Everywhere But Home

News and musings from wherever my crazy life takes me. My body may be back in Illinois, but at least for now, my mind is still in Mongolia.


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All Things Mongolian

As a college student more focused on doing well in my studies than what I would do when I finished them, and then a resident of a country in which meeting immediate needs far surpassed the importance of future planning (must wash clothes to wear tomorrow! must go grocery shopping or starve! must get the power turned back on or have nothing to teach in class tomorrow!), networking has always seemed to me to be a supremely abstract concept, the sort of thing dealt with mostly by Professional People wearing suits and meeting by the office water cooler to discuss office politics and resume semantics. Instead, it turns out to be something that really matters to the pre-professional people desperate to find their first full-time jobs so that they can move out of their parents’ houses and feel like real adults.

Since I enjoy my 35 hours/week at the local florist, I would classify myself as anxious rather than desperate–but it is, nonetheless, the latter category with which I identify. Floral design is a fun field in which I get to exercise my oft-neglected creative spirit, but part-time employ at a small business covers neither dental nor vision-related expenses, and as a cavity-prone girl with glasses, I sort of need both. So if any of my readers know of any writing- or language-related job openings in Chicagoland, I would be deeply appreciative of a heads-up!

Weirdly, the upshot of having lived in a little-known country is that I often find myself on the other side of the networking paradigm. Even though I’ve been back in the US for six months, I still find myself getting emails and comments from folks seeking connections in Mongolia. Want advice on when/how to travel the country, how to obtain a bottle of whisky exported only to MGL, or how to get hold of the contacts you need for a research visa? Apparently, I’m the girl to ask! My reach in many of these areas is limited, especially as most of my contacts will return to the US this summer, but I promise you, dear readers, that I will always try my best to connect you to the right people to answer your strange and unforeseen questions. After all, on the grand karmic scale of things, that means that someone out there will eventually help me to find the job I’m seeking, right?

In the meantime, it also means that I find myself CC’d on all things Mongolian that cross my friends’ Facebook feeds. Mongolia has apparently been pretty trendy in the past month, so there have been a lot of these things, and some of them are awfully cool! Because I have been so shamefully bad at posting regularly this month (Mea culpa! Working on your feet for seven hours a day is tiring as all get-out!), please allow me to share a few with you while I work on generating new and interesting stories to tickle your collective fancy. (Holy unintentional euphemisms, Batman!)

FreeCreditScore “Mongolian” Slider

At some point in the last year, Mongolian made an appearance on a freecreditscore.com commercial! I thought it was cool to see this language being recognized in something so high-stakes a a US TV commercial, even if only as a novelty.

I’m afraid I can’t comment on the authenticity of the language, though perhaps some of my readers might be able to. I recognize several of the words, but the accent strikes me as… questionable.

Kazakh Eagle Huntress

BBC recently ran a story about Ashol-Pan, a thirteen-year-old Mongolian Kazakh girl apprenticed in the tradition of eagle hunting. The photos are gorgeous, even if the information is a little skimpy. It looks like I’m going to have to move the story of my own experience with a Kazakh eagle hunter up the queue to rectify this deficit!

A girl and her eagle.

Kazakh Photo Essay

For some basic information, as well as more spectacular photos, check out Christo Geoghegan’s photo essay on western Mongolia’s Kazakh population. Though they make up only a small percentage of the population of Mongolia as a whole, the Kazakh people are the majority in Bayan-Ölgii, the country’s western-most province. I was fortunate enough to visit the province during the Eagle Festival last October, and to stay with several Kazakh families. I have lots of stories to tell about the experience, but my pictures in no way compare to this professional’s! I highly suggest you check out his work.

Just one of many gorgeous photos! Seriously, go check these out.

That’s all for now, folks! Enjoy the pretty pictures while I work on generating some more content while also working and also also job searching.


