By Deborah Hodge
Thank you to Ragged Cult magazine for asking me how I went from teaching to…well it’s hard to give what I do a title. Is it true that those who ‘can’t’ teach? I would say to any teachers out there that it is like any profession; there are good and bad people, talented and untalented people.
During my career I saw pen pushers, through to teachers that could command attention just by entering a room. I was a teacher for twelve years. My degree is in Visual Abstract Art and English Literature, yet I did not train to be a teacher until I was 29. I think a lot had to do with my immaturity and hedonism. I was sucked into the strange world of always planning ahead, unrealistic expectations and demands and I was good. I am proud to say that my students did exceptionally well. However, my own children though remember the time when “mummy was never at home” and still talk of it. The higher up the ladder I got, the less I had time in the classroom and actually with my own children.
However, occasionally an enormous life event slaps you so hard in the face that it changes everything. Two consecutive disastrous relationships featuring all kinds of bat shit craziness, abuse, control, heartache and finally being left with a fourth child who was six months old led me to change my life. My personal life was so bad and the children were so shell shocked that my old way of life had to change. We moved back from the countryside where we had been living for almost three years and came back to the hustle and bustle of Bexleyheath.
Interestingly, my own artistic journey began again when my last relationship broke down. It had been at best sporadic since my degree; I now had time. Well, not time in the conventional sense because I was in fact a single mum to a baby, a 7, 11 and 17 year old. Furthermore, the baby was losing weight at an alarming rate and this resulted in her nearly passing away that first Christmas we were back; but what I did find was that I had space in my head to think and not have to pander to a partner’s demands. I always seemed to unearth that certain jealousy gene because I am so hard to control.
What has followed since I got back has been the most incredible, intense, wonderful and at the same time terrifying two and a half years of my life. One of the first conversations my children had with me was that they did not ever want to leave “Norman” our house. This may seem like a small request, but having just walked away from my job to relocate back and with four children needing me, it was huge.
I had to think long and hard about how we were going to get ourselves out of this situation. The instability of social housing and private rental meant that we continued to live precariously, always under the threat of our house being sold. So, how do you raise half a million pounds in capital? This is the figure we would need to buy and renovate him. I guess this has been my creative driver coupled with the overwhelming feeling that we have nothing to lose. This is a feeling I had never experienced before and it took a long time for this to even sink in.Over the last two years I have invented an alter ego, bared my breasts in public and on the internet, become a writer, artist and much more. I was incredibly fucked up when we came back; I couldn’t jump straight into another relationship and this time alone has been useful so I could re centre myself. When you have been kicked, raped and beaten, it isn’t something you bounce back from. I decided to start writing and this has become my counsellor.
My first novel “Putting Back Together The Pieces You Broke: The story behind a revolution” was my way of getting over things. I am happy, mild mannered and content within my soul, but when I read what I have written about events before moving back, I come across as one angry woman. We don’t all have the luxury of an hour alone with a professional a week, so instead, words came to be my catharsis. Interestingly, the lack of sales from self publishing this book has led to a series of unusual events and I now find myself having appeared on television quite a few times. I call it my “career in shit television” which may or may not lead to something bigger but I have found that enjoying the journey instead of simply focussing on the destination means I have got away with quite a lot of comedic activity. Creatively I think that once you have gone through a lot emotionally and you have no reputation to ruin it frees you up to explore things in a new way. My own journey into artwork has shadowed my writing and my first exhibition was to support the launch of my autobiography. My next book “Maelstrom” with Whyte Tracks Publishers is out this Christmas and contains a collection of my art and poetry; my third book “#Jigsaws” is out in 2017.
Finally, one of the most important lessons from the last few years is not to listen to other people’s negativity. You will never please everyone all the time and the more you raise your head above the parapet, the more people will attempt to shoot you down in flames. It’s an emotional rollercoaster and the hardest part is keeping my nerve; especially when criticism can be deafening.
One of my favourite quotes is: “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.” ― Jim Carrey
I always thought I loved teaching but I found that being in front of a camera, wearing pegs in my hair, following my art and writing dream and even discovering I wasn’t bad at stand-up comedy is a whole lot more fun. In a million years I would never have woken up one day and decided to quit my job as a teacher, but without the bad times we went through, my children and I would not be as confident as we are now.