I’ll have a cuppa

Last night was a tough night in the parenting trenches.  We’re waiting for little A-Rex to sleep through the night and last weekend he almost did it, going from 10:30 to 5:30am without a feed.  If you don’t have kids, this probably sounds awful.  If you have kids, this is bliss.  But then, probably because he’s only just turned 8 weeks old, he realised he probably still needs food at 3:30.  Waking up in the middle of the night every night is tough, and it’s even tougher when your little dinosaur likes to spend an hour snorting and stirring in his sleep.

So last night, MR said he would have A-Rex, and I could have a blissful night of uninterrupted sleep–until the Feliciraptor woke up as early as 6.  Still, as I’ve covered: bliss.

Except I got insomnia.  Despite being exhausted, my body is trained to wake at freaking 3 am, and when I heard my 8 week old dinosaur crying and snuffling, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should be doing something.  Worse still, A-Rex was very fretful, and MR wide awake too.  Needless to say, we were exhausted.  My very kind sister-in-law agreed to have the kids this afternoon, but still, after they were asleep, I needed something warm and comforting to unwind.

So I reached for the kettle.

Growing up in America, my knowledge of tea was that the English were obsessed with it.  I didn’t really get it.  I liked iced tea, especially sweet tea, but hot tea I could take or leave.  My parents would sometimes make pots of loose leaf tea with a fancy infuser pot, and they would drink it black.  Sometimes I would have a cup, with some sugar.  I can still taste the watery, anemic blend Lipton uses.

Note: This is not tea. When you can drink it iced, something is wrong. If this is America’s favorite tea, no wonder Americans don’t get the tea thing. They don’t even have electric kettles.

On my second trip to England I had afternoon tea at the Savoy.  As it was a very posh hotel, the waiter pours your tea for you, and he offered to pour milk in my tea.  I put my hand over the cup, equal parts mystified and repulsed by the idea (remember, all I knew of tea was Lipton).  I sipped at my black tea for formality’s sake, but I was far more interested in the food.

Even when I got to know British people and was taught the correct way to drink tea (i.e. with milk, and proper tasting tea), I was a bit weirded out by the dipping of chocolate covered things in tea, like Tunnock’s caramel wafers, or chocolate covered digestives.  Surely chocolate and tea was a strange combination?  So I ate my digestives dry and didn’t think much of them.

A perfect tea accompaniment.

For a long time, I completely underestimated tea.  I didn’t have any good stuff, and so I couldn’t understand why tea was such a comfort when you’re tired or wet or cold or in need of a pick me up; warming and cheering all at once.  Now I drink Yorkshire Gold and know better than to order tea in the US–it’s either some herbal nonsense or Lipton.  When I go home, I pack my own teabags.  Obviously I drink it with milk–now I equate drinking black tea with drinking black coffee.  It’s certainly possible and sometimes done, but only by a select few who have particular tastes.

I’m becoming assimilated.  Tonight I reached for the kettle, brewed my tea in my tea-stained mug, and happily dipped my caramel wafer in it.  The warmth of the tea melted the chocolate and softened the wafer and caramel, and the sweetness of the treat was set off by the mellow, rich tea.  Coffee’s bitterness is stimulating, but tea hits a more calming note, particularly as I was drinking decaf.  I get why the English are happy to live up to this stereotype.

 

 

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Source: Underestimate

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Faraway

I’ve always taken great pride in being a New Yorker (New Yawka, thank you).  It’s a huge part of my identity.  When I went to college, I thought everyone at my small liberal arts college would think I was *so cool* that I was from the City.  Turns out, they were not.  Upstaters are not fond of New York City, especially when it seems only people from the City can claim the title of New Yorker.  They also do not like the City’s simplified version of New York geography, wherein you have Long Island, the City, Westchester, and then everything else is Upstate.  They like to tell you about Central New York and Western New York, although to be honest, I would just nod along politely and go back to calling it all upstate.

Point is, even when I found myself in a situation where it was uncool to be from NYC I was still hella proud of it.

Interestingly, in England I get much more the reaction I originally expected when I say I’m from New York.  I have used my accent to command the respect and attention of a class of students.  When people notice my accent (and they always notice my accent), they ask where I’m from, and when I say New York, I have gotten an actual gasp of awe.  Even MR has gone on record saying that he finds the NY accent kind of hot (really??).  I’ve branded myself as a New Yorker.

