6 Reasons Not to do Something You Love (for a Career)

It’s a truism of this generation that the way to choose your career is to work out the ‘thing you love’ and then do it. Seems simple enough. And if you follow this advice, all manner of riches should be poured down upon you: fulfilment, happiness, health, career success, nice friends, a good-looking partner, great skin, perfect teeth and to top it all off, actual money. At least, that’s what I learnt from ‘The Devil Wears Prada’. Or was it ‘Eat Pray Love’? I don’t remember. One of those.

The problem is that whilst it’s a very seductive idea, it’s a pretty shitty way of running your life, picking your career and managing a wider community. Unfortunately, however, the idea is pervasive. It forms the backbone of every B-grade Hollywood film. Your parents said it to you throughout school (though, they might occasionally backtrack when you’d announce you wanted to be a crocodile trainer).

I’ve spent that last 18 years of my life repeating that I had to go into theatre, because I loved it more than anything and therefore I’d never be happy if I didn’t do exactly that. I thought loving something was as much as was needed. I was encouraged in this by anyone whoever spoke about the acting industry – it’s so hard, you have to make sure you LOVE it more than ANYTHING, otherwise there’s no point in going into it. So I loved it harder.

But I’m slowly learning that it doesn’t work that way. And that ‘loving’ something may actually be a hugely detrimental thing to feel towards something you want to be successful at. Here are my reasons.

1) Remember when you first fall in love with someone and everything they do is wonderful and even their farts smell of roses? You don’t want to have that kind of attitude towards something you do as a job. To be truly successful at work, you should be able to think critically and objectively about what you’re doing. It requires you to look at your industry, your company, your colleagues, your own work and think, ‘well, is this the best that can be done? Is there something missing? Are we doing something stupid that we should fix?’ It’s hard to do that when you think everything smells like roses. If Florence Nightingale was so in love with nursing that she hadn’t been able to look up and say, ‘hey, how come all these infections are spreading amongst my patients,’ we’d all have been a little bit worse off.

2) Falling in love involves spending a lot of time with the adored object. Like, A LOT, of time. Like, sometimes you don’t even really come up for air. Like, sometimes you turn around and it’s 9 months later and you call your friends and they’re all like, ‘Dude. We thought you were dead.’ I  mean, that might not be the best kind of relationship, but, still, you have to admit it sometimes happens. The problem with doing this with your career is that you begin to lose all perspective. Related to the first point – you can no longer think critically about your adored career because you have nothing to compare it to. It seems like the most important thing in the world, because it’s the ONLY thing in the world.

3) Love is selfish. Not in a, ‘this-person-is-all mine-i’ll-kill-you-if-you-even-look-at-them’ totally psycho-jealous kind of way, but in a ‘I’m-love-this-person-and-more-than-that-I-love-how-good-they-make-me-feel’ kind of way. Yes, you love them for who they are, but you also love them for how they make you feel. Which is a perfectly fine way of choosing a career as an individual. It becomes a disaster, however, when every single middle-class kid decides they want to play the cello and only play the cello and be paid a living wage for playing the cello and why shouldn’t they play the cello, after all, they love it. Now, I have no problem with middle-class kids that want to play the cello (hey, it’s a beautiful instrument, and I saw ‘Hilary & Jackie’, it looked like a really glamorous life until Jackie got multiple sclerosis), but my point is, someone should really also learn how to, I don’t know, cure multiple sclerosis as well as everyone becoming cello players. I’m not saying there’s not a place for cello players. I’m just saying there’s as many things wrong with the society that is all artists as there is with the society that is all doctors. The other problem is that I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone whose told me their passion is collecting rubbish. So, ‘do what you love’ leaves some massive holes in society that some unlucky person has to fill for whatever reason. It doesn’t really seem fair that they can’t also ‘do what they love’.

4) Sometimes you fall in love with someone that doesn’t treat you very well. They take advantage of your love for them. They insist you have to go out at midnight to buy cookies for them from the convenience store even though they’re not diabetic or disabled and they live in a really bad neighbourhood. And then, when you call them in tears one night because your best friend’s boyfriend has decided he hates you and wants your best friend never to see you again, instead of offering to come over immediately, your partner kind of yawns and says, ‘Oi, that’s dreadful but I’ve got a really early start tomorrow so I should probably get off the phone….’ A career that you love unconditionally is like that. You’ll do unthinkable things. Like, work for free even though you don’t know how you’re going to pay the rent next month. Like, putting up with a boss who emotionally abuses you because the job will ‘look good on your CV.’ Like, being the coffee person because maybe sometime soon the people you’re getting coffee for will let you actually do something related to the career of your choice. You’ll even start thinking it makes sense to pay money to be involved in ‘opportunities’ for ‘potential’ work that ‘may become available’ ‘somewhere’ down the line.

