No, it’s okay. My last months in Colombia were rough – very long hours with several enormous tasks dangling over my head. It was time for a break. Sabbatical – lovely word, right? Leaving Colombia was also a big change for me – because I’ve moved in with my Spaniard. I just knew I’d need some time to adjust, to relax, to take it easy. So I saved my nickels and dimes and took a few months.
Before I left Colombia, I happened on an article by a Yahoo veep who had taken a break. She said it’s a good idea to put together a list of what you want to accomplish during the break so you know what you’re going for. She also said you should include “relaxing” on your list. So here’s my list, and how I’m doing on it.
Relaxing is not really that hard. I’ve got a particular aptitude for it. Have you heard of the siesta? It’s one of the reasons I love Spain. I have also gotten to explore with Ramon in some lovely spots, like Avila and Segovia (did you know the Aqueduct has no glue between those stones???)
It is a little harder to relax when you haven’t worked, though. I’m not sure when the futzing around with my computer and various papers is finished for the day, and the relaxing can begin. That line’s a lot clearer when you close the office door and go home.
SCORE: Yeah, gold stars on this one. I’ll get some after this nap…
2. Write – a lot!
Arguably, for me, the biggest, the most important, the grandmammy of all Things To Do. And quite a bit more taxing than the first item on the list. I’m surprised at how hard it has been, to be honest. I thought the relaxing would sort of lead into the writing – like it was work that was keeping me from writing more.
There seems to be a certain helpful, productive tension I create between job and writing that had been working for me, even if I didn’t realize it. Doing one thing diligently, with dedication, upped the ante for the other one. Now that I’m just relaxing, it is as if life is simply too serene to write. I start, I stop, the ideas aren’t flowing, I look around. Where does inspiration go, when you’ve got it so easy?
That’s not to say I haven’t written. I have some fun new writings under my belt. I’ve been taking a creative writing class here (in Spanish!) and the exercises for class are short and sweet but amazingly gratifying:
El Nuevo Diario: a retired soldier writes a diary after a life of keeping secrets.
Ciega en Guerra: a young woman whose family keep her indoors in a war zone.
Noche fuera de casa: a little girl who’s out of the house after midnight with her unreliable babysitter.
I’ve written some blog posts, ranted about the Current Political Situation as well as celebrated that Wednesday Missives made it to 101 posts and counting. I’ve written essays and short stories for several contests, which I’ll share after the winners are announced. (Positive thinking!)
I wish it were more! This seems a paltry output for so much time off, when I keep saying “I want to write!” But I’m thrilled for what I have done, and am doing now. I do, still, want to write.
SCORE: A nice participation trophy and a pen.
3. Get an agent
This is probably the dumbest item on my to-do list. I can’t “get” an agent, unless I’m willing to truss someone up like Dolly, Jane and Lily strung up their “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss in Nine to Five.
Sure, if I could wow them with my prose, plot, characters and voice, I’d have it in the bag! Somehow I’m not there yet. I’ve had lots of interest from agents but no one has sealed the deal. That stings, and I want to rectify it. I just don’t quite know how.
One idea for that came to me through a generous person who wanted to help me restructure my novel. She felt I had too much “backstory” too near the front of the book. That’s one of the things I meant to work on in the “Write – a lot!” to-do item, but I haven’t done it. It just seems very daunting, and – here’s the rub – how do I know if she’s “right”? It’s a very subjective industry, which many of the agents have said to me. What one likes, another won’t, and it’s at least in part a numbers game – you have to query enough agents to give the right one a chance to see your work.
I can polish the manuscript as best I can, write a good query letter, pick likely agents, and send lots of query letters while staying positive. After that, it’s out of my hands. And I’ve got to remember: luck plays a big part.
SCORE: Removed from the exam for inappropriateness.
4. Clean up computer
No-brainer. It took months to start the project, but once started, it was half-done. I had so many sets of repeated files, photos in different places, back-ups I couldn’t access – they’re all up to date now. Next I’ll tackle the Contacts. Ugh. Not a pretty task but it’s going to be great to have them all in one place, updated, with dupes and people I don’t even remember tossed out.
5. Impeach the *President
This goal emerged as my break began. Obviously I don’t think I can do it all on my own, but I want to contribute to getting this racist, misogynistic, corrupt, intolerant, bumbling, arrogant, ignorant swine out of office. Since I’m a DC resident (“Taxation without representation,” remember?) I don’t have a voting representative or senator. So I make the calls and letters and emails I can, keep myself informed, and cheer on the marchers.
It’s not much, but I want to be part of it, and I want to see The Kardashian President out of the People’s House. He is a menace. He will get us in a war, bankrupt us, divide us further, eviscerate the middle class, and roll back treatment of minorities and immigrants until we don’t recognize America anymore.
