I am not gifted at languages. In part because I am not particularly auditory. I am a bit on the tone deaf side, and it is getting worse as I get older, as is my hearing in general, and I like silence most of the time.
I studied Japanese for a year, over a year before my first trip there. We weren’t planning the trip when we took the course and I wasn’t actually all that interested. I only took it because that was the only way the community college would let my then 14 year old son take the class (we were homeschooling other subjects).
Brag: He was 14, I was 41 and everyone else in the class was between us, including the instructor. We BOTH aced it! (I was so proud).
But when we got feet on the ground, my carefully learned Japanese flew out the window, except for a few phrases. (My son did better.)
It was among other editorials about the presidential candidates and responses to current events. You probably know more than I about the issues, so I won’t bore you with them. I mention this one because I thought of a response, one that I haven’t seen anyone else put forward. Take the profit motive away.
We live in a ratings driven world. Part of the problem is not related to “free speech”. The media today gives us more and more of what we watch (witness how many hours of “tiny houses” showed on the television yesterday, they must have shown every tiny house in the country!). Decisions about what to air, and how much face time various folks get, is profit driven, news today is entertainment, not a public service, and ratings drive what we see. We are seeing more hate speech because it is getting watched and advertisers need to promote their drugs for sleepless, depressed folks with low-T who need to have their closets organized and take a cruise.
Here is something anyone can do: Deny an audience to people who are guilty of hate speech. Flip the channel to HGTV or re-runs of crime shows when the TV shows hate speech, better yet turn it off. Turn off the radio, don’t buy the magazine, don’t go to the web site for more information. If a debate turns away from serious issues, then turn it off. When ratings drop these people will get less media attention (which is what they are after, running for president every time your name is put in front of people is free advertising) and they will have less power.
In today’s world silence is something we fear. It is a form of communication and it can, and probably should, be used to help curb the excesses of this somewhat surreal presidential campaign.
This daily prompt, Thanks, Hindsight, reminded me of how often this year I haven’t been able to post…no time, no inspiration, no ability to pull things together and finish, or, on re-reading, deciding that the post, whether words, pictures, or both, is not worth viewing (I like to think that the effort itself is beneficial). For every time I hit “publish” this year there are about 3 posts I started and didn’t finish.
This year has been a blur. Everything feels out of control. So far I have made it to all appointments, but there have been numerous “wait, that isn’t this week is it?” events (event isn’t quite the right word, but I am going to barrel on and finish something for once).
When life is as out of control I try to find something to give it structure. This year’s efforts
Experimenting with Inkscape, an open source vector graphics program, a little every day.
Continuing to try and worm a few words of Chinese into my old, scattered brain, a little every day using YoyoChinese.com (which I have found to be really effective)
Working on trying to get my house in order.
My big house-in-order project this year is a remodel that will add a significant amount of built-in book shelving in the living room (something I have wanted for the almost 29 years we have lived here) and totally reworking kitchen cabinets (replacement of existing plus additional). The design is complete and they are scheduled to start de- and con-struction on May 2. That means getting everything out of the kitchen and a largish section of the living room, and creating an ad hoc kitchenette/dining area we can use for about two months (they say it will take 5-6 weeks).
The dust will settle and life will get easier: Our pantry is in the unfinished basement. We currently store many of our favorite books, like our Wodehouse collection, and a lot of kitchen equipment (including the food processor and baking sheets) there as well. It will be a slog through our mire of stuff, and probably some stress, getting there. One downside is that I currently go up and down the stairs a lot, I will need to try and make up for that exercise.
Chinese is growing on me and one source of ideas for posts that I never quite am able to finish is human communications. Specifically the differences between cultures and how much that is influenced by language. I hope that when I am housebound as they do the remodel maybe I can pull together some posts on this subject.
Inkscape has been fun. Here are a couple of Valentines I put together after viewing numerous “how-to” videos on You-tube:
Learning a language is hard and it takes a lot of time and practice to master nuance. Not only that, but you can’t learn every language you might need. I would like to understand non-verbal communication better. A few times I have been in situations where there was no language cross over.
In Africa with people who spoke Kikamba and in China the language spoken had no kinship with English. In Europe most of the languages have at least a few words that make one feel like there is a connection. In both Africa and China, while it is true that younger folks have mostly some familiarity with English, older people (my age as opposed to my son’s age) often don’t have any familiarity with it at all, so I can speak as slowly and clearly as I want but nothing will get through.
Yet somehow with pointing, smiles, exaggerated facial expressions, along with charades, and the occasional drawn picture. many things can be communicated. I would like to be better at that.
I have had a few adventures where my, I like to think anyway, above average language skills in my native tongue have not helped me at all. Where being better at reading people and non-verbal communication would have been way more useful than fluency in the wrong language.
In Africa one happened having my hair washed. Mama Munini, our hostess, had arranged for the woman who washed her hair to come and wash mine (for the exhorbitant cost of ~$2). I just wanted it washed, it was in the 90-100 degree F temperature range and after traveling from Nairobi in a very full minivan (driver five passengers and a bunch of luggage, a harambee (tiny church very full of people), and walking about a fair amount for two days with only a wash basin of water to clean with I longed for a clean head.
Mama made the arrangements but had to go off and left me with a lovely lady who scrubbed my hair and scalp cleaner than it has ever been before. I thought we were done.
