Get Yourself a Superpower in One Easy Step!

Get Yourself a Superpower in One Easy Step!

BACKSTORY

I am in love with learning French through Duolingo, which is an app on my phone. As I wrote in an earlier post, I absolutely dreaded the prospect of studying a language. In my imagination, it was right up there with taking an accounting class on Saturday morning and then spending Saturday night tackling calculus. Boring and super hard. That’s what I thought. 

I can’t stress this enough or you won’t understand how BIZARRE it is to me that the thing I currently want to do the most, even more than make art, is practice my French. What is going on?!

Everybody is different and I don’t want to sound preachy, but I am going to do a quick sales pitch for this. If you are someone who always thought it would be cool to know another language but was too scared to try, you might want to get the Duolingo app.

The way it teaches you is like a game. There is almost no reading. I mean obviously you are using your eyeballs to look at words, but you aren’t readying about language, you are playing games that put it in your head. It’s fun.

Late last night my nearly 18-year kid was letting me snuggle them on the couch while they fell asleep. As you can imagine, this is not as common as it used to be, so I was taking advantage. I quietly whispered every French phrase I could recall. I did this for a full ten minutes! That’s how much French I have learned in 48 days! That’s nuts buckets! C’est des seaux de noix!

SUPERPOWER PART

You know how in Harry Potter they go to Hogwarts and learn “how” to do magic. This is exactly like that except you can actually do magic, not just wave a $13 plastic wand around. You spend 15 minutes a day and all of sudden you can say: Hi Paul, how are you doing? For real, in a way that Paul can actually understand. 

While looking for a song in Spotify this morning, a promotion appeared for a French singer and I could read the French title of his album! * I couldn’t do that last year. This is a real power; I can use this to understand the world more. Holy Cow!

I learned about it from my kid who has been studying Arabic for over 600 days straight. That’s a much harder language. They had to learn the alphabet before they could learn any words. I’m not ready for that kind of challenge yet. But we are having fun talking about language. We talk about what’s similar, what’s different. Many languages are gendered, meaning words are assigned male or female. Different cultures use “the” in different ways. Noticing these differences helps me see how fluid language is. In English we ask How are you? In French they ask, How is it going? In English you say, I like chocolate. In French it’s, I like the chocolate.

There is not just one way to get meaning across. I love analyzing things and this gives my brain so much to chew on. If I was a dog, analysis would be the bone I love to chew. So, a double win for me!

FINAL PITCH

Being on the app doesn’t feel like work. It doesn’t feel difficult. It’s pleasurable, like relaxing with a video game. The difference is that you are relaxing AND gaining something useful.

It may not be for everyone, but I wanted to at least let you know it’s out there. And if it takes you as long to be converted from the time of first exposure as it took me then you should be starting to learn German, Polish, Swahili, Mandarin or Hindi in about 550 days.


*The album is Fils De Joie (Sons of Joy) by multi-media artist Stromae. The video is quite a spectacle!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7Z2tgJo8Hg&t=236s


SIDEWALK FACE 116

This is a very early Sidewalk Face. I’d been making them less than six months when I posted him to Instagram. I still remember seeing the white paint meant to designate a stop sign boundary, as in, stop your car before driving over this line. Right away I was like, that looks like an animal hat with ears, I need to put a face in that space.

Early on I was picking up everything I saw and had a robust beer bottle cap collection that I lugged around on every dog walk. I thought I knew the origin of these eyes (Michelob and Saffire) but after googling every conceivable descriptive permutation, I can’t find a pic of either of them on the world wide web. Anyone know what beverages they come from? The thing I remember becoming conscious of when I started this project is that people discard a lot of cigarettes and bottle caps.

Now I don’t carry much with me but maybe I should start doing that again. Every choice leads to a different outcome.

Make it Fun and Make it Happen

Make it Fun and Make it Happen

Imagine you had seen people dancing and you really liked it. It looked like they were having a lot of fun and you wanted to try dancing yourself, but you weren’t sure how to do it, you didn’t know any moves. You mostly just wanted to be able to participate, like get on the dance floor at a wedding with a bunch of friends. But the only method you could find was a ballet academy where you would be learning rigorous technique for years before anything like actual dancing started happening. Just endless preparation for an unforgiving graded contest on a stage. It was too hard, and the outcome was scary, you didn’t want to perform a highly choreographed dance in front of a lot of people who were mostly concerned with your mistakes. You gave up and decided dancing was awesome but clearly for other people.

Then you found a mobile app that taught you really easy and simple little dance moves. It was set to the beat, and you were dancing right away. Nothing fancy or impressive, but music was playing, and you were moving. Wow! You thought! I didn’t know it could be this simple. It was so fun you couldn’t stop. You wanted to practice your new moves all the time, and so you did. Practicing and dancing were the same. 

That’s me and language learning. The app is Duolingo.

I have been learning French on the Duolingo App for 40 straight days! What? That is not possible.

Oui and there is more, I am loving it! I am obsessed! 

You might think that’s normal, but it is not. It’s like walking outside and seeing the sky filled with flying pigs.

I’ve been telling myself the same story for three decades. It starts like this; Learning a language is excruciating. The action of the story is me successfully avoiding language learning and the moral of the story; To avoid extreme discomfort, don’t learn a language.

It’s bizarre that this has been my stupid story because I admire people who can speak more than one language and I frequently watch tv shows in other languages simply because I enjoy hearing them.

