December Monkey

This is the last of the 12 Monkeys! The theme is “give me a year.What would you do if you had a free year, all to yourself, to dedicate to whatever you wanted? Assume money was not a problem — you’ve just received a $60,000 Monkey Grant.

Would you spend your year travelling? Reinventing yourself? Would you go back to school to reorient your career? Would you try to see every movie you ever wanted to see? Forget about crazy things like flying to the moon or whatever — think about what you would really do, if you could spend a year doing something you really want to do.

Remember, you have to dedicate yourself to something. What would it be? (Note: monkeys en français can be found over here.)

(Here’s mine. Oddly, it involves neither travel nor writing — the two things that spring to mind whenever I wish I had more free time…)

Wow! 2 MHz!Don’t tell anyone, but lately I’ve been thinking about changing my career. I’ve been a technical writer since about 1991, and I think I’m pretty good at it. But I’ve done about all I care to do in this line of work, which leaves me at a bit of an existential loss when I trudge into work each morning.

But what else could I do? Any transition would involve a huge step backwards in terms of status and salary while I established myself and acquired the necessary new skills. Starting over like that scares me — what if I made a big investment in time and money (in term of opportunity cost) and then found myself no better off, or worse, than I am now?

On the other hand, if I had a “free year” in which to do some thinking, studying, and to work a poorly-paid job or two (perhaps as an intern), then maybe I’d find the courage to make such a big move.

strong like bull!Perhaps more important than my career is my health. For a number of not-very-good reasons I’ve let myself slip over the past 18 months. Part of this decline is because going to the gym is more inconvenient than ever — an issue made larger than itself because of a problem with my foot and another problem with my shoulder. As a result, my level of physical activity is at an all-time low, and my level of physical expansion is correspondingly at an all time high.

Wouldn’t it be great to spend a whole year dedicated to sports and physical activity? Imagine spending each day in a healthy (but not fanatical) dedication to your bones, muscles, organs, and cardio-vascular system. If you didn’t have to worry about working, that would be easy and fun! Can you imagine ending that year feeling ten years younger than when you started?

However, when it comes right down to it, there is one big thing that is really slowing me down in life — one 800-pound gorilla on my back that impedes my progress even more than my career woes and my emerging corpulence. That is my apparent inability to learn a manageable amount of conversational French.

It’s insane, really. I’ve been living in Montreal since 1987, yet about all I can manage is “restaurant French.” No, that’s not entirely true — I’m pretty good at short declarative sentences. La soupe est trop chaud! Mon doigt n’est pas mauve! Il y a cinq lapins sur la rue! Unfortunately, Hemingway novels are the only places where I find conversations made up of short declarative sentences, and those are all in English.

If I could get a handle on that, it would change everything. OK, not everything, but a lot. You might argue that all I need to do is to practice more, or watch some French television, but I’ve tried that with only limited success.

I’m just not good at learning languages. Ditto mathematical formulas — they make sense when you explain them but two minutes later it’s all vapour. One of the problems is that I’m a very visual learner, and there are not a lot of visuals involved in stammering your way through butchered French and having the other person always switch to English because it is easier for everyone.

Therefore, if I had a year to dedicate to one thing, it would be to finally learn conversational French. That would involve a few immersion sessions in places far away from anglos (Gaspésie? Provence? Côte d’Azur?) and a lot of study and practice, but if I didn’t have to work I think I could do it, and I think it would be successful.

Note to self: Is this a cop-out? Am I just using this “I need a year” thing to avoid knuckling down and doing the hard work it takes to do what I need to do? Must think about this more…

16 thoughts on “December Monkey

  1. the lovely +1 and i are planning to do a language immersion course together next summer. my french is short declarative sentences, hers is words remembered from telefrancais reruns. we’ll see how we do.

    also: i love your picture for physical fitness.

    also: wait, you work in montreal and don’t speak french? teach me in your mystical ways. i need to figure out how to be employable in this town without ear-pleasing french. or, uh, any french, really.

  2. December Monkey: A Year Off

    El Bloggo del Blork has released this month’s monkey: What would you do with a year off, during which, presumably, money was no object (well, you get 60K for the year, which is much more than I make and I assume is tax-free)? Dude, why do you think I…

  3. Gimmee one o’ them Monkey grants

    December’s Monkey: What would you do with a year off to dedicate yourself to something? Assume money is no object. I’m also taking the assumption “all to yourself” and running with it; as long as we’re living in fantasy land…

  4. I hear ya Blork! I know jusy enough French, German, and Russian to completely mangle every non-English sentence that comes out of my mouth. We can’t be alone, there must be more embarassed anglophones out there hiding behind their poutines, guichets, and depanneurs.

  5. I got you beat! I’ve lived in Montreal since 1978 and my French sucks. No amount of university courses or full time courses, attending regular meetings conducted exclusively in french, rehearsals in french, working in a french office have managed to move me beyond functional french.

    Just do not have the language gene (my sister, on the other hand, is fluently bilingual)

    So I would probably take that year and high tail it off to Provence (so much more … than Gaspe) and immerse myself with the hope that something sinks in!

  6. I took French in high school, and sucked at it. I took French at college, and sucked at it. I went to Belgium and spent two weeks with a French speaking family, hardly spoke a word the whole time, did lots of hand waving and pointing. I’ve lived in Montreal since January 2000 and did make vague efforts to use some French but I’ve pretty much given up now. I can learn new computer languages in hours, but spoken languages? fuggedaboudit.

  7. Travel certainly seems to be the most popular theme for this monkey. In my case, I suppose I would have to start with a few weeks in Paris just to get started. Then I’d head down to Bordeaux and environs for a different flavor. Then over to Provence to rest up for a month. Then it would be off to Belguim for a different kind of French, and finally back to Canada and a few weeks in Gaspésie to re-acclimitize my ear to Quebecois French.

    Come winter I might have to refresh myself in the Dominican Republic…

  8. What would you do with a free year?

    Ed Hawco at blork blog asks a great thought provoking question: What would you do if you had a free year, all to yourself, to dedicate to whatever you wanted? Assume money was not a problem — you’ve just received

  9. you have probably tried this already but there goes. I had a play with the rozetta stone language curses and found that I am just picking staff up effortlessly. It is fully visual. English is my second language and while I tried to learn it before migrating to Australia I got only as far as literally about 10 words. I was just not going to put in the work if it meant more effort than it takes to speak in my native tongue. I moved to Australia and then I had no choice but to learn English and I did. Later on I wanted to learn more languages and I came across Rozetta (I do not work for them or am in any way affiliated with them). I tried German and it was very easy. I would still prefer to travel and learn via immersion but if this is not an option I would choose that course. Not cheap but I think worth it. I would like to learn Mandarin and while I think it would be easier with Rosetta (than without it) ideally I would travel to Shanghai. I know what learning from tapes, courses, etc amounts to. It gets you there 50% at the very most and that’s when you have the gift for languages. The rest, the polish that makes you sound liek a native is what you have to pick up on the ground.

  10. Money to Burn

    It’s a shame I didn’t discover the 12 Monkeys / 12 singeries things until the end of November. These kinds of things get me writing, if nothing else.

    The December Monkey is a variation on an old theme: “What would you do if you had a free year, …

  11. Take that year and just do it! I recommend Tours (Loire Valley)–the French is “pure” so I’m told…although I’ve taken that to mean that there aren’t any immigrants living there to mess it up. (I used to live there and it’s not very diverse.)

    Bon courage!

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