summer in the city.

28 July 2014 § Leave a comment

And just like that, my first year as a secondary school teacher is complete. Above all else, patience and humility got me through – along with some dear individuals who helped me keep things in perspective. I’m excited about putting in to practice next academic year what I’ve learned this past one. I’m also excited that I am in the midst of a six week long holiday. 

While lots of people fly off to destinations far and near, I am spending most of the summer here in London, doing all the things I wish I had more time to do during the school year. Learning to drive in the UK, reading, jogging/making efforts to be more fit, writing, donating blood, learning to make bread. 

Being done my first year of teaching also means that I’ve nearly been living in the UK for a year. 

I’ve been writing poetry on and off since elementary school, nearly since I could write a coherent sentence. I find that each phase of my life is accompanied by a different voice, a different kind of poetry. Middle school was fantasy, Tolkein-inspired stuff. High school was poems about loneliness and love. University was academic and playful. Post-University was thoughtful and romantic. Japan was reflective and focussed on communication. England doesn’t have a voice yet. This has been reflected in my lack of writing poetry, as well as my general ambivalence about living here – so obvious when anyone asks how I find living in London/England (“Umm.. well,.. it’s good. Not great, but.. it’s alright..! You know, I don’t love it, don’t really hate it…”). I’m hoping I can find that voice this summer.

A colleague lent me a book a while back. “Burnt Shadows”, by Kamila Shamsie. I only just started reading it last week, as my holiday kicked off (“At least one book every two weeks!” I promised myself). It seems to fit fairly well with this idea of finding my England voice. While it is driven largely by international conflict, it follows the lives of a few different families as they move about, providing a thoughtful look at ideas of loss and foreignness. I’m about two thirds in. I recommend it. Y’know, if it sounds like your kind of thing. 

And that’s your end of July update! Over and out.

 

 

B positive.

9 June 2014 § Leave a comment

I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.” (Kurt Vonnegut)

 

Ah, the end of the academic year is nigh. Six more weeks before summer break. The school is buzzing with talk of schedules, exams, exam results, end of year activities, data, meeting targets, etc. Yes, it’s stressful. And everyday has been a reminder for me of how important it is to stay positive. I’ve become increasingly aware of second-hand stress. All those horrible, negative feelings that arise when things are too much, when things don’t go the way you want, when nothing is going the way you want it – and they’re not my feelings! They’re everybody else’s!

Second-hand stress

My partner has commented before on how your environment and everyday activities really affect how you respond to issues. I mean, if you are a runner in a kitchen at a post-production house, the “big issues” are things like the dishwasher not working, or a client complaining when the tea’s not quite right or if you’re out of a particular kind of biscuit. When you really think about it, they’re not big issues, but if that’s what you’re experiencing everyday, then it gains more significance. It’s easy enough to complain and to point out everything that’s wrong, but do you really know what it’s like in other places? Do you really know what everybody else is going through that might lead them to say that thing you didn’t like, or to make them forget to do that thing that they didn’t do, that you then complained about?

A friend posted on Facebook the other day: “Practice noticing when life is good.” Certainly, it does need practicing. It is so easy to get caught up in a cycle of negative thinking. It’s easy to complain. It’s easy to point out everything that sucks. And to make matters worse, it’s highly contagious. But you know… it’s also easy to change the topic. It’s easy to say something nice. And when some of that stuff seems harder than it should be, or when that negative thinking is catching like wildfire, it’s easy to leave the room (well, usually).

So, you, reading this. Practice noticing when life is good. If you’re happy, think about how nice that is. And encourage others to do the same. And when you are on the verge of complaining about someone or something, exercise a little empathy and think before you speak. And then, maybe, don’t complain.

 

 

 

favourite.

30 April 2014 § Leave a comment

Today, a student told me that I’m his favourite teacher. I thought to myself, “I’ll bet he says that to all his teachers”. I hate to be so negative, though, and when I thought about the fact that, without my asking him to, he willingly stayed after school for an hour to go over his homework with me to make sure he understood, I thought maybe there was some truth in what he said.

There are so many days where it’s difficult to stay positive or feel like I’m doing anything right. Sometimes, it’s not so unlike my first weeks and months working in a restaurant for the first time when I was 19. Sometimes.

 

April 2014.

