An Unexpected Hiatus

Image Source: Colorify app. Color and effects: Mj Daggerhart.

Well, twists of fate being what they are, and life being what it is, I need to put the Bad Cat Ink blog and upcoming business plans on an indefinite hiatus. No matter how much I move my schedule around, I cannot find the time to maintain this blog regularly right now. I am simply trying to do too much, and deadlines for other things are closing in. So, for now, this website will enter vacation mode.

This will enable me to put more time into finishing book 7 of the Elf Gate Series. It is important than I finish what I started, so the book takes priority over the blog.

Then some “life admin” deadlines and priorities need my attention. So, I’m not sure when I will return, but when I do, hopefully I will have some good news about the book or a few other endeavors I’ve been working on.

Thank you for your patience. Be well.

Melody

Portal Stories

Visitors by Mj Daggerhart, copyright 2019

One night many years ago, I had a dream that I was standing on a beach that had sapphire-blue sand. The ocean looked like lemonade, but then blended into a pink lemonade colour as it met the pink-and-orange sky. I don’t know if it was sunrise or sunset … or if that was its normal colour throughout the day … or night. What was this place? I woke up before I could find out anything more.

I suspect that it was a visual impression from one of my favourite sci-fi short stories by Arthur C. Clark called “The Star.” A beach with blue sand is mentioned in the text. I remember the first time I read that story, I couldn’t help but see myself as a citizen of the world that the explorers were going to investigate. And I wondered what my thoughts and feelings would be if I were in that situation. I can’t say much without spoiling the story, but it is with bittersweet poignancy that I remember my first impressions of that story in light of the physical state of our world today. Other than that, however, the dream had no connections to anything else that stands out to me. I have no idea where such vivid imagery came from.

Years later while writing The Dragonling, I created a scene where Trizryn was teaching Aija how to use a gate to visit another world. And that dream came to mind. So, the description in the book, and in the painting above were both inspired by it. The series itself started as a sci-fi series in which black holes were portals to other universes and alternate realities. Later, I realized fantasy was more suited to my imagination and style, so I changed the portals to ancient stone henges. But the henges themselves were only Doors into the Veil (a.k.a the mystical multiverse). Portals to other realms could be anywhere, particularly where there are whirlpools, wild mists, and sidhes. But this particular series is about what happens when the portals between realms break down and worlds start to bleed into one another. There’s more to it than that, of course. But the main plot of the 7-book series challenges the characters to do something about the gates before displacement destroys both of their worlds.

What are portal stories?

Portal stories are stories in which some kind of mirror, tunnel, door, pit, rabbit hole, gate, pond, or magical contraption allows an ordinary person from one world to explore another that is new to them, so that the reader sees it with just as much wonder, excitement, curiosity, and fear as the person who falls into this “impossible” other reality. Some popular examples of portal stories include Alice in Wonderland, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Neverending Story, Howl’s Moving Castle, The Wizard of Oz, and so many more! One of my favourite children’s portal stories was Earth Times Two, a book about a parallel or alternate reality. I would even consider Time Machine a portal story because though it takes place in the same world, it goes forward in time to the point where future Earth is no longer recognizable to the characters of the time period in the story. The same would, therefore, be true of stories that contain portals into the past like Journey to the Center of the Earth. And then you have stories like Back to the Future that really play with this concept of time travel creating unfamiliar worlds for out-of-time characters to explore.

Folklore is full of portal stories, as is mythology. Whether it’s gods existing in a realm above or below the world of mortal men, or fairies and elves living in invisible worlds that mesh with this one metaphysically, new lands with different beings that bend our rules of logic and physics have intrigued people ever since humanity started telling stories.

What is the portal story’s significance?

We probably enjoy these stories for the same reasons we love to travel. People love seeing new places they’ve never been to before, tasting new foods, touring iconic places they’ve only seen in pictures, and experiencing new cultures, customs, and languages. There’s something revitalizing about going to new and different places and breaking out of our routines to see what life is like somewhere else. Fantasy portals give us all of that and more because there is no limit to the imagination.

And let’s not ignore the significance of what those changes can mean to people who travel or move a lot, and to characters who visit other dimensions in the multiverse. Doors, windows, and mirrors in particular are symbolic of endings and beginnings. When you travel, move, and explore new worlds, you learn new things that can change your perception of reality. You may decide you prefer a new custom to an old one and adopt a new way of living. Your personality may go through changes after adapting to a new culture or lifestyle. You may need courage to do things you’ve never done before. You may learn multiple ways of communicating. But mostly you tend to learn empathy for people who are different from yourself. You learn that maybe you’re not so different after all.

When Aija falls through the portal into the fae realms with Trizryn, she starts off scared, unable to defend herself, and uncertain about her future. For her, this portal represents a coming of age challenge in which she must find the strength and courage to go from knowing nothing about this world that is completely new to her, to eventually taking the lead. But what do you think might be the significance of many worlds colliding because the portals could not keep adjoining worlds apart?

I think a similar situation faces humanity in reality right now. The more that the world of human civilization conflicts with the natural world, the more drastically human behavior will impact the availability and quality of our life-sustaining natural resources. Of course, our situation is a little more complex than finding a way to close off a cosmic bridge that has collapsed. There is no magical fix for the kind of neglect our world suffers from. But in both fiction and reality, great strides in cooperation toward solving problems like this usually improve the quality of life for all. You see, portal stories are all about how the characters interact with their environments and what they learn from going to a place that is unfamiliar to them. Will they learn how to adapt? Will they help or be helped with fantastic new ideas and inventions? Or will they end up creating some kind of Butterfly Effect tragedy that ends up destroying paradise? Real humans could learn a lot about real world stewardship from fictional portal stories.

What are some of your favourite portal stories? And why? What kind of symbolism do those portals represent for the characters, the story’s themes, or the real world overall?

Art Therapy Journals

Art therapy journals are all about giving yourself comfort and encouragement. (Image Source: Mj Daggerhart, 2022)

This post kind of goes hand-in-hand with the last art post I published here about recycling old pages, spreads, or entire journals by simply painting or pasting to cover work that was no longer relevant. But this time I’m going to focus on the therapeutic aspects of that project.

In the past, I’ve been very open on this blog about my struggles with depression and anxiety, and I’ve repeatedly pointed to art as one tool in my toolkit for comfort and healing. Art therapy is not about the work looking pretty — or at least not pretty to anyone but you. It’s not about making something to display for the enjoyment of others at all. But I will share the pages I did over the past month or so because I want to walk you through some ways these types of art journals (or any art journal) can be therapeutic.

