How 2012 Tried to Kill Me (And What I Did About It..)

So today I got a reminder that I have been keeping this blog for one whole year. And what a terrible year it has been. Some of the personal stuff from my life has spilled onto these pages, mainly through feelings or sentiments, but most of it has been kept firmly bottled up inside of me. What I find most interesting about this blog is that a year ago I started this project feeling as though I needed to connect with myself more, and I embarked upon a journey of self discovery. Then “life” happened, and I started having to face emotions and fears that I never thought I would be facing in 2012, and for most of the year felt as though my own understanding of myself was diminishing rather than developing.

Let’s speak plainly: nothing really terrible happened inasmuch as nobody that I loved died, my marriage weathered through another year of global disappointment, and we still have our home. But I had challenges to my health (which are still largely unresolved even after 12 months), questions to my sanity at the hands of so called friends, and the threat of financial difficulty. I was made to feel like a true failure in 2012, to the point that I almost gave up faith in myself.

As a result of this terrible year, most of the time I attempted to keep this blog I felt as though I was projecting untruths, because even if my answers were truthful I felt myself becoming more and more a stranger. Most of the questions, I have also learned, are engineered to encourage self-criticism, even melancholy, and those that focus on the positive require a saccharine and sentimental reflection on the past that has been entirely too difficult for me to face. I avoided at all costs questions about home, because home really is unattainable for me right now, and dwelling on it does more harm than good.

So now I am writing this blog post without knowing whether I will try and finish “the questions”. Why? Why would I consider stopping when I have just said this year left me a stranger from myself? Surely I have an ever-more pressing need to continue? Well, not really.

You see, even though 2012 tried to kill me, I persevered. I didn’t do it very gracefully, and there were very few defiant, movie-worthy speeches (except one that I delivered in the pharmacy the other day, but let’s leave that one for the moment), but I really, honestly did find out that I could be true to myself when the moment mattered. I faced a decision that I had to make for my own good, and put all my eggs in that basket when everyone else doubted me, and I prevailed.

Today I sat down with one of my very best friends and told him the story of my year. Firstly he was shocked that he knew so little of it (I’m a marvelous actress, it comes with the territory of being an immigrant); secondly, he was proud that I was able to make the decisions that I had made and be true to myself, despite obvious pressures from people that value money and image above all things. He is facing a crisis of his own, and I told him my story to show him that, even when you are doubting yourself, you still know yourself better than anyone else. And that no-one can act in your best interests better than yourself.

So, I am going to start 2013 with a little more faith in myself. In 2012 I really did discover who I was all over again, but it wasn’t through these questions, it was through having to fight for myself. I hope I will never have to tell anyone about the agony of the last 12 months, and I am sincerely hoping to but it behind me tomorrow at mid-night, but if I do ever tell it I will use it as a demonstration that I refuse to lose who I am.

I might be a little chubby, or curse too much, or snap at people that don’t deserve it, but I am also not morally bankrupt, and I believe in the American Dream still, and I think that everyone should be treated equally and fairly and with respect. I will not let the world change me, and I will not start believing that the world is a place where only changed people can prevail.

I’m sorry if this post is a little preachy, or pointless, but I am ready to actually say to the world that I LIKE ME. I know that a lot of people probably don’t like me, but I do, and I believe in myself, and in 2013 I am going to keep moving forwards.

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If you could choose one book as a mandatory read for all high school students, which book would you choose?

 

So the Amazon Kindle Fire is an amazing thing, isn’t it? I feel somewhat blasphemous writing this on my macbook, knowing that the Fire was cause of much pain for iPad sales last Christmas, but since indulging myself in January I have barely passed a full day without switching it on. In fact, my addiction is such that I probably use it to check my email and facebook more that I use my laptop. However, non-literary indiscretions aside, I purchased the Kindle Fire as a means to reignite my love of reading, and it hasn’t been a disappointment.

Truthfully, I have been a little let down that some of the books I would like to read are not available in the kindle store (can I get a petition started for LOTR, please?), but for the most part I have been able to read many books that I wouldn’t have otherwise read for fear of stepping foot in a shop. It’s a sad reflection, really, that I absolutely loathe shopping as an adult. I used to adore bookshops with a passion, and would come out armed with volumes of fiction that I would read in a matter of days. Now it’s all coffee and magazines, expensive stationary and iPhone cases and teenagers loping through the aisles searching for the bathrooms.

Purchasing the Fire was a true test of “what is my favourite book”, translated, in e-form, to “which book do I want to download first”. Those that know me won’t be surprised by the fact that after a few minutes and some clumsy finger clicks, my fresh-out-of-the-box Kindle had a brand-spanking-wonderful version of Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ on it. It’s my absolute favourite, made more special by the fact that I read it whilst in high school, and it ignited a romanticism in me that I would have imagined crazy before. I even had a reading from it at my wedding.

