Archives for posts with tag: Language

lady like in my yukata...

lady like in my yukata…

Or ‘Has Japan finally made me a lady?’

The New Year for teachers occurs at a slightly different time to the usual January celebrations. August and September is our New Year, a time for reflection and anticipation, new beginnings, a time for change. A fresh pencil case, filled with resolutions to mark more regularly, to plan more effectively and to create the perfect classroom display.

I like this time of year. I like the sense of new starts, the possibilities for change.

Yesterday was my Japnaiversary, one year in Japan and also a time for reflection.

A male colleague accused me of not being a good listener and as I replied, “I do listen, but only if people have something useful to say.” I reflected on my listening skills. I know I can be a bad listener, over eager to contribute and share, I can interrupt and talk over people. Like an annoying child trying to get the grown ups attention my voice cuts in over people who are still formulating thoughts and sentences. My tolerance for listening is better with children than adults, like so many things I am far more forgiving of young people than I am of my peers.

Over the past year in Japan I have been advised variously to ‘get more results with sugar than vinegar’, been told more than once I don’t listen and also accused of being patronizing and unprofessional. In darker moments I think that my passionate emotional nature has no place in Japan. That in this space I become a large, rude, boar, trampling over delicate flowers, smashing porcelain ornaments with my oversized opinions. In Brazil I felt embraced by colleagues and friends, we were all passionate people, overflowing with love and care. We drew together as a team and we gained strength from each other. I felt Brazilian, I felt part of that community, my big bum and big voice found a home there. I felt able to contribute to Brazil, my passion carried me forward, through the project we ran with the local school, through the creation of a new department, through friendships built and through the important changes I went through in my time there. That passionate country wonderfully healed me.

Japan is different. Japan is bringing lightness in to my life. Physically I am becoming lighter and stronger and maybe my interactions could also become lighter and stronger? My main sources of communication outside the workplace at the moment are smiles and nods. I can feel myself take on a foreigner version of the stereotype Japanese female submissive persona to excuse my mistakes and confusion. But this is not reality, from what I have seen Japanese women are not as they first appear, beyond our western assumptions and geisha images of servitude lurks strength. I don’t underestimate Japanese women instead perhaps I can embrace some of this poise whilst maintaining my fiery nature?

To a certain extent I have no desire to lose my Brazilian passion, if it means I sometimes talk over people, so be it. Most of my favorite people are as speedy, passionate and sharp as I am and our conversations zoom around losing each other and then reconnecting again.

But as my world grows and my horizons expand I am also connecting with wonderful, intelligent people who run at different speeds. They are sharp, smart, thoughtful and kind. They deserve my full attention. So part of me does need to change. I need to learn to listen.

For a long time this move felt like a temporary change to my life, that I would go ‘back to normal’ once I returned to the UK. But as my sense of what my normal is changes so does the thought of going home. How can I go back? I’m not the same as I was when I left. Two things terrify me about going back. Firstly, that I am so different that I am unhappy back in England and secondly that I end up being exactly the same as before and undo all the hard work of the last three years. So I stay away until the changes become sure and solidify, until I am ready to be different in the same place.

So, I try to hold back some of my over flowing emotions, thoughts and passions, I try to run, lift and jump, I try to choose better and more wisely, I try to be different and yet the same, I am afraid to change and yet so much more terrified of staying exactly the same.

So can Japan make me a lady? I doubt it, but it might make me a better listener.

