I was trying a little exercise in gratitude with these posts, in an attempt to pull 2016 out of the crapper. Then I came down with a head cold. Welcome to crabby gratitude. Part 1 is here.
The Teacher Becomes a Student
Last month, I started tutoring high school English learners. I’ve not done it before and I’m still figuring out how to be useful. But it lit a spark. Over the years, I’ve studied French, Spanish, German and served as a Russian linguist in the Army. I was stationed in Germany for a couple of years. I learned a little Tagalog from an elderly man who worked in the hotel laundry with me while in college. I picked up some Arabic from an Egyptian friend with whom I used to ride the bus downtown to work. My husband has attempted over the years, to teach me the Swedish his father taught him.
I have bookshelves filled with dictionaries, etymology textbooks and word histories. In short, I love language – any language. My latest challenge is learning some Somali. The Twin Cities has the highest Somali population in North America, so I have opportunities to practice. Proficiency is rarely my goal, but I love the reaction when someone hears their language – even the most botched effort can make them smile.
I get on my high horse about foreign languages, because interest in learning them speaks less of aptitude or proficiency and more to curiosity. In a time when nationalism is rearing its ugly head, curiosity is the antidote. Curiosity about others, their cultures and their languages, leads to empathy and connection – and to an environment where isolationism and bigotry cannot flourish.
Devotion, Passion’s Quieter Friend
This year, I’ve attended more live music performances than I have in the last decade, thanks to my daughter. She’s playing in four orchestras, including one that plays rock music by ear. She’s begun to write her own music, laying down piano, glockenspiel, ukulele, viola and violin tracks, using our living room as a makeshift studio.
You hear about people having a passion for something from when they’re very young. I never knew what that looked like or thought about how I’d parent should one show up in my living room. I was never like that, bouncing from hobby to the next great idea with reckless abandon. Which is why I am almost 50 with no career, but an abundance of interests.
It seems weird to have a child who never has to be told to practice, but does have to be told to put her mute on at 7am. Her blissful faraway look, cheek pressed against instrument, bow drifting back and forth – it does something to my heart to watch her.
It has made me think as well. Is it true that I have no passions, no driving need to excel at any one thing, no commitment? When I look back, I’ve always done four things in my life: read books, played music, wrote incessantly, and tried to learn foreign languages.
Reading is a series of endless gateways through which one can walk. One thing always leads to the next. There is no end to the knowledge or the hidden gardens one can stumble upon. Reading was also a lifeline for me. Introverted, growing up in a dysfunctional home, it was my escape and a promise that there was a better life out there. I’ve never regarded it as a passion, but as a necessity.
I’ve always written, but have never been a writer by profession. From silly poems and plays in grade school, to writing for and editing my school paper. I went on to jobs where I found places to write mundane departmental newsletters, manuals and websites. It doesn’t feel like a passion. It feels like second nature. Perhaps I simply take it for granted.
For 40+ years, I’ve played the flute. I taught lessons to help with college expenses and get my instrument out whenever nostalgia hits me. I am good at reading music and have the discipline of practice, but I do not love playing as much as I love listening. It is simply the history of self I carry along.
Passion is often described as a devotion. I like that quieter definition, because it makes it easier to name what one is passionate about. As I look at my history, what emerges is a devotion to learning and to expression. It’s something to think about going into the new year – what are you devoted to and what are you doing to honor those devotions?
Last, but Not Least, Favorite Things
It turns out that my favorite things of the last year were not things at all, but people.
I’ve spent most of the year somewhat depressed – functional, but muted. Part of it was the psychological impact of the negative political discourse. The other part was that I was feeling pretty damned useless as a human being. I dropped out of sight. I took a lot of long walks by myself. I cussed a lot more. I kept grasping around me for something to take hold of and to believe in.
On a positive note, I was not recruited by a cult.
My family allows me the space to be – a small miracle, considering how much time I need to be alone. And when we’re together, we enjoy being there. My friends are much like the tides, drifting closer and farther away, depending where we are each at in our lives. We’ve gotten good at letting each other off the hook. Guilt-free friendships are a gift. Thank you AB, EB, JL, KS, MS, and SW. Thanks for being there (and not there) for me.
Lastly, to the bloggers, readers and commenters here at The Green Study, thank you. I’ve enjoyed the many conversations over the last year and look forward to the year ahead. I’ve met some of my favorite people in blogland and look forward to continuing and new friendships.