So, in case you were wondering… I have done it! I have completed my degree and now have a BA Honours degree in Humanities and English Literature from the University of London. The small-town girl in me that left school when she was 14 can hardly believe it. Since my last post I’ve somehow managed to complete a collection of self-penned poetry, a 3000-word essay on the poetics of Seamus Heaney, a 2,500-word essay on the parallels of Freud in Ian McEwan’s short stories First Love, Last Rites, and, the big one, my 8000-word dissertation on the importance of freedom of speech to the literary imagination and Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.
I have also, on the eve of my 17-year anniversary of living in London, moved out of town for a summertime country retreat with my surrogate English families to contemplate my existence and my next move. I have now lived in the UK for longer than half of my life. Does that make me a Brit? My American accent leads me to suspect perhaps not.
These recent events have gotten me thinking about accomplishment and what that means to me. I suppose up until now my list of accomplishments was somewhat tenuous and for at least some part could not necessarily be considered a direct result of my own efforts. I’ve dredged up some delightful photographic evidence of some of these but despite searching high and low have not managed to find one particular gem of one of my proudest moments. This photo of these little pendants will have to suffice to convince you of the authenticity of the following story.
I suppose I will have to just tell you the story and hope that your imagination can replicate the pom-pom shaped space in the photo diary. I was 11 years old and a cheerleader for the Lions. As the basketball season was coming to a close, gradually, all of the other cheerleaders stopped coming to cheer at the games. I was left with only one choice- quit as well or cheer the rest of the season alone. Anyone who knows me at all knows without being told that I cheered those last few games. Standing on my own in front of the bleachers in my little white and canary yellow uniform, leading all the fans in a big GO – FIGHT – WIN!!! It was terrifying but fun. Then along comes the day of the big cheerleading competition between all of the squads from the surrounding counties. Everyone there was super excited for the big day. Wouldn’t you know it, the girls from my squad appeared from out of nowhere and wanted to compete. “NUH-UH”, I thought, “I’ve been practicing my routine for weeks.” Which is probably what I said to the Parks and Recreation Director. It was decided that we could all cheer. They would be Lions 2 and I would cheer alone as Lions 1. Well, they clearly hadn’t prepared and they would have been funny if they weren’t so bad. But the other teams were mega. Not sure if you have ever seen a pro cheerleading competition or even a movie such as Bring It On, but these bitches mean business. Stunts, pyramids, jumps, splits, throwing the tiny girls high into the air, they were doing it all. And then there was little ‘ol me, all on my own in the middle of a big American football stadium, cheering my heart out. I shouted and cartwheeled, I leaped and sang, I smiled and clapped and cheered with every ounce of spirit that I had. Guess who walked away with the big trophy? I did. I won 1st place all on my own and I assure you it was not out of pity. I also won the award for ‘Most Enthusiastic’. I kid you not. I so wish I could find the photo, it may turn up someday. My mom thinks she has a photo of it but it was not the one I have. Mine is signed by some of my cheer friends and the judges- someone signed, ‘Good luck with cheerleading, Amanda’. Good luck with cheerleading, indeed. I could have never guessed then where my life would lead me.
Ah, this just in, my mom has managed to find her copies of the photos, so before the countdown, here they are…
Following is a top ten of some of my favourite accomplishments and things I have done over the years. From the most recent or thereabouts.
10. Going back to school at the age of 30 and getting a degree.
This was undoubtedly the most challenging experience and therefore the most rewarding accomplishment and that of which I am the most proud. I am still waiting on the final marks; I am definitely set to receive at least a 2.1, but I am holding out hope for a 1st. Although l I have been writing for as long as I can remember, have been busy all my life collecting experiences, and, although I do not consider it essential to go to university in order to be a writer, the knowledge and skills I have gained will do me a world of good.
I have been named godmother of two beautiful girls- Pearl Grace (now ten) and Lana Rose (almost two). I realise that this is not exactly an accomplishment in and of itself, but I do think it is an incredible honour to have bestowed upon you and therefore hope it can be considered a testament to an accomplishment of character.
8. Music Making.
I may not have (yet) ‘made it’ in the music business, aka gotten rich and famous, which by modern standards seems to be the yardstick by which most accomplishment is measured, but to my mind, ‘making it’ means being able to make it. As in, having the facilities and capabilities to be able to make or create what you conceive in your minds eye. For just a short time longer you may be able to download any of the six albums I have made. If ‘making it’ means making it then I have made it. Big news coming soon on the music front.
