Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bird hunting in the fog

Went bird hunting this morning. Apparently dense fog isn't an ideal condition for bird hunting. I was so bored though that I figured I'd give it a try.

I usually do well with a large cognitive surplus, but the last few days have been trying even for me. It was easier over Christmas to not think about the fact that I'm not in school or working. The fact is though, for the last couple months I've really just been sitting around waiting for a letter saying that I advanced to the next level of the Foreign Service officer selection process.

Well, I haven't just been sitting around. I've been continuing to study Arabic. About a month ago I decided to go a completely different route than the one I've been taking off and on for the last several years and learn the alphabet first. Few of the programs I'd owned or borrowed ever tried to teach that––ostensibly because it's overwhelming. But then found this Islamist website that said learning to read Arabic is the key to speaking it.

So I made 28 flash cards and memorized the alphabet, which was much easier than I thought it would be. Not as easy was learning were the letter's positional forms. Arabic is only written in cursive, so each letter has between two and four completely different looks depending on where it is in the word. Then there's the fact that they don't really write out vowels except for A and then only if it's at the beginning or end of a word.

Even though I'm still only at the point of being able to sound words out like the dyslexic seven-year old that I once was, I can say it's been hugely worth it. There are a number of nuances in the spoken word that seem completely arbitrary without knowing the written word that make sense if you do know it. It also helps with pronunciation, as I've found the Arabic letters are often actually clearer than their official English transliterations.

So while I'm still not anywhere near being even basically competent with it, I feel like I'm making more progress than I ever have.

I've also been reading more history and current events than I have in a long time, which––if you know me––is probably saying something.

And I know that within the next three weeks, I will be getting that letter from the State Department. The problem is, I don't know that it will say what I hope it will. I haven't really thought about what I'll do if it says my personal narratives didn't pass the qualification evaluation panel. I know I should think about it, but I haven't really wanted to. At the same time, there's at least a chance that letter will say what I hope it will. And knowing that, it's hard to really think about doing anything else long term. I guess I just don't deal well with a lack of certainty.

If nothing else, this whole thing has given me something to focus on, and a reason to try to improve myself in some ways that I otherwise would have been less likely to.

But then, I can only force myself to memorize conjugations of Arabic past tense vowels for so long. And after that, I can only read foreign affairs blogs for so long. So yesterday I played Civilization V all day––which is kind of history and diplomacy––if I really lie to myself hard. But even that, I can only do for so long.

So this morning I went bird hunting in the fog. Did I mention dense fog isn't an ideal condition for bird hunting?


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