Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Alternative Future Me

OMG. I am an old woman already. How did that happen?

I’m not really complaining. The problem is not how long I’ve lived but how little I’ve accomplished along the way. In my youth, I expected to be steeped in life-wisdom, knowledge & skills by my current age. How shocking that I’m still myself, just more faded on the outside.

My previous resolutions are still not resolved.

Here are the goals I was supposed to have reached years ago:

- Fluency in Spanish and French as well as English, possibly a working knowledge of some other language (e.g. the Kalabari dialect of the Ijaw language, as spoken in the Niger Delta by my late ex-husband’s relatives).

What I’ve accomplished: I wrote down about a dozen Kalabari words (written phonetically) while living with the late ex-husband. Eventually, I passed that list to my adult daughter. That’s it.

When anyone asks me: Habla(s) espanol?

I answer: Hablo un poco, y comprendo un poco mas. Not impressive. I never hang out in Spanish-speaking watering holes to discuss Latin American Magic Realist literature in Spanish with serious fans.

Re French: I can read street signs in Quebec and bilingual labels on groceries. “Vente” means sale (useful to know for such pursuits as shoe-shopping). “Arret” means stop (very useful to know to avoid arrest in the English sense). “Congele” means frozen (okay, that’s not usually on any street sign in Canada – it would be too obvious in winter – but it appears on all frozen food packages).

On days like today, I can hum a kind of French-Canadian national anthem: “Mon pays, c’est ne pas un pays; c’est l’hiver.” (My country is not a country, it is winter. To be sung to the tune of “I’m a Star in New York, I’m a Star in L.A.” Melody & French words by Gilles Vigneault.)

Comment je ne parle pas comme il faut? Because there are only 24 hours in a day, & I probably waste most of them.

More goals left over from my hopeful past:

- A Ph.D. in English and possibly a Post-Doc. In real life, I never wrote a monster thesis or gained a “terminal degree” (i.e. Ph.D., sometimes granted after death). I never applied to a university with a Ph.D. program, since that would involve moving away. For several reasons, that never seemed feasible.

- At least one critically-acclaimed novel. (I gave myself permission not to write a bestseller, just a book admired by the most critical critics.) No sign of that either.

- At least one book of lit-crit or reference work (my concordance on the work of Ntozake Shange which remains a work-in-progress years after various publishers turned me down) or raunchy composition handbook (still just an idea and a few grammar exercises). No, no and no.

- Artwork displayed in an exhibit or a publication. Never happened. To see my artwork, you have to know me personally and look at my old drawings. Or come to my class and watch me make cartoon images on a blackboard to illustrate grammatical concepts or metaphors in poetry.

- Proficiency in a musical instrument. No. I used to make godawful sounds on a violin. Be glad I stopped.

- Proficiency in ballroom dancing. No. I’ve been told I have rhythm and an ability to follow steps – after getting them wrong a few times. I never learned an award-winning routine.

- A professional (i.e. paid, even if spotty) acting career. Ha.

At this rate, it’s clear that I have to live to be about 150 to reach all my goals.

I can imagine doing all these things, of course, and becoming the improved new Jean, Model 400, or some such.

I could make resolutions. I could. That would be a minor accomplishment. Then I could look at my list at the end of each year and feel like a huge failure.

Here is what I did last year: Having read up on the harmful effects of caffeine, I broke my addiction to coffee by weaning myself off it, one cup at a time. That doesn’t mean I never drink the stuff, it just means I no longer feel the need to drink it every day. I can go for a week or two without a drop of coffee in my system.

Maybe that’s how these things work: drop by drop, cup by cup. Sigh. I need to reread my entry-level Spanish textbook before my trip to Cuba in February. Not that I’ll understand much Spanish spoken at Cuban speed. With patience & amusement, someone there might understand me.

As they say, life is what happens when you were planning something else. Maybe that's the life-wisdom I've gained in all the detours away from my goals.

Here’s hoping I don't lose all my resolve along the way.


  1. "I never hang out in Spanish-speaking watering holes to discuss Latin American Magic Realist literature in Spanish with serious fans."

    I always thought that when I gathered artistic friends together, I'd be immersed in deep discussions about art and life and literature. Instead, we discuss where to eat dinner and the magical properties of pet fur.

  2. Lol, Kathleen.

    From what I've seen, the deepest discussions about Art and the Meaning of Life happen on blogs like this one.

    Yet it seems fashionable these days for academics to trash the universities that pay their salaries & give them grants. Presumably, artistic freedom & deep thinking flourished in an imaginary golden age when Will Shakespeare, Kit Marlowe & Ben Jonson hung out together in coffee shops, discussing ideas for plays. I'm not convinced.

  3. I suspect they were bitching about their landlords.

  4. The wind plays andantes
    Of lost hopes and regrets,—
    And yet is kind.
    — Hart Crane

  5. Hi Roberta!

    Here's a link to a song I think you'll appreciate by Indie rocker Aimee Mann called "31 Today". It definately speaks to you and to all us who look at someselves sideways and wonder what happened.

    As you say life happens when you;re planning something else. Hell, I wanted to be a saint. That didn't work out either.


  6. Jean,

    Life isn't about racking up a resume.

    But then I'm sure you know that.

    I thought I'd be a Nobel-prize-winning scientist. (And no, I'm not...!)

    Mostly, that doesn't bother me.

    Anyway - you may not have published a critically acclaimed novel, but you've got a solid body of excellent published fiction.

    I envy you your upcoming trip to Cuba!


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