blather about how smart i am, my virgo-ness, and my inability to express myself

I am incredibly gifted at languages and linguistics. Not bragging, just saying. That’s my strong point. I can mimic the sounds of a foreign language after not much exposure. It only takes a little bit of partial or full immersion for me to start understanding the grammatical structure of a language, even if I don’t know any of the words. After four years of choir, a year of eighth-grade Latin, a semester of Portuguese, two and a half years of French, and many years of Spanish, I can recognize and “read” written languages, especially Germanic and Romance ones, competently enough. When I learn new words, I invariably pronounce them correctly. Languages are my strong point. We all have areas in which we excel, linguistic nuance happens to be one of mine.

So it’s interesting that last night I was writing a quick, informal review of a book on GoodReads, and I spent a great amount of time grasping for a word that I could literally see and hear, through some kind of curtain, in my head, but could not totally get out. I am very, very attached to my thesaurus, which is weird when you consider that I almost never need to look words up when I’m reading. I understand and remember the meaning of most English words, and I can look at them and probably tell you what language they come from, but I can’t call words up out of my head without a problem. And even though I can read a page of Spanish and be perfectly satisfied with the 80-100% I probably understood, I have a lot of difficulty translating word for word, and I absolutely hate it when people ask me “how do you say [blank] in Spanish?” because I cannot tell you, even if I previously spoke or read the word in question. I suppose my language skills are based on nuance, context, and intuition, not direct correlation. This is probably also why I don’t keep my languages separate in my brain, and why I don’t think I’ll ever be totally fluent in any of the languages I’ve studied, because they mix together. From growing up, my most comfortable way of talking about tropical fruit is to say the names in Portuguese, I use regionalisms and Spanglish slang, especially when talking about cultural or food things, I’m not funny except when I’m using Yiddish, and I adore learning new compound German nouns, because they are so damn good at expressing ideas. Continue reading

performing art

I have said that I don’t like Lady Gaga, and that’s true. “Bad Romance” and “Telephone” are the only songs that I can stomach, and her videos freak me out. I also don’t think she’s all that innovative, and every time people say that she’s doing something no one has ever done before, I ask them if they were asleep when Madonna and David Bowie were big. I also don’t think it’s a really legitimate thing to say that the point of being a crazy performance artist with no rhyme or reason is to trick people into paying attention, or to make some kind of statement that art is arbitrary, because all of that is just silly. To be clear, I’m also not a big fan of most electronica, because I think you can’t define things as “music” unless they have melodies and include at least one instrument or voice that comes from a physical being or object. But I do reserve a few electric-y tracks for when I work out or clean my apartment.

But it just struck me that my argument somewhat falls apart when I consider that I very much like listening to (and watching videos of) Marina and the Diamonds. I’m going to try to explain the difference between her and artists like Gaga, and also explain why I like her. She’s definitely in the “tradition” of current pop, which is like stylized, commercialized performance art. But it’s still way different from shitty installations in contemporary art galleries and pop stars who go for shock-factor-cum-esoteric-ness. I totally admit that it could just be that I have followed Marina & the Diamonds a long time, so I’ve read her blogs and listened to her demos, and also that I just happen to find her music more aesthetically pleasing than Gaga’s, but I think it’s more than that. Continue reading

neuroscience lite

It has come to my realization that I could actually have pursued a more lucrative career in the health sciences like my mom hoped I would. Oops.

So last month and over a bit of February (remember, I had vertigo, so my brain fried itself and I spent 10 days not being able to comprehend more than three written sentences at a time), I read Reading in the Brain, which, while dense, is pretty awesomesauce. It’s about exactly what the title says, duh. I read it at a very convenient time, since I’m taking a class titled Literacy and Services to Underserved Populations. One of the things I keep realizing in library school is that, for someone who considers herself rather enlightened and attuned to social justice issues, it really hadn’t occurred to me that there were so many issues surrounding illiteracy, like learning disorders, the obvious social structures and issues that keep children from finishing school, and more. So coupling my natural interest in how social politics perpetrate inequalities with the actual science of how reading works was interesting, because it made me worry for a minute that I would take a stance that teachers don’t know what they’re doing, and being a progressive Democrat who is the daughter and sister of teachers, I DO NOT DO THAT. EVER. Because teachers, generally speaking, super duper know what they’re doing. But I digress. Dahaene described the entire neural process of how the brain, fascinatingly enough, has basically two simultaneous processes, one for recognizing letters and one for recognizing full words, even if that word is actually written incorrectly or includes typos. Fascinating stuff. I can’t really explain it to you as well as he did, and at times he got slightly too technical for me, but given that this was not my first time in the neuroscience book rodeo, I think it was probably due to my overtaxed brain. Continue reading