Another year and a little bit wiser? 42 things i have learnt at 42…

  1. Go home, you won’t miss anything interesting, you will probably want to miss what happens and anything really good will be retold in better, elaborated and more exciting detail the next day.
  2. Nothing really interesting happens when you’re not there anyway.
  3. Being a drama queen is a young woman’s game. It is relief not to be arguing, crying or kissing a frog. These days I can sit back, happily sipping strong alcohol and watching it all unfold.
  4. Hangovers are much worse, the only real cure is to drink every day.
  5. Friends are beginning to get real illnesses and warn you not to be unhealthy. You try not to drink every day.
  6. Finally give up smoking, miss it like a favourite pair of shoes because I’m still convinced it makes me cool and a bit of my personality is missing without a cigarette in my hand.
  7. Change is infinitely more possible than you imagine, nothing is stuck, you are not trapped and there is a multi coloured world of wonder to explore if you just get up, walk to the edge and jump.
  8. Don’t be afraid to be alone. It really isn’t as bad as you imagine and it is infinitely preferable to being stuck with an idiot for the rest of your life.
  9. Friends matter. Old friends matter. There is no one else like the people who have known you for a long time. People who have seen you fuck up, forgiven you, held your hair when you were sick and will pretend to forget your fashion errors from the 90s.
  10. You never feel like a grown up, you just get more lines on your face and more grey in your hair.
  11. All diets work, every single one no matter how ridiculous the instructions. It’s sticking to them that`s the problem.
  12. Also a problem is that one last delicious full fat meal on a Sunday before the diet starts on a Monday.
  13. Every Sunday.
  14. Anyway being too thin makes you look older, a bit of flab keeps you young.
  15. The world is full of beautiful and wonderful things to see and experience. Find them, look at them. I wish I had invested more time and money seeing waterfalls, mountains, oceans, cities and jungles.
  16. You won’t always wash your make up off before you sleep, you won’t always go to the gym, you will sometimes eat too much, talk too much, cry too much, laugh in the wrong place and kiss the wrong people.
  17. If you are not still doing these things at least once a month, you should be.
  18. A smile is a universal language. No matter what you are able to say or understand, a smile can take you pretty far.
  19. Pear shape is an offensive term. Everyone’s shape is differently wonderful and bodies have no need for fruit based labels.
  20. Don’t be afraid of dirt and mess. Life is grubby, enjoy it.
  21. You can’t control anyone else, what they do, what they say, how they think or how they act. All you can control is your reaction to them.
  22. Equally, no one can really control you. Refuse to submit, refuse to be manipulated, take your own path, make your own map.
  23. Whenever you can, replace fear, frustration, and disappointment with love. It brings amazing results.
  24. Sleep is fantastic but you can mange with less of it than you think.
  25. Women: if he tells you he is a bastard, chances are he really is a bastard and you won’t change him.
  26. Men: telling her you are a bastard doesn’t make it ok to act like one.
  27. Wear an amazing coat, and the rest of life usually falls in to place.
  28. Banana skins are the most slippery substance in the world.
  29. I am proud to call myself a feminist. This doesn’t mean I hate men I just don’t enjoy being oppressed by them.
  30. Have a voice, don’t be afraid to use it. Be loud, be proud. If anyone doesn’t like it fuck them. Refuse to be silenced.
  31. Your past might create you but it doesn’t define you. The possibilities for reinvention are endless. You just need the right script and costume.
  32. Being yourself is a lot harder than it sounds but it really is the only way to be.
  33. Never cut your own fringe.
  34. Try to avoid regret and guilt these are empty emotions.
  35. You might regret cutting your own fringe though.
  36. Embrace imperfection. Life is not symmetry and straight lines.
  37. Don’t open the door for me because I have a vagina; open it because it’s good manners. Good manners have nothing to do with your genitals.
  38. Sometimes it is just about the journey. The destination only matters when you get there.
  39. Everyone looks good in black eyeliner.
  40. Know when to leave and get going…
  41. Some pain is good for you, if your knees hurt when you have walked The Great Wall of China, then you have still walked The Great Wall of China.
  42. Even at 42 you don’t know the answers, to life, the universe and everything.
A shamed samurai actor posing for photos in a Kyoto film studio

A shamed samurai actor posing for photos in a Kyoto film studio

My good friend Vicky and I often suffered from, ‘Booze Guilt’. We would wake drenched in shame the morning after a night out on the drink. After a few hours of throwing dirty doubles down our necks, ranting about work and men, cackling with laughter at ridiculous jokes, we would fall home to troubled sleep. Texting each other in the morning filled with fear of broken friendships or foolish behavior; “Sorry if I was a twat last night”, “No I was a twat I was so annoying”. Self-loathing messages zooming back and forth between our mobile phones. The demon drink getting in to our brains and distorting the night’s events. Unnecessary fear and shame making us doubt ourselves.

Shame and fear. Empty emotions.

But fear and shame allowed me to make that final journey to leave the UK. Shame allowed me to leave. Not bravery, not courage, simply shame.

I sat on the shuttle bus at Charles de Gaulle airport waiting for my connection to Sao Paulo and it finally hit me, The Fear. What was I doing? Why was I leaving? I couldn’t do this. I needed to go home. I didn’t want to live in Brazil. The only thing that stopped me from getting a flight directly back to Brighton was shame. I would be ashamed to have not even made it to Brazil, this great adventure I had boasted about for months. I couldn’t scuttle back home, tail between my legs, failed, the adventure a failure. So rather than face the shame I got on the plane.

