30 November 2011

The Naming of Names

This season used to be noteworthy for its harvest of names.  

At the college where I worked as an English teacher, the most colourful haul of names habitually came from China and the international students who redubbed themselves with a western alias to use during their stay in England.  Certainly, it made life easier for those who could not get their tongues around the pronunciation of Xiaoqian or Guo Peng.  Some names evolved during the taxi ride from Heathrow Airport and were duly workaday.  Alan.  KevinSusan.  Stephanie.  Others had a tinge of the exotic.  Gemini and Ice arrived as a matched pair at the college one morning, either side of their beaming agent.

Edison landed from Beijing, his name a fait accompli.  But three weeks into term his friend, Yu, stated that he, too, now wanted a western name. 

He wished to be called Beethoven.

“Why have you chosen this name?” I asked.
“I like,” he answered.
“Do you like his music?”
“Beethoven.  His music.”
“I don’t understand”
“He was a composer.”

“He wrote music.  Do you know his music?”
“If your name is Beethoven, people might make fun of you.”
“Da-da-da-DA.  Da-da-da-DA,” I sang.  The beginning of the Fifth Symphony.  
He looked blank. 
“People may laugh,” I explained.  “Or do you want this name because you saw the movie with the dog called Beethoven?”
He shrugged his shoulders.  He had not seen this film.
“We have no problem with your Chinese name.  It’s very nice.  I’m happy to call you Yu.”
“My name not Yu-Yu, but Yu.”
“Yes, I know.  You are Yu.”
“No.  Not Yua-Yu.  Yu.”

Yet how understandable this urge for reinvention.  I have always fancied the idea of changing and transforming, of shedding a skin.  And oh to walk the unknown paths of a foreign country - with clean slate, nothing to barter, and a soubriquet that would translate as On a wing and a prayer

For SNW.  It is his day.

23 November 2011

A Woman in Goggles Mimics My Movements

The title of this blog spot is taken from a poem I wrote after a visit to the local swimming pool where, in the shallow end, I did a bit of front crawl, water treading and (extremely average) breast stroke. A woman in thick goggles and swimming cap stared.

“How do you do that?” she asked.

And I thought, how long have you got?  How long have I got?   I can’t just impart in five minutes something it’s taken me a lifetime to learn.

Yet I have come to realise two important things since I wrote that poem:

1.              I too am a woman in goggles – impatiently expecting others to use shortcuts to pour their knowledge into me, rather than facing up to the necessary commitment.

2.              Being asked to function as teacher is an honour not to be discarded lightly.

Mimicking the movement of others in the shallow end can be a useful starting point.  Getting to the deep end on your own is another matter.

This is the poem:

A Woman in Goggles Mimics My Movements

She’s at my heels, demanding that I do it again
only this time making it slower and more obvious,
as if my actions can be cornered and boxed
as a gift set that’s hers for the taking

without negotiation, without attorneys present
baying in Chicago accents about piracy,
blood money, copyright, patents,
royalties, trademarks, syndication deals.

And though the act of imitation may be small beer
in the drive to be someone else,
like battling into jeans tailored for other hips
or fantasising audiences by singing into a banana,

I would rather she did not plagiarise my steps,
gloss over the ten years to perfect a pirouette,
the sixteen to cartwheel out of danger,
the twenty-seven to handspring across the floodplains,

and I would rather that she, if hell-bent on copying,
were a smidgeon more frisky, a touch less bulb-eyed
than this frayed, itinerant soul – my doppelganger
come to repossess me, so long after nightfall.

© Katie Griffiths