Erasure III: The secret to learning languages and writing novels

I wanted to provide a quick update on what has become a series of reflections. It all started with this post about reflecting on the past and feeling free to make mistakes in the future. I also resolved to start studying Portuguese. Then there was a follow up about studying Portuguese on a trip to Montreal and being inspired to switch gears and study French, which I did as I made plans to travel to Brazil. Oops.

Anyone here speak French? No? Ok, cool…

So what has happened since then, and what mistakes am I making now? Spoiler alert: lots!

It’s been about five years since my last Erasure update, and a LOT has happened. In those five years I have:

  • Started at beginner level one and completed intermediate-level French classes
  • Received a travel grant to visit Brazil twice, and wrote a novel based on those experiences
  • Wrote another novel, and had some stories published
  • Returned to seriously studying Portuguese, and finally started to make some progress with my conversational skills
  • Passed the Canadian citizenship test (now just waiting for the call to take the oath of citizenship!)

That’s one bullet-point per year! And what have I learned from all this?

Mistakes were made! And there was a lot of lateral movement. But, if I had to do it over again, I don’t know that I would erase anything (No regrets!). Sure, it would have made more sense to study French before going to Montreal, then switch to studying Portuguese before going to Brazil, but that wasn’t where my path led me. I needed to visit those places to feel inspired.

Peut-être we can practice some Portuguese? Non? Desculpa, tchau!

I’ve learned that to make things happen in my life I need to be motivated, whether it’s writing or learning a language. Actually, I think motivation is the most important component of anything I’ve accomplished. I need to be realistic and kind to myself. If I don’t feel motivated, I need to take a break and look for ways to motivate myself rather than pushing through something I’m not motivated to do, because that leads to frustration and giving up. Maybe being indecisive can be a good thing? Or maybe not? I can’t decide. I’ve learned there’s no erasing the past, even the mistakes. So I’m only looking forward from now on, building on the decisions I’ve made—even the bad ones.

As I continue to study and write, I’m more motivated than ever before to work toward my goals and see them through. Even if I need to take a break or switch gears for a while, I know that writing and language are things I care deeply about and will always find the motivation to prioritize in my life, even if I need to step away now and then to find my motivation again.

If you have goals that you’re not reaching, ask yourself if you’re feeling motivated, and if not, what do you feel motivated to do? Maybe it’s time to shift gears, or take a step back and look for that inspiration again.

Both writing and language learning take a lot of dedication and persistence. So find your driving force, whether you call it motivation, inspiration, passion, or your muse. A dream isn’t enough. It’s a goal, an objective—what you need is the desire and energy to focus on moving forward a little each day, to be motivated to continue pushing through until those dreams come into focus.

A Life of Many Roles

I have to begin by saying I’m usually not moved by the death of a celebrity. Of course it’s horrible when anyone dies, but I just don’t feel a personal connection to people I experience through the barriers of the screen. People who are removed yet again by becoming a brand or a product.

But for some reason, when I read that Robin Williams had died, I felt a personal loss. I’m still trying to figure out why exactly that is, but here are some of my thoughts on his life and death:

How could someone as funny as Robin Williams be so tortured that the punchline of his life is this horrible?

Mrs Doubtfire.jpgI had a discussion with some coworkers the other day about how maybe comedians are the most tortured of us all. There is some strand of the dark and perverse in the things that make us laugh. To connect with what makes us laugh, you have to be familiar with what rips us apart. Which came first, the loss or the laughs? At a certain point we need humor to help us through the awful, like laughing through a funeral. Life would just hurt too much if we didn’t let out the parts that wound us deeply.

He wasn’t “just” a comedian.

Comedians are analysts of the human condition, and their job is not easy or superficial. Yet, Robin Williams was more than humor. He was fun, family friendly characters like in Aladdin, Hook, Jumanji. He was of course, hilarious characters like Mrs. Doubtfire. And often forgotten, he was creepy characters like 24 Hour Photo and Insomnia. (Wow, I just realized the Robbins on a boat meme photo is a shot from Insomnia.) And he was inspiring, like Patch Adams, Good Will Hunting, and my favorite, Dead Poets Society. (And also wonderfully unclassifiable movies like Toys.)

He was more than just one role or one anything. He occupied all these facets of our lives. What makes us laugh, what terrifies us, what comforts us.

Depression

I’ve had my own, often thankfully short bouts of depression. So I respect and understand his struggle. I don’t think it was right or wrong of him to take his life and I can certainly understand the void of depression that could lead someone with a full life to see the world as hopeless. Depression turns even the best things in our lives into black holes that consume the very universe we live in. It tears them apart and only leaves an absence behind. Not even a desire for what was, but a hole.

So hearing that Robin Williams killed himself made me all the more depressed, because it made me feel that struggle and that pain. I’ve heard several people say he inspired them to pull out of their own depression. But for me it just echoed my own dark moments. A reminder of how it could have gone. I don’t really have anything positive to say about this. There isn’t anything to say about depression or suicide. It is terrible.

Immortality

Thanks to the interwebs, the moment Robin Williams died, he was all anyone talked about. Like a larger than life rockstar burning out only to explode in the allure of their tortured too-soon-death, the man became a legacy at his death. Instead of a man, we now see him as a culmination of his roles, of his personality, his public life and deeds.

Maybe it’s just because I grew up in a conservative small town in the American South, but I only heard bad things about Michael Jackson; he was a deviant, a pedophile, until he died and suddenly became not his actions or his life, but a culmination of his art. A memorialized piece of culture and revered cultural icon. So it is with Robin Williams. His films will live on. His legacy will live on. His commitment to his family and to causes he believed in will live on. His awesomeness will live on. (He named his daughter Zelda, after the videogame, so he was the best kind of geek.) He is now all of these things at once, not a man, but a life and a memory that permeates the consciousness of everyone he’s moved and laughed and nudged through adolescence and their own dark times.