Absolutely the right decision. The two years in Brazil were life changing.

And now I am here in the land of incomprehensible shame, Japan. This place with shame ingrained in the culture. Haji (shame) is said to form the core of Japanese culture. Japanese culture is described as “shame culture ” in contrast to Western “guilt culture”. A place where shame can lead to suicide, where you must not stand out, must not make mistakes and must be ashamed if you do. They trace this back to the samurai era, and the concept of seppuku or hara-kiri, to cut one’s own belly with a sword, to suffer for shame. In this era, it was better to die than bring shame on oneself. Killing yourself for shame was an honorable act.

Even now the Japanese students I have taught struggle with being wrong, preferring to be silent than make an error in their spoken English. I am told that Japanese people won’t speak their mind that “… no doesn’t always mean no and yes doesn’t always mean yes”. There is a shame in being definite and a fear in being wrong.

I have had my own struggles with shame recently. I am planning a trip to The Great Wall of China and determined to stride powerfully up the steps and along the wall I am trying to exercise. I am overweight and unfit but the biggest hurdle I had to cross to start the journey to getting stronger was my own shame. The real pain didn’t come from the lunges or squats I was doing but the burning, searing pain of feeling so inadequate and judged and useless and embarrassed. It took extreme willpower to stay in the gym and continue for the first few days.

I am lucky there is a space at work where I can exercise easily and I have supportive new friends who eased me in to exercise, gently encouraged and motivated me. I feel humbled that once again I have travelled across the globe to find strength and care in a new group of people. So, once again my shame has given me the most amazing gifts.

And as I struggle home on the train, limbs aching, barely able to place one foot in front of the other, so tired I have forgotten my own name, I hear a beep and the messages came in on my phone from these new friends, encouraging and kind. Being the DQ (Drama Queen) that I am, I start to well up, crying in public, shaming the Japanese commuters with my overflow of foreign emotions.

Shame keeps pushing me to new experiences and in each one I find a wealth of new connections which continue to fill me with joy. The further I travel the more I realize that the world is filled with good people and I am so grateful to be able to fill my life with such wonderful people. So to my beloved Brightonion, Brazilian and now Japanese connections, thank you from the bottom of my heart, you help more than you know.

 

My First Thanksgiving Dinner, benefits of American friends

My First Thanksgiving Dinner, benefits of American friends

I am in a whirlwind of confusion, I don’t understand. I am constantly coming up against words I don’t know, gestures that confuse me and actions I find alien.

Japan? That’s fine, I expected to find that confusing. No, this is my fellow English speakers, my American compatriots.  I had no idea I would be this difficult to comprehend!

Despite my expectations of a shared language, interchanging of popular culture, shared history, we constantly misunderstand each other. My Japanese vocabulary is limited but my American glossary grows by the day.

Lets start with some simple examples;

  • To me a cup of tea and a biscuit means Yorkshires finest black (I never realised tea came in other colours till I moved) tea with cold milk and a hobnob. My colleagues would expect a kind of scone or bread roll along with some herbal concoction or no milk and lemon.
  • Bombed means something failed not that it cost a lot of money (a bomb).
  • Soccer? No. Football.
  • A jelly sandwich? A jam sandwich.
  • They don’t offer me a lift, they offer me a ride. In English a ride could be a shag (a sexual encounter). If you gave me a lift in America you would pick me up and carry me (pick up and chat up might also mean the same thing in American English and this could lead to more problems in misuse). I just tend to get the bus, less potential for misunderstandings…
  • Oh and a lift is also an elevator.
  • A rubber is only used for erasing in the UK in the US it protects you from much, much more…
  • Then there is favour, favor, color, colour, zed and zee…

So gradually my timetable has become my schedule, my lessons morph in to periods. I request my students to ‘turn in homework’ instead of handing it in and I slowly begin to understand.

But I am fascinated by my American colleagues. They’re actually real? America is real? I had seen it so many times in movies (movies, not films) and TV shows (not programmes) that I started to think of it as a fantasyland like Narnia or Hogwarts. But here they are right in front of me with accents I had heard all my life but never really experienced and as I listened more carefully they started to become my friends.

I was wary at first, struggling to connect. Working under the (mis) assumption that our shared language and similar cultural references would bind us closer. I assumed it would be easier to connect with Americans than to Columbians or Brazilians, and these Latin American nationalities had previously become my good friends. Perhaps it was here that the disconnect occurred? At first, we were not bound together by these things but almost pushed father apart. My assumptions around understanding ‘American culture’ confounded me. We thought so very differently about things, especially education, and where I expected to find links I often found conflict.

