28 September 2011

Something in the Eyre (More on Darling English Boys)

In a very early blog posting I posited the idea that the "meeting of minds" is one of the chief pleasures of being involved with a Darling English Boy. Nearly four years on, I still believe this to be true, and recently, I experienced another delightful example.
Last weekend, my DEB and I went to Warwick Arts Centre to see the new film version of Jane Eyre.

Beside the fact that he actually waited to see the film, is the fact that he actually enjoyed the film! And, more importantly, after the film, he had an opinion about it!
We not only had an in-depth discussion about the film, but also about how Jane Eyre, as a novel/story, compares with the works of the other two Brontës: Wuthering Heights and Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
(A friend of mine said on email: "He actually knew that there's more than one Brontë?")
I nearly fell into the road! 
To be sure, my DEB is no slouch, he has a university degree; but, it's in science, not literature! 
He'd read and learned about the Brontës in school (the same school that Shakespeare attended, in fact!), and it has stayed with him. 
There is a great deal of hullabaloo about Education and standards in this country at the moment, with some real crises in basic English and maths. However, it seems to me they were getting it very right not so long ago, if the DEB's generation is anything to go by!

Bits and Pieces

Dated: 7 Sept 2011

I am sat, on a fast train hurtling headlong from Coventry to London Euston. I’m thrilled, and ever so slightly nervous.  This afternoon, I start my new post (also part-time) in the Shakespeare programme at the British American Drama Academy (BADA).
It’s been three very long years, but it seems that finally, my career is on the rise, and I am returning to the classroom, albeit on a less than full-time basis. The three-year hiatus has been good for me in so many ways. A time to write, and more importantly to reflect on what it is I actually want from/for my career.
When I walked away from my full-time, tenure-track faculty position at NYU, three years ago, my friends, family and loved ones, save precious few, called my sanity into question. I had made it, they advised, to the top of my game, I’d grasped the brass ring, joined the ranks of the privileged few – how on earth could I walk away from all that?
Truthfully? Quite easily. My life in NYC was a buffeting stream of extreme highs and gut-wrenching lows. The City that Never Sleeps leaves you drained and exhausted. The collective drive is relentless, and the sleepless nights all the more unbearable when you spend them alone. There is something about “being alone” in the mega-metropolis that is New York, that is a type of ‘aloneness’ like no other. Perhaps, because amid the constant din one can always hear the party you’ve not been invited to happening non-stop somewhere just around the corner.
So, there I was, “at the top of my game”, curled up on the settee in my bijou, shoe-box apartment, with Lucy (God bless her!), Lily, a large bottle of Shiraz, take-away pepperoni pizza and re-runs of “Coupling” on BBC America…
Of course, once I left the halls of academe, I reveled in my new-found wonderful English countryside life, but lost an essential sense of my own identity, as who I “am” has always been so intrinsically tied with what I “do”. As happy, joyous, free, loved and liberated as I have felt in my new life in England, I have simultaneously felt lost and rudderless, without real purpose and direction.
And what a refreshing adventure! For the first time in my life I was “defined” by my relationships as opposed to my achievements or ambitions. I have been forced to create and cobble together a new sort of ‘career’, more or less a “portfolio” of gigs, projects, and one-off assignments, etc. I have had to engage fearlessly in the not-so-fine art of shameless self-promotion and PR, and channeling my inner-American, and “putting myself out there”.
I have re-tooled my cv more times than I can count. I have applied for jobs that would have proved ludicrously poor matches for me – or them. But, we do that, don’t we? You feel desperate, and any job that is vaguely within the realm of possibility looks appealing: “Well, I could do that.” The subtext: if there’s nothing else going. And that is no way to live a life.
And then, there’s the Rejection. And, tons of it. I have been turned down by a myriad of secondary schools, libraries, community colleges and universities. I survived on “bits and pieces” that came my way (Thank heaven for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and the RSC!). And, now, I’ve finally got hold of a bigger “bit and piece”. And the “Bits and Pieces” lifestyle suits me fine. As slapdash and haphazard as it has felt, I would not trade a moment of it now.
The only trouble now, what to wear?! A ritual purging two years ago saw me mindlessly throwing much of my professorial “work wear” into the charity bin!

04 September 2011

Crafty little sew-and-sew

"Catching all passions in her craft..." - Shakespeare, "A Lover's Complaint"

Inspiration often comes from the most usual sources. For our joint birthdays this year, the DEB and I decided to take our adorable little camper van for a week-long getaway in Snowdonia (North Wales). In preparation for this trip, we visited a local caravan shop near Coughton Court, as we needed a bit of cabling to connect our awning to the railing on top of the camper van. The actual cabling unit he needed was unavailable, but the shop had the materials needed to create one, the two strips just needed to be stitched together.

Possessing the heart of a would-be-crafter, I stepped forward to save the day by offering to stitch the strips together -- by hand. Upon returning home, I was struck by the heft of the task that lie before me. I weighed the situation, and thought the better of it, it would take me ages to do by hand. The DEB suggested I contact one my WI chums, and make use of their sewing prowess - and a sewing machine. 

A great suggestion, but one that left me troubled. I could be a Sewing Goddess too, if I had the right kit! Then, it occurred to me, why don't I have the right kit? Why have I never ever bothered to acquire a sewing machine? I blame the US feminist movement of the late 1980s! There. I've said it. 

In those heady university days, at least where I found myself, one kept ones crafty "tendencies" -- we certainly wouldn't have dared to called them "ambitions" -- quietly to oneself. Even before that, I remember how, when I was I high school -- I attended a prestigious girl's prep school academy -- my friends who attended other schools used to joke that St. Mary's was just a "finishing school for future society spouses", and laughed at the way we "Belles" were "forced" to take regular classes on Home Economics and Home Management. However, our school took 'real life' issues as seriously as Latin or Physics. I wasn't thankful at the time, but I am very thankful today.

