Tuesday, January 26, 2010

¡Viva la Revolución!

Resolution #4: Learn a New Language
Progress: Just Starting

Foreign languages have been a interest of mine for as long as I can remember. In my youth it was fascinating to watch two people, expressing themselves with sounds undecipherable to the untrained ear, but clearly laden with meaning. At home, we hosted Japanese exchange students several times per year, eager pupils desiring to practice their English, and always willing to teach my siblings and me a few Japanese words, which we would use to impress our friends. I often found the most enthralling parts of the visits, however, was when our guests would phone home, or write a letter to their loved ones in far-away parts of the world. Listening to their rhythmic speech patterns and syllables which I was unable to imitate, or regarding the strange symbols they would lay to paper created a yearning to crack their code, and become privy to that incredible world.

My first formal foreign language education began with Latin in the third grade, but Latin didn't contain the glamor that I assumed all foreign languages held. To my uneducated mind, a language which opened up world of classic literature, and was the backbone for all the romantic languages, still wasn't as exciting as a language which could communicate with live human beings, and perhaps unlock the secrets to their world. My formal Latin education ended after only one year with the saying, "Latin's a dead language, as dead as dead can be. It killed off all the Romans, and now it's killing me!"

The next language I was exposed to was Spanish! Spanish was exciting, a popular language among students, and not so difficult to comprehend, probably due to the Latin experience. My older siblings took Spanish lessons in our basement, and as long as I was quiet and behaved myself, I could sit down there and glean the wisdom. My formal foray into Spanish, with classes of my own, would not follow for several years.

Greek was my next experiment. As a freshman in a classical high-school, Greek was a requirement, and I was all for it. Fortunately, I had now outgrown the notion that an unspoken language was a worthless language, since I was not studying modern Greek, but Koine Greek, the language of the Bible. This language quickly became near, and dear to my heart. I discovered that I had an affinity for languages with strange looking characters, and excelled in my studies. I pursued this language through freshman and sophomore year of high-school. When I discovered that my school was not going to offer a third year in the language, I sought other venues. I went to talk with the Greek professor at a local Bible college, and he agreed to accept me into his Greek Exegesis II class. I studied two semesters of college Greek, after which my professor informed the class that we had obtained all the skills necessary to study the language on our own, and the only step left in formal Greek education was graduate school. I decided that it probably wouldn't be wise for a high-schooler to attempt graduate school entry, and sought other linguistic pursuits, such as...

More Spanish and Hebrew. My high-school decided that it was time to begin offering some modern languages to interested students, beginning with Spanish. I was thrilled at the opportunity, to finally study the language I had pretended to speak since elementary school! Unfortunately, my plans were cut short by my Spanish teacher's engagement in the middle of the first semester, and her departure from the school. A new teacher was hired, not for Spanish, but instead skilled in Hebrew. Hebrew opened my eyes to another language without Roman characters, and was my first experience with right-to-left reading and writing. I enjoyed my study of the Hebrew language immensely, but alas, the teacher was only interim, and left at the end of the year, bringing a close to my formal high-school language instruction.

Studying engineering in college meant no language requirement, and between the coursework and sports teams, I had little desire to add to my already busy schedule with unnecessary study. That was my statement of intent, until the middle of my sophomore year. Shortly before Christmas break that year, it was announced that a study center was going to be opened in Nantes, France, and the school wanted to inaugurate the location by sending over a class of engineers. I suppose they figured if they can accomplish the program with a group of engineers, they could have success with anyone. I immediately signed onto the study abroad adventure, not willing to pass on this chance of a lifetime. Of course, going to study and interact in a foreign culture necessitates learning the language of the natives, and so, my French study began. On paper, my French language skills do not appear very impressive: one semester of beginning French. But as any expatriate will confirm, the classroom learning while stationed outside the borders of your homeland, is basically just a Q&A for language acquired in the streets. Partially due to the immersion within the culture, and partially due to it being the most recent, French is now my strongest foreign language.

So here I am, again, desiring to learn a new language, one that I will find useful, and one with strange characters. I have selected Japanese for my latest foray, because of the natural advantage it will provide me in my employment, and the availability of victims co-workers who can help me practice. In order to keep my goals quantifiable, and because it is difficult to measure knowledge of a language, I'm going to attempt 2 hours of study per week, and adjust the time after a few weeks trial. In preparation for this learning, I have obtained Rosetta Stone: Japanese from the work library, and will be using it as my tutor. With dedication, I believe I can achieve a level of basic fluency by the end of this year.

