Rolling in Russian

Many students with a cosmopolitan bend tend to learn a second language in the course of higher education. There are plenty of great reasons that an American would want to learn a second language, and different motivations might move one toward different tongues. People who want to learn an elegant/trendy language seem to try their hand at French of German. Those who want something immediately applicable tend toward Spanish (a sensible choice). I am no exception to this, and since I have entered a more liberal arts focused school and program, I’ve had a chance to learn. What did I pick? As the title probably gives away, I have spent the last year learning Russian, the only Critical Language offered by my university and certainly the most difficult. My Slavic studying has not been easy, especially at the outset. Or the middle. Or recently as I try to maintain my linguistics over the summer. So, why am I putting so much effort into this? How about I start at the beginning. I have always been at least vaguely interested in Russia. Maybe it was the constant and cartoonish caricatures of Soviets and Russians that have persisted from my parents and grandparents childhoods into my own generation. Maybe it’s the interesting cultural niche that slavic identity fills as part of Europe that also resents the West. I don’t really know the exact root, but I can tell you that Russia was a point of interest when the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology helped me find a better path for my life (that didn’t involve Mines itself). While at Mines I was fortunate enough to have a class for International Security taught by Dr. John Dreyer, who himself has a background in Russian. The final project was an exercise wherein we role-played various international forces relevant to the Syrian crisis, and I lept at the chance to represent Russia. Okay, I wasn’t Putin here, but I had a lot of fun as Dmitri Medvedev and my typical compulsion toward learning threw me into way more information than necessary about the Russian Federation, and its history. So, while I realized the direction I wanted to take my life Russia was present. Being more specific, I realized I want to serve my country in the way my passions as an individual would work best, and right now I believe that will be representing American interests as either a diplomat or in the Intelligence Community. To get there it is extraordinarily advantageous to study abroad; however, I don’t come from a family background that can pay for my schooling, little loan studying in a different country. So, that got me looking straight toward an experience a friend of mine had, the Critical Language Scholarship. While she went to India for a year to study Hindi, a quick browsing of the scholarships available languages and their associated requirements sent me down a different rabbit hole. You guessed it, Russian. This is the part of the story that reveals the ambition in my nature, I took it because it seemed the best strategic choice to get a study abroad opportunity. By no means am I the only person from a working class background with high goals and good grades. So, if I want a shot at a competitive scholarship, I have to beat out a lot of people who are equally qualified. As I said, I was already interested in Russian history, but frankly I could say that about a lot of other countries and cultures; however, the Russian CLS requires at least two years of college study, the most of any language offered (along with Japanese and Chinese). Presumably, people without dedication will have been weeded out by that point (I know some from my own Russian class have done so already). I don’t hold this against anyone, Russian is really hard. They use a completely different alphabet. And grammar. And basically no Americans soak Russians so Preston is hard. Really, learning a new language is hard in general. Some research shows that learning a new language can literally change the physical condition of a child’s brain, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that long study sessions have led to extraordinary headaches like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Here’s the thing though, I’m not just working because I want a career in that direction. This struggle to thrive has led me into a true love of the Russian language. I won’t lie, part of my enjoyment that is the status of intelligence I feel is conveyed to me; I have yet to see someone who is not impressed to know I am learning Russian. Beyond that, there is something satisfying and beautiful about the sounds afforded by the language. Russian is considered an angry language, but it really has an elegance reserved for a trained ear. I like to joke about the fact that you can’t actually write “Jordan” in Russian, which lacks a direct equivalent of “J”, so I have so substitute a “D” noise and a character (Ж) that makes a noise like “Zh” so my name sounds more like Digiorno than Jordan. That’s just fine because that noise is divine. It is often said that we appreciate the things that require a lot of work more than the things easily gained. I think that extends to knowledge as well. If I’m being honest, my abilities with the language are much closer to a schoolchild than Leo Tolstoy, but that’s okay. I think my favorite thing about learning a language is that I cannot hope to be done. My Russian professor (who I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned yet because Prof. Dulyanova is the absolute best) has been learning English since she was much younger than me, and she still slips up on occasion. That’s because even if one is able to speak at a native level, there are always words one doesn’t know and language never stops changing. So, I have undertaken a project one cannon hope to completely finish. But I have learned to enjoy the struggle.

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Take a breath

If I might quote the immortal words of Baymax in Disney’s Big Hero 6, “I am not fast.” To be clear, I am not saying that I am incapable of bursts of speed or consistency, but by nature, I like to take my time.

