chhotii: (Default)
[personal profile] chhotii
The state of the world is so distressing, I've been retreating into my shell for a while.

After the election... well, right after the election I just wanted to die, because if we are collectively destroying the planet we live on as hard and as fast as possible, what is the point of anything? Trump un-does with a slight wave of his hand everything I've struggled for my whole life.

Then my colleagues tried to blow cheer up my butt, saying that the rest of the world was going to step up to deal with climate change now that they see that the US is not going to lead on this; the good people of the world are going to work harder than ever in reaction to Trump, and maybe things will be better than if we just trusted Hillary with being in-charge and responsible. My boss said, you have got to get out onto the streets and protest. We stopped the Vietnam War through protest, and it only took a small leadership ring to instigate. The Women's March gave me hope, but conditional on the idea that multitudes of us are now WOKE, and now taking action that we wouldn't have taken if Hillary had won. If Hillary had won, we would be complacent; now we are anything but, and we will go forth and fix things.

At least to some extent this is true; whether it's true enough to save the world, time will tell. I've gotten involved, and know about the next Climate March (whereas the previous one took me by surprise). I'm better informed, and can tell you why your next water heater should be electric not gas, damnit, whereas last year I was quite confused on this issue. I'm on a team agitating to get gas leaks fixed so maybe my oh-so-liberal town can stop venting absurd amounts of methane into the atmosphere.

It's exhausting to feel like I have to struggle as hard as possible to save the world. Other than some re-tweeting, I didn't do much to save the world today, as I have a lot of other things to do. I spent 2 hours this morning nudging my kid into going to school; I drove to Newton to last-minute drop off papers at the tax accountant's office; I cooked; I worked on cleaning and organizing my apartment; I fruitlessly tried to nag my kid into dealing with her homework. I'm trying to work against the actions of Trump, who doesn't have any responsibilities like these. His wife cares for the kid, his accountants come to him, and servants cook and clean for him. He's free to sit in the Oval Office and plan how to destroy the environment all day. He can write executive orders and cause thousands of people to act; I, on the other hand, can only hope that if thousands of other people join me in an action, we can collectively catch a tiny sliver of media attention. I am 1/1000th of a unit of political action, meanwhile the asshole's actions are multiplied by the thousands.

A couple of months ago I was feeling ground down by the pressure to do All The Activism, and I thought: What if I make my own basic needs, related to health, and Sophia's needs, related to her success in school, first priority? Do those things first, and just do whatever activism fits in after I've done all the exercise, all the healthy cooking, homework nagging, etc. I can't save the world but I can make a big difference to my own health and Sophia's future through my efforts... up until global warming kills us all, of course. But focus on more immediate things, and thereby feel more effective and thus less depressed. That day Janet tried to get me to watch some asshole saying cruel lies about trans people on Bill Maher's show on Facebook, so I could share in the outrage, and I was like, nope, I'm all used up right now and busy, other people are going to have to carry the burden of being outraged by this particular moment.

So I stopped ingesting news and started exercising and writing down everything I eat and got a pile of math homework from Sophia's math teacher for her to catch up on. My body and Sophia betray me in my efforts to be effective in something, anything, anything at all. I pulled a muscle deep in my leg running, and as I hobble around my apartment, Sophia goes on a streak of not being able to get up in time to go to school in the morning, and loses her purple homework folder and does the oh-so-on-the-spectrum "nope, can't bring home homework because I don't have a purple folder and homework goes in a purple folder". *exasperation* I am doomed to grow old and feeble and Sophia INSISTS on having a rocky time at school.

Retreating even further into my self-absorbed petty little concerns in search of the sweet spot in the Serenity Prayer, I have been putting a lot of effort into fixing something about myself that's peeved me for a long time: the fact that I'm so monolingual. This is a petty problem, to be sure, because the one language I'm really competent at is English, and much of the world's interesting content is translated into English. If I were to travel, the world is filled with tourist destinations staffed by people eager to accommodate the English-speaking American carrying American money. But I feel like a jerk to go to another country and not at least try to meet people half-way linguistically. But I haven't been traveling for years; something about the idea of traveling overwhelms me at this point. But. I am envious. Other people are bilingual, why can't I be?

