Tag Archives: coming of age

The year I turned 15 was a pretty big year for me. It was the year that little round breasts finally sprouted from my underweight pubescent body, and boys gradually began to notice me, namely my first boyfriend, mentioned previously, who caught my eye in my Standard Grade Biology class and convinced me once and for all that I probably wasn’t a lesbian. It was the year I started wearing eyeliner, velvet tops with elaborate sleeves and baggy jeans (from Tammy Girl, because I was too little to fit in the adult sized ones my friends bought from Flip in the city centre). It was the year I tried (and got tipsy on) my first Bacardi Breezer at a family party and felt oh so grown-up. It was also the year I really learned to love English, and it is this learning experience that I have chosen to write about today.

Mrs S was built like a rake, with cropped dark hair, high cheekbones, a pale Scottish complexion, and long manicured nails with slightly yellowed ends that tapped against your paper when she was explaining a point to you. She wore black tailored suits with simple chic white blouses and constantly effused the comforting scent of strong black coffee and cigarettes, radiating a kind of natural Parisian glamour that, as a short, curvaceous pixie girl with a slightly too long nose, I can only ever dream of imitating. Mrs S was my first real idol who wasn’t a pop star or a girl in my class. She was the first ordinary working woman that I ever looked at and thought, ‘I would like to be like her someday.’

Previously to being taught by Mrs S, I struggled to reach my full potential in English class. Although I loved to read and write, I my grades were just above average before I was first placed in that classroom at the age of 15. As I sat in class that year, listening to Mrs S speak with so much passion, enthusiasm or cynicism about classic texts I had previously thought not nearly as interesting as my enormous collection of ‘Babysitters Club’ books, something changed within me, and I fell in love with the written word; with Charlotte Brontë’s winding and confessional narrative in  ‘Jane Eyre’; the exquisitely poetic descriptions of the American Deep South in Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’; and the gruesome villainous sisters of Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’.

As I have previously mentioned, I did not enjoy High School, and while a double period of English on a Monday morning might sound like hell for some, it was the highlight of my week. The classes were both fascinating and challenging, not just to my mind but to my moral code and sense of self. When we read Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ in my 5th year of High School, I was chosen to read the part of Elizabeth Proctor. A transformation came over me when I became Elizabeth Proctor for forty minutes a day, as my teacher somehow made the Salem witch trials relevant and relatable to a moody teenage goth girl with bad spots and Bugs Bunny teeth. I never found myself gripped by Religious Education or Social Education – instead I found my morals in literature. After we’d finished reading ‘The Crucible’, Mrs S gave us a moral analogy, asking us to raise our hands if we would speak out against racist jokes, and when myself and a few others raised our hands, she told us that we were the John Proctors of the world. Mrs S didn’t just ‘teach’ us literature. She taught us who we were. At the age of 28, I’d still raise my hand and say that I am a John Proctor – a warrior for justice – and it was Mrs S who first discovered that trait within me.

Mrs S ignited a spark within me that previous teachers had missed, and within that first year in her class, I was achieving some of the top marks in the year for English. I went on to achieve the highest grades possible for both my Standard Grade (straight ‘1s’, for those who understand the Scottish education system) and Higher English (an A Band 1, which Mrs S revealed to me in a flurry of excitement, so proud of the work we had done together), followed by an Advanced Higher English, a 2.1 in English Literature and an MLitt Victorian Literature with Merit from the University of Glasgow as recently as last year. All of this happened because a teacher managed to find some time away from disciplining the uninterested kids and engaged with a shy teenage girl who loved reading and wanted to be a writer. 

About a year ago, my sister (who was taught by Mrs S not long after me) passed on the news that Mrs S had terminal cancer. Despite not having seen my old English teacher in almost ten years, the news hit me hard. To this day I find it terribly unfair that someone who shaped and inspired the minds of others like my young self, should be losing a battle against her own body. For months I agonised over a choice of whether or not to send her a letter, telling her everything I’ve just told you, and thanking her, from the bottom of my heart for helping me to become the successful, ambitious, strong-willed, articulate and often fearless young woman I am today.

