mardi 29 mai 2012

Why do we do what we do

Some of my choices have been hard to justify lately, since I'm going from a stable situation to a less stable one - from well employed to kind-of, maybe employed. But when I search the core of my choice, I'm okay with it. However,  I'm also in denial. I'm not realizing that I'll be leaving Bethlehem in 4 days, that all my belongings will be packed and ready to go. I need to start realizing, because I do have some packing left to do.

translated graph
I've also been working on a translation this past week. A physics research paper, which is not my forte, but which I am actually, oddly, able to translate thanks to a combination of my own brain and the internet's great language/translation applications. And this job, translating a physics research paper (more specifically, "the acoustics of string instruments"), led me to wonder: why do I like this so much? Translating? And teaching? And theater? And writing? Or, why do I have so many interests and what is it that drives me to work?
I came up with an answer - kind of. I need to digress, for a moment. You know the anecdote where a girl says that she wants to be a singer, yet all she ever talks about is how she envisions her huge house, her pool, her future designer clothes and trophy husband? Well, of course, the moral of the story is that the girl really doesn't want to be a singer, she just wants to be rich. And, in order to be rich, she doesn't necessarily has to be a singer (actually, probably not a good idea at all).

In my case - scoop ahead -  I don't want to be rich. But there is something that drives me, and I'm not sure that what I really want is what I claim to want. When I look at all the things that I enjoy doing in the professional realm, they all involve creating or transforming: I like to make things that previously didn't exist. That's what motivates me. I like to start with a very loose idea and end up with a blog post. I like to see a document in French and end up with a document in English. I like to gather people in a room and create a piece of theater to be performed for others. I like to start with a teaching concept and end up with a lesson plan. I've heard that theater was all about problem-solving, and I agree. But it never occurred to me that theater had problem-solving at its core because the performance itself was the solution. Sometimes, in the midst of it all, we forget.

The Matter of Moments, Feb. 2011, Touchstone Theatre.
Although we are all constantly evolving, changing, contradicting ourselves, I like to come up with finished products that act as little answers. My favorite solutions are artistic, but I like other ones too -  as long as they attempt to answer the key questions that were asked in the first place, and as long as they can morph into new questions that, in turn, need to be addressed.
That sounds a lot like what motivates researchers, doesn't it? Or artists. Yes, artists also seek answers and their creations act as temporary proofs. Research and art - they're not that far apart.
In this century, for some reason, we're asked to choose: one way to explain the world over another. And that's fine - sometimes it's important to make a choice. But I need to remember what motivates me at the very elemental level - why I do what I do, and how can I do more of what I really, really love?
I'll be answering that question for a while.

mercredi 9 mai 2012

Rentrer à la maison

Difficile, parfois, de commencer un billet. Ca fait longtemps que je n'ai pas écrit en français, mais les circonstances s'y prêtent. Après tout, la France est au centre de l'actualité en ce moment avec l'élection du nouveau président, même ici, aux Etats-Unis (enfin... au centre de l'actualité internationale, n'éxagérons rien!). 

Sur le plan personnel, je finis une année d'enseignement de français, et je m'apprête à rentrer à Paris. Certaines personnes disent, pour expliquer mon départ que "je rentre à la maison" ("I'm going back home") et, objectivement, ils ont raison. Mais, bizarrement, je ne le vois pas vraiment comme ça, ce retour. Parce que, même si la Pennsylvanie n'est pas mon "home", c'est devenu mon lieu  de vie. Et il y a un petit déracinement qui s'opère en ce moment. Je dis au revoir aux amis qui m'ont accompagné ces derniers temps. Je m'habitue à l'idée que je ne vais plus vivre avec mes colocs, que mes habitudes, bien que formées récemment, vont changer. 

La partie de moi-même qui a été élaborée ici, j'aimerais pouvoir l'exporter. Je ne veux pas être la parisienne que j'étais avant d'embarquer dans cette aventure américaine. Ce que j'aimerais garder de ma vie ici, c'est avant tout un contact humain plus détendu. J'ai appris à être un peu plus simple:  On va boire une bière? Ok! Je te retrouve dans un quart d'heure. J'ai  davantage le sentiment d'assumer qui je suis, et j'espère que la vie parisienne ne m'ôtera pas cette confiance nouvellement acquise. C'est à moi de continuer à m'affirmer, bien sûr. Mais, je connais la capitale et elle peut être dure. Je connais son métro et ces corps qui ne se regardent pas. 
En vivant dans une ville à taille humaine (à Bethlehem, on croise souvent des connaissances dans les commerces), j'ai pu mesurer à quel point c'était agréable d'avoir des repères, et que la proximité, ça peut être chouette. Parce qu'une demi-heure de métro pour voir un pote, ça casse un peu le côté spontané de la rencontre... 

