My partner, who recently completed a Masters subject comparing the evidence on first vs second language learning and adult vs childhood language acquisition, reckons the jury’s still out on whether it’s harder, but it certainly feels harder when I sit down to my homework after a long day of classes followed by writing. Two hours a day at Culture Yard is making a dent in my day but also in my ignorance! I am enjoying it. It is very humbling learning new things, and (slowly) very rewarding.
I wrote a little about failure in this essay reflecting on the digital writer in residence project that’s been published at if:book (I have never been described as a “bonus n00b” before!) I’ve been trying to take a leaf out of my own book, and enjoy the process of being stupid as an essential part of learning and being in the world. Starting to recognise a few more characters and build a sense, not of competency, but of the distant technical possibility that I may one day be able to read a street sign or set up my mobile phone without translation software – well, a person can dream.
In the spirit of trying to enjoy failure, I’ve gone back to the *redacted* novel-about-time, which I thought I’d finished in April, to find it still needs work. It’s grudging work, but it’s something I’m happy to do – I feel the book is somehow unreconciled with the idea of the book, and even if I don’t get it published, I will somehow make that reconciliation for myself, through the brute force of my own persistence. Some days I’m convinced it’s useless work, but I am being very Taoist about uselessness. Everything is ephemeral, after all. Especially words.
I’ve been reading some of the old Simon Leys essays that have cropped up after his passing, and trying to spend a little time before class each morning watching women practice Taiji in the park (jianbing in hand, of course). These things are keeping my mind in some semblance of order as it builds new neural pathways – not at the rate of Beijing’s infinite construction, but there’s certainly an affinity with the readymade metaphor coming up all around me. A glance out the window at the workers lifting huge cement blocks by hand on a rooftop in thirty-two degree heat is enough to put my own small labours in perspective.