Want to share your language learning doldrums and adventures? Curious about my time studying abroad? I'm a giving blogger, all you must do is ask!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Resolution #3: Sleep 7 hours a night
Progress: Ongoing.

"Nothing good happens after midnight!" was a phrase I heard repeatedly during my childhood, often followed by, "You should always go to bed on the same day you woke up!" These quotes came at me from my mother, most certainly a woman of earthly wisdom beyond measure. As the astute reader surely noticed from my last post, going to bed at a proper hour has never been my forte. Who would have guessed that the bad habits I established as a child, staying awake until hours usually reserved for the night watchman, would follow me into my high-school and college years, and now into my adult life?

My sleeping patterns in high-school had become something of legend. Rarely did I find the coolness of my pillow before 2 or 3am. I would awaken by 7am in order to make my 7:30 bus to school, return home after my daily dose of sports practices, chess matches, or drama rehearsals, inhale a quick dinner, and pass out until 10pm, when I would awaken and begin my homework for the evening.

I carried a similar schedule throughout my college years. My naps now came earlier in the day, after my morning classes and before my sports practices, but it was still a rare night when I began my assignments before midnight, or finished them before those same ungodly hours in the morning that I experienced throughout the earlier part of my life.

Finally I am into the working life. I had always assumed that it was around this point in "growing up" where someone really could get their life together. Schedules are consistent, activities are planned, and time away from work is your own. I have now come to the conclusion that these lies are propagated for the sole purpose of giving the diligent student a future hope, a light at the end of the tunnel to use as a study lamp while cramming for exams. I would never have anticipated the schedule of my working life to be busier than that of any previous point. Playing 5 sports, becoming actively involved in the church, and working full-time leaves few white spaces on the calendar for that blessed respite.

The health benefits of a good night's sleep have been more than adequately addressed by the medical professionals, so rather than waste the valuable time of the reader, I will share another revelation that has recently come to my attention. Not sleeping enough is stealing. It is stealing from my employer, who expects me to be alert and performing at full capacity while I am being paid a full wage, it is stealing from my teammates, who expect me to have the energy to make critical plays during games, and it is stealing from myself, my future health, and well-being. I never considered myself to be much of a thief, so it's time that this situation is remedied.

This resolution will undoubtedly be one of the very hardest that I am attempting this year, and for that reason, I have spent the last week developing a strategy for better sleep in 2010. There was a time that I delved into studying the fascinating world of polyphasic sleep, and during this period, acquired several tips for more effective rest. One of these methods was to keep a sleep journal, particularly when starting a new sleeping routine. While I won't be writing a full sleep journal, starting next Monday, I plan to start documenting my bedtimes, awakening times, and total hours slept each night, along with naps and duration. My goal is to sleep 7 hours per night on average, with 8 hours being the stretch target. I'll post a summary of the statistics at the end of each month, so that my faithful followers can hold me accountable to my progress. Perhaps I'll also note my alertness level each morning, and together we can discover the if there is truly any value to a more rested world!

Think I should write an exposition on my interest in polyphasic sleep? Wish I would stop posting updates at 1am? Want to challenge me on who can sleep the most? Comment below!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Of the Making of Books...

Resolution #2: Read 25 books a year

Progress: Not Started

The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them.  ~Mark Twain

I believe that it was my sister that first introduced me to this quote, attributed to Mark Twain, and it embedded itself into my cerebral cortex from the first time I set eyes upon it. It's a striking thought to consider that by choosing to not read good books, one can willingly place themselves in the company of the illiterate. For all the people I have met through various stages of life, I cannot recall anyone expressing regret to me that they had learned to read. Therefore, what Twain has essentially created, is a guilt trip in a quote; for if I am not currently expanding my horizons and knowledge through books, I am no better than an uneducated fool.