The first thing I did was decide what purpose I wanted this spread to serve. I was suffering from spring anxiety on the day that I started this spread (as I annually do these days), so I chose my colors based on the theme of “wintering” or hibernating or just finding peace in rest, sleep, darkness, etc. Sometimes the only way to shut off my mind is to just … sleep. But I’d much rather save that as a last option and reach for things I love doing instead of sleeping my life away to escape my anxieties. My palette: black, white, silver, lavender, blues, greens. (Keep it simple: 3-5 colors will avoid overwhelm, which defeats the purpose of calming anxiety.) I painted over the previous contents of the page with black, put a moon in the upper left corner and decorated it with silver and white stars, snowflakes, and designs.

Next … the ephemera. I wanted to tape in an insert of sheet music, so I chose one of my favourite moon songs, “Clair de Lune” by Debussy and printed out one page of it. I aged it slightly with some distress ink and used washi with black rabbits to secure it. Then I lined the folded interior with lavender tissue paper crinkled and glued in. (It’s a really wonderful auditory and tactile experience to write on tissue paper.) I went through my collage scraps that I save from magazines, greeting cards, and other paper scraps, and I found some snowflakes, a cave, and a piece of purple construction paper which I used to create more dark sky inserts, a pocket, and a folding flap behind the sheet music for holding smaller notes. Then I went through my old artwork and found a leaf that I painted a few years back with some encouraging words on it: “Believe in you.” Perfect. I also found an abstract doodle that I did whilst warming up to paint an aquarium scene, and noticed the title on the back was “Clarity.” Perfect. I taped “Clarity” below the pocket, but left three sides open so I could write on the back and underneath it. I tucked the leaf painting in between the back page of the sheet music and under the cave picture flap.

Finally, when all the tactile things were set, I started writing underneath “Clarity” with a question to myself. “What is the difference between self-doubt and failure?”

Before I go any further, I’ll pause here and say that it is best to create these kinds of pages when you are recovering or on a good day, so that you can use them on the bad days. Think of them as writing love notes or providing words of comfort to yourself to remember to stay present, acknowledge that bad days are a normal part of life that will pass, and encourage yourself to recognize you have the power to change some things, while reminding yourself how to best cope with the things you cannot change. Only you know the right words to deliver at the right time when you are hurting. But don’t wait until you’re hurting to start this process.

Okay, so my question about self-doubt and failure actually came from another journal that I keep. In that journal I was in the pits of despair and wrote a very self-depreciating answer to my question of myself. I decided to shift perspective on the answer for these new pages. So, I left a very honest, but consoling response for myself to read in the future when I felt like I was failing or doubtful. Reframing things, after your emotions have had space to be what they are, is important to the healing process and builds resilience.

Then, I decided to turn the interior of the sheet music into a self-rescue kit. I listed 5 things to do prior to reading it. And then I gave the next 2 pages over to a list of ideas to help me seek comfort, wisdom, and peace, rather than reaching for despair and giving up. One of these things includes therapy advice from some of my reading over the years, and a simple “Worry Decision Tree”. If you have not heard of this thing, take a look at the back of the leaf painting where I drew myself a basic flow chart. You can Google “Worry Decision Tree” to get more detailed PDFs or read more about it, if you like. The bottom of the tree always comes down to … “Let it go.” So, how do you let worries and anxiety go? That’s where the rest of stuff on the page becomes useful.

Today, I added a quote and a few little notes for my pocket. “The wise don’t expect to find life worth living. They make it that way.” (Unknown) is one quote on a slip of tissue paper with room for more, should I find any that suit the page and occasion. The beauty of this kind of journal is you add to it piece by piece as a process, rather than thinking of it as a one-time finished product. To pull the black bunnies out of the washi tape and into more of a spotlight, I doodled a folkart bunny on the song and made a little scrap card with another. It says, “No bunny’s perfect.” And I wrote a little note to myself to remember how I coped with fear as a child, and what elements from then might still be useful now. Because when I was a child, I had a lot of pet rabbits. My parents bought me a stuffed rabbit every Easter, so I had a large collection of bunnies in my room in addition to my rabbit “friends and siblings”. The rabbit is often a symbol of timidity or fear, and I was a timid child. I still am a very introverted, cautious adult, so in many ways, my personality matches that of a rabbit. And in Asian mythology, there are bunnies who live on the moon making “mochi”. 😉 So, I think, overall, maybe this is my way of acknowledging who I am, and telling myself that it’s okay: it’s OKAY to have times when I need to “winter”, hibernate, be silent and still. Because when I feel restored and safe, and clarity replaces catastrophizing, then I can kick up my heels and dance … under the moonlight or otherwise.

Total time for making these pages was an hour or two over about 4 days spread out over 2 months. It’s still a work in progress. Like I said, it’s all about the process and building it for when I need to remember how it looked, felt, and sounded to have a safe space to gain clarity and reset. And this is just one spread for one theme. Imagine the possibilities for so much more.

My Language Learning Journey to …

Image by Dok Sev from Pixabay

If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you’ll know that I’ve done several articles on how I became interested in several specific languages. I’ve covered Japanese, Korean, Chinese, French, and Spanish. Next on my list was going to be Romanian. I have these things grouped by language families, you see, and Romanian is a Romance language like French and Spanish. No, not that kind of Romance. Romance as in Roman/Latin based. 🙂 But I realized I am so new to Romanian that I don’t know I could say much about it at this point in time. So, I stepped back to consider the other languages I’m studying that I haven’t written about yet, and I’ve realized the same may be true of them. So, I’ve decided to give the remaining languages a paragraph, rather than a page. In time, I hope to be able to say more about them because they are no less special to me than the others. They’re just newer, so the journey has been short and only just begun.

Romanian

When I was a little girl, one of my sports idols was the amazing Nadia Comăneci, a Romanian gymnast. In general, I am not a sports fan, but I’ve had a handful of gymnasts over the years that I’ve followed, and she was and always will be at the top of the list. At the same time, I’ve always been a big fan of vampires. … And you see where this element is going, right? If Nadia had been a vampire, I’m sure I would have adored her even more, but Dracula was the next best thing since the world is not ready for vampire gymnasts yet. Now, I’m sure that Romanians get tired of being pegged by these two cultural tags, and neither have anything to do with the language or culture of the country itself, really. But me being me, I take something that interests me and run with it until it explodes. So, two curiosity items like these DO turn into language and history lessons and a deeper appreciation of the culture they come from. So, never bash someone for having a stereotypical interest in a perhaps not-so-serious topic. You never know where it may lead. Learning can begin anywhere with anything!

