Things I Do to Stay Sane: Learn a New Language

Growing up, I always liked the process of learning new languages. I took French, Spanish, and minimal Swahili (before my missions trip to Kenya back in 2010) when I was in high-school, and in college I took a year-long course in beginners Latin (which is dominantly translation-based rather than speaking-oriented). The differences in words, how sentences are created, what sounds are associated with what, how entire cultures form around simple re-structuring of grammar and social associations through what ‘older’ words are combined to describe new experiences has always fascinated me.

I can by no means speak, or translate, fluently in any of these languages. I can speak haltingly in French and Spanish, and usually only remember the words when I’m not in need of it. Most of it would only be helpful in greeting people, introducing myself, and asking for the bathroom in any case.

Seeing as I am now out of school for the first time, however, I find that my brain is going to need me to give it more stimulation than I normally would on ‘break’. I’m writing, that’s true, and I’m working, which is a different kind of brain work- but if I’m not learning something new in a strong structure I have this fear that I’m going to lose more of my cognitive control, that I will stagnate in my creativity, and that I will come up against a road-block in my writing that I will not be able to overcome. These are not ungrounded fears, either. It happens every winter break, when I take most of my time to ‘relax’. I find that, without pushing myself to learn, I have little motivation, and even less inspiration, in order to write or to be productive in any meaningful way.


So, for my graduation, I was given the Irish Gaelic Rosetta Stone. So far I’m on the second unit of the first level, core lesson three. At this point it’s mostly numbers and introductions and colors, but already the difference in just how the language sounds has been keeping me up and going, writing wise. I chose Irish because it was so radically different from the languages I had already ‘learned’, and so was the most intriguing  As a woman of Irish heritage, I also thought it might be fun to be able to tap in to my own roots with it. Furthermore, me, Monkey and my little brother will be learning the language together in order to help me in social situations with both my autism and my triggers. By the end of the year I may not be fluent in Irish Gaelic, but I will hopefully have learned enough to be able to tell my brother and boyfriend when ‘I’m scared’ or ‘I don’t like/trust this person’, ‘I want to go home’, or ‘I’m feeling just fine. I’m just tired’, without feeling the anxiety that comes with other people, strangers or not-close-enough acquaintances knowing that there is something ‘wrong’ with me- and they can tell me ‘Be a little quieter’, ‘Be careful’, ‘You’re being rude’, ‘That person is happy/sad/angry’ (for when I can’t read expressions) or ‘This person is coming’ without having to feel socially awkward about saying it out-loud with other people understanding them. So my end goal for learning this language is, I suppose, all encompassing- I want to be able to use it to better myself, and my experience of the world, both personally and professionally. I’m going the Rosetta Stone route because I learn better in solitary settings where the method is immersion, rather than translating or note-taking. I think the way in which one learns a language can effect one’s reception of it, and that if you want to learn a language for whatever reason you should do so in the way that best connects to your own personal way of learning, so that it can benefit you the most in the long run.

So here’s a question for my followers: If you were to learn a new language, what language would it be, and why? Would you do language software, or a class?



Things I Do To Stay Sane: Writing Query Letters

This might seem a little counter-intuitive, especially coming after my post about how writing work can stress me out so bad and wanting to forget about all of my writing work, but the next ‘Thing I Do to Stay Sane’ is something that most writers find to be one of the many banes of writing existence: writing query letters.

Now, stay with me here. I’m not saying that writing query letters isn’t stressful. It really is. You’ve got a page, if that, to try to convince a publisher or a journal that you, and your work, is worth publication. That you’re worth the investment. There are plenty of on-the-fence manuscripts that get the boot, or never even get read, because of a bad or unimpressive cover letter. And they’re wicked hard to write well. You’ve got to have a good pitch, you’ve got to have it be concise and intriguing, without being windy. You’ve got to have a catching bio- spotlighting your most important publication and marketing skills, without sounding ridiculous or over-pompous.

On the other hand, what other opportunities do I really have where I’m forced to both put my best foot forward and be totally, completely honest about how hard I’ve been working and what I’ve accomplished? In most situations, I’m either encouraged not to talk about it at all (in polite society), or feel the urge to play up my accomplishments to a clownish degree (among other writers who intimidate me). When writing a query letter, I’m forced to take a good, hard look at my career- at where I’ve been, and where I want to be going- and it forces me to commit to it.

One of my guilty pleasures is looking through my ‘sent’ folders, at all my query letters (regardless of whether or not they ended up in an acceptance or rejection of the piece) and seeing just how much they’ve changed in the past year. What new journals have been added, what new goals or marketing strategies I’ve been able to talk about now; what new knowledge of the industry I’ve gained.

Which I suppose is the entire point of this particular segment. You know the whole working smarter, not harder concept I’ve got going on? The trying to work in things to make myself a better writer and person into things I already have to do? Well, one of those ways is through changing my attitude about things.

Sure, I could keep being stressed about query letters and see then as only being an obstacle to the great goal (publishing, of course). But what good does that do? It doesn’t help me write better query letters, it doesn’t make me feel any better, and it gives me little to no incentive to want to buckle down and write any more query letters for the future. (This can actually get so bad that, when starting out, I just wouldn’t submit a piece or manuscript because I didn’t want to write out the query necessary for submission)

When I choose to see query letters as an opportunity to take time out of my day to take a positive inventory for my own personal self-esteem and evaluating my self-worth, in which I also have a concrete incentive to avoid being negative about myself…. you can see where this sounds a whole lot better. It’s a win-win situation really- the process of writing query letters becomes brighter, and I get to spend at least twenty minutes that I would otherwise be agonizing in a self-love exercise that is wholly productive.

We all know that the little moments count. Why not try to make every little moment work for us, and not against us, then?