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And to think I call myself an English major

… well, actually, I don’t. I call myself a linguistics major. But I’m a linguistics major who attempted to double-major in literature until I realize that it would mean taking four lit classes in a single semester during my senior year, at which point I said, “I’d like sleep and sanity, please and thank you,” and minored in rhetoric instead. But I still consider myself an English major. I write like one, as anyone who’s seen my Academic Writing will attest. I text in fully punctuated, grammatically correct sentences. I giggle at terrible grammar jokes. I dither about whether to footnote/endnote inside or outside the punctuation at the end of my sentences. I believe firmly in the importance of the Oxford Comma (an opinion upon which I think Hitler and JFK would, for the sake of their dignity, agree).

And for as long as I can remember, I’ve been The Girl Who Corrects Everyone’s Grammar. I’ve been doing it for so long that I can’t actually think of any specific instances in which I’ve corrected people, though I’m sure my friends and family will be happy to provide them once this is posted. I tell my friends it’s part of my charm, and they agree – whereupon they cheerfully and deliberately bombard me with misuses of there/their/they’re, it’s/its, and your/you’re. Or they refer to things as “addicting” in order to make me twitch.* But I digress.

Living in a non-English speaking country does things to your English. When addressing nonnative speakers, you slow down, over-enunciate, and simplify. First to go, of course, are the complex rhetorical structures you’ve spent your academic life perfecting. You condense your modal verbs, abandon all words longer than three syllables, discard objects and articles with wild abandon. You affix tag questions to your queries, having realized once the phrase is halfway uttered that your listener won’t catch the upward inflection that marks it as a question.** You try to keep your speech as unmangled as possible, for the sake of your higher-level learners, but sometimes the oversimplification in the name of understanding is often necessary.

And then, somehow, it starts leaking into your everyday English. Latinate words elude you, and you find yourself Googling the finer points of grammar as complex constructions grow unfamiliar.  And then one day, the dam gives way altogether, and you answer a request to turn up the stove with a beauty like, “That’s the most hotter it gets.”***

I suppose it was inevitable, then, that I might find my more advanced students asking me to correct their grammar more often.

I should note, I suppose, that most of my classes are not grammatically-focused. I figure that if these students want lessons on exactly how to structure their sentences, they can get it from Mongolian teachers who will actually be able to explain them in ways the students will understand – with my limited Mongolian, I can do this only for the students with the most advanced English. Instead, my focus is typically on getting them to speak. I try to make them use their English aloud, in contexts outside of the grammatical exercises that many seem to think are the only ways in which they can practice and learn.

Especially with my elementary-level learners, my desire to observe the niceties of grammar has long since been superseded by the desire for meaningful communication. I’ve seen a lot of students who spend most of their time in silence, too terrified of making a mistake to open their mouths, and that kind of environment is the last thing I want to foster. If my students want to talk, I tend to let them. Obviously, in the classes in which I actually teach grammar, I’m picky about whatever structure we’ve been focusing on that day. But if they don’t obstruct my understanding, I tend to let a lot of errors go.

I used Ryan Woodward’s Thought of You  in my high school speaking class last month. This beautiful short film made the rounds on Facebook when it first came out on Vimeo a few years ago, but I’m embedding it here anyway. You don’t need to watch it to understand my point, but you should anyway, because it’s just that gorgeous.

After we had watched, I asked my students to tell me about the video. They hit the basics pretty quickly: It’s a love story. There is a man and a woman. They are dancing. They are drawings. The man leaves and the woman cries. Without any prompting from me, they also identified crucial shift at the video’s climax: the woman is white at the beginning and black at the end; the man is the opposite. “Why do you think that is?” I asked them, and the room fell silent, as it does almost every time I ask them, “why?”

And then I heard the voice of the smallest girl, the one who never speaks up unless I specifically call on her and false starts three or four times whenever she tries to answer the question.

“Maybe… she is at beginning not love him, and he is love her. Next, she is fell, and he is not love her.”

It took her a long time to stumble to stumble through this grammatical nightmare of an utterance, but I was impressed with her nonetheless. Grammatically correct or not, the meaning was clear, and she had done an excellent job of explaining her interpretation within the narrow confines of her limited vocabulary.