Looking back over what I’ve written, I think what strikes me most about Robin Williams is his range of characters. He’s so easy to identify with because life is a series of many roles, and we need the full arsenal if we’re going to get through.

 

The Burning Questions

I’ve had an interest in philosophy since my teen years, and I had my first panic attack about the impossibility of infinity before I was ten, so I’m no stranger to the burning desire for knowledge that has consumed so much of my life and so much of the world throughout history. I’ve often found myself asking what we can learn by studying the past, from science and religion, from the universe itself, and from looking toward a transhuman, post-singularity future.

Woher kommen wir Wer sind wir Wohin gehen wir.jpg

It wasn’t until I reached college that I first encountered a physical manifestation of what I call these burning questions. In an art history class at JMU, the professor showed us slides of a painting called Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? by Paul Gauguin. In my search for meaning I’ve so often struggled just to find the questions, let alone the answers. But when I saw the painting, those three questions became the primary mantra in my search for meaning in my life and in the universe itself.

The search for knowledge is maddening. Why are the answers to the questions which seem so vital to our very existence so impossibly elusive? The closer we get to the truth, the blurrier it becomes. If only we had a massive pair of communal reading glasses.

In thinking about the past, the “Where Do We Come From?”, I wonder if we have Adam and Eve to blame for devouring any knowledge fit for humanity, digesting it, and turning it into excrement. If there was a tree of knowledge growing in my garden, I wouldn’t think twice about rebelling against the powers that be for a taste of what’s behind the veil. Rules are meant to be broken, right? Maybe I’d be struck by a divine bolt for my insubordination, but why go to the trouble of planting a knowledge tree if its fruits aren’t meant to do anything more than fall to the ground and rot?

I’ve always been an avid reader and looked to books for my primary source of answers. At the same time, I have an understanding that those answers aren’t in any book, because there most likely aren’t any answers. But recently the maddening thirst for knowledge has hit me with full force, regardless of how much or little I think I understand about the way the world turns. This summer I’ve been devouring books at an alarming rate, usually at least a couple a week, searching the pages for answers, and then, without pause, tearing into the next book, desperately hoping to get a little closer to some universal truth.

Obviously I haven’t come across the meaning of life. I promise I’d share it with you if I had. And if you have, please let me know so I can go back to reading at a leisurely pace. Just leave your insight in the comments section below and I’ll be happy to note your insight and shelve the books so I can go back (as if I was ever there) to sanity.

I’ve also been reading a lot about immortality and transhumanism, thinking about the Where are We Going? question. I haven’t really been seeking these books out, they’ve been finding me.

I don’t know where we’re going. I don’t know the answer to any of the burning questions. But I still ask them. I still madly scour the pages of book after book, Untitledlooking, I guess, not for answers, but for reassurance that it is okay not to have the answers. That not knowing is fine. That it is good. That it is the way the universe is designed and maybe the meaning is wrapped up in that unknown, a wrapping paper tessellated with question marks. I mean, what’s the point of existing in the first place if everything’s already figured out? Why go through the motions?

But I digress. In all the reading I’ve been doing this summer, one passage in particular jumped out and smacked me across the face, leaving my ears ringing with the sound of one hand clapping. So while I may not have any answers, I’m stabilizing again as I’m reminded that the human concept of meaning might just be the greatest barrier between us and understanding our place in the universe.

Here’s the passage, which is from Another Roadside Attraction:

“But seriously, if life has no meaning—”

“To say it has no meaning is not to say it has no value.”

“But to say it’s all meaningless. Isn’t that a cop-out?”

“Maybe. But it seems to me that the real cop-out is to say that the universe has meaning but that we ‘mere mortals’ are incapable of ever knowing that meaning. Mystery is part of nature’s style, that’s all. It’s the Infinite Goof. It’s meaning that is of no meaning. That paradox is the key to the meaning of meaning. To look for meaning—or the lack of it—in things is a game played by beings of limited consciousness. Behind everything in life is a process that is beyond meaning. Not beyond understanding, mind you, but beyond meaning.” – Tom Robbins

 

 

 

Of Mirrors and Rainbows: thoughts on being yourself

So I came across this really excellent article on IGN yesterday about how gay characters do exist in video games, but are always minor characters, just like in most other forms of media.

It got me thinking about a couple things:

1- There is this idea that well meaning, generally accepting straight people toss around that seems to be prevalent today, this idea that sexuality doesn’t matter. The heart of this statement is in the right place, but it feels like a punch in the gut to a gay person. Here’s why:

Saying sexuality doesn’t matter is saying it doesn’t affect us, the way we live our lives and who we have struggled to become. It says our struggle to fight to love ourselves enough to be ourselves despite a culture that says we are freaks at worst and comedic sidekicks at best doesn’t matter. And most of all what hurts is that it says that our pain, our torment, and suffering at being judged, hated and threatened doesn’t matter. Even though, thankfully, it isn’t as common today, you don’t think you’d live your life differently if you knew there was some chance you may be attacked physically or verbally for holding your spouse’s hand in public, or even casually bringing them up in conversation? It matters.

double-alaskan-rainbow

2-I’ve heard so many people say, I’m a writer (insert any profession) and I’m gay (insert any minority status), but I don’t want to be a gay writer. Really? If you are not yourself then you are no one. If you don’t embrace and love yourself, no one will love you. Sure, some people will judge you for being true to yourself, but others will love you. The real you, and you can’t be true to yourself, find your story, tell your story if you reject a part of yourself. So be a gay writer, or a Christian writer, or a black lawyer, or a Muslim model, or whatever the hell you are. Be yourself. Love yourself. Tell your story.