Jane Ellen


Lost Between Two Worlds

I've always been a bit of a mystery to friends, as well as myself. I have a hybrid accent from living in widely different locales on both sides of the Atlantic, along with the quirky distinction of choosing not to write in so-called Microsoft or American English unless submitting an article for a US-based publication.

I used to blame it on the events of my childhood; when I was 7 my mother not only provided Nancy Drew mysteries but a trio of selections by Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, and A Christmas Carol. A year later I was reading Shakespeare and attending a private school in Orléans, France where no English was spoken. By the time I returned to the US as a pre-teen I was irrevocably lost in the world of Victorian literature.

Brief forays into Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Mark Twain and F Scott Fitzgerald accompanied an insatiable passion for the works of H Rider Haggard, C S Lewis, Conan Doyle, and JRR Tolkien. Bouncing from one school system to the next in different states and cities, by the time I reached university I felt more a citizen of the world than any particular region or country.

It seemed natural that as a musician I began writing music columns for newspapers whilst in uni. I had no difficulty churning out the requisite spellings, but I found my personal communication increasingly relied on spellings used throughout the world in every place except the country in which I lived. I stopped apologising for it, and even accepted some good-natured teasing from the editor of a national music magazine (who subsequently became a dear friend) for whom I wrote for over a decade. She was continually amused to find my personal correspondence peppered with 'Britspeak' and my written columns perfectly 'American'.

After the death of my mother I was faced with clearing out years of accumulated memorabilia. One afternoon I found a box of school texts and notebooks from France and slowly began leafing through. I was surprised at how little I remembered from those years and couldn't stop until I'd leafed through every book.

Near the bottom of the pile I was surprised to find a homework paper in elementary English on which I had carefully translated the French words voisin and couleur as neighbor and color. My teacher had inserted the missing u into each of the English words and scrawled in angry red ink the equivalent of 'Shame on you, born speaking English!' I can only imagine how I reacted all those years ago; on seeing it again my cheeks were burning.

I must have taken those few angry words to heart. I always worked hard in school, and doubly hard when learning a new school system and a new language. It probably never occurred to my teacher that a little girl from California might not spell the same as if she'd been born in London. My nine-year-old brain must have instilled in me the sincere desire to forever spell the English language properly, and 'properly' apparently meant the Queen's English.

They say hindsight is 20/20; I'm not sure that's true, but looking back I can certainly see a piece of my adult personality begin to fit slowly, but surely, into place.

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