I had no initial plans to actually study Romanian, but it has always intrigued me. One day I was reading email when I noticed the Romanian flag on the Duolingo blog newsletter. Are they offering Romanian now?! I checked the website. Yep! They’re offering Romanian now. I told myself “NO!” because I was already studying 11 other languages. And yet … I was just curious to see how these lessons would be. So, I clicked in … just curious. You don’t click on a lesson and NOT do it, though, right? (sigh) I am hopeless. And Romanian is now among my list of languages that I’m trying to learn. It’s only been a few months, but I’m loving it. My knowledge of French and Spanish are a big help. So … I’m glad I followed my curiosity. And I hope to learn a lot more over the coming years.

German

I became interested in German because my dad’s side of the family is German-Swiss-English. But also, my best friend and roomie at university was a student of German in high school. So, I spoke French, she spoke German, and another suitemate spoke Spanish; and the three of us would speak to each other in our second languages and respond in kind without really knowing what each other was saying. So, that was loads of fun. And eventually, we did learn words and phrases from those languages we had not studied just from playing around with them like that. So, I liked German. I loved German folklore and fairy tales. This language feels oddly familiar, like I should know more. But every time I tried to start lessons, I failed to be consistent and eventually dropped it.

I’ve been studying German for a little over a year now consistently. More if you patch in the moments of starts and stops from the past. My German lessons come from a blend of Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, music, and TV series. I’m maybe beginner 2? I’m not ready to begin reading literature in German yet, but I’m getting better at listening comprehension. Sometimes, I can still hear my roomie speaking to me when I come across words or phrases she frequently used. But mostly, I’m just glad that German is becoming part of my knowledge base, too.

Norwegian

Why Norwegian? I’ve always loved snow and snowy places, so part of me has always wanted to live in Norway. My ancestry is also a bit Norwegian. Norwegian folk art, mythology, and history have always been super interesting for me, and when I became interested in Old Norse through those things, I was blown away by how similar it is to English. I know everyone classifies English as a Germanic language (which Norwegian is, too), but English is closer to Scandinavian languages than German by far. So, if I was fascinated by Old Norse and all these other things from this part of the world, it only made sense to learn modern Norwegian, too.

I’ve been studying Norwegian for about a year now, via Duolingo and LingQ. I’m focused on listening comprehension right now. And I will admit I haven’t made as much progress here as I would like. I think it’s because I had to make the most of my Spanish Rosetta Stone lessons before that subscription expired, so some of these languages had no choice but to become minor studies for a while. That subscription expired today, so I should be able to bring those languages that haven’t been getting as much attention forward now. The thing that I’ve gained the most from studying Norwegian (funnily enough) is an “ear” for hearing cognates in Swedish, Dutch, and Icelandic. 🙂 I’m not even studying Swedish and Dutch, but I hear Norwegian words in them, just pronounced differently. I have a feeling 2022 will be a good year for advancing in Norwegian. And eventually, I would (still) love to live in or visit somewhere very north. I’m just a polar bear when it comes to preferred environmental settings.

Finnish

Almost everything I said above regarding Norway could be duplicated for Finland, except any Finnish heritage possibility was eliminated and pushed into Norwegian DNA results. And I honestly don’t know as much about Finnish culture and history as I do about Norwegian. I loved how Finnish sounded, and I thought it was related to other Scandinavian languages, so I thought … why not. But then I found out Finnish is NOT as Scandinavian as one would think based on location. It’s actually more Slavic and is a close cousin of Hungarian. I’m not studying any Slavic languages, but Finnish and Romanian are two languages heavily influenced by Slavic cultures; so when I found that out, I was actually quite happy and more interested to keep learning both.

Finnish has been fun. The only lessons I’m currently doing are Duolingo because this was also one of the languages I haven’t been able to advance quickly in due to other languages needing a more dominant time allowance for now. But they are probably some of the most animated lessons in my notebooks. And for some reason it’s really sticking with me well, despite the fact that I’m not spending hours upon hours with it yet. That’s a good sign, so I’m looking forward to stepping up my game with Finnish soon.

Icelandic

I’ve always been interested in Old English, ever since I first heard it read aloud. So, when I found out Icelandic is English’s oldest “living” cousin (and how English might have sounded today had the Norman invasion not introduced so much French into the language), I HAD to learn more about it. Iceland itself, being relative to both Scandinavian and Scottish cultures is yet another part of the world that I’ve felt drawn to personally for some inexplicable reason. But the language is absolutely melodic to my ears. So, this was another “If not now, when?” learning interest for me.

Icelandic is the only language I’m studying that is NOT offered by Duolingo. (At least not as of the date of this article.) I picked it up after testing a bunch of other apps for other languages: after spotting it on Drops, I immediately added it to my list. But then I dropped Drops and have had trouble finding Icelandic resources since. LingQ has said they will be adding Icelandic in the future, so I look forward to that. Meanwhile, I’ve tried Memrise and a few other language websites, and I just can’t find anything that works for me that I can afford right now. So, I’ve opted to jump straight into media and see how that goes. I bought myself a beginner reader of Icelandic short stories for Christmas Eve. I have a few bookmarked videos and a TV show so far. Needless to say, lack of easy-to-find resources that might work for me means progress has been slow. But if anything, that will only make me more determined to learn Icelandic. 😉

The Celtic Sisters: Irish, Scottish, and Welsh

The final three languages I’m studying are Irish, Scottish, and Welsh. All three are Celtic languages, though Welsh is a different branch from the two Gaelic ones. Arguments abound whether Scottish Gaelic is merely a dialect of Irish Gaelic or a separate language. I just take each separately, though it is obvious they are related and the parallels help me keep them separate or ladder my learning with similarities. (For example, sentence structures are similar, but accents are not.) My mother’s side of the family is HEAVILY Celtic. As such, I’ve held an interest in these regions of the world, particularly Scotland, for as long as I can remember. My best friends’ mother was Scottish during my very early developmental years, so I know that also shaped my thoughts and feelings about it, since I spent so much time with them. By the time I was enrolled in kindergarten, my teachers had trouble understanding me because my accent and vocabulary. My world view was also very strange. For example, years later I found some play money I crafted on the backs of some old checks that my parents gave me after they switched banks. And I was shocked to see that I didn’t create US dollar bills. I created British pound notes with the queen on them. What American 4-year-old does that? That’s not normal. And it wasn’t until I was a teenager buying a child’s birthday gift that I realized the American version of a game I played growing was NOT called “Snakes and Ladders”; here it was “Chutes and Ladders”. What happened to the snakes? Was that my imagination? No. It was because I literally grew up playing a game bought overseas. So, my brain is just … weirdly wired when it comes to UK stuff.

