The Gift of Language

“Early exposure to two languages was simply a wedge that opened a wider world, that primed me to adapt to different and change. I think what all bilingual children know instinctively–even if they’re not consciously aware of it–is that there is more than one way to interpret the world.”

–Ana Menendez, from “The Bilingual Imagination,” Poets and Writers January/February 2011 Issue

Tell me what speaking another language has taught you. Or how being monolingual has limited you.

Comments

  1. cissy says

    Don’t Be Afraid

    “Bu par,” “Bu par,” I said to the ten-month old infant who became my daughter. It means “Don’t be afraid,” in Chinese. I said it in our hotel room. I said it in the tub when I was learning to give a baby a bath. I said it when it took ridiculously long to get her into the Snugli.

    For the year and I half before going to China to adopt I planned. I had spreadsheets about what supplies to bring such as medicines, prune sauce to ease digestion, as well as all of the documents would be necessary, the gifts we’d offer to officials once we there. I got a series of tape on learning Chinese which I’d listen to in my car going to and from work. The tapes were adult words though, for conversation. But I was going to adopt a baby.

    What would I say to an infant and how much would be understood?

    The conversational Chinese was helpful on elevators, allowed me to be polite, to say hello and thank you in Chinese and whenever I did, no matter how pathetic my pronunciation I felt vulnerable but proud. I wanted to more than an ugly American assuming or expecting everyone to speak my language.

    But mostly I wanted to be comforting to my daughter. She would be first child. Her father and I chose adoption. We didn’t have fertility issues. I had fear issues. Fear of pregnancy and birth, fear of my own genetic legacy but not fear of parenting.

    What do you need to tell a baby who leaves the only life she has known? I learned “I love you” in Chinese but even that, was more for me, than it was for her. What would she need to hear from me?

    What does a baby experience when removed from all the sights and sounds and smells and people she has known?

    “Bu par,” I said to her often when I struggled with how to make the formula hot enough, when she cried and I didn’t know what she needed and couldn’t yet distinguish her cries.

    She liked the sound of opera on t.v. She liked the sticky buns. Sounds and smells communicate to the senses and that is what I learned in China. I learned that the gentle holding, the preparation of formula at the right temperature and the background noises all communicate familiarity.

    Words are powerful and sometimes magical. Words can be weapons or they can be bridges. But in China, beyond words, I learned about atmosphere and context and body language. In China, I learned that a smile, a patient heart, a soothing energy were as important as the language.

    Back in the U.S. a neighbor asked me, “Does she speak Chinese?”

    “She’s a baby,” I said so she doesn’t speak. But really, later I wondered, is that true? Wasn’t she speaking with her expressions, with her responses, with her tears and body language?

    When she got a little older, we went to the local Chinese shopping plaza. There was a mini food court. There were clothes similar to the ones in China. Everyone spoke Chinese, looked Chinese and was Chinese, except for me and my aunt.

    As soon as we entered the building my daughter said, “China,” and I smiled and said, “Yes. It smells like China and looks like China,” and my aunt and I just looked at each other in astonishment.

    Language is not just words. It is smell and sounds blending together, and familiarity of faces, and music and conversations singing together. Language, even before the articulation of syllables into words, words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs is primal.
    “Bu Par. Bu Par.” I had said often in those first few weeks as we were learning one another and becoming mother and daughter. We would each carry our own context, and that was true even for an infant not yet a year, and how I didn’t know that I do not know.

    I am so grateful now that I was not at home when I became a parent, that I was not familiar with the food, or the streets or the customs. At least she had that bit of home to begin with. We had to find our way to one another, and while I took the lead, to bring warmth and food and comfort, I am so grateful I had to maneuver new sights, smells and crowds to realize how much more than words are needed to communicate love, familiarity and home.

    • Ilana says

      How beautiful Cissy- I think you make a very good point. Language is not just the words we use but also our physical attitude and tone of voice. That is universal and babies who have yet to learn a single language often read that far better than those of us who are distracted by the words and their meanings.

      Having become pregnant, giving birth and raising my three children here in the same home where they are now growing up, I feel I had a lot to learn from your perspective. I love the attitudes you shared and reading your piece certainly showed me how much can be gained from swimming in unfamiliar waters. Thank you for posting it. IM

    • says

      Cissy, I love what you say in your expansive definition of language. I understand how challenging it can be to create a cultural context for a child from another part of the world. I’m so glad to see the mindfulness you’re bringing to that task.

    • Diana says

      Cissy,
      This reflects so much of my own adoption experience in China for my daughter. I laughed at the part “Does she speak Chinese” as I often got this question too. I often wondered why people feel compelled to ask that question. The answer is “yes” and “no”. She was born in China so yes she was learning Chinese, but she is an infant so “no” she doesn’t speak anything.

      • Cissy says

        It is a funny question and one of the less offensive ones asked. I was astounded by what I was asked when she was little. Once, I actually said, “She has ears and can hear you,” when someone asked me a rude question.

        • Diana says

          One of the most common questions I would get was “Where’s she from” I would reply “Santa Cruz”. Where are you from? I could write a book of the rude and intrusive comments we have gotten.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Cissy,
      I especially liked the paragraph about language being “beyond words, I learned about atmosphere and context and body language. In China, I learned that a smile, a patient heart a soothing energy were as important as the language.” I so agree.
      I was fascinated, though not surprised, that your daughter recognized “China” in the Chinese shopping Plaza though she had left there when she was still so very young.

    • Tony del Zompo says

      i really like the story, and i love the line, “language is not just words. it is smell and sound blending together…” very cool.

    • Judy says

      Cissy, Love this piece. I was hooked from the beginning and with you in China, the states and the malls. This is wonderful…as soon as we entered the building my daughter said, “China,” Lovely telling. Thank you.

    • Barbara Keller says

      That is amazing, and so well written. I cried, and loved your wisdom and courage and understanding. Thanks,

    • Polly says

      Cissy, what a brave journey you took. It sounds like you and your daughter have given each other some beautiful gifts. I love that you are giving her her culture. Thank you for letting us all in on that.

    • Adrienne Drake says

      Dear Cissy,
      Sorry to take so long to respond to this beautiful story. With all of the sensitivity to language and culture shown here, this is one lucky baby! I hope to hear more of your story of raising your child!
      Adrienne

  2. Fran Stekoll says

    I grew up in New York with Grandparents who spoke Yiddish, Russian, and German. I picked up a few words here and there; but basically realized they weren’t speaking English because they didn’t want me to hear what they were saying. Later in life I took 3 years of French. I thought it was a romantic language. Never really used it until I went to Paris to visit my son and his family many years later and was surprised how much I had retained. My son lived in Paris for four years and his daughter, my grand daughter Perle. was born there. She has dual citizenship. Their family returns to Europe annually and they still speak French fluently.

    When I went to Bora Bora, If you had a teaching credential and spoke French, you were eligible to live there in a free home and $5,000 per month. Since my son and his wife both qualified, I told them; but they weren’t interested. If I’d been younger and had a teaching credential, I might have been interested in doing that.

    There were times when I’d meet someone who spoke French and we’d carry on a conversation; however my remembrance of it was minimal as I couldn’t use it as often as I wished. When I had my company I wished I’d learned Spanish. I realized how similar that was to French and was able to understand more as I heard it. I still sing the French National Anthem. I also love hearing my son and his two children who are now in their late 20′s speak French with visiting friends. I also wished I had taken Latin as my vocabulary might have been enhanced as I read and matured.

    I so admired my late Aunt and Uncle who never had siblings; they retired in their early 50′s and traveled all over the world learning several languages. I have all their books and the play bills from their travels which have been translated. My Aunt never went to College; but to me she was the most interesting person in my family as she learned several languages by teaching herself before visiting each country. I still have letters she sent me in those languages which she would translate when she returned.

    My late husband and I came from similar backgrounds. I wished I’d taped the story he would tell in Yiddish about the Mama, her kindela and the bear. He shared it word for word with all our Jewish friends. He was told this by his Grandmother and he would tell a sentence in Yiddish and then stop and translate it into English.

    Languages certainly expand our horizons. I think it should be mandatory that we learn at least one. Students who exchange with others, visiting in other countries have a definite advantage to learn languages. I guess it’s not too late to invite a foreigner to my home for a meal. I do see invitations at my church to do that.

    • Ilana says

      Fran- Thanks for this great narrative. I always learn from you. I liked the way you told the story and then in the end, drew conclusions from it. Nice job. IM

    • says

      Fran…I’m with you. We live in poverty when we only speak on language. My 16 year old daughter is fluent in French, studying Spanish and this summer she’s going to Morocco to study Intensive Arabic. It means the whole world will open up to her. I wish I had her flexible open brain and the opportunities that she has been able to take advantage of.

      Only speaking English leads to such xenophobia, and to me represents such arrogance about the US perception of our role in the world.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Fran,
      I encourage you to invite a foreigner for a meal or a brief stay if you have the opportunity. It can be so rewarding to share across cultures even when there is very little language to use. Over a five year period I was a host home to over forty five students with little or no English from ten countries who were attending a immersion English program. The school would not place a student in a home where their language was spoken because they didn’t want us to use it as a crutch.

    • Judy says

      Dear Fran, I love this narrative. Richly told. My former mother-in-law would tells jokes in English and then laps into Yiddish at the punch line. It drove her grandkids and me nuts. Have you heard of StoryCorps? A Foundation project where you record your stories in a booth and walk away with a DVD. I hope to do that soon for my grandkids and future great grandkids.

