Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Lessons Learned

I never ever planned to teach. Sure I'm bossy. My friends will tell you, I'm never shy about offering up 'my experience'.
But to actually do it for money seemed terrifying to me. 
And yet here I am,  already ensconced with my third course of storytelling students.
And I like it. No, I'm lying, I love it. 
It seems like it's the point of everything. That humans were meant to pass information from one to the other, like you are passing the baton in Nature's great relay race.
(Granted my feeling of euphoria might not be so clear were I trying to teach Latin in Inner City schools, rather than storytelling in a pretty little theatre in California.)
Anyway, the point is I'm enjoying the experience of teaching so much, I almost can't believe I haven't thought of doing it before.

I blame Mrs Dunbar. To most people reading this, the name Mrs Dunbar will mean nothing, but to anyone who attended Muirfield Primary school in the early 70s, it's the equivalent of mentioning Lord Voldemort - Like even saying her name will mean that she'll appear round the corner  - eyes glistening with fury, leather belt in her hand, calling you out to the front of the class for the inevitable.
Mrs Dunbar was the 'Infant Mistress' - a quaint term meaning she was like the School Principal for the youngest classes - in American terms, Kinder through to 2nd Grade.
I remember her as being short for an adult. She had curly hair and glasses and you should never look her in the eye, because if you looked her in the eye....
I don't know if she had family. When I first encountered her I was 5, which is not an age when you ask those sort of questions to an adult. 
And you would never ask questions of Mrs Dunbar anyway. 

She would belt you if "you left your schoolbag in the wrong place," or "until you learned to whisper." She would visit the classroom in the morning and, though there'd be a shiver down your spine, you'd politely say, "Good Morning Mrs Dunbar." And you had better be careful if you passed her in the corridor, because if she thought you looked like you had "a bad attitude"....

I lived beside a heroin store in the lower East side of New York in the 80s. I've done stand up in all sorts of clubs and pubs over the world. I've attempted cabaret in auditoriums crammed with pissed up rockers baying for a band. 
I think it's fair to say that in my, so far, given time on earth, I've taken a lot of chances in situations that a wise person would not have taken chances. 
For these experiences, I credit Mrs Dunbar. For in all the craziest places I've been to, I have yet to have met anyone who sparked with the same potential of unpredictable violence as she did. Unwittingly, she taught me not to be afraid of the angry guy with the tattooed face, or the girl screaming for a fight, because I will never be as scared of anyone as I was of her. 

But it wasn't all roses with Mrs Dunbar. She wasn't aversed to a little psychological work too. 
I was 6. I had been ill and was absent from school for a week. When I returned, I had been put in a lower reading group and my mother had called the school and asked that I be put back in the higher reading group as reading was something I was strong at. I knew nothing about it at all.
Then Mrs Dunbar visited the classroom. "Good Morning Mrs Dunbar."
But on this particular morning,  she wasn't furious. She was casually gleeful- in the way that psychopaths are, just before they kick a puppy.
The teacher, Mrs Ramsay, asked her with great ceremony, if there was a reason she was calling this morning, to which Mrs Dunbar replied that she had popped round because there was a "Very very special person in the room. So special in fact, that they were almost Royalty."
We were all silent. It was only a matter of time.
I waited for one of the usual suspects to be called out to the front of the class, but this time it was me.
"Tell everyone why you think you're special." she said. "We're waiting. Everyone wants to know why it is that you think you have the right to be different from anyone else.  Don't we all want to know why Lynn here is better than us all? You were able to tell your Mother, weren't you? Now we'll all just wait, until you can tell us all as well."
And everybody waited, relieved that it was my turn and not theirs.
"I'm not." I said.
"That's right. You're not. You're nothing. Understand?"
"Yes. I am nothing."

One of the things we discuss in storytelling classes is that often when you look at what a story is, you get to see it with the eyes of the person you are now, and not as the person you were then.

I am probably older now than Mrs Dunbar was when she terrorized children for a living, yet still when I'm in times of pressure or self doubt, I allow her to be there in my head.
"You're nothing. Understand?"