Mais je pense qu'il y a moyen d'allier mon futur mode de vie urbain avec les habitudes que j'ai acquises ici. En rentrant à Paris, je vais m'engager le plus concrètement possible: dans la recherche d'un emploi, dans du bénévolat et des activités. C'est quelque chose que j'ai appris à faire pour moi-même ici, aux Etats-Unis, en partie parce que c'était le seul moyen de faire connaissance avec la ville et avec les gens. J'ai pris des cours de tango, j'ai proposé des cours de conversation, je me suis investie dans mon travail au théâtre, etc. 

Et c'est peut-être ça, le problème avec l'idée de "home" : on le prend pour un acquis, quelque chose de connu, de familier. On fait moins d'effort pour découvrir les facettes cachées de ce "home". Je me lance donc un défi: rentrer à la maison pour faire connaissance avec ma ville natale. Aller à la rencontre des gens et des paysages sans trop de préjugés. C'est ce qui m'a permis de vivre à fond ces trois ans en Pennsylvanie et je pense que c'est ce qui va me permettre de m'épanouir à Paris. 

Bethlehem, PA, USA

Esplanade de la Défense, Courbevoie, France

mercredi 2 mai 2012

Can I come back?

Actually... you know what? I think I want to come back. I want to write on this blog again. I've missed it, more than I'm willing to admit. So - for those of you who were kind enough to read my ramblings, maybe you'll want to come back . I'll do my best to update semi-regularly. This blog has helped me to figure things out along the way, to process and share. I don't want to stop doing that! I need this outlet. Otherwise, I tend to bottle things up, and I get migraines. Unpleasant. If "a blog post a day keeps the migraines away", and if I feel like I just can't stop myself from writing, then I should write! Simple as that.

Glad we cleared that up.

My last day of class is tomorrow. I'm going to go ahead and make an assumption : I think that my students are glad that the semester is over. I also think that quite a few of my students are glad that they won't have to take a language course ever again. Unfortunately,  I wasn't singlehandedly able to successfully challenge the stereotype that English is the only language one needs to know in "America". Of course, some students have learned from the experience of taking two semesters of French in college. At least two young women in my class will be studying abroad in France, and will, most likely, gain a lot from the experience. Other students might pick French up again at some point in their lives. A few will take the next class offered for their level. And I hope that some students will consider tutoring next year. But the silent majority doesn't really seem to care. Maybe they do, and I just don't know it? Nah. I was teaching an elementary French class - who am I kidding? Some kids just needed the course credit. And I guess that's okay.
Or is it?

I don't know if it's a genetic thing, or the way I was brought up (I think the latter), but I overly care about things, and it does perplex me when I see others staring blankly as if to say "why waste your breath?". There is probably a correlation between caring and teaching. Come to think about it, there is a correlation between caring and theater. Both teaching and theater are occupations which wouldn't survive without a deep commitment to the ideals that are at their core.

When it comes to teaching, the content is important. And as a French teacher this year, I realized how much I enjoyed deepening my own understanding of French grammar and structure. But my happiest moments in the classroom are when  I have successfully transmitted a concept; when students take what I give and make it their own. They created some fun tongue-twisters, wrote a few skits, sang a song in front of their peers and learned about the French election. I think those were the highlights of the semester, in terms of what I was really able to  transmit. But there are other encounters where the teaching lies much more in the simple human interaction. Students look up to teachers. I was shocked to realize that when I started taking leadership roles in the classroom. It doesn't matter if you're only a couple of years older than they are. You, as the teacher, are meant to guide and explain things. Maybe that's really what it's all about.

One student came to my office and openly avowed disliking French. This caught me by surprise - who actually tells their French prof. that they don't like French? - but in a way, I was glad that he was expressing a strong opinion. I told him that he needed to find a reason to study. What was his goal for the class? Did he want to fail and take another language course? He said no. So I ventured that his goal was perhaps simply to pass the course. In order to pass, he needed to find it within himself to study. He agreed and asked me what grammar points he should be using in his next assignment. His work has improved since. He cared enough not to take French ever again. And he learned that you don't have to like something to do it. You just have to do it. Of course, it helps a whole lot when you actually enjoy the process, but that's not a prerequisite for success. In a twisted way, I'm glad that I was able to tell him that it was okay if didn't like the subject, but it didn't dispense him from doing his best to fulfill the requirements of the course. In that interaction, the emotional response "I like", "I don't like" was challenged and the notion of discipline was introduced. I didn't make him change his mind : it's safe to say that he will never speak French again once this course is over. But at some point in the future, he will encounter a challenging topic and think "I don't like this, but maybe I can get past my dislike and accomplish my goal" or, more bluntly " Damn, this sucks, but I need to graduate".
Ah, college.