Friday, October 12, 2007


October is “Learn Spanish Month."

I’ve been doing “The Rosetta Stone” and copying notes down from Spanish phrase books and looking through guides I brought from the states, but it’s frustrating. It still baffles me the lack of understanding I have for the spoken word. I can read billboards okay and the lessons in Spanish I read get easier, but I still can’t have even a simple conversation. It’s frustrating to me and I know its frustrating to Wendy. She would like to be watching all Spanish TV and speaking Spanish in the house so we can both practice. Her Spanish is fluent, but not as good as she would like it.

But really, the more time I spend doing Spanish is more time that I’m not writing. Both are extremely hard mental work. Well, they are for me anyway. Of the books that I have read on writing, most professional writers don’t write for eight hours a day, even Stephen King. He usually only works in the mornings. As for the Spanish part I really feel this is one of my weaknesses. I took two years of French and two years of Spanish in high school and failed every semester for four straight years.

So every day I get up torn between learning the language of the country I’m living in (while the bank account dwindles) or plug away at making it as a writer (while the bank account dwindles.) Which do you think is a better use of my time?

On the one hand, making it as a writer seems pretty important. It’s been my dream since college and it is why I’m not “working” right now. Despite occasional doubts, I do know I can make it as a writer. The question is - what kind of a writer and how do I get there? A fantasy novelist? A travel writer? A blogger that gets enough hits to start advertising? A professional Magic player that writes about his travels? What should I be focusing on? And if I keep my blog updated am I wasting time because it doesn’t pay anything, or am I building an audience and holding onto my fan base? So many things to consider and weigh nearly every day.

On the other hand, Wendy and I are doing great. I am madly in love with this woman. We both love Spain and we live here most of the year. The way things are with us, I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Now I want you nto imagine you’re me for a minute. In my old life with Marilyn, I was the one who ordered the food when we went out to dinner. I was the one who took us on occasional adventures. I was the one who questioned the doctors. I was the one that did the research, yelled at the nurses, begged the doctors to try something, anything else to make my wife better.

Now, when we go out to eat my food is ordered for me. Menus are explained to me. Passing conversations have as much meaning as dogs barking in the distance.

As usual the universe sent me a few signals on what I needed to do.

It started two Saturdays ago when Wendy fell and twisted her ankle. The next morning it wasn’t swollen, but she couldn’t walk on it. We had to cancel a trip we had planned with Lena and Stefan for that day. Wendy spent much of the day on the couch and that night Lena and Stefan insisted on driving us to the hospital to get the ankle looked at. After a short wait, Wendy was ushered into a Doctor’s office and for the first time in my life, I didn’t think I should be in there.

What’s the point? I can’t help explain what happened. I can’t ask questions. I can’t tell him to stop being so rough with her ankle or I was going to deck him. I sat there like a dumb shit while dogs barked in the distance.

I hate feeling like a dumb shit.

I’m not a very handy guy. It galls me when I can’t fix a broken down car or a busted closet door. Or the fact that I don’t know how to drill into a cement wall to hang the hammock that we brought back from the states. Handy guy I am not. It’s embarrassing. It’s emasculating.

And now, I’m having my food ordered for me and wonder what I would do if Wendy got really sick and actually needed someone to yell at nurses because she was too weak. What would I do then?

As you can tell, this was a troubling experience.

The next day I went out to do some errands including trying to find a light bulb remover and get a haircut. Armed with Google translated phrases and words I thought I would need written on a 3x5 card, I ventured out into the streets. At the electric store, the conversation went to crap. Usually able to get across what I need, the dialogue devolved into wild pantomime and grunts, me, apelike, searching for a way to get across what I needed. Despite the man being very friendly and kind, I could not make him understand and eventually threw a banana at him, screeched and left, disgusted with myself.

To the hardware store I went and just browsed the aisles, praying no one would speak to me. They could be asking me if I needed help or if I could help them reach something high up and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. And the last thing I wanted was another conversation reduced to hand gestures and pigeon Spanish. Not finding what I needed, I left the store frustrated and headed to where I planned to get a haircut.

Explaining I wanted a hair cut and how much to cut off went fine. The hair dresser tried to engage me in light conversation and I was totally baffled and humiliated. I know she was asking me simple, basic, conversational Spanish but I couldn’t recognize a word of it. The hair cut finished in silence.

The conclusion of this little episode was - I came back to the house with a bad haircut and no light bulb remover. (Light bulb remover? Don’t ask, long, boring story)

Enough was enough. My sense of masculinity was shrinking by the day the longer I went without learning Spanish and apparently, my current method of learning wasn’t going to cut it.

I enrolled in classes two days later and started them on October 1.

Yes, forty two years old and I am becoming a student again. That is some scary shit. The feelings of idiocy in High School are still with me despite having a good college career and a rising GPA every semester. Of course, that was in classes pertaining to writing and English. And while I wanted to sign up for “semi-intensive” Spanish, they didn’t have enough students for that one, but I could sign up for four hours a day of “intensive” and start on Monday if I liked. With a resolute sigh, I signed.

Have I mentioned how much I hate feeling like a dumb shit?