This has been made especially clear to me as I have been spending the summer with my girlfriend and her family. They are not slow. I don’t mean this in terms of just getting things done, a walk with my girlfriend ended up being less leisurely and more of a workout as our pace took us past people out for a jog. It is not that anyone is hurrying me or trying to get me to speed up, it is just that I have realized that I place much less value on getting things done quickly than either her family or maybe even the population as a whole.

So, let me get to the point, I don’t take much hurry with anything in my life. This isn’t by accident, there have certainly been plenty of points in my life of where I hurry from task to task to be the best worker bee I can, but that just doesn’t contribute to my current understanding of life.

American capitalism and the Protestant work ethic encourage work without complaint as not only a prime virtue but also the only way to avoid ruin and hell. Marx wrote about laborers estrangement from there work, I feel this obsession on work is the average human being estranged from something even more fundamental to our existence, time.

The modern American existence is often criticized at the ends, vapid values, the mindless pursuit of things, etc. but we don’t consider the problems in how it is achieved. I don’t think the way to solve these problems is to criticize the results, it is to change the process that brings this situation about.

It feels wherever I look in the world there are products, services, or ideas on how to be more productive. Because work and a job is assumed to be the only true way to happiness anything that can help get more work done is Good and anything that does not aid in the completion of tasks is Bad. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, work is very important to, well, everything. But is work it’s own inherent value?

Let me differentiate here between work of passion, and work of survival. For the lucky people that truly love their job so much they don’t want to do anything else, cool, keep being productive, but you probably shouldn’t be reading this. Because I don’t think you exist.

That isn’t to say that no one likes their job, I like to imagine we can all reach our dream job, but I don’t think anyone would like to do just one thing because that would be exceptionally boring. No matter how much someone enjoys their work, their is something else they also want to be doing more of.

The best reason to do work during leisure time is to either get more leisure down the road or improve the later leisure time. Most productivity that does not fall into the bounds of normal work could, as Mark Twain would put, can be put off til tomorrow. Maybe it’s bringing home extra work that doesn’t need to be done yet or checking your work email during an enjoyable event of any degree (from a dance recital to some simple TV time alone) but it is all just extra labor to maximize one’s perceived value within a capitalist society. It does not add value to life or experience, it just makes one a better producer/consumer for the market

But that is the affects of productivity worship just on how much time one might have. The problem goes deeper, and actually makes whatever time one is able to allot (whether willingly for my previously mentioned delayed gratification of compulsory from a demanding boss) worse.

If you are me, right now you want to watch the new season of Master of None, if you are my girlfriend you want to read more, or if you are my dad and want to coach softball, but you don’t want to have just one pursuit of work. Everyone has multiple desires, and the task of balancing everything is one of the oldest that mankind faces; because there are only so many hours in the day and most is taken by attaining necessities to satisfy the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the rest is of precious value and we try to get as much out of it as we can by the means allowed to us by our culture: consumption.

 

I just mentioned Master of None and how I haven’t finished it and some are probably surprised I haven’t watched it all yet. I am an avid binge watcher, and finished the first season in just over a day. But I’m taking this slow.

Hurrying through anything enjoyable, entertainment, food, or especially quality time with loved ones will only make the experience worse. In all fairness, I am often just as bad about this as anyone else.

As an avid podcast fanatic I have previously turned the speed of podcasts up to 2x normal so I could hear twice as much in the same amount of time. But I realized that didn’t make the experience any better. As for time with people I care about, hurrying through activities would seem to defeat the purpose of having it at all. So, I take things slow.

Of course, it is good to explore new interests, and we cannot always dedicate large amounts of time to things. It also goes without saying that sometimes haste is a good thing. But the relentless pursuit of “more,” whether it is more possessions or more complete activities is dramatically overvalued

We need to stop thinking of using time with no particular purpose as “wasting time” and start thinking of it as relishing life and living in the moment. Sure, I could eat faster and then be able to read more books, but then I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the taste of things I enjoy. Because there is a hurry, both activities are lessened and my life is worse for it.

In that example, not only am I using an unhealthy ideology focused on things that don’t really matter, I did not allow myself to fully enjoy my time with the things that do. So, let us all commit to enjoying things more. Relaxation and free time are not signs of laziness, they are important to our health and well-being as well as our ability to live, experience and exist to our fullest extent as humans.

When we read, don’t skim the book or even just read it, absorb it. When listening to music don’t drift, analyze. When relaxing, don’t check your email, just find your inner peace. Use the limited time allowed by the clock not to accomplish the most activities or check the most boxes as complete, but to find the most joy and fulfillment. If you enjoy walking fast, as my girlfriend does, great. But if you’d rather just stroll by the river and look at the trees, do that too. Because the rest of the world can spare a few more minutes of your activity to really enjoy things.