I would dearly love to make everyone in the world read ‘Wuthering Heights’, but only if I could make them see it the way I see it, which, let’s face it, is unlikely. Any work of fiction carries the risk of personal taste and interpretation. Let’s take Joseph Keller’s modern day classic, ‘Catch 22’. I read this in high school too, and I hated it. I don’t know that I even got to the end. I thoroughly bored me – me, who read Charles Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’ when I was 10. I tossed it on my heaving bookshelf with contempt and never gave it a second thought, where it lay discarded until my sister picked it up. That very copy of ‘Catch 22’ still graces her shelf, it has travelled around the world with her, and is now bound together with electrical tape from being thumbed through and read so many times.

I think that my point on fiction has been made clear: you can’t prescribe it. Being told you have to read this book, is a sad temptation for fate to make certain you hate it.

So, back to the question, if I could make all high school students read one book, what would it be? I’m tempted to say “the dictionary” in a derisive tone, as it appears most people could benefit from the read. But I’ll give a proper response.

And here is my answer: Winnie the Pooh, by A. A. Milne.

But wait, it’s a work of fiction, isn’t it? Well, probably (although I like to imagine Eeyore really does roam gloomily through the English woods), but it’s not fiction in the same way. The one wish I have for teenagers, as I see them teetering around in their high heels and tweeting pictures of their iPhones, is that they could reconnect with their childhoods. I would love the idea of a group of teenagers united by the beautiful illustrations by E. H. Shepherd, drawing parallels between their friends and the enthusiastic Tigger or the ever-loyal and unquestioning Piglet. Rather than focusing on lust and torment, like ‘Wuthering Heights’, or the horrors of war and politics, like ‘Catch 22’, A. A. Milne focuses only on the values of friendship, imagination, and innocence. It is a book that we could all benefit from falling in love with – a book that reminds adults that we were children once, and that could possibly, very possibly, remind our children – because teenagers are still children – that they can still believe.

How corporate America stole my abililty to speak freely

Aside

It’s been two whole months since my last post. I got sloppy. 2012 has not been my best year to date. I reached the point where answering questions about where my life was going, or what my legacy should be became painful to even think about. I didn’t want to articulate what was actually going round in my head, and trying to force out what I thought I should want to say because exhausting; I got the point where I could barely remember who I was, as though I was writing the account of someone I met once on a train and thought we might be friends if we lived closer. I still feel like that: like who I am is in another room and I am opening doors trying to find her.

When I first started this blog my aim was to rediscover how I express myself; to encourage deep thoughts; to realise interesting things about myself and feel reunited with my i. Perhaps I aimed too high. Perhaps I’m way too out of practice at these things. I work in the corporate world, people. Worse, I work in Healthcare. Even worse, I work in Healthcare in a foreign country. I am used to expressing myself according to very limited terms and conditions. I measure my opinions. I live in the midwest, the key is to blend in. And truthfully, I don’t disagree with blending in, it’s something that, as adults, most of us have to do to some degree. It’s compromising, or justifying, or being collaborative, or some other business lingo. It’s a mindset that you train yourself for, or that you get unwittingly trained in through the “needs must” school of life. It’s hard to admit that it’s nearly impossible to break out of this identity, it’s like a bad habit, I self-edit constantly.

As a marketing and operations professional, I focus on impressions and working as an art form. I advise people, reprimand people, mentor people on the right or wrong thing to say. Most of what I preach I don’t practice, and even less do I actually believe is true in the real world. But the business world isn’t the real world, and that’s the fundamental lesson behind my life. How many people would write emails to their friends like they write to their colleagues? Or how many people would dress to go to a ballgame with their friends as they dress on “casual” day at work?

I’ve learned a lot from my job, especially my current position, and wouldn’t want to change any of it. I’ve build a knowledge base on everything from database systems to healthcare operations; public speaking to individual mentoring; from how to dress at a conference to what is the “right” answer if someone offers you wine at a business event. But I haven’t learned anything about myself. I’m English, so people label me constantly. Mostly people run the fine line between considering me an awful prude or an outrageously liberal alcoholic (I’m neither, by the way). I’m a monarchist or a communist, a label-loving Londonite or a Welly-Wearing hoorah henry with a country pile. Different people take away a different version of me, and I am constantly shifting between each identity.

My failing was that I thought this would be easy. Things have always been easy for me, I’m one of those people that worked hard but not too hard in school. I got excellent grades because I understood how to check all the boxes, not because I actually wrote the most insightful answers. This is why I’m excellent at my job, because it’s all about educating people on what they should be saying or doing, and I’ve always been good at playing the game. Life is about displaying that you know what you’re talking about, rather than knowing what you’re talking about. The truth is, I’ve realised, that I know how to act like I know who I am, but really I have no clue.

So I’m starting from scratch here, and it’s probably going to get a little ugly.

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?

Interesting question. I am going to interpret the question to mean something along the lines of: how old a life are you living?