5) Sometimes we fall in love with people that are not quite right for us. Maybe we’re sick of being single. Maybe we couldn’t find anybody else. Maybe we went through a tough break-up and it seems easier to be in love with this ok person for a while instead of going out there and having our heart broken all over again. The point is that they aren’t quite the match we think they are. But we try desperately to make it work. Maybe you’re vegan and all she eats is steak. Maybe you work for Shell Oil and he’s an environmental campaigner for Greenpeace. I’m not saying you can’t make it work (or that Hollywood couldn’t do a damn fine job of making a quirky rom-com out of your attempts), but I am saying it might be more trouble than it’s worth. Sometimes we fall in love with careers or industries that don’t match our talents or our personalities. But because we ‘love’ them, or because we know of no other way of choosing a career, we stay in them longer than is advisable. Sure, maybe you’ll be able to make it work eventually, maybe you’ll develop that killer shark instinct you need to be the cutthroat criminal lawyer you always dreamed of since watching Law & Order all those years ago. But, would it really be worth it? Maybe you’d be better used and happier somewhere else, doing something else.

6) People fall out of love. This is true. Divorce statistics don’t lie. I know we all want to believe in the happily ever after (I know I want to believe in the happily ever after), but chances are it won’t come your way. If you’re lucky, your ‘lifetime’ partner will die before you fall out of love with them and then you can spend the rest of your life mourning their great loss (I’m looking at you, Queen Victoria) and thinking you missed out on some kind of grey-haired, sepia-coloured, pigeon-feeding, end-of-life romance. Otherwise, there’s a large chance that the person you swore eternal devotion to is going to, at some point, loose their pretty shininess. You change, they change. You find yourself living in an apartment made up of a quarter of things you used to love from your old shared house and a quarter of the things you used to hate, plus a cat or two that you’re never sure you actually adopted but you seem to feed now, awkwardly flicking through Tinder and trying to encourage a sense of flirtatiousness and footloose fancy-free-ness. Breaking up with the career you thought you loved (or wanted to love) is just as devastating. You find yourself at an unimaginable age, starting at the beginning, looking at university guidebooks whilst shuddering with confusion and distaste at all the young people you might need to interact with who remind you on a daily basis just how much of a head start they have over you. Sure there’s nothing wrong with starting again. And, even if you choose a career for other reasons that you ‘love’ it, you may find yourself shifting gears at some point down the line. However, changing jobs is so much harder if you’ve invested all that emotional energy, that love, into the career to begin with. It’s like your personality has been ripped out. You don’t know who you are anymore.

Aristotle said: “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.” It might be longer and more complex than ‘do what you love,’ but it’s all the more useful for it. It considers the world, not just yourself. It considers what you can offer, rather than just what you’d like to do all day (I mean, I’d like to drink red wine whilst playing ‘Spell Tower’ on my phone, but that wouldn’t necessarily be the best use of my time and I’d probably be pretty bummed at myself on my death bed if all I’d achieved in life was a score above 10,000 on Spell Tower).

I’m sure I haven’t convinced the majority of you. And I’m sure plenty of people (plenty) will continue to go out there and choose careers based on ‘what they love’ and only on what they love (hey, you can’t fight City Hall. Or after-school specials). And some of you might find that works out ok for you. But the rest of you might find yourself dissatisfied, unhappy, unfulfilled and not really sure why. The problem is the nature of the game, the starting premise. When it comes to work, at least, love is definitely not all you need.

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Filed under Employment, Introspection, Theatre

Flyering

It’s the end of Edinburgh (FINALLY), but I’ve been wanting to writing something about this for a while.

There are a lot of grumpy posts about how people handing out flyers can be less annoying. That’s all well and good, however, I think it’s about time that we had a post in which people refusing flyers learn how to be less annoying.

So, without further ado… The Correct Etiquette on Refusing a Flyer.

