Nerding Out FTW

Well, crap.  I did it to myself.  Again.

Those French shows I mentioned a while back?  You know, the ones I was watching just to practice the language?

Yeah, I started to get into them.


So now I’m binge-watching the crap out of them…binge-watching them to the point where I’m ignoring American shows and movies.  Hell, I’ve become engaged in them enough that the other day, when I was going out with a couple of friends, I tried to get everyone moving by walking towards the door and calling out, “On y va!”

The others, of course, just stared blankly at me.  I actually had to think for a second to come up with the appropriate English phrase!

And…well…yeah…I’m into the cartoons just as much, if not more.  Yeah the movies are great, and the cop dramas are…well…they’re very French, but the cartoons…

Some of those Gallic otaku can write.

maxresdefaultA big thank you, by the way, to Thomas Astruc for being a hell of a creator.  I know how hard it is to work within the well-defined lines of the “superhero cartoon”, but Astruc’s Miraculous does a very good job — maybe even a fantastic one.  To watch that show grow in development, complexity and emotion from the silly pointlessness of Season One to the depth and meaning of the “Chat Blanc” episode near the end of Season Three is…well…it’s that awkward mix of inspiring and endearing.

I started to care for the characters, I found.  I didn’t realize I had come to care — or, at least, I didn’t realize just how much — until the end of that third season.  But, by then, those characters had become just like beloved characters in other shows, movies and books: they were old friends who I wanted to see succeed.*

*Side note — if you can’t see others’ characters that way, you probably should be writing.  If characters cannot become real to you — whether they are yours, or those of other writers — then I’m not sure fiction writing is what you’re meant to do…

VSSuper_Nerd_PEOkay, look…I’m a nerd.  I get it.  I freely admit it.  Hell, I’m not just a quasi-nerd, or a little mini-nerd…I’m a full-strength, wear-a-Jabba-the-Hut-costume, learn-Elvish, go-to-Ren-Faires, full-time nerd!

I’m also sentimental as hell.

I owned those parts of who I am a long time ago, so I very obviously don’t see anything wrong with them.  If they make you uncomfortable or embarrassed…well…that’s your problem, ain’t it?

But back to the characters…

o_62hkWpLook, Marinette is great, and I think she makes one hell of a role model for young girls wanting a hero of their own, but…


C’mon, y’all know me by now!  Of-freaking-course there was a but!

But, Adrien…

0ddbf326947a38e9ab303ef4a0260b1f7e2aef0b_hqIt’s not the Chat Noir persona that gets me, it’s the fragile, broken thing behind the hero.  It’s the fragile, broken thing behind the alter-ego, too, by the way.  It’s the hero who could sit there and sing (in a Christmas special) about the fact that he has no one…

Of course, I also think one of the most powerful moments in the entire show was when the supervillain — Adrien’s father, for the uninitiated — saw his (supposedly helpless) son falling to his death and screamed in pain and terror for all to hear.

Yeah, they nailed that one.

Look, the show — and it’s writing — has flaws.  It is, after all, a cartoon written for middle- and high-schoolers.  A cartoon meant to be translated into dozens of different xI4QAqNlanguages, countries and cultures, mind you…

In spite of that, I have to raise a glass to Astruc for what he and his crew have been able to pull off.  Characters and plots with real meaning?  friendships with complexity and tension and problems?  Shit, gay relationships in a cartoon shown in Saudi Arabama?**

**No, that wasn’t a typo — I can’t think of two places on this planet with more in common than Saudi Arabia and Alabama.  Both believe in repressing and vilifying anyone who doesn’t toe their insane theocratic line in all its details…

Look, most of you will read this post and offer up a shrug.  “What the hell is he talking about?” you’ll wonder.  Then you’ll go on about your day without another thought.  Some of you will think, even, “Well, he’s just as nuts as I thought.”  Others will mutter curses about silliness and pointlessness and wasting time.

But some of you…

Some of you will understand that maybe you can learn from cartoons…even a French one!



Watchin’ Cartoons

I’m doing some traveling later this year.  After a few years of staying put here in the US, I’m finally heading back to Europe for a couple of weeks.

Oh my, have I missed that kind of travel.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all the hiking and exploring I do in Yellowstone and the Rockies, but that only scratches one particular kind of itch.  

Left unscratched — for far too long, by my lights — is another itch, one just as strong for me: the itch to explore different cultures and languages, different histories and dynamics.  The itch, when you get right down to it, for the learning and experience that comes only with immersing yourself in someone else’s backyard.

Now, I’m not traveling alone this time, so my usual low-to-the-ground, full-immersion kind of trip isn’t really on the agenda, but still I’ll sneak in some aimless wandering and exploring.

So, I put all that intro in there to say that I’m starting to think about — and brush up on — my old travel and exploration skills.  Not least among those skills, of course, is language.  Sadly, fluency in a foreign language is a (very) perishable skill.  Of the five in which I’m fluent, I’ve really only used two with any regularity in the last few years…and French ain’t one of those.

I won’t be in France for terribly long — it’s just the first chapter of the trip — but I am not going to  stumble around, bumbling just to say please and thank you.  I used to be fluent at the everyday-level, goddammit!

So why, I hear you ask, did I mention watching cartoons in the title?  For the language lessons, of course!

Look, one of the first bits of advice I give people who ask about travel and immersion is to listen to kids.  Young kids — three-, four- and five-year-olds — are a great primer for picking up the basics of a language you don’t know.  Since they’re just learning the language, they speak in simple sentences, over-enunciate their words, and (over)use context and non-verbal communication to convey meaning.  Most importantly, their parent/care-giver will often correct and teach them on the fly.