12 April 2014 § Leave a comment

One of the key differences so far between my life in England and my life in Japan: my work now requires most of my energy. Day trips and adventuring are not as frequent as a result. When I have time to do whatever I want, that ends up being staying in in my pajamas. I admire the other teachers from abroad here who take full advantage of their time off by exploring the UK and other parts of Europe. A part of me, though I hate to admit it, was more motivated to see Japan on the basis of it being Japan (England, you’re still cool though! Don’t take it personally!). 

More than anything, I’ve been trying to take advantage of being in London, of being in a big city. A trip to Royal Albert Hall to see Pixar in Concert, seeing Canadian band Walk off the Earth in Shepherd’s Bush, a poetry event at the Southbank Centre to listen to five poet laureates, film screenings in Soho, improv comedy at the Comedy Club, overpriced ramen, a long walk around Kew Gardens. 

Along with enjoying London, I’ve been trying to figure out what I actually want to be when I grow up. After having spent four years studying English literature at University, I find myself leaning towards specializing in maths, particularly where students with weak numeracy skills are concerned. This has come as somewhat of a surprise to me. 

Nonetheless, I want to continue exercising my writing skills. I’ve written a couple of film reviews for The Film Circle Reviews (for Under the Skin and the new Robocop). Poetry has been sparse, however. I’m hoping the two week break I’m enjoying now will bring me some inspiration that isn’t solely related to teaching/education. 

Every now and again I am reminded that I’m not from around here, especially when I hear words I’m not familiar with, or words being used in a way with which I’m not familiar. Hard graft. Todger. Yorkshire “pudding”. It was fun when we were in Canada, having it the other way around. Tom tried on some clothes at a store. Upon coming out of the changing rooms, a store clerk asked, “How’d you make out with those?” Tom: “Sorry? That’s not what I do with my clothes…”

 

 

 

Extracts from the Flight to Japan.

11 March 2014 § Leave a comment

I pulled an all-nighter last night for the first time since sometime in 4th or 5th year. As the hours flew by, I was feeling mostly scared. Doubtful. AS IF I’m actually going to Japan for 14 months. My life has been fairly consistent, never much drastic change. To be perfectly honest, there is a part of me that wants to turn around and go home and be SAFE and not take a RISK. But I know it will be fine. Everything in my life suggests that it’s what I ought to do. For the sake of affirming my independence (albeit in a sort of extreme way), for the sake of breaking bad habits that I’d continue if I don’t leave, for the sake of maybe giving myself time to figure myself out…

We are around 3 hours over the ocean now. Still 9 hours to go. Watched “127 Hours”, starring James Franco. It was good. Not spectacular, but I enjoyed it Considering how long our flight is, they don’t offer much selection for viewing, unless I want to pay. Listened to some of my friends’ recordings earlier… They’re wonderful. JC chose a short story by Vonnegut. Phil read “Sunflower Sutra”, though I only just started listening to it as we were about to land in San Francisco. (“Frisco hilly tincan sitdown evening vision”). EA read “What Teachers Make” and another poem and that Bahz Luhrmann “Wear Sunscreen”…

It still isn’t real. At this point, it feels like it will never be. I’ll get back to St. Catharines next year and it will all have felt like a dream. I’m afraid that I’ll want to stay longer, ha,I’m afraid that I won’t. I feel like I’ll feel guilty if I don’t stay longer than just a year, like, what’s wrong with me?! Everyone else stays!! I know I’ll make new friends in Japan, but the ones I already have no are so dear to me…

I feel like I can’t think directly about it. “But tell it slant”. It’s too much to think about. I know that so many other people have done this before me, and even for longer amounts of time. But this is me. Homesick when I’m down the stret. And now I’m a quarter of the way around the world…

Now around 3h 30m left on the flight. Can’t see Ontario on the map display on my little monitor thing. Overall, the flight has been swell!..

1h 20 m left. I am quite tired, probably from just being on here so long. We are getting more food now. I just want to sleep the rest of the time, but it’s probably a good thing to try to stay awake and alert from here on out. Gonna be an alien soon!! A minority! More white than Japanese! Oh boy!

Currently 10 PM in Osaka. I have already made 1 new friend. I am lying in new sheets. My fridge is decorated with photos. I ate some food from a convenience store. I paid my rent. I have a shower. I called home. Don’t have Internet yet. It’s warm out during the day. I have no heater. I am all alone.

fun.

