Tag Archives: Duolingo

Leaning into the Fraudian Complex

canstockphoto17112100I’m a writer.

I speak several languages.

I am fit and active.

I love my family.

I believe love is the right choice.

But, but, but…

What about the fact that I’m none of these things consistently or expertly?

What about the fact that I don’t spend each and every day honing my writer’s craft? And that despite working on a novel, 80% of my reading is nonfiction?

What about the fact that if you ask me any question in the languages I know well on paper, I’ll have a blank look on my face?

What about the fact that I don’t look like an athlete? Or that I eat enough for four athletes…of the Sumo kind?

What about the fact that on Monday morning, I’m glad to see my family out the door?

And for all the love I purport to feel, to advocate for, why am I repeatedly calling fellow humans jackwads and dipshits while driving?

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I had the good fortune of hearing the author Elizabeth Strout (Olive Kitteridge, 2009 Pulitzer Prize), give a lecture last week. She talked about the value of fiction and why it’s important to readers. She spoke about how fiction gets to the truth of characters and in turn, to the truth of ourselves. I took notes and all I could think was – as a writer, I’m a complete and utter fraud. This is a bad thought to have a week before I’m scheduled to pitch my novel to three literary agents. But it’s bad in a way I have learned to value.

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When I started tutoring English learners, one of the students asked me in front of the class what languages I spoke. Ever eager to sound like I knew something of value, I muttered “I speak a little Spanish, German, French and Russian.”

It was, to my knowledge, true – if you wanted me to count to 10, list the colors of the rainbow or ask you where the bus station was. I’m proficient in asking for another beer in German or talking about military tank positions in Russian. I can accurately describe cows or the children at the swimming pool in French. In Spanish, I have a terrific food vocabulary, because Mexican food is the bomb.

So, in the back of my head, I really felt like I was telling a lie, even if I’d get off on a technicality. Lies bother me. Especially my own. I intone Jean-Luc Picard in my head Make it real. Since starting tutoring a few months ago, I’ve been relearning or building up languages. I start off every day on DuoLingo. It takes canstockphoto993916me about 20 minutes, but in the last two months, my language skills have improved exponentially. I started enjoying it so much that I’m ramping things up a bit with workbooks and online websites in those languages. I frequently wander the house repeating nonsensical phrases, sometimes mangling all four languages in the same sentence. International incident, here I come.

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I have never in my life looked like an athlete. I’m solid, but short and round. All my life I’ve been fairly active. I look in the mirror and it never reflects back at me who I think I am. This disconnect between how I feel and how I look frustrates me to no end. Years of martial arts, running, tromping around in combat boots hauling packs, endless numbers of push-ups, weight training, and in the end, I still look like a disheveled hausfrau. This time my body is a reflection of the lie.

canstockphoto2201991I’ve only ever dealt with half the equation – exercise. The reality is that I eat like a horse. A horse who could eat its own body weight in mashed potatoes. I eat well – really, really well. From my twenties on, I’ve resisted dieting, mostly to my benefit. But as my income grew, so did my access to all the foods I loved – foods that I didn’t get growing up and foods that I generally couldn’t afford or have access to during my Army and college years. Simple foods, even some that are quite healthy, I eat in large quantity.

My truth is that if I want the outside to truly reflect how hard I work, how much training I’ve done, I have to come to terms with the mentality I have, that whatever is in front of me now might be gone tomorrow, so I better get while the gettin’s good. I went through an absolute culling of personal belongings and clothing over the winter and found the same mentality at work. If I liked something, I bought two or got all the colors, because tomorrow it might be gone.

I want the reflection in the mirror to look like how I feel inside. I want to make it real. So I’ve begun doing that most mundane of dieting tasks – tracking calories and setting a target goal that I get all my servings of fruits and veggies. I just started Week 6 of an 8 week 5K training program. I’m starting to see results. My humble brag is less about the particular goals than it is about the fact that the lie had become untenable for me to sustain. It has simply become easier to make a lie the truth, than deal with the angst of wishing it to be so.

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Elizabeth Strout said it’s the job of the writer to be bring honesty to the reader, because it helps us get in touch with our own truths. That’s been rolling around in my head the last few days. My own truth is that despite all my experiences as a human, I am not an experienced writer. I have not, like Ms. Strout and so many working writers, spent my days and nights learning the craft.

Next week, when I sit in front of my first literary agent ever, I will be out of my depth. And that is the truth.

canstockphoto6167076Somehow, even confronting that truth head on, I find it invigorating. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Because when that conference is over, when I’ve gushed out the verbal vomit that will be my pitch, I will return home knowing that I need to make it real. I’ll spend my days and nights learning what other writers already know. My path is one of retroactive truths, but truths…eventually.