As a society we are constantly looking at aging celebrities, college friends, family members and thinking “that person needs to grow up”. When I was a teenager I was often told I was “responsible”; I always knew exactly when and what time I would be meeting people, or which bus I would be on coming home. These were the pre-mobile-phone days, where definite plans needed to be made and adhered to. In college I kept a list of emergency numbers with me at all times, always completed my coursework at least 24 hours before the deadline, and, although I liked to go out and have a good time, rarely stayed out all night. I wasnot the type of person that needed to grow up, if anything, I needed to “grow down”.

When I got engaged at the tender age of 21 my mother said she wasn’t surprised that I’d gotten engaged so young. This fascinated me – the hubs and I had barely been dating six months, and I had always expressed the intention to not get married before thirty. But, looking back, I was always racing towards the idea of domestic bliss. I think I’ve always wanted to know exactly what the future looks like – I’m not spontaneous, and I’ve even been known to read the end of books first so as to know what I’m working towards. I feel comforted by knowing what the outcome is going to be. This is how I have been my entire life. I used to tell my friends that my ideal was “the four M’s – middle aged, married, post-menopausal, with a mortgage”. I remember how they would shriek in horror, professing that I must be crazy, and couldn’t imagine a life like that. Back then, I found that hard to believe – how did anyone not find that appealing on some level? the normality of it? the comfort.

However, now I am married and with a mortgage, approaching early middle age (twenty seven is my dreaded number, the age I’ve always feared, and it’s only a few weeks away), and with my biological clock firmly ticking (my doctor told me that “you just need to accept your body is slowing down” the other day). I think, on paper, most people would think the husband and I were in our late thirties. Walking round our home we have new furniture, carefully selected decor palettes, and all matching plates, mugs, and dishes. Last night we chose to stay home and eat soup rather than go out on the town!

How do I feel about it? Well, I alternate between loving it and thinking I’d trade it all in for the chance to backpack around the world. I think that everyone fears growing older once they’re actually doing it – especially as I’m doing it so much faster than my friends – because it doesn’t come with instructions. I don’t know how a person my age is “supposed” to act, or whether I’m doing a good job at it, but the only thing I can do is keep doing it and stay true to myself.

So today I am going to tackle the following questions in one response: Are you holding onto something you need to let go of? When you are 80 years old, what will matter most to you? And, when is it time to stop calculating risk and rewards and just do what you know is right?

Well. I have been in the unique position of having to address all of these questions at one time on two separate occasions in my life. The first was making the decision to follow my heart and allow myself to be with the man that is now my husband, and the second occasion is my present day life.

The first time I had to weigh up these turmoils in my mind I had to wrestle the idea of having trans-atlantic relationship with a man I, realistically, didn’t know that well; leaving my family and my homeland; making myself employable and desirable in a foreign country; the impossible large idea (especially for a 20 year old) that this might be my biggest regret if I didn’t go for it, and maybe this person was the person for me. I was much more romantic back them, with my notions of soul mates and such. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good decision and I love the hubs, but nothing is ever as clear cut as a twenty-year-old literature lover can dream it to be.

And so now I’m on the flip side, faced with a familiar dilemma. I love Kansas City, I have friends here. I don’t love the crime, and I don’t love the distances between places, and I don’t love the work ethic. I don’t love the idea of raising children miles away from their only potential cousins, or in an environment where I’d have to hand them over to daycare at eight weeks. I’m not fortunate enough to afford the luxury of staying at home when the time comes. And, seven years later, I’ve never adjusted to being so far away from my home. So you see, dear internet, I’m in a predicament.

What do I do?

What I would like to do is pack up my husband and my hound and board a plane. Our friends have passports, they can travel. I don’t want to cause pain and upset to my inlaws my stealing their only son and, after all, these people have been my family for the last five years, I’d miss them too. But without them we have nothing here, and that’s the realization it has taken me years to reach.

I miss the sea. I don’t want to wake up at seventy years old and realise I’ve only seen the ocean a handful of times since I was in my twenties. I’m used to seeing it every day. I think it’s soulful – it’s a part of me.

I know all the arguments for staying, and all the arguments for going back to front and inside out. I know what my heart wants to do. Strangely, and probably something most people would doubt about me, I actuallywanted to come here and find it enough, and to be able to allow my husband to be the only thing that mattered to me. But I’m not a Victorian, my post-feminism, liberated backside has dreams and preferences and loves of it’s own, and signing them away with my marriage license didn’t happen.

And the hubs really isn’t set against moving; at least not most of the time. Really, he’s been very flexible in his opinions on subject, other than the occasional “Dammit, woman, I’m American and I need steak and beer every day” moment. His main fears are for his family.

This post isn’t really to seek answers to declare a resolution – I know that these questions are going to be conversations that we have for a LONG time – I just know it’s the only honest answer to these three questions, even if the answers aren’t really answers, but more questions.

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.

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!