I had a whole load of other teachers through the years.
 - Mrs Borthwick, from whom I randomly found a love of all things Norwegian. Mr Stevenson, who taught me the importance of community. Mr Doig, from whom I learned that language teachers can be hilarious and Mr Morrison, from whom I learned that a great sense of humor can help you pass geography exams.
And they are just a few of a long list.
In turning to look at the story, I noticed there are many more characters than just the wicked Witch of the West, so she shouldn't get to have all the lines.

I really hadn't expected that teaching other people how to find their stories, would result in me looking at my own.
It's made me wonder if Mrs Borthwick found greater appreciation of her country by teaching people about it, whether Mr Stevenson found his community by watching students discover the importance of it, and if Mr Morrison survived his Geography degree by having a really great laugh. 

I almost began to wonder what had inspired Mrs Dunbar to so relish punishment. Then I stopped.
I've thought too much about her already. It's time to let her go.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Hot - and not in a sexy way

It's been a rough couple of days. Firstly, Mr Tweddle caught Man-flu. (It's like ordinary flu, but A LOT worse...apparently)
There was a whole lot of lolling in nightwear and grunting around the house - and not in a sexy way. And then I caught his Man -flu - and there was more lolling around in nightwear and groaning around the house - still not in a sexy way.
Then as fever hit so did soaring temperatures in LA, and that is precisely when our air conditioner ground to a halt.
It was grim.
100+ degrees is hot anyway, but for a Scottish person - someone who was brought up in a climate of  sleet and rain - it's like the halls of Hades itself.
Now, in between cold drugs, and nightwear changes, and the obligatory feeding of the children (it's the law apparently) we had to work out a way to find an available air conditioning repair man during a heatwave - which is about as easy as trying to find a rainbow flag in Kim Davis' garage.

So, we call round a couple of friends and they refer their air-con people, and appointments are made, and round they come.
By this time, Mr Tweddle is half-ways recovered - he's dressed at least and awake for most of the day. I on the other hand, sit glassy-eyed and sniffling in 'loungewear,' as each air-con company gives us their pitch.
The first guy starts off with "Well you're lucky your house is not on fire. The fuse blew. Otherwise the whole thing would have gone up."

Apparently we need a whole new air conditioning system.
"Really , you're looking at around $16k," he says, in a tone that makes me feel guilty for not just having $16k in my pajama pocket - (I knew there was a reason for that pocket on the chest.)
I am sick and ashamed and really really frickin hot (and not in a sexy way) so I decide to switch off for the rest of the conversation.
And I do.
Then one single sentence is audible through the fog. I am sick, I am tired, I am going through all sorts of economic shame and yet this one sentence stands out.
I hear him say.
"And all of our workers completely speak English, so you have nothing to worry about there."

I hadn't been aware that I was worried.
I wanted someone to fix my air conditioner, not read me a book.
I was too sick to understand why I was annoyed, but I was really really frickin annoyed.
I decided, somewhat groggily that even if I did have $16K in my pajama pocket, I wouldn't be giving it to this guy anyway.
Mr Tweddle continued to listen (he's a facts collector) and eventually this aircon guy left - after charging us $99 to frighten the frickin life out of us.

He was replaced my the aircon guy 2, who announced, smilingly,  that his immune system was made of steel. I retreated to the coolest part of the house. I hated him for being healthy and I hated me for not being the kind of person who could just rustle up $16K. And the speak English thing was still bothering me, but my head was too much of a fog.

He wanted us to rip the house apart.
"Ditch everything and go solar."
"Uhm...isn't that kind of wasteful?"
 "No. It's the proper thing to do environmentally and it'll only cost you $22K!"
(I have to point out, this one wasn't recommended by a friend.)

It was a hot and uncomfortable night in Tweddley Manor.

The third air con man came this morning. He'd being working on air conditioning for years. He'd fixed and fitted for a friend of mine and for her parents, and he basically is 'the go-to guy' for her whole family.
He wandered up to the air conditioner, flicked a couple of switches and announced the condenser was broken and had blown th fuse. He had it fixed in around 20 minutes and left with a check for $235.
When Mr Tweddle had dolefully mentioned that he supposed we'd need to replace the whole system pretty soon, air-con man had laughed and said, "Not at all, that's good for another 10 years."