I think I can claim the title.  Both sides of my family settled in NYC when they got off the boat from Italy and Germany.  That makes me a fourth generation New Yorker on my mother’s side and third on my father’s.  I went to NYC public schools.  I taught in NYC public schools.  My cousin is a NYC police officer.  I used to have a super thick accent, along the lines of ‘dawg’ and ‘cawfee’ and most of my family still does, even when the NY accent is dying out.  I even grew up in Queens, which is one of the more ‘authentic’ boroughs inasmuch as nobody goes to Queens unless they’re from Queens.  Or going to the airport.

It doesn’t get more glam than Bell Blvd, people.

My family being in New York was an institution.  It would always be–until it wasn’t.  The transition started a long time ago: distant cousins moved to Florida; my grandparents sold their house in Brooklyn and moved to the Poconos.  My father’s parents followed suit, and my uncle went to Jersey.  But that was all fine, because my parents were in NYC and they weren’t leaving.

Only–rents got high.  My mom kept looking at apartments and realised she could never move because she could never afford a new place.  My dad got sick and my sister lived too far away to help as much as she wanted.  New Yorkers will know that a drive from Croton-on-Hudson in northern Westchester to Queens is too much of a trek to do on a regular basis.  So my parents compromised–they moved to Tarrytown.  At first I hated the idea of them leaving NYC, but as it happens, I find Tarrytown amazing.  Gorgeous views of the Hudson, amazing restaurants, still proper NY food with good pizza and bagels…MR and I visited my parents there and promptly fell in love.  We would move there in a heartbeat if we thought we could ever afford it.  But we can’t, so we settled for visiting.

Actual view of Tarrytown–it is actually that gorgeous.

 

Also delicious NY pizza here. And the bagel place next door rocks too. I am getting hungry.

Only then my sister moved to Massachusetts.  My dad’s no longer with us, so that left my mom alone in Westchester.  She shouldn’t be alone–she’s kind of isolated from everyone because she doesn’t really drive and everyone’s pretty far.  Not just my sister, but to get to her brothers in Staten Island and Brooklyn is easily a couple hours’ journey involving several modes of transportation, including a boat to get to Staten Island.  So obviously my mom needs to move to Massachusetts.  I 100% think she should do this.

But selfishly, I think that my ties to New York are getting severed.  My children will never be able to call themselves New Yorkers unless they choose to move there.  But even then, won’t they be transplants with their British accents?  And can I even call myself a New Yorker anymore?  I don’t live there.  When I go to the States I will be visiting family in Massachusetts, and I almost spit out the name.  Not because Massachusetts is a bad place (I actually quite like it, if I’m honest), but because it’s not NY.  And the bagels and pizza will suck.  So if I don’t live there and don’t have ties to the City, how can I claim it as ‘my’ city?  Do I have to start saying ‘I’m originally from New York’ instead of ‘I’m a New Yorker’?

When I left NY for England I thought I would probably come back.  But gentrification and skyrocketing rents mean that the financially comfortable life we lead in Coventry is well beyond our means in NYC, an injustice that stings.

This is definitely an existential crisis.  I want to go home, but I don’t know where home is.  Faraway is the City that raised me.  That’s part of me, but I don’t think I’m part of it anymore.  I live in Coventry.  I like England and I like Warwickshire, but if I’m brutally honest I still feel like an outsider.  I’m always the only American, and that gets a bit lonely, particularly when I have to explain/ represent some of the idiocy this country gets up to.

So where is home?  I don’t know.

 

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Source: Faraway

Envy

In a parallel universe I never left NYC.  MR and I waited the nine months and paid all the fees and the lawyer and decided we would be apart for the first 9 months of our marriage to settle there, even if it meant being apart

Sometimes I envy this me.

Not often, because if we had chosen to be apart, we wouldn’t have Feliciraptor, and she is worth giving up a country for.  But when I think about the mess that is the 2016 Presidential election, I miss being in America.

One of the things no one tells you about being an expat is that you automatically become an ambassador for your country.  And, man, is it hard to represent the United States sometimes, because isolated on their continent, Americans have no clue how they’re coming across to the rest of the world.  And newsflash–it ain’t good.