Probably rather predictably, the letter never got written, because as we all know, inaction is always so much easier than taking a challenging course of action, and the opportunity for sending it has now passed. Interestingly and unsurprisingly, a Google search for my old teacher showed that in 2011, Mrs S was rated at 100% on Rate My Teacher. I identify as a Buddhist, and, for those who are not familiar with Buddhist philosophy, it centres around the scientific theory that energy which has been created can never be destroyed. This thought brings me comfort at times of loss, as I can see it to be the case wherever I look. Mrs S doesn’t just live on in my memory; she lives on in the memory and spirit of all those whose minds she taught and inspired. She lives on as the part of me that remains angered by the mispronunciation of ‘hyperbole’ on television; as the part of me that will always secretly consider ‘Jane Eyre’ my favourite novel, despite having first read it at the age of 15 and possessing my third disintegrating copy of it; as the part of me that still occasionally finds comfort in the scent of cigarettes and strong black coffee, despite having quit smoking three years ago; and perhaps most importantly, she lives on reminding me to fight for what is right, like Miller’s John Proctor.

Our lives are very hurried, and it’s easy to get swept up in the rush and miss them. It’s easy to spend years pottering along without ever knowing if what you are doing is right or true as the universe intended it. It’s easy to forget the people who made us who we are. Mrs S, I know you’ll never read this, and I’ll never be able to tell you how much you inspired and shaped me as a person, but I do hope that your loved ones did a better job of articulating your brilliance than me, and that they were even half as grateful for it as I am today. I hope others chose action, where I fell back on inaction, so utterly self-involved with my own bullshit that I never told you how I felt.  Most of all, I hope your loved ones have found peace and can see you live on as I do, in all of the spirits you inspired and sparks you ignited. And who knows, maybe, just maybe, if I can ever convince myself I’d do half as good a job as you, I’ll go and teach, so that I can help your influence to live on in the minds of those you never even met.

I have just arrived back from a mini-break in Durham. While I was away, I left an unfinished draft of this post saved in my WordPress account. On my first night in Durham, we went to a Pan-Asian restaurant, which was polished off with fortune cookies. This was my fortune:

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Maybe this was a message from Mrs S, intended to remind me that I am a warrior. Thank you, Mrs S, for teaching me that it is honourable to stand up for what is right. I promise I’ll send that letter next time.

 

x L x

On the John Proctors of This World

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Introducing my writing blog!

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. I’m pretty sure my first word was ‘book’. Okay, that’s actually a lie – I haven’t the slightest clue what my first word was but for the sake of argument, let’s just say it was ‘book’. For most of my childhood and adolescence, I wrote (and read) religiously. I kept diaries from when I was in Primary School, which I filled with my innermost thoughts, usually revolving around my arch-enemy, Donna, making fun of me for wearing the wrong style of Sweater Shop jumper. This was the mid-90s, just to clarify, and a Sweater Shop jumper was the height of cool, so to wear the wrong style of Sweater Shop jumper was social suicide. You could pretty much guarantee that if there was such a thing as the ‘wrong’ style of Sweater Shop jumper, I would manage to wear it, because I was possibly the least cool girl in my Primary School class, and then in my High School class, and so I became ultra-introverted, and bottled up my feelings which I then sprawled into elaborate satin-covered notebooks from the Stationery Box on Main Street in suburban hell as soon as I was old enough to go out and spend my own pocket money on them.

After the Donna-hating years came the angsty teenage years, and I must have filled about five diaries with my angst, of which there was a lot. Years later, I read back over them expecting to be gripped by the prose but instead found myself cringing horribly at my over-dramatisation of every single little incident. When I was 15, a boy finally took an interest in me, and I fell head over heels for him. He was the only boy I’d ever found attractive, with exquisite feminine pointed cheekbones, striking blue eyes, a long dark ponytail and a Cradle of Filth t-shirt. Our four month long, exceedingly complex and grown-up (yes I’m being sarcastic) rollercoaster of a relationship is documented in my lilac lacy-fronted diary, from the moment my friend Emma embarrassed me by telling this beautiful boy I had a crush on him, to my dumping him for an older, ‘cooler’ guy one night after school, and feeling remarkably calm about the whole affair, before realising two months later that I had made a terrible mistake and desperately trying to get him back.

