Tag Archives careers

Life is the result of living

Piggies, Italy, October 2021

When I was a teenager, when we were told to begin thinking about our careers, when some large chap with a grinning face mistook his job in careers advice for that of a motivational coach and mistook me for someone without an imagination, when all that happened and the computer spewed out that my ambition in life should be to teach design and technology, I already knew what I liked: I liked sunshine, books and people who were nice to me.

The careers advisor, I believe, saw the design and technology teacher suggestion as a bit of a disappointment; he was on a mission to make me aim higher. The process involved typing personality traits into the computer, hitting enter and then receiving a list dictating what one should want to be… Personally, I think the computer was doing the best it could within the limited selection of jobs available within its database. The algorithm lacked imagination, but that wasn’t its fault. The careers advisor also lacked imagination. He wanted something more exciting for the centre piece of his motivational coach routine, so, because I seemed good at studying, he thought I ought to become an academic.

I have never responded well to a pep talk. I would make a bad academic.

And as I write this, the pandemic is coming to its close. I still keep a mask in my handbag, but as long as I give my cents directly to the waiter or waitress in the café where I have my breakfast, I normally don’t need to use it. It’s sunny here in the south of Italy, where I have escaped, like a bird, free from the cage, landing on a familiar branch to reorientate itself in the world again. Today I have immersed myself in books, seated in the sunshine. I’ve scribbled in my diary whilst drinking a cappuccino. Today’s waiter, a cheerful lad with the lowest voice I have ever heard, guessed my order, knowing me to be mightily predictable, and I replied in first Spanish and then Italian, which is one language fewer than the other day. His trousers were rather short, apparently showing off one’s ankles is the fashion for Italian young men. Ankle socks no more.

“Having a nice holiday?”

No, because I am not on holiday. This is my life. It’s an uncluttered life, one where I live out of a suitcase. It’s easily mistaken for a holiday as many people have holidays with characteristics similar to my life, holidays that involve sunshine and ice cream and smiling at the sheer wonder of existence, but I’ve no tour guide leading me around and I cook more often than I eat out. I might be found staring at the ceiling of the basilica, but I’m also found buying toilet rolls in the supermarket. I have classes to teach this afternoon.

And all this that I have is something that with his good-natured expression and his insistence that I aim higher, the career’s advisor couldn’t conceive. The computer couldn’t get it either, although it recognised that I’m inclined to teach. Both created a gap, work, and then endeavoured to correctly fill it. Yet, as a curious and social human being I’m possessed of an inner determination to give to my community and to partake in it. Work gives life meaning but being told what to do tends to take that meaning away.

I’m teaching the locals to count in English with use of the game ‘piggies’. People who were at my sibling’s wedding reception will know exactly what I mean. How I ended up filling up my piggies score sheets with Italian pensioners…. I am not quite sure. They have never tossed pigs whilst drinking their morning espressini before and are delighted.

Show don’t tell – simple writerly advice. The things that are really worthwhile never require pep talks.

The pandemic has, in many ways, been good for me. The antagonist forces the protagonist to grow. A friend recently said that my stubbornness ought to be studied. I feel like this time, this fight, I have fought with dignity and finesse. I have been patient, incredibly patient, and yet I have kept a narrow focus on what is important to me. There has been relatively little tantrum throwing, few toys shoved out the pram, and I’ve only occasionally stamped my foot. Any doubts I had about what I wanted to do with my life have been eroded away. My plans, while always moving, have had a long-term focus.

The fact that my life doesn’t exist in an algorithm, or in the imagination of any careers advisor, doesn’t really matter. Life isn’t about doing what you’re told to do. It’s not about jumping through societies golden hoops (or iron hoops for some). Life is the result of living.

Magic stars, climate change and primary school teachers

If there was ever a day where I woke up knowing I did not want to become a teacher, it was today.

This is not to say it was something I was considering yesterday. I wasn’t. I just merely spent a few hours learning about the challenges of becoming a teacher with a dear friend and her housemate. Two lovely ladies with hearts of gold and whose bookshelves suggest an average (median I suppose) reading age of 6.

Now, the last time I listened to a conversation between trainee teachers was on a late night train in the North-West of England, and the drunken conversation I followed was enough to put any woman off ever ever ever having children. Like ever.

(Guess the CD in the car.)

Last night’s conversation was also in the North-West of England, and certainly demonstrated that there was hope as well and horror in primary education.

After dinner, I collapsed in the corner of the sofa in a flat so clean you could take photos for a magazine shoot. I clutched a cup of tea, munched through my home-made Jaffa Cake bun and watched as packed lunches were made, flowers were propped up in water and presents were diligently wrapped. No hesitation. No procrastination. No moaning about having to do the washing-up.

Thirty packets of magic stars, ordered over the Internet because you can’t get the big bags at the local supermarket, tumbled into a gift bag.

“The kids are all my magic stars.”

I read a book about cow farts and global warming. The illustrations were gorgeous. Disappointingly though, climate change isn’t on the curriculum for the children in these ladies’ classes. Physics next term is stars. They’re all going to dress up as astronauts. I think they should study droughts, floods and hurricanes.

Shouldn’t stars come second to the Earth?

The cuddly elephant interrupted with a song and a chorus erupted around me.

They’re insane, I concluded. They’ve taken on the characters of the children they teach.

But they really do care. And that’s rather reassuring.