    • cissy says

      It was wonderful to travel with you and meet so many people in your piece through your writing about this topic. I especially responded to the detail about your aunt sending letters that she’d translate when she got home. Your love and admiration of her come through so strong. Cissy

    • Polly says

      Fran, I agree that additional languages should be part of every curriculum. Speaking more languages provides such lovely opportunities. I really like that you nurture and embrace that in your family and your life. Thanks for posting.

  3. says

    I wrote this piece a couple of years ago, and decided to reprint it here today since I am thinking about renewing my study of Spanish this coming fall. One of the things on my bucket list is hiking the Camino in Spain and it would be great to learn at least some rudiments of Spanish. So even though I quit studying when my life got too intense to focus on it, I’m thinking of starting up again. Even though I still suck at learning languages, some study is better than none, right?

    Here’s the original piece:

    I got this hair-brained idea last summer that I wanted to learn a language. It all started when I went to Paris with my daughter, who happily chattered her way through Paris cafes and department stores, through the Uzes market negotiating for AOC goat cheese and brightly colored napkins, ordering the bits of duck we cooked on a grill at our table outdoors in the plaza in front of our glorious, sun-drenched apartment. There she was, petite and lanky and gorgeous, perfectly dressed and coiffed in that casual but perfect teenage way she has, ordering le chocolat chaud and canard-being told everywhere what a great accent she had-while I couldn’t even ask where the bathroom was.

    One day in Paris, queued up to commune with the vast collection of human bones in the Catacombs, I was desperate for a bathroom, so I left Lizzy to hold our place in line while I tried to find one. I couldn’t ask anyone, so I spent five desperate minutes trying to figure out how to open the door to a shuttered transit information shed, before I finally realized it wasn’t a public toilet.

    I was completely dependent on Lizzy, who, at 14, translated when it was something she wanted to do, and if she didn’t-well…I hated that. Hated how vulnerable and isolated it made me feel. I hated that I had forgotten my dismal grasp of 7th grade French. All I remembered was bonjour and au revoir and Ou est la biblioteque? The only new phrase I mastered during our vacation in France was, “L’addition, si’l vous plais”-the check please.

    “I should learn a language,” I decided. I want to travel more as I move in to this next phase of my life. I know I used to suck at languages and I probably suck more now, what with chemo brain and all, but why not try it? It will at least exercise my atrophied brain. What have I got to lose? Besides my pride, my dignity, my self-esteem, and my former image of myself as a “smart cookie”-not much.

    So when I got back to Santa Cruz, I actually did something about it. I contacted the language school downtown: Aux Trois Pommes. I think that means the three apples-and I signed up for a class. The first thing I had to do was decide between Spanish and French. At first, I thought I should study French since Lizzy speaks fluently. My reasoning went like this: “Well, we could talk French together over dinner. In the car on the way home from school. On walks to the beach.” Not. Whatever was I thinking? She’s a sophomore in high school and the last thing she wants to do is talk French with her pathetically incompetent mother, who can’t remember anything and just doesn’t have a clue.

    And so I chose Spanish. It’s practical. I mean I live in Santa Cruz; I’m surrounded by people who speak Spanish every day. I’d be able to talk to Manuel who helps Karyn in the garden and Nora, who cleans our house twice a month. Besides, I’m scheduled to go back to Mexico in February to teach at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference. Wouldn’t it be nice if I had some Spanish under my belt? Lizzy and I even talked about the possibility of finding a Spanish immersion program for a month next summer; she wants to to work in foreign service someday, and would like to learn another language. And unlike me, she seems to have a propensity for just picking these things up.

    It also so happens that I have a student, a woman who very much wants to write, who ran out of funds to pay for my class. And so we started knocking around ideas of services she might be able to provide in trade and everything she brought up felt like fake “make work”-nothing I really needed or wanted. But I really didn’t want to let her go.

    A few days after our initial conversation, my student called to tell me she hadn’t thought of anything to trade yet, so she was calling to say thank you and goodbye. And then just before she hung up she said, “If only you wanted to learn Spanish,” and bingo! That was it. She’s a native speaker and a lifelong teacher, so we arranged to spend one hour together a week speaking Spanish.

    Yesterday, we had our first class. We met at the parking lot behind Denny’s on Ocean Street. She refused (as she should) to speak a word of English to me and suddenly the tables were turned. I was the stammering, terrified, incompetent, fearful student, convinced that I was too old, that I could never learn, that I would never remember a single word, and that I would suck my way right out of any possibility of ever learning anything-especially Spanish.

    I sat in the passenger seat of her car and she smiled. She said something to me in Spanish, full of animation and life, gesturing to get her point across. I stared back at her blankly. I had no idea what the fuck she was talking about. But eventually, I got the gist. She was asking if I wanted to go to the beach. She had emailed me before we met and said that was her idea so when she said la mer or whatever the hell the Spanish word is for ocean is, I said yes. She said, “Playa?” And I said, “Si, playa.” Beach. And off we went in her car.

    It was a very quiet ride. There were all kinds of things I might have discussed with her, but we never got beyond the fact that her sweater was whatever the name of blue is in Spanish is and that my pants and sweatshirt were negra and the traffic light was something that rolled and started with a “r” that sounded remarkably like the name for the big rocks we saw on the playa near the ocean, which I can’t recall the name of. Rrrrr-something. Forget it. I’ll never roll my r’s. Failing in my first five minutes.

    It was a really miserable hour. At one point, feeling the same sinking despair I felt in Paris at being so pathetic, and unable to communicate, I blurted out, “I can’t learn, I’ll never learn, my brain is too old.” And she looked at me and gestured and said something in Spanish that I could definitely not understand. But even though I couldn’t understand the words, I did catch her meaning because of the gesture she made to go with it. As she said the Spanish words, she simultaneously made the universal gesture for monkey, a goofy face and scratching under the armpits.

    “Monkey mind,” I said, laughing. “You’re telling me that’s just monkey mind?” Of course she would say this to me. In my first class with all my new students, I always tell them, “Beware of monkey mind”-the harsh critic who sits on our shoulders insisting we can’t write, that we’re frauds, that we’ll be found out as imposters, and that we will inevitably and spectacularly fail.

    Repeating my own advice back to me-very tricky!

    When we parted, after another very mostly silent drive back to my car, I wanted to say, “See you next week, ” but instead I said, gracias and buenos tardes and hasta luego. Which I think means I said goodbye to her three times. But really, it was the best I could do.

    • beverly Boyd says

      As I read this I was aware of your plan to push your comfort zone spend some extra time alone in Bali this summer. The language alone would be a challenge. I’m sure you are up to it and I hope you have a wonderful time negotiating stuff with facial expressions and gestures or augment the limited vocabulary. I bet you will be able to extend your communication to thoughts and ideas as well.

      • says

        Thanks for that vote of confidence, Beverly. In Bali, so many people speak English–it was easy. But I found even just learning a few dozen phrases made a big difference–just that small effort was very appreciated by the locals.

    • Judy says

      Laura, I was definitely with you in Paris at the markets and cafes. Like you, I was completely stymied at one café coin operated bathroom until rescued by a French woman who only wanted to speak English. The monkey mind ending is compelling reading—so vivid. Language, culture and the arts greatly expand our worlds. Thank you for reprinting this telling.

    • cissy says

      Laura,
      Through your writing I can feel your marveling at your daughter’s ease speaking French while also conveying how helpless you felt being depending on her. I laughed at the monkey part. At first I thought it was mean but then realized it was “monkey mind” and laughed. That was great. The feelings of being new and green and scared but also wanting to learn all come through and made me feel better at how common feelings of fear and inadequacy are. I say dive in to Spanish even if you only get to a conversational level you will at least not end up trying to open strange doors again. Cissy

    • Terry Gibson says

      I love this story, Laura. It reminds me of my two years of French in university. No English spoken. If I couldn’t utter it in Parisian, it never got said. I laughed, empathized, and relived some of my better moments in Paris as I read this. Language is power for sure. :)

    • Polly says

      Laura, I really enjoyed reading this piece last week. Children tend to be more intuitive with languages so it makes sense that your daughter would have an advantage – and it sounds like she has a natural flair and intelligence. I really admire your courage and determination. Thanks for writing this piece.

    • Hazel says

      Laura,
      Loved your term, “Monkey mind.” “‘Beware of monkey mind’-the harsh critic who sits on our shoulders insisting we can’t write, that we’re frauds, that we’ll be found out as imposters, and that we will inevitably and spectacularly fail.” My “Monkey mind” tells me that I won’t be able to put it all together. But, I keep telling the monkey to “go eat a banana! I will find help if I really need it, so leave me alone.”

      Thank you for sharing.

      • says

        Monkey mind isn’t my term–it’s direct from Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones. Nat has been my friend, mentor and teacher and collaborator for a couple of decades–and it’s her methods for writing practice that I teach in many of my classes and retreats. She coined that phrase, I’m pretty sure!

  4. Fran Stekoll says

    I really loved this Laura. Thanks so much for sharing yourself with us and for inspiring us to” be all that we can be “without joining the Army!!!!

  5. Zoe says

    When I first saw this prompt, I was so mad. I am so mad that I do not speak another language. It feels like such a lost opportunity and like I have failed myself somehow. And now at 35, well learning languages is tedious. Several years ago I went to language school in Guatemala and spent a month in an immersion program. It was awesome. It was exhausting. I came home and now rarely use my Spanish and of course it has slipped away. But what I really wish is that I spoke Arabic of French, but seriously who has the time? the energy? the discipline? Okay, I am done with the rant now and what I really want to tell you is that I am fluent in at least two languages I always have been.

    I speak the language in between the words, I speak the language of the gestures, the language of the slight glance, the itch you scratch when no one is looking. I speak the language of dreams. I have just enough of what some call “sight” to know that there are always messages broadcasting and to know that the substance of this universe that we are floating in is in the space between the form that we see. When I am talking to you, I often miss the words but always catch the meaning and the meaning is mostly in what you are not saying.