But as my language has modified so have I. Travelling and working abroad gives you an insight in to the world and sticks a rocket into your assumptions and explodes preconceptions. What am I learning the longer I stay away from the UK? That nothing is as I expect, nothing is what I think, that I must be open and ready to embrace every single different kind of person I meet.

Not literally, although I have bought some Brazilian exuberance and hugs to Japan.

So, despite me using being British as an excuse for bad behaviour, happily invoking shallow cultural stereotypes as alibis (Brits like to drink therefore I will order another beer, Brits are unfriendly that’s why I’m not happy today, Brits are intelligent so I must be too.) I am aware that my own expectations of others are getting in the way of reality.

I am going to try to be more open, to have less expectations, to enjoy my new American friends. To work at saying allowance instead of pocket money, to celebrate thanksgiving, to embrace every single different person I meet (thanks to tactile Brazil). Because this experience, this opportunity to get to know so many different types of people, it’s a privilege I don’t want to squander.

You can read all the posts about Brazil in one place. I have edited them in to a small book. Available on Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/Saved-City-Lucinda-Willis/dp/149433495X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1386657746&sr=8-2&keywords=saved+by+the+city

Japanese food, a different texture to my 'normal' experience!

Japanese food, a different texture to my ‘normal’ experience!

Not everyone owns a kettle. (Yes, Mother, there are some households where the electric kettle is not the first item unpacked in a move.) This may be obvious to you, it was not to me.

The owning of a kettle and the serving of tea runs though my English identity like blood or HP sauce. I have moved many times and each time the first thing I would do was get the kettle out. I have woken up groggy in unfamiliar homes and negotiated the kitchen, where are the tea bags? Which cupboard are the cups in, have they got milk? And usually managed to make myself a cup of tea. You arrive at my house, in tears, broken hearted, celebrating, confused, inconsolable, joyful, I will make you a cup of tea.

But this is not what happens in Brazil. When I left, I gave my colleagues gifts; Tetley teabags, teapots, cups and saucers, to make English tea. They asked me ‘what is the best way to make tea?’ and I told them, the water has to be boiling, the milk has to be cold. I had been given weak Brazilian chai preto in warm water with hot milk and this is not a good introduction to the healing wonders of a good cup of tea. Maybe I’ll buy a kettle, one of them said. Buy a kettle? You don’t have one? I was shocked, and this was after 2 years in Brazil, I still hadn’t got it, I still didn’t see.

Even, after two years in a new place I had still forgotten that what I experienced as commonplace, in my home, my friends homes, at work, with family, in England, this was not always replicated. Even when we seem so similar, even something as mundane as boiling water. Again, maybe obvious to you. Not to me. The big changes like language, food, customs were obvious, but we seemed to be generally the same. We lived in homes with running water and kitchens and bathrooms, we worked hard, we laughed, shared jokes,  drank beer together. It was the smaller things I took for granted, that I thought most people would do the same way. But we don’t always, some things we do differently. Like boil water.

Now I am a foreigner again. In a new place and I am different to the norm. This is even more pronounced in Japan where my physicality sets me apart from most other women. I worried about this before I came and I still worry, sometimes. I worry that being too ‘big’ in almost every possible way is going to start to make me feel small and inadequate. My body is too big for most of the clothes sold here, my feet are too big for most of the shoes, my voice is too loud, my personality is too combative, I’m too abrasive, I’m not cute, I’m not married and I’m not a mother.

But I am a show off and this is what I hope will keep me safe. When I was a teenager I dyed my hair bright fire engine red. I clearly remember complaining to my mum that everyone was making comments about it at school. They are all going on about my hair Mum! That’s the point though isn’t it? She said in that infuriating -knows you too well and cuts through your crap- way, that mothers do so well sometimes.

That was the point and although my hair is now brown, that is still the point. I can manage being the foreigner and being different, because I am generally comfortable being different. I try to fight the fears coercing me to conform. It is inescapable that my passage to ‘otherness’ is eased by the fact that I am white and British. I am in a position of privilege, I recognise that too. Despite our astounding record for attacking other nations (we have attempted to invade all but 22 countries in the world, that’s a 90% record) The British are generally, welcomed and valued by the places I have been. So although I don’t usually believe in luck, I recognise, and am grateful, that the luck of my birth has provided me with a safer passage in to the world.

