Thinking of Henry Miller

I’ve moved rooms, again. I’ve moved five times since I’ve been in Prague, and I’ve only been here four months. It’s really not all that unusual for me to move so often, but I’ll save all that moving talk for another post. This is about Henry.

I’m currently staying in a hostel. This hostel names their rooms after colors. My last room was “Beige”, and now I have moved into “Ruby”. I’ve also stayed in “Lavender” and “Purple”. Funny enough, my “Beige” room had lavender painted walls; not that that means anything, but I like to pull connections out of nothing. The night before I was to move, I had been lying in my bed in the “Beige” room, and sort of mentally writing. I do this a lot. I imagine that I am writing. Sometimes I am smart about it and actually write these moments of genius thought down, but not often- so my genius is often lost. I was thinking about the first time I had ever read Henry Miller. I’ve been reading Big Sur, by Jack Kerouac, and I was thinking about the part in the novel when he mentions a possible visit with Henry Miller. That’s all that is mentioned in the book, but I know what happened because I had read all of the other accounts from other writers. Maybe it was Carolyn Cassidy or maybe it was Henry or perhaps it was Kerouac himself that had told the story. The plan was for Kerouac to sneak quietly into San Francisco, and meet Ferlinghetti, and together they would drive to Big Sur to have dinner with Henry Miller, and then Kerouac could settle into the cabin, but it didn’t happen. Kerouac came roaring into San Francisco with his bourbon and drinking buddies, and never made it to dinner. Kerouac was already deep into his alcoholic depression, and going to Big Sur was his attempt to try to clear his mind and confront his demons, but he didn’t succeed. He ended up drunk, disoriented, and threatened by the dramatic coastal environment. Where Miller saw life Kerouac saw death.

The book is depressing, even without the part about ditching Miller. It’s depressing because Kerouac is loosing it, and I can recognize the serious depression, delusion, and alcoholism that he is experiencing. The depression is too familiar, and as mine is increasing in its strength, I feel like I don’t need Kerouac, I need someone else. I need Henry.

The first time I ever read Miller, I was staying in a hostel in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was the Princes street hostel, and it was 1998. I had been trying to find work but couldn’t get a job anywhere because of not having a work visa. I had paid for a full week’s accommodation, and bought food for a week, but once that week was up I had no money. I had managed to find work in a hotel, but I was fired after two days. I had never been fired in my life, but I didn’t make a very good maid. I wasn’t fast enough in my cleaning. So far it remains to be the only job I’ve ever lost. I was feeling dejected and nervous about what to do next. There was nothing for me to do, but to wander the city, and go to every museum because they were free. I would sit under the castle and want to cry because of the upcoming homelessness and winter, but it was too beautiful to cry. It was a desperate time, but there wasn’t much I could do except look for work, wander the streets, go to museums, and read.

I had been sitting on the top bunk aimlessly staring out the window when I had noticed Henry Miller’s, “Tropic of Capricorn” on my flatmate’s bed. I was curious to read him only because I had been told I wouldn’t like him. My boyfriend had said that to me when I was 20. He had been reading Anais Nin and Henry Miller. He had told me I wouldn’t like Miller that I would think he was too vulgar, but that I should read Anais Nin. He had felt she was more my style. I ended up reading Nin, but I didn’t care for her writing. Too flowery and perfumey: vagina’s like petals, and sex like every bed had silk sheets. It didn’t appeal. He was wrong about me liking her at that time, but I still trusted his judgement on what I would like and not like so I didn’t try to read Henry Miller.

But, that was five year’s before, and he was, in ’98, engaged to another woman, and I was alone traveling and poor in Scotland. His opinion no longer mattered. Henry was waiting for me. My flatmate gave me the book, and as I read I found myself laughing out loud at his vulgarity, and his boastings and rantings. I remember thinking, “how can a person write like this? How can a person be so free in their expressions. How can a person love life so much?” He spoke to me. I wanted to be as free as he demanded I be— that all people be. To not live among the dead that walk around in the “daily processes”, but to soar with the living. Don’t just get by. Do more than get by- live.

I think in many ways the dead can speak to us through their writings. They tell us to get up, to keep going, to have some passion, and to not give up. To wake up and see the world. The real world not the illusion of the world. I had thought about being a writer. I had written stories as a young girl, but I had felt insecure because really what did I have to say. Writing was for the “intellectuals”. I put all my energy into acting when I was young, but the moment that I read “Tropic of Capricorn”, and saw the way that Miller wrote, I knew at that moment that I wanted to be a writer. In a small way he changed my life. He crossed over the barrier of death and shook me, and gave me permission. I haven’t read a book by Miller in a couple of years, but he comes to my thoughts every now and then.

