Erasure III: The secret to learning languages and writing novels

I wanted to provide a quick update on what has become a series of reflections. It all started with this post about reflecting on the past and feeling free to make mistakes in the future. I also resolved to start studying Portuguese. Then there was a follow up about studying Portuguese on a trip to Montreal and being inspired to switch gears and study French, which I did as I made plans to travel to Brazil. Oops.

Anyone here speak French? No? Ok, cool…

So what has happened since then, and what mistakes am I making now? Spoiler alert: lots!

It’s been about five years since my last Erasure update, and a LOT has happened. In those five years I have:

  • Started at beginner level one and completed intermediate-level French classes
  • Received a travel grant to visit Brazil twice, and wrote a novel based on those experiences
  • Wrote another novel, and had some stories published
  • Returned to seriously studying Portuguese, and finally started to make some progress with my conversational skills
  • Passed the Canadian citizenship test (now just waiting for the call to take the oath of citizenship!)

That’s one bullet-point per year! And what have I learned from all this?

Mistakes were made! And there was a lot of lateral movement. But, if I had to do it over again, I don’t know that I would erase anything (No regrets!). Sure, it would have made more sense to study French before going to Montreal, then switch to studying Portuguese before going to Brazil, but that wasn’t where my path led me. I needed to visit those places to feel inspired.

Peut-être we can practice some Portuguese? Non? Desculpa, tchau!

I’ve learned that to make things happen in my life I need to be motivated, whether it’s writing or learning a language. Actually, I think motivation is the most important component of anything I’ve accomplished. I need to be realistic and kind to myself. If I don’t feel motivated, I need to take a break and look for ways to motivate myself rather than pushing through something I’m not motivated to do, because that leads to frustration and giving up. Maybe being indecisive can be a good thing? Or maybe not? I can’t decide. I’ve learned there’s no erasing the past, even the mistakes. So I’m only looking forward from now on, building on the decisions I’ve made—even the bad ones.

As I continue to study and write, I’m more motivated than ever before to work toward my goals and see them through. Even if I need to take a break or switch gears for a while, I know that writing and language are things I care deeply about and will always find the motivation to prioritize in my life, even if I need to step away now and then to find my motivation again.

If you have goals that you’re not reaching, ask yourself if you’re feeling motivated, and if not, what do you feel motivated to do? Maybe it’s time to shift gears, or take a step back and look for that inspiration again.

Both writing and language learning take a lot of dedication and persistence. So find your driving force, whether you call it motivation, inspiration, passion, or your muse. A dream isn’t enough. It’s a goal, an objective—what you need is the desire and energy to focus on moving forward a little each day, to be motivated to continue pushing through until those dreams come into focus.

Erasure II: Reshaping the Path

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Oops! There isn’t an eraser big enough for this ball of fur

I’ve heard from a lot of people in response to my Erasure post which I wrote over a year ago about turning 30, erasing stuff, and how we’re not getting any younger so I was going to carpe all the diems, make mistakes, and learn Portuguese. One of the best responses was from one of my oldest friends, Abe, who sent me a giant eraser and some comics I drew of our group of friends in high school. Good times. Actually, the comic was aptly named: The High School Times. Anyway, Abe recently started a brilliant blog, which you can read here. And you really should because he’s a brilliant, insightful writer and all around awesome person.

So, a lot of things have happened since I wrote that Erasure post. I’m now headed toward 32, and not really worried about being 30 anymore, and the Portuguese thing got complicated. It’s actually a pretty funny story.

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Then: Novo Avenida

Last fall I went to Montreal. Hilarious story, right. Wait, here comes the funny part. I have never had a desire to learn French. While my mother and both of my sisters studied French in school, I studied Spanish. When my friends traveled to Paris in college, I studied Japanese. When I finally went to Europe, I avoided the continent all together and stopped in Ireland.

So anyway, there I was in Montreal with my Portuguese textbook, ready to use my spare time on vacation to complete the last few exercises.

Then things got French. Fast. People in Montreal that I talked to were all bilingual, but I quickly felt myself falling for the charms of the language and the culture. I’ve always dreamed of spending time in a place that would challenge me to speak another language, yet I’ve been feeling a pull back east as I get older too, and feeling like there is limited time to travel to new place while still staying connecting to all the places I’ve been. Quebec is lovely and hilly and mountainous, there are huge deciduous trees and all those wonderful things I miss about the east coast. Being in that place sparked memories of my past and reminded me of the future I’m chasing.