Anyway, for ages I wanted to learn Scottish Gaelic. I went to highland games. I bought a grammar and dictionary with full intention of teaching myself at least a little. But then we moved to Japan. Japanese had to take the front seat, so Gaelic was pushed to a back burner and sat there ever since … until the 2020 lockdowns began. My DNA results came back showing just how disproportionately Celtic and English my ancestry is, so I finally decided, “If not now, when?” I pulled out my books and dusted them off. I had been using Duolingo to brush up on my Japanese and study Korean, so I found Irish, Scottish, and Welsh and added them to the lineup.

Welsh is relatively easy so far for me. Irish is, in my opinion, the hardest of the three and one of my most difficult languages overall. But I love what I’m studying, and the why and the enjoyment are the most important things when it comes to learning languages. So, though none of these languages are necessary, should I ever make my way to the “Motherland” someday, and I may never actually use them for more than identifying obscure elements in folklore or history, I still really want to learn them. They are in my lesser studies because they don’t rank high in the practicality category for my current circumstances, and they are a little difficult to find media resources for. But I will continue studying nonetheless. It’s super fun and surprising when they DO make an appearance on occasion in a BBC show, website, or story. I’ve gotten stupidly excited over simply seeing the Welsh word for “Welcome” (“Croeso”) on a gas station receipt or hearing the cast of “Outlander” say something I recognize. So that encourages me to keep learning, no matter how far-fetched it seems.

Summary

And there you have it: the final roundup of all my journeys through various language studies. My goal is not to be native-fluent in every language I study. Language learning is, by nature, something that takes a lifetime to master, especially with languages that are not native. My accent is probably really weird because of all the places I’ve lived and the various influences on it in linguistic interests. I may never get to use what I’ve learned in terms of travel or living overseas again. But my goal is to have fun following my curiosity and interests. I would love to eventually be fluent enough to read and translate literature. I would love even more to someday be fluent enough to communicate well in person. And, yes, of course, I would also love to visit the parts of the world where all of these languages are spoken. But even without travel and immersion as possibilities, I learn languages for ME.

Where do I go from here? I haven’t decided yet. I’ve thought about offering some of my lessons as I do them. I’ve thought about posting on linguistics in general, but that might bleed into writing articles. I’ve also considered offering English lessons. I am, after all, a native English speaker with an education in English studies, an author of 6 books, and a TEFL certification. ^_^ If you are a fellow language learner, whether it’s multiple languages or one or two, what kind of content would you like to see next?

The Writing Running List

Window #5 is my running list. Here you have an example of it being used for an idea (Note to Self), a topic (Files), and an edit removed from a previous chapter and being held for possible future use elsewhere (Rin’s snake eyes …). Image Source: Mj Daggerhart, copyright 2022.

What is the simplest way to stay organized when tracking a story’s progress?

There’s probably as many answers to this question as there are writers. But one of the simplest methods I’ve used is what I call a “running” list. It literally travels from chapter to chapter and topic to topic, from the beginning of the story to the end.

I use Scrivener for my creative writing projects, and to the right of the screen, there is a blank “notepad” of sorts for jotting down quick ideas. You could use any writing software that offers divided windows like this. You could create multiple windows using word processors that don’t have all the bells and whistles of something like Scrivener. Or you could keep a clipboard, paper, and pen handy.

It works like this.

When I edit something out of chapter 1 that I think might be worth keeping for elsewhere, I cut and paste it into my running list, followed by a paragraph space and some kind of mark (usually three asterisks) that set it apart from whatever follows. If I have ideas while or after writing chapter 1, that goes in the list, too, followed by another physical separation.

Then, when I begin to work on chapter 2, I reread my running list to see if there is anything there I can recycle here. If there is, I cut/paste and revise to blend. If not, I collect any edits or ideas from chapter 2, paste them following the edits and ideas from chapter 1, and move on to chapter 3. Rinse and repeat.

The result is a very long list marked by obvious separations. It sounds ungodly, I know. But the point here is not organization of story facts into a plot, timeline, or database. This is about temporarily holding chronologically clipped content close at hand for quick reference. The notes will always be pasted into the notepad in the same order that they are clipped or pondered. So, if I think I could use that scene from chapter 1 in chapter 6, I know chapter 1’s notes will be at the beginning of the list. I know that the events of chapter 2 follow the events in chapter 1, so those edits will be next. And the list stays organized by default as used material is moved out. If this is done using pen and paper, I can cross out the note that was transferred.

As the list “runs” from chapter to chapter, I use key words to help identify topics of longer passages with the physical breaks. I can also delete anything at any time that I think uselessly clutters space.

When I reach the end of my story, if there is anything left in the running list, I read through it from beginning to end once more to see if there is anything I want to move but missed or want to keep in a more detailed file or for a future story. Otherwise, I delete the leftovers.

And that’s it! No organizing detailed information in a wiki. No loose post-its all over the computer screen or desk creating clutter anxiety. No out of order notes. This is streamlined notetaking for efficient edits.

However, there are a few situations where I would recommend not using a running list. A running list is not the same thing as a plot outline, event timeline, or a database. It should never be used in place of those more detailed resources. Those details are necessary to weed out plot holes, track development of certain aspects of a story, and create future reference material for large bodies of work like a series.

Running lists are not recommended for first draft writing; save them for revisions, preferably advanced revisions where most of the story is already pretty rock-solid but you’re still tweaking the dialog, character actions, setting, etc. The running list is for quickly polishing a story that isn’t quite ready for primetime yet, but any massive cutting room floor edits that would completely reshape it are done.

A running list is not recommended if your writing habits lack consistency. Because if you put that list down and walk away for a long period of time, when you come back to it, it’s not detailed enough to give you the momentum or memory that you need to pick up exactly where you stopped. Lists are never good substitutes for consistent writing habits.

But if you need a quick and dirty method for revisions, try a running list. It could save time and offer clarity when you need a simple method for holding onto linear, reusable edits.

Everything Old Is New Again

Cosmic Smashbook/Art Therapy Journal/Art Journal Scrapbook – image source copyright MjDaggerhart, 2022

Barely two weeks into the new year, and I feel utterly exhausted. I won’t list details about what has stressed me out in such a ridiculously short time, but I will say every day has been rife with painful injuries, illness (including two family members battling COVID and COVID-like symptoms with one suffering COVID-induced complications that required hospitalization), freak weather that left us snowed in (literally), and lots of tears. Today I even wiped out on a patch of ice whilst trying to knock down killer icicles from the roof, so I’ll probably end up with my back on the heating pad again before the day is over. 2022 has been brutal so far.

