Whore of Babel

A foreign language is a perfect stand-in for a parent: stern but accommodating, solid but flexible. Immense, possibly well-traveled, with non-negotiable limitations that soothe and please as well as enrage. Apparently ageless (but certain to die). Infinitely present. Embracing. Yours.

Enlightened

The place in the brain where language sucks meaning can seem like nirvana. I hope that’s where you’ll find me, in the years to come. Hoarder of nothing but words, in day-glo and muted colors.

Sick?

Will I start to write English with Hebrew or Japanese or Persian syntax? That would mark the beginning of some dread disease, even if never-before-documented.

Speaking cat

I dreamt that I could understand a cat that walked through a painted green ironwork gate and jumped into my arms. He gave me the scoop on all the neighborhood cats as they walked by, then jumped from my arms and ran off.

Abracadabra

is Aramaic for: You will create what I speak.

Sin

It’s not only about plasticity and the desire to waylay dementia. There are other ways of making new synapses. This is just a way to trespass, so easy it feels like transgression.

I must be a language whore.

Swimming

For ten days or so, I was stumped by the range of my ambition. I had signed up for three different language courses—anxiety made me wonder at my sanity.

But now, confidence returns. Learning a language isn’t hard. You’ve learned at least one, probably two, maybe three. To keep going is like learning a different stroke once you’ve already learned to float.

Bliss

Amidst a myriad of languages, the brain is stimulated and challenged, but without any downward pull on the heart. All seems possible, the world both vast and neat, a tidy handful.

Infinity is on the tongue, as well as in the eyes.

Hearts

After a hiatus of several months, I went back to Turkish and found that my heart is in it. Or, it is in my heart. Metaphorical language, of course. Hearts pump blood. And then they stop. Period.

I haven’t talked to my mother today. But I did my Japanese homework.

On the Air

I listen to Hebrew radio, Turkish radio. There is nothing as glorious as the sounds of a new language as it’s being acquired. It’s a place. Beside it, travel pales.

Comparison

The fog, the arafel—fog is what’s thick and unmoving whereas arafel moves quickly and is often transparent, almost lacy. Arafel. (????) Look at the difference of cultural opinion regarding this meteorological phenomenon: in English, the stuff is almost solid whereas in Hebrew, it descends and coats the body lightly, much the way the sounds tumble over the full length of the tongue as the word is spoken.

Defection

Some days, I stray from English, wanting to know foreign syllables the way I do the crevices in my palms.

Erotic

Having learnt another language as a young adult, I’m less terrorized than seduced by the challenge of temporarily indecipherable syllables, swayed by the music of them.

Truth?

Is it madness or simple practicality that makes one not particular about the absolute factuality of a story one translates as well as one can, one language to another?

So much of any communication is inspired guesswork.

Wealth

Learning a language is a sure way to gain—something. It doesn’t take the place of what’s lost, but its presence is so obviously gain that one’s heart rests in the abundance of it.

From Inside a New Body

It’s not words only but sounds and pacing, alternate paths in the brain—a slightly different way to think and see the world. Milim as well as words. Kotevet, not just write. You need to come up with a new body to present these words from your pe, not mouth to the world, haolam.

Depletion

After a sleepless night, I mixed Hebrew and Greek, creating sentences that diminished still further the pool of speakers from two already very small pools.

Secular miracle

If all this effort is a waste, so be it. This is an act of desperation: I crave the entrance of foreign syllables into my brain. It’s an entertainment, a philosophical addiction, a puzzle with so many pieces you can never finish.

The fragmentary state can’t bother you because fragmentation is part of its nature. Any way you look at it, you’re winning. Or losing. Both. As in life.

Forging Hope

Perhaps I’m preparing alternate lives for myself, in different geographies and cultures. Or maybe I’m living those lives, parallel and embedded in the present one (and only).

The number of incomprehensible syllables is equal to the amount of hope: someday.

Suicidal

How many linguists are on record as being murderers? Hitler was a failed artist, but how many languages did he speak?

The furious linguist, it seems, would be more likely to turn his rage inward.

I imagine the explosion of a one-man Babel: it’s a multi-lingual volcano, trillions of broken words raining down, inchoate.

Question

Was that language teacher stricken or offended by my desire to learn not just her language but so many others besides? Did she see it as a form of pride? Hubris? Imperialism?

Skinned

I spend hours listening to other languages, concentrating hard enough to pick out words. Other times, the listening is more visceral, as if I’m pulling away from my skin, racing toward a rawness that will allow me to understand.

Exposure

Survival requires constant divestment. Will it always be this way and of what will I be required to divest myself before it’s over?

Is it skinlessness I seek or rather release from a particular skin? Skinlessness in expectation of a new skin?

Mother

I’m trying to build a life that will hold me when she’s gone. That’s what creates heart pain, tenderness around the edges, and a squeezing at the very center: the attempt to live two lives at once, this one where she’s still alive, and that one.

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