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

Incomplete

Occasionally, my husband will bug me with: ‘So where is your best selling novel?  Why haven’t you written it yet so we can live a life of luxury and I don’t have to work anymore?’

I guess some people might find this obnoxious, but I find it funny (it’s partly down to tone).  I also like it because it reminds me of my life dream.

I had several years of childhood existential angst where people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I never had answer.  What did I want to be?  (Note to adults: don’t ask kids this.  They don’t know.  And if they are sure they want to be a sparkle princess firewoman, they’ll tell you.)  Then in 6th grade I did a story writing unit and on the bottom my teacher scrawled ‘This is great!  You should be a writer.’

Thanks to Mrs. Garwood, suddenly everything made sense.  Hadn’t I been scribbling and composing stories since before I could write?  I even had some proto-fan fiction drama in a notebook: a hilarious crossover between The Legend of Zelda and The Little Mermaid.  I don’t know how offhand that comment was, but it changed my life.

I devoted my life to becoming a writer.  Well, kind of.  I was never a tortured artist who was consumed by her art, but I did everything I could to be a better writer–I penned my first (terrible) novel at 15, and wrote one complete sequel and half of another.  I took the creative writing electives at high school and majored in English with an emphasis on Creative Writing in college, damned be the expense and impracticality.  I kept filling up notebooks with further novel attempts, planning out a family saga in four parts–but I never finished the first.

It turns out that writing is pretty easy.  Finishing a piece of writing is hard.  Figuring out what makes me finish something is harder still.  After about five years post-college dithering with one novel, I discovered that fan fiction was an actual thing.  No, I was not weird for spinning further stories about my favorite books–or if I was, I was in very good company on the internet.  Inspired by the fact that I wasn’t alone and a renewed spark of inspiration for the Narnia books which had fired my imagination so much as a kid, I churned out a good half dozen multi-chapter and short stories in the space of three months.

I also met my a writing partner, someone who was as caught up as me.  We started writing fan fiction together, and I abandoned my serious literary attempts to write about fully copyrighted characters.  We mused often about how we would go somewhere with our stories, but at the same time, we were having so much fun we didn’t ever want to finish.  We did some good work and I honed and thought about my writing skills, but I never seemed to finish much of anything.

Yet all through these years since I had been told I should be a writer, I never doubted that I would be.  I would write, no matter what.  Even if I wasn’t producing, I knew that one day I would, and that was enough.  After all, I spent every night writing for two plus hours as my writing partner and I spun stories for ourselves.  There couldn’t be more dedication.

Then things started to change.  I met my husband and started building the dream I didn’t think would come true–getting married and starting a family.  My writing partner had a kid, then I did.  We didn’t have as much time for writing, and then the fights we had been having from such an intense friendship and creative partnership became too much to get past.  I got a job teaching, and marking and planning took up a lot of my time outside work.  I did manage to write a play and even get it performed at a small am-dram company, but lately, I struggle.  Instead of the absolute certainty that one day I will write a best-selling novel, I start to wonder sometimes: do I have to?  I’m already so happy.

This line of thought scares me.  I always swore I wouldn’t be the type of person who gave up on their dream, yet here I am, sometimes on the verge of doing so.  It is hard to fit in writing when I have one kid–very soon to be two, and a job that is full time and then some.  It’s easier to mooch around on Facebook and BuzzFeed at night instead of plodding through typing to find my inspiration. But actually finishing is hard, and I’m teetering on an edge, given my present feelings and my past history.  I always thought that without writing and achieving my goal to be a published author I would feel incomplete.  What’s scary is to realize that incompleteness wouldn’t be a gaping hole but more of a niggle that I could live with.

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Source: Incomplete

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

Paris is not all white people (and other reasons not to feel guilty for using a French flag filter)

On Friday, a terrible thing happened.

Another terrible thing.

When I heard what happened in Paris, my heart broke.  When I saw the French flag filter Facebook put up I thought ‘What Paris–and France–could use right now is some support.  It’s not much, but I want to say to the French and to the world is that I’m standing beside them in the wake of this horrible tragedy.’