When someone hands you a flyer with a big hopeful smile on their face:

1) DO NOT lower your face to the ground and run around me.

I know you saw me. You just ran around me. You can’t run around someone you can’t see. You’re just making things embarrassing. And when I say ‘making things embarrassing’, I mean, YOU are being embarrassing. I am embarrassed on your behalf. I am making apologetic faces to the people around me as if you are my very good friend, who we all know is *slightly* strange, but we all put up with it because you, I don’t know, make really good banana bread. Or something.

2) DO NOT look at the flyer, and roll your eyes/sneer/snort/generally act dismissive and derisive.

Yes. perhaps a university production of 7 Brides for 7 Brothers where all the genders are reversed may not be your thing, and yes, maybe it WILL get a ones star review from Lyn Gardner in the Guardian (but I doubt it, because she’s much nicer and more reasonable about bad theatre than most of the people who refuse flyers), but this is still SOMEONE’s baby and just like you wouldn’t ridicule an ugly baby in front of it’s mother (I mean, you’d at least wait until her back is turned and/or she’s in the kitchen heating up the little monster’s milk), don’t sneer at my flyer RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. Wait until you round the corner before you and your friends break into the peals of laughter reserved for the self-righteous and the critical who have never tried to put on a show at Edinburgh. Oh, I’m sorry, am I sounding bitter? Well, who’s the genius that decided to book a holiday to Edinburgh during festival time and then didn’t expect to get showered with flyers for improvised student musical versions of Hamlet? Oh, you live here? Well then take all my money for your little city economy and don’t walk through the centre of the city at festival time (I know you locals know how to do it – one told me that was what he does every August).

Ahem. Sorry. Number 3.

3) DO NOT look at the flyer in wide-eyed, open-mouthed terror.

It is not a bomb. It is not a Howler (though we ARE in Edinburgh). It is not a pit-bull terrier cleverly disguised as a flyer that will eat your hand the second you take it out of mine.

4) DO NOT give me excuses as to why you can’t take my flyer.

Especially don’t give me excuses that are’t excuses. ‘Oh, we’ve already got plans tonight.’ Oh yes? Have you heard that the festival goes on for 3 weeks? SO DOES MY SHOW, SO TAKE MY FLYER. Don’t open a can of worms. Don’t offer fancy excuses. Take the flyer or refuse it politely. Do you think it makes me feel better to know that you’ve decided to give your money and attention to another show? That if I had only found you earlier in the day and given you the right kind of pitch and also filled my show with hundreds of people in kilts playing bagpipes and have fireworks at the end that maybe you would have come to my show? No. No, it does not. It makes me resent the fact that I do not own a time machine to go back and time and give you my flyer before you bought your ticket to whatever stupid show you are going to see and also that I even if I HAD a time machine, I did not/do not have the wherewithal to feature the Edinburgh Tattoo in my one-woman show.

5) DO NOT sexually harass me.

Tourists liked my hair curlers. Dirty old men and stag parties liked my… hidden vagina? My covered up boobs? The fact that I was wearing make-up? Who knows. But apparently, this year, I was fair game for horrible men. No, I mean, OBVIOUSLY, I can see where they got confused. Clearly a woman with make-up on and standing alone on a street corner is begging to be the receptacle for all male sexual fantasies, rape jokes and/or bad beer breath. No, no wait, actually, sorry. I wrote that down wrong. I DON’T GET THAT AT ALL.

6) DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT IGNORE ME.

I just spoke to you, bitch! You may not want my flyer, and that is FINE, but, hey, I am a human being, sharing this slowly dying earth with you and the least you could do is look into my eyes and acknowledge MY EXISTENCE AS A HUMAN BEING.

Ahem. Yes, sorry. I think that’s my middle-class white girl privilege coming in contact with something it is not used to experiencing.

So, without further ado, how should you refuse a flyer if you do not want to bring the curses of unemployed actors down upon your shoulders?

It’s really quite simple. Here are the 3 steps:

Look into my eyes.
Smile (genuinely).
And say, ‘no, sorry’ or ‘no, thanks’.

Simple as that.

Or, you know, you could just take the goddamn flyer.

Really, I’ve got hundreds. THOUSANDS.

Just, take it and throw it away around the corner.

But don’t let me see you do it.
BECAUSE I WILL COME FOR YOU.

