Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Thumbs up, thumbs down.

Good things, bad things. Bad things first:

No Australia for Mel.

My talk/tutorial (on Jams and Summer of Content) for got turned down (it was a long shot - over 75% of proposals get rejected, and I'm a little newbie punk with no credentials) so it looks like there's to be no Sydney for me this coming winter - ah well, such is life.

Computer goes kaput.

Also, I'm spoiled. I depend too much on the infrastructures that usually surround me for support; lack of easy transport and stable computing are severely debilitating for my communications and productivity. My Dell has given up staying together in the physical sense. I am balancing the monitor on my knee as I type this; the hinge has fractured at three points (and is slopping around on the monitor cable and one last desperate clinging screw, the plastic panel covering the lights and buttons above the keyboard has snapped off and been replaced by saran-wrap to avoid water or something splashing into the now-exposed circuit board. Also, my Dell is narcoleptic, and I'm slowly migrating everything off its hard drive before files start getting mangled (as it is, I'm pretty sure I'm missing a chunk of archive emails somewhere - that'll teach me to save them in four different local folders...).

Stop saying I can't learn languages.

Frustration: My mom says that I'm not good at learning languages. Something about it being difficult because of my hearing (which was the reason I wasn't allowed to take Spanish classes in middle school). I used to believe that for a long time, because adults told me that was the case. Now I don't. I just reckon it means I need to learn them differently than most folks do. But (as of 2 days ago, anyway) Mom still does... I told her that there were things called books, and things called self-fulfilling prophecies, and that I was going to use the former and to please stop saying I wasn't good at languages lest the latter continue to occur.*

*The bulk of my language-learning activities this summer (Spanish, and now Tagalog) have been filled with deliberately easy victories and low-hanging fruit - reading Wikipedia pages in parallel with their translations, learning about nifty little linguistic idiosyncracies, reading about minimalist syntax (which gets me stoked on the topic of learning actual languages). I tried starting with classroom-like activities and just froze up; I couldn't get rid of the voice that said that I wasn't Good at the way you're Supposed to learn languages in School. So I'm looking for a back-door.

I secretly hate doing well.

It's weird; as I meet more and more smart, independent, self-confident young people, I become more and more painfully aware how much I'm terrified of succeeding (much more scared of it than failing) and how many of the voices inside my head and out tell me I don't have the ability or the right to do this or that or the other, because I'm too young, or too deaf, or too female, or too idealistic, or too... something - or I'm not naturally a linguist or an athlete or a good concentrator or a something else I want to be.

Whatever. I'm just going to keep on Doing Stuff, and occasionally looking back and pointing out to the voices in my head (and, somewhat more politely, the ones outside my head) that hey, this is proof by counterexample that I can do things. The trick is, apparently, that I can't realize I'm doing the proof-by-counterexample thing when I start. When I read a book on minimalist syntax and love it, the voices in my brain don't recognize it as a language learning activity at first, so the "you're not good at laaaaaanguages!" mantra doesn't switch on until I'm enjoying myself too much to stop anyway. That's what I mean by going through the back-door on stuff I want to learn.

It also makes me wonder how much of my love of mathematics was made possible by discovering the grown-up math section of the library just barely before middle school, when the "you're not good at maaaaaaath!" voice seems to start for most girls (if I remember the research lit correctly). Maybe by the time I realized math wasn't a common or cool thing to like, I liked it enough to be able to keep doing it anyhow.

That's all the depressing braindumps I had. Now the great stuff.

New laptop is coming!

First, I'm getting a new computer. It's supposed to arrive late this week. It's a Thinkpad. I am now thankful I put money into that "new computer fund" throughout college. I'm going to start that again.

Komp(uter untuk an)Ak

Languages make me happy! The fledgling OLPC Indonesia group wrote today that instead of literally translating "One Laptop Per Child" they wanted to translate "OLPC" as "KompAk," short for "Komputer untuk anak" (The Children's Computer). As an added bonus, "kompak" means "to integrate," "to unite," "team-work," and similar in Bahasa Indonesian. Was this okay?

I told them it was more perfect than they could imagine, as the original name for the laptop was "The Children's Machine," which is almost certainly from a Papert book of the same name. The book was about... integration. Collaboration between disciplines, between people, blending things together to make synergy happen. Aided by computers, of course.

Food is awesome.

