If you had to teach something, what would you teach?

Let’s preface this entry with a widely known small fact about me – my family are teachers. All of them. I grew up in a converted Victorian school “The Old School House” – literally, the “old school” house, not the “old school house”. That’s a common mistake. People looked at it and said “if that was the school house, where was the school”, and always said, “in the lounge, study, my bedroom and my parents bedroom”. One big schoolroom full of Victorian school children learning Victorian things. When I was a child we had some of the old school desks with the heavy wooded lids and the ink wells stacked up in the back of the shed. It was marvelous, really, to think about it now – but back then, to me, it was a very normal house.

My parents are both educated people. My dad has more letters after his name than I even remember, and my Mummy is one of the best teachers I’ve ever seen, having dedicated over forty years to the sport. My wonderful twin sister spent some time teaching in Africa, and is now starting her teaching career in England. A lot of people, including myself, assumed that I’d become a teacher too. I even got accepted into one of the best education courses, but decided not to go. It wasn’t my passion at that time, and I didn’t want to take that opportunity away from someone who really wanted it.

People have said I’m a very altruistic person for the way that I think, but I don’t see it that way – I think that everyone should always encourage others to follow their passions and dreams, and by giving my spot to someone else I felt as though I was encouraging that nameless person to achieve their dreams, giving them the gift of a happy day when they found out they had been accepted, and giving countless children the gift of a truly passionate teacher for the next forty years. All children should be taught by teachers that have passion, it is the most important “secret ingredient” to learning.

So what am I passionate about? What would I teach? The natural choice, and what I was supposedto go and teach, was literature. Of course I love it, I’ve breathed it since I was three years old, and I would love to whip generations of young readers into a frenzy over favourite characters that would stay close to them always like friends. I’d also like to teach classics. I think this is residual from my experience of having a very passionate teacher – Mr Chappell – who taught me classics with such fervour that I felt it was impossible to not love the subject. I still get excited by classical topics and themes, often hearing his spry cockney accent jumping in the back of my head.

But hold on… (and here’s the REAL point of my post)… don’t we all teach something every day? Don’t our actions, words, and attitudes teach people things about ourselves, our families, our cultures? “OF COURSE” I hear you shout in unison, “Of course that is what we do!”. Yes, we are all teachers, or promoters, whichever you prefer. I would rather think of myself standing a front a room full of studious young adults than yelling about coupons over a microphone, so I’m going to choose the label TEACHER.

And what do I teach? Well, I hope that I will teach people tolerance and diversity. This is the one thing that I feel as though I need to teach to most of the people who I meet. There is so much prejudice in the world, so much ignorance and fear, it’s frightening. I was lucky to be raised in a pretty open minded household, my parents didn’t use derogatory language towards any group or country, and were well travelled. My school taught me the differences in religion, and assigned equal time to learn about each religion, including Christianity. I thought this was normal. And I was wrong,seriously wrong.

This week there has been a photograph of two male soldiers embracing after one returns from deployment, and it has rocked the internet. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but for a group of people who are educated enough to read, write, and use a computer… most people are just so cruel. Whatever happened to “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all?”. We live in a world of education and knowledge, where it’s pretty safe to say that any human being can look at any other human being and say “oh look, we’re both humans, we’re made the same, we’re 99.9999999999999% genetically similar”. Why do we struggle to understand and accept people for their diversities and choices?

I look at the world and I see human beings. Some do things that others disagree with – few do terrible things to harm one or many people. I know people find it hard to forgive other people or to find reason for their actions, but it’s just not helpful to blame their race, gender, social status, sexuality, or religion. Nobody learns anything from these messages, only hate and fear.

When my children (the ones I don’t have yet) grow up I want them to say that I taught them never to hate anyone, never to judge people, and to be always thoughtful about other people’s life experiences. Sometimes, by trying to set the example and teach others something, we make ourselves better at it in the process. Like speaking French, which I can’t do anymore but the people I tutored can; I don’t want my point of view to become like my french – broken, not beautiful.

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Which activities make you lose track of time?

Haven’t written in a while. I actually had wanted to make a video blog for this post, and was waiting for a good hair day. Then I got very upset at the amount of time that passed between good hair days. Then I decided I didn’t want to do a video blog any more, and my original topic doesn’t really lend itself to written form. My first topic was going to be TALKING. I’m a talker. I talk ALL the time, at great length and with little self editing. I should probably learn to rein it in.

My second topic is probably actually my first, in that it pre-dates my love of talking. I was actually a pretty quiet child, residual from a speech defect I had in my early years, and grew up in the countryside. I learned to read at a young age – by three I could read pretty fluently – and my parents love to tell stories about me reading the back of the tomato ketchup bottle at the dinner table. Reading became a passion of mine, and I spent countless hours holed up in my bedroom letting favourite characters wander around my head. I was the generation before Harry Potter (although I love them), and read the real classics like A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, and Lord of the Rings on repeat like my dear husband plays records. I still know whole chapters of Wuthering Heights by heart, and even had a reading from that book – my personal favourite – at my wedding. I’ve never been able to resist of charms of a sulky heroine, or flawed hero, and am trained in the art of super-fast reading. I read the whole of the last Harry Potter book in eight hours. Sometimes, you just need to know what happens.