It was tough traveling abroad during the Dubya years.  He was not popular around the world, and the war he started in Iraq was even less popular.  In comparison with now, however, those were much simpler times.  I had to do a bit of defending against ridiculous conspiracy theories like Bush masterminded 9/11 (wtf?), but for the most part, all I had to say when I travelled to England was ‘*I* didn’t vote for him.  I pretty much disagree with every word that comes out of his mouth’ and people understood.  After all, a lot of them disagreed vehemently with Thatcher, and they subsequently drummed Blair out of office, so it wasn’t a huge stretch.

Then we elected Obama, and while I routinely faced questions about whether every American owns a gun (answer: no), things were overall better.  The world likes Obama.  I like Obama.  The gun issue was the biggest thing I had to speak to during that time, but it most people seemed to understand that it wasn’t the whole sum of the US, although Brits do think Americans are *nuts* for refusing to even examine firearms legislation.

But now things have gone crazy because Trump stands an honest chance of becoming President, and he is an insane fascist.  There is nothing that makes this man a viable candidate for President.  First and foremost, he clearly only wants to represent white men.  He reacts to insults like a child, or worse, threatens acts of free speech with violence.  This flagrant disregard for the first amendment is truly alarming, because the Constitution is one of the things that makes America exceptional.    Not only that, he is a straight up fascist.  His slogan, ‘Make American great again’ sums that up.  Make America great–how?  What does a ‘great’ America consist of?  He has no real concrete ideas about this, just insults he hurts at minority groups, religions, and other nations.  Furthermore, it implies that America is in a state of complete ruin–not so.  It is rare to find any nation in a state of complete ruin.  Alongside this is the word ‘again’, as though America should turn back the clock to some unspecified point in the past.  Going back is never a good idea.  The future lies ahead.  And moreover, the whole statement implies an entitlement to greatness which is probably the most obnoxious thing about America.  No nation is the greatest nation by default, and the rabid patriotism this slogan presents is exactly what makes other nations roll their eyes in disgust at the naive ego of America.

This is the delicate line I have to walk.  On the one hand, I do not just disagree with Trump–I think he could cause a world war if elected, and that’s not hyperbole.  This man is dangerous.  Yet when British people deplore the state of the elections, when they start telling people who to vote for on my Facebook feed, or when they ask whether I am going to give up on being American should Trump get elected, my hackles raise and I feel like saying ‘It’s not your election.  Butt out.  And also, stop insulting my country.’

I am not suggesting that America should listen to the rest of the world when deciding its next President.  Part of the unique strength of Americans is that willingness to pioneer and go it alone, whether it be as a nation, as explorers in the west, or as immigrants starting a life all on their own.  Nevertheless, the opinion of the world can be a useful reflection.  Is this who we want to be as a nation?  Do we want to be more like Franco’s Spain or Mussolini’s Italy than the America which has stood for more than 200 years?  Because if we elect Trump, the nation will become Trump’s America, and frankly, that’s a nation I don’t know how to defend.

But I don’t want to have to surrender who I am, nor will I ever be able to.  People always see me as American.  Living in a quieter corner of England I’m also the only one.  And I don’t know how to represent a country with such a dangerous leader.

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Source: Envy

Misstep, or past employment fails

When I left school, I was shockingly underprepared for the world of work.  I had done some work study and some temp jobs while in college, and I thought all jobs would be like that: show up on time and reliably, do a bit of good work but also mess around on the internet, and everyone would be cool.  I also thought it would be really easy to get a job, since I had fallen into one job after another from the moment I started working.  To top it all off, I had no idea what kind of jobs were out there.  I had a degree in English and French and couldn’t think of a single thing to do with it other than write or maybe teach, a possibility I was considering at the time, but didn’t have the money for.  It was a long road to get to teaching, the career I have today.  Even then, I had to start my career from scratch when I got to the UK.  So here is a brief catalogue of my missteps on that road:

Interview disasters

Nobody told me about interviews, and what to do, and how to behave.  I thought it was actually kind of fun–sit down, talk about myself, be honest, and they would hire me.  I candidly told more than one potential employer that in 5 years I saw myself as a novelist.  I also neglected to read up on companies before interviewing with them and didn’t take notes.  When I didn’t get second interviews I was utterly baffled.  Thinking back now, I shake my head at myself.  Sometimes I start to go into an embarrassment spiral, but I talk myself out of this one: really, how was I to know?  I spent four years at college sharpening my mind, not honing my business acumen.  I could write 20 page papers in French, but I had to be taught how.  Similarly, interviewing is a skill which must be taught, and nobody had taught me.  I was lucky that when I interviewed for teaching posts, my candid answers were exactly what principals wanted to hear.

