Wednesday, February 22, 2006

My Native Language

My native language isn’t English.

The problem is, I don’t know what language my native language actually is.

I was raised in a household where Finnish was spoken, but I never learned more than a few words, so I’m reasonably certain my native language isn’t Finnish. I had French in school and Greek in college, and I got so I could think and dream in those languages, but my skills with each language is very rusty and I don’t think I could think in either language even if I wanted to.

Until fairly recently I didn’t realize that my native language wasn’t English. I was in a critique group with other writers, and I criticized another writer on the grounds that his characters always thought in perfect grammatical English sentences, whereas of course people didn’t actually do that. He sort of stared at me in surprise, as he always thought in perfect grammatical English sentences. So did everyone else in the group, apparently.

It was then that I realized that whatever language my brain is using, it isn’t English.

After that I began paying more attention to the way my brain actually works. When I think, I’m not using a structured, grammatical language, it’s more like I’m laying out a series of Tarot cards. Each card is a symbol, or series of symbols, that stands for a group of concepts or associations. The shape of the array of cards implies a structure and a conclusion. My mind skips from one card to the other without bothering to fill in the grammar that connects them, like a mountain goat bounding from peak to peak without traversing the valleys in between.

I can translate this into English, but it takes a certain amount of effort. I have to add the grammar and explain what the symbols mean. Sometimes my mind gets well ahead of the translation and I stumble to a halt, looking for a word or phrase that got lost. Sometimes I can backtrack and pick up the translation where it stopped, and sometimes I end up totally lost, with people staring at me wondering what the hell I was trying to say.

It’s not bad enough that I have associations in my mind for, say, “Pamela Anderson,” I have this whole complex symbol-set in my mind for Pamela Anderson and it’s tangled up with a whole bunch of other symbol-sets and it probably takes up a lot more space in my brain than I want it to.

This explains why I’m a much better writer than a speaker— with writing, I can take time to polish the translation.

When I talk, what you hear is, unfortunately, what you get.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Five Weird Habits

Ling the Merciless has tagged me with the Five Weird Habits meme. In which I reveal five allegedly weird habits that I possess, and then tag five other folks with the same meme.

It took me a while to think of five weird habits, since they don’t seem very weird to me. And, now that I think about them, I don’t know whether they’re weird or merely pathetic. You be the judge.

1. I’ve never watched a Super Bowl or attended a Super Bowl party. (This one seems especially relevant this week.) I don’t even know who’s playing this year.

For a few years, on Super Bowl Sunday, Kathy and I made a point of attending the ballet as a form of cultural protest against this annual rite of drunkenness and spouse abuse. It was easy to get to the auditorium because the roads were empty, and the theater was always filled with mothers and their daughters, all of whom seemed very happy to be there.

2. Because of arthritis in my back and hips, I find it painful to sleep in a reclining position. I sleep most of the night in an easy chair, and then move to the bed when the chair grows uncomfortable.

3. I’ve been doing roleplaying games with the same group of people, more or less, for something like 25 years. My current campaign is set in the late Roman Republic and has been running since 1996.

For a while I thought it was odd that despite being an SF and fantasy writer, I don’t for the most part do fantasy or science fiction games. Then I realized that science fiction is work, and I game to get away from work.

4. Despite #3 above, I’m always working. Even when I’m reading a book or watching TV or talking to my friends, some part of me is always working on ideas, characters, plot points, and pacing. Because of this constant churning in my backbrain, I’ve outlined more books than I will ever write in this lifetime, and I’ve forgotten more books than I’ve ever outlined. Some of them end up as RPGs because I know I’ll never write them.

Kathy has stated that often when she talks to me she has to wait for the signal to bounce back from the Moon before I reply. It’s not the Moon, it’s the Fictionsphere.

5. When there’s a television on in a room, I can’t help but watch it. My eyes are drawn to it like a rabbit hypnotized by a snake. I absolutely can’t help myself, not even if the program is awful or the sound is turned off. Not even if the set is in the back of an Asian restaurant silently broadcasting Vietnamese karaoke videos. If there’s a bright screen somewhere with things moving on it, my eyes lock right onto it. I haven’t done the experiment to see if I’ll actually watch a TV turned to a dead channel, because I don’t want to know the answer.

If you want me to pay attention to you, for God’s sake turn off the TV. (I never have the TV on when company is in the house. What are you thinking?)

The meme now requires me to tag some of you so that you’ll post your own Five Weird Habits. But this is a new blog and, quite frankly, I don’t know any of you well enough to impose on you that way. So if you feel you have weird habits worth discussing, by all means discuss them somewhere and link back to here. Or post your essay here.

I have a feeling that some of you are a lot weirder than I am. So feel free to discuss yourself on my nickel. I promise I’ll turn off the TV.