same is true for the Christmas cards I sent out.  I ordered little business cards with our new address for next year, and sat one afternoon and wrote out a stack of cards and then made my husband sign them.  And then they went to the post office.  Again–a Christmas miracle.  I can’t help but wonder how this happened so suddenly.

I think it’s the being away from home.  When I first got here, people would often ask me if I was homesick yet.  At the time I was gearing up for my wedding, and full of the knowledge that a good group of people who were very dear to me were on their way shortly.  I was also dazzled by the idea that I didn’t have to say goodbye to MR.  We had been so used to counting down and saying goodbye, and back in July, I was stunned that that period was over forever.

But the wedding passed, everyone came and went.  I still love seeing MR every day, but it’s not brand new and shiny–he’s becoming part of my every day life.  That’s very good, but it means I’m starting to think more about all that I left behind.  The first day of school where I taught caused me a pang.  I would kill to go out for dinner and drinks with my high school friends.  And this is only the second Christmas in my entire life that I’ve spent away from home.

So the Christmas cards went out, the presents got made, the boxes packed and sent because I needed to feel connected with the life I left behind.  I know I made the right decision, but after the first flush I’m realizing that moving across an ocean is no easy thing.  And that I don’t want to say goodbye forever to the people I left behind.  They still mean something to me, and I can’t show them by simple conversation or everyday activities anymore.  All I can do is send a card and write on facebook.  But it’s getting me over my laziness and shyness, because I want all those people to know I’m thinking of them.   I would quote the song in the title of this post, but that may be just a bit too cheesy and sentimental, and I don’t want to hear about it from MR, as he inevitably will read this and tease me for being a sentimental American.

 

Shy violet

After months of waiting, I finally got my visa last week.  I tore open the envelope and exulted at my biometric card which allows me to use the NHS and allows me to work, two very, very important things.

Then I realized I had to get a job.

I have not been unemployed in a long time–eight years, to be exact.  Ever since I became a teacher, I’ve had a job. Sure I’ve moved schools, but I’ve never been excessed (I’ll consider myself lucky there), and the moves were all my choice.  Before you think I’m bragging, I now find myself in the positions of probably millions of other people on the planet–I have no job, and I need one.  And I am very daunted by the prospect.

In the days when I was job hunting, before I started teaching, I hated it.  My resume was bs, my cover letters were bs, and being a rather enthusiastic but genuine person, employers saw right through it.  Which meant I’d get a handful of interviews and no job offers, not unless I had a temp job and went permanent.  Plus, there are all these rules about interviews and the corporate world that no one told me about.  I’d go into interviews and answers questions with candor.  (I can hear the facepalms as people read that sentence).  One of my biggest fears is rejection, and I was constantly being rejected, and really it was my own fault.

But now things are different.  I can go into teaching interviews and use my honesty because I honestly care about the job.  Everything about it.  There’s no need to bs.  There’s no need to pad my resume, because I’ve simply done a lot in eight years of teaching.  If you ask me where I want to be in five years, I say teaching.  I know the game, and I’ve got a solid background, working at tough schools and good schools (which are also tough, but for completely different reasons).  I know I’m a solid candidate.

And yet, I’m still terrified.

Part of it is that I’m not so confident here. I don’t know the game like I did in NYC.  Applying to teach, and even teaching in NYC schools was easy, because I was a product of them.  The good school I taught at was my alma mater, so I knew all the buzzwords to use, I knew the philosophy of the school.  Even going in my first day was easy, because I knew where all the rooms were, who was in charge of what, even a good percentage of the faculty.  I revel in the familiar.

But then I think I can’t revel in it that much because I take some leaps.  I went to a college where I didn’t know another soul.  I studied abroad.  I moved to England.  All of those are pretty huge leaps into the unfamiliar.

But I think it comes from being a naturally very shy person.  People are always surprised when I tell them this, because I come off as perhaps a bit too sociable.  They don’t know that’s because I’m overcompensating.  Most of the time, I’m totally terrified to ask people for anything.  I dart around shops avoiding the staff.  Yesterday I asked whether I could have a hot chocolate instead of a coffee on a Cafe Rouge order and it was something I had to psych myself up to do.  I’ve been on several vacations alone, and I never talk to anyone.  I have this one friend who is beautifully bold and can chat up anyone, asking ridiculous questions, teasing within minutes.  Meanwhile I hang back, afraid to say anything lest it be the wrong thing, lest the person look at me and say “What on earth do you think you’re doing?”  Which is pretty much my biggest fear.  It’s what kept me in my little group in high school–I found a group of friends and clung to them like a limpet.  Now I’m facebook friends with a lot of my former classmates, and I talked to a couple of people at my reunion in June, and they were really cool.  It seems silly not to have talked to them more.  But I was afraid, especially when they seemed so cool.

So this job hunt now requires me to put myself out there.  My sister-in-law, also a teacher, suggesting finding schools in the area I want to teach and calling them up to ask the name of the agency they use for supply teaching (or substitute teaching in America).  This is very sound advice indeed, as mid year there aren’t going to be a lot of jobs.  But the idea of cold calling schools fills me with terror.  I know I have to do it, and my husband correctly said that when I have a job a year from now, I will shake my head at my silliness now.  But that doesn’t stop me from being silly.  Again, it’s that fear that they will say “What on earth do you think you’re doing?”

Yet I can face down a class of 30 teenagers and not be nervous at all, and teenagers are possibly the most judgmental people on the planet.  How can I do that and not have a simple conversation with an adult without quaking in my boots?  Let’s think:

  • In a classroom I’m confident of my position.  I know what I’m supposed to be doing, and I know how to do it.  I know I’m the one with the information, and therefore with the power.
  • Also, nobody will ask me what I think I’m doing, because they would be stupid.  It’s obvious–I’m teaching.  My role is clear.  I’m not being weird, this is what everyone expects me to do.
  • Ergo, because I’m confident in myself and what I’m doing, I don’t care what they think.  I want my students to like me, definitely.  That is very important to me.  But I don’t *need* them to.  Which I think makes them like me, or at least put up with my anti-Twilight rants without openly rebelling.

Huh…the power thing is interesting, as a lot of human interaction comes down to power plays, I think.  So clearly, I don’t like being back footed or unsure of where I stand.

The answer seems simple: be confident even when it comes to asking around for a job.  Seems like a good idea, but infusing yourself with confidence when you don’t have any is a tall order.  I was single for a loooooong time because I didn’t have any confidence to talk to guys.  So how do I have confidence when I come from a place with no power?  Suggestions are welcome.