In Japan, I am aware that I am different but at the moment, I don’t feel too strange. Japanese people seem to ignore me for the most part, but that might be politeness. This studied nonchalance might start to grate after a while. I might want to be noticed, to be seen. I might want my separation to be openly acknowledged rather than silently observed. I might want to increase my volume, enhance my ‘Britishness’ to try and provoke a reaction. I might start writing with a quill, wearing a ruff, adding ‘forsooth’ to my speech. Maybe I’ll invade Luxemburg…

I am not afraid of being different but at times the weight of not conforming can feel heavy. I dislike the thought of being pitied or patronised. I dislike the idea that I could be looked upon as falling short or failing. The lines between what I want and what I think I want can become blurred by the expectations of others. To wake up a foreigner at 40 has helped. To be in a place where I am innately different makes it easier. My identity is already distinct from the norm.

In the end what I have really learnt is, some of us have kettles and some of us don’t but for the most part, we can still get hot water.

'This is Japan!' Shibuya Crossing Tokyo

‘This is Japan!’ Shibuya Crossing Tokyo

I have always loved to read. I was the typical kid, hidden under the covers with a torch, reading until late in to the night. I was such a reading geek that I categorised my books and made them in to a library. Made library cards for every book, arranged them in alphabetical order. Borrowed books from my own library, carefully writing the date for return on the card inside the cover. I loved libraries; I would spend lost hours in the school holidays surrounded by books, sitting in the warm quiet reading room in St Albans library. Snuggled in high backed wooden chairs reading, exploring, studying. That was a safe space, a solace from, a sometimes, chaotic world. I would escape by working hard on self-administered projects, reading and thinking, silent and at peace.

Even now any problem that I face, any worry, any questions I have, I seek the answer in words. The Internet has become my oracle. I can find almost anything I need to know. Painful Achilles flip-flop related injury? I can read about my symptoms and find some stretches to sort it out. Don’t know how to use my printer because the instructions are all in Japanese? Find a manual online.  What do the lyrics to that song mean? Who is she? What film was he in? Want to read that book? Watch that? The list could go on and on. Now instead of the soft wooden silence of the library I get lost in the meandering reading paths of the Internet. Begin exploring one topic and it takes you on unexpected routes to another topic, until you find yourself somewhere totally different from where you started.

Reading was my safe haven and one of my super powers, until now. Now I live in a place where I can’t read. I can’t read signs, I can’t read menus, I can’t read labels, I even struggle to read facial expressions, social rules and vocal cues. I am one month living in Japan and I am confused! Not only have I lost my superpower of vocal communication, those charming words I would weave to get my own way, now I can’t even follow the most basic instructions, signposts or ingredients, and it’s excitingly baffling.

I am existing in a wonderful world of mystery and each tiny solution fills me with joy and pride. As I negotiate the subway system, find an ingredient and create a dish, nod and say “Konichiwa” to passers by. And yes, even put the right recycling in the right bag, out on the right day, and it’s collected, I feel braver and prouder than putting the rubbish out ever made me feel before.

So without the ability to read words, and a reduced ability to read faces, I have to rely on a whole new set of skills to make sense of the world around me.

A friend came over from England to visit, and I got to share these mysteries with him. Together we explored the enigmas of Tokyo. But as we wandered the city streets we found ourselves constantly exclaiming, “Now THAT looks like Japan!” at a congestion of neon and bustling streets or a sky rise juxtaposed with a temple. After a while I had to stop myself, what was I doing? I was spending more time looking for the ‘Japan’ I dreamt about that I had stopped looking at the Japan right in front of me. Why was there this need to find the Tokyo I had seen in books or films? The futuristic city from Bladerunner, the fictionalized version, when I had reality right in front of me?

When our other abilities are lost, the reading skills, the talking and charming, instead we search for expected realities, find comfort in seeing what we think we are going to see.

I understand this desire but this is an opportunity, I should be looking for the unexpected, taking pleasure in the surprise, exploring and absorbing. I have seen people arrive to overseas jobs full of expectations about the place they will live in, only to spend two years disappointed in what they find. There aren’t Brazilians samba-ing through the streets everyday, just as there aren’t robot toilets cleaning you up in every bathroom in Japan. We get to experience real life and it is still different and confusing and wonderful.

I know we want the tasty pieces, the morsels that give the fullest flavour. This is Brazil, this is Japan, this is England. But this is no holiday, this is real life and I want to enjoy my gradual absorption in to the world around me.  I don’t want the Disney version, the sanitized cliché or the tourist presentation. I want to be here and live here and experience something that is different to my previous 38 years of existence in the UK. So I am working hard at leaving my expectations open, to try and experience the world as it unfolds in front of me, to taste every dish at the table and enjoy every mouthful.

