It’s past 4.30 pm and I do find it slightly odd that I should be sitting here, committing thoughts to screen, as I’m still in the middle of the holidays. I’m not one of those over-zealous, weird creatures who return to work the day after the party; I like to protract Time Off as much as possible. I’m returning to England at some point on Saturday afternoon and will resume work doings on Monday morning. If I could, I would go from plane to office, but I do have things to sort out, such dogs to pick up and a shower that doesn’t work. And maybe a fridge to stock up as well.
Meanwhile, I’m having what I can only describe as One Heck of a Great Time, as I live on a diet of pistachios, champagne, video-games, cakes, new shoes and new books. I planned for many days this interim post, part-review, part-greeting, yet in truth my thoughts are scattered as they flit from book to book.
I brought a few with me and bought a few in a few different languages. Yesterday seemed like a good time to crack open the new diary and send it forth to prosper in 2012 with a list that enumerates items as disparate as ‘learn Chinese’, ‘buy a bed’, and ‘lose ten pounds’ (because, I don’t know about your New Year’s Day lists, but mine aren’t really mine unless they include a bit of self-flagellation).
What I’ve yet to add to the list, and I’m gonna do it the second I log off here, is ‘read books in the original’. This is hardly ground-breaking stuff; piles of Vogues in many languages have always littered my living spaces since before I could actually read them, but as the other day my eyes travelled across spines all the way to Le Petit Nicolas (as an original Folio) right next to Le Petit Prince (also a lush Folio), it was with a mixture of surprise and disgust that I realised that I have read plentiful Nicolas stories, and yet, never in French. But, dear reader, I can. So, why not?
I must confess that, due to this hideous hybrid accent (which, thankfully, you cannot hear), and despite my extensive English-speaking education (since the undergraduate days, if you must know), I’ve lived in anguish at the prospect of being thought of as a Johnny Foreigner who buys books in French, Spanish, Italian or German because she cannot understand them as well in English.
As hordes of my friends tell of their struggles and victories as they teach themselves a new language, I always nod pleasantly and swiftly change the topic. I’ve lived in England for over half of my life, and for my entire adult one. To think that the way I speak, coupled with a foreign text under my arm, pigeonholes me as someone who needs to read in a language other than this, revolts me.
Yet, reading a book (reading anything, but let’s say a book), in the language it was birthed in is an immense privilege, not the scarlet letter of intellectual inadequacy. Why this dawned on me just the other day and not before is something that I cannot quite explain. As I keep looking inside of me for answers, a melange of repressed whispers chant at the back of my mind. I do know that my reticence is down to a profound issue of identity at odds with itself. In simple terms I could tell you that it’s not the labelling itsef that I take exception to. It’s the labelling of myself done by others that preoccupies me because I, and only I, know that, in the grand scheme of all things Steph, the way I speak, and the reasons why I speak in this way, is not particularly telling of who I am.
When I find that it’s the first (and very often the only) thing that is significant to others about me (how so very depressing), a host of contrasting emotions tear through me. Often, I feel very nearly offended, even though I know well that chatting for a bit about my way of talking is a fantastic ice-breaker for anyone who wants to know anything at all about me. Except, I don’t want to share it.
I cannot imagine what being black or brown or yellow must be like. At least I look unremarkable enough around these parts not to arouse subconscious thoughts of categorised knowledge by those who do not know anything other than a standardised way to pigeonhole people as if they were dead moths.
I ought to explore the complexity of these feelings one day. After all, we make judgments about others every moment of every day. It’s when we realise that we too are being judged that we start shouting and protesting that hey, that’s not it, that’s not any way near it, rah rah rah!
I’m not ready to delve into this yet. I’d go as far as telling you that I do not feel thoughtful enough at present.