Moving up

If it isn’t obvious already, I really, really like Lin Manuel-Miranda’s musical Hamilton. I’m not the only one by a long shot, but I feel I am drawing more inspiration from the Treasury Secretary by the day. In particular, I really like The Hamilton Mixtape’s “Wrote My Way Out” by Nas, Dave East, and Lin. I’m certainly coming from a significantly better situation that a bastard orphan son of a whore and a Scotsman, but I feel the burn of ambition in me every day.

In the Midwest it can be easy to fall in line. Not in an obedience sense, the Libertarian streak will prevent that, but just to fall in the rut of day to daily life. There’s nothing wrong with that life. Many generations and even more people of my family have done that very happily.

My parents are wonderful role models, and I think they are really happy with the life they made for themselves, but I would go absolutely insane under the same circumstances. The only time the family travels is for sports. Once again, they love that, and that’s awesome for them. But there’s a lot of world out there, and I can’t see all of it from the bleachers.

There’s a reason you can’t find a town in South Dakota where we know no one. If you come to the heart of our family, Whitewood, then everyone knows us, it’s hard not to. If I wanted to, I could follow in my dad’s footsteps, go to BHSU for a Business degree, and eventually take over my grandpa’s company, A-1 Construction, Inc. That’s a good life to live. I don’t want it.

Why do I work hard? My generation is more competitive than ever before. We are more likely to take unpaid internships, and we have a lot of serious economic issues in our future. If I want to get further than my parents, I have to work harder.

My career goal is to be a foreign service officer with the State Department. Basically I want to serve my country and travel at the same time. I speak conversational Spanish, and that is obviously a valuable language  right now, but it isn’t as strong of a higher point for me. Hamilton read politics and spoke French, I read politics and learn Russian. I started learning the tongue before we started cozying up with Putin and installed his declared friend as our Secretary of State, but it’s a critical language. And with two years experience, I can get sent to a Russian speaking country for free while also getting an in with my dream job.

Regardless of whether or not that works out, I’ve always wanted to join the Peace Corps, and they can send me to the Ukraine. It might be a warzone by that point, but whatever. I’ll get there. That will be a huge step toward my larger plans. Here’s the thing, none of those are easily obtained. Even if learning Russian was easy, all of those jobs are competitive to get into and even harder to climb the ladder. So I’ll keep on working. And eventually, I’ll write my way out of here.

Only a few bits left

There was a time not so long ago I was obsessed with media. Well, to be specific, I was obsessed with owning media. Boxes of books, movies, video games, CD’s (mostly of bad bands) and all other things I had piled everywhere just taking up space in the off chance I wanted to revisit Underworld: Evolution. Okay I did that a few times (I CAN MAKE BAD CHOICES) but still, the vast majority of my possessions were just things that never saw use.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t hording things, I was happy to loan things to people I and we always were good about spring cleaning. I knew how to give up things, but I was really good at holding onto things that I thought had value. That’s started to change.

I couldn’t tell you the exact time I wanted to own less, but I think it is related to the desire I had to change myself after I left Mines. I was fundamentally very unhappy, and I didn’t know why. So, I basically hit resent and started making major changes to my life.

Step one was when I shaved my head. Say what you will, I looked good. Then I started to get rid of crap. I sold video games initially and then started to donate them because I don’t really value money. I donated books and movies. Not my usual two or three here and there, I got rid of almost all of them. I don’t own a DVD anymore, certainly no CD’s. No more physical video games. The word physical is where things really pick up here.

Who buys DVD’s? No seriously, the only people I know who buy movies are people who either don’t get the idea of streaming or….. okay they’re actually the only ones. Between Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO Now, I can cheaply watch more good shows and movies than I could ever possibly hope to watch. Music? Google Play Music is my personal choice. I’ve been on digital music for a while, but streaming is just frankly easier and more unified in a lot of ways. I still have physical copies of the Bible, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter, but that’s mostly just a bit too much nostalgia to give up. Besides that, Kindle books are cheaper anyway. As for video games, I’ve grown to prefer PC gaming anyway, and what chump buys physical PC games?

Here’s the thing, it feels truly liberating to have less stuff. Obviously I’ve been out of the house for some time now that I’m in college, but I used to just keep a bunch of stuff at home. I wanted nothing to do with that anymore. It’s seriously just stuff I have no intent of using anymore. I literally don’t have a room at my family’s house anymore (it’s not sad like it sounds, there’s just a lot of people in a small space).