So, my point.
Sitting in the refreshingly cool air, first day in real clothes rather than pajamas, out of all the things to be annoyed about, I find I am still really really really really irritated by the, "And all of our workers completely speak English, so you have nothing to worry about there."

When we first arrived in this country 7 years ago, one of the first people we got to know is Latina. She speaks hardly a word of English and yet she is one of the most trustworthy, kind and hard-working people I know. She would never try to screw anybody out of money and if someone were poorly or frightened, she would offer a hug or bring soup.
I have never known her to lie.  She would never treat anybody as being beneath her, and in all the time that she has known me, she has never assumed that I am stupid or lazy or that I might delve into the contents of her purse, because I can't speak very good Spanish.

"And all of our workers completely speak English, so you have nothing to worry about there."

I wonder if he would have said the same thing to me were my eyes brown and my hair dark. I wonder if it would have felt quite as eager to point that out,  were my skin not sickly, Scottish translucent, white.
It irritates me because I can't work out why he would say it. But in a way I am glad he did, because in the middle of my Man- flu and $16K shame, I might not otherwise have heard the truth.

Which is.
The words Air Con1 man and I use are the same. Our speech sounds and sentence structures generally equate to being 'English', but the language we speak is  totally different.
And his language is not one I have any inclination learning.

Instead when I bump into my Latina friend this week, in very very bad Spanish I will try to tell her all about my weekend, and in very very bad English she will try to tell me about hers. And we will laugh about the Man -flu and the heatwave and the pajamas and shake our heads about the different air conditioning guys. And we will understand enough of the words exchanged, to feel it was a satisfying conversation.
Because, aside from the fact that I'm 5"10 and she's 5'1, we basically view the world the same.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Not taking the hump on hump day.

I keep thinking it's time for me to take a break from social media, and then catching myself in it all the time. And it's a nightmare, because there's some stuff I just don't want to know.

The constant barrage of crayzee Kim Davis, and horrendous detail after detail about Syria - if you haven't seen the video of the Hungarian photographer, then don't look for it - and photograph after photograph of smiling barbarians holding up dead animals are beginning to persuade me that the world is full of hate.

This morning, the first thing to to greet me on Facebook was some vacuous looking creature smiling as she held up a dead dove. A dove!
That's right, the universal symbol of love and peace.
And there is this complete idiot, smiling obnoxiously and holding up the body of the life she has taken.

And it's infectious.
Watching this crap I become so full of rage myself, that I dream of a scenario where the Hungarian photographer, and the female dove killer, and the lion murdering dentist from Minnesota, could all be stranded on a desert island, and we all get to watch who survives the longest. And the only rules for this scenario would be overseen by Kim Davis, because we all know how well she upholds the letter of the law.

And it's wrong.
I don't know who said it - I could look it up on the Internet but there's a good chance the answer would be false - but the saying 'Be careful how you choose your enemies, because they are whom you'll become most alike,'  has never been so relevant for me.

I'm not about to spend $50,000 and take my bow and arrow to a safari park, or start shooting pretty birds, or trip over helpless people as they flee from a war zone carrying their infants, but the level of disgust I find myself feeling when I see what these creatures are out there doing,  must be similar to the level of disgust those particular life forms feel for the rest of the world themselves.

So what do I do? Do I just steer clear of all electronics and hope that the situation will just go away? Do I tinker with my news feed, so that all I get are pictures of smiling babies and cats wearing hilarious party costumes? Or do I write a blog and say, I am not like them and I don't believe most of the world is like them either?

I've opted for the last one.


When I don't know what to think about Syria.

When I think find myself thinking about lions.

When I see a photograph of some bimbo holding a dead dove.

And I had tons of links I could've put right there. Tons. because all over the world right now, some people are doing good - no, in fact, great -  things.  Don't forget to turn your attention to them. There are plenty of good people in the world. Plenty!  Just sometimes the ugly ones seem to make the most noise - and seem to be plastered all over social media.