 

Diana Thimble

Diana Thimble

I have been in transition, meandering my way across the globe. Fearlessly traversing the planet, I thought, as I was congratulated on my bravery. However, this courage was as real as the rich darkness of my hair. Fears hidden by naivety like the grey hairs covered up by Clairol Soft Mocha. I am not brave, I am stupid. I don’t think carefully, I blithely assume, I simplistically imagine that all will be well, I childish jump around in excitement without thought for real consequence or outcome. I ask not for sympathy for my ignorant state, in fact I think my ignorance gives me the power to move across the world and inhabit these new spaces. I exist in world of fake reality and it confuses the hell out of me…

So, I have left the fantastic toddler existence of my now beloved Brazil, stopped off for a few weeks in the rebellious teenager of Brighton and arrived in the world of the disapproving adult with a secret fun side, Japan.

I have been considering this extended metaphor of countries as an age. I loved the childlike exuberance of Brazil, that fun colourful world with an edge. Parts of Brazil were so welcoming and generous, like a toddler giving you their last sweet and pulling you by the hand to play in the sea, but turn away for a second you see that same child kicking a cat! Brazil intoxicated me with its playful sharpness. It was fun, it was beautiful but with an edge of uncertainty and danger.

When I arrived in Japan I was immediately aware that this was a place with many rules, that this was a place that was already looking down on me with a critical frown as I made terrible errors, such as placing burnable rubbish in the non-burnable bag. My early impressions of Japan spoke directly to my inner teenage rebel, making me want to giggle in a corner whilst surreptitiously doing something against the rules. I was immediately filled with recycling fear as colleagues told me horror stories of neighbourhood retribution at incorrectly separated recycling or, the horror… bags put out too early, dumped back on your doorstop with livid red labels letting you know you transgressed. Because I am new and I want to be respectful I worked hard on my recycling, spending hours arranging the rubbish, checking and rechecking, right bag, right time. Under my sink are 6 different sorts of recycling carefully separated, and correctly bagged. I creep out in the cover of darkness to put out my bags on the allotted day, still afraid I have made an error. But yesterday as I came home from work I saw my Japanese neighbour putting out their plastics, TWO DAYS EARLY. So what is real? What is the reality of the rules driven world I live in? I need to spend more time here to explore the factual.

When relaxing on the beautiful beaches of Rio we would sometimes play a game, ‘Real or Fake? ‘ Now, I am unashamedly a feminist and this is game which ultimately objectifies women’s bodies, perhaps the reality of my feminism isn’t a strong as I think it is? or perhaps it’s just a fun game to spot bad plastic surgery with your friends on a beach…? I feel like I am playing an extended game of real or fake as I attempt to link my experiences of living abroad together.

I left Brazil and returned to England, the two worlds had never really mixed, no one from the UK had come to Brazil and I hadn’t met up with any of my Brazil friends in my previous visits home. This time I was going to cross the streams. To use the familiar Ghostbusters metaphor, this crossing of the streams, this breaking of the rules could only have two possible outcomes; total disaster or saving humanity. As it turned out my stream crossing resulted in a few beers in the sunshine and people making jokes about collecting thimbles.

I was worrying about what was real and what was fake, the Brazil life still seems so unlikely, even after two years, that I had a suspicion that on return to Brighton I would find out that I had never really left. Perhaps this was a particularly vicious hangover and I had been sleeping and dreamt of a new life across the world, where I was braver, stronger and happier. In one full drama queen moment I suspected that I had almost died and that this was a form of purgatory or coma and that I might wake up back where I started not brave, strong or happy, just the same bored teacher in my castle above the sea. I worried that the friendships which blazed under the Brazilian sunshine, would crumble in the feeble British drizzle. I was in fear that my Brighton rocks, my wonderful long friendships, would disintegrate without me there to maintain them, that I would be replaced, forgotten or that my new life and old life would be incompatible and I would be left, spinster friend, reminiscing about the old days.

As it happened everything stayed strong but me. I squirmed my way through 5 weeks in the UK.  Simultaneously loving being home, delighting in the people I loved the most, grabbing hold and pulling away, because I knew that around the corner was one more goodbye.

