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First essay finished and submitted in time! Feels weird to be writing freshman essays again.

It has been a long day, at the end of a long week. Might go pour myself a drink. (That's certainly something I didn't do the last time I wrote my first freshman essay!)
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Wrote half an essay (only 500 words! I wrote an intro and a sentence for each point I want to make and that was almost 200 words itself! but still) tonight so I don't have a lot of energy left but I wanted to note that the DSA assessment went well. It took a really long time though, almost three hours (when your most knowledgeable friend says their eleventy billion wonky impairments only required two-hour DSA sessions, you know it's a long time!).

My biggest problem now is that I went home wanting all the kit right away. Can I have that software to work on my essay (no, it's due Friday). Can I have the biiiiiig monitor? Can I have the thing that only zooms the part of the screen you need it to (I actually found out today that Blackboard has "high contrast" and "text zoom" in its settings, but when you click on them all it says is "right, you need to use your browser/OS settings to do this"! thanks and all but that doesn't work very well you bag of dicks!)

The guy made some good points, like that he recommends screenreaders not just for blindy mcblindfaces like me but people who "just" have the anxiety/depression side of things because it affects their -- our -- ability to concentrate so much and for some people it's easier to listen than to read. I know this is certainly true for me (and I know it won't be for many other people! I know lots of neurodiverse people and that can include auditory processing issues as can lots of other things) but never thought it was anything more than my eyes causing that.

He generally talked about the anxiety and depression only in terms of disrupted sleep, poor concentration, things like that. Didn't insinuate that I didn't really had it or it isn't really real or any of that shit. It was the least stigamtizing experience I've ever had talking about my mental health, I think! Really refreshing. Especially because he's an older chap with a very northern accent and stereotypes mean I'm not used to such people talking about mental health; it'd be like hearing my dad say "anxiety" or "depression" which I don't think has ever happened! But he was really matter-of-fact about it, which of course you'd hope for in his job but I've met plenty of people whose jobs should have made them good at it who are not good at this, so I expect nothing and that means I got to be pleasantly surprised.

I'm not quite done yet; the guy wants me to come back to talk to one of their suppliers about the particular kinds of software and some kind of OCR-machine that he is (and I am) sure I'll benefit from but there are different kinds and there's no way to know what will suit me without me trying them. That was going to happen tomorrow but now can't happen then; it should be on Friday, which suits me better anyway.
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A very long description of all the problems I've had with my 'mobility support' at school. )

I don't want a lot of earnest apologies like I got last Friday. I don't want the emotional labor of dealing with that. I just want to have energy to do more than one thing in a day, to not always feel overwhelmed, to not have this conviction that if I had only my homework to do my life would be a lot easier than with all this disability admin to do too.

And as if to prove that last point, I don't just have one seminar that I've done and enjoyed the reading for, I have DSA Study Needs Assessment tomorrow, which I am really not looking forward to because they're going to want to know why I don't use magnifciation (it doesn't help my eye condition, which no one believes even though its Wikipedia page even says so) and why I don't use a screenreader (I sometimes do but they suck more than not using them for a lot of things! c.f. all these books the library says are available electronically but with all the copy-protection, when you navigate to them the screenreader just says "graphic"). Magnifiers and screenreaders are supposed to fix all blindies' problems, so when I say they don't people usually think I'm the problem.

I've been so grumpy for at least a week that I don't feel like I'm a good advocate for myself or what I need at all, right now, and I really need to be.

Fresher

Sep. 28th, 2017 11:23 am
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Today I'm thinking about how weirdly well I fit in with the "freshers." No one seems particularly interested that I'm American because they're from all over the world too. So I get no follow-up inappropriate small-talk questions I am sick of answering about why I'm here or how long I have been, or whatever.

They're all confused about everything too so I'm not the only one who can't find the room our class is in or isn't sure if "tutorial" and "seminar" are being used interchangeably or not (spoiler: they are).

Brain dump

Sep. 26th, 2017 11:08 am
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Went shopping for the bits of groceries I can't send Andrew for (he's been pretty good about asking me nearly every day if I want anything from the shops while he's going, but sometimes that doesn't work) and am on my second load of laundry today. It feels like a lot when I've been so busy! But both were sorely overdue.

But I've done my reading and my little "just to check you did the reading" quiz after my first lecture yesterday. I was supposed to have a tutorial for that this morning but the timetable was screwed up (the timetable is so screwed up I've got at least four things this week but only one turning up on the timetable) so have just got to read about the essay prep we were going to cover. I enjoyed the lecture, on the more sciencey, brain/mind-related aspects of linguistics, and feel like it and the reading are things I get to do rather than things I have to do. If it just stayed that way for the rest of the semester, this'd be easy!

Gary seems to be doing a bit better now the antibiotics are kicking in. When we were gone over the weekend [personal profile] mother_bones noticed he had a loose tooth and rang me up to ask him if it'd be overstepping for them to take him to the vet. Of course I said absolutely not, please do, and told her which vet we've taken him to before. Turns out he's got a couple other bad teeth as well so is going to have an operation on Friday to take them out and catch up on a couple of niggly things like clip his nails (which he hates when he's awake!) and get him microchipped.

[personal profile] mother_bones was also very good at managing my utter misery about this, because of course I immediately panicked that she'd spotted something that I hadn't ages ago because I couldn't see it. She and the vet both said these things can happen (or at least reach a critical mass) quite quickly and I hadn't missed anything or been a bad dog owner. In a funny way I was almost glad that Gary did seem a little subdued when I came to pick him up again after we got back from our weekend away: he clearly was acting differently from the dog I'd dropped off on Friday so I could be more confident that he hadn't been suffering for ages with oblivious humans around. But like I say the vet gave him an injection and we've been giving him oral antibiotics since yesterday and then and today he seems to be much more his old self, still eating and barking at things and sitting in the sun and being his Wonder Dog self. A few friends-of-friends have had unwell or missing or otherwise fraught dogs and it's been a bit much for me because I keep fretting about Gary but I am getting better too.

There's actually enough sun to warm my back as I sit with a big window behind me! I hung the laundry out for the first time in weeks! It's very welcome. But makes me sleepy. I had a lot of sleep last night but could totally have a nap now...
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Had my passport interview today. Everyone told me it was fine and normal but I thought it was weird and intrusive. How many of your bedrooms look onto your back garden? Where did your parents go on their honeymoon? But it was done quickly and kindly, by a big guy with amazing facial hair and who had actually heard of Minnesota because he's an American-football player.

