Saturday, March 31, 2007

Dissertation Blah and the Intellectual in Our Midst

Well, here's something even I know: NOT working on the dissertation feels BAD. I haven't worked! It's 5PM! SO and I chatted all morning, ate around 1, then went to the bookshop where we had a marvelous encounter with a man with sort of shaggy blond hair, a huge backpack, and pants that were kind of falling down. I was carrying one of those teach-yourself language sets for a language I'd really like to learn and he asked me where I found it. I showed him. It turned out he had studied Greek, Latin, German, Hebrew, and Arabic and had a great storehouse of knowledge about languages in comparison with one another and how to best learn a language. He also said the key to any language is its verbal structure (which is interesting because since I've been tutoring a lot of ELL students I've been thinking about how you can see certain metaphors at work behind our idiomatic use of prepositions). Richard (he introduced himself after we stood talking there a bit) was just one of those smart great people who are so interesting. I could've talked with him for hours. But of course it was also kind of weird, because he looked on the edge as well, wearing layers of pants that he periodically hiked up. SO called him the word he reserves for those who immerse themselves in a specific study until they become positively eccentric: a geek. (Yes, he calls me a geek. He also calls me a writer. He's said, "that's because you're a writer" at least a half-dozen times since yesterday. Go figure.)

Of course, after Richard, or Cool Language Geek, said that you really need to study a language in a class to really learn it (which I know many people would say is not true, but I agree with him instinctively because I suck at those self-paced things -- I need the social pressure of looking like an idiot if I don't study), I didn't buy any of the language kits. We're going to check the reviews online, SO and I said as we left the bookshop.

But I was totally possessed by the vision of this great language geek who could call up so many languages, comparing their vocabulary at will. I was just saying that I wondered what he was doing when there he was. Sitting at the bus stop bench, a shopping cart of belongings filled to the brim.

"My other cart is a Mercedes," he said as we walked past.

"Of course it is," I volleyed back, smiling.

OH! I've never wanted to give someone $20 more in my life. I've never felt so much like giving someone money would be an insult. I wish I lived here in Urban Home City so I could invite him over to my house. What does one do? He's like an older shaggy professor-type living, I'm assuming, on the streets. He knows five languages! Is that where intellectuals outside the academy belong in this country?

And as I sit down now, trying to get my head back into my dissertation, I wonder about this man, where he is now, where he'll be on the holidays. He should be teaching languages, helping people to bend their mouths into the new shapes different languages require. Why isn't he? Why is it that I get to labor over Chapter 4 and he gets to. . .I don't know. I don't know anything about him. But I hope many things for him, for the stranger in our midst. He doesn't seem unhappy. He said he was Jewish. I hope he has somewhere to go on Monday night.

And of course, this is not helping me dig back into Chapter 4. ARRRGGHH!

1 comment:

Jane Dark said...

Oh, that is hard. I agree with everything you say, and I wish I had something more to add, some sort of innovation, or something.