My move to Ruby was tedious. I only had to move down three floors, but I didn’t bother to pack so it took too long. It should have been a lot easier than it was but the close proximity of rooms made me lazy. I had managed it though, managed to make the chaotic move. The new room has several beds. I could have a huge slumber party I have so many beds. The beds have the graffiti of people who have traveled through Prague and stayed in the hostel. On one of the beds in huge black permanent ink is written, “READ HENRY MILLER NOW.” At one time someone passed through this place that was like me, someone who also was changed by the writer. Someone who also felt that Henry Miller was needed to be read. Now.

An unknown stranger writing on a bed in a ruby room. Look at us talking to each other, and we’ve never even met. See, connections out of nothing, and yet, it’s still a connection.

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My First Christmas without Mom

Christmas time has come to Prague. Not to be a grinch, but I’m a bit bah humbug about the whole affair. Christmas was a special time when I was a child. My mother would wake me early and start with a stocking, then it was time to open the presents. She loved Christmas. Occasionally, I would spend Christmas with my dad, and my grandparents. They switched off. I’m not sure how they came to the agreement of who-gets-the-kid-when, but I’m sure it broke my mom’s heart not to have me with her.

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The idea of “the family” was so important to her, so idyllic. She really wanted the white picket fence, the little house, the nuclear family, the perfect Ozzy and Harriet holidays. I imagine when she was a little girl living in the anger and depression that surrounded her and her big sister that she would watch those 50’s and 60’s television shows, and dream about how when she grew up she would have that kind of life. It didn’t work out. There was never a picket fence- not of any color. My mom’s desire for this television life only grew more desperate as she grew older. Her body aged, but she grew into more and more of a child.

When I left home at 18 Christmas kind of ended for me. I would occasionally visit mom, and sometimes my dad’s side of the family, but once grandma Ogin died I knew that the Ogin family Christmas’s were over. I remember one of my cousin’s saying that very same thing. It was grandma Ogin who held that family together. I don’t know why I grew so cold to Christmas. It just didn’t mean anything to me. I’m not religious, and “family,” well, it wasn’t like television. I like the lights, I think it’s pretty, but that’s about it. When I see images of Black Friday and other mania missions of purchasing, I think it’s a fairly gross holiday. Still, I understand that it matters to people, and it is a special time for them. It had mattered to my mother.

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This is my first round of holidays after my mom’s death, and all I feel is regret. Regret that I didn’t make more of an effort to go home and spend every Christmas with her- no matter how stressful it was at times- I still should have done it. But, that’s what death does it brings up all the should haves and could haves that the living has to deal with and settle alone. Christmas doesn’t change anything.

I’ve gone to all of the markets in Prague and I buy the hot wine, have a sweet treat, take pictures of the trees and the lights and I try to feel something. I don’t, I don’t feel anything; not joy or grief. But, I am in Prague, and when I can pull myself out of my misery to see beyond my grief I am aware that not everyone gets to be where I am right now. Death or no death I’m still experiencing life, and to some my life is glamorous because I am traveling, and death be damned.

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So, I’ll continue to force myself out into the lights amongst the smiling strangers, and the children, and the sweets smells, and warm steam rising from cocoas, hot wine, and late night coffees. I’ll climb towers and snap photos of picturesque images. But, honestly, I found more joy spending time in the Kampus museum looking at paintings and collages than I did wandering in the markets, and I think that is okay. It is okay to see it as just another day especially when each day should be held as spectacular and precious, and just because my mother is dead it doesn’t have to hold anymore power of grief over me than any other day of grieving.

And, look at that castle, my mother would have been so impressed.
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Now, if it snowed…maybe the Prague Christmas would seduce me. And, I always appreciate a proper seduction.

The Language House and TEFL Training

After leaving China, I decided to get certified. You don’t have to have your TEFL cert to teach in China; I’m evidence of that, but I thought it would broaden my opportunities. It is a good idea if you want to teach overseas. You can get your TEFL pretty much anywhere, but there are a few things you want to keep in mind when deciding where to go. One is that you want to make certain that the TEFL school is accredited. This is really important. Your certificate must be internationally recognized. You’ll also want a program that offers over 100 hours of TEFL training and teaching. You want real teaching hours with real students. You want your teachers to be trained and certified, and you want some help with job placement assistance. If you want to read more in-depth information on hunting for the right TEFL Program you can link here and here.