Job fails

My first full time job out of college was when I was living in North Carolina.  It was for an education non-profit (as close as I could get to teaching without a master’s) and the people were noble minded and lovely.  And I totally took advantage of them by spending most of my day on the internet and doing a bit of work.  My boss had to give me a real dressing down, but she was so nice about it I didn’t really take in the lesson.  In retrospect, she probably should have fired me, she was just too nice.

My next job was when I was back in New York, and my friend got me the job.  I continued in my entitled ways, and they were a lot less understanding.  Although to be fair, I wasn’t nearly as bad because I had barely gotten my foot in the door before they fired me.  And I burst into tears, both in front of my boss and the HR lady, and then later on the subway.  I had never been fired before–I was 22 and was used to getting praise for my work.  But high flyer in the English and French departments of a small liberal arts college doesn’t translate to anything in NYC offices.  I have to say though, standing over me while I packed up my stuff and escorting me out of the building was a little much.  I mean, they were basically firing me because I was acting like a stupid kid.  What did they think I was possibly capable of carrying away?  It would have been humane to at least give me a minute to pack up my stuff and gather the shreds of my dignity.  The random people on the subway were much nicer.  As I sobbed uncontrollably, two people dropped a note in my lap, which read ‘Don’t cry.  Everything will be ok.  From two people who love you.’

I then embarked on a year of temping, which went great, but of course people expect very little of temps so I was a superstar.  They did interview me to go permanent at one place, but  weren’t keen when I told them I wanted to be a writer.  My next permanent job was for a linen company, and honestly one of my bigger missteps was not holding out for positions which were better suited to me.  Seriously–let this be a cautionary tale because there are so many mistakes.

The linen company had some really cool people working at it and I did get to talk to Connie Chung on the phone once, but my boss was awful, and we basically spent 9 months in passive aggressive warfare.  She clearly thought I was being an entitled kid but didn’t give me any real direction about what to do better or what her expectations were.  God forbid I sharpen her grammar when she gave me a handwritten letter to type up.  Eventually she fired me too.  In the end, I was so frustrated I didn’t cry.  I saw it as a mercy killing, especially because I had already applied to become a NYC Teaching Fellow.

Finally, success. Ish.

The Teaching Fellows accepted me, and I started on a proper career, one I loved from the very first day.  I made missteps aplenty my first year of teaching.  I didn’t quite know how to teach the level of the kids, so I wound up teaching kids in Harlem like they were college students.  I didn’t know how to put together a unit or assess their skills.  But I loved literature, and I loved them from the first time I met them.  I would not say I was universally beloved, and I still wouldn’t say that of my students, but I bonded with enough kids that I thought this job far exceeded anything I had done before.  So I learned how to assess them, and tailor my lessons to their needs.  I came home and cried because I couldn’t express the full range of my anger at school, and then the next day walked on air because the kid I had kind of wanted to kill had actually learned something.

Eventually I left teaching in the inner city to teach at Townsend Harris, my alma mater and a specialised high school for the humanities in NYC (read: only smart kids go there).  And I thought as I signed out the copies of The Odyssey and Things Fall Apart that my classmates had used, that that was it.  I had reached the last step in my career, and I would work at good ol’ THHS until I retired.  I was barely in my 30’s, so that felt a bit weird, but I was also very happy.  No more missteps.  I knew THHS as a student, which helped me know it better as a teacher.  I had confidence because I had security.

Until I didn’t, because I moved to the UK.

Beginning a career I’d been doing for 10 years

I didn’t think it would be very hard to switch from teaching in the US to teaching in the UK.  After all, I had worked in a really tough school and a really good school in NYC.  I had seen it all.  But that wasn’t quite true.  I was used to dealing with underprivileged kids who felt that the system was doing them wrong and privileged kids who bought wholeheartedly into the system.  I had never dealt with the kids in the middle.  I hadn’t ever had students who were apathetic.  And most importantly, I had never taught students younger than 14.  I quickly found you can’t treat those kids as adults.

