Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Czech minus-Czech

Some of my current frustrations.

My whole life changed last July when I went to the Czech Republic. I suddenly realized just how little I know. It basically opened my eyes to a whole completely different set of possibilities. It drastically influenced my goals. I wouldn't say they changed completely; it's more like they took some kind of hyper-evolution pills.

Anyway, here I am with my evolved goals. I'm sure they will continue to change. But I feel like I'm in a different position than I was seven, eight years ago, when I gave up so many of my intellectual dreams in order to pursue the “ultimate” dream of motherhood. This path has been very fulfilling and demanding, yet draining at the same time. It's a giant, complex mix of very contradictory feelings and beliefs. It's probably why I crave learning about my ancestors so much: it's like I'm in the middle of a big, fat identity crisis. So knowing who they were is comforting, because it can influence how I know myself.

But whatever the reason, or back story, the fact is, here I am with this lonely goal of learning Czech. I have some great collaborators. I find real joy in learning.

But also real pain.

It's so very, very painful to not be able to use language to say the things I want to say and in the way I want to say them. I have no wit or subtlety. These are really important to me!!!!!!!

It's very painful to not have a real life support system with tangible friends in my time zone. I really like people. The people around me care about Czech as much (or really, as little) as they care about a baboon’s backside. Discussing language learning either bores them to tears or sets me on some great pedestal, which is not useful, since the goal is connection.

It's painful to be stuck at a level between boring drills and constantly putting my foot in my mouth as I try to delicately express interesting ideas. What I'm really saying, what you should read between the lines, is I said some embarrassing things in my speaking appointments today that I wish I could take back. Embarrassing not in the, “haha, she said some false cognate that is really sexually embarrassing.” But rather, embarrassing like, “Why would you ever talk about being afraid of your ob/gyn?!”

Friends, maybe it's because I've been stuck in Baby Land for 4, 5, 6, now 7 years. It's really hard to parse what is okay to talk about from what is not. I'm actually a really big prude in real life. You will never see me wear certain things - even writing WHAT specific things is too much for me. My good girl Mormon sisters in law all “rated” me as the most prudish of all of them, more prudish than even my mother in law - and I took a funny kind of pride in this.

Still, haven't I earned the right to discuss the reality of my world? Which literally has been birth after birth after birth after birth?!

No, it's not that simple. My Czech is at such a horribly superficial level still, that I have no business wandering around in subjects that are sensitive. I'll just end up a giant elephant in a room full of glass trinkets, breaking everything.

Maybe there's some kind of secret anxiety locked away somewhere in me, that has to prove to the world that it is true when it tells me nobody really likes you or understands you. I thought I left all those feelings behind in middle school...

Or maybe I'm really fond of pushing the limits of what is acceptable? Maybe it's secretly really pleasurable to watch (or think about) people squirming. Maybe it's the same part of me that really likes to flirt. But flirt is totally the wrong word/idea. I've noticed that every Czech person I know does this back-and-forth witty exchange, and it's totally got nothing to do with any kind of romantic intent. I even see it in the translated Czech texts I've read. It's like, “there is an entire culture of rapid-fire, ping-pong, one-upping exchanges that I have always, always, always loved?! How can strangers so fully understand this specific part of me?!”

I have to learn Czech so that I can be myself in Czech. Yet this part of me is apparently already “Czech” minus-Czech.

1 comment:

  1. Danny: "Kate, this isn't a Czech language problem, it's a Kate problem! OBVIOUSLY it is going to be really awkward if you talk about anything related to your ob/gyn with a guy - Czech, American, or whatever! There isn't an un-awkward way to talk about that!"

    Me: "Okay...but ALSO obviously this is a HUGE part of my recent life, and so there SHOULD be a way for me to talk about it...I just can't in Czech because I'm as subtle as a sledgehammer..."