Hooray, free language-lessons while you’re sipping your coffee!

When you’re past that point, however…  When you’re more familiar and capable with a language…  Kids are still your friends, as is TV.teletubbies-10-ft-tall

I learned basic Czech by watching the freaking TeleTubbies every morning at breakfast.  A few days of that, and a willingness to look and sound like an idiot while I tried to talk to people, and the snowball of comprehension and understanding turned into an avalanche.

With French, I don’t need to be that basic, thank God.  I do, however, need to re-immerse myself enough to understand the language when it’s spoken rapid-fire.  I also need to work on the vocab and slang that textbooks and old copies of French literature just won’t teach.

foto-de-capaAnd so here I sit, watching French cartoons and shows for the middle- and high-school crowd.  The subtitles have been on for the first couple of weeks to give me a “safety net” of sorts, but that is about to change.  Once I can get through a few more episodes of Miraculous without needing to pause and re-listen to every other line, it’ll be time to graduate — once again — into French cinema…

New York Rangers v Montreal Canadiens - Game OneDo you have any idea just how much I’m looking forward to re-watching Luc Besson and Louis Malle without cheating?  And don’t even get me started on watching Montreal games with the French* play-by-play on!

*I know, I know — Quebec ain’t France.  Even though I learned formal Parisian French in school, I learned true day-to-day speaking among the Quebecois.  In Spain folks made fun of me for speaking “Mexican,” and I didn’t give a damn…so the French will just have to live with the bad linguistic habits I picked up here in North America.  To those who like to bitch about stuff like that, all I have to say to is, get over it!  Harrumph.

Amo, Amas, Amat…

I started thinking about language the other day.  More specifically, I started thinking about “foreign” languages.  About languages other than the one in which you were (presumably) raised.  Of course, me being me, that train of thought started to morph — is still morphing and evolving — so we’ll just have to see where this post actually ends up going…

There was a BBC story the other day, one that got a lot of play, on whether or not British kids were even willing to try and learn a foreign language anymore.  That same article could well be written of the US, too, I should add.

Now, keep in mind, I’m in no way a neutral party in this.  I love languages.  I love learning them, I love speaking them, I love thinking in them.  And yes, it is true that when you start to dream in a language, you have finally internalized it…

01FF06C5-15AD-4096-8B72-71F05BEE7B5CMy degree in Linguistics aside, I’m lucky enough to be able to say that languages come easy to me.  They come very easy.  I can pick up basic phrases and vocab in an hour or two, and be fully conversational — if I’m immersed — in about two weeks.  Although I have (sadly) let my array of skills atrophy a bit, I can still make my way fairly fluently in five different languages…and have a sixth that I could “bring back’ with some effort.  I say that not to brag, but as background to why I simply cannot understand why you wouldn’t want to learn a different language.

I firmly believe that you can’t truly know a people or a culture until you can speak at least a bit of their language.  The more fluent you are, the more you can come to know them.  And no — not just no, but hell no — Google Translate is not a legitimate option.  Any translation, even from a person with legit skills and experience, is necessarily inaccurate, especially if the languages are not immediately related.  There is approximation and editing involved in all of it, and that changes things…sometimes massively.

Thankfully, there are real-world reasons, besides just innate desire and ability, that push folks to learn other languages.  I’ve mentioned before that I’ve spent a lot of time in central and eastern Europe.  Well, given the position and influence of English in the world, the folks in the Baltics and Poland and Czech have their kids in full English immersion programs, alongside learning their own native language, starting at age 5.  Five.

That’s when you should be learning languages, by the way.  Our brains at that age are still forming the basic neural pathways we will have for the rest of our lives as we become more active in learning to understand the world around us.  What you learn at five will stick with you for the rest of your life because, quite simply, that’s how our brains are (literally) wired.

As an aside, here’s a key little travel tip for you: if you are in a country where you don’t speak the language, and want to learn, listen to little kids.  Watch and listen to four- and five-year-olds as they interact with each other, and with adults.  The kids will use simple grammar and construction, as well as over-enunciating the words, because they are still learning to understand and be understood.  The adults, in turn, will explain difficult words and concepts to the kids in simple, easy-to-understand terms.  Bingo! Free language lessons!  And you thought that two-hour train ride was going to be a waste…

Now, there are some schools/programs here in the US that do the same thing…but not nearly enough of them.  There is no better way to grow a child than in a kindergarten/elementary-school program that fully immerses them in two (or even three!) languages throughout the week.

Shit, I kinda do the same thing even now by watching “foreign” movies/shows solely in their original language.  If it’s a language I even kinda know, there are no subtitles.  I just have to make do and follow along as best I can.  If it is one I don’t know, I’ll leave the subtitles on until I start to pick up enough vocabulary to understand without them.*

*The non-verbal aspects are important here as well, by the way.  A lot, and I mean A LOT, of the info in a movie or TV scene comes from non-verbal communication rather than dialogue.

I’ve mentioned before that the languages I speak, as well as my background, very much play a role in my writing.  I made a conscious decision to use other languages and cultures (Japanese & Thai, if you’re wondering) as the basis for Connor’s society in Somewhere Peaceful to create a feeling of “otherness.”  Just as importantly, however, I very specifically chose Japanese because there are concepts and feelings behind the (modified) real-world slang I use that don’t really have English equivalents.

61CFB7DD-AE08-4D98-BE12-0E9CB7F02930Okay…so…my first fear as I started to write this post has held true: it turned left at Albuquerque and ended up being about something other than what I actually sat down to write about…


Welcome to my life.

Now get your ass out there and learn a new language!  Once you get comfortable enough to start using it in your own writing, you will not regret it.  That I promise you.