Learning things

I get a lot of compliments on my French, as I should, having intensely studied and taught it for most of my life. I’ve learned a few odd words and expressions since I’ve been here but the curve is pretty flat. Il va la sauter – il aura faim. And some weird peasant implement words that I’ve already forgotten.

Nothing says middle-aged French lady quite like my jungle print shopping trolley full of veggies on the Canal du Midi.

So although I am not here to learn French, I am very much here to learn and I have been suffering. In France most classes run all year long. I have committed and paid for my son to do a full year of soccer and a full year of rock climbing. Everyone in France is on a similar schedule so it’s easy to say that on Tuesdays at such and such time I will go to this class until NEXT JUNE! In the US I have rarely committed to such long endeavors and we are often nervous to ask for this commitment from our students.

I’m here to learn.

Today my son noticed some blackish yellow finger shaped bruises on my upper arm. Yoga? Lindy hop? At least I know it wasn’t from Spanish class. Twice a week I take Spanish classes with four older French gentlemen at the Instituto Cervantes. I placed at a lower level because I really don’t know what I’m doing but I finagled a spot here with these guys. The pedagogy is pretty good and the textbook has interesting topics but I am limping along. I procrastinate about doing my homework. Why? Because I do not like to feel stupid. It takes me a long time to figure out the verb tenses and it is not amusing. When will I be fluent? I want to blame my stilted progress on all sorts of things but the truth is that learning a language takes many, many hours. I hope I will remember empathy for my students when they dither about their French homework.

I really wanted to join this but I’m not at the superior level. I could go and insist but I’m losing my nerve. Or maybe I don’t want to pay for a book group.

Twice a week I also go to yoga classes. I have been practicing Iyengar Yoga since the early 1990s and teaching off and on since the late 1990s. Yesterday, in the advanced class, I had a moment where I thought that I couldn’t keep up. It wasn’t that the postures were too challenging but rather the philosophical and anatomical complexity just flew right over my head. Sometimes (often) the teacher raises her voice at me and sometimes (often) she pushes me to really turn my arms, really engage my outer thighs, really lift my sternum. I feel like a raw beginner again but it’s like we are going to a much deeper level than the physical accomplishment of asana. I look forward to learning in these classes and don’t really ever think of progress as much as fullness or presence. I want to be this kind of teacher – slightly terrorizing but ultimately inspiring. When she asks us to do more, to take more time, to be more fully in our every cell, I feel called for greater things.

I want to do yoga like this tree in Marseille.

Once a week I go to Lindy Hop classes. I am a raw beginner and I am learning extremely slowly. I think that most of the other students are experienced and yet they are experienced in all different ways. In one hour I never dance with the same person twice and every time I feel awkward and sweaty and I’m often turned around. The teachers are very good and the music is sweet but I feel like a Lindy loser. Capital L. I almost stopped going but last night my son told me I had to go and nagged me out the door. Good job, my child! And although I continued to have no rhythm and do things backwards, I ended the evening sweaty and smiling. It is going to take me a long time to learn this dance because we are simultaneously learning to lead and follow. We switch roles constantly and although in principle this sounds like an interesting practice, it makes me feel very clumsy and I am a bull, a large sweaty American bull, and my steps are too big, my hand upside down, and I keep forgetting the damn rock step.

I’m here for the dancing.

I came to France to write, to practice yoga, and to learn Spanish. Being a beginner, stumbling and struggling, is often exhausting. I feel like a granite pebble in a very rough rock tumbler in all of my classes. I tell my son that he will learn French, it will come, and I try to remember that for myself as well. The truth is that through these various practices of learning I’m probably going to learn something completely different and unexpected and maybe come out of the tumbler as just sand, or a pig knuckle that looked like a rock, but it is going to take many, many months.

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