7. Midnight Steakout-ing.
From its very humble beginnings when it was just me cooking steaks for 14 friends and friends of friends on my roof garden, to the monster of a sit-down dinner for 150 people at a themed food rave that it has become, the accidental mis-steak of a work-in-progress accomplishment that is Midnight Steakout has long had me scratching my head in bewilderment. Have never been sure where it is going but love of food, feeding people, travel and entertaining leads me on. A restaurant perhaps? www.midnightsteakout.com
6. Completing the Tonbridge Wells Triathlon with my dear friend Lauren.
Now, this triathlon was 400m swimming, 20k cycling and 5k running. When my friend Michael suggested that I try it my response was, “Do I really take you for someone who could do a triathlon?” He said yes. I woke up the next day thinking, “If not now then when?”, and then I roped Lauren in, too. We raised nearly £2000 for the women of Darfur. When Lauren and I arrived on site at the latest start time of 11am in Tonbridge Wells, after a measly month’s training, wearing our bikinis and changing between events, I’m surprised we weren’t laughed out of town. When they had to wait for us to cross the finish line before they could jump in their cars and drive away the moment they’d handed us our medals, our eyes full of tears, I would be willing to bet they wished they had.
5. Holding my sister Hayley’s hand during the birth of her first child.
Sitting overnight in the hospital with my only sister Hayley as she gave birth to her first son Cain had to be one of the trippiest experiences of my life. It was not the first time I had witnessed the miracle of childbirth, that was when my mother gave birth to my brother Adam when I was about ten. But anyone who has experienced this live and in close up will tell you that you are forever changed by the profound nature of mother nature showing you both her feeling for science-fiction and wonder for the miracle of life. I wish I could share the whole story, but some things in life simply must remain a mystery.
4. Leaving home at the age of 14 to follow my dreams.
And also being the tallest of my cousins and siblings at that age. Actually, when the guy who ‘discovered’ me in a pizza parlour in the strip-mall when I was 14, that was his question to me, ‘How tall are you?’. I didn’t know then what I know now- that I was 5’9″ and three quarter inches tall, the very same height as I stand today. And so I left behind my family, my school and my small town and I started traveling the world (on trains, planes, automobiles, boats, skates and motorcycles) and working as a high-fashion model, never to return.
3. Being a Beauty Pageant Queen and Cheerleading Captain (See story above).
The first pageant I did when I was twelve years old (never of my parents prompting by the way), I went downtown to the business district door-to-door collecting sponsors. When I went to step off the stage after doing my turn, my heel caught on the edge of the stage and I fell face first flat onto the floor with a thud. I got up and smiled to the judges and walked off. I cried a little on my mom’s shoulder but then still came in fifth place. This is the photo in the blue dress above. The following year I came back and won 1st place in almost every category. I won a huge crown, $500 dollars, an eight-foot trophy and an enormous trampoline. This is the photo in the peach dress with my Grandmama. Somewhere there exists a tape recording that I made that they played when I took my final walk and relinquished my title the following year. By that time I had left home and had lived in Europe; big news for a small-town girl.
2. Loving and being loved: being a friend, lover and family member.
I have had the immense honour of being a daughter, grand-daughter, great-granddaughter, godmother, niece, sister, cousin, auntie, girlfriend, lover and friend to so many amazing individuals. These accomplishments are always a work in progress and would have to come second only to being alive. Thank you for your love and teaching me how to show mine. One day I hope to have my own family so I can pay forward all the love that I am constantly being shown.
1. Being Born; health and the wealth of the experience of living.
I was born almost a month late and weighing in at a whopping 10.5 lbs. My dad has always said I looked him right in the eye from the moment I was born. I may risk the wrath of my mother for posting these photos. So here goes nothing. The suggestion that being born and being alive are accomplishments no doubt seems most tenuous. Some people say you choose your parents and in that case then this was my greatest one yet. I also think it is important to remember that being healthy and alive is an accomplishment in itself when you think we could have been born amoebas or mosquitoes, or not at all.
This will be my last ever post on this blog. I only ever planned to do this to keep my hand in non-academic writing while I was studying for my BA, I’m now finished and it has all become far too confessional and personally revealing somehow anyway. I hope you have enjoyed it but the show’s over now, folks. Am planning now for the next chapter in my life and potential future accomplishments. There are potent seeds of creativity germinating in my psychic space and I am enthusiastically excited to see what will grow out of this. Watch this space.
Thank you so much for reading. If you would like to be informed when the new website is due to launch or if you have any constructive feedback or just want to say whatcha, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or complete the following form.
In the meantime, here is a poem I wrote… Sending you all my love, AGJ xoxoxoxoxo
The Rite of Spring
There is a tree
in my garden, has been in flower for seasons,
and had time to establish its roots.
Its blossoms and foliage
display annual teasings,
but as yet remains to show fruit.
Herald, the springtime has come!
And with it has also arrived,
a seed of what could become.
The tender spring bud is alive.
Fecundity unproven though fertility certain,
it lives with a purpose, growing towards something;
light at least, if it never bears fruit.
Burn, burn, burn:
like the fires of forever, the rite of the seasons,
time preserves a possible truth.
Once this flower has dropped,
the fruit could arrive,
then fully ripen;
prime to be plucked
as roots deepen.
may still yet thrive.