    I speak just enough of this language, I would say I am a tourist psychic. In other words enough to get by, to order a coffee, to give the cab driver sort of correct directions to where I want to go. I know that just before we die, if it is a long planned death or a sudden death we give off singles, the chord that connects us to the earth stretches and tightens and for the loved ones who are paying attention it feels like a gentle tugging on some invisible umbilical chord that we forgot was there, but connects us to all. I know that behind every question I am every asking and anyone is ever asking is a silent whisper that says “Do you love me? Am I enough.”

    So now I attempt to live my life answering this question where ever I go. I simply walk around and silently shout into the void, I love you. You are enough. I love me I am enough.

    • Ilana says

      Zoe- I loved this piece. Rants are always welcome and then the thoughtful piece that came after it… Metzuyan! (“Excellent” in Hebrew ;) ) The exploration of your second language was fascinating. I know very little about the world of the psychic but every now and again have felt it around me. Your ending was so gentle and kind. And so right. I do often feel that all important question in the background of my day to day interactions. “Do you love me? Am I enough?” Nice job! Thanks for posting it. IM

    • says

      Zoe, I loved this piece. I share your frustrations, but also love where you went with this piece. I just adored your last paragraph.

      So glad I get to enjoy your writing again, via this blog.

    • cissy says

      Wow. From one voice to another. I loved learning about the languages you are fluent in and to imagine you going through the world shouting into the void, “I love you. You are enough,” and also saying it to yourself made me want to cry in a happy way. Moving writing.

    • Judy says

      Zoe, thank you for this piece. I loved reading and re-reading it. What insights in the words of your last two graphs. I hope you write more of the cords that connect us.

    • Polly says

      Zoe, I definitely appreciate your take on this type of language. It is thrilling to see that someone else considers what is “between the lines” or simply not said – the looks and gestures – as language. I especially identified with your last question. I think you nailed it. Thanks.

  6. beverly Boyd says

    I have never learned a foreign language well enough to do much more than use my limited knowledge for doing crossword puzzled. I have been fortunate to have many opportunities throughout my life to have meaningful exchanges with people from many different countries who had little or no English. I have so many stories I could tell; some I have already written about; hmmm…maybe there is a book in it…. This is one of my favorites.

    The little girl and the view master

    Many years ago when I was a young mother of four our family spent three days in the dependent lounge at Travis Air Force Base waiting for space available on military transport to return to Hawaii after a few weeks leave. Our priority was low because we were not flying under orders. Each morning about seven we checked out of our room at the BOQ (Bachelor’s officer’s Quarters) in time for the first flight should we be fortunate enough to get on it and left after the last flight of the day, usually about seven in the evening. The children were surprisingly resilient and adaptive. It helped that we were well enough supplied with tiny cars and coloring books to keep not only them entertained, but also a constantly changing group of playmates.

    On the third day I was sitting along the side of the room, my youngest asleep in the chair beside me. A young Japanese woman with her four-year-old daughter came in on a plane from Japan and sat beside me. The mother was tired and very pregnant. The little girl was also tired and very fussy.

    I reached into my bag and found a “View-Master” with several of the cardboard wheels embedded with pairs of pictures that were transformed into three dimensional pictures when viewed through it. As I showed her how to use it the little girl was asking me questions in Japanese and I was answering in English and demonstrating with the viewer the next step.

    After a few moments the Mother turned to me, puzzled. “Do you speak Japanese?” She asked.

    “No”.

    “But you understand Japanese”.

    “No”, I replied again.

    “Then, how do you understand what she is saying to you?”

    “I understand ‘child’.” I said. That seemed to satisfy her. Her daughter and I continued exploring the different sets of pictures together.

    Until she asked me I had not realized what was happening, but it has remained a treasured memory of the kind of perfect communication children are able to have where the exchange is in the spirit and the words are just incidental. Since that time I have learned that the same kind of communication is possible with adults when the intention to communicate is combined with goodwill patience lots of gestures and often a sense of humor

    • Ilana says

      Beverly- So sweet. I totally needed that today. Thank you for posting it. You must have quite a treasury. If you decide to publish the book I will be the first in line to read it :) IM

    • Judy says

      Delightful story, Beverley. What a vivid image of the interplay between you and the little girl. Love this line, “I understand Child.” And, yes, please do write the book.

    • Hazel says

      A fine story. Thank you for sharing.

      You must be a child at heart to so completely “understand child”. Good response.

    • Polly says

      Beverly I was captivated when I pictured that moment when you realized what was happening – the exchange between you and the little girl, and the fact that you “speak child”. I think that’s a gift. Thank you for telling it so well.

    • Deb Mansell says

      What a lovely story, it reminds me of being a parent helper in school and helping children who spoke only in their mother tongue and I only english yet we managed to share picture books.

  7. Allison says

    Language is one of the many–-and the most direct––forms of human communication. Acquiring a second, or third, or even more, language is to open more doors of opportunity. With multilingual ability one can explore the world, learn and appreciate other cultures, and understand and accept differences.

    I grew up in a multilingual environment where three languages were spoken at home. When I visited my grandparents, one more language was added to the list of verbal communication. Upon entering school, I was exposed to yet another brand new language. By the time I was a freshman in university, there was room in my brain for six languages to comfortably coexist. Some of them come to me more naturally than others, nonetheless, all of them have served their purpose in helping me understand and be understood in different cultures and countries.

    In the past, being multilingual brought me employment opportunities: teaching, translating, and interpreting. Recently I was recruited by some Federal organizations to join their linguist teams. Languages also helped me build friendships with people I’d otherwise have had a difficult time befriending due to language barriers. In fact, thanks to my second language acquisition, I was able to not only meet my best friend, I’ve also been spending the past 15 years with him (and counting). As a little girl, I’d never have guessed I’d someday start a family of my own with a second language––a completely different language from the three I was raised speaking.

    Languages have also broadened my horizon by exposing me to world literatures. I’m blessed with the gift to read and write in different languages. It’s fascinating to see how cultures, history, and customs affect the creation of literary works in all parts of the world. And to learn to respect and appreciate all of them.

    I’ve really enjoyed life with the gift of language. It’s the best gift one can give to him/herself. I’m grateful for the powerful influences it’s brought to change my life for the better.

    • says

      Allison, welcome to the Roadmap blog. How very lucky you were to grown up multilingual–and to have your brain primed from birth to acquire new languages. I’m curious…what did you grow up speaking? and what languages do you communicate in now?

      • Allison says

        Thank you, Laura for creating such a wonderful environment for writers to gather and learn.

        I grew up speaking Mandarin Chinese. Picked up Japanese, English, German, Taiwanese, and Hakkanese along the way. Now I communicate in English and Mandarin on a daily basis.

        • says

          You’re welcome Allison. How wonderful that you have so much space for language in your brain’s neural pathways and that the number of people you can communicate with is so much broader than those I have access to!

    • Judy says

      Allison, what a richly told story of your experiences. What a gift you have and what a gift you have shared with us. Thank you.

    • Hazel says

      Allison,
      There is no doubt that “Languages have also broadened my horizon.” How fortunate you are to have so many at the tip of your tongue.

      Thank you for sharing.

    • Polly says

      Allison, this is so impressive! I love the idea of being fluent in multiple languages. I think it would speak to a person’s ability to adapt and embrace numerous facets of his or her environment. So great! Thanks for posting.

  8. Eva Rider says

    English is my second language. I spoke Hungarian until I was Five. Hungarian was the language of Mother, of warmth, of fear, of strange body discomforts and the language in which I was referred to in the third person. “Vera; I would say to my mother – pick up the child”. And Hungarian was also the language of Fairy Tale with its for away lands of “once upon a time”, of princes and princesses, evil witches, goblins and magic that transformed and promised. It became the secret language of my shame because it separated me from the world in which I found myself in a land where almost everyone outside spoke English..Hungarian made me “other”.

    English came at first of necessity to communicate, to become a part of the play with other children, the yearning to belong and to understand the stories and the songs. The rich beauty of the language entered my soul at a young age because English was the language in which I learned to read and write..it was the language of bridge and of messenger. It is the language of the place where I took root and grew and blossomed. Deliciously, romantically..it is the language of Shakespeare and the lines of English Kings and Queens in far away magical green Britain. It is a language of intricate beauty to my ears and it sings to my spirit leading me away from home and mother and hearth.

    Now, as I grow older, and the mother of my blood has passed to another land so very recently, I long to reclaim the Hungarian, to know intellectually it roots, to hear its heavy, guttural sounds as they resonate in my cells and my blood and my bone because it is my beginning..Hungarian is mother; in fact and English is Father. I love them both now and I live betwixt and between two worlds. The shame is gone, transfigured by my mother’s last words “fairy tales really do come true”, which she spoke in English freeing me to be myself forevermore.

    • says

      Eva, welcome to the Roadmap blog. What a wonderful first prompt for you to respond to. Thanks for sharing the story of these two languages. I love your hunger to reclaim your mothertongue and I hope you find ways to do just that. And I hope you keep sharing your stories and responses here with us. Welcome!

    • Tony del Zompo says

      it’s interesting. my father and mother were first generation, and i think it was their sense of shame that prevented them from teaching my brothers and me to speak italian. and that’s the subject of my response to the prompt. vey courageous, eva…

    • Ilana says

      Eva- I really enjoyed this piece. I loved how the different languages seemed to take on their own personalities. They stood for so much. Thank you for joining our community. I look forward to your future posts. IM

    • Hazel says

      Eva,
      Thank you for sharing this lovely story. It is so wonderful to see how you have blended the two cultures and loved the two languages, “Hungarian is mother; in fact and English is Father. I love them both now and I live betwixt and between two worlds.”

