I was trying to work out the other day how long it's been since I moved to France and I finally agreed with my stubborn internal child that it's been almost nine years! Gosh, that would mean how many croissants? How many bottles of wine? How many French tics have I developed without knowing it?
On the writing level, it's another concern - if I can say it's a concern. To what degree has my writing or communication skills been affected?
I know something has shifted in my skull because I get the impression that my perception of things has changed. I probably do see things in the same way as before, but I now use a different language or database to assess and describe what's going on. There has almost certainly been a tampering with the brain. The concern is whether it's been a fine-tuning or a kind of sabotage by a devious mechanic.
I once met a neurosurgeon type (he was not exactly a surgeon but someone who studies how the brain ticks) and he informed me that because I'd started learning French at the age of 28, and got my brain to perform all sorts of acrobatics, there would have been a marked shift in some areas. It was something about using parts of the brain that had never been used before, processing information in a different way, breaking almost 30 years of set patterns.
He said the shift might not have been dramatic in my case because I was already a painter and played the piano, so there were certain mechanisms already in place. But, nonetheless, arriving in a new country without the required language skills signalled the start of a brain reformation.
Now, almost nine years later, I speak French all the time. At home I communicate only in French and at work I'm communicating 80 percent of the time in French and 20 percent in English. It has already been a few years since I started unwittingly mixing up French words into my English. I would baffle English speakers by saying that I was "popping down to the piscine to do a few lengths", or "there have been some big manifestations in Paris against a new youth jobs law".
We all just laugh at these little blips, but I do wonder about that shift in my brain. Has it painted in a few nice strokes as far as my writing goes: the turns of phrase, the choice of adjectives, the logic in a way of explaining something? It's interesting to note that I seriously knuckled down to creative writing only a few months after arriving in France, and I honestly felt as though something in my grey matter had lifted, that I had been afforded a new kind of freedom. Nine years later and who knows what is going on in the little writing room at the top of my neck!
I read stuff that I wrote years ago and can't help but notice something very anglosaxon in the tone; now there seems to be something more daring and challenging (this refers to my novels, not necessarily the quality of my blogs!).
I have decided that translating some French books into English might be a nice little path to consider in the future, as well as working on my own novels, because all the tools are settling into place. I'm not going to worry too much about the tampering that's occured in the brain. I've possibly been given something useful and fresh. But only time will tell.