To me, those are really two different questions. If you ask whether I want to be in front of the camera or behind one, I will jump up and down and say IN FRONT. And I will speak in all capital letters.
Being an educator is really a ‘behind the camera’ position for people who like to be in front of the camera. The goal in teaching is to give students enough knowledge and know how to let them go off on their own and succeed. Thus when I attended an (amazing) teaching Shakespeare workshop that stressed performance, they had the teachers do tons of acting activities and then insisted that is what we should have our students doing, rather than standing up and reciting monologues ourselves. I blushed and my heart sank at the same time, because I could remember the relish with which I delivered Antony’s soliloquy–O pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth…
But of course there is a huge in front of the camera aspect to teaching. I have to stand up in front of teenagers 5 times a day and somehow command their attention for an hour. For any teacher who cares about their job at all, that is going to take both some serious gravitas and a variety of performance antics alongside carefully selected information. It’s hard, but it definitely kills any performance anxiety. I have a friend who is a really good singer, so much so that I’m rather jealous of her (although I can carry a tune ok myself), but she absolutely shrivels with embarrassment when the opportunity presents itself to sing. Meanwhile I’ll snatch up the mike a the first opportunity, and often make my husband let me sing when we play Rock Band. I am not sure how much he enjoys this, but he tolerates it well. I suspect because I am playing video games with him.
Part of that may be British v. American cultures. If British people are any good at anything, they are never ever supposed to say, and never supposed to put themselves in the limelight. Ever. Even when people compliment and coax them, they’re supposed to act like they would never do such a thing, even if they too want to belt out Bon Jovi at the tops of their lungs. This is weird to me, because Americans live to celebrate their achievements. Yes, there are brash show-offs that nobody likes, but if there’s a quiz and you’re good at trivia, you’re supposed to step up and say so. If you won a trophy, you put it on your mantlepiece. We have at least a dozen reality shows related to minute personal successes (Toddlers and Tiaras, Dance Moms, that one about the cheerleading squad a couple of years ago…) There are entire businesses devoted to framing diplomas for display purposes. I think a British person would curl up and die at the very thought, even while secretly wanting to show the world that yes, they worked f-ing hard and deserved that First, dammit. (For you American readers, that would be summa cum laude.)
Needless to say, I don’t know what to do with myself here. Nor do I know if I want to raise my daughter with such false modesty. Girls have a hard enough time getting to success in this world (yes, still), and I don’t think they should feel that’s something to be ashamed of or hide. I want her to know it is ok to be proud of yourself if you are good at something.
There is then the other question–am I as happy to be written about as to be the one doing the writing? When I was a kid, it was my goal to be mentioned in a newspaper article. There were a couple of instances when I was around 12 when it might have happened because I was part of some local interest stuff. It didn’t, and I found myself disappointed. I realize now though that what I wanted was a glossy, fabulous portrayal of myself in print (though the fact that I thought the New York Daily News was going to get me there attests to my innocence). I didn’t want the truth, and all the gory human bits out there for everyone to see–all my flaws and all my realities. I went through a period where I hated to find out that novels were semi-autobiographical, because I didn’t want to know about real people’s real lives. I wanted to escape into a whole other world about invented people who somehow also had very real problems. In all my stories and my novels I worked to make sure my characters were nothing like me and didn’t have my life at all.
I think for a long time this was because there was always something I wanted to escape. When I was a teenager, I was lovesick with nothing to show for it, growing up with a volatile father. When I was in my twenties, I had my career but I felt myself pitifully alone. I didn’t want to hold a mirror up to that.
Once I started dating MR, I thought about starting this blog because I suppose I felt I had the happy ending. Everything had been there to lead me to this. When I was younger, all my foolishness and my loneliness and all my flaws just seemed to be glaring evidence of why I was unhappy. I didn’t even feel like I had a real story arc, just that I was in this constant flat world–at least, I started to feel that way if I looked too closely. Now though, I can trace the conflict, the rising action, the climax. As I’m only in my 30’s I would hope I’m not in my final denouement just yet, but all this makes me realize that the questions and worries I’m going through now are similarly preludes to something bigger.
So finally I started to write a semi-autobiographical novel, about a girl who grows up in New York and winds up moving to England, and her great-grandmother, who grew up in England but wound up moving to New York. One of those dual timeline things. I still worry that the modern day character, who is based on me, is far less interesting, but then I also feel her story is vital to the novel, that the whole thing wouldn’t work as a straight historical novel. I’ll call that progress. I don’t know what publishers will call it, if it ever gets to that stage.