    • Polly says

      Eva, this was powerful. The language truly flowed so well as this piece progressed. I love the idea of the language you were born into being mother, to you. That’s beautiful. Thank you.

    • Judy says

      What an enjoyable lyrical read, Eve. Thank you so much for sharing it from your open heart. I love this sentence, “I long to reclaim the Hungarian.” And, your last sentence brought tears. I look forward to more of your posts.

  9. Tony del Zompo says

    My parents were first generation American. Mom’s parents were from Sicily, and Dad’s were from the central part of Italy on the Adriatic Coast. Neither of my grandfathers spoke English, and my brothers and I were never taught to speak Italian.

    Mom’s father, Nanu, came to America sometime during the late 1800s. He and his brother arrived on the east coast, and moved to Pennsylvania. They came across the United States while working for the railroad. Nanu ended up in San Francisco where he became a commercial fisherman. He was there for the 1906 earthquake, and he assisted with the city’s rebuilding efforts. He had a wife and a daughter, both of whom were murdered by his daughter’s boyfriend. Eventually, he remarried. His wife had three children from a prior marriage. She would later give birth to Nanu’s three children, my mother, Palmira, her sister Virginia, and her brother Carmello.

    Dad’s father, Papa, also came at the turn of the century. Soon after his arrival, WW I began. He wanted to fight for the United States, but because he neither spoke nor read English, he was not qualified for the Armed Forces. After several years, however, when the army became desperate for soldiers, he was able to enlist. Fortunately, the war ended before he was ever deployed.

    I never got to sit on either grandfather’s lap, and listen in wide eyed fascination while they regaled me with tales of their journeys aboard an immigrant ship, crammed into steerage with the other tired, poor, huddled masses. I never had the chance to ask either of them if it was scary to come to a new land where you knew no one and didn’t speak the language.

    What I learned of their lives, I learned in bits and pieces from my parents long after Nanu and Papa were gone. My grandfathers were strangers, strangers who loved me, but they were men I never knew.

    • says

      Tony, it’s so sad you were given the gift of learning their language so you could communicate with them. What a loss on both sides, yet this is such a typical immigrant story–wanting to leave the old country behind and “become American.”

    • Ilana says

      What a rich story, Tony. I enjoyed the whole thing but my favorite line was the last one. “Strangers who loved me.” That will stick with me for a long time. IM

    • Terry Gibson says

      This is a rich story, Tony. I am happy you know that your grandparents, even though strangers, loved you dearly. That they would’ve held you on their lap and watched you, spellbound, as they recounted their journeys. I often think about what people like your grandparents felt while taking those long trips into the unknown in a new country. With no intention of returning, I took my own voyage to Australia–nothing at all like your descriptions–and found it easy because I was cultureless; that was nothing like my friend’s parents who took a boat from Finland and London, respectively, to Australia. Although their kids don’t know Finnish, I bought a DVD a year ago to learn how to have a conversation with him in his own language. As he lapses into dementia, he may retreat more into his native language and I want to spend meaningful time with him. I think he’d like that a lot. Take good care of yourself, Toni. I hope you bask in the warmth of all the love that is yours forever.

    • Polly says

      Tony, this piece resonated with me as both my grandfathers died years before I was born. Obviously that’s not the same situation, but i could still relate to your words. I enjoyed reading the parts of their stories that you were able to share. Thank you.

    • Judy says

      Deeply touching piece, Tony. Richly detailed and vivid as in this graph, “I never got to sit on either grandfather’s lap…..” I’m so sorry you never met them, but your telling will be with your families future generations. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Mel says

    I lived in Oaxaca Mexico as a teenager on an exchange program. The first time I dreamed in Spanish I knew something profound had occurred. The words just popped out in Spanish in my dream, no translation needed.

    The second thing I noticed was that talking to friends in Spanish on the phone was difficult at first, I realized how much I depended on the other person’s body language to understand them. I listened more intensely on the phone.

    The third thing that made a big difference was reading Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes in Spanish with my handy diccionario. (it took two months!) After that, when I heard words in Spanish I had read and learned, it made a solid connection.

    • Hazel says

      Mel,
      I think that in any language we depend on “the other person’s body language”. There are some persons I have difficulty talking to on the phone when we are both English speakers.

      Thank you for sharing.

    • Polly says

      Mel, I like the connections you make here. I’d love to hear more about the time you spent living in Mexico – that’s always been a small dream of mine. Thanks for sharing your observations.

    • Judy says

      Mel, what a great piece–I think you nailed this topic your first time posting. Like you, I find I must be an ‘active listener’ when on the phone with my French speaking friends who thankfully speak better English than my abysmal French. I look forward to more of your posts.

    • Ilana says

      Mel- I enjoyed reading this. It really made me think. Body language is a very important part of understanding what a person is saying but your point also reminded me that I should listen more carefully to people than I do. Too much multitasking and I can end up not only being disrespectful but also missing something valuable. I, too, will connect with a written piece when I hear a word I originally learned there. And finally, about the dream, I had to smile. I used to dream in Hebrew sometimes, though I’m sure my grammar was as bad as it was in waking hours. ;) Thank you for joining our little community. I look forward to your future posts. IM

  11. Judy says

    THE GIFT OF LANGUAGE: OR, SOVIETS, BLOOMIES,
    AND ALL THAT JAZZ

    In the 1984 film, Moscow on the Hudson, comedian Robin Williams plays Russian musician Vladimir Ivanoff, who defects in Bloomingdale’s department store in New York.

    #

    November 1988……..The first direct Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Chicago arrived shortly before Thanksgiving with 200 Soviets representing the arts to zoology. This two-day cultural exchange, sponsored by an international service organization, was eager to participate in Glasnost, the more open policy fostered by Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev.

    As the Meetings & Stage Manager, I was part of the team that organized the Soviets’ stay and planned the culminating celebration before their return flight to Moscow. I carried an index card in my pocket that said, “A warm smile, warm heart, warm food and hot jazz are THE international languages.” On the flip side, a quote from my boss, “It only has to be elegant to the audience.” The card quickly became dog-eared from my constant need for affirmation!

    After months of logistical planning with Soviet representatives (KGB?) and U. S. briefings on customs, protocol and possible defection, we were ready for a final joint briefing. Remembering the film Moscow on the Hudson, a colleague asked, “What is the protocol IF someone came to a staffer during the exchange saying, ‘I/We want to defect.’ ” The answer: tell the person to be seated, get them a cup of tea, and find your supervisor. With that, the briefing was adjourned and we went back to our offices—some giggling at the possibility and others stone-faced.

    I must confess, I giggled but quickly changed my demeanor as I passed our CEO, his face set in his usual glower. I said, “Good meeting,” adding, “all under control dinner-wise, Phil.” He responded with something like, “Hope so, Judy. Still not sure about the jazz thing.” The theme reflected both U. S. culture and Chicago as the City of the Big Shoulders, so throwing in a little live jazz seemed to fit. Besides, it was lively and might pick up the energy level after a long day.

    Given it was November, a traditional Thanksgiving feast seemed the obvious choice along with the jazz by Chicago saxophonist Eric Schneider’s band during both the reception and dinner. Phil had approved the choice and I hoped we were both right.

    Our Russian guests arrived at the hotel, tired and hungry, after a whirlwind day of visiting their Chicago business and cultural counterparts but were quickly rejuvenated by the smiles and greetings of their dinner hosts. They were all ready for some beverages.

    While many clustered near the bar, a crowd gradually began to surround the jazz ensemble and in time, most guests gravitated to the music. When I walked by to see if Eric needed anything, he pointed to one Soviet guest standing on the side, head down, rocking to the sounds and tapping his foot in perfect rhythm to a Theolonius Monk tune. Eric and I winked at one another as I moved into the ballroom for one last check before opening the doors for our Thanksgiving feast.

    As I was about to open the door, I was greeted by two men who approached with humility and apprehension and in broken English asked if they could talk about the meal arrangements. “Yes, of course,” I said, and was introduced to an Azerbaijani rabbi. This small blond man had the most beautiful pale blue eyes I had ever seen. I nearly fell into them but snapped back quickly as I heard his friend tell me there had been no kosher food on the flight and he’d eaten only an apple since departing Moscow.

    My mind raced through the specifications and meal request survey I’d sent to my Russian counterpart, which included a section on special meal requests. Nothing came back requesting kosher meals. Before dashing to the kitchen to alert the award winning chef, I had a waiter put together a small bites plate which seemed to satisfy the immediate hunger needs.

    “What do you have in a kosher meal,” I frantically asked chef. With great calm, he went to the freezer and brought forth a frozen kosher meal. We both sighed, swiping our brows. I left the kitchen rubbing the index card as a worry stone, reading both sides quickly as I returned to the rotunda.

    The rabbi was smiling. The crowd’s numbers had increased. I overheard one Soviet (a well known pianist) say…this is how jazz should be played…and another agreed that…this is Chicago jazz.

    As people began their meal, there was conversation ranging from our beautiful architecture to the perplexing question of why we eat our national bird. Moving from table to table, I quickly explained that our national bird was the American bald eagle NOT the turkey on their plates.

    But, the most unforgettable comment came from one man who asked, “Your jazz, your beautiful city and friendly people have been a great surprise to me, but tell me, where is this famous Bloomingdale’s?”

    #

    One final note: at the post-event review meeting, the CEO informed us that during the reception/dinner, we ‘lost one of the guests.’ He was found wondering the Mag Mile with a little brown bag, (the well known Bloomingdale signature) in hand —a gift for his daughter, we were told.

