We returned to Houston from a family visit, having scheduled our flight so I could be back in time to go to French class. I’ve been studying since January, and my original goal was to be fluent enough to chat with marketplace vendors during an upcoming trip.
French, for me, is hard. First, I’m dusting off some unused brain cells, and I often lapse into Spanish, which I haven’t studied since my youth. Then, of course, there is the ongoing challenge of life’s interruptions, which sometimes limit my study time. I won’t even begin to discuss the many and varied excuses I can come up with for why I shouldn’t put in the effort. As a writer, I have a good imagination, and I can be very creative in convincing myself that I am incapable of learning the language. And yet, I keep going back to class.
So why do I go? I could be like many other Americans and use a phrasebook or point or talk loudly in English, thinking that the French would better understand me if I pump up the volume. I don’t need all this struggle–I’ve got enough to do! However, other reasons compel me to continue.
There are the students themselves, with whom I share a love of travel. Several of us are close in age, and we’ve not only helped each other with our studies, but we have bonded as friends. We have seen family photos and keep up with everyone’s personal current events.
Then there is Josee. My teacher is part mother, part clown, and part therapist, gently cajoling and coaxing us to expand our vocabulary. Like many women, I have moments where I am busy nurturing others and am not getting nurtured. Every Monday and Wednesday afternoon, I feel my cup being filled with Josee’s lovingkindness.
As I was heading out the door yesterday, she asked me, “How is the writing going?” Her husband writes, so she’s always interested. I filled her in, and then the conversation turned to French films. She talked about how important it is to her, when reading a book or watching a movie, to feel invited in to participate. “I don’t want someone telling me how to think and feel,” she said. “I want to make up my own mind.”
Bingo. That’s what’s wrong with my novel, and her words were like a message from God to me. I’m not beating myself up–sometimes we need to get a bit heavy-handed in our earlier drafts because we’re trying to understand our characters or the story we’re trying to convey. But it tells me where to go in the next revision. It’s time for me to become, well, a little more French. This incident also reminds me that writing solutions often come in unexpected and wonderful ways.