It’s times like this when I lean into art as a form of therapy. There are two kinds of art therapy. The first is actual psychotherapy done by a licensed psychologist who uses art methods and media to help clients express and explore difficult thoughts and feelings. This is not about learning how to do art. It’s not an art lesson. It is a psychotherapy session that uses art as a tool or vehicle to facilitate the process. The second kind of art therapy is more intuitive on behalf of the person doing the art, whether they have a counselor to guide them through working with difficult thoughts and feelings, or whether they are doing it on their own. I happen to be an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs spectrum. (Yay for us 2% of the population that confuse the heck out of the other 98% and probably are a better fit for an alternate reality?) So all I need is a blank page and anything that makes marks and I’m good.

Not counting the fact that I grew up with coloured pencils in one hand, always drawing or colouring something, my first go-to for using art to manage my stress was about 10 years ago when adult colouring books were on the cusp of becoming a popular thing. I downloaded some free digital mandalas to express my pain, depression, and anxiety. And you can tell because my colors were dark, my strokes were rigid, and my process was mostly from a place of desperation to escape what I was feeling. But I kept these pages and compared them over time. And I noticed my colours began to lighten, become a bit more tidy, and I started adding my own designs into the overall frame.

From there, I moved on to colouring apps … simple subjects, then very complex ones. And I moved from digital apps to paper. After that, I signed up for a cosmic smashbook workshop. And following that, I signed up for other intuitive art workshops and did the work IN my cosmic smashbook. Finally, I found a licensed art therapist that inspired me, and I bought her e-book full of guided art therapy activities … which I also did in the cosmic smashbook, with a pattern of one page for the art and one page for the follow-up journaling. Alternating between the cosmic smashbook activities, the intuitive art activities, and the art activities from the licensed practitioner, I looked forward to my Sunday art therapy days when I had time for them. And my cosmic smashbook lasted me for 2 years. So when I finally ran out of pages last year, I had to choose whether to buy and make another one, or start using regular sketchbooks. Then I ran into an unexpected third option: reuse it.

I don’t remember how or why, but last year I started watching The Unexpected Studio channel on YouTube. Wendy’s lovely personality and style struck a cord with me, so I’ve been subscribed ever since. But I remember being floored one day when I saw her using gesso or acrylic paint to paint over the pages she didn’t like in her art journal. And suddenly she had a completely new blank spread to start over with. The concept is almost stupidly simple; I don’t know why I didn’t think of that before. But I’m ever so grateful for the recycling lesson. I’m big on recycling and repurposing for my budget and the environment, but also for creativity when applicable. And I had seen other artists cover mistakes they didn’t like in their sketchbooks with post-it notes, white out, markers, and other little patchwork options. But I had never seen someone so thoroughly and intentionally wipe the page like that to have a new page in an old book. Soon after, I grabbed my acrylics, picked a page in my smashbook that honestly meant nothing to me now, and created a new blank spread. And I’ve been doing that for probably 6 months or more. In the end, what’s created is a book in which every single page is a favourite, rather than holding onto a book that has a few things you like, but most of it no longer means anything. It’s so freeing to realize you’re not stuck with the bad pages if there’s something you want to keep.

The picture above is my latest incarnation. I did both pages in blue, stenciled in a few pink flowers, and pasted on my collage scraps, stickers, washi tape, and ephemera in whatever manner felt fun and inventive, using some of Wendy’s ideas as inspiration. Then I painted over what was flat with a pearl finish. The theme for this page was self-love and dreams. Where do I write? Anywhere that I want. Lifting the cupid card reveals a few extra writing spaces, too. Lifting the tissue paper flap reveals yet another. And since dreams require courage to fulfill, I also tucked a little book I wrote and illustrated for my children when they were toddlers/preschool into the pocket flap … which also has more writing space underneath it. (It’s called, “The Brave Little Dust Bunny”.) 🙂

Image Source copyright 2022, Mj Daggerhart.

I love how this process of doing art puts the “scrap” into scrapbooking so that you can actually USE those things you hang onto thinking, “Oh, this might be pretty for something … someday.” No more waiting for someday. No need to buy “scrapbooking materials” if you don’t have a lot of money to throw at even more doodads that will take up space in your arts and crafts supplies. And there are no rules for right or wrong, so anything goes. Anywhere. Literally. The more inventive and tactile the additions, the more you have to explore later when looking back through these pages. This also teaches flexibility because you’re having to make it work as you go along. Here’s another example of the very first spread I did like this. I was sure to record my inspiration source for future reference. But both of these pages were done over other art journal pages that felt rather flat, unpleasant, or simply no longer served me. And that’s when I realized something.

Image source: Mj Daggerhart, copyright 2021

I realized it had been 10 years since I first intentionally started reaching for art as part of my self-care practice for mental health. And though I started journaling to carve out a space where I could put my pain on paper in colors, words, and forms, I truly am journaling for joy now. I get so engrossed I don’t notice the passage of time. I look forward to it all week. I’m sad when it ends. I find myself looking at these joyful pages again and again, though I can’t even explain why. I love their magical, vintage, charming, scattered imperfections. I run my fingers over the textures and turn over the flaps and pull out the cards with poetry written on them, and I feel like a child again playing with a pop-up book or paper dolls. And gradually, slowly, whatever was heavy on my mind fades away. And I can breathe again. And I can face whatever reality throws at me next. For a while anyway. Hopefully for at least another week.

And all those journal entries from years ago where I poured out my pain on the pages? They were valid, good, and necessary at that time. But in the end, I’ve thrown most of them away. Nobody wants to reread and dwell on painful experiences. But this … This is dripping with good memories and nostalgia. It’s like reading a book that I wrote about how to make myself happy.

This is probably not the final stage of evolution in my journey toward healing. I love to experiment and try new things when it comes to art. But it’s nice to reach the top of this particular hill after 10 long years and look back at how various types of journaling and art aided that process over time. I think I’ll stay here for a while and see where else it leads me. I like how it gives me permission to let go of something that doesn’t bring me joy and encourages me to create new pages to do whatever I want while moving into unknown territory because I never quite know how the final results will turn out. I can keep tweaking and adding to the pages whenever I want, so they change and evolve over time … just like me.

My Journey to Learning Spanish

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you enjoyed a peaceful break over the holidays. I set up my 2022 planner but am sluggish getting back into things … as usual. The first week of January has been brutal here.

My patio furniture is under there somewhere. (Image source: Mj Daggerhart copyright 2022.)