I've taken up DuoLingo to try to get going in French, and I've been looking at the French phrase book again, because Sophia is taking French in school, and will be for at least the next 3 school years (including this one). It gives Sophia a chance to review and practice her French when she corrects my tortured and pathetic attempts at French: the best way to learn something is to teach it. Plus, I would like to take her to Paris for vacation, as this would powerfully reinforce and motivate her efforts in French class; but I can't trust her to do all the talking.

I'm not very enthused about French, though, because in French I'm starting all over as a complete beginner. The low-hanging fruit for me, language-wise, would be to get comfortable reading in German. I started studying German at about age 12, because my mother was under the mistaken impression that being able to read German was still useful for a career in science. (This has not been particularly true since before WWII.) I continued with German through high school, and after a summer immersion program in Germany in college, I could speak the language. But, oh, how fast that rusted over and fell away.

The trouble with maintaining (and gaining ground in) German is that I never found it enjoyable to read in German, mostly because I find it so irritating to stop and look up words in the dictionary. When my vocabulary was very small (up until very recently), I had to stop and look up a word a few times per sentence, making reading a slow painful slog. Periodically over the years I tried to tackle this problem by trying to memorize lists of vocabulary, for example while exercising or commuting; but memorizing words out of context is hard. Words encountered in vocabulary lists just don't stick. Recently I had a few ah-hah realizations. Realization #1 was that words encountered in context, rather than in a word list or dictionary, are about 20x more likely to be remembered. (This number is just a guess-- I haven't done an experiment-- but it feels about right.) Realization #2 is that if I learn a word by puzzling over it in context, rather than by looking at the English translation, I learn the word in a way that's less dependent on thoughts phrased in English. This makes my knowledge of the word more useful for rapidly reading German text, because my brain is more likely to translate German to meaning than translate from German to English to meaning. (Any time you try to understand a sentence in German by translating the individual words into English, the process is slow, ugly, and confusing.)

Why is it that when you take a language in high school, they make you learn vocabulary lists, giving you the impression that that's a good way to acquire vocabulary? So wrong!!!

Realization #3 was that if I make myself suffer through the hard slog of reading in German, things will get better: the more I read, the more vocabulary I will know (and the more accustomed I will be to untangling German sentence structure), and the more vocabulary I know, the more I will enjoy reading, and the more I enjoy it, the more I will read. It's a positive feedback loop. Eventually, if this progresses far enough, I should get to a point where reading in German is not a hard slog that I have to make myself do, but rather an enjoyable pastime, as reading in English is. I think that will be like cresting a hill on a bicycle: once you're over the top, you start to be able to really pick up speed with little effort. I was sharing this idea with my mother, who said that other people who have become fluent in other languages say that indeed, that is what it is like.

OMG why did nobody ever tell me these things???

So. I bought from a fantasy novel formatted for improving one's reading comprehension of German: they read each chapter twice, first in German, than in English. I also bought the German edition of the same novel, and have been reading it in German ahead of hearing the English translation. I have adopted a few habits, to study in spare moments-- now I review my German textbooks while I drink my morning coffee, rather than reading the Washington Post; and some science article in is always up on my iPhone, so I can explicitly study science vocabulary by puzzling over the encyclopedia.

It's working. I thought that learning languages was impossibly hard and I was hopeless at it but it's working. The number of words I can recognize, or at least figure out in context, has grown dramatically recently, and I can already read longer stretches of text before wanting to gnaw off a limb. Yay! Fun!

So, I'm torn. On the one hand, it's fun to do things that are not impossible, things where you can actually see progress. On the other hand saving the world is impossible but morally imperative. So. Should I come out of my shell and start reacting to everything on Twitter, or should I start sewing again?
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