And thus, now you know why I haven’t been updating the last couple of weeks. Doing four hours of Spanish makes my brain feel like it has climbed out of my head, gone to my weights, and started doing curls, clean and jerks and shoulder presses until exhausted. I’ll come home and can barely muster the mental energy to understand an episode of “The Simpsons.” When I’ve recovered enough, I do the evening’s homework which usually takes me another hour, and then write out flashcards of the things we learned in class that day so I won’t embarrass myself further the next day in class.

MMA was easier than this.

And how am I doing at it? Well, at the end of the second day of class, my classmates all encouraged me to stick with it, patted me on the back and offered words of support as we filed out of the room. Then they went out for beers and talked amongst themselves, making bets on if I would show up the next day.

But I did show up. And I did the next day too. And the next. And the next.

Without my amazing classmates I would not have made it. Wonderful people all who I plan on introducing you to next week.

Have a good weekend.


  1. You worry too much dude. Make those heathens learn english ;)

    If you think learning Spanish is bad, they're making me learn Macs here at work. It's like working on a broken computer all the time.


    in the workplace

    any way
    I find spanish not so hard i guess.
    I am just begining though.

  3. My experiences with foreign language learning are:

    1) Reading and writing are far easier than talking and listening. (Carry a pencil and paper around for better communication?)

    2) I pick up grammar easily (I'm a math geek) but find it extremely difficult to learn vocabulary words, as I can't fit them into a conceptual framework.

    3) Good luck. You'll need it.

  4. You made the right choice by joining this class. Learning a new language is all about interaction with those speaking the language. Also you're having problems because you are English. Basically most Americans or Englishmen don't NEED to know another language, because "everyone" speaks English.

    I have no advice as to how you should pursue writing. All I know is that you write one hell of a blog, which is entertaining to read. You write with feeling.

  5. I guess many people would not understand the sense of emasculation that you describe, or would feel that you are exaggerating, or being melodramatic.

    I am not one of those people. You described very vividly three years of my life.

    In hindsight, learning Spanish could have been a good idea ;)


  6. Hang in there, Jamie.

    You are NOT wasting time when you post on your blog. I hear echoes of change and growth, some healing even in these lines about Wendy's ankle. You are awakening deeper into this new stage of your life. I imagine it is going to be weird for some time to go anywhere NEAR a hospital or to having your partner sick...

    Still, in terms of the learning curve, as they say, 'no growth is painless' but 'anything worth having is worth some pain and angst.' (You should know I think you taught those two to me!)

    Hugs to you and Wendy. Hope she is having a speedy recovery. - Remember it's not fun but it will take longer as an older student to learn a language... Sucky but true... I wonder if you can get some of those resources on tape so you are listening in between classes? Such a different sense after all, and as a writer you are deeply enmeshed in the written English Word...

    Cheers - Kim Ward

  7. Keep at the language! Think of it this way:

    You just picked up a 3rd edition starter and two boosters. You don't know all the rules. You don't understand the stack. You've just recently figured out the whole casting cost thing. On top of it all you're in constructed where everyone else is playing extended.

    My only advice is be a persistent little git. Take any opportunity to use your crap Spanish and make it better. It will be refined with use.


  8. How's that Storm worm botnet and the other 60,000 viruses working out on the Windows machines? Buy a Mac.

    As far as Spanish - In the evening have a glass of wine or three, then watch a Spanish movie. Learn to hear Spanish. My guess is you're trying to translate every word you hear, easy to do when your reading or writing, but tough when speaking. And the thing is you're not trying to be a translator, you're trying to learn the language. So when you hear muy bien, it should mean muy bien, not very well.

    Be a comedy writer or something like that. I see you writing something like - John Hodgman's - The Areas of my Expertise. (By-The-Way - John Hodgman is the "I'm a PC" guy from the Apple Ads.)
    Thomas Lynch's - The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade. (Thomas Lynch is a poet and undertaker.)
    Write about living in a country where you can't speak the language.

    - DC

  9. Jamie,

    Get focused and stay focused.

    Dial it back to the conversation we had last year.

    All you have to do to be a writer is declare yourself a writer and live that way.

    Right now your best outlet is as a Magic writer. Go that route. I told you if you're not making $35K as a Magic writer -TODAY- you are not trying. That's not a ton but you get to say you're a working writer, create and live the avatar of a working writer, while you set up other writing endeavors.

    Also do they have States where you are? I have a hot one with 21 Forests and 8 6 drop creatures if you're interested. You have my number.

  10. Hi Jamie,

    As a Dutch guy I learned about four different languages at school, so I got the hang of picking up a 5th or 6th pretty easily. In my work I had to use at least 3 other languages on a daily basis, so I could (and had to) practise every day.

    But for an American guy, not used to speaking one word of spanish (or french for that matter) most of your life, besides some years in school, it must be frustrating.

    The only advice I can give you is: just start speaking Spanish every day, to everyone, in every situation - even when you make a zillion mistakes, just speak it as much as you can. Don't be afraid of sounding like an idiot. You pick up the languague must quicker this way. And people appreciate when you try to speak their language, they will help you..

    I learned some basic spanish in three weeks, when i was in Madrid. Just spoke it as much as I could, filling up words I didn't know with french, english or dutch words. It was hillarious, but it worked.

    You'll get there!

    (an old magic player, who has an original copy of your tourney reports in his bookcase.)

    love you blog btw!