    • Hazel says

      Judy, interesting story. Music seems to overcome everything. Loved the Bloomingdale story.

      Thank you for sharing

      • Judy says

        Hazel, thanks for the supporting comments. I was absolutely scared out of my mind during this event. A very conservative international organization and the use of jazz was considered really radical. But it gave me courage. I was able to break lots of rules including getting a two hour stage program dedicated to the lives of women from five countries (Turkey, Africa, Japan, Australia & the UK). Love that trail blazing thing! BTB: my kids are in Albqu and I’m there a few times a year.

        • Hazel says

          I’m in the Four Corner’s area almost on the Navajo Reservation. It’s about 275 miles from Albuquerque.

    • Polly says

      Judy, I always expect your stories to be deliciously entertaining, and this one didn’t disappoint. I loved it! I especially loved your worry stone/index card. So good. Thank you.

      • Judy says

        :) Thanks, Polly. I’m working on a piece about Prince, the artist, and how we ‘shared’ the Munich Olympic Stadium stage the night before the opening plenary session for the same service organization. What a hoot!

    • Ilana says

      Judy- You kept me drawn in the entire time. Your story made me smile and as always I learned too. I love how you showed rather than told us, that music is a universal language. Nice job! IM

  12. Hazel says

    It was bitterly cold (5 below zero for six week was the high temp of the day), mid-January Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 1975. We rented a cute little house in a well kept neighborhood. There was a little grocery store directly across the street, which I was thinking would be real handy. The first time I needed some milk I ran to the store where I was greeted by a large woman who smiled and said, “Guten tag.” I smiled back thinking: “what did she say?” I looked around and everything was written in German. I was able to identify the language because my husband was from Vienna, Austria and spoke his native German as well as English, and had a few books and letters from his mother, which I had seen. I was able to find the milk and took it to the counter where the clerk rang it up and told me the price. I paid for it and said, “thank you.” She said, “Bitte.” And I left.

    When my husband came home I told him about the store and all the wonderful sausages and deli goodies they had. I told him that he was going to have to do the shopping there. He immediately went to the store and came back with all kinds of delicious deli meats and some wonderful chocolates, cookies and such.

    My husband’s work was sporadic as was all construction work in that area in the middle of winter. As an Occupational Therapist I had no trouble getting a job and had decided to start applying but in Winnipeg there were little pockets of various ethnic groups with their unique cultures and languages all in tact. The German community where we lived was only one such section. There was a Ukrainian section, Russian, and French as well with English and various Oriental’s scattered among them.

    I was watching the paper for any and all ad’s for OT’s. I saw many ad’s that said, “Therapist needed. Must have knowledge of gasoline.” That threw me for a loop, I had never heard of such a therapist and being a curious sort I called and asked what that meant. It seems that there was a huge problem with the Native Indians sniffing gasoline, which if done for any length of time causes brain damage.

    I avoided ads from then on that said, “Must have knowledge of gasoline” and soon found one that said, “OT consultant needed for large rehab facility.” I called and the receptionist answered in a very smooth English speakers voice and I set up an appointment for an interview the next day. When I arrived there I was shown into the office of a very plump Grey Nun. She was pleasant but had a very strong French accent. We talked for a while then she showed me around the facility. It looked much like other ones that I had consulted for so I agreed to take the position of Temporary Consultant. I started to work there a couple of days later.

    As it turned out the Nun I had interviewed with did not tell me that most of the patients and most of the staff only spoke French, as in French Canadian French. The French Canadian’s at that time were trying fiercely to hang onto their French language and stubbornly resisted speaking any English. The staff were mostly of the Grey Nun order and happily fulfilled whatever duties they were assigned to. Thank goodness the human body does not have to use a language to communicate it’s problems and I was able to make suggestions for the patients’ treatment in English, which all of the nuns could read and understand. I felt like I had been set down on Mars. Even the food at the cafeteria was labeled with French and it included foods from the other ethnic groups around Winnipeg that I was unfamiliar with. The nuns would try and explain it to me as they laughed and I never knew if I was going to get something good or very bad.

    Every morning before I went to work I would take our little Yorkie out and fasten him on a wire so he could do his business before I went to work; the neighbor lady would come out and try to talk to me in German. I would shake my head and say “no”. Finally I asked my husband to teach me something to say to her so he said say “Wie Gehtes Dir?”. What does that mean? “How goes it? How are you?” So the next morning when I went out I said that to her. She smiled and started talking so fast and went on and on as she set about sweeping her sidewalk. She looked back at me and I shook my head; held my thumb and index finger about a quarter inch apart and said, “Kliena, Kliena!” Meaning little, little! She shook her head and went back in the house. She must have thought I had learned the whole German language over night.

    Needless to say I had a hard time communicating in Winnipeg. We moved to British Columbia soon after that, back to the English speaking part of the country, and to where it was not so-o-o cold!

    I have made peace with the fact that I am NOT a linguist. I just do not have the ear for it. Maybe that is because I have had such a hard time with English all my life due to dyslexia. We spent nearly a year in Seoul, South Korea and it was a good thing we were teaching English because I only retained one phrase from that year and I’m not sure what it means.

    My foreign language gene is broken and I’m all out of glue.

    • says

      Dear Hazel,

      I, too, have often felt I can’t learn another language, though after reading these responses, I am determined to try again. I know I will never be like my daughter, who seems to have a knack for language, or any of the others here who learned from infancy to speak multiple languages, but the effort to try will yield something–and be good for my brain, too. I especially loved this line in your piece, “Thank goodness the human body does not have to use a language to communicate its problems.”

      • Hazel says

        Thank you Laura. I wish you much success in your attempt to learn a new language.

        I thought when we moved here to New Mexico, almost on the reservation, that I might be up for learning some Navajo, but so far I haven’t gotten beyond, “Fry bread please.” But, that’s not so bad, especially with honey!

    • Ilana says

      Hazel- What a marvelous piece! I was absorbed in your story throughout. What will stay with me, though, is the last line. “My foreign language gene is broken and I’m all out of glue.” It is a great way for me to describe myself. It also gave me a laugh that I so desperately needed just now. Thank you!! IM

    • Polly says

      Hazel, was that -5 Celsius in Winnipeg in the middle of January? That’s amazing – it usually doesn’t get that warm. Their summers are gorgeous though. You may be “out of glue” in terms of your foreign language gene, but your written word in English is fantastic. I loved reading this. Thanks.

    • Judy says

      Hazel, I love this piece with great word pictures, feelings and frustrations. I got a big belly laugh with this line, ‘She shook her head and went back in the house. She must have thought I had learned the whole German language over night.’ So vivid. And, it’s just WOW for that last line! Thanks.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Great story, Hazel! Sounds like you, Polly and I all know Winnipeg winters with its minus 65 degree capabilities; I remember them well, was in Grade 2 when we lived there. The gasoline issue is scary and sad to me. Anyway, I love scene of the German lady sweeping outside. Also like your last line.

    • Judy says

      Laura, thank you for this link. What a powerful story of finding her family language and culture. It is heartwarming to hear this couple will teach their children Spanish. Perhaps later they will teach their kids Irish (the father’s family heritage) along with the story of how the English imprisoned and punished the Scots, Irish and Welsh for speaking ‘their Celtic’ languages back in the mid-1700s. Fortunately, classes are now offered in Scots, Irish and Welsh worldwide.

      Polly speaks eloquently of the language and cultural genocide systemically perpetrated against the First Nation languages. In this link, the opposite seems to have taken place: the young woman’s parents and grandparents ‘self-imposed’ language genocide. Messy business, this thing of culture and language, but ALWAYS fascinating.

  13. Barbara Keller says

    “Tell me what speaking another language has taught you. Or how being monolingual has limited you.”

    I laughed to realize, once again, how left of center I am. At least I don’t mind the way I did when I was young.

    I will explain. I heard someone say “The blinds are always up.” He saw too much, and couldn’t stop.

    I’m intuitive, and believe I know how everyone feels by their posture, voice, facial expression and God knows what else. I look at a picture of a colt resting on the grass and have a sense that he’s happy, content, enjoying his life. When it’s people, not horses, it’s exhausting.

    Everywhere I went I knew way more than I wanted to know about everyone. And if they were unhappy or lonely or scared, it troubled me.

    Part of the reason I came to Mexico was that I didn’t speak Spanish and thought I would have some relief from always knowing too much. In part it worked. I speak a little spanish now, but not enough to make sense out of strangers talking. And the wonderful Mexican culture is enough different from my own US culture, that I can’t always read small signs.

    I’m thankful to have some distance and relief from the waves of input that were drowning me. So in my case, being monolingual was limiting in the best possible way.

      • Barbara Keller says

        Thanks you two, for the polite and kind responses. Yes, a different view. Though here I am now, pretty much surround by people, expats and Mexicans that I care about and try to understand so it only party worked, a partial escape from overwhelming input. And now I understand people talking spanish at Costco – so there you go, not a permanent fix.

    • Polly says

      Barbara, I like that you have the gift of empathy, although I understand that it can be exhausting. Your perspective really is fascinating. I love the idea that you had of immersing yourself in another culture and leaving your previous home behind. How interesting. Thank you for letting us see this part of your life.

    • Judy says

      Thank you for sharing so openly and deeply. Powerful stuff–your intuitive nature. Your last line is gripping, Barbara as is your response to other posts here. Reminded me of Carolyn Myss on her early experiences in medical intuition. Be well and I always look forward to your posts and comments.

