Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Working in a cafe & speaking a foreign language

Wanna Be PhD recently posted and Academic Coach commented about doing work in cafes and about speaking/writing in a foreign language.

There's a lot there. I spent some time before my time overseas, working on the dissertation in a Peaberry's Coffee shop with wireless internet. It was nice, except... *SIGH* I always feel inundated with noise. It's not just cafes. Just about everywhere in public. Frankly, I pity all the people I see wandering this earth with little white wires constantly dangling from their ears. I wonder if they ever listen to the sound of water trickling in a fountain or stream, if they ever hear the chirp of birds, or the rustling of dessicated grass in winter. Do they hear the sound of the breeze brushing their pinnae? Are they even aware of the sounds of plumbing pipes, and streetlights, and refrigerators, and car engines? I wonder, and it saddens me.

No, I'm not some troglodytic anti-musical ghoul. It's just, I have more respect for the art of sound than to persistently background it as wallpaper. Music is something that should be listened to, attended, caressed by the ears, massaged by the mind, and enjoyed. If we can't do that with it, then it's not really worthy of our time, nor we of it.

So, I can't work too well with other people's noise. Yeah, sure, I do sometimes play music in the background. But it's normally something I know very well, which I choose for it's ability to strike the right mood in me for the type of work I must do. I guess that's the attraction to having an iPod or some such device. One gets to chose their own poison. But, wouldn't it be nice, every now and then, to leave off hearing, and just listen? Is it too much to ask that once in a while, A Quiet Day is
declared, so no restaurant or cafe or store can invade us with their noise?

So much for the first part. As for speaking and writing in a foreign tongue. I have the utmost admiration and respect for those who choose to study in a non-native language. I have studied, what 7 languages now. But I feel the constant pull back to my own tongue, feeling that I'm just not so articulate in the others. I love to speak them, and to listen to them. But I labor over writing in them, and feel I don't fully understand a text, until I can translate it.

During my first extended trip overseas, I wrote this poem. I had been abroad for about two months at the time, living in a small village, where I was teaching English. The only English-speakers were my students.


Oh, had I eyes to see,
see all,
and ears to hear,
hear all,
a heart to feel,
all, all --
and yet -- and yet
no tongue to speak,
Were I as an exile,
forced beyond my will
into silence --
A silence from which
perhaps, there is only hope;
for nothing long endures such silence --
Or, if it does,
it is like the blind fish
who dwell in the waters of a cave,
eyes still there, but no use to them:
appendages of futility.
Here, is my tongue like such an appendage --
groping in blindness for the words to express
all that lies silent in my soul.

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