Wednesday Wonders: Pitching Words

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This Wednesday, I need to pause the blog while I madly craft a query letter, hoping to be chosen and learning from the jump into the unknown.

If you have a book of your own to pitch, check out Brenda Drake’s Pitch Wars. It’s quite the writing adventure she has put together.

I’ll let you know how it went next week!

May you make your best pitch and round the bases when you get up to bat,

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And just because I found it in my image search…

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Getting Older While Turning Somersaults

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yin and yang

When I was in my 20’s and had scads of time, I belonged to the YMCA in Tacoma where I practiced Aikido. I remember l how incredibly stupid and awkward I felt for the first 6 months in our small dojo. I am not sure why I kept at it, but I am glad that I did.

In Aikido the first move to get down is a roll. This roll is not at all like a gymnastics somersault where I tucked my head and flopped my feet straight over my head. In an Aikido roll, I put my arm out almost like blocking a punch. I tucked my head and followed the curve of my arm in a sideways motion that still pulled me in a straight line. The idea was to then gracefully move onto my feet and back up to standing.

In my first 500 rolls, I flopped every single time. A soft-spoken black belt spent the hour of class doing nothing but positioning my arms and guiding me to help me get it right. I can’t remember his name, but I do remember his patience with me and the other newbies. I ever so slowly got better.

One day about a year later I realized the rolls were no problem. I flew around the mat in warm ups with the rest of the dojo. I rolled on my right arm, I rolled on my left arm and then I rolled backwards, by golly. My left backwards felt the most awkward, but it shocked my to realize how strong my muscle memory had become. I’d also gotten reasonably good at joint locks with long Japanese names and the kata with the long stick called a jo that frightened people as I walked into the Y.

After I had my first son, I could not keep up the hours needed to practice. But I’ve retained something (aside from a longing to find another dojo like that and squeeze in a few hours of practice again).

I’ve retained the memory of plugging away at something day after day and getting better even though I was so awful I didn’t know how awful I was. It’s helped me with innumerable things, especially physical activities where I feel so horribly uncoordinated, but also with mental activities like teaching and writing. I started where I was and plugged along. I found a teacher or a few who knew what they were about and who had unreasonable amounts of patience. And ever so slowly, though it feels stuck up to admit it, I realize I’ve gotten better.

Getting older isn’t always as joyful as turning somersaults at the park, and this past week I gained another year.  But it’s true that a few blessings come with age. One of my favorite is this ability to look back, see that I’ve made progress and then continue rolling forward with years of experience telling me that things are bound to get better if I keep sticking my arms up, tucking my head and rolling onto the mat. 

Money where the Language Mouth Is

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IMG_0101This past week I decided that to become a better teacher, I needed to commit to a language again. This has been on the back of my mind for some time. I’ve had several excellent excuses for not working on my own language learning, including an infant who was not fond of sleeping or letting his mother sleep.

He’s three now. He sleeps. And last summer a speaker at the state ABE/ESL conference in Yakima, WA let me practice my rusty German with her. Heide Spruck-Wrigley (link this) always gives a wonderful presentation that I would recommend seeing if you are in the language business and get the opportunity. She backs her words with solid research and sprinkles in hilarious stories like this video of a poor guy learning English:

Heide is also is a native German speaker. I pulled up my courage and told her in a small group session that I once spoke German and she gently shifted our conversation into her first language to let me practice. The experience of trying to decode another language while frantically trying to remember the vocabulary and structure I needed to respond in something like a conversational time frame stuck with me.

“Ah!” I thought. “This is what my poor students feel like everyday! No wonder they aren’t so chatty with me before class.”

Of course, I know this when I use my native language with them. But experiencing it myself gave me such a powerful feeling of empathy. I wondered what else I could get from learning another language alongside my students.

I said something along these lines to the Russian speaking administrative assistant Inna who works in the office where I go to make copies before class.

She nodded and said she tells new learners: “Nothing works. Not books or any special program. Just practice.”

“Hmm,” I thought. Sounds a lot like writing and anything else worthwhile.

So I asked my patient coworker if she’d help me by practicing with me in Russian. She agreed with a smile and a nod.

It’s not like I haven’t walked this path before. A part of me is screaming: “You’ve done this! You’re just going to find another excuse and make a mouthful of mistakes again!”

I’ve learned Russian in fits and starts for as many years as I’ve had Russian speaking students. One of my other Russian speaking coworkers shakes her head at me when I bring students in to her for interpreting.

“You should know Russian by now,” she says. She’s right. If I’d kept at it from the start I would.

Life pulls me away, I get busy and, because it’s not vital to my everyday existence, it’s easy for me to let it slide. So far this first week of practicing I’ve worked on a few phrases with Inna, found a free program on the Internet and cracked open a few of the books on the language section of my office library at home.

I suppose I’m hoping that writing about it here will keep me going through the embarrassment and drudgery that learning a new language brings because, since I started Russian on my own in (gasp) 1997, I have managed to learn a few things. And not just words to use with my Russian speaking students but also experiences to share with those who speak a multitude of other languages in my classes.

Besides. Something indescribable happens when I speak another language — something about the practice opens new worlds and novel ways of seeing the world I’m in right now.

Do wish me luck.