This year one of my friends is undertaking NaNoWriMo and has taken to Facebook to ask for ideas to include in his novel. He quite likes improv so thought, “hey it works for comedy theatre, why not a novel.” I suggested that perhaps attempting to recast an old tale might give him some structure. There’s a long tradition of it, Romeo and Juliet into West Side Story, Emma into Clueless, Cinderella into Ever After and so on. Unfortunately I think my explanation came across a bit more South Park, as in, get a book, cross out the authors name and slap on your own. In honour of this I give you an excerpt from my own memoir….
Memoir of a Teacher
Suppose that you and I were sitting in a quiet room overlooking a garden, chatting and sipping at our cups of English Breakfast tea with lots of milk and no sugar (despite my husband’s persistent belief that I like it black with three sugars, WTF) while we talked about something that had happened a long while ago, and I said to you, “That afternoon when I met Jo Blow…was the very best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst afternoon.” I expect you might put down your jumbo sized mug and say, “Well, now, which was it? Was it the best or the worst? Because it can’t possibly have been both!” Ordinarily I’d have to laugh at myself and agree with you, although I’d be silently judging you for your narcissistic need to correct for no reason. But the truth is that the afternoon when I met Mr Archer really was the best and the worst of my life. He seemed so fascinating to me, even the whiskey smell on his hands was a kind of perfume. If I had never known him, I’m sure I would not have become a teacher.
I wasn’t born and raised to be a Sydney teacher. I wasn’t even born in Sydney. I’m an Engineer’s daughter from a little town called Painfullysmallton on the Lake of Macquarie. In all my life I’ve never told more than a handful of people anything at all about Painfullysmallton, or about the house in which I grew up, or about my mother and father, or my older sister and older brother (except my therapist and she knows all, yes be afraid, a stranger that you’ll never meet is judging you) –and certainly not about how I became a teacher, or what it was like to be one. Most people would much rather carry on with their fantasies that my mother and grandmother were teachers, and that I began my training in being bossy when I was weaned from the breast… well that part is kind of true, I do come from a long line of bossy women, they just weren’t teachers. As a matter of fact, one day many years ago I was pouring a schooner of VB for a man who happened to mention that he had been in Painfullysmallton only the previous week. Well, I felt as a bird must feel when it has flown across the ocean and comes upon a creature that knows its nest. Particularly if that bird had been plucked bare, shit upon and booted out into the elements, alone, afraid and ashamed. I was so shocked I couldn’t stop myself from saying:
“Painfullysmallton! Why, that place is a complete shit hole! I grew up there”
This poor man! His face went through the most remarkable series of changes. He tried his best to smile, though it didn’t come out well because he couldn’t get the look of shock off his face.
“Painfullysmallton?” he said. “Did you get involved in the mullet chucking competition?”
I long ago developed a very practiced annoyed look, which I call my “cat’s bum face” because my face is so puckered up that it begins to resemble a cat’s bum. Its advantage is that men can interpret it however they want; you can imagine how often I’ve relied on it. I decided I’d better use it just then, and of course it worked. He let out all his breath and tossed down the schooner of beer I’d poured for him before giving an enormous laugh I’m sure was prompted more by relief than anything else.
“The very idea!” he said, with another big laugh. “You, growing up in a dump like Painfullysmallton. Now it makes sense as to why you’re such a bogan.” And when he’d laughed again, he said to me, “That’s why you’re so much fun, Robin. Sometimes you almost make me believe your total boganess is just an act.”
I don’t much like thinking of myself as a mullet chucking bogan but I suppose in a way it must be true. After all, I did grow up in Painfullysmallton, and no one would suggest it’s a glamorous spot. Hardly anyone ever visits it. As for the people who live there, they never have occasion to leave. You’re probably wondering how I came to leave it myself. That’s where my story begins….
This was of course adapted from the breathtaking Memoir of a Geisha. Read the real except here: https://www.bookbrowse.com/excerpts/index.cfm/book_number/332/memoirs-of-a-geisha
Read chapter 2 of my memoir here https://riedstrap.wordpress.com/2014/11/01/memoir-of-a-teacher-chapter-2-nothing-to-be-frightened-of/