The worst thing about it was that we had to go all the way to Salford for it, which took ages. I turned out to also need to go back to the university because you can't sign up for language classes online, you have to go in person to the place I was twice yesterday where no one told me this. (I presume it's because they need to check the level people are at if they want to do anything other than beginner's level in their language, because there was a lot of that happening. But surely abject beginners should be able to apply with the system we have to use to do everything else?) But I filled out the form so hopefully that's done.

Which means all my bureaucracy should be done that can be done for now, which is good as all of tomorrow will be taken up with volunteer training at Manchester Museum (which is just a different kind of in-person bureaucracy, as little or none of it will be relevant to my role).

And I had a smear test today, and that's all this morning, so frankly not only am I done with today, but I think I need a medal.

For future reference, though, having a lot of local friends means a lot of them share the same doctor's surgery, and I'd heard a lot of good things about the new nurse who frankly could hardly have been worse than the old one. And she lived up to everything I'd heard about her; she didn't mention my weight, even though she did mention my blood pressure a lot which is fair enough as it was high when she checked it. She even took my height and weight which I know will be for bullshit BMI things the NHS makes them do, but while she said "Five four" as she read my height off the thingy, she then looked at the scale and said "weight...[mumbly mumble]" like she was just reminding herself long enough to go write it down (which is exactly what she was doing) so far from making a big deal of it she ensured I didn't know it at all which is the best thing for my mental health.

And when she asked if I wanted a sexual health screening done at the same time I said it was a good idea because I have two partners but it's okay and they know about each other and etc., she actually said "Oh, so you're poly?" Which left me really taken aback! I've never had a health professional know the word before. And she asked me if the partners were "male, female or other" so didn't assume sexuality or binary gender, which made me happy.
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Somehow all my freshers' week stuff was mostly crammed into three days, which is kind of nice since I'm done with it now, which gives me time for volunteering orientation, a passport interview, a doctor's appointment, and a weekend of being in Yorkshire because of Thought Bubble.

Overall it's gone pretty well. I was nervous of feeling out of place but I really haven't. Everyone's been nice and neither I nor anyone else has called attention to me being twice their age (though I have felt it, especially since I keep coming home and taking naps, and they've been going out every night according to scraps of overheard conversation).

I've done all the bureaucracy: enrolled on everything (except my language, working on that), got my student card, met my advisor, peppered my department's admin with questions...I've been to welcome talks and figured out where some of the rooms in the rabbit warren that is the building I'll be spending most of my time in.

I've made a friend! I went to this divisional "party" thing on Monday, which is where you stand in an echoy room with a bunch of other people standing inexplicably close together. This was on Monday so I was at my most self-conscious and sure no one would talk to me, but she just walked right up and did. She's called Kitty...well, she's not because she's Chinese and can't expect people to say her name. But she told it to me, Weijia, and I said it back to her and she said my pronunciation was good but I can't remember it now! She turned up in the group meeting with our advisor today, and we were happy to see each other.

I had my introductory meeting with disability services yesterday, too. Which was great, but kind of weird. I left it convinced that if I'd had even half that support when I first went to college, I wouldn't have to be trying again now. At the time I was still firmly of the belief that I wasn't mentally ill, I was just rubbish. So much of that could have been different.

But then if it was I might not have written so much that Andrew saw on LiveJournal and he wouldn't have been able to identify with me as much as he did and maybe wouldn't have wanted to talk to me and I certainly wouldn't have visited him here if my life had stayed on the track it was supposed to be on. Things would be so different down the other leg of the trousers of time that it doesn't bear thinking about.

First day

Sep. 17th, 2017 07:45 pm
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Grumpy that I've got no better recourse for finding the room my "Welcome Talk" will be in tomorrow morning than turning up early and hoping there's someone to ask.

Andrew offered to come with me to help me find it but that's not going to be easy for someone who woke up at three this afternoon; it's basically an accessibility issue for him too. And it costs money in bus fare. And it's just not fair because that shouldn't be his responsibility and I hate feeling dependent on him.

I booked my Disability Services meeting a month ago for as soon as I could get it, but that turns out to be Tuesday. I know this will be a busy and nightmarish time for them, but argh. Hopefully I will be a bit less confused for the rest of the week. There are a bunch of other rooms I have to find after these first ones tomorrow!
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I wrote my last post and read some comments and went to bed and woke up early so I thought I'd try my new and hopefully less frustrating podcast app to catch up on some podcasts and the first one was Lingthusiasm.

Some background: When I told Andrew I was jealous I'd never get to be a linguist because of all the linguists whose blogs/twitter/podcasts I follow, I was thinking primarily of these two. (And Lynne Murphy, whose comparisons of UK and U.S. English I love.)

I had this podcast recommended to me by lots of people and rightly so, but this kind of "two people having a conversation about a thing" podcast isn't usually my type (I'm more "actual Radio 4 shows" or else "one person reading a script about a thing, usually history"). So I don't think I was prepared for how much I would get drawn in by the style; I really feel like I"m listening to friends have a chat and I could see myself forgetting these are people I don't actually know.

But it did seem like they'd done this conversation about learning languages just for me and its relevance to my life as of yesterday. So I listened with great interest, envious of Gretchen's early exposure to French (she's Canadian), taking Spanish and German at the same time in high school against the usual recommendations, taking a new language every year she was in college... Though as she told me on Twitter when I mentioned this, she feels like she "started pretty late with languages! Mostly in late HS/undergrad rather than childhood!"

Another thing I really liked that she addressed on the show (after she sent me that tweet and I replied with a precis of my brainweasels about how late i"m coming to this, which might well be an issue for many mature students), this idea that if you don't start learning a language in the womb it's hard and there's no point. I remember hearing this as a teenager when it was finally possible to start learning Spanish, which I did when I was fourteen. Like I was already made to feel inadequate then. But anyway, Gretchen addresses exactly this thing (starting around 32:30 in the podcaast): there are actually domains where adults have an advantage. She points out how long it takes kids to learn: it's a whole year of hearing a language all the time they're awake before they even say a single word. Adults learn vocabulary and syntax a lot easier than kids, can focus their practice on it in ways that kids don't: we can already read and write in one language which makes it easier to learn in another language.

I also really like how much time they spent talking about the huge cultural/political/emotional connections we have with languages: colonialism and heritage languages and the prestige of certain languages. I know if I choose Arabic because I live in a neighborhood it might be useful, when I go home at Christmas and get quizzed by my family about what I'm doing now, I'm gonna be wary because if they have any associations with the Arabic language at all it's going to be "what terrorists speak."