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Now: Comme un Gant!

So when I got back to Winnipeg, I put Novo Avenida on the shelf and enrolled in a French class. Wait, I’m not a quitter. I have justifications:

1) I got to take French for free through a government funded French for Immigrants program. It feels like I’m learning a lot faster than I was learning Portuguese through studying on my own.

2) I live in Canada. French is by far the most useful second language for me to know. It’s useful at work (when visiting Montreal) or just whenevs I feel like Frenching. That’s what they call it, right?

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The High School Times

3) I am no longer erasing. I read a book about mindsets recently, and how we can grow from mistakes. It made me see opportunity where I used to see failure. Maybe you don’t always have to erase, but can constantly improve. Such as reshaping a letter written in ink, turning a mistake into something new, not worse. So anyway, the justification is: French and Portuguese are both romance languages. Learning one will help me learn the other, and I have the ability to take French classes for free, so why not start there and build Portuguese on top of the skills I pick up along the way? It might not be the most efficient way, but how can you ever complete an objective if you’re erasing and starting over? Especially if you happen to be really indecisive and always want to try something new…

I think there was maybe a 4), but I forget.

Oh, wait, I forgot the really funny part. As in ironic funny. There is a chance I’ll be going to Brazil in the coming months. And I just might bring a French book to study while I’m there. *upside-down-smiley-face-what-a-crazy-world emoticon*

 

Erasure

FullSizeRender[2]A couple months ago I turned 30. The big 3-0. All year I felt this impending milestone sinking on my shoulders and it made me question what I’d done with my first 30 years. Which led me to ask myself why I hadn’t achieved what I’d set out to do in my 20s, the major goals being to publish a novel and become fluent in a second language. As my 29th year burned to a close, I collected the last of the rejections on my novel and chalked it up as a loss. Which made me start feeling even worse about my other goal of learning a language. I wasted my 20s fueling a failed novel, and had nothing to show for it. All I had was a job I hated (that exacerbated the failure) and a lower than novice level understanding of Spanish, Japanese, Latin, and Portuguese.

Hitting 30 was one of the most depressing times of my life. I hadn’t done anything. And I blamed it all on the novel, on writing and how it had made me lose sight of my career and other ambitions.

It was dark times. Dark, scary times. I hit 30, totally unprepared with no seatbelt or parachute.

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The other side of my 30th birthday was just as dark and scary.

But shortly after, things started to get better. I revisited my second novel and let writing become an activity I enjoyed again instead of a means to an end (an end of failure slathered in sticky peanut butter and dusted in glitter). It’s got a long way to go, but Second Novel is going somewhere. And I’m going with it.

Almost exactly a month after my 30th birthday, I started a new job. This literally changed my life. My last job was emotionally draining and awful and the new one is busy and gets stressful, but it doesn’t make me feel completely awful, which is completely awesome. I have energy at the end of the day. I sleep well. I feel happy sometimes, actually most of the time — which is new.

FullSizeRenderThis newfound calm has led me to the decision to actually study Portuguese instead of just talking about it. I ordered a textbook online and was half excited and half disappointed yesterday when it arrived and I discovered the workbook was already filled in. Excited because it’s fun to see someone else’s mark on an object, and disappointed because how am I going to learn Portuguese if Sarah from Guelph already learned all the Portuguese out of this book?

Luckily, Sarah wrote her answers in pencil, so I went to grab an eraser, only to discover that I do not own a single eraser!!! When I thought about it, I realized I haven’t used a pencil at home or at work, probably since high school. On my desk at home I have a stein my sister brought me from Germany. It is full of blue pens, black pens, pens that FullSizeRenderlook like monsters, sharpies, and highlighters. Not a single pencil. My desk at work is covered in papers with pens sitting on top of them and rolling under them like snakes under leaves. My top drawer is full of a dozen backup pens. No pencils.

Throughout my school years I was something of a pencil fanatic (read into that what you will). I had an impressive collection of Yikes! designer pencils, mechanical pencils of all lead weights and materials, and many, many more pouring out of my backpack and Trapperkeeper.