Because the reality of this life I temporality inhabit, this world where I am now a TCA, a third culture adult, takes hard work. I know others traverse the movements from one life to another with ease but I find it a constant painful wrench. The rewards are huge, the travel, experiences and pleasures I have found in Brazil, and already in Japan, are wonderful. The pride I feel in myself, and that I know others feel in me, make it worth it, but the goodbyes? I don’t think there is anything fake about these. They hurt every time. Every time I am transported to small child standing on the steps of school, saying goodbye to safety and security, stepping in to the unknown of big school. And like school, there is adventure and wonder to be found when you can be brave and let go of your mother’s hand.

I am ready to create new realities, but forgive me if I cling a little to my past too. I am going to fake fearlessness for a while, just until I feel brave enough for real.

  1. Go home, you won’t miss anything interesting, you will probably want to miss what happens and anything really good will be retold in better, elaborated and more exciting detail the next day.
  2. Nothing really interesting happens when you’re not there anyway.
  3. Being a drama queen is a young woman’s game. It is relief not to be arguing, crying or kissing a frog. These days I can sit back, happily sipping strong alcohol and watching it all unfold.
  4. Hangovers are much worse, the only real cure is to drink every day.
  5. Friends are beginning to get real illnesses and warn you not to be unhealthy. You try not to drink every day.
  6. Finally give up smoking, miss it like a favourite pair of shoes because I’m still convinced it makes me cool and a bit of my personality is missing without a cigarette in my hand.
  7. Change is infinitely more possible than you imagine, nothing is stuck, you are not trapped and there is a multi coloured world of wonder to explore if you just get up, walk to the edge and jump.
  8. Don’t be afraid to be alone. It really isn’t as bad as you imagine and it is infinitely preferable to being stuck with an idiot for the rest of your life.
  9. Friends matter. Old friends matter. There is no one else like the people who have known you for a long time. People who have seen you fuck up, forgiven you, held your hair when you were sick and will pretend to forget your fashion errors from the 90s.
  10. You never feel like a grown up, you just get more lines on your face and more grey in your hair.
  11. All diets work, every single one no matter how ridiculous the instructions. It’s sticking to them that`s the problem.
  12. Also a problem is that one last delicious full fat meal on a Sunday before the diet starts on a Monday.
  13. Every Sunday.
  14. Anyway being too thin makes you look older, a bit of flab keeps you young.
  15. The world is full of beautiful and wonderful things to see and experience. Find them, look at them. I wish I had invested more time and money seeing waterfalls, mountains, oceans, cities and jungles.
  16. You won’t always wash your make up off before you sleep, you won’t always go to the gym, you will sometimes eat too much, talk too much, cry too much, laugh in the wrong place and kiss the wrong people.
  17. If you are not still doing these things at least once a month, you should be.
  18. A smile is a universal language. No matter what you are able to say or understand, a smile can take you pretty far.
  19. Pear shape is an offensive term. Everyone’s shape is differently wonderful and bodies have no need for fruit based labels.
  20. Don’t be afraid of dirt and mess. Life is grubby, enjoy it.
  21. You can’t control anyone else, what they do, what they say, how they think or how they act. All you can control is your reaction to them.
  22. Equally, no one can really control you. Refuse to submit, refuse to be manipulated, take your own path, make your own map.
  23. Whenever you can, replace fear, frustration, and disappointment with love. It brings amazing results.
  24. Sleep is fantastic but you can mange with less of it than you think.
  25. Women: if he tells you he is a bastard, chances are he really is a bastard and you won’t change him.
  26. Men: telling her you are a bastard doesn’t make it ok to act like one.
  27. Wear an amazing coat, and the rest of life usually falls in to place.
  28. Banana skins are the most slippery substance in the world.
  29. I am proud to call myself a feminist. This doesn’t mean I hate men I just don’t enjoy being oppressed by them.
  30. Have a voice, don’t be afraid to use it. Be loud, be proud. If anyone doesn’t like it fuck them. Refuse to be silenced.
  31. Your past might create you but it doesn’t define you. The possibilities for reinvention are endless. You just need the right script and costume.
  32. Being yourself is a lot harder than it sounds but it really is the only way to be.
  33. Never cut your own fringe.
  34. Try to avoid regret and guilt these are empty emotions.
  35. You might regret cutting your own fringe though.
  36. Embrace imperfection. Life is not symmetry and straight lines.
  37. Don’t open the door for me because I have a vagina; open it because it’s good manners. Good manners have nothing to do with your genitals.
  38. Sometimes it is just about the journey. The destination only matters when you get there.
  39. Everyone looks good in black eyeliner.
  40. Know when to leave and get going…
Graffiti outside Pablo Neruda's house in Santiago. A man who would not be told what to do.

