Fascinated or Consternated? Yes? No? Simply Regrouping

Dzień dobry z Krakowa w poniedziałek rano,

To był produktywny tydzień i czuję, że poczyniłem pewne ważne postępy w moim początkowym nabywaniu języka polskiego, ale nigdy nie jestem zadowolona, że to wystarczy (It was a productive week, and I feel I made some important progress in my beginning acquisition of Polish, but I am never really content that it is enough.). Those who know me are probably not that surprised. What I have been forced to realizing is that learning a language as an older human is so much more difficult than it was for me at a point earlier in my life (e.g. late 20s, when I crammed two years of Greek into a summer). There are the three components of language as I often noted for others. Much like a three- legged stool: vocabulary, patterns, and grammar. The first two are about memorization and the grammar is more about comprehension. When I learned German or worked to teach myself Spanish, this sort of pattern worked, though more effectively for German than in Spanish. It certainly worked for Greek and, maybe to a perhaps lesser extent for Latin. Hebrew was in a world of its own and while last summer this seemed to work generally for Polish, this summer has been a much different story. It has pushed my comfort level off the cliff and caused me fear and tears (and I mean that literally). So what is the difference in a year, particularly when last summer, while hard work, was so enjoyable?

These questions have consumed me this last week and a half and caused me to ponder the learning process in ways I never fathomed. There are a couple things that I believe have happened in the last 12 months to create this dilemma of feeling like a failure. First, I think both my ears and my eyesight have changed (and not degrees is improvement). Second, the grammar is more complex and while it is comprehendible, it takes more time to master and there is little time to manage that complexity. In other words, I am not as quick as I once was. Third, my own failure to review and reconnect with the previous work before arriving caused a lack of foundation, or more accurately the losing of the foundation I had. Each of these elements have created a perfect storm that has resulted in my failing to manage what I believed possible. What I have realized as the way I have learned in past is no longer effective. I am reminded of what Mr. Galán would note when I attempted Spanish. He said regularly, “You just need to speak and use it. You need to listen and try to understand.” He was (and is) correct. The problem becomes a much more complex and more of a struggle because I am afraid of making mistakes. My overwhelming desire to be perfect at it paralyzes me. So then the question becomes is there somewhere between using my grammatical life jacket and just jumping in the water and not being afraid when I cannot see the bottom. I use this metaphor because I know the actual fear of not knowing where the bottom is and how that paralyzes me also.

I do think I have come up with a plan. The first thing is to step back and review at my own pace the work I did last summer and to move forward with the additional work done over the last two plus weeks, which was significant. If I can create a firm foundation there, I believe I can move forward in a manner that I can feel positive and proud of. I do want to work from a couple different vantage points or entrances of sorts. I honestly believe there has been more deterioration of senses (which has affected acquisition more profoundly than expected) in the past year than I had any inkling had happened. It not only affected my classroom options, but also my studying. The most consequential seems to be the length of time I can continue to work at all of it, and that limitation frustrates me beyond words. Therefore, to compensate I must figure out something more efficient and effective. Then, and the director of the summer program, Dr. Prizel-Kania, probably can shed light on this for me, knowing what my ultimate goal to be, what is the best way forward. What I do know is that any lack in proficiency is no one’s particular fault. It is not about blaming, but rather accepting the reality of the situation. What I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt is the instructors I am blessed with did everything in their power to help me. My three instructors, Mikołaj, Dominika, and Sylwię are incredible at what they do. Likewise, the program works for the great majority of those enrolled, most who are in their 20s. I do know that learning a language is a special skill and I know being older offers different challenges. I am wondering if I recognize those challenges as I reflect on myself or if I am missing something. That has occupied my thoughts more than one might think since last Thursday (it is now Tuesday morning – about 4:00 am. for those of you on the East Coast). What I believe I need for my own sense of sanity is to get to a level of hearing and speaking that is comfortable, and I think there are some ways (outside of complete immersion in Krakow) that might offer such an opportunity. I think my own sense of inadequacy had more to do with most of my struggle this summer than anything else.