I also had a collection of erasers. The boring pink trapezoids, a green one shaped like a brain (from Yikes!’ Fall 96 collection), erasers that looked like dinosaurs, and ones that sat atop my equally impressive pencils. I only used the pink utilitarian ones because I didn’t dare turn my favorites into rubber pulp. But I took comfort in the fact that I had an infinite variety of writing tools at my disposal — and also a limitless number of ways to correct any mistakes I happened to make.

In our youth we’re expected to write in pencil, to make mistakes, to have an eraser FullSizeRender[1]handy. But then as we get older there are no erasers. Time is always passing, and you come to learn that you can always make a second attempt but you can never have a complete re-do because what’s done is done and there’s no going back.

I know this now. But that didn’t stop me from buying an eraser today. I’m going to erase Sarah’s attempt to fill in the blanks, and I’m going to learn Portuguese!

Transformation

I made it all the way to #DareToExcel Challenge 2! I honestly didn’t know if I’d make it this far, but I’m enjoying the prompts as they’re helping me explore something that’s been weighing on me lately.

Challenge 2 is to answer several questions to create a project brief.

Project Title: (a tentative title is fine)

Transformation

Since writing up the question from Challenge 1, I’ve clung to the metaphors of Brahma and Shiva as a way to understand the black_hole_interstellarforces of creation and destruction. What really stands out to me is the idea of the cycle. Destruction is not necessarily negative, it is the spark of Transformation.

The Problem: State the problem you’re wanting to pursue in one sentence.

The problem is that creativity has taken my time, energy and money, and left me with less than I started with.

The Feeling: Articulate the feeling that you’re driven to give shape to through this project. 

The feeling is a bitterness toward creativity, like it owes me something for all I’ve sacrificed to it. The sacrifice of time and money — three years and thousands of dollars for an MFA which has resulted in a debt larger than my annual income (by the time I pay it off, it will be more than double my annual income.) This is just one example, but prioritizing creativity has left me feeling sour in a lot of ways. It’s not only money. It’s the time I’ve spent writing (time that I could have invested in friends and family, building my resume, or learning other skills.) I’ve been in a creative rut lately, where the very idea of creation makes me feel exhausted and defeated. I’m hoping the Dare To Excel challenge can help me figure out a positive way to balance my life.

Wonder & Curiosity: What are you curious about in relation to this project?

I’m curious to explore what I have gained from creativity, why I can’t give it up, and how I can learn to value it again. To realize how it has transformed me. As far as wonder goes, I guess I am in awe of the strength of the force of creativity, how I am compelled to answer to it no matter how many times I try to push it away. I have given writing up for good 3 times in the past year. Each time I began a new short story a few hours later.

Dare To Excel Challenge

I’ve been meaning to get in on the whole Quest thing for a while, and am finally giving it a go! Thanks for the nudge, Brenna. 🙂

I’ve been struggling a lot with creativity lately, and the spaces it allows me and forces me to carve out of my life, and I would like to better understand or appreciate the give and take of creativity. Why I struggle so much with it, and why I need it. So here is my question:

question

I’m already feeling a pull towards the iconic struggle of Brahma and Shiva, and an acceptance that the riddle of my question won’t have a clear answer, but a tangle of half-answers. Maybe it’s because something has to be destroyed for something new to be created. Whatever the case, I’m going to peer down the abyss.

More about #DareToExcel here: trackingwonder.com/DareToExcel

Experimenting

Is it true that originality is dead?

Or maybe we’ve just heard it so many times that we stop trying to find new and exciting things within ourselves. I’ve always been frustrated by the idea of originality being dead, not because it means that my ideas aren’t unique or creative, but because it gives us the excuse to conform. This concept makes artists, writers, and musicians censor their creativity, edit their instincts until they become conventional reproductions.

A few years ago I read an interview with Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne  that has been on my mind ever since. I’m sure I’m not getting this right, but he basically said that his philosophy of creation is: There’s a lot of great music out there already, so I’m going to push my creativity to its limits, always trying new things. If I succeed, I’ve created something new and unique. And if my experimental projects fail, the world hasn’t lost anything, because there is already so much great music out there.

Wayne Coyne is definitely original, there’s no questions about that. He started out as a manager at KFC and is now a rockstar who performs around the world with extravagant lightshows and costumes. But I think his brilliance comes from his ability to cast his ego aside and say: Look, I don’t want to be a musician if that means writing the same songs over and over again, no matter how famous it makes me. I’m willing to risk my reputation and my future for the opportunity to create something fresh and exciting to contribute to the world.