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Reviews, Reviews, Reviews

They say that ‘three’ is a magic number. A lucky number. Well, if that is so, I expect piles of leprechaun gold to be showered down upon me, rainbow unicorns to start flying out of my arse. My Edinburgh Fringe show, you see, has now been graced with five 3-star reviews. It has had so much mediocre fairy dust showered down upon it that I can only reasonably expect miracles to start occurring in each performance. The blind can see. The lame can walk. A wooden puppet turns into a real boy.
I apologise in advance for this massively self-pitying post, when there are many more dreadful things happening in the world. Gaza. Isis. Robin Williams. But, hey, what can I say. I’m a selfish c**t.
I am going on swings and roundabouts with the reviews. The first one devastated me and resulted in me sobbing for several hours before and after my second show. The second one I expected and so didn’t faze me, not really. It was actually quite nice. So nice, in fact, that several people have asked, ‘exactly why didn’t they give you 4 stars?’ The third was so completely inconsistent in it’s praise/condemnation that it’s barely worth mentioning, except for the fact that I’d secretly hoped it would be 4 and so it destroyed me anew. The final two I checked the star rating of and then didn’t bother to read. I don’t really need any more half-hearted praise.
Everyone says 3-star reviews are a recommendation. But they’re not. Not really. Certainly not up at Edinburgh Fringe, where EVERYONE has a 4 star or 5 star review plastered to their flyers. As a reviewer, when I’m giving 3 stars, it’s usually a bit like saying, ‘yeah, it’s a fine show. If you have any interest in [insert topic of show], you’ll probably enjoy it.’ Or, ‘if you’ve got nothing else to do that night, it’s probably worth paying some money for.’ It’s like one big ‘meh’. And after 5 of them you start thinking, yeah, pretty much all of my audience is watching me and going, ‘meh’.
It’s been happening for years, really. My Year 7 English teacher (the evil Mrs. Clack) had a similar reaction to the first piece of creative writing I ever gave her. She gave me the grade equivalent of 3 stars and wrote, ‘not creative enough’ at the bottom. As the years have gone on, I’ve realised what shit feedback that is and in no way useful for letting me know what she ACTUALLY wanted me to be doing or teaching me to become ‘more’ creative (whatever the hell that means). But, she was at least expressing a general feeling that I should perhaps have taken more seriously at the time. If only I had taken her feedback more fully on board and worked harder at maths and science, or some other kind of subject. If only I had realised then that ‘creativity’ was not the career path for me. If only she had spelled it out more clearly. If only I’d inspired enough strong feeling in her for her to forbid me to ever do anything creative ever again, then, maybe I would have gotten the message. Instead of just, ‘meh.’
I have, by and large, received very little support from people who might have been able to help me develop over the years. Like Mrs. Clack they saw so little potential in me that they dismissed me without even bothering to let me know why. This is the case from arts funding bodies, from development programs, from theatres, from artists a bit further along the path than me. I’ve had to try and make up most of this on my own. I recognise that some of this is due to my own lack of confidence, my inability to ask for support or assistance from people that I admire. But the majority is being rejected for most every opportunity that I apply for (unless it’s something I have to pay for – those are things people are MORE THAN HAPPY for me to be involved in).
The disturbing thing from my perspective is the frequency with which I get 3-star reviews. If you added up all the reviews I have gotten over my lifetime, it evens out at pretty much 3 1/4 stars out of 5. That’s not a ringing endorsement for someone who is trying to make a career out of this. I mean, 3-star reviews are fine, as long as someone, somewhere, thinks that what you are doing is fantastic, game-changing, speaking their language, speaking to their experience or whatever. I don’t really get that reaction. I’m kind of ‘meh’.
There are plenty of artists out there who think that reviews are not important. That would be easier to believe if I was making lots of money and having big audiences. It would be easier to believe if I was being supported by some kind of funding body. But, frankly, I’m not so arrogant to think that if I’m getting shitty reviews, it’s the reviewers fault. I don’t think audiences falling asleep or leaving the show is because they are crap human beings, or not smart enough, or not good enough, or not paying attention enough. It is my fault. I’m not doing my ‘job’. Certainly there have been difficulties with this show – the venue, for one, great, big, huge reason. I do recognise that I haven’t had as much time to work into it as some of the others that I’ve put on. However, the larger, bigger point remains, that if, after how many years of trying, I am still, by and large, inspiring a reaction of, ‘meh’, it must be time to reconsider the path that I’m on.
So, in summary, I am not enjoying this Edinburgh Fringe. When I wrote on the first day that I thought audiences would ruin everything, I didn’t really expect it to be so accurate. I mean, I know it’s not really their fault, but showing it to everyone has made me feel very differently about it and me than I did a few weeks ago. It might, eventually, be a good thing. It’ll be the final nail in the coffin of my so-called ‘career in the arts’.
Unfortunately though, my bro, Chris, says that I’m not allowed to give up theatre before the 24th. Which isn’t that far away, I know. But I am secretly (ok, not so secretly) thinking of deliberately spraining/breaking my ankle so that I don’t have to do any more shows. I know it is only 10 more shows, I know that doesn’t seem like much, but it’s like being a child again and being told you only have to eat 10 more Brussel Sprouts before you can have dessert. Or, just 10 more pages of homework before going outside. Or, just 10 more hours before you can open your Christmas presents. Or, only 10 more days before the school holidays.
It feels like FOREVER.

