Friday 5: Great and Small

Image courtesy Alan E

What’s your favorite large, furry animal?

Giraffes and okapis! (Or maybe okapi is both singular and plural?)

My darling okapis hover somewhere between threatened and endangered. Please consider donating to the Okapi Conservation Project.

What’s your favorite large sea creature?

Dolphins are jerks, and they’re not particularly large, but I still love them.

What’s your favorite insect?

Honeybees! Like okapis, they also need help. You can donate to conservation projects or plant bee-friendly native flowers in your garden. If you’re short on cash and garden space, you can join Simbi and support this “Johnny Appleseed for bees” project for free.

What are your favorite names for pets you’ve known?

A childhood friend had a hamster named Zamboni, which is a pretty great pet name, I think! When I was in Northern California a few years ago, my friend’s girlfriend at the time had a dachshund with the very appropriate name Vienna. Best Chemist Friend also has a history of cats with great names: Sterling, Tiger Lily, Feyd, and Bookcase.

Besides unicorns, what are some mythical beasts you wish were real?

I’ve never really desperately wanted unicorns to be real; I can take or leave them. A griffin or hippogriff would make a cool pet, and also double as a form of transportation. Why wait for the subway when you can just fly?

Currently Reading: Ulysses

Ulysses Modern Classics edition cover
Image courtesy Penguin

It’s been my habit for a long, long while—even before I set up shop here on my “professional” site—to have book reviews written and ready to go on my blog on Wednesdays. This generally works out with few interruptions, as I average around 48 books a year. But since I’m juggling five books simultaneously (and two of them 600+ page doorstoppers), that means there’s going to be a bottleneck of reviews until I start finishing them all. Hence a stopgap measure: writing about a book I haven’t finished reading yet.

This model of book blogging also comes with a few benefits: I’m a social reader who likes to talk about what I’m reading, even if it’s a one-sided conversation with the faceless void of the Internet. And frankly, my standard review template is kind of inadequate for such overwhelming tomes, so these “thoughts along the way” can stand in for a final review post. Also, publicly logging my progress with the doorstoppers is a way to hold myself accountable for reading them. (However, psychology suggests that publicly displaying or discussing your goals in this manner has the opposite of the intended effect, so who’s to say?)

Doorstopper #1 is Ulysses, which I’m reading both because I’ve never read it and because another book friend wants to do a Bloomsday 2019 visit to Dublin. (I proposed a buddy read but I think I’m the only buddy actually reading it, but maybe he’s simply reading it on the sly and not mentioning it to me!) At this point I’m 376 pages in, or about four months in to my ten-month plan.

The first time I’d heard anything about Ulysses was when I was maybe 12 or 13 years old, from a slightly-older teenager with whom I might or might not have been slightly enamored. He referred to it as “the worst book ever written,” so that’s the epithet I’ve associated with the book from my childhood, for better or for worse. I wish I remembered anything else about this childhood Internet friend, except that he once sent me a poem he wrote, without using any verbs, about the ampersand. I wonder what you’re up to today, Jay.

Anyway, on to Ulysses.

Current thoughts: Maybe I should have started with Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man instead. But at least it isn’t Finnegans Wake.

I genuinely enjoyed the first two sections, but there is possibly such a thing as too much interiority and too much wordplay and too many references. I wonder how much easier it would be to track if I were an Irish contemporary reading this rather than someone removed by almost 100 years and however many miles. (The years, I suspect, make a bigger difference than the miles.)

At this point I mostly find myself nostalgic for re-reading Mrs Dalloway rather than actually enjoying the book in front of me, which is never a good sign.

I’ve been enjoying Frank Delaney’s Re:Joyce podcast, but my listening lags far behind my reading and so I don’t know if I’ve yet outstripped the available episodes. I appreciate Delaney’s little five-minute lectures on the minutiae I wouldn’t otherwise catch, but despite all his enthusiasm I can’t find the same charm and fascination in the text that he does. I suspect this is how most people feel when I get sidetracked in a conversation and start talking about caves or Korea or grammar.


Friday 5: Repeat

What’s something you are repeatedly asked to prove?

I hate doing freelance taxes every year.

What’s an album you can listen to on endless repeat?

When I was doing evergreen content writing for a hot minute, I put Abbey Road on repeat while I worked. It’s not like I especially like the album; it’s more like there’s nothing on it I hate and it made good background noise. (I think “Golden Slumbers”/”Carry That Weight” are criminally short songs, though.)

What’s a story you’ve told several times?