I really appreciate the thoughtful comments everybody has left on my last post. [personal profile] brithistorian's highlighted something I was talking about anyway: "Find a book you want to read, a movie you want to watch, etc." Setting yourself a goal in the language you are learning is a good idea as a motivation, but also it's worth thinking about what kind of cultural osmosis you're opening yourself up to as well as the grammar or script or whatever draws you to the language itself. So while, as I said last night, if the university told me "there's only one foreign language you can take and it's this", I'd be pretty happy whatever the "this" was, I'm finding myself less inclined to learn, say, Russian just because the history and culture of it does not interest me as much as other places (sorry, Russians!).

Poking around some of the links from that episode of Lingthusiasm, I found Will learning a second language help me learn linguistics, a question to which my answer is "probably but even if it didn't I'd jump at any chance to learn a language" but I still found the contents of the post useful. It confirms what friends of mine said in comments, namely "you’ll get more of your assumptions [about how language works] challenged by learning a language that’s as unrelated to your first language as possible... So for English speakers, go for a non-Indo-European language if you can (common options include Mandarin, Japanese, Arabic, Hebrew, ASL)." (I think those last two are probably more common in the U.S.! Though obviously other sign languages could be elsewhere.*)

So yeah, I honestly feel better (though no closer to a language decision!) after listening to the podcast. Of course I'm overwhelmed; I had a bunch of things to think about and potential decisions to face, and language is one that's tied up with everything else about us. Even moving to another country where the majority speaks the same language I have a huge amount of thoughts and feelings about identity and stuff I'm really sensitive about and class and history and regionalism, all based on the language. So of course this is a big deal and of course it's weird and difficult.

Yesterday when the person from the linguistics department was talking about how the course worked and what kinds of directions we could take our studies and so on, I had at one point the dizzying kind of realization that pretty soon the choices I make will start to close down some options and open other ones but right now I do not now what is going to happen and it could be anything. I remember feeling like this a lot when I was eighteen and starting college too. Being in such close proximity to so much potential makes me feel a bit light-headed, honestly.


* I still love the idea of doing BSL, especially after Debi pointed out that almost everybody who uses it will be (relatively) nearby and not in Japan or Turkey or whatever.
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Went to an open day at the university today, so I know a bit more about the course now.

Most of the classes I'll take in my first year are required, so that's fine. The only thing I still need to figure out is one semester worth of something (and sadly it had to be the first semester of this year and not the second which would give me more time to think about it).

My choices for that something are ridiculously wide-ranging. Like I could basically pick anything in the Faculty of Humanities. But I'm pretty sure I want to do a language.

But now: which language?! Do I want to do German because I already know I love it? Do I want to do something completely new like Japanese or Arabic because European languages are kinda boring? Do I want to do British Sign Language? I kinda do! But learning sign language might be weird/hard for a blind person?

I don't know! What language do I want to learn?

WELL

Aug. 18th, 2017 02:27 pm
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I've deleted the post I wrote this morning when I was certain I wouldn't get on the linguistics course, because it would look stupid now that I have been offered a place!

It still has to be sorted out but I'm making Andrew do all that stuff because I don't actually understand how clearing works. But I had a phone call with a nice person from the department who seemed surprised when I was surprised she said she would like to offer me a place on the course, heh. I don't think I composed myself very well during that conversation, but she didn't change her mind anyway!

Holy shit, you guys, they're letting me do linguistics at Manchester University.

Starting in a month!

I've already enlisted the help of [personal profile] barakta who knows a lot about financing and disability stuff, which is awesome, but really I have no idea how to go to university in this country.

I was pretty sure this wasn't going to work. Not for impostor-syndrome kinds of reasons, real ones. They didn't hide how hesitant they were about me: because I didn't take AP classes (my poor rural school didn't offer any, though I spent all my high school life being told I should have been taking them and I think that'd have worked far better for me anyway), I didn't take the SAT because I'm from the Midwest and was looking at colleges in the Midwest, I didn't have the grades in college because I was so fucking mental but still years away from realizing it.

I was sure this wasn't going to work. Because that's what happens to me: I can do things but can't prove I can do the things. Same with job interviews all the time.

Everyone on Twitter is happy, bless them all, but it still hasn't sunk in for me.
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We got Christmas plane tickets yesterday. Less than a grand, which is a lot less than we'd been fearing. But not much less than a grand, so still involves juggling money around and me being so stressed I not only make Andrew sort it out, I don't even want him to give me options or ask me questions unless it's absolutely necessary. It was a vague relief that it wasn't any more expensive than it needs to be.

I still haven't heard back one way or another about the job I interviewed for last Thursday. I told myself I'd email them today to ask but then didn't because just the thought of doing so made my also in prickly and my stomach clench. My anxiety is still on a hair trigger right now. They can tell me later why I didn't get the job, if they want, but I don't expect to get much useful feedback from these kinds of things so I won't mind if they don't.

Todsy I idly tweeted that I follow so many linguists that I'm starting to be jealous I'm not one. Andrew took this and ran with it, researching what kind of student loans/grants I could get and whether local universities have linguistics courses on clearing. He's even set me up a UCAS account, bless him. It's always bugged me that I never finished my degree, and that I was doing the wrong degree, and at the wrong time. But none of that has ever made me feel like I can do anything about it before, so I don't know what's feeling so different now. A little part of me is really loving the possibility, though.

Exciting!

Oct. 30th, 2013 05:52 pm
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My boss just asked me what I'd like to do a degree in, if I could do anything.

"Linguistics," I said right away.

"You can think about your answer first, if you want to!" he teased.

But I have! I've been thinking about it for ten years!

He's told me to look into what I'd need to do that at one of the local universities or the OU or whatever.

I don't know how likely this is to happen, but it makes the 3.5-hour drive home (well, to Stockport where I have to get a train) a little more fun.
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The first thing I remember him doing was ranting about Princess Diana.

And Mother Teresa. They'd died within a few days of each other, just before I started my sophomore year of high school and thus his English class. (He always made it very clear that he didn't want anything to do with freshmen.) He told us to think about how the news of these deaths, and the mourning that followed, were treated differently and what that said about what our culture values and holds to be important. He made us think about everything.

The second thing I remember was him reading to us. First The Iron Giant, which I guess was made into an animated movie a few years later but at the time we had never heard of it. He told us it was a book for fourth-graders but he was going to read it to us anyway. We were incredulous. I am sure I was. I hadn't even read books for fourth-graders when I was in fourth grade. I'd read those in first grade.