15 February 2014 § 1 Comment

Whenever I hear “We are Young” by Fun I think of a particular night in Osaka, a year and a half ago, when I had gone to see Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” on my own. It was sometime on the weekend and it must’ve been in the midst of rainy season. The movie had finished, and I loved it. I wandered out of the theatre, texting my boyfriend to say that it was over. He was on his way to meet me. As I left the comfort of inside, I found a dry spot to sit down to wait.

A Dry Spot

A Dry Spot

I sat, captivated by pouring rain, lit up by the glow of the little, blue-white lights. “We are Young” was playing in the background. Living in Japan, I wasn’t aware of a lot of new music, and by then, the song had already been out for some time. I recognized it from hearing the Glee rendition over brunch at Summer’s flat one Sunday morning. And when I think back to sitting there, watching the rain, listening to that song, Japan becomes some kind of personal Neverland. I won’t ruin the metaphor with detail.

London has felt like an arranged marriage so far – one that hasn’t yet moved beyond the early stages of mild discomfort and vague curiosity. An arrangement of practicality, involving very little emotion. I have faith, however, that over time, I will find things to love about England. I remind myself regularly that as with any large city, this is not indicative of the character and culture of the rest of the country. I haven’t ventured to many places around England yet, but I’ve read about the Lake District, Oxford, Dover, and a handful of other places that I’ve dreamt of visiting since my studies in literature at University. We will get to know each other and become closer for it, I hope.

It’s difficult not to compare this place to Osaka. To Kozu 3-Chome. To Kansai. What convenience, being able to cycle anywhere in the city within a reasonable amount of time, without the mad drivers of London threatening to knock me over! What excitement, knowing that most of the country is accessible via prompt, frequently running, relatively inexpensive trains! What wonder, living in a culture so far removed from the one with which I am most familiar!

I have no doubt that my memory is skewed and that my image of Japan has become increasingly idealistic since I left. Knowing that, however, doesn’t make it any easier to think of the plum blossoms at Osaka Castle, probably on the brink of emerging, and me, not there to see them.

I would venture out of London this weekend to get to know England better, but I’m afraid a large amount of it is underwater, or being blown away.

 

 

Christmas Actually is All Around: A Comparison

24 December 2013 § Leave a comment

Christmas in London, England. It’s not exactly the romantic comedy Richard Curtis led me to believe.

1. It’s not all pretty blue skies and perfectly timed snow.
It’s gusting sheets of cold, liquidy precipitation all the time. Blue skies may peak out from behind clouds now and again, but they quickly retreat as the next wave blows in. Why is it that movies always depict pretty white England Christmases? LIES!

2. There’s no silly, unnecessary drama, designed to pull at my heartstrings.
Thankfully. I can live without it. 

3. Christmas shopping isn’t as easy as meeting up with Emma Thompson in front of a Christmas tree.
No, it’s bogged down with getting from place to place on various forms of dysfunctional public transit. It’s giant crowds. It’s ridiculous line ups at all the stores. 

It’s not all completely different, though…

1. Staying in watching films on a couch with a loved one (but without the pesky “carol singers”).
The horrible weather forces us to stay in, which really isn’t so bad. I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of movies since I left for Japan nearly three years ago. Lots to catch up on. Lots of old favourites to rewatch. No one knocking at our door trying to confess their undying love for my significant other. It’s nice. (That’s never happened to me, but I can’t imagine it’s great.)

2. Christmas concerts.
I had the pleasure of attending my school’s Christmas concert (sorry, “Christmas Miscellany”). Complete with dramatic sketches, choirs, soloists, dancing, and teachers singing back up. No little Spider Man king at Jesus’ birth, but I’ve got my fingers crossed for next year.

3. Having drinks with dear coworkers.
No staff party with dark corners for dark deeds, but an after school meet up at the local pub for a couple drinks. It was a lovely, laid back way to finish up my first term here. 

4. Christmas with family. 
With family here, and family in Canada. Flying into Toronto tomorrow, and should arrive in good time to have Christmas dinner with the family. From what I understand, it will also be a white Christmas. I really couldn’t ask for anything more. 

Happy Christmas to my family and friends around the world – in England, Japan, America, Canada, and everywhere in between! xx

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