Finally, in the absence of stable computing, I've spent more time in the last few weeks doing things away from my keyboard - especially cooking and paring-down-stuff. The sweet smell of roasted fall vegetables is thick throughout the kitchen, prepping for a creamy soup by bubbling into softness in a pot of homemade chicken broth (made from the roast chicken carcassfrom several days back); I'm about to bring out the (super-ripe) raspberry sorbet, tomatoes broiled with balsamic vinegar have been tossed with seasoned parmesan over spinach-cheese ravioli, the miso rub for the salmon later tonight is waiting in the fridge, and there are peaches to grill for dessert. (Oh, I love my aunt's kitchen, there are ingredients to cook with!)

Minimalism is also awesome.

And in the paring-down-stuff department - I'm working to get (and I think I'm going to make it!)

  • All my clothes (minus shoes) in one luggage
  • All my bedding (pillow, comforter, sheets, everything) in one duffel
  • All my electronics and development tools (minus a monitor and printer/scanner) in one backpack
  • Everything else in two bins: one for archiving (the "leave in someone's basement for a decade because this will be a rich source of stories and delightment 10 years from now" box) and one for stuff I actually use (lamps, cooking supplies, decorations, etc etc).

That leaves only my library to deal with, and I have a plan for that (Chris and Boris have heard it, but not many others as of yet). But otherwise, I can carry my life in a luggage, a duffel, and a bin ( Some Container to hold my few pairs of shoes, monitor, and printer, but hopefully a solution for that will present itself).


mom said...

NOT TRUE about you not being allowed to learn spanish. you took up spanish when it was offered in elementary & more during middle school with mrs. muldofski. if somehow it was taken out of your schedule, it's probably due to scheduling problem to work in speech &/or time with Woodbury, etc..
in H.S. you chose japanese....

as to comment of you're not good with languages... i'll elaborate more in email... but rest assure it's not what you think as a 'put down'.

Mel said...

Two-and-a-half points to make here:

(1) First of all, I'm pretty sure I'd remember if I'd ever been in a Spanish or French class.

"Spanish" and "French" in elementary school were mini-preview lessons where the middle-school language teachers came in to our regular 5th grade classrooms - I think it was 45 minutes once a week for 3-4 weeks or some other very short period of time - and taught us the alphabet and how to count and such.

It wasn't something you could sign up for; it was something your entire class had to do together, and the point was not so much to learn Spanish (or French) as it was to better enable our gaggle of 10-year-olds to choose which language class to sign up for in 6th grade the following year.

(2) I was not signed up for a language class in 6th grade the following year, nor was I signed up for a language class in 7th or 8th grade. Mrs. M was a wonderful teacher, but I was never enrolled in a class of hers. (I believe my younger brother Jason was her student, though.) The first language class I enrolled in at school was Japanese in 10th grade, as my mom's pointed out.

So somehow, it was taken out of my schedule. And that schedule block wasn't "taken up" by therapy; I would (gleefully) skip regular classes multiple times a week for things like speech and social workers.

What happened was that I became a schedule anomaly amongst 6th graders (and believe me, 6th graders pay attention to how they stick out from the crowd!): I was granted double-electives. Everyone else had one "elective" timeslot and one "language" timeslot, since they didn't necessarily take language class at the same time. I just had two "elective" slots instead.

I remember being asked by an adult (a school administrator) before the start of my 6th grade year whether this schedule was okay, and that their explanation of why I had a different schedule involved my hearing. I'm positive about that part. I don't remember the exact explanation clearly, but I think it had something to do with concerns about the difficulties I would encounter in the classroom.

But they did ask my permission to make the schedule change, and it didn't occur to me not to cede to adult opinion on the matter, so I said sure. I was totally fine with this modified schedule. I still think it was a fair tradeoff, because hey, I wasn't going to complain about being able to take an extra woodshop class. (And seriously, I think double-music was an awesome opportunity to have.)

But the short of it was that I did not take language classes in middle school.

(2.5) I know the remark about not being good at language was not intended as a put-down, but I disagree; I'm a great language-learner and a polyglot in the making, and I'm just finding and using different routes to fluency than the norm. And I'm saying this because believing so will make me better at learning languages.

This is not to gloss over the topic and say it'll be easy. It won't. I'll make lots of stupid mistakes. I'll hit tough spots. But I choose to think this happens because I'm a good learner working on a difficult topic, not because I lack the capacity to easily become a polyglot by nature.

Be careful of the roles you cast others into. Your comments and perceptions have a powerful potential to shape them. It pains me to hear someone say "...but you're just not naturally good at math" - or worse, "I can't do that, I'm not good at science" - because if you think that, of course you're less likely to want to try it, or to perform well when you do. It's called expectation of perception and stereotype threat.