But then she rubbed in conditioner and carefully bagged my head up in black plastic to let it work. When she rinsed that out I thought we were done.
But then she started to braid my hair. Since I had no way to communicate to her that I didn’t want braids I called to my son to go and get my supply of elastic hair thingies. I looked pretty odd but it was WAY cooler to have my hair in the braids which I left in for the five days until we returned to Nairobi. I wish I had been able to communicate…but then I would not have been as comfortable.
A similar situation occured when I went to visit Mrs. Munyoki, specifically Mama Elijah (Mr. Elijah is featured in Reward). I was to meet Mueni (Elijah’s sister) at the elementary school and go with her to visit her mother. I got to the school and she wasn’t there. Not sure quite what got said to whom but I was sent off, as it turned out cross country, with a fourth or fifth grader. He took me through peoples yards and gardens to Mrs. Munyoki, the principal’s wife not Mama Elijah (there are quite a few Munyokis in Mulundi). She understood where I was headed but insisted that I eat first. The rest of my party (including those who could understand) somehow found me there, where I was not supposed to be, eating fresh chapati so hot that they burned my fingers. We all went the last couple hundred yards together, and had to eat again with Mueni and Mama Elijah. I never was quite clear what happened…oh well.
It would be so nice to somehow understand, and yet I treasure these memories of times when I didn’t and somehow connected with people.
Texts, phone calls, video chats and, to a large extent email, are ephemeral. My sister was going through some papers recently and found the telegram my grandmother sent telling my grandfather that mom was born, he was in the service in the South Pacific at the time. Today that communication would have been an email, text, phone call or video chat…and we wouldn’t be coming across it 70 years later. We have both gained and lost something in those 70 years.
Telegrams were the original text messages and, since every word cost dearly, people cut to the chase. But they differed from texts in that they had a physical product that was something precious to save and cherish.
Then the telephone came along. That added two aspects to communications: It was still only words but, depending on the quality of the line, you could hear tone of voice, and you could respond immediately. The communication became the creation of two people interacting. A pas-de-deux, not a solo. And ephemeral, just the memories of the two in the conversation shifting and changing with time.
When I was growing up we were on a party line. There was an etiquette: we kids were always told to keep it to the minimum so we didn’t tie up the line, no chit chat. My regular Saturday morning phone call, at 10:01 because it wasn’t polite to call before that, was “can Kim come and play?” My husband asked me for Kim’s mother’s phone number a while ago and it rolled off my tongue like it was yesterday, actually it was a whole bunch of yesterdays.
We were also taught to not say anything much because a neighbor could pick up at any time and hear what you were saying. Calling Dad at work was long distance and only to be done in cases of emergency.
To this day I do not like to talk on the phone. I think some of it is due to my early training that phones are for emergencies and expensive to use, keep it short and don’t say much. But, lately, I have been pondering whether some of it is because when I talk on the phone the other person takes over the conversation and, between being quicker with words and biased in hearing morphs my message into something that isn’t what I want to say.
I really like email: I can write a draft, hone the words, and add a strategic photo here and there. I can take my time and send the message whenever and it will not interrupt the receiver, who can read and respond in her/his own time. Like an old fashioned letter with a quicker delivery system.
But an interesting phenomena has happened: people no longer read. They scan. I noticed this a little over ten years ago when communicating with folks in my son’s Boy Scout Troop and at church, most people are functionally illiterate. They can read, but they do not. At least not the longish, and, I like to think, well-crafted compositions that I wrote.
I think this is because of busyness combined with information overload: there is so much information available to us that we have to screen for what is actually relevant to us in accomplishing the current task. We no longer have time to delight in clever ways of putting things or to savor beautiful wordings that come to life in our imaginations. I think this is why we have moved to the tweet and text message. People are possibly reading more now than ever, but in short bursts.
I do not have a smart phone. Texting is painful for me. Being near sighted, I either have to take my seeing glasses off, or find reading glasses, to read the little buggers. Then I painstakingly push the dinky little buttons to respond. Since I am unfamiliar with the jargon, I type full words and use proper punctuation.
Both of my sisters have smart phones and prefer texting over talking (this is really great most of the time). They often send two or three texts while I am still responding to the first one. Then my phone’s memory gets full and I can’t receive any more messages in the middle of a “conversation”, so I delete all of the texts since I do not have time to go through and figure out which are important.
So, with a few pushes of a tiny button, out go the treasures along with the trash.
I started this blog when I took a class in creating websites. I wanted to experiment with layout and techniques beyond the class assignments, so I needed to create some “content” to play with.
What I had easily available was my own life…but words do not come easily to me. Often my “story” is a sensation (touch, smell, taste, sound or picture) that triggers a feeling. How can I communicate that feeling?
Through blogging I have, slowly, been using photographs and words to try and learn to communicate the feelings and sometimes link them to a bigger idea. I think this is the essence of composition. So, though blogging, I am learning to compose. It is like quilting: you take a bit of this fabric and some of that and arrange and rearrange them until there is a sense of “yes!” Obviously, I am not an everyday, words-pour-out-easily sort of blogger,
Learning communication through composition isn’t something you ever finish. It cannot be done once and for all, so I need to keep at it and to take a look at how others approach the same themes. I didn’t know when I threw the first bit together, but that is what blogging is. So here am I, on the downhill slope of middle age learning to “use my words” with a picture here and there thrown in because words don’t always do it.