In addition, what I have come to realize is that learning a language you plan to speak (and maybe it is because I learned German so long ago and when I was dumped into an immersion situation with it, I was in my 20s) versus a language you read is something very different. The needs are different, but likewise the learning process is much more comprehensive. If I return to my stool imagery, I am not sure a three-legged stool will work, it is much more like a four-legged chair or perhaps table. The extra leg is needed because hearing and listening become important on a different level. Second, the idea of a table is that the area covered is much more extensive and it needs order and structure (perhaps more accurately, I need order and structure). That is another component of immersion that is, perhaps, contradictory to how learn most effectively. I need structure and order, which means I need time to think and assimilate. That is in part because I need to make sense of things, but also because I think it takes me longer and I am more frightened by feeling as if I have no control. This trip has been different from my previous trips for a couple of reasons. While I know my way around Krakow better than ever before, I have feel more isolated than I ever have. While I found a level of being comfortable in Moscow after a few days, I was not comfortable to travel on to St. Petersburg by myself. I felt vulnerable in a manner that I had not in many years. While some of that certainly disappeared here in Poland, something has happened to make me less content or calm than I have in the past. I am not sure from where that comes or how it occurred, but I do know that I do not like it. Earlier this summer I was sharing lunch with three former colleagues and the first of the three and I were waiting and I did what I always seem to do when I go into my colleague, Dr. Decker’s office. I align things and make things orderly (fortunately he humors me and merely tells me it will get messed up again). She noted my actions and asked me if I were an OCD person. I had never really thought about it (seriously, I had not), but I responded, perhaps I am. As the summer has continued, I have noted to the degree that is true. Holy Crap!!! So then I began to reflect and wondered from where that propensity had come, and how long had I been such.

I am sure my psychology colleagues would have a heyday with this, but what I realize is we were required to keep our rooms very orderly growing up. I did not struggle to do so. We dusted the house every morning (every day, but Sunday) and on Saturday we dusted, vacuumed and stripped our beds to be washed. I was not allowed to leave my room in the morning before the bed was made. It is still one of the first things I do in the morning. We were not allowed to leave clothes out on a chair unless they were folded and neat. I thought all of that was normal and that every house did things like that. I have long since learned that is not true, but those of you who know me, know I cannot even function if my space is not orderly and well kept. While there are moments I fall short of that, for the most part it is who I am. I do know that I go through streaks from time to time also. I am forced (yes, a strong word), but it is something I do to myself, to try to understand this need for structure and order. During my time here in Poland sharing the Air BnB with another person, who was there prior to my arrival and who will be there after my departure, I have been required to rethink how what I do affects the other in a different way. There are been some compromise (and most of that has to do with his smoking (and the managing of that habit), but one of the things I realized early was I was the intruder if you will. He had a pattern and my requests would change his pattern. My reason for asking for some leeway on the smoking is more of a health issue than control, but I struggled to even ask for that. What all of this tells me is that I will avoid conflict at all costs, even at my own detriment. The reciprocal nature of that is when I finally have had enough, my response is not proportionate to the issue at hand. Of course, as usual there are so many issues that are part of that puzzle. I know most of them, but managing them is something quite different. . . .

It is about two weeks after I wrote this initially and I am back in the States and have been for a week. It has been a week of decompressing and reflection. It has been a week to ponder and regroup. It has been a weekend of trying to wrap my head around the inability of our country to deal with violence and make some meaningful moves toward curbing the violence, the gun-usage, and the hate and bigotry that seems to be engrained in every region, section, state, municipality, and neighborhood of this land. How we got here is certainly a complex issue. How we move toward something different is perhaps more complex, but doing nothing accomplishes one thing: more shootings with assault style weapons and more people dying needlessly. Certainly it is a mental health issue; it is an anger management issue, but there are things we can and should do. I have written at length about all of this, so I am not going to iterate it, but damn!! 30 seconds and 9 lives lost because there was a drum magazine in a semi-automatic assault weapon. What more needs to be said if you think with any logic at all. That is undoubtedly exasperating, consternating, and simply pathetic. States have authority to make changes; so does the federal government. This senseless violence is a social epidemic and it needs to be managed and approached as such. It is a health concern in so many ways. I have nothing more to say, but the response to the Ohio governor by people in Dayton seems to cover it: DO SOMETHING!

In terms of my Polish I am doing something and working on making changes as I move forward to work on it systematically and regularly. I think that will work much better with my learning style. It will result in a foundation that is stronger and more effective. It was a tough and, at times, overwhelming summer, but I will prevail and manage this. Thanks to all who have reached out to me in the past weeks to check on me. I am grateful. As I write and finish this blog, it is the day that Lydia would have turned 95. I still love and miss her.