He was the first person to read anything to me since Mrs. Conway had in third grade. She read Where the Red Fern Grows, and cried at the end. I didn't like that much, but I loved Hatchet, which she read next, and became obsessed with all Gary Paulsen's books I could find in the school library after that. I think he was still a favorite of mine when I was in Mr. Nordlie's English class seven years later. Somewhere along the line I learned that his first name was Gary, too. It felt like a strange power to have over my teachers, to know their first names.

"Make a nest," Mr. Nordlie told us when he was going to read to us. That meant we had to put all of our stuff underneat our chairs. If there was a pencil in anybody's hand, or the smallest scrap of paper on their desk, or anything, he wouldn't begin. He said he was so strict about this because he didn't want us to be distracted.

Like most things about Mr. Nordlie, people either loved this or hated it.

He read us Bless the Beasts & the Children next, a little more complex book. And then, I think, came the centerpiece, the single thing that still calls him to mind most readily for me: Of Mice and Men.

He'd read a little bit each day, before we did the regular work of the English curriculum. He said after we'd finished it he'd show us the movie, and warned us he did a better Lenny than the actor playing him. (I thought he was right, too.) "They play him as dumb," I remember him saying. "But Lenny's not dumb."

By the end of that book we were so caught up in the story that a girl who had English in the morning got in trouble with him for telling kids in later English classes how it ended (this was before Google, and I don't think any of us were enterprising enough to check for the book in the library, though I wouldn't have been at all surprised if Mr. Nordlie had checked the book out or hidden it or colluded with the librarian to keep it from the sophomores for the duration of his reading it to us). "Nark!" he teased the girl, and laughed, and I laughed too, even though I wasn't sure yet what the word nark meant.

He also told us how best to bake hash cookies. That was when we were doing Julius Caesar.

His life shone through in everything he taught. He thought that teaching us to appreciate literature was intimately bound up in teaching us how to live life. So he talked about fishing a lot -- he loved to fish, and spent his summer vacation up north as a fishing guide on a lake he talked about so much I still remember its name, Lake Vermillion. (I didn't know the word vermillion yet then either, so it took me a while to get the name stuck in my head and I guess it's stayed.)

He talked about guitars too; he loved playing and had about a dozen (unimaginable wealth to me, madly in love with playing the guitar but still nagging my parents for an electric one). He liked me because I was the only teenage guitarist in the school who didn't want to play the dreary indie music of the time but liked blues, and liked Stevie Ray Vaughan best of all. I liked him because I don't think I knew another human being at the time who recognized Stevie Ray Vaughan's name. Mr. Nordlie brought in one of his dobros once, and let me play it at lunchtime. I'd never done anything like that before (and I haven't touched one since) and I was enchanted. The way they are tuned makes it very easy to sound good, sound like you know what you're doing, very quickly. Of course actually know what you're doing takes a lot longer, but it made for a very satisfying lunchtime. (You might have seen people playing them: the guitar sits flat on their lap and they play it by plucking the strings with their right hand and moving a piece of metal (or, y'know, a broken beer bottle for extra bluesy authenticity, but usually these days a strip of metal specially made for the purpose so it fits just right around the fingers) with their left hand.)

He made us all memorize a list of sixty prepositions -- I remember rather than taking my heavy textbook home for the weekend I just copied them out and just put the piece of paper in my backpack. But then I lost it, or my mom tidied it, or something and I found myself with only a short time after I got to school on Monday to learn them all. He wanted us to learn them because he said he didn't ever want to see us write a sentence that ended in a preposition. This is one instance in which I've parted ways with him since; I don't think it's bad to end with a preposition, or split an infinitive, because I don't speak Latin! He did such a good job of helping me learnto be conscious of the rules I'm breaking, and encouraging confidence in defiance, that I'm sure he wouldn't mind that I use those skills against him now.

He did teach me to love a subject I'd previously hated, so much that a mere two years after I reluctantly left his class to go back to that of the horrible English teacher I had in ninth grade -- the one who ruined everything (except To Kill a Mockingbird, which is so good even he couldn't wreck it), the one who told us not to read the end of Huckleberry Finn because Huck and Jim drifting away ruined the moral of the story, the one who hadn't heard of Anne of Green Gables when someone mentioned it was her favorite book... the one who was teaching because he coached wrestling and there was a rule that you couldn't coach if you weren't teaching -- I still ended up thinking that English was the best thing for me to major in when I got to college. Thanks to Mr. Nordlie.

And tonight my mom told me that he has cancer, and only 2-4 months to live; apparently it's one of the especially shitty kinds.

I'm surprising myself at how sad this makes me. I don't have any way to tell him that I still can't think of Of Mice and Men (or Steinbeck at all really, who ended up another devour-everything-in-the-school-library writer for me after this) without him -- indeed I defended the book, and praised my teacher in so doing, just the other week at Currybeer. Dobro guitars and fishing guides on the lakes of northern Minnesota will always make me think of him too.

But most of all that phrase, "make a nest," sounding so cozy and yet coming from a teacher who made fun of us, who ranted, laughed a lot, sometimes even swore...it was cozy, but not sentimental and not coddling us. He was just teaching us -- me at least -- how to show stories the respect they were due, how to get the most out of them. He was special, and he made my world feel special, and it looks like that effect will long outlast him.
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I was fine when I was listening to the cricket (with [livejournal.com profile] shinydan explaining the jargon and other stuff that confused me as it went along) and doing the dishes, but when they stopped for tea -- they stop for tea! there is no way I couldn’t like this sport -- I’d finished what I was doing too. So I sat down for a minute and ate some yogurt and immediately started thinking too much.

I was glad I’d done the dishes. And earlier today I did some laundry, cooked myself some nice food (English muffin pizzas! an old college favorite; oddly English muffins are a lot harder to find here so I don’t make them very often now), cleaned the bathroom... I’d done all this stuff today, and I felt really good about it. Still a long way from being a domestic goddess, but clearly a lot of progress had been made. It really did seem easier to keep everything okay (or, at least more okay) after we moved. Sometimes these fresh starts do work...

Sure, I thought, it’s working out all right for me now, but what about when I have to go back to work? When I’m working I come home exhausted, mentally as much as physically, suitable for little other than staring blankly at my computer screen or burrowing under the covers of my lovely bed. On my days off I’m little better. And of course as things pile up undone around me, it’s all the easier and more attractive to just hide from it all, narrow my focus so I can’t see the chaos that would drag me down, but being down anyway because there’s nothing good to see in such a narrowly-focused world.