My first UK job was a maternity cover/ general cover job.  I had less prep periods than I should have had because I was constantly on call to cover classes.  Nobody told me about the differences in systems, or what was expected.  I had a coworker, who I felt was always trying to catch me out on grammar.  She’d say things like ‘Oh…I can’t remember all the modal auxiliaries.  I can think of can, may, might, could, would, will… What are the others?’  But in the US, no one uses the term modal auxiliary. At least, no one that I knew of, and after majoring in English and French and taking two other language classes besides, I knew a fair bit of grammar.  Meanwhile I interviewed for a permanent job and there was an A level component.  I barely understood the difference between A level and GCSE, and mining through and understanding what exactly AQA meant by genderlect in their English Language spec was a bit beyond me, particularly because in America, English is English, and there’s no distinction between language and literature.  I still cringe a bit when I think of my interview lesson reviewing genderlect.  I definitely took more of a lit crit approach than I should have done, and didn’t mention any of the theorists I am now so familiar with.  Basically that grammar quiz teacher was sitting in the classroom internally rolling her eyes and me and thinking I didn’t know anything about my subject–humiliating, because I know that isn’t true.

If you’re going to move forward, you’re going to make missteps

Now I’m working at a 6th form college, which is another job I’ve come to love, especially since it consists of teaching only 16-18 year olds and teaching mostly English Language, which is essentially linguistics focused on English.  I want to be as confident as I was at THHS, but I don’t think that’s going to be possible again.  I’m not foolhardy enough to be that confident.  Moreover, switching systems continues to have its issues.  I’ve wrapped my head around the differences, but not everyone believes that.  I have students who fret that I’m not preparing them for their (all important) exams because I haven’t spelled out how *every single lesson* could be used to answer a question.  Meanwhile, Ofsted inspected us last year, and the inspector didn’t like that they had an ‘inexperienced’ teacher doing GCSE–even though that was my 10th year teaching.  It took me ages to figure out what administrators wanted in an observed lesson.  So while the learning curve is, as ever, extremely steep, I know there are still going to be moments where I go wrong, or where people think I’m going wrong.  Not quite the same thing, but with the same effects.  The key is taking it in stride–a lot easier said than done.

 

 

 

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Source: Misstep

The new (royal) addition

Ok, I admit it.  I’m kind of interested in this royal baby stuff.

I choose my words carefully there.  Some people are enamored with the idea and going gaga.  MR was reading me posts off his decidedly more British Facebook feed where people were crying RULE BRITANNIA in all caps.  That’s not me.  Several of my British friends are taking a far more republican slant and expressing their disgust at the hullabaloo over the birth of a baby.   One is annoyed because she is on the verge of giving birth herself and is more focused on her own baby, yet everyone keeps texting her about the royal baby as if she cares.

I fall somewhere in between.  I am absolutely not a monarchist, but I do find all this interesting.  The birth of the prince is historic, because he’s not just another baby, important only to his parents.  One day he will be the King of the United Kingdom, and the remnants of the empire as represented by Commonwealth.  That’s rather a big deal.  This is an event that has been celebrated for centuries, and the lack of a son has caused war and unrest throughout England, brought in new dynasties, and, arguably, paved the way for women as rulers in the Anglo world.  It’s interesting.

I also feel a connection of sorts with Will and Kate.  Prince William is around my age, which is something I’ve always found cool.  I always looked for people who were my age in both life and fiction because it meant they were going through the same stages of life with me.  And indeed, this is certainly true for the Duke and Duchess.  They got married a year before me, and they’ve now had a baby just a few months before me.   Except everyone cares a lot more about what happens to them.

I watched the royal wedding, but this is not surprising, considering how much time I spend watching Say Yes to the Dress and other shows  in the TLC Friday wedding lineup.  Even after my marriage last year, I still get drawn in by the snarkiness of the UK version of Four Weddings (and think how my wedding is better) and the fun of Don’t Tell the Bride (and think how my husband had much better taste).  It follows naturally, then, that I should watch the royal wedding in all its panoply and fabulous dresses.  Seriously–a knockoff of Kate’s dress was second choice for my own wedding dress.

