“What I’ve been doing instead of blogging” – doesn’t every blogger write one of these eventually? It seems inevitable – life often becomes more urgent than writing and sharing our work, unless one’s blog is one’s life. Long before blogs existed, one of my classmates in my creative writing master’s program responded to a professor’s question with another question: to live life, or to write about it, and how to find the time for both?
I recently read one of these posts written by a wonderful acquaintance I met through volunteering last year for a nonprofit in our small city. She’s been doing more with this organization and home-schooling her young daughter, so I feel as if my accomplishments pale next to hers. Nonetheless, here’s my list of what I’ve been doing this year instead of writing, in more or less chronological order:
- Becoming more fluent in Spanish. This is a 40-year dream of mine. For the first time in my life, I’ve studied a language outside a high school or college classroom and stuck with it long enough to feel fairly comfortable speaking and to achieve some fluidity in my writing. The amount of time it takes to learn a second language (when one isn’t using it at one’s day job) still surprises me every day, week, and month. Acquaintances say frequently, “The best way to learn is to go live in a Spanish-speaking country for three months.” Nice idea, but impractical for those of us who aren’t independently wealthy or aren’t teachers with summers off.
- Studying Argentina. (See previous four posts, written in May and June.) I’ve become so interested in the country’s history and culture that I’ve continued reading books and watching films on DVD and as many TV programs on the web as I can (I haven’t found many, unfortunately; if anyone knows of any, please let me know, so I can stop boring my friends with 20-year-old plots from ¡Grande, Pa!).
- Teaching about recent Argentine history and culture. This hasn’t been a lifelong dream, but a near-total surprise. Yes, I have taught college students, “traditional” age and older adults, for a total of three academic years. Yes, I had a vague interest in Argentina for close to two decades and probably knew a bit more about the country than the average US citizen. But I began 2011 knowing only that I wanted to improve my Spanish and take my fourth trip somewhere within the enormous, diverse region known as Latin America. As I struggled with the language back in February, had anyone told me I’d fall in love with Spanish again, become more fluent than I’d ever been, and stumble upon the chance to take my dream trip to Buenos Aires, I would have laughed. Had anyone told me that in October I’d give a 2-hour slide presentation about this trip in a college intermediate Spanish class – without flubbing my verb conjugations – I would have asked them what drugs they were taking.
- Dealing with trauma in my past. The word “trauma” is tricky; it means one thing to psychotherapists and another to laypeople, and has an overly dramatic ring for the latter. Those of us who aren’t health professionals may conjure a mental picture of a horrendous auto accident or a child being beaten. I certainly had no idea that delivering presentations in language classes would resurrect emotions left over from being bullied in school 35, 40 years ago. But now that it has, I can deal with the memories, receive treatment, and feel less hamstrung by the invisible. It is, of course, no surprise that someone who was emotionally abused and physically bullied in childhood would be drawn to study a country with its own centuries-old and recent history of trauma, including military coups and brutal dictatorships, and an economic crisis 10 years ago that threw many people into poverty. We work on our own recovery through relationships, whether with people or with nations and cultures. But it took me a while to realize that what I’ve been finding so compelling in my studies are the methods of collective healing in which Argentines are engaged.
Whew; no wonder I haven’t been writing as much as I used to. Now that I’ve made the list, I see not-writing as a healthy behavior. From the age of 11, writing was my refuge – I wrote to create an alternate universe for myself, and to comment on my place in the real world, which was not a haven for me. Writing was a method of control for a child with ill-equipped caretakers, and for decades I felt safe only when my nose was buried in a notebook or a computer screen. My journey this year has given me different forms of voice, so that I can now choose, rather than feel compelled, to write.