Moreover, it was a tricky question to start with. The Mongolian education system, from what I’ve seen, puts a great deal of emphasis on listening to the teacher talk, and little to none on critical thinking. Even fairly high-level students, when asked a why question as simple as, “Why do you like basketball?” will often answer with a shrug of the shoulders or, “It’s interesting,” if they answer at all. Literary interpretation is not on the menu in their own tongue, much less a second language. So I certainly wasn’t about to interrupt my student in the midst of her answer, no matter how far it wandered from the tradition constraints of grammar. That she felt compelled to offer an interpretation was victory enough.

Obviously, this is a complicated topic that I’ve only touched upon, and that I’d like to address at length another time and with appropriate references to SLA theory. But at the moment, I’d like to hear from the other TEFL-ers among my readers. To what extent do you focus on grammar in your lessons? When do you start to switch your focus from “get them to talk” to “mold their English into something that adheres to standard grammatical rules”? And just how do you get those terrified beginners to talk?

 

* No, that’s not hyperbole. I really do twitch. And while addicting is a word, it’s not an adjective. Addictive, people. So much more elegant, in addition to being the right part of speech.

** And because it’s the structure most likely to be recognized as a question by speakers of a language that uses sentence-final question particles.

*** Uttered by a friend who shall here remain unnamed. He’s only been here a few months longer than I, so I’m sure it won’t be long before  I start to unleash my own grammatical monstrosities. My house grows glassier by the day.


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So you’re tired of hearing about “rape culture”?

This this this. Thank you, Rant against the Random, for putting all of this together.

Rethink the Rant

TRIGGER WARNING:

The following includes descriptions, photos, and video that may serve as a trigger for victims of sexual violence.
Please be advised. 

Someone asked me today, “What is ‘rape culture’ anyway? I’m tired of hearing about it.”

Yeah, I hear ya. I’m tired of talking about it. But I’m going to keep talking about it because people like you keep asking that question.

Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and though there are dozens of witnesses, no one says, “Stop.”

Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and though there are dozens of witnesses, they can’t get anyone to come forward.

Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and adults are informed of it, but no consequences are doled out because the boys “said nothing happened.”

Rape culture is when a group…

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Failing NaNoWriMo

Today is (or was, as of when I penned this; I had neither power nor Internet yesterday) the last day of my first NaNoWriMo, and I stand here before you (metaphorically, of course) to declare that I have failed at it utterly. I’m not sure how many words I managed because most of them are handwritten, but I don’t think I made it anywhere near the halfway mark.

And you know what? I’m OK with that. I started doing some research on my story topic in mid-October and was eager to write, but by the time November rolled around, my enthusiasm had waned. Lesson learned: when inspiration knocks, grab it and run with it. Don’t wait for arbitrary dates. Also learned: trying to write a story set in Ireland while living in Mongolia is sort of a doomed endeavor. So my attempt at NaNoWriMo was pretty half-hearted to begin with. When I started falling significantly behind on the wordcount within the first few days, I grew quickly disheartened.

Part of the problem was that i wasn’t really feeling the story or my characters, but a bigger part was that I’m just plain out of practice when it comes to writing fiction. I took two creative writing classes in college, but neither required me to write more than a page or two of anything at a time. Creating a scene is easy; creating an entire storyline, not so much.

Moreover, I’ve been reading a lot of Barbara Kingsolver lately, and I’ve found her nonfiction to be both inspiring and incredibly intimidating. For example:

The business of fiction is to probe the tender spots of an imperfect world, which is where I live, write, and read. (Small Wonder, np)

For example:

With a pile of stories on my lap I sat with this question, early on, and tried to divine for myself why it was that I loved a piece of fiction when I did, and the answer came to me quite clearly: I love it for what it tells me about life I love fiction, strangely enough, for how true it is. If it can tell me something I didn’t already know, or maybe suspected but never framed quite that way, or never before had socked me so divinely in the solar plexus, that was a story worth the read. (Small Wonder, np)

For example:

The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words. The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words.

