It all started on Thursday. I had decided to go–as I have been doing for the last few weeks–to see a show there on Thursday night after work. Due to the weather and some miscommunication, the friends I had invited were unable to come, which was fine. I am comfortable attending things (concerts, Paris) on my own.
I filed in early, grabbed a middle seat in a middle row, and waited for my fellow improv enthusiasts to file in. And they did–in front of me, behind me, but none next to me. I wound up sitting in my row completely unaccompanied, surrounded by an otherwise-packed theater.
Determined not to be bothered by this, however, I tweeted a joke involving the hashtag #improvleper. Tickled with myself (hashtag joking with the youths!) I followed this up with a tweet noting that at least that night’s will-call guy was cute–a pleasant fact of an otherwise kind of embarrassing evening. (And he was!)
Image courtesy of Stew Dean. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Recently, I’ve been taking an improv class. When I tell people about this, it sometimes seems to strike them as slightly adventurous, which makes me laugh. I am anxious about many, many things in the world, but never has being on stage been one of them. Heights, my own failure, smalltalk? Yes. Stage? No.
So, when I graduated, I decided that I needed a hobby that wasn’t drinking beer or crying on cars (an actual search term that led someone to this blog today–hello, whoever you are!), I settled on two things that I already knew I liked: class, and theater. The fact that I am not a particularly good actor (and am by far a worse improvisor) was immaterial. I dropped a chunk of my paycheck, and got myself a slot at Dad’s Garage for the next eight weeks.
Three classes in, I can say that I’m pleased with my decision. I’m firmly in the bottom quartile of the class in terms of skill, but I’m trying to build adult skills like not wanting to vomit on my shoes in embarrassment every time I do something asinine. Improv class is great for building your realization that–to paraphrase Merlin Mann–if you screw up, it’s okay, because no one’s going to eat you.
I was telling all of this to two of my friends on Friday night in the middle of drinking a mid-range hefeweizen, when I looked up from my seat and nearly spat out my beer. Standing next to my booth was my improv teacher. This shouldn’t have come as a shock, given that we were maybe two miles from the theater where I am taking the class, but it was still unexpected.
Despite the gloom-and-doom* of last week’s post, this week has been remarkably uneventful. Not good, not bad, just… there.
There were good things that happened: I weathered my first corporate function (a birthday party) without shaming myself too badly. I’m baking brownies in a cast iron skillet. I watched the last three episodes with the Tenth Doctor on Doctor Who and cried disgusting snot tears. I considered re-reading Ender’s Game, but decided not to on the grounds that I had already cried too much for one weekend, in the good, cathartic, prompted-by-TV kind of way.
(Seriously, though, readers: is there anything that could have predicted my anthropology degree quite so well as my absolute, shuddering sobs when I got to the “the aliens are only trying to save their babies, and the humans didn’t understand” twist at the end of that book? No. No there is not.)
Today was a day of communication success and really, really frustrating communication failure. It was also a nice reminder that frustration tears are actually just a permanent condition of existing here, if you are me.
First, the success. Today at lunch, I ate around the bowl with my family. I managed to get yelled at minimally, and I understood the lunch conversation (mostly). Given that it was in Wolof, this was very exciting.
Granted, this was only possible because the conversation (a discussion about perfumed rice produced in factories) contained a lot of nouns. Nouns and adjectives are my savior, because most of them (particularly when referring to post-industrial things) are just the French word. It was possibly the most boring lunch conversation in the world, but it was the first meal conversation I’ve followed along with in the last 3 1/2 months, so I was pleased. Tiny victories!
Now, onto the failure and the tears. Today, after locking myself in my room for two hours to nap/do homework/attempt to recover from my third cold since moving here, I moved out into the living room to chat with my host dad. He, realizing that I talk pretty much only to him because his first language is French, sent me in to go socialize with the rest of my host family. Harsh, but well-intentioned and effective.
So I cried again in Wolof. For those of you playing along at home, we’re up to four sessions of this class in which I have teared up. Given that this is a class that has only met ten times in the last two months, this is Kind of an Issue.
Don’t get me wrong: I do not want to be crying in class. This is not an attention thing. Something about my teacher’s style simply makes my eyes leak tears like a squid squirts ink. (In all fairness to my body, this one saves me a fortune on bleach.)
It’s not that classes haven’t made me cry before. I tear up easily and mostly define my self worth in terms of academic achievement.* But in every occasion that I can think of doing this sort of massively embarrassing thing, it happened after I left the room. Wolof sucks so hard that I literally cannot keep it together while sitting two feet away from my teacher. Continue reading →
At lunch today, I realized that the maid who works in my host family’s house does not speak French. This is somewhat embarrassing, given that I’ve been living here for a week.
We had been getting along just fine with gestures and avoided eye contact. It turns out “no, that doesn’t go there,” and “I find it funny that you cannot ever light the stove,” are messages that can be conveyed totally without words. I had assumed that the rest of the time she was just busy or shy.
But no, it turns out that she has avoided talking to me because we do not share a mutually intelligible language. Whoops. Continue reading →