Some think it’s okay for him to undo environmental protections, for the sake of his big business cronies, so our coal mines and other extractive and polluting industries can continue to provide good, middle-class jobs. If you believe nothing of what I’ve written, believe this: America is the beacon of the rest of the world in large part because it is clean. You can step off an airplane in 100 countries and see, smell, taste and feel the difference in an instant: protecting wild areas, cleaning up spills, and ensuring clean air make America great. Without these things we are just another waste dump in the service of businesses, and trust me, you do NOT want to live there. The Orange Menace doesn’t even understand what he’s throwing away, because he lives in a gilded cage.
When it comes to government, I would have liked to “set it and forget it” – vote and trust my representatives to play by the rules, focus most of their efforts on our shared beliefs and get at least to some compromises. With this *President, that’s gone, and we’re all on alert, and we all have to fight. I personally hate it, but it’s probably about time we had our civic engagement prodded.
SCORE: Big check mark, for “in process”
6. Get fit
I’ve had to admit that my knee isn’t going to permit much more long distance running. That’s depressing but it doesn’t have to be the end of me. I swim, play tennis, take step aerobics classes and Zumba, lift weights, and even did a spinning class. (Part of the joy of trying things out is knowing which ones I’ll never do again. Like spinning.)
Ramon’s brother, Nicolas, was desperate to get Ramon to try a yoga-type class. Ramon’s not the most flexible guy around, despite being very athletic. Nico got us into some classes called Body Balance by Les Mills – I’d never heard of them but they seem to be all the rage in Europe. We’ve had a revolution in flexibility, my knee feels better than it has in years, and I think there’s a meditative, relaxation-type benefit in it too. I can’t believe how much it has helped, with only two or three of these sessions a week.
Absolutely no change in my clothing size, I think it’s time to give up that dearly- and long-held wish. But I feel really good.
SCORE: A protein shake and a very flat mat.
7. Explore Madrid
You know, I don’t really like museums… but apart from that, I’ve had a great run here. I’m getting to know the streets and neighborhoods and where it’s best to have a beer outside on a hot afternoon. I have made good use of the libraries and have gone to hear talks about the history of Spain and of Madrid. I’ve ridden my bike around to see sights and link neighborhoods in my mental map.
Ramon invited me to a small Easter Procession at his barracks and we also saw a massive one through the downtown streets of Madrid. I’ve definitely gotten to understand the Spanish spoken in Madrid, which is very different from what I heard and was accustomed to in Bogota. I’m also taking acting classes and improvisation, so my natural ham can finally find her stage.
The best part is making friends. This is HARD. This is, like, next to impossible, at my age, without a job, and with Ramon also being pretty much a newcomer here. There is a handful of great women I’m getting to know bit by bit in the writing and acting classes. LOVE! I need friends to talk to, no matter how great Ramon is, now matter how exciting Madrid is. It makes everything sweeter and better.
SCORE: 100% and a smiley face. Though I haven’t been to the Prado yet. (I KNOW!!!)
8. Live peaceably with Ramon
The easiest one. The hardest one! No, the easiest. The hardest! Oh life!
Two 40-something never-marrieds from different continents finding each other on a third continent is a pretty auspicious start. The rest should be pretty much downhill. I’m lucky that most of it is!
Living with another soul is so fundamentally different than living alone. For me the toughest part is carving out that time I need for my own pursuits, especially since my own pursuits are so nebulous right now. I feel overwhelming affection for him at moments like when this photo was taken. Other times I am prickly and overwhelmed, but fortunately I don’t seem to have scared him off.
My Spaniard, indulging me at Starbucks.
The other thing I’m starting to grasp is that, in a couple, you tell each other stuff. You listen. You feel stuff together, instead of by yourself. Sometimes the stuff is mundane and other times it’s from the red hot core of the heart and, therefore, subject to cooling if it’s not tended to properly. I’m amazed and heartened to have realized this, because I think it means I might end up being okay as his partner. That I might be able to give him what he has already given me. That perhaps, if I have been that open to another soul once, I can do it again. I’m awfully lucky to get to try, and with this one!
SCORE: Because Ramon is so understanding, patient, funny, sweet, adorable and affectionate, I get Full marks on this one. Hey, I picked well, right?
9. Learn French
This one has been a bit of unexpected fun. Ramon’s next job, starting in June, is in Tunis so we’re moving there quite soon. In addition to being useful for ordering food and drinks once we get there (since we’re both pretty pathetic in the kitchen: Voila! Diner!), it is indisputable that decent French would be a boon for my career. I have to admit, though, that starting from scratch is not easy!
We’re taking classes with a Spanish sprite who speaks French as though it were made of crystal and butterfly wings – flowing, delicate and tinkly. I watch her and listen as she bounds about, writing letters on the whiteboard that we will never say, within words that looks like vowel salad, too many of them wearing little hats and asymmetrical berets… Sometimes when she says my name three or four times in a row I realize she wants me to answer, and there are moments when I actually do answer correctly!
According to DuoLingo, I’m now 14% fluent, so go ahead, ask me anything (as long as it’s about furniture, colors, fruit or professions, and you also have to ask very slowly. You might have to write it down and let me look at it.)
SCORE: “A” for effort and extra credit for enthusiasm.