Aprendo Español

Though things have been quiet around Foldedspace, they haven’t been quiet in Real Life. As always, I spend most of my time writing about money. I’m also exercising 2-1/2 hours a day, five days a week. I’m absorbing enormous (digital) piles of information about money and writing and travel. I’m meeting friends and colleagues for lunch and dinner. I’m doing my best to not let the yard turn completely feral. Kris and I are hanging out with friends. And, yes, I’m learning Spanish.

For years now, I’ve said that I want to learn Spanish “some day”. But that day never seemed to come. I’ve always found reasons to put it off.

Part of the problem is that learning a new language is slow going. Plus, it’s scary. I feel embarrassed stumbling my way through verb conjugations and incorrect nouns. I hate when the words don’t spring immediately to mind. Besides, there’s a huge time commitment if you ever really want to become proficient.

Background: I studied German for two years in high school. During my first semester in college, I studied Spanish, but then (for reasons I forget) I went back for three more semesters of German. Since then, I’ve tried to teach myself Latin (hey, I should try that again!), and have dabbled in French and Italian. In other words: I’m fluent in English and know a smattering of words in other languages.

Earlier this month, I met Benny Lewis, the Irish polyglot who writes about language learning at Fluent in 3 Months. I told Benny I wanted to learn Spanish and asked if he had any suggestions.

“The best thing you can do — if you can afford it — is to hire a private tutor,” he told me. “Meet with the tutor as often as you can.” (Later, Benny spent an hour with me on Skype. We talked about his current trip to Turkey, and he gave me travel tips, especially for Latin America. Benny rocks!)

Well, I can afford to hire a private language tutor, and so that’s what I’ve done. For the past two weeks, I’ve been meeting with a Peruvian woman named Aly. We spend 4-1/2 hours a week together, and she assigns stacks of Spanish homework. It’s almost overwhelming at times — but I love it.

I feel like I’m catching on fairly quickly (and Aly seems to think so too), but I’m also frustrated because I wish I lived in a world populated by s-l-o-w-talking Spanish speakers. I could learn Spanish more easily if everyone around me would just speak it!

This is actually one of Benny’s top tips. In addition to hiring a tutor, he recommends immersing yourself in the language you want to learn. He wants to learn Turkish right now, so he’s in Turkey. If I want to learn Spanish, he thinks I need to go somewhere that Spanish is the primary language. I need to be forced to learn it.

Meanwhile, Stephanie (the Travel Chica), Courtney Baker, and Shannon O’Donnell have all suggested I try to find a language school in Antigua, Guatemala or Quito, Ecuador. From my initial research, it looks like I could sign up for a week at a time (for about $25/day) and get one-on-one personalized training. Benny says a language school isn’t necessary, that I’ll simply absorb the language through daily experience. He says I should head to Medillin, Colombia. “Colombia has the easiest Spanish in the world to understand,” Benny told me.

Benny may be right, but I know how my mind works. One-on-one lessons are going to be a better bet. Besides, if I decide I don’t like the language school, I can always shift my focus to learning from daily interactions.

In any event, I’m excited to have a focus for my first solo trip. Next week, I hope to pick my August destination. (Ecuador holds some charm because it’s a jumping-off point for the Galapagos Islands.) In the meantime, I’ll continue working with Aly three days a week.

I feel like the days ahead hum and glow with promise.

World Domination Plummet

A couple of weeks ago, Kris and I took the plunge: After years of talking about it, we went skydiving. In 2007, when I built my list of 101 things I wanted to accomplish in 1001 days, skydiving was one of my adventure goals. It took me a bit longer than 1001 days to get to it, but it was worth the wait.

I splurged to get video from the jump:

Note: I think the music for the video is hilarious. I opted for AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” because that’s the mood I was in at the time. But the Metallica is nothing I’d ever choose.

If you look carefully, midway through the video, you can see me saying, “Look, Jeff, I can see your house” (or something like that). It was fun to be able to look down and spot where my brother lives.

Now that I’ve jumped once, I’m willing to jump again. But I think I’m going to save my jumps for special places. I recently met someone, for instance, who went skydiving over Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. That sounds frickin’ awesome. So, I’ll do this again in the future — but only in amazing places. (Sorry, Jeff — Molalla isn’t that amazing.)

A New You

Nearly seven years ago, I wrote a longish post at Foldedspace lamenting that I wasn’t the man I want to be. Here’s the advice I gave myself in 2004:

Happiness comes from within. If you’re not happy with the man you are, then be the man you want to be. If the man you want to be writes when he gets home from work, then write when you get home from work. If the man you want to be is fit, then be fit. If the man you want to be is not a smart-ass, then don’t be a smart-ass. If the man you want to be doesn’t watch TV, then do not watch TV. Read. Listen to classical music. Cook. Keep the house clean. Form deeper relationships with your friends. Be the man you want to be.

I’ve undergone a massive transformation since writing those words. Seven years ago, I suffered from depression. I had neither goals nor direction. I worked at a job I hated. I was fat. I was deep in debt. My life seemed pointless.

Today, things are different. I haven’t followed my own advice to the letter — I still crave deep connections with friends and haven’t done enough to make that happen — but I’ve followed much of it.

I actually feel younger at age 42 than I did at age 35. I’m certainly fitter and healthier. I’m in better financial shape. I have a sense of purpose. Best of all, I’ve learned the power of being true to myself and others. It benefits no one to put on a false face and pretend to be someone I’m not. I used to make decisions based on what other people would think, not based on what I wanted. Today, I do my best to be friendly and nice, but ultimately what matters most is that I make decisions that reflect my authentic self.

Note: I can’t believe I just wrote “authentic self”. I’ve always hated that sort of New Age claptrap. But the things is, I’m learning that being true to my authentic self is the key to happiness.

I’ve spent the past seven years on a relentless quest for self improvement. Now here we are in 2011, and I like who I’ve become. But the trouble is that this New J.D. is living a life designed by the Old J.D. I have to tell you: I’m not a fan. It’s like I’ve been living in the Matrix, or like I’ve been chained inside Plato’s cave. Now that I’m free, I want a different lifestyle.

What do I mean?

Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, I want to travel. (Several times a day, I think of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life: “I’m shaking the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world!”) I want to meet new people and see how they live. I want to see natural wonders — and man-made wonders, too. I want to try new food. I want jump out of airplanes and swim with the sharks, trek over mountains and get lost in the jungle. (But not too lost.) I want to taste the world.

Note: One problem I have is that there’s simply too much I want to see and do. For example, I’ve carved out three periods for travel later this year, but I can’t decide where to go. I want to see everything! How can I possibly choose?

There’s no way to know what I’ll truly enjoy until I get out there and try things. The issue isn’t so much what I’m going to do. There are many options, and I’m willing to experiment until I find something that works for me. The issue is how do I make enormous life changes without severing past ties completely. Is it even possible? I don’t know.

Take our house, for instance. When we bought it in 2004, it was my dream house. That’s not true anymore. Now I feel like it’s burden. It’s too much space for two people. The yard requires constant maintenance. I don’t like the location. And so on. But Kris loves the place. It’s still her dream house. Is it fair for me to ask for change when she’s happy where she is?

It’s going to take a while to figure out this stuff. I’m pleased with who I am but not where I am. I guess that’s one part of the process of change, right? My life isn’t just good — it’s amazing. And I plan to make it more amazing. But the adjustments are going to take some time.

xkcd is awesome
xkcd, nailing the way I feel…