  14. Bobbie Anne says

    I had an enjoyable conversation with Albino while I was riding the exercise bicycle at physical therapy yesterday. Albino is from Trieste, an Italian shipping port owned by the former Yugoslavia. He reminds me of my father. My grandfather came from Trieste, but didn’t speak Italian anymore once he was on American soil. Italians did such a good job of assimilating into the United States, that it seems that they gave up a bit of their own history. Not that he was ashamed of his background, but he had his name Americanized. Why? I think maybe he lost a bit of himself for awhile. He should be proud of his heritage. Its where he came from.

    I spoke with Albino using the few Italian words I know. It is such a beautiful language! We talked about real Italian food and diet, fresh veggies, and a different way of thinking. I wish my school offered Italian. They didn’t, so since I had a Spanish friend from Madrid, I learned Spanish instead. The teacher lived next to my friend and taught us to roll our ‘r’s and use the ‘vostros’ tense. It was an advanced program for students gifted in English. Truth be told, learning the proper tenses helped with English. When I took the honors regent exam for Spanish, there was a written and oral part. I could say simple sentences like I wanted to go to the beach or my blouse was blue. I got an ‘A’ on my regent exam!

    I went on to teach English in middle and high school. Some of the Students weren’t born in America, so knowing some Spanish has helped. I also taught English as a Second Language, where I conducted my entire class in English. Even though the Spanish would have helped in some cases.

    When I was learning Spanish, and I asked the teacher a question in English, she ignored me. I didn’t understand why at first. I thought she didn’t notice me. Then I realized I had to ask the question in Spanish. That is one way to learn. I don’t speak it as much now, but there is a Spanish physical therapist there I talk with in Spanish every now and then. There is a newspaper, ‘The Bilingual’ that I read that helps me to keep current and practice my Spanish. And that’s a good thing.

      • Bobbie Anne says

        Thanks, Laura. It’s not so hard to do. Try reading a local newspaper, like The Bilingual, that has both English and Spanish or try the local library for CD’s and DVD’s on learning Spanish. I did!

    • Terry Gibson says

      Bobbi Anne, I really enjoyed this story. I have always thought of Italian as a melodic, sexy language, like French and Spanish. I love the pronunciation of “gratzi,” that rolling ‘r.’ When I was in Cuba, I was confusing Spanish with Italian and greeting and thanking people in four different languages. Throw in an ‘Ohayou gozaimasu’ and ‘Arigatou!’ (‘Good morning’ and ‘Thank you,” respectively) and I could’ve done the same for Japanese travellers. I might’ve seemed really polished and learned. :) Going to look up ‘The Bilingual.’ Thanks Bobbi Anne. Nice to ‘see’ you.

      • Judy says

        Bobbi Anne, Gee I love this story. You hooked me immediately with your opening about Trieste. What a city! If you haven’t yet, you might enjoy reading Trieste by Jan Morris. Your love of language comes shining through in this piece and I look forward to reading more of your posts.

        • Bobbie Anne says

          Thanks Judy! I’m glad you liked it. Thank you for telling me about the book Trieste. I will look for it in the library. Thank you for reminding me that I do love languages. I wish I could speak four of them, like my sister can. She speaks German, English, and a little French and Greek. That’s more than me, but I’m not competing, just wishing I could be as gifted in that area. However, we all have our talents.

          When I was in High School, my friend proofread my poem and made sure my Spanish translation was correct. By the way, I still like the song Eres Tu!

      • Bobbie Anne says

        Thanks Terry. Yes, Italian is very musical and indeed sexy. Seems advertiser’s picked up on this with that popular ice cream commercial currently on television. I think most of the ‘Romance’ Languages are. Even if you don’t understand what they are saying, it just sounds beautiful. Look at you- Spanish, Italian, Japanese, and English- you could practically work for the UN or something like that if you can converse and write in all four languages! It’s nice ‘seeing’ you too! :-)

    • Polly says

      Bobbie Anne, I enjoyed reading about your openness to learn new languages, and the enthusiastic effort you devote to communicating with those around you. It sounds like language has been a tremendous part of your life. I see that as a gift. Thanks.

      • Bobbie Anne says

        Thanks, Polly that’s so nice of you to say! Even if I can’t speak four languages, the love of languages has played a big part in my life. Why, I even have a degree in Communications in addition to English. And you reminded me it is a gift, and one I tried share with my students when I taught English and English as A Second Language. Helping my Italian student Grazia and her husband made me smile. She brought in her son on international food night and he came complete with chef’s hat and had cooked a fantastic meal for all to enjoy and we had a lesson the next day about Italian food.

  15. Ilana says

    I did start a response to this week’s prompt but I just can’t finish it. This is praying on my mind and I just had to get it out. I had to share it with this supportive community that I know will be accepting of it. Thank you for letting me post my hopes and fears here where I trust that they will be understood and honored.

    I may try to finish my actual response to the prompt but I just don’t know right now. Thank you again. IM

  16. Ilana says

    Hooray For the Boy Who Cried Wolf!

    “I haven’t been feeling so well for about a week and blood is NOT supposed to come out of that place.” My husband, wisely, called the doctor and they began running tests; the biggest one, a colonoscopy. He can’t do that alone. Even if he wanted to the paperwork clearly states that the hospital won’t perform the test unless another adult, without children present, is there throughout the procedure and to drive the patient home.

    I’m exhausted in my own right, just coming off of my first experience with traffic court and now an emergency root canal on my seven year old daughter. An unsuccessful root canal, I might add. We’ll have her on meds for a week and try again. Then there’s the regular duties for a mother of three. I’ve got to get my youngest registered for kindergarten and all three signed up for their summer programming. My mind is screaming, “Forget about all that! Zander might have cancer!” But I can’t forget about all that. It’s got to get done.

    Because of a lack of childcare and my needing, both emotionally and logistically to be there, we had to put off the colonoscopy until Wednesday. That’s five more nights of worrying until we know for sure what we’re dealing with. Zander is something of a stoic. He just doesn’t bother with the inconvenience of complaining. Okay, I’m ashamed to admit it but another reason is because he’s afraid of scaring me. We’ve talked about it quite a bit and he’s finally comfortable telling me that he’s scared, himself. He’s also terribly hurt that his parents refuse to help out in order to make it so we can get this over with sooner.

    The other thing Zander is worried about is that he is crying wolf. “The bleeding stopped two days ago and the other symptoms don’t point to cancer. What if I’m making a big deal out of nothing?” Crying wolf?!? God I hope so! Please be crying wolf, Zander, please! It would be the answer to all of my prayers. If it turns out that you’re okay and we went through all of this for nothing I will get down on my knees and thank any deity that happens to be listening! The fact is, we know lots of stories about people who didn’t cry wolf. They ignored their symptoms or played them down until it was too late; Eva Peron, Audrey Hepburn and my own beloved Rosie, to name just a few. Rosie is in remission now but had she caught it sooner the cancer would not have metastasized and dragged her through the hell that it did.

    The point is that by crying wolf my Zander is protecting himself and those of us who love and need him so desperately. What would we do if he didn’t mention his symptoms because he was afraid they were nothing and they turned out to be something? I can’t even imagine. Regardless of the outcome of Wednesday’s test Zander is doing the right thing, the responsible thing. If the worst possible thing happens then at least we’re catching it early because my Zander was not afraid to cry wolf.

    If my prayers are answered and Zander is just fine I will bake him a cake and write across the top “Hooray for the boy who cried wolf!” I will cross stitch a runner in his favorite color and it will scream, “Hooray for the boy who cried wolf!” If everything happens the way I so badly want it to, next week I will write prayer of thanks and the title will be “Hooray for the boy who cried wolf!”

    I should stop there but I can’t. I need to ask for you to send up a prayer for my husband. Please, ask whichever higher power you believe in, to watch out of a beautiful kind man, a generous, caring father and a devoted husband whose name isn’t really Zander.

    • says

      Ilana, no wonder you couldn’t focus on this week’s prompt. In my classes, I always tell people they can ignore the prompt if they need to, if something else is pushing up that simply has to be written about. And this definitely qualifies. I’m so glad you’re asking for help and support from this community. You’ve given so much here, and I’m sure everyone will send their prayers to you and Zander.

      Hooray for the boy who cried wolf!

    • Terry Gibson says

      Ilana, I’m saying prayers for you, Zander and your kids. That all will be okay. Please take good care of yourself too. That’s tremendous pressure to be under. Sending love.

    • Hazel says

      Ilana,
      I wish you peace.

      I pray for you and your husband that you may have every good thing.

      Thank you for sharing, what are friends for if not to share with?

      Love shine on you and your family.

    • Judy says

      Dear Ilana,

      You, Zander and the children are in my prayers. Wishing peace, calm and loving healing energy around you now and always. So glad you feel comfortable to share and ask for what you need. Blessed be and sending hugs.

    • Polly says

      Ilana, I am sending so many wishes of love and good health to you, Zander, and your family. Thanks for posting this.

    • Ilana says

      Thank you all for your kind words. They mean so much to me. I shared your comments with Zander and he was overwhelmed at the support you were all able to send to him without even knowing his real name. I will be sure to notify you all of the good news we are hoping for. Please continue to keep us in your prayers. Gratefully, Ilana M and Zander

    • Ilana says

      IT’S NOT CANCER!!! Thank you all for your support. After going through the whole colonoscopy and all the possibilities it could be the lab found a mistake in some earlier tests. Someone mishandled the original test for Salmonella and though it was positive the result was marked negative. Zander has a mild (?) case of Salmonella. Didn’t know that existed but the doc thinks it will resolve soon.

      Again, thank you for your support. This community is truly a gift.

