If you look to your right, you will see my favorite verse from my favorite Bob Dylan song. It's there because I imagined this year as an adventure, a joyful adventure in which my long-muffled Soul would announce itself jubilantly from the hilltops. If souls grew as predictably as zucchinis, maybe things would have progressed as planned. As is, I haven't exactly spent this fall being the devil-may-care rebel that Bob probably had in mind. If you've asked me how things are going at any point these past months, the "it's a good experience" part of the answer (qualified praise that that is) is always accompanied by some "but" and some variation of "not easy."
Well, it's not. The three skills that would have been most handy -- teaching, speaking French, and making friends quickly, language barriers be damned -- have turned out to be ones that don't come naturally to me. I could also throw "herding cats" and "crowd control" on the list, but "teaching" should cover that, right?
Don't get me wrong; this is not a pity party post. I've turned a corner (we won't call it "the" corner), and I'm finally feeling more optimistic about this year. The thing is, it's good for me to be doing something I'm not good at. I've known this abstractly for a while, every morning that I gathered my courage to face down the flighty teenagers; each afternoon that I asked myself what I could do better next time, rather than throw my hands up in despair and count the days until vacation. (I'm being melodramatic and self-martyring right now, but not unreasonably so.) But it didn't feel like I was getting anywhere, and I wasn't getting better at teaching, and I still can't speak French beautifully, and, and.
And now, the moment where what I've learned finally clicks into place. I was in Ireland this weekend, playing chamber music. We were rehearsing, and there was something I wasn't quite getting. I didn't quite get it on the first try. I didn't quite get it on the second try either. And to be honest, I really don't think I got it in the concert, either. But in the moment where my group was politely listening to me throw tempo to the wind, I watched myself not get frustrated. Usually a failure to be perfect on the first try sends me into torrents of existential despair of the "I'm bad at life" variety, maybe even a little panic. You know, the kind of frustration that lets you walk away from a problem in disgust because you don't believe you'll ever solve it. This time, I watched the exasperation pass like a cloud and noted that I would have to dig in harder.