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Learning English Again for the First Time

Learning English Again for the First Time

I love my language, and I get a kick out of thinking, toying with, and explaining the little quirks and nuances about English most of us don’t usually bother thinking about. I don’t believe offical recognition of English as an official language is an idea which is entirely without merit, either. But one of the things that drives me crazy about the people who want to promote that latter viewpoint is that they are frequently barely capable of properly speaking English themselves. I don’t just mean throwing a few emoticons into their regular text messages, either; we all do that. I mean that in regular, ordinary speaking and writing, they keep making juvenile mistakes which aren’t exactly major, but still enough to make me question their intelligence.

Well, guess what! In a shocking twist of fate and fortune that could only ever happen to me, upon transferring to my old college, too long had passed since the last time I had taken a proper English course, and so it was time for me to be a good student again and force myself through a whole new English class. And for a person who has been writing semi-professionally for 15 years, knows the language extremely well, and constantly complains that most people complaining about how English isn’t our national language suck at speaking it themselves, I’m rather clueless in knowing exactly what the hell I’m doing in a lot of the problems I’m given in that class. I’m not having some overwhelming amount of trouble, mind you; what’s going on is that when it comes to knowing what’s what in the English language, I’m not quite as smart as I thought I was.

English literature courses rely on cranial flexation in order to understand the theoretical and abstract from any given piece of literature. This is usually music to my ears; the theoretical and abstract are things my own brain gets along with just fine, better than a lot of the course material I’m required to study, in fact. I’ve written interpretations of a lot of movies, TV shows, and literature. You’d think finding and deciphering a theme would be second nature to me by now. As an author who is increasingly writing short stories, though, I am also well aware of the fact that when a writer sets out to write a piece of literature, we frequently write it with just the story idea in mind. Many authors will write up a guideline to help themselves flesh it out, but I feel like that would restrict me on the atmospheric level – I’m only trying it just now, and it doesn’t seem to be going well.

In other words, we have stories to tell. We don’t often write anything up with any idea of what themes can be culled from it; as long as the story itself gets told, I doubt most authors really care how their work is interpreted, and I’m sure most would read an interpretive essay with interest on the reader’s conclusions and how they came to those conclusions. The story I’m currently writing is about a luckless romantic trying to impress a girl he likes, and ending up in a fistfight with Mike Ditka in the process. Read that sentence again, and answer this quiz question: Do you think, with a story like that, I’m really giving a shit about themes or interpretations? I’m not. I’m just going with the flow of the situation, and hoping it turns out halfway decent.

This is kind of my specialty when I try to write fiction. Invent a character, invent an unlikely situation, and figure out how the character would adapt to the situation. I’m also working on a mystery story revolving around a hitman who also acts as a sort of detective for people who live under the law, but that one isn’t going quite as well. In the past, I’ve written works about a rock musician who had an out-of-body experience (that one was inspired by the story of Motley Crue member Nikki Sixx, which he talked about in the band’s autobiography); a guy who found a hidden treasure that made him rich beyond his wildest dreams and exactly what happened after he found all that money; a conversation between God (yeah, that God) and a suicide bomber, and others. I also wish I could write them faster, and that I could figure out where to send them without so much difficulty.

Themes were never the concern with any of them. Sure, I’ve tried to write a few of them within some sort of context, but context is something broader than theme, at least once the rules you’ve established for your fictional world are set up.

In layman’s terms, I think of the unusual situation, and set out to write a story about (mostly) ordinary, regular people in those situations. I tried writing a couple which vaulted off that form of literature – one was a science fiction story that worked nicely, the other is that mystery I mentioned about (I wish I knew how to be good at writing mysteries) – but mostly, that situational stuff is probably my niche.

Besides that, I’ve also got to worry about the subjects of sentences; the verbs of sentences; predicates; sentence fragments; and all those other little goodies that drove us crazy in elementary school which no professional author has ever used. Learning these has given rise to the personal realization that I’ve forgotten everything I’ve ever known about them.

To think that, during the past two semesters, I was learning calculus and needed my formal understanding of basic algebra to return to me. What should happen in that instance but my old algebra lessons actually coming back to me, and not being so cluttered or confusing that time. In fact, I was remembering my algebra – a subject I took twice in high school and four times in college – perfectly, and without any of the confusion or clutter that made it such a pain to learn. My second semester, when I took a class in human movement which involved physics, recalling my geometry took a little bit longer, but I still managed to do it when one of my professors was giving me help. Now here I am, fully taking a subject I studied and passed, and having trouble recalling rudimentary aspects of it, even though it’s something I’ve been doing now for a very long time and excelling at. I’m not very fond of my brain right now.

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About Nicholas Croston

I like to think. A lot. I like to question, challenge, and totally shock and unnerve people. I am a contrarian - whatever you stand for, I'm against.

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