And now, whaddya know, the whole world is hooked on bake, make and re-make! Everyone's clambering to be crafty! Me, included. 

My quest to solve a problem and release my inner sewing diva had begun! After a bit of online research, I went along to the Leamington Spa Sewing Machines Shop, Royal Leamington Spa's own sewing centre. There, inside the lovely bubbly-gum pink storefront, I met Sue Smith, who graciously gave me an afternoon of her time introducing me to wonders of the modern sewing machine. I was petrified, as I panic at very the thought of measurements, measuring, numbers and the like, but Sue was very reassuring, reminding me that I can read. And, if you can read, you can sew!

Sue was staggered by my revelation that my most 'recent' quilting project took me all of five years to complete by hand. (!) "You will be amazed," she said, "at how liberated you will be with a machine." Technology. I felt like a cave dweller, knuckles firmly dragging the ground, being encouraged to come forth into the light...

And the light, at the end of the tunnel, was a JANOME 2200 XT. A very sexy piece of kit, 100% luscious girl gadget (with 22 stitch functions!), perfect for the nervous, sewing machine novice. I rushed home to play with my new toy and instantly fell in love!
By the time the DEB arrived home from work, the awning cable was done and ready to be tested! "Wow!" said the DEB. "Wow!" said the very happy me.

Of course, the awning cable was ridiculously easy to do -- even though it was fiddly and awkward material to work with -- and only took me the best part of 15-20 minutes. By hand, it would have taken me hours. I felt like Hermione Granger with her infinity bag of goodies, what could I not achieve with this machine? I ran up the stairs and tipped out the contents of my sewing basket -- my hoarded stash of beautiful fabrics -- mostly William Morris designs -- that I have collected over the years, with the intention of creating something 'one day'. Maybe now, I'd actually do something! And, of course, the non-existent "wedding quilt" still waiting, after two years, to see the light of day. Maybe now, that too would actually get done.

It's funny, I do know some real quilting purists would never ever use a machine, and see quilting by hand as the only true form of that art. Sorry, sisters, I gotta move on! 

Nerd that I am, I felt I needed to arm myself with some knowledge. So, while I was in Oxford recently -- had to go to an Open Day at Magdalen College to meet up with my new chums from BADA (British American Drama Academy, more on them soon!) -- I treated myself to a visit to my favourite Waterstone's bookshop in Oxford's High Street. 

The Craft section of this Waterstone's is amazing. I was spoilt for choice, but one title literally jumped off the shelf  at me: The Busy Girl's Guide to Sewing: Unlock your inner sewing goddess - projects, advice and inspiration for a creative lifestyle by Carrie Maclennan. Perfect. (I also treated myself to a tiny paperback of The Designs of William Morris *SIGH*)

Carrie Maclennan's book is a godsend! So inspiring. I read it from cover to cover while we were on holiday in Wales, and just couldn't put it down! Surprisingly, Carrie's a novice seamtress, though she's been in the craft industry for years. So her book is written from the refreshing perspective of a novice, who is learning as she goes along, as opposed to that of a smarty-pants know-it-all. 

As a result, the whole time we were in Wales I was chomping at the bit to get crafting! Thankfully, North Wales is treasure trove for crafters. While we were in Harlech, I discovered a fantastic little fabric shop called Cae Du Designs. I caught the owner, Dee, just as she was about to close for the day on sunny (yes, sunny!) afternoon after a long-day at the beach. We started chatting, and before we knew it were wading through all her gorgeous fabrics!

I was keen to find material for the languishing wedding quilt. And Dee did not disappoint! After a few hopefuls, Dee struck pure gold. She unearthed the most beautiful silk/cotton fabric called "Bay Trees", which was absolutely perfect in colours of cream, taupe, lavender and sage. *SIGH*

Before the the arrival of the sewing machine, I was dreading the prospect of facing (yet another) hand-sewing project. For me and hand-sewing, simplicity rules: keep it simple with just two different fabrics in a (boring) square block formation. 

Well, now that I am all "tooled up", I can be much more adventurous! I went mad and bought as much of the fabric Dee suggested as I could carry! (£18.00 per metre - naughty!) More than I will ever need, but, it was oh, so gorgeous, I will hoard it forever!

While is Wales I also starting building my basic sewing tool box, as recommended by Carrie Maclennan in her book. That's been fun, too. Ebay is an incredible and inexpensive source for wonderfully crafty things like embroidery scissors, tape measures, pins, fabric markers, etc & etc. Now, I just need to time and space to craft...

Isn't strange? Now that my professional life here in the UK is (finally, finally) starting to 'heat up'; I am discovering a completely engaging and all-consuming past time?


02 September 2011

Still a winner - Shakespeare and me

Okay, so I ended up with a dismal showing in the Village Show Fruit, Flower & Veg competition. :(
I did not even place, in a single category. Not one out of four! Oh, well, heigh-ho, there's always next year.

And, it appears that poor ol' Will Shakespeare is being given a bit of a bashing these days too, with the release of yet another (YAWN!) conspiracy theory that "Shakespeare wasn't Shakespeare". I mean, really, why don't these people take up knitting or something! Find a hobby, get a life!

Thankfully, all else seems rosy in Shakespeareland, and my stock as a scholar of said Bard seems to finally (FINALLY, FINALLY!) be on the rise. As I type, I am dashing off to catch a train to London for one of three (!!) upcoming Shakespeare-centred job interviews.

More later, wish me luck!