The last of the first round of interviews is with Natalie, my dear friend who was a teaching assistant with me in grad school. Natalie now teaches English literature at a local high school and is a lifelong Anglophile who single-handedly got me interested in Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and who shares my obsession with WWI. She has an uncanny ability to find name-brand valuables at thrift shops and antique stores, and she occasionally sends me timely Buzzfeed articles, especially when they are about first dates gone terribly wrong.
1. What were you like as a teenager? I was really worried about doing the wrong thing all the time. I had fun with my friends, I was interested in dating, and I had some boyfriends. But mostly I was concerned about the future and what I was going to make of my life more than actually enjoying myself in high school. I don’t think I really had a great time in high school because I was more focused on the future.
2. What have you always wanted? I think I have always wanted love and freedom to do what I want. Those two things drive me. If I feel trapped in a job, or a situation, or a relationship, or anything like that, then I seek ways to try to get away from it. I just want to be able to live my life to experience new places and new things. I think that’s why I like to travel so much, and why I like to learn all the time. And I can’t imagine living without someone that I love. That’s a big part of my life too.
3. When were you most proud of yourself? I think two things: one is when I finished my master’s degree, because I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it; it was so horrible and took forever. I finally finished it, and I felt a sense of relief and also a sense of pride. The other thing is more personal: it’s being able to make it through difficult emotional situations and know that I can survive those things without dying. And then feeling stronger afterwards: like I know more about how to be a human being and what it means to be an adult. I feel proud of myself that I was able to do those things without being broken.
4. What advice would you give to your ten-years-younger self? I would tell myself to be more open-minded, and that it’s okay to not have everything figured out in life, because the older you get, the less you feel like you know in some respects, and that it’s okay to feel that way. That you don’t have to have everything taken care of in order to be a responsible person. I would probably tell myself to go and spend time developing who I am as an individual before attaching myself to another person. And I would probably say that I should study abroad or live somewhere else for a while.
5. What is your personal motto? If I boil it down, I would say that life is difficult sometimes, and you just have to do the best you can to live a fulfilling life and to be kind to people. That’s it. That’s the only thing, I think, that’s important. We need more people to be kind in the world. My general goal in life is just to learn as much as I can. That’s why I like to travel and why I like to teach, and why I read: because I like to learn about things like history and people. I’m interested in human relationships.
6. Who do you aspire to be like, and why? I aspire to be the type of person who explores opportunities, has a happy life, and tries new things. I admire people who do that with their lives. People who take risks, challenge themselves, and don’t get stuck doing the same thing their entire lives if they’re not happy doing it. I don’t want to be that type of person. The only person I can think of is Elizabeth Gilbert–I don’t even really like her that much as an individual, but I like her writing–there’s a new book she wrote about creativity. She talks about being creative and living a creative life and taking risks. That’s the type of person I aspire to be.
7. What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you? Whenever my students tell me that they can tell that I care about them, and that they like being in my class because they feel safe there to explore learning. That’s nice, because I really do work hard to foster that type of environment. And that’s something that I take pride in. And I usually have a couple of students every year that tell me that my class made a difference to them in their life. And I like that. I think that’s a reflection of me and what I do in the classroom.
8. What would you do if you knew you could not fail? I would quit my job immediately and start travel writing: travel around and write a book. Or I would like to write for a publication of some sort, where I’m going and eating food and seeing new places. My dream job would be to work for Rick Steves and help him write his guidebooks. He has people that do that! He has certain people he works with that are experts in certain parts of the world. They go around with him and write the different recommendations for the books that he has. That’s what I would want to do. Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about your finances? Because that is the main stumbling block when it comes to trying to live your dreams: the practicality of life. The eating, and having a place to live, and having stability. And if that wasn’t a concern, and I knew that I wouldn’t fail in that respect, I would do whatever the heck I want and it would be amazing.
9. What would you like to be remembered for? The people that I love, that really know me, I would like them to remember me for being wise about things, and for being loyal. And that I made a difference. It’s different with people that I love, my family and friends, and with my students. But I would like my students to remember me for being someone who’s interested in learning and who helps them to be interested in learning. But for family and friends I would like to be remembered for being loyal and loving.