Now, let me tell you why I chose The Language House in Prague. I’ll start with the completely impractical reason first, and then follow the more researched reason.

I chose Prague because I love Prague. I lived here in 2000, and I had always wanted to return. As some of you who have followed this blog know, I wrote my first (and so far only) novel about living in Prague. The city had haunted my memories for the past 14 years. Since, my mom had died in February, and I was heartbroken and completely lost without having any feeling of home, I thought why not continue to move on to the next place? And, why not have that place be Prague a city that had been on my mind?

There are plenty of places in Prague where you can get your TEFL cert, but I chose the Language House. Their certificate is recognized, fully accredited and externally Monitored by IATQuO. They offer 130 hours of teacher training including the actual teaching of real life students. The main reason I chose them was because they have an extensive social network that allowed me to get in contact with previous students. This network offered me real feedback about the program, and I felt I could trust them once I was able to read reviews, and contact a few folks. I could see that people were actually teaching and that they felt the program was a good program, and one that they were willing to recommend.

Now that I have completed the program I can throw in my two cents. I think The Language House is an excellent program. I can’t say it is the best in Prague because I didn’t go to any of the other schools, but I had met students from other schools who felt their program had lacked the teaching time and the teacher support that we received at the Language House. The teachers are excellent, but using the word excellent is empty without adding a few examples. So here they are:

Anthony, gave us an introduction to Phonetics. He was well versed in the subject and was enthusiastic in his teaching of the classes. He was funny, helpful, and I heard from other students that he was a wonderful observer. (I’ll explain observer in a bit.)

Andrea, is pretty much everything a person would want in a teacher. Hilarious, intelligent, informative, had an incredible command of the class, and during our lesson planning she was there to give us helpful advice. She gave us grammar lessons-focused on conditionals, and CV versus resume information. She is also the jobs go-to person and she is always quick to respond to questions.

Chris Foxwell had the reputation of being the hard-ass out of the teachers. You know that teacher that really pushes you, and you think that he/she may be some kind of a sadists, (but remember you’re the masochist for signing up for the class) till you realize you learned so much from that teacher? That’s Chris. He’s a no excuses type of instructor, and you are going to learn from him. He went over grammar and methodology. You could tell he loved what he was teaching and wanted teachers coming out of The Language House to be the best.

Chris Westergaard, is the program director and owner of The Language House. He is a natural in front of the class. He is engaging and insightful. He offers an enormous breadth of information and TEFL teaching knowledge from ten years of experience. And, he has many funny tales of TEFL teaching life.

There are more people to mention at The Language House, but these were my core instructors. There was also Jitka our Czech language teacher, and Kirrily who taught Young Learners, both great teachers. I had mentioned in a paragraph above about observers. We began teaching real students in the second week of this four week program. We were observed every time, and at the end of classes we were given in-depth feedback on our teaching. You’ll have three different observers and teach three different levels during your course. Expect to feel tired.

Here’s more of what you’ll experience: You will learn your grammar. You will take a grammar test that you need to pass with at least an 80% in order to get your certificate. You will go to class everyday and teach everyday (except on Friday- no teaching). You will freak out about not having a lesson plan. You will freak out when you realize you don’t know your own language’s grammar, but your Czech students do. You will think that you were crazy for signing up for this program. You will get tired of your feedback, until one day someone say’s “that’s an almost a perfect grammar lesson,” then you’ll feel amazing. You’ll learn new teaching methodologies, but you will focus on the ESA method of teaching. You’ll meet really wonderful people. You’ll let loose like crazy on the weekends. Then it will be over.

During my first week of class, as Chris W. taught us about the ESA method (Engage, Study, Activate), right away my mind flashed back to my literature classes in China. It was obvious to me how much this type of training would have assisted me in my classes. I thought about how I could have done things differently and how much it would have improved my lessons.

No, you don’t need your TEFL to teach in China, but I think it can not only increase your pay and your opportunities, but it will help make your classroom experience better for you and your students. If you want to teach overseas I highly recommend you take a course, and if you decide to come to Prague for your training- I sincerely and emphatically recommend The Language House in Prague.