Does any of this mean I am consuming any less media? Not at all. I don’t buy as much anymore, but I’m getting as much or more joy from entertainment than I ever have. I just spend less and own less. I really like it. I can get things I like anywhere I happen to be I have what I want. Travel has been my goal for as long as I can remember, and owning less makes that seem a lot easier. I’m hoping to spend a year in Russia soon, and if I were to go today, the computer I’m currently typing on already has everything I would possibly want ready to go. Nothing I’d have to entrust with people while I’m gone or try to stuff together. Just the freedom from being owned by possessions. It’s kind of like Fight Club.

I would not quite call myself a minimalist yet, but I’ve gotten to really enjoy owning less. There’s a great documentary on Netflix that is made by podcasters and bloggers who are hardcore minimalists. They didn’t get me started on getting rid of possessions but they sure have helped me along the way. The main idea that I am trying to embody is only buying things that add value to my life. They have a phrase I’ve been trying to keep in mind. “Love people and use things because the reverse never works.”

Shiny and Chrome

When I got my first summer job for my grandpa’s construction company, I knew what I wanted to buy. I wanted a computer. My mom was always a technophobe, so I only had really limited experience for most of my life, and in spite of (or maybe because of) that I am very much a technophile. So, what was my small budget going to purchase?

Spoilers, my first laptop was a Dell Inspiron 13, and my current computer is a Lenovo Y700. But when I was looking I saw these weird new things called Chromebooks. They were (and still mostly are) cheap laptops that were basically a version of the Chrome browser with a couple cool tricks. In my days of low technological understanding, I wasn’t sure if it would be able to take Google Docs offline like I planned to do for debate, so I didn’t get one. I thought they might have been a flash in the pan, but they are honestly looking more appealing by the day.

Most of the cool things about Chromebooks (insane security, frequent updates, dirt cheap) are still largely there, but so are the limits. It’s still mostly just a browser. That’s changing. As of last year, Google started to make the Google Play store available on certain models of Chromebook, and recently announced that all new Chromebooks in 2017. What’s more, they announced a set of new computers from Samsung called the Chromebook Plus and Chromebook Pro. They’re both plenty powerful, but they are made from the start with the intent of having Android apps available. So, any fears I once held about enough features are largely absolved.

The most common work related programs are word processors. Originally, Google Drive was available to this end, and even as I write this on a Windows 10 computer I still prefer to use Google services for pretty much everything. But the reason I like platforms like Windows and Android is they are open, and I like having the choice to do with my things as I will. So more options for productivity is never bad, and Word for Android is actually a solid choice.

Here’s the thing, Word Online has been available in the Chrome browser for some time now, but that isn’t full Word, and it isn’t available offline. Those are conditions that most people can live with, but Word for Android can go offline. Still it isn’t full Word. Here’s the thing, I don’t think that is actually that big of a problem for 95% of people. Most of us don’t do anything but type and maybe mess around with the font a little. The features that Android Word lacks compared to Windows and Mac are edge cases at most.

Think about it, how much do you really do on you need your computer to do. If you’re a video editor, engineer, or PC Gamer, yeah, you need more muscle and specialized programs than Chromebooks can provide in the near future. Android games are obviously a thing, with some lighter spin-offs of classics like Civilization Revolution 2 or the full multi-platform Hearthstone (the greatest F2P game available), and there are some very basic video and photo editing apps available, but for those really dedicated, we still don’t have enough for everyone.

But what about the people who spend most of their time on social networks, shopping, streaming shows, or writing? I honestly think that is the majority of what most people do. That would certainly explain the popularity of smartphones and tablets, and think about the great things you get in exchange. The hardware is lighter, so it is one, well, lighter. Chromebooks, even those with larger screens, are thin, light and easy to carry around. Even more, the lower specs can provide for dramatically better battery life. For as much as I like my laptop, having a core i7 and a discrete graphics card can really drain a battery, even with lighter work. So, will my next computer be a Chromebook? Eh.

Getting an OS closer to Android that takes less space and more battery life are almost exclusively advantages for me, and most of what I do on a computer would be done as well or even better on a Chromebook. As for the rest, well I’m a nerd who likes PC gaming. I like Hearthstone plenty, but I’d miss Stardew Valley, Diablo, Skyrim, and any number of other games I already enjoy, and am looking forward to. The games are what will hold me back at this point, but I don’t know for how long, and if you don’t need a high end computer, why are you spending the money? You can get a Chromed out OS for pretty cheap.