Owning up to my mental state is not the only long-overdue thing I’ve done this week; I’ve been inspired to tidy up the cupboard under the stairs when I tried to yank the vacuum cleaner out of said cupboard and got a cartoonish avalanche of boxes spilling open and CDs crashing down at my feet. So I dragged everything out of it, most if it rubbish, and opened the scary door to the spare room to see what in there might be put in the cupboard under the stairs. I am making lists in my head and on the little whiteboard and trying to kill my procrastinating habits.

The house is in a worse state than it was in some ways; the vacuum cleaner languishes on the kitchen floor, freed from its prison but still not used today because I was too tired after lugging things around and putting them where it had been. Random things that had been there that I’m hoping Andrew will sort out are now strewn about the house. Still I’m not despairing, I’m proud of myself for how easily I’m able to focus on the good I’ve done rather than what’s left to do.

And, inside as well as outside, I’m feeling kind of ugly and strewn-about at the moment. A work mate texted me today, made me smile: “Hey Holly, you ok mate?” I knew this ear would be sympathetic so I did my best to explain, in the limited number of characters, adding thanks for checking up on me; I feel so invisible at work that it really did cheer me up. Still by the end of the two or three texts each that we exchanged, I was feeling wobbly and anxious again, for no reason I could think of but maybe just thinking about work again...

I’ve got a little more than a week left, and I hope it helps a lot because right now I can’t imagine going back. At all. As I sat there eating my yogurt I mentally surveyed my choices. I could, as that mate from work has, return with a reduced number of hours; working four days a week has made a big difference for that person and I think it would help me too. But enough? Do I need to change my job altogether? I have been halfheartedly applying for easy admin jobs (still within the NHS because I haven’t gotten over my wild happiness that it exists, and anyway I guess it has a good pension plan or something) but nothing’s come of it yet.

Man, I used to work in an office, and I hated it so much I can’t imagine what me-then would think if she could see me now, longing to go back to typing and Excel spreadsheets or something, when all she wanted was to get away from them. But a lot of the misery there came from working for a bank, and particularly a part that chased after people who’d missed loan payments. While my co-workers there went on skiing holidays in the Alps and didn’t think anything of spending a tenner on their lunch, I wore ill-fitting Primark clothes I couldn’t afford to replace and brought lunch in Tupperware containers because even the Greggs across the road could be too rich for my blood some days. I felt much closer to the people on the other end of the phone and it was hard on me to work there, even though I knew that doing so was the only thing that kept me and Andrew from getting calls from people like them.

Lots of things have changed and as much as I enjoy the feeling that the work I do is “worthy,” as much as I like my flexible schedule with its lie-ins and early finishes and random days off during the week, there’s a lot about it that I don’t like, that’s driven me to curl up and cry when I thought about going to work on Monday. Compared to this the very idea of a low-stress job is an oasis in the sad empty desert, and the less I have to use my brain the better. I still remember a line I stole from [livejournal.com profile] quuf: drudgery becomes me. I helped stick address labels on a bunch of leaflets for some LibDem thing a couple of weeks ago and worked away happily, thinking of that office job I used to have; on the days the computers weren’t working for me I’d stuff envelopes, a task I found much more to my liking than staring at a screen for umpteen hours a day anyway, filling in hellish little boxes on a database. To work with my hands, even if all I have to show at the end of it is a stack of letters imperfectly folded into envelopes, fingers sticky from the glue, brain wandering gently.

I just have no ambition at all. I don’t resent work like that. I am happy to be given something easy to do and be left alone, unconcerned with failure or success.

Or...

For the last couple of months Andrew has been pushing for me to think about going back to university. he’s enlisted my parents and some of his family in this, as if I’d need persuading. I liked school, and even when I didn’t I understood school; I belonged there. And to have left the way I did, to have run out of money and sanity while all my friends were graduating, to know that I’d need at least another year to make up for all the classes I failed and to have no interest in that because I had no resources for it and all I’d learned that year was that I was stuck with the wrong degree... it remains a big ugly blotch on my life, both a cause and effect of all the depression and anxiety that has landed me where I am now, in my pajamas writing this when I am meant to be at work for another 41 minutes tonight, meant to be at the end of another week looking forward to tomorrow as my day off.

So while obviously I’d rather that not be my abiding impression of formal education, it’s just as obvious that I’m not sure I’m any better able to tackle it now than I was then (especially with how atrociously I’ve failed in my OU courses these last two years).

Also, it’d mean I was much more dependent on Andrew’s income even than I am now when he makes twice as much as me. He’s more than happy to support me, it’s me that’s not entirely comfortable with the idea. Among other things, it’s taken me so long to attain any kind of independence (and even longer to decide that I really wanted it!) that I’m loath to give that up again already.

Going back to university is attractively less structured than work... but I also remember the relief it was for me to start working, to just work, and how long it took to stop feeling guilty when I was just sitting around or having fun. For months after I left school I was looking over my metaphorical shoulder and feeling the stress of books I hadn’t read and essays I wasn’t writing even when there weren’t any of those any more. Perhaps as amputees scratch phantom limbs, humanities students stress about phantom essays.

So I’m wary of inviting that demanding on-duty-24/7 feeling back into my life... but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that university also holds some appeal for me. I’ve been watching [livejournal.com profile] taimatsu‘s dissertation take shape over the past couple of weeks, both admiring of her prose style and her complex thoughts on her subject, fondly (or not) reminiscing about my own big essays, and being utterly grateful that I’m not in her position even now because I know I couldn’t handle it. And a lot of it I don’t miss; English literature never suited me as it does her.

And what would then? It’s all fine and good to want to go back to uni but what for, Holly? I have no answer.

But it’s got me thinking (and talking to poor [livejournal.com profile] shinydan, repeatedly) about word-choices in Old English riddles and other things so arcane you have to be an English major to even know they’re there, much less have opinions about them.

As always I’m susceptible to stories, and I think the one I want to tell here is about some dormant part of myself coming back to life, and of course about the intoxicating high of another fresh start.

I take these three ideas -- less work, new job, university -- out and play with them. I pretend they are a deck of cards and have a game of solitaire with them, turning over one and then another and wondering how they go together. I shuffle them around and put them away. They feel like old ideas already, the edges soft and creases worked into them. Feeling helpless to choose any one over another (or to just go along with things as they are, of course) was one of the things that drove me to despair and got me this time off work; a few days later I feel no closer to an answer but at least able to more calmly think about the question.

assessment

Mar. 3rd, 2009 12:30 pm
hollymath: (rocket science)
I’m really starting to think distance-learning a language is not going to work out for me.