Pain is Weakness Leaving my Body


Good evening,

I am back in my office and working on a variety of tasks, but at the top of the list is my tenure statement, which is due to my departmental committee next Monday. The title of the post is a slogan printed on the side of a water bottle that was a gift from the Marine Corps Recruiter when I did the boot camp birthday party for Max Decker last year. When I was in my 20s I think I might have even believed that slogan, but at the age I have reached at this point, I am reminded that I have more mornings where I might exclaim, “Good Lord, Morning” rather than “Good Morning, Lord!” The past couple of days have been long and hard . . . between merely managing tasks, managing the tenure work, and other things, the stress has gotten the better of me. I hate when it seems to take control of what I can and cannot do. I have actually considered my life from early on thinking about how stress has affected me. Long before I was diagnosed with any form of an IBD, I remember as an elementary-aged boy that whenever I was stressed or worried about something, it affected my insides. Now, a half century later, I am not really much different. The difference is what has been done to my digestive tract in that time. As a consequence, the effect of stress or other struggles seems almost instantaneous. That is the frustrating part.

I told someone today that losing blood was a normal thing and the look of “are you an alien?” was actually a bit amusing. I know that is not what was being thought, but the look was rather priceless. This evening I back in the office, but I did get a two hour nap earlier this evening. That is a good thing. I am not sure I have the stamina to pull a second all-nighter. I hate admitting that. I think of when I was a student at Dana and I was often up (usually four nights a week) until 4:00 a,m. studying. It was common for me to get by on an hour or two of sleep . . . and I played racquetball often. I also ate like a little pig, but I burned off all of the calories. That is another thing that has changed since then. That amazing metabolism has flown away. I remember that Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) experiment in that Anatomy and Physiology class with Dr. Stone. I could really burn through the calories and I was actually 27 or 28 years old. I think I lost most of that around the time I hit 40 or 41. I still remember sitting on the couch of some friends’ house. I had just bought 34″ waist jeans and I was sure I had become the proverbial “fat toad”. Somehow that has never gone away. Much to my chagrin and the consternation of someone else when I speak about it. It is interesting even now with losing 19 pounds in 5 weeks when I look in the mirror I still see places where I need to redistribute or eliminate even more. And I do not believe I have a disorder, I think it is merely realizing that what I could do at one point is no longer really an option.

That actually gets to a different issue and that issue is my own discipline and my priorities. I understand that, certainly, at this moment I have to focus on the tenure documentation at hand. It is and must be a priority. Second, I need to continue to do what I am doing diet-wise. I am really quite amazed what I have been able to drop merely changing my diet. What I need to do now is get back to the gym. The problem is I put it off. I can find a 101 reasons (and they are not Dalmatians) for not getting my fat-ass to the gym. Those reasons are merely rationalizations, justifications, poor excuses for not doing what I should simply do. I am actually at about the weight I want to be . . .  within 10 pounds. I simply need to tone, tighten, and quit being content with looking like 20 pounds of $(T^&*& in a 10 pound bag. If going back to Marine Corps boot camp wouldn’t kill me, I would do it for a summer job. I am going to work on something this summer. It has to happen.

I am actually feeling better at this point. It has been a long couple days and I had little to no voice. I do have some grading left to do before I finish up the night that I want to have done for my Foundations of College Writing courses. I am almost finished with the drafts of their reflective statements for their ePortfolios. I also finished up a couple of other simple, but necessary tasks. As I sit in my office, I am listening to Celtic music, which actually inspires me. My mentee (one of them) stopped by with his roommate for a while and I think we got some things accomplished there too. He is such a capable student, if he would only really put in the time. I only wish I would have been that smart in college. He does not realize the gift he has, or, perhaps he does and that is why he slacks and then bails himself out at the last possible moment. It is so frustrating. I always had to work hard for what I got. It was not until the actually pretty recent past that I began to believe that I am perhaps smart. As I have noted, it is not that I thought I was incapable, but I never saw myself as other than ordinary. That was certainly the case in high school. I still remember when Ms. Coacher, my 7th grade geography teacher gave me a C for a course and she told me that she was deeply disappointed that I had earned only a C in her class. At the time, I was content with my C. I figured it was good enough. Amazing what I have learned since then.

That actually relates back to my title. Learning is almost always painful in someway. If we are truly learning something, change is taking place and change does not come easily. There is always a cost to making a change and the first thing it forces is for us to move outside our comfort zones. It is that move to something that is not as familiar, nor as easy, nor as routine. I have been reminded of that again as of late. I have become pretty comfortable in my solitude. I have actually loved being alone and being able to shut the door on the outside world. My house, my home, was my sanctuary. Yet what I realize now is that it was merely a place I usually exist. It is interesting what happens when we shutter ourselves from the rest of the world. It has been amazing to make the change of opening the door whether for a dinner, studying, taking exams or other. What I am learning is that being able to share that place into which I have put a lot of work is a good thing. It makes me realize that sharing is always better than ignoring. Sharing what I have been blessed with allows for blessings, and not merely just for me. Well, it is a bit after 1:00 in the morning and both my eyes and my brain are fading.

Thanks for reading as always.

Dr. Martin