Oh, any of my “one time in Korea” anecdotes, I’m sure.

What’s something you always order at a certain restaurant?

Best Chemist Friend and I were dedicated patrons of a local Italian restaurant throughout high school and our college years, and I always, always, always ordered the penne vodka. Grown up macaroni and cheese!

In what way do you hope this weekend will be exactly like last?

That tutoring will go well and that I’ll have plenty of time left over to myself to relax.

Unknown Playwrights

An empty old-fashioned theater, with gilded walls and a red velvet curtain.

My knowledge of English playwrights, despite a four-year degree in English writing, is non-existent. Not entirely my fault; too often English literature, at least as it concerns the stage, is basically translations of ancient Greeks, two hundred years of Shakespeare, and then ex nihilo sprang the teeming multitudes of twentieth-century theater. (I seem to recall learning that Aphra Behn wrote for the stage, but I only ever read Oroonoko.) Fellow writer and fellow former teacher Bryan Stubbles is doing me, and all of us, a favor by creating Unknown Playwrights, a blog that highlights and reviews unknown playwrights. (W)Right what it says on the tin. He does a thorough and admirable job of digging up the biographical details as well as links to the works in question for the curious. Definitely of interest to all my fellow literary nerds who missed out on all of this because they weren’t theater or playwrighting majors!

Friday 5: Performance Evaluation

In what way do you maintain a tidy and efficient workstation?

My dad bought this plaque for me when I was in high school and it says it all.

I make a concerted effort to keep my documentation collection lean and only keep things that seem like they might reasonably be necessary. That way, even if things aren’t always 100% organized, I have a good chance of either still knowing exactly where something is or of finding it right way if I don’t.

In what way do you maintain positive relationships with others?

I consider myself extremely easy-going and empathetic. There’s not much I take personally and I’m willing to extend the benefit of the doubt.

What effort do you take to be punctual?

I generally overestimate the time it takes to commute somewhere, and by which I mean, I leave a buffer for things like walking to and from the station, missing a train, etc. But now that we live on a new subway line, and a little further from the station, I have to readjust my default buffer. I’m still working it out, so I’m either five minutes late to things or forty-five minutes early.

What are your strengths and challenges in communicating effectively?

I have the best words.

Just kidding! I consider my words very carefully, though. Even when I’m not working, I tend to abide by the four C’s of editing: concision, clarity, coherence, and correctness in all of my communication. The challenge comes in with the fact that it takes me a long time to craft even the simplest email or message; I overthink things regardless of how important they are. I haven’t tracked how much time I spend compulsively re-reading emails before I hit “send,” but I’m sure it’s a not-insignificant amount of time.

What will be your focus for growth in the coming year?

Shifting into professional, full-time translation and leaving behind copyediting and EFL instruction.

The Internet of Garbage

One of the best decisions I ever made was to subscribe to LitHub. A recent newsletter tipped me off to the fact that The Verge was making The Internet of Garbage available for free, and minutes later it was on my Kindle app.

Author: Sarah Jeong

My GoodReads rating: 4 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 4.16 stars

Language scaling: B2+

Summary: A brief history of contemporary Internet hate and death threat campaigns, as well as suggestions to mitigate them.

Recommended audience: Anyone who uses the Internet but doesn’t know what “doxxing” means

In-depth thoughts: Much of what Jeong reports on here isn’t new to me, but then again I’m a digital native with one eye constantly on the Internet hellscape. Many people aren’t, though, and so when cases of online harassment boil over to the point where traditional media outlets begin reporting on them, there is inevitably something lost in the explanation. The Internet of Garbage is an excellent 101 primer on the subject. And therein is my only criticism: it doesn’t go beyond the 101 level. But since the reason The Verge put out a free interim edition of the book is in anticipation of a forthcoming expanded edition; perhaps that new edition will have a bit more meat to it.

But again, it’s easy for me to say that because I’ve kept apprised of Internet hate campaigns from the beginning. For other people, this is exactly what they need. For EFL readers, the language is crisp and direct, with the most potentially confusing terms helpfully defined.

More, Different Journaling

It kind of breaks my heart that I only found Lynda Barry’s journaling model  after my transition into full-time corporate translation, but nonetheless I’m glad I found it at all. The conceit is simple: you fill your diary with things you did, things you saw, things you overheard, and some doodles. Here’s Barry’s template:

Image courtesy Lynda Barry

As an avid journaler myself (my private online blog has been going since 2003!), this idea of breaking through the cruft of the daily grind to capture moments of presence really appeals to me. To quote directly:

What goes into your diary are things that you noticed when you became present—that is to say when the hamster wheel of thoughts and plans and worries stopped long enough for you to notice where you were and what was going on around you.