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Filed under Edinburgh, Theatre

Existential in Edinburgh

I’ve returned to Edinburgh for the Fringe.

And, despite my enthusiasm for my experience last year and despite my insistence that I should return, now that I am here, I am convinced I have made a huge mistake.

My show opens tonight and I do not do not do not want to do it.

I hardly slept last night. I hardly slept the night before. I felt so anxiously nauseous yesterday morning that I could barely choke down breakfast.

The strange thing is that I much more convinced of the quality of this piece of writing than I was of the show I took up last year. This doesn’t comfort me. It oddly makes me more reluctant. I feel like I’ve created this thing that is wonderful and I have no need to show it to anyone, as I do not need their opinions or reassurance. I know it’s wonderful. Last year’s show I wasn’t convinced of, so every time someone liked it I felt a bit better, but every time someone said it was slightly mediocre I secretly agreed with them, thinking, ‘I knew it all along, it’s no good and people have just been humouring me.’

Also, I don’t want to show it to anyone because I think they might ruin it. I don’t know how they’ll ruin it. By not enjoying it, maybe. By not understanding it. And I don’t care what they think because I think it’s wonderful and I don’t want them to ruin it.

So, my overriding desire at the Edinburgh Fringe is to not let anyone see my show. Obviously this kind of defeats the purpose of being here.

I also don’t want to show my show to anyone because I don’t see the point. I no longer think that I will make a living doing this. Even if the show goes well and people like it I have no allusions that this means a ‘life on the stage’.

Apart from not believing the industry will ever welcome me with open arms, I pretty much hate the entire theatre complex and do not want to be part of it. This is a strange feeling that has been building for many months. I cannot and do not want to be part of this hideous, competitive industry anymore. I do not want to have to constantly be selling myself, to be ‘on’. I do not want to be constantly begging for people’s adoration and praise, or more often than not, just their attention. They don’t want to give it – so why should I force them? I want to live quietly in a quiet house with a dog and a cat and people I love and who love me.

There’s a lie going around the internet that ‘creative people’ (whatever the fuck that means) are some kind of special, superior being. It’s a lie that makes unemployed, mediocre actors and writers feel better about themselves when no-one is paying attention to them. They can think, ‘well, at least I’m leaving a superior, special life to my cousin the accountant.’ They can think, ‘I’m just misunderstood,’ when no-one turns up to their opening night or their book launch, ‘some day they’ll all understand.’ It’s all bullshit. When you start realising that EVERYONE up here thinks they are a special and unique butterfly you begin to realise just how ordinary you are. And that’s ok. Ordinary is fine. Ordinary is good. Most everybody is ordinary. Ordinary deserves a good life (it sometimes doesn’t get it, but it deserves it). But if I’m ordinary (and I am) there is no reason to go pushing myself on to others. I don’t want to be shoving ideas and opinions and work down their throats. Why should I? I’m ordinary. I have nothing more to offer them.

Anyway, this is great mood to be in on opening night. I honestly do wish that I could have done the London preview and left it at that. It was a nice preview. It went well. I feel like that’s enough for me and my time in this industry is now done. It’s a free show so I can cancel it if I want. I’ll still have lost a lot of money, but, there are worse things in the world. Watch this space.