My husband, as I mentioned, is virulently of a different tack.  He posted about exactly how little he cares, and got rather ranty about it.  Last night we were talking and he mentioned that he realized through all of this that he was definitely a republican.  Not in the American sense of the GOP, but in the sense of res publica, a thing of the people, rather than a monarchist.  This got me thinking.  Perhaps I’m interested because I have the luxury of detached interest.  Yes, this is a chapter in history, yes the idea of actual princes and princesses is like a living story book, but this is not my future king.  I may live in the UK, but I’m still an American citizen.  The idea of royalty is the stuff of legends, not reality–all of my government is directly elected by the people.  This all sounds very high minded, and practice has shown that directly electing leaders does not necessarily guarantee better ones (*cough* Dubya *cough*).  On the flip side, the hereditary House of Lords often makes wiser decisions than the crazy-ass Senate.  In then end though, it means that I was raised very republican indeed, and I can’t imagine any other way of living.

Rolling Stone

The phrase ‘rolling stone’ calls to mind a couple of things:

First, the adage “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” which people tend to take as a positive thing–no baggage!  Life of freedom!

But I tend to agree with Bob Dylan’s take: “How does it feel/ To be without a home/ Like a complete unknown/ Like a rolling stone?”

It’s a pretty bleak picture, leading a nomadic life.  I’ve made the move to a completely new place four times in my life, and each time there was a long settling in period where I was finding new friends, getting used to the place (for every place is different from New York City), and trying to carve out a new life that would in some way match up to home.  This is a tall order.

Each move I’ve made has been worth it for one reason or another.  I went to college in upstate New York and found that the rest of the country, and especially the rest of New York state, does not view the City with any kind of awe or reverence–more fear and distrust.  I saw what life was like in a quiet-ish college town where the only thing open past 2am was Wal-Mart.  I learned that life outside a throbbing metropolis is very different to life in one.  Along the way, I also made some decisions that would influence the trajectory of my life–making a couple of really important friends, finding my first boyfriend, choosing French as a major, discovering that after all, I did love to teach and wanted to make that my career.

My junior year abroad in Paris was the fulfillment of a dream.  I saw Paris for two days my freshman year of college and fell in love.  I have never loved a city the way I love Paris.  The grace and beauty among the grit, the centuries of beautiful architecture clashing with the odd extremely modern building, the food, the people, the vistas everywhere I looked–it was all amazing.  In a year, I went from quasi-conversation to highly proficient in French, which I consider an achievement.  I traveled around Europe for the first time. I found the fun in being a penniless student.  I made friends in a strange land.  I loved it, but I also grew fatigued from thinking and working in another language constantly.  In retrospect, I would look at the relationship I clung to as a weight holding me down, holding me back.  But I came back from that year wiser and more confident in almost every way.

I went to Durham, North Carolina on a mission for love.  There I found a love of sweet tea, barbecue, and fried chicken, but also saw that I am definitely not a Southerner, and that urban sprawl is not really my cup of tea.  I also went thinking myself a romantic heroine and came back shattered and disillusioned–I had given so much up for love, a chance to live in France again, a chance to return home to my friends and family in New York, and it all ended up in nothing.  I thought then that I was a fool, and the bitterness stayed with me until I found a man who I really loved, and who really loved me, and then I realized that year beyond the Mason-Dixon line was only a year of preparation.

Now I’m in England for almost exactly a year, and in a way all the other moves have prepared me for this one, and yet not prepared me at all.  I know what it is to be homesick, and how to deal with it.  I know that eventually, I will make friends, even if I’m a slow mover.  I know how to navigate all the cultural differences, because in their own ways, Oneonta and Durham have the same amount of culture shock as Coventry when you come from NYC.  But of course nothing in these moves could prepare me for the other shake-ups–immigration, marriage, buying a house, having a baby.  Those are what make this journey its own.

I don’t regret any of these moves, and I value the struggles I went through to settle in new places.  But they are struggles.  I need roots.  I need to belong.  I need a home.   I cannot call myself a free spirit in that regard.  Sometimes a little weight holding you down to a place is a good thing.  It’s good to have a home.

Tables turned

The question is this:  Are you as comfortable in front of a camera as behind one? Being written about, as well as writing?

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.