      Ilana M

  17. Hazel says

    Another different language:

    When I was a little girl I was in awe of my maternal grandmother. Not only did she dress differently from the “modern dress” of her daughters but her speech was different. She came from Kentucky, back in the hills that seemed to be from another time. She said things like: Grandpa went down the “pike a piece” to see another farmer. If her kettle was boiling it was “bilein’”. She “dasn’t” go to town today. If someone had a stomach ache, she would give them a “dose of salts”. Grandpa had his “croaker sack” and was headed for the pond. (Hopefully to get frogs for froglegs for “supper”.)

    Listening to her talk was like listening to an original speaker right out of Shakespeare. It sounded so strange. Once in a while my mother would use some phrase or word that was definitely Grandma’s, usually in fun. I wonder if some of those “lost in time” pockets still exist as they did in the 1920-30′s.

    Grandma went to school to third grade, “real book larnin’” which was real good for a girl. Grandpa went to sixth grade and he could laboriously read the news paper. He considered himself very well educated. My mother was the first of thirteen children to get a high school diploma.

    I am the only one left that remembers my grandmother’s unique and wonderful language.

    • Judy says

      Dear Hazel,

      What a sweet story. Well written. Thank you for brings back memories of my great grandparents from Madison, IN across from Kentucky. Phrases like ‘sit-a-spell’ and ‘by-and- by’ or my favorite ‘of–an-evenin.’

      Gettin’ on supper time, gonna fry me up some fishtails.

      • Hazel says

        And Get the “vittals” for Sunday dinner. Sunday was the only day that she had “dinner”. All the other days it was “supper”.

        • Judy says

          Oh, my gosh, Hazel, yes supper during the week! I realized the phrase was, ‘I got me amind to fry me up some……, but first I gotta go to the crik to fill my pale.

    • Polly says

      Hazel, that was extremely sweet. I had a clear image of your grandmother in my mind – you brought her to life. I agree with Laura’s suggestion; I’d love see her as a character. It sounds like quite a challenge but one that I’m confident you would have no problem rising to.

    • Hazel says

      Thank you all for your comments. I have her in a couple of stories in the book I am writing now but they are not specific to her language. I will consider that suggestion.

  18. Polly says

    J’étais complètement bilingue depuis la maternelle, mais j’ai perdue la langue comme adulte.

    My parents enrolled me in a French immersion program and I will be forever grateful for that. Growing up, I was confident that my bilingualism would open a variety of doors for me in my adulthood, and that as such, I would inevitably go far. I spoke both official Canadian languages: English and French. Teachers warned us that if we ever stopped speaking French in our day to day lives, we would lose the language. I never thought that would apply to me. It was unthinkable.

    I remember travelling to Québec with my parents and one of my sisters when I was 11. I was so proud, and certain that I would dazzle the locals with my excellent grasp of their language. My sister and I approached a chique, sophisticated francophone woman (I forget why now – we were both so brazen back then), and started speaking French to her. She gave us a look of pity, and said condescendingly in a “there there” tone, “You don’t speak French, do you?” It was more a statement than a question. Pride turned to embarrassment, yet we ventured on.

    My skills did improve however. My accent became more defined and impressive, I grew capable of communicating better, and intellectually developed an extremely solid grasp of the entire structure of the French language. Over time, I truly became fully bilingual. In grade 12, French immersion students in my grade were given the opportunity to write an advanced placement exam which, if done successfully, would grant us each six credits in a 100-level university French course. I studied hard, and when the time came, I received the best grade on that exam in my school. Success.

    My first real hunch that the unthinkable had indeed happened was when I began a 200-leve French literature university class about six years after having graduated from high school. Armed with as many years of life experience under my belt, and what in hindsight was an over-confidence at what had been my superior language skills in the past, I entered the lecture hall. The young women around me spoke together fluently, and eagerly raised their hands to answer questions. I fumbled several attempts to put together basic sentences – I could get my point across, but the grammar was horrible, the structure and syntax utterly broken. A usually bright young woman, I was getting C’s on essays. I was mortified. Thankfully I had a generous professor who provided me with numerous opportunities to excel, and therefore it was not a complete flop. If memory serves me correctly, I finished with roughly an A-.

    As an aside: The principle that states that a person – or even a culture – can lose a language upon not using it, saddens me. The cultural genocide that has been systemically perpetrated against First Nations peoples (and Native Americans, and indigenous peoples on every continent) has ensured that hundreds of languages (if not more) have all but been lost. There are efforts today to reverse those effects. I support those efforts wholeheartedly.

    Regardless, my background in both French and English has enabled me to decipher portions of many other languages. Having mastered (if I can use that term here – artistic license?) one Romantic and one Germanic language makes it relatively easy to follow at least the written and often spoken word of others. I once read an entire passage in German, and understood it fully prior to reading the translation at the bottom of the page, because the written word resembles English so well. My French allows me to understand parts of Italian and Spanish, among others. I still have a passion and a drive to learn, and to communicate. (That is partly just who I am, and partly what I have gained from bilingualism.) I think that is the gift that two languages have given me.

    • Hazel says

      Polly,
      Thank you for sharing such a well written piece. You are truly blessed with the gift of two languages. Although I don’t think it is truly a gift, as you worked very hard to achieve your proficiency in French. Good work!

      P. S. One should never stop learning. It is what keeps us going.

      • Polly says

        Thanks Hazel. I agree with your thoughts on learning! I just think languages are a gift … the more avenues we have with which to communicate, the more blessed and privileged we are to a certain extent. Thank you for your kind words.

    • Judy says

      Polly, thank you for the sharply written story of your rich language experiences. What impressive language mastery you have. I was with you and your sister during the Quebec women’s comments. Arg!

      I especially like your points on language genocide. I’ve learned much from a sister-in-law whose maternal grandmother was one of the last fluent speakers of the Oneida language (Part of the Iroquois Nations). My sister-in-law and I agree there is great irony in their language decline, given the Iroquois Constitution influenced Ben Franklin’s thinking in the development of the United States Constitution.

      • Polly says

        Thanks Judy. Yes I feel that the loss of language on a larger scale (ie that of entire cultures) is very sad, and I like that you describe it as irony – particularly in that scenario. Thank you for the nice things you said about this piece.

        • Judy says

          Most welcome, Polly. What I’ve learned in reading history is there seems to be a pattern of oppressors controlling/eliminating food distribution, culture, and language. And, I greatly agree with you, that this prompt, thank you Laura, helps each of us to get to know one another better. It’s all good.

          • Polly says

            Absolutely, that’s a pattern. I remember in the days leading up to the 2008 US election (I’m a Canadian who’s fascinated by American politics), there were propositions on ballots in various states, calling for only English and no other languages to be taught in schools. Anti-immigration measures, much? I could go on about this forever but I’ll leave it there. Yes, a great prompt.

    • Ilana says

      Polly- I love this narration. You took us through your journey so fluidly. I learned a lot as well as enjoying reading the piece. When you pointed out how many languages are lost to genocide you really made me think. You have a good point. I am not contradicting you in the least but would like to put up a picture next to that one.

      Yiddish came about, if I’ve got my information correct, because Jews who did not speak the same languages were thrown together in the Nazi concentration camps. They created it as a means of communication. It is a combination of German and Hebrew. In 1983 my Great (and really great, too) aunt was wounded when an anti-Semitic group attacked a kosher restaurant in France. She was in the hospital for weeks during which time the Jewish women of the town visited her. She did not speak French, nor they English, but the communicated in broken Yiddish. This is an unusual example and I agree with you, so many languages are lost when we lose the people who speak them. Thanks for your piece,
      IM

      • Polly says

        Ilana although I used to read a lot about the holocaust and I’ve heard stories from people I know, I didn’t realize Yiddish was quite that recent. That example shows such strength and resourcefulness. Thank you for putting up that picture.

        I love that your great aunt was able to speak with the other women in that town, and I’m so sorry for what she went through.

        My wife is First Nations. In terms of Aboriginal history and the history of colonization, in Canada there wasn’t quite the genocide that occurred in the US, but there was a lot of stripping away of culture and traditions. Here, (as one example), kids were taken from their families and sent to residential schools, where their languages were not permitted, and children were actively taught to be ashamed of the languages and customs they had been brought up with prior to being taken away. There was also an unbelievable amount of abuse of all kinds that went on in those schools, before they were finally shut down. Now in some cases, those traditional languages are being taught in schools again. It’s a start.

        • Ilana says

          Nope. I was wrong. The language is much older than that. Should have looked it up the first time. However, the picture of my great aunt talking with those women will remain with me forever. Sorry for the bad info and thanks for your patience with me.

          I’m going to reread your comments again and learn more from you. I’ll look up First Nations too. Thank you for all you’ve taught me. IM

          • Polly says

            And ditto to you! I feel like I’m always learning from you. First Nations is just the term we use in Canada that means the same thing as Native American.

            PS Thanks for the nice things you said about my piece :) … and for letting me rant a bit.

  19. Deb Mansell says

    When you asked about language and speaking another language two things came to me.

    Firstly I thought of all the time when I was trying to tell how much I hurt but no-one seemed to understand what I was I saying to them, it was like I was speaking a different language, the language of pain.

    I remember the rage, the tantrums, the tummy ache, the burning wee, the crying in the night. The feeling of loneliness. But no-one spoke this language and recognized what was happening to the small me.

    Then I thought of not being able to learn a second language in school.

    I was green with envy when my children began to learn French and Spanish in school, I longed to have an opportunity to learn a second language, I wasn’t given the chance just a handful of French words at primary school.

    When I progressed to senior school I was placed in the remedial stream because my basic education level was so low, too many hours sat outside the school office having “tummy ache”, too many days off with sore throats, too many classes spent daydreaming/splitting and missing the lessons, not finishing, hardly starting the work.

    The remedial stream where thought not to have the ability for language, a lot of us struggled with English. I was told over and over that I was useless, that I’d never learn and soon I believed that and didn’t try. When I sat tests I deliberately didn’t try.