Basically, we had a few snowstorms, and I threw out my leg shoveling, which then required more of my back so that went out, too. Then, I got my COVID-19 booster, so … sore arm combined with sore shoulder from shoveling. And then, I got hit with the actual “stuff” in the shot: sore throat, nausea, fatigue, etc. That’s when an even bigger snowstorm hit that broke 20 year records and dumped more snow on us in one day than we usually get all year. About 20 inches fell overnight on top of old snow, so there was around 27 inches (68.58 cm) of snow to battle yesterday morning. I tunneled to the car, the mailboxes, and the sidewalk, but after attempting to clear a path between my garage and the sidewalk, my body said … NO. So, today, I am on my back on a heating pad, trying to tell myself I did the best I could with what I had and that’s all I can do.

Meanwhile, let’s talk Spanish! 🙂 I’ve shared how I became interested in learning Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and French so far. But Spanish was actually the very first non-English language I was exposed to and attempted to learn.

When I was four years old, my family moved to Florida, and to keep me out of their hair while they were moving stuff around, they hooked up the TV and found something kid-friendly for me to watch. That’s when I was introduced to a green grouchy monster who lived in a trashcan and a big yellow bird who happened to be his friend despite his stinky attitude. If you don’t recognize that description, the show was Sesame Street. And the muppets and people on this show spoke in English and Spanish. This new language intrigued me very much, and by the time I walked away from the TV that afternoon to play in my yard, I had a handful of new words to practice saying over and over again. It wasn’t long before I could count to ten, use basic functional phrases, and remember a few antonyms like cerrado and abierto. To this day, I still remember a lot of their little skits, songs, and animations that taught me those words and phrases, so I’m ever-grateful to Sesame Street for opening a door to me that otherwise might not have been accessible for many years to come. Living in Florida, I think, might have also been why a handful of other PBS programs were either bilingual or aimed at teaching native Spanish speakers English. The more I watched, the more Spanish I absorbed. (So, yes, Public Broadcasting Stations matter! Please support them!)

When I was nine years old, we moved away from Florida, and “just like that” my exposure to Spanish language and culture were lost. I did have an opportunity again in high school to study it, but I chose French because I was more intrigued with it by then.

Over the years, I wanted to pick up Spanish as a self-study, but I always became too busy to be consistent, and eventually, I would drop it. This bothered me because of all the languages I became interested in over my lifetime, Spanish would be the most useful for living in the United States. (I’ve always wanted to learn Scottish Gaelic, too, but my chances of actually being able to use that one on a “practical” or “immersive” level are about as high as me turning into a unicorn. … But, yes, I am studying Scottish anyway!) Still, I couldn’t make myself find the time to study Spanish. I think part of it was that I felt my French education could help me guess my way through Spanish if it ever became necessary — that and the fact that if I ever find anything printed in Spanish or French in the US, it is usually accompanied by English. So, even though it’s the most practical second language in this region, it’s still not a necessary one. Add to that, the sad fact that as I grew older, I was exposed to a lot of racism related to Spanish speaking individuals and culture. Speak Spanish in some regions of the US, and you get shouted down for not speaking English. This is true of other languages, too. But Spanish in particular seems to have a red bullseye painted on it for people intolerant of languages and cultures that are not their own.

When I encounter this kind of behavior, I usually try to point out that English itself is a mix of other languages, including Spanish! But learned behaviors are what they are, so pointing that out only works on people who are willing to listen and open to new perspectives. And, unfortunately, most of the time, intolerance and new perspectives are in opposition by default. Racism and the history of the English language are topics for another time.

As part of my “if not now, when” language initiative of 2020 (thanks to the pandemic … yes, apparently some good did come of it), I decided I was going to learn Spanish … no more excuses! I loved it as a child, but I hated being limited to the basics I learned when I was four. I started with Duolingo and jumped back into an old Rosetta Stone CD, only to find out that the CD was no longer useable. I was essentially locked out of this program I’d paid for but was never able to truly use. So, I wrote to the company, and they gave me a code to sign in to their app for a free year. Not the same as having my own program forever and ever, so I was still kinda bummed. But a free year was better than nothing, and I wouldn’t need beginner material after a year anyway, right? So, for the past year, I have been alternating between Duolingo and Rosetta Stone for my Spanish lessons. My free subscription runs out at the end of this month. And my progress?

Well, first of all, I stuck with it a whole year! That alone was a major accomplishment for me. (I have managed to stick with all of the languages I decided to start learning in 2020!) But also, I went from basic phrases and short sentences to reading stories that are a few paragraphs long, listening to the Duolingo podcast (which uses intermediate Spanish), and I’m about to finish another level in Rosetta Stone. I won’t get into which apps I prefer or other methods of study here, but I am so happy with the progress I’ve made!

Copying song lyrics played a fun role in helping me with Spanish studies, and I learned a little about different dialects in the process, thanks to my cousin’s Peruvian husband. 🙂 This song in particular stuck in my head while studying por qué and porque. (Image source copyright 2021, Mj Daggerhart.)

Did knowing French help? Absolutely. There are so many parallels between French and Spanish that I can literally see the geographical and historical connections between them, and I was constantly making mental notes of how they were similar and different in pronunciation and grammar. My one caveat is pronunciation. Having learned French first and studied it formally and intensively, my “r” sounds French. Having lived in Japan, my Japanese “r” helps a lot with pronouncing some Spanish “r’s”, but those “rr” sounds …? Oh, that needs a LOT of practice! So, I will keep trying, but until then I’m just going to sound French or Japanese on most of my attempts to say words like carro.

What do I want from my Spanish studies in 2022, now that I can read fairly well? I want to read more, of course! I will probably switch to LingQ to start reading longer, more native-language content. I will keep Spanish in my rotation of languages on Duolingo. I especially want to keep listening to the podcast. I’m probably going to see what my local library has in Spanish resources because I’m sure they have a lot. And I think they had a Spanish-English speaking group that met before the pandemic … not sure if that’s still a thing now. But as with my other languages, once I have a good vocabulary bank I will start trying to write and speak more on my own. Right now, I need a lot more words to be able to communicate my thoughts or understand communication from others. But I’m excited to be moving into intermediate studies, and I’m so glad that I didn’t give up trying to find a way to come back to this language that was the first stepping stone for all of my other language learning journeys.

After getting my iPad, my language lessons moved to digital notebooks. This was a story from Rosetta Stone that I practiced reading, listening, speaking, and writing with. It was three pages long. I highlight and look up any words I don’t know, even though I understand a lot of them from context or cognates. (Image source: copyright 2021, Mj Daggerhart.)