When I was a child, I was a labeled bookworm, and it wasn't a label I had chosen for myself. My mother would proudly proclaim every year in our family Christmas newsletter, that when she couldn't find me, I was almost certainly, "hidden, curled up in a corner somewhere with a book." In retrospect, I suppose it is a title I had willingly earned. Late at night (9:30pm for a youngster such as myself) I would dutifully prepare myself for bed and turn to the covers, book in hand. I would then begin a wonderful journey into worlds unknown, exploring fictional fantasies with an imagination so wild it would put Chicken Little to shame. My fantastical journeys would be brought back to a cold reality, however, with the sound of my father making his way down the stairs. A quick glance at the clock, 10:45pm, reminds me that I should definitely be asleep by now. Through much experience, I learned I had just a few brief seconds to darken the lights in my room, stow the book down in the covers, and begin a deeper, slower, trance-like breathing, simulating sleep the best my 9 year old self knew how. After a brief glance, and a few words of prayer over my 'sleeping' body, my father would return upstairs, and I would resume my magic voyage until I literally could no longer keep my eyes open, and collapsed into the pages of my book, where I would continue my adventures in my dreams. My parents never mentioned my late-night escapades, which seldom ended before 1 or 2am, and to this day, I am not sure if they were privy to the knowledge. The difficulties my mother had awakening me in the mornings, must have raised her suspicions.

I continued these reading patterns through high-school, where the classical style of education meant a reading list that averaged a book a week. The assignments given were on a much more sophisticated level as well, as I learned from Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Thomas Hobbes, Augustine, and Shakespeare, as well as many others far too numerous to list. The opinions and ideas of the authors were always sure to spark lively discussions during class, as well as a few arguments. Life moved on, I started college, and well, great literature was not as much of a priority in the engineering classes I was attending. Between homework and sports, who has time to read? 

Mercifully for all students, college eventually also draws to a close, and now I'm working full-time, have no homework, and cannot perform my work duties from home even should I so desire. I went home for some vacation and saw Twain's words, nearly lost in life's chaos, and I'm again taking that familiar guilt trip. It's time to return to those blessed days of expanded horizons through the windows of words. 

I've chosen 25 books a year as a starting block. This will put me at half my high-school pace, and probably a tenth of my elementary school pace, but I'm planning on choosing books a little more substantial than "Fun with Dick and Jane." As the first step in this endeavor, I visited Half Price Books this weekend, a discount shop in Columbus, and picked up a few items:
The Chosen - Chaim Potek 
The Promise (sequel to The Chosen) - Chaim Potek
Killer Angels - Michael Shaara
Candide - Voltaire

I remember reading Candide and Killer Angels in high-school, and enjoying both greatly. The Chosen and The Promise are books that my mother has recommended to me, and have rested on her top shelf for many years. I also received several books at Christmas, so the reading list is expanding daily. I'll be sure to update my progress, and perhaps even post a "book review" as I finish each one, so if you would like to follow with my reading list, and enter into lively discussion, I would be quite honored. I plan on starting with The Chosen, a 1967 novel about two Jewish boys that comes highly recommended, so it's time to see if it merits the hype!

Think 25 books is too much/too little? Want to suggest your favorite books for my reading list? There is only one way to make your voice heard! Click "comments" below!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Revolution Begins

Resolution #1: Start a blog (and maintain it)
Progress: Done

Every year brings new challenges and opportunities, but 2010 shows special promise for being a landmark one. Not only did January 1 mark the beginning of a new year, but also that of a new decade, and that decade only the second of a new millennium. What a chance to take advantage of this season, and plunge headfirst into making major life changes without any aforethought! Hence: a blog!

I know what you're thinking, that a blog doesn't seem like a major life change. Well since we're all friends here, I'll express a little radical honesty: It's not. However, this is not your ordinary sports blog, not your wearisome political commentary, nor your typical literary outlet for teenage angst. This blog will follow my journey through a year of continuous improvement that includes a completely absurd number of new years resolutions, bucket list items, and goals for 2010.

Thomas Jefferson taught me that "Every generation needs a new revolution" and since I haven't seen any in my lifetime so far of which I've been particularly fond, I'm going to start my own. It's hip, it's new, whether you've seen it before or not, and everyone is doing it! (Including your mom, your cousin, and that creepy janitor at work) Speaking of revolutions, props to Erika for inadvertently giving me the title of the blog with her typo. Thanks. Now I do have a new year's revolution!

I learned a long time ago, that if I don't write it down, it isn't going to happen, folks. So I invite all of you, my faithful readers (and since this is the first post, I guess that's just me) to come along on my journey, and hopefully be inspired to make a few improvements in your own lives.

Making resolutions of your own this year? Want to join me in my quest for a more fulfilled life? Sound off in the comments below!