Last month, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing prompt inspired by T. Pearl Joynz’s essay, Reflections of a Mother Who Writes to Heal, and Rachel Sturges’s essay, Sand Stories. We asked, “How has writing helped you learn to trust yourself, find yourself, or remake yourself? How has it led you to see your connections to others when you’ve felt lost? How have your children (likely unbeknownst to them) helped you do the writing that must be done?” Below is Andrea Isiminger’s response.
By Andrea Isiminger
Ken’s marriage proposal came with the caveat that we would one day live in Spain. “Yes! And yes!” I enthusiastically replied. Living in Europe would provide so many opportunities for travel and adventure, it seemed silly to dwell on the downside that I didn’t speak Spanish. Ken’s mother learned English after marrying her American husband. I would do the same. (Insert “famous last words” here.)
During the newlywed years, I dragged my weary body twice weekly to Spanish class in Chicago’s Loop after a full workday. I silently cursed my German minor, along with my English major, while struggling to finish homework on weekends. Now, after 30 years of marriage, we’ve spent 3 in Argentina and 20 (and still counting) in Spain. But the embarrassing truth is that I’m not as fluent as I thought I’d be. Shocked? So was I. But I’ve gotten over it.
As I immersed myself in a foreign language, I was surprised to discover that a part of me had disappeared along with my vocabulary. On bad days, my hesitations and mistakes made me feel idiotic. On good days, when I nailed the irregular verbs and rolled an R or two, something was still missing. My essence was altered when I had fewer words to wield. I once possessed a rapier wit. I pulled off snarky without becoming a mean girl. I had formerly discussed, debated, divulged and denounced. Language was art, not boring, factual phrases used to order a birthday cake or hire a plumber.
In one of those funny-now-but-not-then moments, I remember nicknaming myself One Hand Clapping—the opposite of the strong woman Stands with a Fist from Dances with Wolves. Silenced. Fading like the Cheshire cat into oblivion. Had I painted, I could have turned to my easel whenever I craved freedom of expression. However, words were always my passion; I simply needed to make them mine again.
Fortunately, a few years after moving to Madrid, I joined an international women’s club where I organized events about Spain and its culture to help expats acclimate to their new home. I wrote articles for the club’s newsletter, spending four years as editor. In that role, my words provided a satisfying purpose; I became happy and confident again. Over time, I shared my writing with a wider audience. Publications trickled in, and I tackled more sensitive subjects like my parents’ sudden death and my son’s intellectual disability. I was reestablishing power and gaining insight.
Life keeps throwing curveballs, but I’ve found my coping mechanism. Nothing intrudes on the peace I feel when I focus on a happy memory and craft it into flash nonfiction. Meanwhile, revisiting difficult moments in my life through my essays often leads me to a deeper understanding. If I can share my experiences with others and lessen pain or loneliness—mine as well as theirs—then I’ve given something important back to the world. I don’t remember what I thought I’d be doing in my 50s, but the power to effect change through the written word is something I am delighted to pursue.
Andrea Isiminger lives northwest of Madrid, Spain where the view of the mountains never fails to make her smile. She appreciates the company of good friends along with a little wine and tapas. Her writing has appeared in Literary Mama and most recently in Thread (“On the Rocks”).