Jólabókaflóðið: Yule Book Flood

Oh, and all of my books are on sale through Jan. 1, 2022 at Smashwords and Amazon! What a coinkidinkie! ^_^

If you haven’t already heard of Iceland’s year-end book-giving/reading tradition, stop everything and do so right now. Here’s a sample article from Mental Floss, although it’s easy to Google more. … I’ll wait.

Okay, so the first time I heard of this I wondered why on earth I wasn’t spending the end of every year in Iceland. (Well, besides the no-brainer considerations like lack of money or travel restrictions or someone having to feed my animals, etc. …) Iceland is one of my “bucket list” countries in the first place. But as a book lover, I think this would be an amazing tradition for ending the year. Especially if it was a rough year like the last couple of years we’ve been having since the pandemic. In Japan, the old calendar names for the months included one called “文月” (fumizuki), which is now July or “七月” (shichigatsu); and fumizuki was named as a month of literature. Maybe it’s because I’m deeply passionate about the value of books in a civilization and to individual educational and personal development, but this seems like something that should be adopted and celebrated in all of our lives. After all, stories are the backbone of human history and experience. And the invention of the printing press changed the world.

But I can’t change the world. I can only change me. This is a hard lesson for me to learn. But after hearing about Jólabókaflóðið, I decided I wanted in. I don’t even know how long ago that was, but for many years now, I’ve been buying myself a few books to read from Winter Solstice through New Year’s Day … and, of course, beyond. But to have a dedicated time every night for about two weeks at the end of the year, where I can curl up with my pets, some blankets, and pillows in front of the fireplace under the holiday lights … and read to my heart’s content … I look forward to this all year long. It’s one of the few holiday traditions that I am still able to do these days.

Each year, I try to choose a variety of books. I aim for at least one self-improvement, one educational, one classic, and one escapist. Sometimes, I also try to throw in something creative, like an art book. But if I buy art supplies, those often take any money I might have for books. And this year I bought a doozy of an art tool — an iPad! So, yeah … no art books for me for a while unless they come from the library!

The last few years I’ve bought books from the Witcher series, productivity and psychological best sellers, and Korean language books. But this year, I bought Korean books for my birthday, so I’ve decided to buy a book of Icelandic short stories for my educational pick for the holidays. I am studying Icelandic, but beginner reading material is rather difficult to come by compared to a lot of other languages. But also, how could I celebrate Jólabókaflóðið without a collection of tales from Iceland?! So, this book is long overdue. And I think from here on out, at least one Icelandic book should find its way into my collection during this time of year.

I will be taking a break from trying to be productive over the next week. I’m scheduled for my booster vaccine, and I need to finish making my new digital planner for 2022, but that’s it. So, I will return after the New Year. Meanwhile, I hope everyone finds peace, joy, and comfort as 2021 comes to a close. May we all have the courage to face whatever difficulties life throws at us next. And may we have the wisdom and humility to appreciate what we have and care for it while we have it, so that this world can heal. ❤

2015 — Tsuki being bad. Nothing has changed over the years. This year I had to take the tree back down because I couldn’t stop him from eating it. My own little Yule Cat terror.

Practice Makes Better (Not Perfect)

This week was full of art projects for me. My main objective was to push myself to learn as much as I could as fast as I could about using my new iPad and two of the main reasons I bought the thing: Procreate and digital planning. I put everything else aside to prioritize this because putting life on hold for a crash course in learning something new isn’t something I can do very often. To appreciate just how exponential this learning process has been, take a look at my first iPad drawing: a late “Inktober” entry I did the first day that I had it.

Yep, this “masterpiece” was my first-ever drawing in Procreate. I kept it simple because it was a just a test. But also, I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d never used any Apple interface before, new software, new tools, everything starting from scratch (except for the years of interest in art in other digital and traditional media).

Compare it to the last drawing I did this week: a pet portrait study. (Special thanks to Pam V. for sharing the original photo of her beautiful cat and giving me permission to do this project. The WIP is pictured below, and the final is pictured above.)

As I became comfortable with the interface and equipment, I gradually bumped up my challenges from simple outlines to realism. And I use that term loosely because in the end I preferred to add artistic touches to the final portrait. I’m in the “if you want it to look like a photograph, then just take a picture” camp when it comes to differentiating art from photography. It’s not that photography isn’t art; it’s that imperfections are what make hand-made arts different from technical ones. Digital arts can be a blend of technical perfection and hand-made imperfection. And that’s okay and good. But that is a discussion for another time.

My techniques also broadened, depending on the type of project I was doing. I did two more Inktober offerings. The “helmet” prompt made me think of a samurai kabuto so I looked up a rare antique for inspiration for that, and it was mainly another value study using white “ink” on black “paper” as per my rules for myself this year. But my next prompt was “compass” and I could think of nothing scary, inspiring, or even interesting about such a thing. So, I went a little off-track. But not too far.

In my novels, the elf gates can be found via a compass spell that is described as looking like a black tree that spins end over end top to bottom. The spell directs the gate keeper to the gate’s hidden location. If the spell can’t detect the gate, something is wrong with the gate. And that is the basis for the entire series: something is wrong with the gates. So, I recreated that compass. It’s not scary, but it is spell-crafted from dark magic and is as mysterious as the gates themselves. They are, after all, gateways into the Veil and Other Worlds. I stuck with the white ink and black paper theme, too. But this time I “branched” away to add a bit of color and brush style to represent the cosmos that this tree compass truly represents. I was very pleased with the stunning abstract results.

My next project remained abstract, but became a little more mundane. I wanted a wallpaper for my desktop. I wanted a simple swirl of wintery winds blowing snow around. Et voilá! Very easy, but also very practical. And a freebie share if you’d like to add it to your desktop, too. ^_^ (Just click on the image, “save as”, then set your copy as desktop.)

And my other big project was learning how to create digital stickers for Good Notes that I can then turn into paper stickers for future sales. Grant it these stickers will probably never be for sale because they are practice dummies (passes and fails!) for learning the process. And this two-day effort was a lot of frustration for such a little thing. But I did it! I also found a way that works better for me than the instructions I was following. So, I will continue working on that and combine it with learning how to create digital planners so that I can make my own.

And if you are in the same situation, where you are having to learn new software or techniques, and it gets frustrating … just remember to take breaks, breathe, then come back to it when you’re refreshed. Any new skill requires time and patience to learn. Time, patience, and effort — there is no substitute for these things when it comes to learning art, no matter what kind of art (or other skills) you are learning.