This baffling manifesto is a command that rules my writing life. It believe it means there are truths we all know, but can’t make ourselves feel: Slavery was horrible. Love thy neighbor as thyself, or we’ll all go to hell in a handbasket. These are things that cannot be said in words because they’re too familiar to move us, too big and bald and flat to penetrate our souls. The artist must craft missiles to deliver these truths so unerringly to the right place inside of us we are left panting, with no possibility of doubting they are true. The novelist must do this in story, image, and character. And make the reader believe. (High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never, 233-334)

For example:

The fear of being perceived as idealogues runs so deep in writers of my generation it undoubtedly steers us away from certain subjects without our knowing it. The fear is that if you fall short of perfect exectution, you’ll be called “preachy.”

But falling short of perfection when you’ve plunched in to say what needs to be said–is that so much worse, really, than falling short when you’ve plunged in to say what didn’t need to be said? (High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never, 230)

[apologies about the inability to cite properly – most Kindle books aren’t paginated]

That last one is what really gets me. I am good at saying things well; I’ve been told that for a long time. I know how to take words and shape them to be powerful, or persuasive, or beautiful. But these excerpts struck me to my core; they made me question why I was writing in the first place. Yes, I can say things well – but in the light of such conviction, I’m unsure whether anything I have to say is worth saying.

There’s nothing like that sort of uncertainty and lack of confidence to gum up the works, and my ability to work on my story grew more and more impaired as the month wore on. But my ability to write other things was unaffected. This is the most active my blog has ever been, and I have a lovely long list of future entries waiting to be written. A bout of anger and nostalgia, unintentionally coupled with the new Taylor Swift album, led to the beginnings of a poem that I won’t inflict upon the Internet. It’s bad, and it’s pretty standard post-breakup material, but even so, poetry is not usually the medium I reach for when the need for self-expression calls. For one to pour forth like that is a noteworthy event.

And I’ve written a lot of things that haven’t made it onto this blog (yet) – journal entries, responses to articles friends have posted, and so on. when presented with the choice between working on a story that has yet to come to life and recording and analyzing an event that actually pertains to my day-to-day life, or that I want to remember, I think I know which I’m going to choose. My estimated output for today is probably about 1800 words – they’re just not in my novel.

So maybe I failed at National Novel Writing Month. But if you take out the “Novel” bit, I think I did alright.


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A Poem (Not Mine)

More not-written-by-me filler, I’m afraid. But I’ll post again this weekend, promise!

In the meantime, a poem of which I was recently reminded. Love this one.

A Brief for the Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

– Jack Gilbert


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The best way I can describe it is to use a metaphor that my brother gave me one time. I used to live in the desert, and I gardened in the desert, and the first time he came out to visit me in Tucson, and he saw this beautiful little garden that I was forcing to grow out of the desert. He said, “The way you make a garden in the desert is you point to a spot and you put all your energy into that, and you water it, and you make something grow. Back east where he lived and gardened, the way you make a garden is you point to a place, a scrubby, raggedy, weedy, brambly hillside, and you remove everything else except what you want. And that is exactly the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction. A novel is like a garden in the desert: you choose this spot, and then you water the heck out of it, and you work and you work and you make this simple, single thing; you force this plot where there was nothing and you make it all come out of that barren place. Whereas a nonfiction narrative is, to begin with, this scrambly weedy thing we call our life, or some subject some aspect of life, and then you pull out everything that doesn’t belong. That’s the challenge, and it’s much harder in a way, because you have to pull out so much and just throw it away. The temptation when you’re writing, especially something that’s like a memoir, something about your own life, is to leave things because that’s how they really happened. That’s irrelevant. The fact that it happened is irrelevant. The fact that it’s funny or entertaining is irrelevant. The only reason to leave it in is that it adds to the story.

Barbara Kingsolver

Something for me to keep in mind when blogging.