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By the Canal

After the carnival I walked home. Except I was so exhausted and sunned and dehydrated that I didn’t make it all the way home. I only made it to the canal. Where I collapsed in a heap for an hour and stared at the water.

It was very peaceful:

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Carnival of Culture


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The Carnival of Culture happens every year in Berlin and celebrates multiculturalism and generally having a good time with loud music and awesome costumes.

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It was 36 degrees or thereabouts today. I watched the parade and walked and danced for about 5 hours, from 12pm to 5:30pm. That is, the hottest part of the day.

I am too tired and too post-sun and too post-Radler to be able to describe anything. So, please accept these pictures as a small offering and taster of what it was like. IMG_0888

Dragon! Awesome Dragon!

IMG_0887 More dragon.

IMG_0883I do not know why this man is dressed as a lobster. I do not know why he has a golden ball with a smaller ball inside. But, boy does he look happy about it, so let’s not question it too much.

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If you want more info on who this awesome dude is (and learn a little bit about Berlin culture in the process), please watch this video here:  He’s totes a Berlin celebrity.

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I love how many men were in their feathers today.

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And also, there were many beautiful ladies in feathers also.

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But, mostly, I liked the men in their feathers. There are so few opportunities for men to wear feathers these days.

If, indeed, there was ever an opportunity for them to wear feathers.

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There was quite a bit of excitement (in costume form) for the World Cup.

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And there were swishy skirts in many different colours.

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There were also non-swishy skirts, and many different ways of keeping oneself cool.

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This is a way of keeping oneself cool. It was definitely my favourite. Because it was almost like a Hollywood movie about New York.

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Where everyone’s too hot, and they’re all walking around in their singlet tops and so the fire department has to come and hose them all down.

IMG_0927And then, this happens.

 

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And then it makes it all worthwhile…

I had a good ol’ complain earlier this week, didn’t I? Everything was dreadful and German was hard and I would never, ever, ever fit in here.

Well, just as you can generally expect to hit a wall at some point during a new adventure, things turn around just as quickly.

On my exchange in Norway in 2002 I struggled for the first few months. This isn’t unusual: most exchange students are told to expect the first few months to be tough. Of course, the main problem was my inability to communicate properly. Either I had to struggle along in pitiful Norwegian and feel embarrassed; or I had to force people to speak English to me and be a burden to them and feel even more embarrassed at my inability to be a successful exchange student (one who would, of course, pick up the language QUICKLY, NATURALLY and WITHOUT EFFORT OR EVEN BREAKING A SWEAT).

Because I wasn’t speaking Norwegian much and just switching to English whenever things got too tough, my language skills were, understandably, developing slowly. I was discouraged and felt like I’d never fit in properly. With few plans over my Easter holidays, one day I decided to borrow some cross-country skis from my host family and go on a ski on the hill behind our town. Despite the snow covering the ground, it was a sparkling, sun-shiney kind of day and I didn’t want to be inside. I was going to be a true Norwegian! One who would go out skiing the way other people go out walking!

Of course, not being a true Norwegian, I didn’t realise that the lovely warm weather we were having would affect the conditions of the skiing. It melted the top of the snow, making it incredibly hard for me to get any kind of traction and to progress forward faster than, say, hair growing. It was two steps forward, one step back, except more like two glides forward, three glides back. I was red-faced, furious and completely confused as to why I had suddenly lost my (recently discovered) ability to cross-country ski. I was also, by this time (a couple of hours in), on the middle of the track, and the only way to get home was to continue on, or to backtrack. Off the track was very thick snow (in my memory, if I had walked off the track, I would have sunk completely into a snow drift, never to be found again). I was completely disheartened and exhausted and stopped to consider my options, if I had any.