My Journey to Learning French

My French I and II books had a picture of Mont Saint-Michel on the cover. It is only fitting that I stick to that theme here. 😉 Photo by Bas van Breukelen on Unsplash

When I was a child of about 4-5, I became interested in languages other than my own. The memory of my first encounter with French is a bit fuzzy, but I think it was only a couple of years after that when I found a notebook from my mother’s college courses and realized I couldn’t read it. I was a beginning reader, grant it. But I mean, I couldn’t read this page at all! So, I asked what it was. She told me it was French. I very clearly remember asking her to say something in French. So she laughed a little and said the only thing she remembered was “Bonjour” and “Fermez la grande bouche.” I asked what they meant, and she said “Good day” and … “Shut your big mouth.”

I was scandalized! My mother is not the kind of person who would tell someone to shut up. She said “darn” once as a child and still talks about how my great-grandmother made her sit on the porch outside as punishment for swearing. So why this phrase was even part of her vocabulary is a mystery to me. But that is exactly why that phrase stuck with me over the years. I decided then and there that I wanted to learn French.

“Sit down and Shut up” … basically.

I don’t have a vivid memory of encountering it again until I was in high school and had to take a foreign language class to prepare for university enrollment. My only choices were Spanish and French. I will discuss Spanish later. But I knew, hands-down, that my high school foreign language would be French. Why? Because by then I wanted to live in the UK or France as an artist. But at the back of my mind, there was still this little memory of the time my mother came the closest to swearing since I knew her. And still it greatly amused me.

I took two years of French and loved the language, even when the class felt … disheartening at times. But that had more to do with my overall school situation. The following year, I switched schools. And I was so advanced in credits from the previous school that they didn’t know what to do with me. So, I ended up with a study hall at the back of a 9th grade algebra class, trigonometry, journalism/yearbook publications, advanced English, Psychology 101 college prep, and French III. But French III was an independent study because most students didn’t stay with it long enough to go higher than level II. There were two other French III students, and only one was in my class with me. So, that year, lessons consisted of me, him, and our teacher doing textbook readings, written and oral assignments, and having casual conversations that somehow always defaulted to English. But I enjoyed learning that way more than being in a class of 15-plus students. I could learn at my own pace, so if I was doing well, I could advance as much as I wanted. It didn’t matter if my classmates were reading different chapters. I read a lot more about culture and history and did a lot fewer grammar exercises. And since my focus was on French-only input, my vocabulary grew exponentially. It almost didn’t feel like school at all. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had started my path to self-taught language learning, even though I still had teacher-assigned objectives and schedules. I decided I would stick with French in my university studies and even chose to minor in it to compliment my plans to live in Europe and build a career in arts.

les Bons Bourgeios, planche 23 — Honoré Daumier

University-level French, I discovered, was a completely different beast. My relaxed-pace discovery method that I had become used to as independent student was once more forced back into large-class structures, schedules, and rules. No English allowed. Labs with sucky tape recordings spat out fake dialogs we had to repeat into microphones. Oral reports every week were followed by French-only discussion. Which meant nobody had much to say because no one was confident enough in their skills to have a full discourse. And most students were there only because they needed the credits, not because they had a burning desire to speak the language fluently. I still loved the language. I got along great with my teacher. But something about returning to formal education like that flattened my desire, too. By the time I left school with three more years of French classes, I felt defeated. I didn’t even get to go to Paris with my friends over winter break because I couldn’t afford the price tag, despite working five part-time jobs to pay for my tuition and living expenses. I became one of those students who, like my mother, studied French in school but found it to be a useless skill in my daily life because I was stuck in my circumstances. And therefore, most of what I learned started slipping through my fingers.

Over the years, I told myself many times I should pick up my studies again. I kept my books because I wanted to finish them and remember what I had learned, but I had no other resources in those pre-internet days. So, every time I tried to restart, I would get frustrated at the lack of resources and inability to immerse and USE it! I would quit, then time would pass, and I would want to try again. And this cycle became my relationship with French.

So when I moved to Japan, I was utterly bewildered when my brain defaulted to French, instead of English, if I drew a blank with Japanese vocabulary when speaking to someone. Also during that time, I had a French friend visit, so I dusted off of my old French skills to at least try to welcome her to Japan without defaulting to English or Japanese. We ended up defaulting to English. But I was surprised, humored, and admittedly a little disappointed when she said I sounded Japanese. (Not French. Not even American. No. Japanese.) I wondered why I was all over the place in terms of dialect and speech, but I think I’m just easily influenced by whatever I hear. I heard a lot of Japanese on a daily basis, so my English and French sounded Japanese. I’ve come to accept that this is just how I am. I will probably never have a “like native” dialect in any language, not even my own. I’m too easily influenced by my environment, so my dialect is more like a collection of the places I’ve lived, the people I’ve met, and whatever literary or media influences I’ve loved.

Anyway, last year when I was trying to avoid losing my Japanese language skills the way I lost French, I realized there was no reason I shouldn’t be able to refresh French, too. I had tried and failed many times due to circumustance. But now I have the world at my fingertips through the internet, and there are SO many more resources! I was ecstatic to think that I could apply my Japanese study methods to French. It would be the French lessons I always wanted. I just had to wait for the world’s technology to advance enough to meet me halfway on that quest.

After taking the proficiency test at LingQ, I remember thinking, “I’m restarting at Intermediate 2? Not too shabby.” But that is just reading skills, of course.

I took placement tests for Duolingo and LingQ and began studying French again. My goal was to bump my listening comprehension with the podcasts and read at least one novel. I started with le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. And with the Duolingo podcast and LingQ apps, I feel like I’m back in control of which culture and history lesson I want to learn about at my own pace. It’s so much more effective when the language becomes the tool for learning, rather than the core lesson itself. And that’s not including my journal, the music, TV shows, movies, articles, and much, much more that I can access and consume as native-language content now.

Not the first time Duolingo made me wonder what inspires the staff writers. Midway through this one, I was convinced that someone was having an affair with someone met on a commute from to and from work. LoL … The podcast on this day happened to be about Mont Saint-Michel, hence the doodle.

There is a lot I have forgotten. There is a lot I have yet to learn, despite 6 years of formal lessons. I always tell myself, “I’ll just spend a few minutes listening.” Or, “I’ll just do this little review.” But an hour and a half later I end up with pages of writing and research, or I read “just one more page” before turning out the light. After all these years, I am so grateful to be able to study this beautiful language the way it was meant to be appreciated. I’ve never been to a French-speaking country, and I didn’t end up needing it to get a job. But in some way, French is like a “second voice” in my head, and, as with Japanese, studying it again with better resources this time around almost feels like coming home.