This notion is brought to you by the fact that my last assignment is a day overdue and I still haven’t started it.

And the fact that a friend of mine was just talking about her own OU course, which thankfully she has far better things to say about than I do about mine. And hers is in astronomy, so I am a bit envious as it is my own first love. I must admit I was never one of those kids who had anything to say when grown-ups asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, a trait that hasn’t budged an inch in the twenty-some years hence to this day, but if I’d had to say anything it would’ve been an astronomer. Growing up knowing people didn’t do things like that, people sold seed corn and taught school, I didn’t really think too much about it.

And from a young age I was humiliated by my math grades. I was told off for them in high school but I knew it wouldn’t make any difference; my parents might think I was too smart to get C’s but there’s a difference between getting a C in English, which is brainlessly easy so I always got A’s in it, and getting a C in pre-calculus where you’re supposed to do things with conic sections and matrices, both of which brought me to actual tears and I never did figure them out anyway. I tried calculus again in college so I could take physics and it beat me to a bloody pulp; I think I only lasted a few weeks, just long enough to memorize some trig derivatives for a quiz I had to take an hour later, and then forget them immediately.

And I’m wary. I’m a lot better at starting over than I am at following through. I’m already on my second go at the foreign-language part of the course I am doing, having made a travesty of French last year -- just yesterday I threw out a few of the books for that year, which I’d never even touched. I don’t need more challenge in my life right now and I certainly don’t need more math.

It’s just this desire I have lately to change everything about my life, to pull everything out by the roots to make sure that whatever’s making me sad can’t still be here.
hollymath: (eyebrow)
My second day back at work. I got lucky; yesterday was a fairly gentle return for me (except the return-to-work interview, which made me feel vaguely like I was being told off for something even though my manager is lovely and I'm sure he didn't intend it to). Today was the kind of day I really like when I'm feeling up to it, the kind that keeps you on your toes and makes you feel busy and productive and helpful. I wasn't ready for that but I knew it was coming and I felt only a little overwhelmed.

I must say it helped enormously that in the middle of it I found time to sneakily check my e-mail, where I learned that I could get the results for my first Open University assignment of the year, in German. Luckily I'd, for once, been proactive enough to get a lot of it done a couple of weeks ago, so I could shamefully ignore it when I was Being Stressed and tie up the loose ends the night before I went back to work.

I was pretty nervous about it, even though the little German I remembered from four years ago (and longer, if you count the not-inconsiderable amount I managed to soak up from my weird friends who'd already taken German before that (most of that was useless anyway; I have not yet needed to know the word for helicopter or had to tell anyone the world is cone-shaped, but I can summon these far more readily than I could ask directions or order a meal)) served me well. Most crucially, unlike last year when every assignment I handed in benefited from the loving help of [livejournal.com profile] taimatsu or a once-over from Andrew, who'd both studied the language in question. With German I don't have anyone I feel I could impose on. The upshot being that when my finger hovered over the mouse pointer hovering over a "Send" button, I felt like I was all on my own, flying by the seat of my pants.

Then of course I immediately forgot about it. Work. And, in between, beer. And flip chart paper. So I was kind of surprised to get an e-mail saying I had TMA results to collect.

But that was nothing to my surprise at what the results were. I let out a little yelp, forgetting I was in the office with a lot of other people I didn't know very well at that point. "Ninety-seven percent!" I half-whispered, half-shouted, doing a little chair-dance.

"What, have you got exam results or something?" the one person I did know asked.

"No, just my first assignment," I sheepishly confessed. But still! 97% is nothing to sheep about. I was thrilled beyond words with my scores in the 70s and 80s last year; this is just unthinkable. I know I won't do so well once we get past the things I vaguely remember -- and I know that won't take long! unless they want me to be able to tell people they are goats, which I can do (preferably in the familiar singular) -- and I know my score isn't as impressive as, say, people who have to write essays rather than just put checkmarks in boxes, and this only reaffirms what I thought last year about how gently they must grade beginners' language students...

But I'm quite capable of forgetting all that and just feeling good that for once I'm on top of something.
hollymath: (quantum)
In about half an hour (and with Andrew's invaluable help: when I was busy staring at an OU webpage moaning "waah! this makes no sense!" he was there to point out I was looking at the wrong page and to make a list of everything I'm going to do, advise me on the benefits of Reading Classical Latin over Reading Classical Greek, and generally be the wonderfully calm and organized person that I am so obviously not being) I went from apprehension and confusion about my Open University course to having the whole thing figured out.

Next February, I'm jumping in with both feet: intermediate German and yes, Reading Classical Latin. So at least now I am apprehensive about specific things. Andrew says the intermediate level only expects a GCSE level of knowledge, which he thinks I'll have when I described my experience with German as "four years ago, and I haven't really thought about it since."

Well, that's not quite true. After taking Spanish in high school (because my dad, who at the time worked at a factory with guys with names like Arturo and Javier, thinks like parent thinks:
The US shares a border with only one country that doesn’t speak English (and we’ll leave the more surly Quebecers out of this): Mexico. They speak Spanish in Mexico. In fact, countries that don’t speak English in the Western Hemisphere tend to speak Spanish or, in a few cases, Portuguese. Most of the immigrants to this country, legally or illegally here, speak Spanish. If you actually want to have the greatest chance of communicating well with non-English-speakers right here in the good ‘ol USofA, Spanish is your best bet.
) I wasn't overly impressed with it, though my teacher told me I had a knack for it and should become a translater. I was baffled. This isn't a career plan that'd occur to someone who grows up in the rural Midwest, where I'd lived my whole life so far without being aware of anyone who spoke anything other than English.

Only when it was too late to get out of Spanish did I realize that all my friends (all four of them) were taking German. the only other language my school offered. They had a blast: they had silly German names and wrote essays about collapsible helicopters...in German. Then I got to college and [livejournal.com profile] setharoo taught me about Die Prinzen, and Grant made me watch Run Lola Run, and my crazy advisor (when your major's still undecided, they just assign you one at random) who looked and sounded like central casting's idea of Albert Einstein, who convinced me to take his class about German expressionist film, which I was incredibly dubious about but adored, and Matthew translated "Why Does the Sun Shine" into German for no reason ("die Sonne ist eine Masse von weissglühende Gas" or something), and German was just so cool.

And then I took a year of German, even though my foreign language requirement had already been fulfilled. It's supposed to be hard, but the intricately-structured grammar actually seemed to stick in my brain (I can still conjugate present-tense German verbs more easily than French ones). Since I ended up in an Old English class somehow, all the stuff I learned about three genders and the dative case and everything came in handy there; English was a lot more German back then. And I actually loved Old English and thus appreciated German all the more.