Graffiti outside Pablo Neruda’s house in Santiago. A man who would not be told what to do.

One of my more annoying traits is my childlike response to being told what to do. When advised not to do something my immediate response is to do the opposite. Nothing is more likely to bring out the teenager in me than well meaning advice. My usual reply would be “Don’t tell me what to do!” possibly with the addition of a sexual swearword…

As you can imagine this policy is not always the most productive. Well meaning advice is given for a reason, it is well meant and it is often thoughtful, kind and considerate. So to have a blanket refusal to act upon friends gently offered and sensible suggestions has often resulted in poor choices.

However, this does mean I can empathise with 14-year-old boys who refuse to remove their hooded tops in class. Although being an (almost) 40-year-old woman myself perhaps it’s time to grow up and stop rebelling? Strangely, despite my refusal to listen to others, I spend much of my working day telling people what to do and trying to sound like I am not telling them what to do. It is a fine line and one that I sometimes fall off.

This morning I was talking to a friend in England about a meal I had had and as I recounted the dishes a memory returned to me. Before I moved to Brazil I never travelled. I only listened to others stories of their travels and the food they tasted. I had one holiday in 10 years, a singles holiday to Crete; I don’t want to tell you what to do but NEVER GO ON A SINGLES HOLIDAY TO CRETE. It was not fun. There is an underlying air of sadness on singles holidays, which permeates everything. In particular, I remember looking over at the group of singles, as I downed vodka on my balcony to block out the experience. They were looking wistfully at the pool whilst drinking afternoon tea (provided free as part of the single’s package!). In the pool was a beautiful young Greek couple cavorting madly. The expression on the singles faces was doglike, that expression a dog has when you are eating and the dog looks mournfully at your plate like it’s starving. I had to quickly drink more vodka before I threw myself in the pool and attempted to drown myself under the lovemaking couple‘s contortions.

Whenever friends went away, which they seemed to do far more frequently than me I would ask them in detail about their travels and about the food they had. I loved to hear about it but I only lived vicariously through their experiences. I am sure than many of them told me what to do ‘You should go on holiday Luci.’ Or ‘Stop spending all your money on stupid crap you don’t need and go on holiday Luci’ or ‘Stop asking me questions about my holiday Luci I have been talking about it for 3 HOURS!’ I ignored them, because I won’t be told what to do and I continued to holiday in my own flat, avoid singles holidays and ask friends endless questions about what they ate. Till finally I realised that some of the advice was useful, that perhaps spending all my money on crap and never leaving Hove wasn’t the best life plan and I came to Brazil.

Even as I planned to leave, more advice ‘You’ll hate living in a big city’ or ‘You can’t runaway from your problems’ or ‘You’ll need to learn Spanish’ most of this advice was wrong. I love the big city, my problems are far more manageable with 5000 miles between us and I needed to learn Portuguese anyway.

This week, I have been working with another teacher watching his lessons and planning together. We have a tricky group, it is hard or them to follow instructions. As I watched his lesson I could see that the giving of instructions, telling the children what to do was at the heart of everything that could make the lesson work. If they didn’t know what to do they wouldn’t learn, they could feel stupid, they would lose interest and the lesson would be wasted. The art of giving of instructions, of telling someone what to do, has to be clear, make sense and be delivered without being patronising or demanding. Once we know what to do we can be so much more successful.

So, back to me, yes we had been off that very important topic for at least a paragraph. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do and even if I listen to instructions or let people tell me what to do I am still not convinced about the right course. I have an innate mistrust of what people say. Above all else I find it hard to trust my own instincts and judgements. I make mistakes; I have made errors many times. But to come back to a reoccurring theme, errors and mistake can lead you to new adventures and new beauty. I love mistakes in language; they create wonderful perfect descriptive phrases. I need to celebrate mistakes in my choices too.

So, we listen for instructive advice, ignore it, worry over it and dismiss it or follow it. Today it feels like a set of instructions to follow or ignore would give me a clearer idea of what to next, knowing what not to do can be as helpful as knowing what to do.

Please, dear friends, continue to instruct and advise me and I will try to ignore the teenage wail, which erupts at the thought of being told what to do and listen to my inner adult. Or I will ignore you, stamp my foot, make some bad decisions, laugh, cry, avoid singles holidays and see where I end up.

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