As you age, you don’t lose the ability to learn altogether, only you lose the the ability to learn things you’ve lost interest in. I’m learning Armenian probably faster than I learned Russian, and certainly faster than I did French. You learn how you learn fastest, and learn that way faster. I’ve never been able to sit down and study and I haven’t learned anything I’ve learned that way.
For me, I need a close relationship with a native speaker to learn a language well. I think I heard the expression learning on the pillow, I think it’s the fastest way. You are close to someone, you understand their trains of thought and the gist of what they are saying more quickly, with less words. Two streams running parallel, one perseveres in the same direction when the other dips underground, and they meet again further along when it returns to the surface. The dark body swimming near you goes along with you, the wet spitting head rejoins you when it returns.
This year, Armenian schools went from an eleven-year system to a twelve-year system. Last year’s tenth graders are this year’s twelfth graders, last year’s ninth graders are this year’s eleventh graders, and half of the kids who started school this year are put straight into second grade.
The idea is that although it might cause a little chaos now, in twelve years it will be normal, and thereâ€™s plenty of time to develop a twelve year curriculum in the meantime. They haven’t quite done it yet but theyâ€™ve started. For example, there’s a new seventh grade book and a new fifth grade book for English, but the eleventh grade is using the old tenth grade book, and there is no eleventh grade book.
I spoke recently with a friend about Shakespeare, and I realized how far my view of him had changed. In some ways, I still feel the same: I don’t care for the language. It seems somehow overstuffed, inorganic, and too deliberately full of ambiguities; maybe even too full of life, or overstimulated. I don’t know that I would be too interested in defending this point: but it’s the way I feel. Maybe call it taste and leave me to it. So much is constant.
But then I also didn’t get the characters. I couldn’t understand how they changed, what pressures were on them. It was all over my head. But now somehow they’ve exploded into life for me. It’s a little like learning how to open a pop-up book right, so the shapes all stand out in their proper relation. I just didn’t see the depth that was there before, the several simultaneous motions of the unfolding.
I’m suspicious of psychology. Particularly the kind that does controlled experiments. I don’t know what triggered this thought today, whether I saw something in the news or, I don’t know. Here’s the thought: What are the real motives for the psychological experiments I read about? Is it only disinterested curiosity?
Or is there some other reason people want to blindfold others, or give them electric shocks, or instruct them to give others electric shocks, or make them look at violent pornography with electrodes on while people watch and take notes on their reactions. It’s as if they have no knowledge of psychology, these psychologists: do they think people feel and react normally, in such an unequal power relatinoship? Nobody likes being powerless, nobody is going to be like themselves, in that kind of situation.
A friend of mine and I have been reading Ulysses together over the past year and I had mentioned my impression, I’m sure I read it somewhere, I don’t think I would have come up with it on my own, that Bloom and Stephen and Molly had all had versions of the same dream the night before the day of the action of the book. In our meetings, I was able to recall my impression, but I couldn’t find the evidence. I’ve finally put together the quotes I was thinking of (references are to Gabler):
Learning a language is a neat trick. I’m not sure I understand how it’s done. I’ve done it before, but I don’t think I quite caught myself in the act, I don’t know the trick of the trick. I can speak French with some confidence and read without a dictionary, although when I took French in high school, I did poorly at it, understanding very little.
However when I got to college I found I could read it and understand it, and even do it for pleasure. However, then I didn’t know how to speak it, and I had little confidence I would ever learn. But after a week or so of exposure, I found I could use it for any of my needs, I could communicate about myself and who I was, and I could understand what was communicated to me.
Reading about Nagorno-Karabakh. Sometimes it’s reported as if, or maybe it’s me, it’s just another example of third-world ethnic conflict, something civilized nations don’t understand, something to do with ancient hatreds. But of couse the conflict is between two states, not two ethnicities, and what is more, it is not irrational. You can figure it out: there is a clear territorial dispute at its heart. It was Soviet ethnic Azeris who were expelled, beaten, burned, raped and killed in Armenia; ethnic Azeris from Iran, who currently conduct most of Iranian trade with Armenia, are not harassed, expelled, or abused and are on the contrary welcomed. The story is not new and is not confined to one part of the world: a co-ethnic minority in a neighboring country requires our help, so we annex their territory. Sudetenland, Texas, etc. Nationalism only happens in ethnics when it is a defining term for nation, not otherwise. When loyalties go that way.
A friend of mine was wondering about the Great Depression. The problem they saw goes something like this. Before the stock market crash, you had people doing needed work and receiving needed wages. There was a positive economic cycle: money changes hands between lenders, employers, workers, and consumers, each of them, so far as he remains in that cycle, becoming richer and getting more needs met. But then – boom! – a problem in New York, on a particular fall day…* and suddenly no one around the country is working any longer.
Now, what sense does that make? The work is still there to be done. The people are still there to do it. The tools are available, there is time in which to do the work, there is time and nothing but time, there is too much time and nothing to do to fill it, and yet there is no work getting done. Everybody wants the work to get done, they can do the work, and they have the tools and the time; but nobody works. How can that be?
Some of the best things in your life refuse to come to you except through luck, or as the backside of a problem. I didn’t choose it, but my fear of driving kept me from ever being dependent on a car. I’ve never owned a car, and never felt I had to. Admitting that I needed one, and mastering myself to the point of learning how to use one, would have been too high a price to pay. I think that’s a pretty rare bit of good fortune, in spite of all the humiliation and misery I felt during the six years I couldn’t overcome it.
I still feel a little uncomfortable riding in a car, though I don’t panic or lose control any more, and I can talk about it now. And now, it’s really only discomfort: I don’t feel comfortable with the huge disproportion between the size and importance of what’s being transported (me), and the large, loud, bulky machinery that seems required to transport it. Mass transit is different, a bus would go where it was going regardless of whether I was on it. Walking was always how I preferred to get anywhere, but longer distances or regular transport I depended on the bus. Regular reading time, habitual mingling with people, breathing all their various smells, I find I need that even in my most withdrawn moods. A certain basic level of exposure to humanity, any kind of humanity, is part of what I require to keep myself sane.
There was a sudden rain, and the view of the north-west warehouses from the fifth-floor window was sunk in the kind of blue that I usually see only in lowlit photographs from digital cameras. Other people weren’t surprised, it was predicted. But I didn’t know about it, and didn’t pack a lunch. I went stood underneath the canvas cover of the burrito cart outside my building. The rain wasn’t the usual Portland rain, but sharp and swift and it came in at an angle. The cart was empty, the surface of the salsa was getting filmy, the cheese was starting to drown, and the wind was knocking the tinfoil around.