Somehow the language has taken on strange overtones in the time I've been away from it (see here for an example), and now I'm trying to be careful not to get swept away in mystical weirdness of my own devising. Not least because I don't need that. I think German is cool and interesting enough without having to be a pivotal, life-changing force.

In order to get my head out of the clouds, and also to give myself a little better chance of surviving intermediate German by February (the class is called "Auftakt," which I know is meant to be encouraging and cute as the name of my current French class -- Bon départ -- is meant to be, but auftakt (kick) seems a bit ominous to me!)... I'm once again looking for suggestions of movies, music (though I don't like death metal and I already know about the techno, so I'm not sure what this leaves! maybe more boy bands like Die Prinzen if I'm lucky), or any other kind of media you can think of that might get me used to the sounds and sights of the language, even if I don't know enough to tell what they're on about.

You guys did so well when I asked for French things last year; I hope you can help me out with German too.
hollymath: (pigeon)
I did that thing again where I didn't know what I was thinking until I told somebody else about it.

I was actually telling [livejournal.com profile] textivore not to read that rambly entry just before the one that made him tell me "I bet YOU'D be a grand slam, baby!"

But then I reconsidered my reflexive self-deprecation and admitted that actually I was the tiniest bit proud of that rambly entry. Though it still looks muddled to me, it is the evidence of a lot of mental heavy-lifting. It's about my brain and things I like, and "my brain" and "things I like" happen to be among my favorite things, so I thought a little excitement was warranted, and maybe even that smidgen of pride.

It hadn't occurred to me, until I started trying to explain the context to someone who hadn't really known me at the time, but the linguistic epiphanies (ranging from the small "I know how to use the dative case now" to the big-picture "I really like language, actually") of my last year at university have heretofore been pretty smothered under everything else that happened that year: my undiagnosed and unmanagable depression and its snowballing causes and effects, like quitting my too-stressful-to-be-worth-it-anymore part-time job, my increasing inability to pass any of my classes, feeling I was drifting away from my friends as they did more and more to finish their intensive senior years and prepare for life after college while I was doing less and less, money woes, worrying about my family especially in the aftermath of my grandma's death, and the first person I loved breaking up with me.

There were silver linings to those clouds (the one I talk about most often is that they left me in such a state that I actually didn't think flying to the UK to stay with Andrew was a stupid idea, as I probably would've thought it was at any other point in my life before or since), but the clouds were awfully big and black.

Though I worried about running away from my problems — something else for the angst and depression to latch on to! like I needed that! — I worried about it while I was already running away, so it quickly became a moot point. I was happy to run away, even if it was unhealthy or made me look bad, even if it stunted my emotional growth; I didn't care at that point. I had to run. I already was running, even as I was second-guessing the wisdom of that decision.

Soon I stopped feeling like I was running away from my problems, but only because I was running into more different and varied dilemmas than I could've heretofore imagined. Once I decided I had to be with Andrew I had a whole new set of things to worry about, from the ever-present and occasionally-crippling homesickness to the question of how I could ever eat wild rice soup again to what kind of wedding dress I was going to wear.

My brother's death made some of those things more difficult and some of them absolutely trivial in comparison, but it certainly complicated everything and continues to have effects that ripple outward in my life to this day. Moving here meant packing up all Andrew's stuff even before mine could be unpacked and hunting for a new flat; we had to move within a couple of weeks. And then I had to start looking for a job. (Much as I complain about it, it's almost merciful that I really don't remember much between Thanksgiving of 2005 and June of 2006, when I finally started working and felt like I was starting to piece together a life for myself.)

I've never thought much about my life before that time in limbo. The ugliness of my senior year tainted the few good years before it, and the vague nostalgia I feel whenever I think about getting fries and milkshakes at Don's in the middle of the night, or living with Seth the summer he seemed to live on Star Trek and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, or everybody hanging out in Sarah's and my room freshman year, or the poetry readings Allison used to organize, or Katie and her whiteboard, or some of the posts on Pharyngula, of all things... it still is as bitter as it is sweet. So I've never been tempted to think about that period of my life.

Starting the OU course got me thinking about school again, but it brought back the dread rather than the optimism. I thought about what a diabolically poor student I'd proven myself to be, but I forgot about the excitement that my subject, foreign languages and the history of English. Oh, I knew about them, which is why I picked this degree as my eventual goal, but I didn't really feel the excitement any more. And I certainly haven't felt it in all the time I've been struggling with the French these past six months.

As my frustration with French grows, so does my longing for something more familiar.

When I think of my experience with German chronologically, which is how I usually seem to think, it suffers with connections to one of the most frightening and despairing times in my life. But when I think about it as a subject, I think of the way all my friends took it in high school, and I think of the German film class I'd already taken in college before I took a stab at learning the language, and I think of spending time in the coffee shop in Morris, eating delicious sandwiches and trying to learn vocab: die Tische, das Fenster, der Kühlschrank, and I think of how much I liked to see how German's roots tie into those of my mother tongue.

Now that I can think of it this way, it's easy to connect it up to the point my life is at now. And I like feeling connected to that stuff. I was a pretty okay person then, you know. I hardly even knew it at the time, because I was busy being clever and then busy being sad, but I liked who I was and I still like who I was. I'd like to be more like that and less like this crazy sad fragile person I'm used to thinking of myself as now. I was normal. I was okay.

German can't make me normal and okay, but if it can remind me of the last time that I was, well, that can't hurt.

Clearly I've been thinking about school a lot lately: When I got home from work I felt this weird nagging guilt for not doing anything. But I couldn't think of anything to do. I'm caught up (enough) on laundry; I'm still waiting for Andrew to carry through on his promise of tidying the house (it's mostly his stuff anyway, better if he does it)... so where does that leave me? Today it left me eating crisps and watching QI and being glad I didn't have to feel guilty the same way I did when I was a student, because when I was a student there was always something I should have been reading or writing or studying.

I better enjoy this sloth while it lasts, before I start studying something exciting and all-consuming again.

I think it's time for a nap.
hollymath: (universe)
Je pense que.... the beautiful Parisienne tutor wrote quickly, saying it for us as she scribbled, ...elle est belle.

"But who is this sentence talking about?" a man named John asked. Jean, they were calling him. (I envied the Jean and Pierre and Pauline among us; I have a ridiculously untranslatable name; even though Pauline hadn't seen me since December she remembered me because everybody took such delight in calling me Ollee that day.)