Behind me, I noticed an old man speeding up the hill. Not wanting to be out-done by a pensioner, I threw my 17 year old thighs into action on the small slope. When that didn’t work I started using my ski poles to dig into the snow and desperately drag myself up the hill, which worked until one slipped and I slid all the way back down and rear-ended myself on the old man’s skis. He was surprisingly upbeat about it. He started chattering away in Norwegian to me, asking me how I was going, if I was ok, if I needed help and a bunch of other things I couldn’t understand. I explained, in one of my only confident phrases, that I was Australian, that I was an exchange student here and that I didn’t speak Norwegian. He smiled and told me he didn’t speak English, making him one of the very few people I met that year that spoke no English at all. He started pointing at my skis and making a swiping movement. He repeated a word over and over that I didn’t recognise: ‘skismøring’. Eventually, tired of my blank stares, he grabbed my ski and yanked it into the air (with my foot still attached). He made an exaggerated gesture of understanding. Then, giving up on the pantomime, he started unbuckling my shoes, releasing them from the skis. Then, from out of his pack, he brought ski wax. He started applying it liberally to the bottom of my skis. As he did so, he started talking to me in Norwegian about his family. He told me he was a grandfather. He told me his grandchildren lived in Hammerfest. He told me that his grandchildren spoke English. He told me that his grandchildren would love to visit Australia. He talked and talked and talked and I realised gradually, amazedly, that I understood most of what he was saying. Of course, I couldn’t think quickly enough to reply, but I suddenly didn’t feel so badly about my Norwegian skills. When he’d finishing coating my skis in wax, he gave me a big wave and a smile, got up the hill in double speed and disappeared on the path ahead of me. I never once saw him again that year, which was remarkable, really, in a town of 6000 people, but I suppose we moved in different circles…

Anyway, whoever this was a magical little man was (over the years I’ve come to think of him as some kind of helpful snow elf and/or leprechaun), he gave a boost to my confidence at just the time that I needed it. I suddenly realised I wasn’t as hopeless, nor as alone, nor as far from fitting in as my self-pitying brain had thought.

Snow Elf. Artist's impression. Found at: http://imgur.com/gallery/W5NDX

Snow Elf. Artist’s impression. Found at: http://imgur.com/gallery/W5NDX

I had a similar little boost today. After a week of feeling low about my slowing rate of learning; a week of German lessons in which I struggled to make myself understood, made mistakes, didn’t concentrate and generally was terrible; a week of waitresses insisting on switching to English, I was feeling more than a little sorry for myself. Then, on my way home from school, I went to a ticket office to buy some concert tickets for next week for a friend and myself.

As I got in, I realised with a sinking feeling I hadn’t checked the German word for ‘ticket’. But, the gentleman at the computer was older and I decided I wasn’t sure if he would even speak English. With as much confidence as I could muster, I told him (in German) that I wanted to tickets to ‘Charity Children’. He looked it up for me. After a few minutes he asked (in German) if it was on the 10th of June? I said yes and he told me the tickets cost 13.90 Euro. I said that was fine. He then said something very quickly that I didn’t understand. So, in English he asked how many tickets I wanted. I asked for two and he repeated back in German, ‘two tickets, which will be 29.80 Euro. How would you like to pay?’ I asked (in German) if I could pay with my card. When he saw my card and I started to swipe it, he asked ‘Doesn’t it have a chip?’ (in German) I told him it didn’t. He asked ‘warum? (why)’ in an overly shocked voice. I said didn’t know and that it was an old card. He took it from me and said (in German), ‘Ah, ‘Commonwealth’- yes, the Commonwealth IS old!’

And THAT guys, is A JOKE. A JOKE TOLD TO ME IN GERMAN. A JOKE A GERMAN TOLD TO ME IN GERMAN. MOREOVER, A JOKE A GERMAN TOLD TO ME IN GERMAN THAT I UNDERSTOOD. BANTER, people! I had GERMAN banter! Laughing hysterically, I agreed with him that the Commonwealth WAS old and told him it was an Australian card. He let me swipe the card and asked where I was from in Australia and after I told him he said, ah, so you are spending the summer here to avoid the winter in Australia. I said no, I am here a year (because I can’t describe the future yet). He asked another question in German that I didn’t understand and he repeated it in English: ‘How long will you be here for?’ In English I explained I would be here a year and I had only been here for 4 weeks. His mouth dropped. No! He cried, in German. You’ve only been here 4 weeks and you speak SUCH GOOD German?? I went bright red. I said (in German) no, no, it’s not that good. I’m learning. He said, yes, it is VERY good. There are people who live here 5 years and they can’t speak any German, because they don’t want to give up ‘Mother English’. I said I knew and I didn’t like that. He said, yes, he agreed. He handed me my tickets and he told me in German, you are doing very very well, it is very good what you are doing, so if we have to speak a little bit of English with you, that is (in English): ‘No worries!’

And oh, my, did I ever laugh about that!

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