As I’ve mentioned, my college degree was in writing and literature. In a way, it killed my love of reading for a while. Many lit students will bemoan the same terrible fate, that beingrequired to read so many books takes the joy out of it. My complaint is not the same – I didn’t find reading the books hard, I just hated the lack of choice that my college course offered. Never really one to study the set texts (I was the girl that sat at the front of the class and wailed “but Miss, I’ve already READ this book” when they handed out our syllabus), I wanted the freedom to choose what I read, to make the wild leaps and walk down the crazy avenues. I chose a college that I thought would encourage my choices, and was sorely mistaken. I’m still bitter, if you can’t tell. I still can’t see a copy of On The Road without dying a little inside.

But you know, I’m many years out of college now. I have read reasonably consistently, although truthfully my time in front of the TV or computer has taken up the majority of my free time. I’ve found it hard to re-capture the just-sitting-still-and-enjoying-the-moment part of reading, but it’s coming slowly. My biggest help has been my recent “treat” – an amazon kindle fire. I have read 10 fiction books in the last month, swallowing the pages whole. None of them have been particularly ground breaking in anything other than the fact that I have read them cover to cover, but I have enjoyed every single one. I have discovered the joy of feeling a character develop at my fingertips, the roof of my mouth, settling on my hair; and felt the sadness as I read the last page and feel them slip away. It’s a beautiful cycle, and my heart has started to beat with the same ache it always had – the ache for a wonderful, literary life doing marvelous things and having adventures. It’s another part of myself that I’ve reclaimed, or am reclaiming, day by day!

If you had a friend that spoke to you the way you sometimes speak to yourself, how long would you allow that person to be your friend?

I think that this question assumes a lot of knowledge about “me”; it assumes I am insecure, self-depreciating, even self-destructive. Well, as a mug one of my teachers had once said, to err is human. I think we all pause for self reflection sometimes, and the people that never see fault are most likely the worst people out there. But I’m a reasonable confident person, the only major area of insecurity I have is with my looks, and deep down I know how fleeting that is. Let’s get it out there – I weigh 148 lbs and I’m 5′ 7″: yes, I’d like to be 130, but I run five times a week and I like a glass of wine in the evening. Will I look back on my life and think that I was hindered by my physicality? Not likely.

Let me relay a conversation with my best friend. J and I were on holiday in the South of France, and it was shortly before my emigration to the United States (I’m English, y’all!). In a move very unlike herself, J expressed concern for my wellbeing, worried that my confident facade would be cracked under the pressure of marrying at a diabolically young age, and moving friendlessly across the Atlantic. She persisted: “I know that under your confidence you have a layer of insecurity”. Yes. I told her, but underneath that insecurity is another layer of confidence. In short: I’m confident, then insecure, then obnoxiously and irreversibly confident to the core. Thank my parents, I had a wonderfully validated childhood.

Do I wake up every morning, look in the mirror and say “Hello Gorgeous” with a sly wink? No. Do I finish every days work with a self satisfied sigh, safe that I have just done the best damn days work ever? Of course not. Do I always compare myself favorably to my friends? Nope – and if you met my friends, you’d know why, they’re like Paris fashion week, only classically trained. Nor do I wake  up in the morning thinking “ugh, you again”. Maybe I’m lucky.

But here’s the real question: do I think that people should approach life with an internal monologue of self-appreciation? Tough question. I would say not, and here’s why: I spend very little time thinking about myself. In fact, sometimes when I look in the mirror I think “oh crap, that’s what I look Like”, as if I’d forgotten what my own face looks like. I spend 95% of my time thinking about what the weather is doing, what meetings I have, what to cook for dinner, whether the dog has been fed, did I remember to pack a lunch? When did I last speak to my Grandma? Did I remember the wedding gift for the event this weekend? And so forth. There are moments when I think “oh gosh, I hope I didn’t come across rude”, or “better make sure I have something decent to wear for this meeting”, but I don’t scrutinize my life performance 100% of the time. I don’t think that anyone should be so self aware, either from a positive or negative slant, that their internal monologue is filled with self-reviews.

Of course, being positive is better than being negative, but I think we should encourage each other to spend more time internalizing the bigger picture. Ultimately, we are lucky to be healthy and happy in a world where so many people are not. Which is exactly what my best friend or twin sister would say if I asked them.

Is it possible to lie without saying a word?

One word: Photoshop.

It seems obvious. And yet, not. My brother is one of the best digital manipulators that I’ve ever met – he has made me bald, blonde, fat, and thin on a whim. Any hairsyle I’ve ever dreamed has been impressed upon my digital face before I can say “layers”. In short, I’ve always been aware of the wonders of photoshop, or similar.

However, despite my early (and consequent lifelong) introduction to the world of digital mastery, I don’t think I truly understood photoshop until recently. Let’s be honest, it’s EVERYWHERE. Every sepia-drenched family photo I lust over on Pinterest has been modified, every landscape, every portrait, every gorgeously over-exaggerated fashion shoot I guiltily pour over in Vogue. Everything is not as it seems, and it’s not fair.

courtesy of inyourface.comLet’s face it, the girl above is gorgeous before the editing. But magazine editors and readers have decided that she’s not gorgeous in the right way. It took me a long time to figure it out. I’m twenty six years old, closer to twenty seven (which is suspiciously close to thirty), and I only learned to do my make up properly a few years ago. I’ve started scrutinizing every photo, checking and re-checking every outfit, determined to look perfect. I wondered how they did it, these girls in the magazines. It started to depress me that no matter how hard I tried I never looked like anyone other than myself.

But the truth is obvious: photoshop reigns supreme. The online campaign has been long lasting, and is growing by the day. But, truthfully, it’s never going to stop. It seems that in a world of special effects, lighting, and photo-manipulation, nothing is real or truthful. It’s owning up to the fact that everything we’re sold is a lie that takes the most honesty.

At least, that’s my opinion.