    When I opted for my exam subjects I choose the ones I thought need the least study and homework. English language and math was compulsory and I found my teacher Mr. Perkins to be my refuge, he could see that I could do it and taught me about keeping a journal, which kept me sane! He taught me that writing was there at any time there was a pen and paper especially good at 2am when everyone else was asleep.

    I scraped by with low level exam passes apart from English in which I achieved a B grade.

    Where has this left me? I have studied since leaving school and found that I can do math too. And have enough points from the Open University for a certificate in Mathematics. I am also a parent governor at my children’s senior school where our motto is “Every child counts”.

    • Polly says

      Deb, thank you for sharing this powerful, painful story. I like the angle you began with on that ‘other’ language. I appreciated how writing essentially saved you, and a teacher was able to make a difference in showing you how positive learning could be. I admire you for pursuing further learning now, and the difference you are now making in a school. You’re giving back. Thank you.

    • says

      Deb, I, too, loved how you’re using a painful experience from your own life to make a difference for the next generation of children. And I enjoyed the liberty with which you responded to the prompt in your opening. One of things I love about writing classes and workshops (and this blog, too) is the incredibly variety of responses you get when a bunch of writers respond to the same prompt.

      • Deb Mansell says

        Thank you Laura, writing this out was a challenge, I very nearly skipped this week. Already this piece is prompting other memories, I think this piece will come with me to therapy this week. :-)

        • says

          You know how it goes…I always have students come to me and say, “Your class is so great because now I don’t have to go to therapy!” And others come in and say, “I joined your class and I had to start therapy.”

          It’s true, writing brings up everything we need to examine and witness and face. It’s all right there under the surface and writing brings it up.

          • Terry Gibson says

            Laura, what about those who say, “Your class is so great, I want you to BE my therapist!” :)

          • Polly says

            Laura, I think that between my absolutely phenomenal therapist, and you/this community, and some ingredients thrown in by me, I will have this healing thing in the bag one day. My two cents. Thanks.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Deb, the beginnings of this story make me so sad and angry! That you (and kids, generally) get spoken to and berated like that. I am so sorry that happened to you. Nobody deserves that. I relate to this as an A-producing student who soon was down to Cs for my own reasons. Yet, like you, I went on and discovered I had the aptitude for any subject I wanted. I’m so happy you found the courage to go on academically, despite those beginnings. How cool that there was a teacher who made all the difference! I admire you so much!

      • Deb Mansell says

        Terry, I am humbled.

        In honoring what I did to survive writing was up at the top of the list. I never told Mr Perkins what was happening and whilst he taught me aged 13-16 I was in the thick of it, but I did listen to what he told me. His English lessons were so full of knowledge and excitement they kept me focused and alive!

  20. Judy says

    I had hoped to wrote on the use of texts, tweets and whatever. My six grand kids pretty much only use social media as a form of communication; and, I greatly worry about the future of language and how we humans will connect emotionally as a result of the changes. Tomes have been written on the topic of the future of language as a result of social media, yes? Would anyone like to see a discussion here on the topic. Perhaps a future prompt?

    • says

      I think that would be an interesting prompt. Living with two teenagers, I’d have to say I don’t think communication is dead, not by a long shot. It’s just changing forms.

  21. Carolina Evans-Roman says

    Whole and Complete

    When I speak Spanish I feel as if I am speaking with my heart. The words are my Uncle Joe smiling at me and asking if I want a pony ride on his shoulders or my Aunt Juanita saying, “Mijita, quieres un cookie?” I grew up with two languages spoken in my home. My mother’s family was from New Mexico, before it became a state. They grew up in the early nineteen hundreds, where they went to schools that punish students for speaking Spanish. When the English speaking population began building schools after statehood, they no longer wanted the Mexican children to speak their language. My family was very proud of being of Mexican descent, but also very proud of being American citizens. They were able to express themselves in both languages, but Spanish was the language they used with each other, the language of their emotions. However, they knew that English was the language of success in school and in work. They understood that it was important that I learn to speak English well.

    I spoke both languages when I entered school, but because Spanish was never spoken or acknowledged, my Spanish literacy was never able to develop. By the time I was an adolescent, I no longer spoke it. I would hear my mother speak to my aunts and uncles and understand every word they were saying, but I would, or could, no longer express my self in Spanish. I remember being laughed at by Spanish speaking people outside my family for attempting to converse in Spanish. Then, when I didn’t speak it, I would get accused of not wanting to identify myself as Mexican. My mother was made to feel guilty for not teaching me. By the time I was a teenager I stopped trying to speak it and even pretended to not know it at all.

    I married and had children and we only spoke English. I never used Spanish to speak to my children, therefore they never learned it. I was the broken link in the family’s Spanish language chain, never again to be repaired. When I attended the university, after having children, I learned about the colonization of the Mexican people in the Southwest. I learned that I had been robbed of my family’s language. So I made a promise to myself that I would reclaim my culture and my language. I began speaking Spanish, as elementary as it sounded. I immersed myself in the language by spending time in Mexico and took classes, determined to awaken the language that had never really died, but just lay dormant. I remember the morning I awoke realizing I had dreamed in Spanish; I cried tears of celebration. I, now, felt whole and complete.

    Today, when I speak Spanish, I feel connected to my heart and soul. It’s the language of those who loved me and cared for me when I was a child. When I speak English I feel connected to my mind and intellect, the language that was used to teach me, the language in which I learned to think. I am so proud of being bilingual and I embrace both languages as essential parts of who I am.

    • says

      Carolina, thank you for this beautiful story of your journey. I had no idea that you ever had a time when you were disconnected from your Spanish–no idea at all! I’m so glad you shared this. What a triumph for you. I loved sharing that moment when you dreamed in Spanish. How wonderful that must have been!

  22. Terry Gibson says

    I’ve already told most of my adventures with foreign languages here so I took a different approach. I know else took this prompt from a similar angle. I had to do it though it’s rough.

    “Everything in writing begins with language. Language begins with listening.” Jeanette Winterson

    One language I converse fluently in is therapy-speak. This language helped me fight through when I was locked inside myself, emotionally ignorant and claustrophobic. It also eventually catapulted me skyward when I learned how to talk to people. This was not an easy place to get, however.

    In the beginning, relating in this way just meant showing up at an office–something I could not often do due to panic attacks—where I would sit quietly for an hour. The person (a doctor, social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist) on the other side of the desk was a total stranger who asked me questions in a kind, soft-spoken manner. I hardly spoke so I listened a lot. Their offices were the only refuge and audience I had so I learned how to pass time there.

    As time passed, I saw the pros and cons to immersion in this tongue. For example, I got multiple A+s on fourth year university courses, and wrote some fine papers in that psych, education, sociology, and gender and sexuality studies.

    I got used to always being the interviewee; I was the uncomfortable center of attention and–depending on catchment numbers—I was given lots of time to trust and adjust. Eventually, their questions became my own. How could I not wonder? I didn’t know anything about myself except that I was a ‘slut’ (as reinforced by my hometown, two others, my so-called friends, and, of course, my family). I was ever vigilant in my habit of demanding answers from myself–everything I did, my moods, thoughts, and every inner and outer quake. Little did they know that their every query created the passion for my own self-interview, where the main issue was always the same: What is wrong with me? How do I make it better?

    Some days my inner voice only flung hateful barbs, which prompted my asking to go to ‘Transitions,’ the outpatient house across from the community centre with the outdoor pool. I stayed in that gorgeous yellow house, trimmed in white, to keep safe through many crises: an anti-depressant switch, coping with bouts of self-directed rage, casting me into immediate danger; and to take occasional rests from my telephone battles with living and breathing relatives who still wanted to knock me down, kick me in the ribs, and shut me up. They needed me to be certifiable.

    The rough spots were many. Therapy was the lingo from which I uttered a few words, and then braced myself for gleaming eyes, the upturned corners of the therapist’s mouth, laughter spilling out of that smile, finger pointing, and even cheering. Sometimes, I didn’t even await the outcome. When my vulnerability was so overwhelming, I heard the chanting of my head and shuddered, white-lipped. I retreated more deeply into my cell. I was a big-ass joke.

    A decade ago, I tried to crack the problem again. I half-heartedly researched my book, and decided to test out some of the ‘rights’ I supposedly had in the world. First test: I asked to look through my file to document all the medicines prescribed to me. The plan was to compare the psych drugs and their dosages against the worst self-harming episodes I experienced. This was not a small file, mind you. My file was so thick, I’m sure the world rejoiced when computers came along.

    My therapist Kerry arranged it one week later. It was a bright Friday morning and my shoes crunched on the frost covered streets as I made my way there. Minutes later, I had a coffee in my right hand and sat in an empty office of the Mental Health Center, sifting through my file. My goal was to document all the medicine I was prescribed from the moment I entered the ‘system’ in Vancouver; prior to that, I never had anti-depressants, relaxants, nothing at all.

    Surprises? No. I knew most of what was there but I did find one minor blow. The shock was to find dozens of pages with huge chunks of text blocked out by black marker. This infuriated me. I thought I was entitled to the straight goods, not a surgically tailored version to make it palatable for me.

    Knowing where they were at, I knew they had to protect me from further upset. For that, I am thankful. Much of what they taught has given me life again. Our dedicated work together soon ignited the light behind my once-dead eyes. Thank God for new languages (of all kinds) and the people needed to teach them. Without learning therapy-speak, I would surely be dead.

    • Ilana says

      Terry- What an eloquent description of your journey. I especially liked the last line “Thank God for new languages (of all kinds) and the people needed to teach them.” Thank you for sharing! IM

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>