2016: A Few of My Favorite Things, Part 2

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 canstockphoto7037830and 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

canstockphoto7136037This 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.

canstockphoto10265804Reading 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.

canstockphoto25554786For 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.

Best wishes to you all in 2017!MichelleSig copy

36 thoughts on “2016: A Few of My Favorite Things, Part 2

  1. Interesting to note all you said about your family, mine too, are a gift as they allow me to indulge my passions and put up with frequent absences. I have enjoyed your honest blog posts and wish you a great 2017


  2. I love what you say about learning new languages–not trying to speak them perfectly, but picking up enough to communicate (to paraphrase wildly). It sounds very freeing. And I like even more the idea that learning about other groups is an antidote to nationalism. We need a whole lot of that right now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Whenever I start hearing nationalist temper tantrums about immigrants or comments about why they don’t learn English, I feel my blood boil. Only 7% of US college students are enrolled in foreign language courses. To me, this is as logical as only reading books by one gender or only by American writers. So many perspectives and ideas are missed! I suppose that is a rant for another time. We do need to counter nationalism with curiosity, though.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Much as the tantrums at people who don’t speak English piss me off, I never stopped to ask myself how many of them come from people who don’t speak anything other than English themselves. Thanks for that thought.


  3. My son is a classical percussionist, so I can relate to your comments about exposure to more culture than I would have been drawn to otherwise, parenting youth with a passion, never having to push the required practice, and practices and performances that my heart sing. It’s a wonderful thing to be the parent of a child who is gifted and self-driven, and I take no credit for it. Just lucky.


  4. I’m impressed and somewhat awed by your capacity for language, particularly as someone who struggles daily with French. Among my regrets is that I’ve turned my back on instruments I once played fairly well. I can still plunk a little at piano but haven’t played clarinet or violin in decades. But you have to trade off your passions it seems.


    1. You’d be less impressed to know the vocabulary I can recall in the moment. Usually something to do with cows and ordering another beer. I plunk at the piano as well and occasionally play backup to the kid.

      It all comes down to time, so you’re right about the trade-off. I like to think that writing brings it all together – a wide range of interests and curiosity, but at some point (perhaps now), I do need to bring a level of discipline to it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve so enjoyed reading you, Michelle! Thanks for brightening my 2016. I’m looking forward to more appreciation and laughter in the coming year, which I hope is wonderful for you — or at least partly wonderful, and the rest awful in intriguing ways.


  6. Learning and expression are two of my passions also. And I agree that Americans lack curiosity or interest in what goes on in the rest of the world. I have an Austrian friend who once observed that Americans in general aren’t interested in other cultures. Sad but true.

    Best wishes for the New Year Michelle. I hope you are refreshed and renewed in surprising ways next year.


    1. Thanks, Ilona. The hegemonic world some people seem to be imagining will be better for them, seems horrible to me. I’m sure that parochialism is not just an American thing, but sometimes we seem so belligerent about it that it’s embarrassing.

      Best wishes to you in the new year as well. May we continue to learn and express ourselves to our heart’s content!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I am really enjoying this “series” of yours Michelle, not that I don’t look forward to each and every one of your posts. You are a wonderful writer and I love your honesty. I love that music makes your daughter so happy and that it transports her. She sounds like a smart and interesting girl — and one who marches to her own drum which I think is fabulous. Good for you for letting her discover who she is. It’s interesting — I think this year of misery has made us all more introspective and we’re all trying to figure out how to survive in a world that seems hell bent on destroying itself. I am writing a lot — it’s a great outlet and when the words are flowing, I am in the happiest of all places. All the very best for 2017 Michelle. In view of all the turmoil, misery and uncertainty around us I now only wish for good health and peace.


    1. I’m glad you are enjoying this posts. I had intended to do 3 in total, but a head cold made this one an incoherent mess to work through. I am a proud parent, but I think the thing no one ever told me was how much I would learn from her.

      I think you pointed out one of the positive things about such a crappy year – many of us have been yanked out of complacency. And I do believe that sometimes it is necessary, in order for us to re-examine our values and where our priorities lie. I found myself paralyzed quite a bit this year, but have slowly been building up writing steam and coming out of the fog.

      Thanks for being such a generous commenter (for years!) and I look forward to sharing 2017 with you, Fransi!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. When I visit another country, I always try to learn a few new words… my way of expressing appreciation. My husband always teases me because I do such a poor job, but I am always delighted to see the look of appreciation on someone’s face. It’s another way to connect with others.


    1. I think it’s not just an issue of appreciation, but also of respect. There is a level of arrogance in expecting everyone to speak one’s own language. I have found, with few exceptions, that even when you bungle the language, the effort is appreciated. When I try Somali out (which I know I’m mangling), the kids’ faces light up and we are able to laugh together. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I so enjoyed this post Michelle. I’m not great at learning languages but we learn three words in the language of every country we visit – hello, thank you, and I’m sorry.
    I like your idea of devotion. I’m devoted to devotion. I’ve also been devoted all my life to some form of visual creativity – at the moment it’s photography.
    And I too am deeply grateful for a supportive and understanding family. Lucky us.
    Your daughter sounds amazing.
    May 2017 be all you could wish for. It’s gotta get better right?!


    1. Thanks, Alison. This is my first comment reply in the new year. Happy New Year! I’ve been holding myself back from making resolutions thus far (that is also my second nature). I think 2017 will be an interesting year. Of course, in Minnesotan, the word “interesting” takes on all sorts of connotations. Let’s hope it’s a better-than-expected kind of year!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for sharing, all the best for 2017! May it be everything you hoped for and more!

    I can relate to having many interests as well – at least we don’t get bored! Learning is my passion though, learning something new keeps you young! Peace and blessings! 🙂


  11. I really liked your two-part post, Michelle! I love languages too… and it would be fun to ‘tala svenska’ with your husband. Amharic was my by far most difficult language and unfortunately I have now forgotten much of it. It is wonderful that your daughter is into music. Best wishes for a great 2017 to you and yours, Michelle.


    1. Thanks, Helen. I’ve more likely forgotten more than I remember of most languages, but now that I get to use them again, I’ve been re-inspired.

      I love that our house is so often filled with music.

      Best wishes to you and your crew, as well! It’s going to be an interesting year.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. While I am certainly relieved to hear you escaped the clutches of any roving bands of cultists, I am sorry to hear that it was a difficult year, emotions-wise. Heavens knows, those of us who have responded so deeply to the political climate of 2016 have much to concern us, as we face down the prospect of 2017. But I think you have identified the best (the only?) real ballast against that tide, which is people. Glad to hear yours have been supporting you, and in ways that felt supportive!


    1. I don’t think politics ever impacted me emotionally as much as they did this year. And that’s not even addressing the actual impact of this idiot governing. I am trying very hard not to be paralyzed by hopelessness and am spinning it as an opportunity to change and be more engaged. What else can we do?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Same here. I am trying to be very aware of my own limits and needs (sending myself into an emotional tailspin being the most counterproductive approach I can imagine!), and then, nose-to-the-grindstone-style, do all that -I- can. In collaboration and community with others, because there been folks fighting the big fights far longer than me.


        1. That’s something I really do appreciate – all those people who have been doing this, regardless of the political climate. They have a lot to teach us. But you make a good point, too, because I’m like you, with the extremes. I’m slowly getting into things and trying to do more listening than talking.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Burnout seems a real risk to me. We are moving into a whole new realm of NOTHING HERE IS NORMAL and will need to maintain our resistance over a long haul.


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