on language learning – step 1

Part I
Part II

On a blog I’m calling ‘abuse of time’, I’m preemptively assuming you will forgive the lack of chronological order of what follows hereafter. The trials experienced were not politely lined up one after the other, rather, they were simultaneously dancing up in my face, in pants that didn’t fit and smelling of well lubricated limbs.

Most ominous and telling in terms of the immediate success or failure of any kind of German undertaking was language. Inflicted with twenty five years of monolingualism, I was in a position to fail.

Step 1 :
Bring your brain to an area where everything is contextualized differently. Confront it with false expectations and embarrass it for failing to describe basic needs. Journey along the line of tourist and resident and hide amongst other English speakers. Motivate through embarrassment. I was surrounded by people in very similar predicaments as myself and there were two very basic responses. I’m doing this. I’m maybe doing this, for the full three hundred days I’m scheduled to be here.

Over-confidence helped – look at all these people communicating such basic needs. I can do that. I’m a first rate expresser of needs. Dear bakery worker, who I will never forget, thank you for not understanding my firstly expressed German desire to order a bread roll. I’m here to study German philosophy but must first despair over awkward speechlessness at the baker’s counter.

Under-preparedness helped – I arrived with no pillow, no blanket, no ideas or plans for self comfort. Mistake one, acquire a pillow with down filling and spend the next period of your life trying to cope with feather allergies during the sleeping hours. Mistake two, try to buy a blanket but end up with a duvet cover. Do all Germans use these as sleeping bags? I couldn’t figure out sleep. I didn’t know how to sleep. I failed to order bread using a basic expression of desire and I failed to sleep comfortably, having incorrectly purchased the most basic nighttime necessities.

Having one thing and only one thing to do, fit in, was one of the most beautiful predicaments I could have possibly put myself in. In a life that constantly searches for all encompassing goals and motivations, I will never forget how happy I was to get up in the morning and awkwardly stumble across the new context of the world into which I was cast. I had something to do in the morning, the afternoon and the evening – not be an embarrassment. Being happy about the quest to overcome my foreign-ness was also a despairing and exhaustion over the repeated daily failure.

Step 1: realize that your jeans are baggy, that your socks don’t have to be white, that, for all speech in praise of individuality and personhood, you are nothing but a silly representation of local, crowd owned representations of normal. I was lucky and accidentally dyed my white socks pink.

(These “steps” are just how I break up my journey in learning German. I don’t mean them to be a “how to guide” even though I realize my word choice puts me in danger of doing so).

Stuck with nothing, challenged to find

This is part two of my short posts on my journey through a PhD program in Germany.

Part 1: https://abuseoftime.com/2017/02/28/it-started-simply/

As of yet, we haven’t even landed in Germany. Let’s at least, in part 2, set the stage for the prompting of the journey and arrive at the San Francisco airport, if not in Frankfurt.

I knew that part of my starting over included going back to school. I ran into things during my first four years of university that had taken hold and I was to run back to them in seek of shelter. When low on opportunities, seek out where they exist. I enrolled in a Master’s program at a university closest to my parents’ house.

Any Masters program has the danger of being of questionable worth in the long term -a philosophy program perhaps more so. There are risks in hoping to come out of the program enriched and with a more clear direction in life. This hope is a wager of sorts, and I assume it is the same wager anyone makes when they decide to move towards a passion that is also a step away from the immediately practical.

And with that wager we have the prompting for the journey. Leaving the comfort of a decent paying job, a comfy apartment and a life that had consistent sense of normalcy for the vague rewards to reading more Nietzsche.

Those hopes and rewards weren’t going to be handed over. They were to be battled for; obstacles needed to be overcome, castles conquered, dragons slain and tribulations withstood.

My wager was high stakes. If I were to pretend to pride myself in reading German philosophers, what were I to do with the knowledge that I was only reading a translation? That there were people in the world with access to original texts? To learn how to sword fight, I wanted to rid my practice of waving around mere sticks.

I sold my car, put more money on the table and signed up for a program that would ship me abroad. Anything else I owned was boxed and I went to the airport.

I had tried to brush up on my German before leaving but there might as well be no purpose to barely being able to speak a couple phrases.

It started simply

I spent six years of my life in Heidelberg, Germany. At first, I was only meant to be there for a year. But even before that, I suppose, I wasn’t really meant to do anything in particular. Let’s start there.

As an aside, this is the beginning of a series of posts in which I record and rethink the process of becoming a Doctor of Philosophy at a German University. I have a feeling this process will lead me to talk little of philosophy and more of hijinks. But I digress, let me continue.

Before Germany, when I wasn’t meant to do anything in particular, I was doing very particular, very practical things. I was twenty two, had just graduated college, was engaged to a dashing young woman and was working full-time, doing manual labor (for lack of other types of labor available to a History major).

My life was simple. And I mean to say that it was very straightforward, not directionless, but going in a very defined and agreed upon direction. But things fell apart, in hindsight, quite beautifully. In the moment, I was ugly-crying.

Nothing major had happened. The engagement decayed and I was left with only myself – and I hadn’t actually given my self any consideration, without foreign input, for quite some time. I was disappointed. And what an odd feeling it was, to not regret the past but to be so unsatisfied with the present that I desired to rid myself of all my belongings, sacrificing them to a +1 extra life I had earned somewhere along the way.

I also gave away my job.

In both the present and past me there is an ever constant theme in my internal dialogue, the youthful fantasy of becoming a super hero. Externally, tell no-one. Without my fiancé, my things, or my job,  I was going to at least try a hero’s journey to see what spoils could be wrought.