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.

Excuse me, ma’am

I believe I’ve mentioned before how when I so much as liked a guy, I’d match my name to his last name to see how it sounded.  My high school crush and my college boyfriend had middling results.  I had a passing fancy for a guy whose last name was Kelly, and I thought ‘Caroline Kelly’ sounded like a movie star’s name.  But the best, by far, is my new last name.  (Which I’m not revealing at the moment because you know, internet anonymity, etc.  Not that many stalkers or dangerous people would have patience for this blog, but meh).  It’s unusual and elegant sounding, and with it, I sound like a Jane Austen character.  Plus, I get to keep my CCC monogram.  CCCC if I hyphenate.

I was very much looking forward to the time when I could be Mrs. C instead of Miss C, and devoted a good deal of time fantasizing about it and crowing about my new last name to anyone who would sit still long enough to listen.

In the months leading up to my wedding, I resented filling out forms and still having to call myself Ms. or Miss, because I was so close to being a married woman.  I reflected how beautiful the word ‘wife’ is, and how I longed to be Mr and Mrs C.  Some people may think this terribly old fashioned and not at all liberated, but I do wonder how liberated I am in actual practice, despite being very women’s lib in theory (more on that later).

Now, though, people are starting to use my new last name.  It’s on my British bank card.  There’s a package of moving boxes addressed to “Mrs. C C” in my living room.  My students, who I keep in touch with, bless them, have great fun with it, addressing emails “Hi Ms–I mean, Mrs!”  Even my mother sent me something and addressed it to “Mrs. C.”  Of course I like it–I love it–but there is still a part of me that can’t quite believe that’s me.  Case in point–I was doing the calligraphy for my sister-in-law’s wedding invitations and saw “Mr and Mrs M C” on the list.  As I’d done all the invitations for that side of the family for my own wedding, I wondered who that was because I hadn’t seen the name before.  Then I realized–it was the invitation for me and my husband.

I admit, it’s a bit weird, being a Mrs.  I think because I was a Ms or Miss for so long, and, being a teacher, my last name gets used a lot.  In a way, too, it makes me feel older.  Which is silly, but it does.  ‘Miss’ is used for young girls and women, and I’ve always taken secret satisfaction in the fact that when strangers want to get my attention they mostly say “Excuse me, Miss.”  It’s a great sitcom joke when women get called “ma’am” and it makes them feel old, and I’m certainly brainwashed in that regard.  I’ve been clinging on to youth for awhile, and suddenly I’m Mrs, and with that comes a very grown up life where I’m thinking about selling and buying houses and having children.  I suppose this might have been different if I got married in my early 20’s like some of my friends, but as I got married in my early 30’s, it’s very different.

It’s not that being Mrs is bad, mind you.  It’s a wonderful feeling to be someone’s wife, and it’s so interesting to think seriously about things I thought I would never have two years ago.  It just takes some getting used to, that in taking on a new prefix, I’ve taken on a new life.

But of course, now that I’m applying for a visa and carefully reading over the application so as not to miss a single line, I note that it says the visa will be issued in the same name as my passport–i.e., my maiden name.  Despite all my ruminations on how odd it is to suddenly be Mrs, I find I very much want to be.  I wonder now if all my documentation will, depressingly, have my maiden name.

It’s funny–in principle I’m very women’s rights, and have crusaded often on the very subject, be it contemplating writing a story from the point of view of the voiceless women in Hamlet, or decrying Twilight for its treatment of women to my students.  Yet in practice, I find myself very traditional.  I always knew I would take my husband’s name, without hesitation.  Should I ever have the good fortune to be a published author, I’ll publish under my married name.  I’ve never had a moment’s scruple about it.  I know some women think that it’s a sublimation of the self to take on a married name, that suddenly your identity gets absorbed in your husband’s by becoming Mrs John Smith (or what have you).  I don’t quite see it that way.  Getting married is, to me, starting a whole new family, and that new family deserves a new name.  I want the world to know my husband and I belong together right on the very surface of it.  It’s the same reason I was very keen on my husband wearing his wedding ring.  I just hope that I get the chance to get used to it!