Dating myself

Want to know something that kind of sucks? Long distance relationships. Of course I love my girlfriend, but on days like Valentine’s it can be rough. I have a Valentine, and she is someone I really, really care about. She is doing amazing things and the pride I feel in her is so overwhelming I sometimes feel like it all has to be a dream. How does a scrub like me get someone so incredible? So I feel ungrateful to complain, but it can be agonizing to have her hand a thousand miles away when I am walking around campus seeing couples hold hands. Even just that little bit of human contact sounds divine.

In the absence of my cuddle buddy, I am learning how to take better care of myself. I mean, to be fair, I am not very good at the whole self care thing. I’m not necessarily self destructive, I’d never actively try to hurt myself. It’s more that I push myself without regard for my well-being. I know I have limits, and I mostly know where they are. It’s just that I ignore them. With this intent to treat myself better, and my Valentine closer to Trudeau than myself, I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner. Alone.

I went to Cafe Brule and had a wonderful meal, but then again most meals are wonderful on their own. While I do like eating alone, I’ve always felt a bit sheepish about going to a restaurant on my own. Of course this isn’t any major social issue, but people do give me a bit of sideways glances. I had to wait a while because the wait staff assumed I was either expecting someone or else was stood up. Not so, the only thing I was waiting on was my food. If I’m going to tell the truth, it was one of the nicest meals I’ve ever had.

Not because it was overly fancy, just some nice comfort food for my belly, I just was able to sit and enjoy internal dialogue with myself. Depending on who you ask talking to yourself is either a sign of brilliance or insanity, but I chose to ask myself, so I got the chance to learn about myself better.

I’m still digesting and the more time I spend learning about myself the more I realize I still need a lot more time. But I think I liked that guy, and I’m eating with him again tonight.

Look like a man

Anyone who’s seen me in the last few years knows I like to dress well. It’s been years since I didn’t own a suit, and I live in sweater vests. I own a drawer full of vests, and I have grown very fond of cardigans recently. The thing with cardigans is they require something to be worn below, and I think a plain color t-shirt is boring. So instead I wear flowery shirts and rock a Hawaiian print Cubs cap.

I didn’t used to like flowers or paisley on my clothes because I thought they were girly. As I grew to realize how stupid gendered terms like that were, I never bothered to examine my clothes. Now that I have realized the error of this logic, I am examining what I think of clothing. I have realized the problem I have. Men’s clothing is so arbitrarily restrictive.

In high school a gay friend of mine pointed out to me how boring men’s clothing is, and I think I’ve come to agree with him. Don’t get me wrong, I love both my suits and my sweater vests, but I really like to wear a fun dress shirt with them. You have no idea how difficult this can be just to get some basics.

To be fair, I can have trouble find clothes my size period, but patterns are hard to find in general. You can get some subtle stripes and a few polka dots, but nothing striking. Of course the majority of these clothes are made for business and formal wear, and that’s fine. But it is a serious hunt for any sort of style. So, what about clothes not made for men?

To be clear, I mean style as in a subjective preference for appearance. I don’t care much for fashion, and I don’t think I ever will. But I know how I want to present myself to the world. I think of myself as a fairly businesslike man who likes color and patterns. Those are really hard to find. Clothing can be a small way of expressing our stances and thoughts to the world.

For instance, my recent adventures at the Women’s March in Sioux Falls. I wore a pink bowtie because I didn’t think it seemed right for me to wear a pink hat, but I could still show support. I really don’t have much expressive clothing, but I promise that is not for lack of effort. It is partially because of colorblindness, but that is besides the point. There just is not much available to me in general.

My girlfriend wears my sweaters, and I know plenty of women who feel comfortable shopping in the men’s section and that is great. I just really wish it could go the other way. In all honesty, I love the idea of wearing dresses and skirts. I have no doubt that a good amount of people read that and subconsciously questioned my sexuality and gender identity, and to the best of my knowledge I am indeed a straight man. They just look comfy. And there is a lot of fun things made with them.

Now, I know that might sound out there, the idea that a man would be anything but a clean cut and traditional business man is odd, but hear me out. There was a time where women wearing pants would have been considered extreme, and men’s fashion is heading toward lace collars and other traditionally feminine clothing tropes. I’m no fashion expert, but this excites me.

I’ll never be a trend setter, and not all female clothing appeals to me, I’ll still probably have sweater vests and khakis as a staple. Oh, and I live in the conservative and slow to catch on state of South Dakota at the moment. It’s a wonderful state that I truly love, but I feel like it’s safe to say we’re not known for our hough couture. But all things change with time, and I just want everyone to think about it. Because I would look great in a skirt.