I liked Jean. I talked to him during our coffee break and he spoke my worst feelings about the class, precisely. He had a Ph.D., he told me, I think it was in some kind of science. He also had some kind of job in academia (he was talking about what a stressful time of year this was, with him being on the exam board and all). Ye, he confessed, he was struggling with this more than anything else he'd done so far. I wouldn't wish my frustrations with French on anyone, but I was almost heartened to hear that even Ph.D.s with Radio 4 accents were faring little better than I.

He was pointing to elle, and he wanted to know who she was. The sentence wasn't about a person; it was about a picture of a dress. This wasn't really the point; we were supposed to be learning how to express our opinions, but of course you can't really teach one thing about a language at a time when we need to know how the rest of the sentence got to be the way it is.

It was all I could do to stop from shouting excitedly "It's not about a woman, it's just the pronoun for the direct object!"

I never learned a speck of grammar in my formal education until the day in ninth grade when my Spanish teacher said "Today we're doing lo and la, which are for direct objects." We stared at her blankly, and eventually enough of us asked her what the hell she was talking about for her to get a realliy worried look on her face.

She clearly expected us to have been taught this in our English classes, and we just as clearly did not even know there was so much we didn't know. I was lucky that my love of reading had provided me with enough good examples that I was pretty good at usage and grammar, but it was entirely on an intuitive level based on long experience, I had no way to formally articulate what I knew. And most people didn't have the life of intense reading that I did, so they were really floundering. Soon our Spanish teacher was, too, as she attempted to teach us grammar in a foreign language that we didn't even know in our native one.

The only thing I remember about the year of German I took in college (other than the fact that my first-semester professor told us she'd done the German-language commentary for the curling events in the Salt Lake City Olympics, and the second-semester professor must have been Central Casting's idea of Albert Einstein, with the wild white hair and the thick accent) was the day that the dative case finally made sense.

I struggled with it for so long, stared at examples mystified and listened to belabored explanations in a heavy German accent and none of it seemed to work and then it just did. Some people see angels or hear the Voice of God; the closest I have gotten is reliably identifying indirect objects, and developing a fondness for the word whom, as it seems to be the only fossil of ths phenomenon left in English (and it even ends with m, just like so many of the German datives!).

At least by that point I had a framework for learning about it. I was in my last semester of college rather than my first of high school; I was fresh out of a "Grammar & Language" class that I hadn't wanted to take that ended up being the best thing I've ever done, because it was the closest I've gotten so far to an answer for "what can I do if I'm not airy-fairy enough for the humanities and can't do algebra well enough for the sciences?" That answer seems to be linguistics.

I loved that class enough to take another by the same professor the next semester, even though it was in her specialist subject, something I found even less appealing than Grammar & Language: Old English. We'd touched on OE in the "language" part of that class, the history part, but a whole semester about it? I was dubious but trusted the enthusiasm of my professor, and I was wise to do so. I completely adored everything I learned about Old English. It was the record of an interesting culture, and it made a lot of things about the language I speak make more sense to me.

Including, soon after I had that little epiphany in German, that part of the Germanic grammar that Old English still retained was, yep, the dative case. Most of the dative inflections could be expected to end with m. I was so excited about this that I almost squealed out loud, but realized I never would've been able to explain why.

Somehow, I got hooked on all this. I had loved learning how to diagram sentences, I loved phonology and morphology and semantics and onomastics and if there's anything more fun than etymology, well, I don't know if I want to know about it because I think my head would explode. This stuff seems to light up all the happy places in my brain. I love knowing how words got that way, teasing apart their stories, appreciating how connected they are to times and places and languages I know nothing at all about. I love thinking about language, which infuses everything else I think about and (nearly) everything everyone else conveys to me.

I just love the way it challenges my brain in ways I usually associate with math and science, but the effort I put into it seems to bring greater rewards of understanding and excitement for future challenges in a way that science and math never manage. I feel like I've Found Something here, even though I know I'm still only at the popular-science level of knowledge, at best, in anything to do with linguistics.

Anyway, that's directly related to how I ended up in a chilly room at Manchester Metropolitan University at 9:30 this morning, still woozy on my feet, not having completely gotten over the perfect-storm type combination of hangover and flu yesterday, being all excited because elle was obviously just the direct object. I'm doing this OU course, Modern Languages, because it involves learning a foreign language and the history and grammar of English. It could not be more perfectly tailored to me.

Jean wasn't the only person who admitted to me that he was frustrated and struggling with the French. Gordon told me he wasn't keeping up and had a friend who'd already quit this course. Pauline, my partner for the do-this-activity-in-partners exercises immediately said "I can't do this, Holly, I'm sorry," and started making small talk about her job.

Faced with another activity that involved piecing together a recipe in French that had been sliced into strips of a sentence or so each, she didn't even look at the words but just started trying to match up the unevenly-cut edges of the slips of paper, which had clearly been one sheet originally. "I like jigsaws," she told one of the tutors. "Next time you should use a gullotine!" she told the other.

And when she asked about the difference between two subtle variants of some expression or other, and after a detailed explanation was offered, the tutor summed it up with "This one's usually an adverb, and that one's usually an adjective," she scoffed, seeming almost offended that the tutor thought such an explanation might be helpful to her.

The tutorial was difficult for me, mentally as much as physically on a day when something as taxing as eating dinner made me need to take a nap, but I'm glad I went if only for the surely-unsanctioned benefit of realizing that I am not alone in my animosity towards French.

And that I am lucky because I do at least have a vague ability to take a step back from the language I know, to think about the tools of language and the ways they are similar or different among these languages, and to overlay three foreign-languages in my brain, however rubbish I am at all of them (and I am: I can probably deduce some extremely simple sentences written in French, German or Spanish; I could probably identify a very few spoken words, but I'm useless at saying or writing much of anything myself).

The tutorial made me take a step back and appreciate that while I'm still intimidated by French, while I'm still paralyzed by self-consciousness and confusion when asked to speak it, while I still don't dislike it any less than I did when I didn't know any, I am lucky to have this relatively convoluted history that's brought me to this point, because it's given me knowledge and skills that the people who only want to be more comfortable going to France for business trips or talking to the plumber in their holiday homes do not have.

And it's given me a fondness for language that may not seem to have stuck very well yet in French but which is at least undiminished. I'm still excited about next year, even if I drop the French like a bad habit and go back to lovely German with its supposedly-intimidating strict grammar and overlong compound words; they feel like old friends and I'm looking forward to seeing them again.

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