I wish I could say that the reason this blog has been so silent lately is that I’ve been busy. I could say it and it would be true, but it would miss the whole point of this particular post. I burned out again on learning Hocąk. It was a perfect storm of plenty of other distractions and roadblocks, such as technology user group and family, combined with a busy schedule making it impossible to meet with our language mentor. Sprinkle in another plateau where no perceived progress is being made in language learning and I had the perfect environment in my mind for dark thoughts to enter again about the whole endeavor.
Who really cares if I learn the language at all? I’ve got no use for it in my career. I don’t really have any Hocąk friends and there’s no immediate family left that speaks it as their native language. I’m just some random middle-aged white guy who happened to marry a Hocąk. Maybe it’s a nice little anecdote when my kids won’t say ’two’ but insist on saying ’nųųp’ and I have to explain it to some random person…but really, why bother?
Those are the thoughts of burnout. Or, if you rather, that’s the resistance at work, as Steven Pressfield puts it. And when I started feeding it, there’s no end to what I can describe as sucking. Look at this blog for instance, which I say only half in jest.
So, I quit working on it. And this time, I told myself, it was going to be for good. Except, dammit, it wasn’t. Life conspired against me to let that be the end of it. My wife and I finally got smart phones a month and a half ago. And then just last week my wife told me about an app, for Android and iPhone among other platforms, called Anki, which lets you create flashcards for memorization. I started playing with it for Hocąk, putting in a list of English words with their Hocąk pronunciations and working on it that way.
But, the story doesn’t end there. She also shared with me a blog called Tower of Babelfish that described a much more effective way of using Anki than just memorizing English words and their Hocąk equivalents. I’ve yet to start implementing the picture functionality, because, well, pictures are hard (just look at the absence of them on my blog), but the author makes a strong case for dropping the English words and start using pictures so I can start to think in Hocąk.
And those dark thoughts? Let me, in my own crude way, try to tackle them in the way my father-in-law would have tried to tell me something important; he’d tell me a story. It was one of the nights of the multi-day feast/ceremony for my father-in-law’s passing, and I was really struggling with being an outsider and frustrated with not understanding what was going on and being afraid that I was botching it horribly and being an embarrassment to my father-in-law’s family and the Ho-Chunk around me. My wife and I were talking to Jon Greendeer about our struggles with learning Hocąk and how we were outsiders and didn’t know what was going on. Jon talked about how he was learning the language by spending time with elders (not something I have access to) and augmenting that knowledge with information from books (something I did have access to) and as part of that conversation and encouragement from Jon I had a flash of insight; something I didn’t even know despite having had Ho-Chunk as in-laws for 12 years at that point. I took away from that conversation the idea that all Ho-Chunk are family, they are their language, and their language reflects that they are all a single family. Set in that context, so many things seemed to make more sense, though my understanding is probably still only on par with that of a Ho-Chunk toddler. As I thought about that conversation later I wondered how much more I might understand my in-laws if I put in more effort in learning the language.