I studied Spanish in high school and went to Spain my senior year, which I remember as a fantastic experience. I signed up for Spanish in college. I remember dreading it, I don’t remember why but I am positive that dread was the correct word for how I felt. I was walking towards the class, which was starting in five minutes and I couldn’t make myself go in. This is totally unprecedented. I never skipped class, I was never late, I always did all my homework on time. I just couldn’t do it and instead went to the registrar and dropped it. That was the end of that.

I don’t recall a trauma around language, but I don’t think the teaching methods were enticing. Mostly just reading, memorizing, and verb conjugating. Lots of staring at lists of words and trying very hard to make myself remember them. Always being more concerned about what I didn’t know then reveling in what I did know.

Duolingo makes it fun. It’s fun because it is easy. It’s like playing a very satisfying video game except instead of the outcome being only the pleasure in the moment, you also start developing a legit real-world superpower. That’s crazy. You are having just as much fun as you would playing a game, but your reward is not make-believe, it’s real. The app has gamified the learning so there are lots of little sticky things that encourage you to spend more time than you expected. Now if you were wasting your time, that might be annoying, but since you are learning another language, it’s brilliant. It’s tricking you into doing what you actually want to do. Yes! That’s exactly what I need!

Merci Duolingo! Je parle Français!

SIDEWALK FACE 1178

The Medium is The Message

The Medium is The Message

This is the title (or nearly the title) of a book published in 1967 by Marshall McLuhan. Until a few days ago I had never physically handled the book. More on that in a minute. I learned of its existence so long ago that I cannot remember when I didn’t know of it. As I got a bachelor’s degree in communications, it’s very possible that department first brought it to my attention, along with a bunch of other stuff I couldn’t recall if my life depended on it. 

My husband reminded me that Marshall McLuhan, the actual human being, bereted a pontificating professor in Woody Allen’s 1977 movie Annie Hall. I might have learned of it from that. I was never curious to read it assuming it’s too academic. The title has been sufficient. I have pondered the phrase for years and find it to be meaningful.

To me, the phrase means the technology you use determines how you will communicate. The how then effects the what. How you communicate effects what you communicate.

TEXTING

My speech patterns and what I will say are very different in text, email, over the phone, on zoom or in person. Texting is the most radical. Like others, I abbreviate words. Not because I don’t appreciate the value of grammar, but because the keyboard is so small, and the bursts of communication are coming too fast. If I don’t abbreviate, the back and forth can’t happen at the proper speed. There is a difference between a brief and logistical text exchange, like “get butter” and a five-minute parlay. With that, there is a form of bonding I have not experienced in any other medium. Multiple topics going at once, a sense that you and the other texter really get each other. Emoji and gifs in addition to words. I’m not saying it’s superior, but I am saying it is unique. It allows for a burst of intimacy that can bypass some of the more anxiety producing aspects of in person intimacy.

That’s the message of the medium. The message is what that medium can do that nothing else can. It’s not a replacement, it’s an addition.

YOUTUBE COMMENTARY VIDEOS

My kid shows me some of the YouTube commentary videos they watch. So fascinating. In this case, YouTube is the medium, a sub medium of video. I am interested on two levels, as a direct source of insight into youth culture and as an editor. I thought I had seen it all, but I haven’t, not by a long shot. The editing style has a different grammar, it’s extremely lean, all dead air removed, maybe even a little of the air that wasn’t dead. The medium knows it is fighting for attention and it doesn’t ever provide space for reflection. I often have to tell my kid to pause just so I can laugh and not miss the next line.

These videos are sort of like clever essays delivered by charismatic but highly irreverent anchormen. In this world the news is not geo-political or important, it’s cultural and optional.  They are highly constructed verbal arguments against something, usually an offensive offering like Bad Boys on TikTok. The best ones are truly brilliant. Young people have a grasp on the meta that is hard to understate and hard to articulate but very funny. Because of the digitization of everything, they have digested exponentially more content than previous generations and therefore their analysis and performed and edited presentation of that analysis is its own medium.

THE ACTUAL BOOK AS PHYSICAL OBJECT

When my kid is showing me a new video, it’s McLuhan’s book title that most often pops in my head. I feel grateful be introduced to a new medium and I try hard to decode its message. I was talking to my husband about all this, including that I had never read the book and he said, it’s right there, pointing behind me.

What?

It’s on the top of that stack behind you.

Right here, under the art supplies?

Yes.

I’ve lived with my husband for 23 years. This book came with him. Therefore, I have lived in the same house as this book for 23 years without knowing it. I don’t know what that means, but it makes me feel really weird. This book has been in the same vicinity as art supplies I use almost every day. Not a good look for someone who takes pride in being observant. I can discern subtle changes in the pavement throughout my neighborhood, but I can’t notice the cover of a book that I’ve been thinking about for decades because when I look in its direction, instead of seeing it, I just see a blob called Husband stuff. You think you know everything about someone, and you find out you know nothing because you aren’t paying attention.

Well, despite my intentions to not read the book, I opened it up. It’s nothing like I expected! It’s mostly a picture book! McLuhan collaborated with the graphic artist Quentin Fiore. I enjoyed flipping through it. It’s humorous. It’s the YouTube commentary video of its time.

Turns out I was one-part right, one part ignorant. McLuhan wrote Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, in 1964 and the phrase first appears there. That one does seem to be more academic but it’s not in our house for me to check. My husband’s book is the The Medium is the Massage. I certainly wish that phrase were true. I would love a massage. I didn’t realize the play on words until I took the illustration photo for this post. More proof I’m not an observation savant. My husband was dumbfounded, having never noticed the wordplay. All this has got me wondering what else resides in these mysterious piles of husband stuff. Even if I look, will I see it?