Apparently I’m an impostor for caring.  Apparently such compassion is worthy of outrage.  And I’m kind of racist for showing support, as shown in this meme:

This is just one example of the compassion shaming I’ve seen all over Facebook.  The implication that we shouldn’t be talking about Paris.  The posts from 7 months ago about a different tragedy in response to posts about Paris.  How dare I care about Paris when something terrible happened elsewhere?  I mean, first world problems.

That is a bit hyperbolic.  Most of the people posting these things are well reasoned and intelligent people (I’m quite selective with my facebook friends).  The general question is one that needs to be asked.  But maybe, you know, not right at this very moment.  And maybe not by saying that those who show compassion to others are cruel and neglectful.  Because compassion is always, always, always a good thing.  We need to cultivate compassion, not shame it.  But while I would classify myself as really damn liberal (I still think there are some ideas to admire in the Communist Manifesto), for the first time I see what conservatives mean when they say liberals can be…self righteous, shall we say.  Donkeys’ butts might be another, to be polite about it.  People shouldn’t be made to feel bad for trying to do good.

Also, the sentiment that caring about Paris equates to ignoring other nations is misguided and faking a cause, and here’s why:

  • Starting with the meme above–Paris is not just white people.  Nor is France.  Far from it.  There are many neighborhoods in Paris which have immigrants from all over the world.  Moreover, there is a large Muslim population which is often marginalised.  Overlooking these French people and pretending the entire country is whitewashed exacerbates a different problem altogether.
  • It is possible to care about Paris *and* include other tragedies in the world.  Observe Trevor Noah’s comments on the Daily Show (and a link for American audiences), which were compassionate and elegantly said, still paying heed to the fact that tragedies exist all over the world.
  • Just because something is popular it is not therefore meaningless.  My choice to use the tricouleur overlay was a very conscious one because Paris has played an important role in my life.  It is the city I fell in love with, and seeing the people there attacked is as shocking as when New York was attacked on September 11th.
  • On that note, a kind word can go a long way.  Paris is not in need of a lot of material things.  I could try to raise money for them, but what would it go to?  However, kind words can have a bigger impact than people know.  When my father died, I got cards from people I never expected, and to know that they were thinking of me and my family because they had met my Dad once was an enormous comfort.  Moreover, in the wake of 9/11, when I was bewildered with grief and I couldn’t comprehend such powerful hatred, the outpouring of love and support from the world was a huge balm.  It went a long way to helping me heal.  After that initial shock, the French started asking a lot of important and critical questions, much to some people’s anger (freedom fries, anyone?).  I admired them for it. But the key was that they waited.  The timing was everything.  In the days and even weeks after 9/11 they showed nothing but support.
  • The news is not evil for not reporting all this horror.  It’s not even really racist.  It’s following the princples of news–what gets reported on is what’s close to home, what’s prominent, and what’s unusual.  The last one is key.  Last Friday was a peaceful night in Paris, full of football and music and food.  And then–it wasn’t.  And that was shocking, so we turned our heads.  It is indeed shocking that many almost expect violence in the Middle East.  That should not ever be.  But it is, and it was the same where plenty of white people lived.  I grew up in America and knew the IRA was kind of a thing.  That was the extent of my knowledge.  I did not know the systematic terror the IRA put people under for decades until I moved to England and heard stories, read poems.  Yes, my awareness should have been higher.  But even my English husband says that eventually those tragic attacks stopped being huge news because they were the norm.  So what we have here are two separate issues: first, that Paris has suffered a shock and a horror, and that deserves our attention.  Second, many other places suffer a daily horror and we need to focus more attention on helping them.  Both equally important.  One does not cancel out the other.

To that end, we should build on the compassion and goodwill.  Instead of decrying people for caring about a very real tragedy, we should be banding together and building on our compassion, and letting the fact that we all care unite rather than divide us.  Never judge someone for caring for others.

In response to the Daily Post : The Great Pretender