What’s a Bildungsroman? (Bil-doonks-ro-mon.)
I recently announced on Facebook that I’ve completed my revision of German Awakening: Tales from an American Life, my creative nonfiction take on the Bildungsroman. In response, a couple friends eagerly admitted to Googling the term. Everyone in my world knows that with me, German is part of the deal. So they didn’t question my word choice.
But since there are very few unintended words in my published work—and I’m well aware that not everyone knows and loves German as I do—here’s what the term means to me.
If you Googled “Bildungsroman,” you would learn that the tradition began with the literary master Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Bild means picture. Bildung means education. Roman means novel. Grappling with life’s mysteries along the narrative path.
It’s essentially a hero’s journey aka a coming-of-age story. Why not call it that instead?
The easy answer is: once a German teacher, always a German teacher. The language resides in my heart, and this is the story of how that happened. (Spoiler alert: I’m not German.) And. The answer goes so far beyond. This book made me a writer—teaching Goethe’s poetry did too—and both helped me weather the end of my high school career.
Everyone who knows me understands that my lifeblood runs straight through the American education system—in roles of teacher’s kid and honor student, high school teacher, and now parent. It’s also common knowledge that I resigned my Spanish (yes, Spanish) position midyear to heal a rift in my soul and finish this book. When people are made to serve systems and not the other way around—something has to give. That was me.
(Do you know how freeing it is to move beyond grading and “right” answers? I’m reminded that I loved my year in grad school. After deciding to drop out—I had a lot of fun learning!)
So when I started this book, it began as Doppelgänger German stories, interwoven as I lived out that passage of my American life. It’s now evolved into two books and a whole life coaching practice. And none of that could have been possible if I hadn’t walked a while in the shadow lands.
(More to come about The Other Book and coaching services in future posts.)
So yes, my Bildungsroman. Let’s call it a love letter to a passion that served me a long time, and shaped who I am today. I wouldn’t change that path. Nowadays, those foundations support my work, helping courageous people revisit their stories. And remember their own deeper soul truths.
Once a language teacher, always a language teacher. I can say that now.