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Filed under Fitness, Personal, Writing

Bits of Sunshine Coming In

canstockphoto2875377In journalistic vernacular, this is going to be a disjointed fluff piece. For months, I’ve been wrapped up in the turmoil that is political life in America and this week, I’m calling a time out. It’s exhausting and depressing – and I’m pretty sure I’ve lost some IQ points in the process. My practice this week is to not read any news until the evening, leaving my day untainted by a sense of apocalyptic foreboding.

The sun has been shining and we’re having a bit of a warm streak here in Minnesota. Despite a few slip-n-slide sidewalks, I’ve been able to get out and walk and feel some sense of normalcy. I perused my yard, taking note of various garden projects and making lists of supplies. It’s premature. These warm streaks are inevitably followed by blizzards and my notes get put aside for a snow shovel. But still, it’s a break in the cold days and bleak skies. And it keeps the Minnesota homicide rate down during cabin fever February.

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canstockphoto9109848I forgot that it was Valentine’s day yesterday. Late afternoon, I stood in line at the drugstore with a lot of men who were clutching chocolate and stuffed animals. It’s a test each year about expectations. I usually have to make up something for my husband to get me, because when I say nothing, he worries that he should do something. Inevitably I end up with some heart-shaped doodad that, until that moment, I didn’t know I didn’t want. I usually ask for spring flowers, which show up in shops around this time of year and are easy to pick up downtown on the way to his bus. We’re a romantic lot here.

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canstockphoto7037830If you have a compulsive personality like I do, the real trick is to turn that negative into a positive. I cancelled Netflix and Amazon Prime to curtail a binge-watching habit. I traded it in for a free language training program called Duolingo. I’m not into product promotion, but this is a fantastic online program. I’ve been reviewing, in short snippets, my Spanish, Russian, German, and French every day for the last week. Once I get back into the groove, I would like to start some Hindi and Korean. It’s user-friendly (my 12 year old got me onto it) and is self-paced. I feel parts of my brain light up that were collecting dust.

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If only my cats were this useful.

In my attempt to eat less packaged foods, I’ve been cooking. As a rule, I don’t particularly enjoy cooking. I’m so accustomed to quick food that the preparation, cooking and cleanup seems interminable. A meal from scratch can take 2 or more hours, and it takes my family all of 15 minutes to eat it – even less to grimace on the first bite and make themselves a sandwich instead. It’s not a gratifying experience and I’m stuck eating a soup nobody liked for the next week.

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Writing has been going well for me. I’ve been more productive in the last couple of weeks than I have in months. I need a finished manuscript done by April for a writers’ pitch conference. I had to let go of preconceptions about how and when I work. I purchased a cheap laptop which I drag along to all the places where I wait – all my daughter’s rehearsals and lessons and practices.

I finally trained myself to use Scrivener, which I had purchased with a discount after NaNoWriMo in 2012. It’s a challenge to learn it, but my novel and notes were becoming too unwieldy in Word. I’m finding it useful, but there is definitely a learning curve.

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As an American, I’m highly trained in instant gratification. Instant entertainment, instant food, instant information. Cooking, reading longer form news, not trying to incessantly fill every space with sound, images and ideas – it seems that this is emerging as a new intention for me. It’s not just slowing down, but giving myself time to unravel all the tight, angry tension that I’ve felt for the last year.

canstockphoto34597907Lately, what I’ve been observing in schools, coffee shops, offices and sometimes in my own home, is that we are batteries that are never fully recharging. Our information comes in fast, short bursts. We lie to ourselves about multitasking. We pride ourselves on odd things like functioning on little sleep or how many emails we get or how many friends we’ve acquired on social media.

I’ve been thinking about the concreteness of life around me, a life not lived ephemerally through my phone or computer. It’s not as interesting or exciting. It defies instant gratification. There is no drama, nothing that inspires rage or jealousy or triggers eating and shopping sprees. I realized how addictive some emotions can be. I’ve felt addicted to anger with all the online reading, an anger I usually reserve for driving. The space left when I turn off all the noise is unsettling.

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Useless trivia I will remember instead of where my car keys are:

I watched my daughter’s orchestra perform at Orchestra Hall last week and ended up with a melody stuck in my head. That’s when I found out that a pop song I knew from the 1970s had liberally lifted from Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, III. Adagio.  Perhaps, if you’re an oldbie like me, you recognize the tune. The Rachmaninoff estate now gets 12% of royalties due this pop singer. This same singer also borrowed from Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 2 in C Minor, Opus 18 for another pop single.

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Filed under Personal