Through the Looking-Glass

It’s been an interesting year. No, more than that, it’s been the very best of years. Not even that terrifying Monday primary class can put a damper on it. Incidentally, autocorrect suggested pterodactyl instead of primary, which is probably a very accurate description of the atmosphere. But like I said, that class alone has had next to no major impact on the year as a whole. As far as me goes, I think it’s been a resounding success.

This morning I found myself, for the first time, feeling genuinely fluent… and that was in the middle of giving a bilingual art class to a visiting school group from Romania, whose English was, in all likelihood, streets ahead of their Spanish. It’s the first time I’ve ever had to translate on the go, and being thrown the most dastardly terms that Dadaist impressionist art jargon can supply was a serious challenge, but one that I lapped right up. But that’s not the real crux: it’s that I’ve started getting tenses, idioms and (more crucially) agreements right without even thinking. It’s easy to think that the four-month point is the peak of language acquisition and after that it’s just vocab, vocab, vocab, but lately I’ve come to realize that the shoemakers’ elves have been at work and my grammar has been improving on the sly – which is grand, though it has made me wonder more than once whether I’m wasting £9000 a year and more on tuition fees if all I had to do to improve my Spanish was to come out here.

That’s a healthy dose of good news, because I was cut off from my principal means of improving my Spanish earlier this year. Or rather, I cut myself off. In a mirror-move of last year, I’ve fallen head over heels in love, had my heart broken and considered then walked away from a potential relationship over a niggling feeling that, as before, something simply wasn’t right. Story of my life, really. No matter how much I think, no matter how hard I try, I’m simply not cut out for the word casual. It’s not in my blood. Like my mother, I fill my every second with a job or project of some kind, be it work, writing or some other task to stave off sloth. I couldn’t ever commit any less than one hundred percent to anything, and though I’ve tried to convince myself of the ridiculousness of such a stubborn attitude, that’s something I can’t change. Whoever She is, she’ll be the kind of girl who gives a hundred percent back. Balance is key, and I’ve had my fill of one-sided love affairs. A couple of old friends I met over the Christmas holidays told me they’d reached the stage where they no longer have time for people who have no time for them. I thought it a rather selfish statement at first, but now I see the wisdom in it. After all, there’s no use in chasing stars over the horizon.

At the core of everything, but especially relationships – and I’m speaking from pitiful ignorance, as usual – is learning to love yourself. Love yourself and others will love you. That’s what they say. And loving yourself is no easy task.

I don’t think I’ve been truly happy with myself since I was fourteen; before girls, before exams and long before stepping out into the wide world (though I’ll make a three-month exception for that brief stint in Uganda). Physically, at least, I’ve always had complaints; why am I so small, why did I get the worst of my parents’ genes, why can’t I squat like an Arab without falling over… Petty, every one of them.

I’m also probably rather unhealthy compared to most of my generation, in that I don’t practice any kind of sport whatsoever (besides the occasional ridiculous trek). As I used to whine as a toddler, it’s not in my interest. And in my books, anything that’s not in my interest simply isn’t worth my time (until it is in my interest, of course, when suddenly I have to be exceedingly good at it). The gym doesn’t appeal to me – just hearing people bang on about their gym routine makes me want to jump down a rabbit hole – and though I’ve tried more than once, anything close to a workout routine tends to peter out after a few weeks because I get no enjoyment from it. The best I ever managed was those two months in Jordan, and that was only because Andrew stoically refused to let me back down. Left to my own devices, though, I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to sport. I’m simply not one of those people who gets a kick out of working up a sweat. I never have been. It’s only pure fear of what may become of me in the future that’s making me reconsider; now, when I should be at my physical prime.

So I have physical issues. That should come as no surprise. Fortunately, I’m either too stubborn or too indifferent to let them do me any emotional damage. Sure, I’ll probably have to start running soon, and that’s no bad thing. Especially in a country like Spain, where the food is a graver threat than terrorism. At least I eat well here.

This stream-of-consciousness was brought home to me by my headmaster in class this afternoon, when he whimsically commented that if I were a woman I’d be ‘marriage material’; “…this boy can draw, he can sing, he can dance, act, write, and he knows all of the names of the birds. He does everything”.

Yes, I basically got indirectly proposed to by my headmaster. Will this madness ever end?

But he was wrong. I don’t do everything. I happen to dabble in the arts, and whilst I consider myself reasonably accomplished in a few fields, there’s so many normal things I can’t do. Like mathematics. Or asking for help. Or driving. Or football. Or skiing. Or any other sport, for that matter. Sometimes I wonder whether it’s only because I’m so forthright with what I can do that I get by at all in this world. Because singing, drawing and writing are all well and good, but they don’t put food on the table – especially when you refuse to go mercenary.

Nonetheless, I’ve learned an important lesson this year, and that’s that I’m at my very best when I’m on my own. Jordan showed me that when there’s a crutch, I’ll use it, almost without thinking. That’s why I struck out for Spain alone, and why I’ll be doing the same in Morocco come June. Being alone forces you to work on yourself, which is never a bad thing, and allows you to truly live for you. I’ve been able to do so much this year, more than I ever thought I’d accomplish in eight months, and that makes me happy indeed. I still haven’t decided how much that’s got to do with being independent at last and how much it’s simply about living in my grandfather’s country. On a purely superficial level, I’d like to think the latter holds more weight.

I may not love myself quite as much for the time being as I should – that, like so much else, will come with time – and, dream though I may, until I am I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for a relationship, but simply being in Spain fills me up to the very top with all the energy I need to survive. Before, I’ve looked to others as charisma batteries, people from whom I could draw that precious life energy when mine was running low. Here I get it for free, right from the earth. And better still, I’ve learned how to manufacture that energy.

It’s the Spanish language. Nothing more, nothing less. Simply speaking in my grandfather’s tongue seems to be enough. If ever I truly love myself, it’s when I’m gesturing away in ehpañó. The earthy appeal of the semi-unintelligible southern accent is a serious draw for me, but it’s something about the raw dynamism of the language itself that really clicks, like a gear that’s been missing all my life. Here it’s functional, regularly oiled and, more importantly, spinning in its place. The very definition of perpetual motion.

So that’s the answer. I’ve simply got to come back and live here for good. The road to true happiness is hard to find, but I’ve found the map, at least, in both senses of the wording . The key is in the language itself. Perhaps it always has been. BB x

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