My diaries were always my solace; the one place where I could say anything and no one could ever make fun of me or tell me I was a bad person for thinking those thoughts. When I began studying at University (English Literature, naturally), my diary-keeping moved into the technologically progressive era of the early 2000s, and I created and maintained a LiveJournal, a website which would provide a sounding board to me for years to come, until users deserted the once crowded blogging site for the more relevant forms of social media we all use today. The best thing about LiveJournal was that nothing was off-limits. LJ provided a safe space for anyone to write freely about practically anything, and we did – I did. Every guy I dated throughout my late teens and early twenties (mostly rock star wannabes with God complexes) got at least a small mention in my LJ. Every time I had my heart broken, I would scream and cry as I typed up a full damage report. When my first serious boyfriend, who I lived with in a tiny bedsit on Queen Margaret Drive, and had screaming rows with at 3am, drunk on vodka and thrills, finally got up the nerve to end our disasterfest, I called my then best friend, went straight to his flat, and immediately typed up an LJ entry documenting the whole mess, right up until the heartbreaking moment when my ex coldly told me, ‘You don’t love me. You can’t love anyone. You love yourself too much.’

I’m getting a bit off-topic here, I think. Like with my previous hand-written diaries, I looked back at my LJ years later and found myself cringing at my own hideous naivety and lack of self-awareness. There’s only so many of your own ‘WHY DOESN’T HE LOVE MEEEEEEE?!’ entries you can read before you need to log the fuck out and move on. As hilariously angsty as LJ could be, there was a reason I kept going back to it for so long, and that was because it gave me an outlet for the voice I kept locked inside of me when I was playing the ditzy drunk girl at parties, because I thought that was who I had to be at that time to make people like me. LJ was an avenue to show I had real opinions and wasn’t as much of an idiot as I had painted myself out to be at social gatherings. LJ was also a community of people just like me, people who loved books, didn’t know how to make friends, and were a little lost and unhappy at University, or in jobs, or unemployment. I made some fantastic friends on LiveJournal who I am still in touch with now.

It was at around the age of 23 that I realised it was time for me to get my shit together. I’d dropped out of University and was living and working for my Dad’s company in Manchester. I had no sense of direction and was in an unhappy long-distance relationship, and I realised it was time for something to change. I moved back to Glasgow, returned to University to complete my degree, and worked my butt off for two more years until they finally gave me a degree, and I was super stoked when they did. I then went on to study for two further years because I realised that social anxiety and lack of direction was not an excuse to ignore my love of learning.

Somewhere in between starting to get my shit together, and graduating from my second degree in 2013, I stopped writing down my thoughts and experiences. Part of this was due to me actually working hard for a change, which resulted in me having less disposable time with which to angst, but also because I found that the tool that had provided me with comfort for so long was now bringing me down, as I was indulging all of my most depressing musings while writing.

2014 has just begun, and I am the most settled and stable I have ever been. This seems like a good time for me to begin writing again. I am not promising that everything that I write will be of good quality, or even that anyone will want to read it. I am not promising to update once a day, or once a week; I’m going to settle for once a month, and if I don’t manage that, I’m not going to beat myself up about it, because I’ve done enough of that over the course of my life.

Dear Diary,

My name is Lauren Catriona McMinn and I am 28 years old. I have an M.A. (Hons) in English Literature, an MLitt in Victorian Literature, and I work part-time for a social history museum whilst volunteering with an Arts charity. I am married to a wonderful man named Bob and we live in a small, cluttered and colourful flat in the west end of Glasgow. I’m a leftie Buddhist Athiest pescetarian feminist nerd with a passion for fashion, the arts, Disney, Harry Potter, vintage things, yoga and leggings. This is my writing blog. I plan to write things in it. Oh, and this is me:

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x L x

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