The Fool and the Fraud

January 23, 2011 § 2 Comments

This was the original title of my defunct novel. Although my teacher and classmates liked the alliteration, they said it pegs one as the fool and one as the fraud and that’s not good. But even as I was writing it, I wasn’t sure who was the fool and who was the fraud. Somedays I feel like both.

Eight years ago (gah, that makes me feel old), I studied abroad in Lithuania. One such night, I went to my favorite basement pub with two friends to drink award-winning beer and eat greasy fried bread. A man at the table next to us turns to me and begins asking me a series of questions. I understood and was able to answer him in my very limited Lithuanian. And I remember him asking me where I was from, and I said, “Ish Amerikos” (or something along those lines). He didn’t believe me. My Lithuanian friend had to step in and confirm that I was indeed from the States. But how giddy it made me to think I knew the language, or to make someone believe I knew the language. Or to put a slightly darker twist on it, how successful I felt in my ability to fool someone into thinking I was something that I am not.

I have a B.A. in English Literature and Writing, took a handful of graduate-level linguistics courses and attempted to learn 9 languages during the last decade. On paper, this makes me look like I know a lot. But I can only claim to know one language, and even then, my English lexicon is poor.

I’m getting tired of saying “I like languages” or “I like linguistics” because people then expect me talk about it intelligently which I can’t because I’m terrible at retaining information. What I should say is, “I like mimicking sounds” or “I like puzzles” which is a bit more accurate of the language learning process. And instead of saying I like linguistics, I should say, “I want to understand how people communicate.”

I’ve thought about going back to school over the years, but not for linguistics. I’ve applied to community colleges to take basic science and math courses with the intent on going to nursing school or physician assistant school because it seemed like a practical thing to do. But I never actually signed up for the classes. Something (and more often than not it was a friend) said this wasn’t the path for me.

So then I have some questions to answer. What’s practical…for me? And should practicality be the highest virtue? If linguistics is one of the few areas of study I know I would love, should I go for broke?

To be continued.

The Train to Minot

January 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

This post comes about a year late. I watched a few episodes of Dexter tonight and I’m afraid to go to sleep just yet, for fear of bad dreams. I thought I’d rummage through old writing notebooks and I came across a short essay. I wrote it a year ago, but had been thinking about it for six months before that. During the summer of 2009, I took a travel writing class at the Loft. I told my class I was taking the Empire Builder to visit my sister and her family and immediately they decided I must write a travel essay about the experience and title it: The Train to Minot. Well, here is the long-awaited (by a scant few) essay.

The Train to Minot

I woke up and saw white. No sky, no ground, no horizon to give a sense of depth. Just white for as far as the eye could see. I’m on the train to Minot.

I was giddy as a school girl when my ex-husband dropped me off at the station. (Who else would drive me to Midway at 11pm on a Friday night?) I wondered: what will the train be like? Will it be warm? In fact, it was quite hot.

I imagined fancy dining cars with men and women smoking and playing cards into the night. But when I ventured into the lounge, just an elderly couple sat visiting. They seemed nice.

I investigated the toilet, and found it was just like an airline toilet, if not smaller and dirtier.

I was sure I would meet interesting characters for my book–perhaps an intriguing young man–but the only interaction I had all night was from the thoughtful guy across the aisle who got up to retrieve my water bottle when it dropped and rolled up the car.

Where Am I?

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