It goes without saying that this journaling model makes for an excellent EFL instructional tool as well. It seems that Barry includes drawings because this is an assignment for a comics class she teaches; in other words, it’s an activity that was designed with visual artists in mind. EFL students who aren’t so artistically inclined might prefer a different activity, maybe one like listing three things that they learned that day (the question my mother would ask me and my brother at dinner most days, and the reminder she gives us now and again as adults: “Don’t forget to learn three new things today!”). With younger learners it might also be fun to make it into a senses diary: three things you saw, three things you heard, three things you smelled, three things you touched, and three things you tasted.

Hat tip to The Englishist, one of my favorite teacher blogs to follow, for linking to this activity.

Friday 5: Acromony

Pink magnetic plastic letters on a white background

When were you recently SOL?

My main computer, an HP Pavilion named Regan, has generally aged well and continued to perform well, fan replacement aside. But one issue seems to haunt this model of laptop, and that’s a crack in the left hinge, or in the case near the left hinge, and according to the guy who fixed my fan, there’s nothing to be done except replace the entire case. Between that and the new fan, I’d be halfway to a new computer.

So Regan will just continue to stand open, a desktop replacement rather than an actual portable computer, and I’ll hope that the problem is then a non issue for me until she gives up the ghost!

What was a recent SNAFU?

We moved over the summer, and we happened to move during some track renewal and repair on the Stockholm subway line. Unfortunately, we happened to move from the one unaffected green line to one of the two affected green lines, which added probably twenty to thirty minutes and two train changes to what should have otherwise been straightforward commutes.

From what social gathering were you most recently AWOL?

I missed this week’s Stockholm Writing Group Meetup to attend a lecture on Korean politics instead. This is the first Meetup I’ve missed since I stepped up as co-organizer, so I think I deserve it!

When has someone reminded you to MYOB?

Probably my sambo, just because we spend most of the day together.

What might get in your way this weekend as you TCB?

Take care of business, I presume? And I don’t know what might, really. Weird commutes to tutoring. Our move also entailed that what was once a simple 5-minute subway ride is now a 45-minute odyssey requiring overshooting the destination just to get on the right subway line or a meander-y local bus route to the right subway line. Sigh.

EFL Activities: Battleship

Bird's eye view of a sunken battleship in clear blue water.
Photo by Tom Rumble on Unsplash

It seems a bit silly to post my one and only worthwhile contribution to EFL classroom activities after I’ve officially made the transition into full-time translation work, but here we are!

A thing that hung me up in my initial teaching days and throughout my training was drilling. (My old CELTA lesson plans have “DRILL BABY DRILL” sprinkled throughout, a testament to my natural inclination to go light on this part.) No one wants to bore students or waste their time with something they already know. Isn’t it more fun to get to the open-ended, communicative activities?

Well, sure, but those activities are a lot more fun once you’re confident in the target form or pattern, and building that confidence the raison d’etre of drilling. While I think the fear teachers have of boring students through drilling (no pun intended but I’m proud of myself) are largely overblown, there’s no denying it can get repetitive.

My own solution to this is simple: Battleship.

Battleship sample board (.doc) download.

I’m genuinely surprised I haven’t played more Battleship in my language studies. Out of easily a dozen language instructors I’ve had, only one teacher has ever bothered to use it. Hat tip to Herr Fuelling, then, I guess, for planting the seeds of this idea over half a lifetime ago!

You can adapt Battleship for any number of topics and use it in classes of any size, even one-on-one tutoring sessions. The original version is a great way to practice simple letters and numbers with beginners, while the sample above is what I use to practice regular verb conjugations (in particular, the present simple). With more complicated X- and Y-axis values you can tackle more advanced aspects like irregular verbs, prepositions, and conditional statements.

I find that Battleship is a helpful bridge between simple cloze exercises and totally open-ended student-produced speaking or writing, especially in students who need more work on their productive skills (or who simply need some training wheels to develop their confidence). It’s a little more demanding and creative than a simple worksheet, but by relieving students of the cognitive burden of “making stuff up” it helps them focus on how to use the language correctly. The game itself is also straightforward and easy to grasp; if a student hasn’t ever played Battleship before, they’ll get the hang of it after just a few rounds. There is a natural analogue in Bingo, but Battleship doesn’t require lots of fussy little pieces to bother with: just some printed board sheets and you’re good to go.