Thursday, June 18, 2009

I would, of course, be happy to divide my time between somewhere and somewhere, but I wouldn't use that phrase in my bio.

My European students all tend to speak multiple languages. They started studying one or two foreign languages as early as age 6. They come from families that are multilingual. In most European countries, you can drive a few hours or take a quick plane flight and be in a different country with a different language. Or, in some cases, you can go to a different part of your country where people will speak a different language.

The only reason I speak multiple languages is because 1) my dad's engineering job took us outside of the US 2) I was lucky to receive foreign language instruction in middle school and high school (i.e. before I got to college) and 3) I attended a bilingual school in Mexico City 4) I attended a French school in Guangzhou 5) At university, I spent 10 class hours every week-and sometimes more-- studying nothing but Chinese language. Most Americans don't have my luck, opportunity, or, perhaps, obsessions.

Some white people here in San Diego speak Spanish, but not as many as I expected, given that this is one of the few places in the US where you can be in another country within an hour. I rarely use Spanish here. I tried a few times when I first moved, but people were offended--I've blogged about this before. For three years now I've been buying bread from a guy at the farmer's market. Finally, yesterday, I spoke Spanish with him--but only because it was obvious that I'd understood an entire Spanish conversation he'd just had with someone else in front of me. He charged me a whole $2.00 less for the bread.

In a few weeks, when Mark and I are in Paris, I'll get the chance to use French again. I've been reviewing some grammar and vocabulary. Still, I know that the first few days will be frustrating and I'll barely be able to speak or understand anything. But after those first few days my linguistic memory will kick in, and 90% of what I know will come back. It always does, rather mysteriously.

Language and poetry communities are on my mind because of this upcoming trip and because of recent conversations on Exoskeleton. Mark and I will be reading in Paris and Ghent, and we'll be visiting people and poets in both those cities as well as Amsterdam and Brussels. I'm well traveled, and I've lived a substantial part of my life overseas--but most of the traveling I did was payed for by Bechtel, the company my father worked for. Perhaps you've heard of them? They're certainly not going to pay for me to travel for art. And even if they would, I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable taking their money.

It's not like I get to go to Europe every year and give poetry readings and talk to other writers in the flesh. I do not "divide my time" between anywhere and anywhere. I would, of course, be happy to divide my time between somewhere and somewhere, but I wouldn't use that phrase in my bio.

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