Live from Slackerville

So it’s been a good while since I’ve made an update, and I apologize for that. In the last few months, school has gone from interesting to abysmal, and most of my free time has been devoted to language study.

When I first went to college over a decade ago, it was with the desire to try seeing what computer science was all about. After some programming and basic computer science classes, however, I determined that no matter how good I was at it, I could never do it. It was just too boring.

Using computers is fun. Learning about using computers is potentially less fun than a brain trepanning session sans Tylenol.

When I started back to school as an adult, it was with the intention to study English, but I quickly realized that this fell into the same trap. I was good at it, but I hated studying it, either because I wasn’t challenged or because the professors were awful. Eventually, I also came to the conclusion that an English degree has ceased to be the practical thing it was when my dad and sister were in college. So I resolved to try something new; or more precisely, to try something old again.

My re-entry into computer science began well enough. I was acing everything, barely had to study, and could code circles around everyone in my programming class. My operating systems class was boring and useless, but it was online and mostly ignorable. Things went on this way for a few months, and all seemed to be going well until I discovered—in what seemed like a single flash of magical insight—what I had discovered 14 years prior: I just don’t give a shit. Computer science is not, for me, interesting or enjoyable. It is comprised of endless specifications and rules and numbers and forced marches down well-trodden paths that all seem framed by the same scenery. It bores and frustrates me to something like brain death.

Sadly, this leaves me in a bad place. I have a mountain of schoolwork to do for the end of the semester, and zero desire to do even the tiniest bit of it. Three of my classes are COSC classes, and while I’ve had enough of a head start in programming to save me even if I did nothing for it the rest of the semester, my hardware class is another story. Frankly, I don’t know how I’m going to answer another question about wiring pinouts, twisted pair color configurations, or IEEE wireless specifications. I have come to the end of me by the blinking light of a hard disk LED, and it is a dark and frightening place.

The one silver lining on this series of clouds is that I have reaffirmed forever my desire to avoid working in this field professionally. I love getting my hands dirty with my own PC hardware, and being involved in software localization would still be fascinating, but that’s about it. I do not want this. This sucks.

Of course, the question is thus inevitably begged: “So what exactly do you want to do?” Having asked the very same on the order of a few hundred thousand times in my life, I was surprised to find that this last time, I actually had an answer.

Language.

I’ve been searching for as long as I can remember for something to grab onto. Something I could obsess over, that I’d be comfortable spending time with day in and day out. I love music, but it’s a lot of work and suffers from the same problems most creative endeavors do, especially in our day, when musicians, artists, and writers are so plentiful you can’t help but smack one with your glass every time you raise it to your bohemian lips. I love English, being a writer is about the worst thing I can imagine. It’s constantly demoralizing, filled with other people’s egos, moves at a pace that makes snails look like they’re wearing rocket boots lubed with greased lightning, and has about as much potential to become an interesting career as does shoveling horseshit at a community stable.

No, really. The only thing writing ever offered me was the same thing mucking stalls might: environment. If you love the great outdoors, love nature, or love horses, then shoveling some crap might be worth it because it means you’re not in an office, you’re outside, you’re in an environment that you love. Even if the individual activity may not be so wonderful, the other advantages help make up for it. Writing is similar for me. I do love the actual writing, the making things up and writing them down, and I like being able to talk about writing and language with the writers and editors that I’ve met. What I don’t like is basically everything else. The way the world treats writers. How writers treat each other. How publishing treats them. The endless series of hoops one has to jump through, its monotony only broken by the occasional lucidity that comes from realizing you’re probably going to spin your wheels into your grave.

Such thought processes became commonplace for me, and spiraled further and further down until even many of the writers I had attempted to befriend seemed too pretentious to bear. All this talk of dreams and discipline, perseverance, craft—all so we might put out work maybe 10 people were aware even existed, much less cared to read.

In short, I wanted out, so out I got. I got rid of Facebook, which I mostly perpetuated for the sake of my writing contacts. I quit forcing myself into disciplines that felt pointless. I stopped doing what was making me unhappy. And while that doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned all writerly ambition, or that I don’t want to get more of my work in print, I am now armed with the results of a valuable lesson: no matter how much I love writing, I have very little patience for the bullshit that goes along with it. The rewards are almost microscopic compared to what I felt forced to endure emotionally and intellectually by making it the largest part of my life.

Funny enough, that’s exactly the same experience I’m having with computer science. I just want out. I’m done. My plan is to speak with an advisor tomorrow, figure out exactly what I need to do to finish up my education at the 2-year level, and then get out of dodge. Because through all of this, all I’ve really wanted to do is keep studying Japanese.

I know. It’s an easy ambition to make fun of these days. We see so many obsessive teenagers watching imported cartoons by the truckload that now anime is the only thing most people think of when they think of Japanese culture. But the language is beautiful. It’s refreshingly different from English, following different rules and constructions, and with a different sound that beguiles my ear. Japan fascinates me, and I’ve greatly enjoyed meeting and interacting with Japanese people (even if mostly in English). While there’s a sense of westernization at work in their society, it also retains distinct differences, and feels to me both comfortably familiar and intriguingly exotic. (When I see Japanese neighborhoods, I feel nostalgic. I couldn’t tell you why. I’ve never been.)

But above and beyond that, I’ve learned through the study of Japanese that language itself is an incredible thing, and my love for English spawns in large part from a love of these written and spoken forms of communication. They are works of art, constructed over hundreds and thousands of years by groups of people who have lived and died, all making their contributions to bring it to the place where we experience it, in the here and now.

So it may be a bit late in coming, but at 32 I think I’ve finally realized that language is what I want to spend my life with. Whether that will be something beyond Japanese and English, I don’t know. For now, I’d like to reach Japanese fluency in as short a time as possible. Where that will take me will likely depend on what opportunities it opens up, or whether I’m able to successfully accomplish the task to begin with.

Is it a pipe dream? A lot of people would tell me so. Being as old as I am and attempting to get good enough at a language to somehow finance a living by using it—even I readily have to admit that’s a tall order. But who am I to argue against experience? There has been little enough in my life that has really and truly grabbed me the way studying Japanese has. Given that I’ve spent most of my life hoping to find something capable of arresting my attention this way, no obstacles seem big enough to keep me from pursuing it. I know where I want to go. All that’s left is for me to figure out how to get there.

Have you ever had an epiphany like this? Or are you still searching for something to want badly enough for all the hassle to be worthwhile? I’d love to hear your story. Because to be honest, this is all a little new for me. I’m a devout pessimist, after all.

But maybe that’s the rub: this gives me hope. However much of a long shot it may seem, being in the thick of it makes me feel hopeful. And in the end, I suspect—at least for the time being—that’s all that really matters.

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