Learning Japanese: What Happened?

In 2020 I committed to explore one of my lifelong fascinations: the Japanese language. Lack of a focused plan of study and other life priorities allowed my efforts to dissolve.

In 2019, my life was a carnival of free time. I had time for all my hobbies. I even exercised on most days. The only existential dread I felt was directed at how I should be spending all this time – is it worthier to play a guitar at a high level, or work on Classical Chinese? Should I learn a new language, or should I enroll in a degree program? As time went on, I felt like my schedule was pretty solid and that I was ready to begin a new hobby. I committed to “Learning Japanese” as my 2020 New Year’s resolution. But change was coming: one change was something I knew about – my wife was just beginning her second trimester. The other – the coronavirus – was just a rumor, like West Nile Virus or Swine Flu.

The coronavirus was initially a boon to my study time. With a pregnant wife and so much indoor time, I committed to as much study as possible, as has been documented pretty thoroughly in this blog. When I became a parent, that changed. Initially trying to work from home with an infant was incredibly demanding, robbing me of the mental energy and relaxed conditions I required to focus on myself. After those hard first though, I found that I had a little bit of room to get back to some of my old hobbies – just not all of them. I opted to “declutter” my personal life of all the things that I didn’t see as essential to my identity, and focused entirely on playing guitar and maintaining my Mandarin language skills. That’s what I did before COVID and being a parent, right? So those things logically must be the real “me”, with everything else being little more than superfluous activities resulting from an excess of free time.

Or so I thought. For sure, quitting Japanese and declining to try anything new helped alleviate some of the stress that was beginning to overwhelm me in 2020. But after a bit of a reprieve, I started to feel that 2021 offered a real dearth of new experiences for me other than the ones prompted by parenthood, and as a result I’ve felt pretty hollow. Looking back on my experience learning Japanese, it’s clear that I was just fumbling around, first with Pimsluer, then with other methods – mostly self-guided. I never had a plan, or a clear motivation. I never really invested in a class, or tutoring. I just wanted to be someone who is good at new things they try, and rarely did I ever stop and think about how much enjoyment I was getting along the way. It almost feels like language acquisition – along with my other hobbies – were devolving into exercises of self-esteem, rather than pleasure. An abundance of time smoothed over the edges caused by abruptly shifting goals, as will as inconsistent temperaments and rationalizations for studying. As a young parent, I learned that doesn’t work. I need to do things for myself, for the pleasure of doing them.

In the end, I still haven’t learned Japanese. And maybe I never will. But I’ve learned something more valuable – that time is precious. When I started Learning Japanese, I went the cheap route. I didn’t want to commit to classes or tutoring until way too late, because I felt insecure about the whole project – why should I invest a lot of myself into something that might not get my anywhere? Through all this, I never allowed myself to consider that my own pleasure was worth it. In the future, I hope I’ll continue to try new things, like I did with Learning Japanese. But I also hope that I’ll have the courage to really commit to them both financially and as far as my schedule and personal priorities allow. Because I am worth it.

2014 Review

This year, I started a number of self-improvement projects. With major events like grad school, finding a job, and getting married out of the way, I found that I once again had time to my various hobbies. I started listening to more music; I began actually recording my own music. I started studying Chinese again, and learned new techniques for playing guitar. I began to pay attention to my diet, and joined a gym. Perhaps more than anything, I caught up on TV shows and finished several video games.

It’s been a pretty good year: not too exciting, but not very boring either. Going into next year, I would like spend a little bit less time in front of the TV, and more time on music and language. I would also like to revive this blog.

Somewhere, the purpose of the Tingle Review was lost. Initially, I saw the Review as a purveyor of how I experience culture.  As time went on, however, it diminished to this sparse wasteland of lists. I’m hoping to change that in 2015.

Here are a few books, games, and albums that gave me inspiration that I’ll carry into whatever I do next year:

Book – The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

I’ve read a few of Mitchell’s books in the past. This one wasn’t my favorite, but I still really enjoyed the way this book seamlessly wove several different points of view and unique plots around the common thread provided by the main character. Maybe this has been done before and I have simply never read another book like it. Regardless, I found Mitchell’s style to be refreshing, and clever. Increasingly complex worlds and characters are built in a way that feels completely organic.

Book – Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Unfortunately, I haven’t read many of Murakami’s books. This one was great, though. This book perfectly captures the feeling of being isolated by friends, as well as being vindicated by the discovery of new friends.  The loneliness Tazaki experiences is inherent in human relationships, even successful ones.

Music – Casualties of Cool by Casualties of Cool

Devin Townsend really outdid himself with this collaboration. Having delved more into acoustic music and ambient music lately, this album came out of the woodwork and knocked me flat with its genre defying style. I know for sure that Townsend’s empty, ambient folk is going to be a huge influence on any music I make on my own.

Game – Mario Kart 8

If for nothing else, for at least reminding me that games can be simple games and still just as fun as the big-budget interactive movies you see on the other next gen consoles.

Holy Smoke: 6 Iron Maiden Songs for the Catholic Conclave

If the conclave of Catholic Cardinals is leaving you a little bit cold, you’re not alone. Here are six Iron Maiden tunes to lighten the atmosphere.


1.      “The Number of the Beast” from The Number of the Beast (1982)

Here’s the song that started it all. Even though “The Number of the Beast” wasn’t actually promoting evil, the religious right didn’t care and launched a campaign against it anyway, which really just amounted in lots of free press for Iron Maiden. While “The Number of the Beast” isn’t Iron Maiden’s first song or biggest hit, it’s the song that made Maiden a household name.


2.      “Heaven Can Wait” from Somewhere in Time (1986)

“Heaven can wait for another day”: That’s a sentiment apparently not only expressed by Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris, but also a handful of corrupted and greedy Vatican insiders. Hopefully, the conclave and new Pope won’t allow reforming the Church to wait much longer!


3.      “Only the Good Die Young” from Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)

The title of Billy Joel’s “not anti-Catholic, but pro-lust” song gets turned on its head here, in Iron Maiden’s indeed anti-Catholic (but also anti-lust) album closer. The song follows The Clairvoyant, a character from the Seventh Son pseudo-concept album, as he expresses frustrations with a hyprocritical religious hierarchy consumed by lust and other deadly sins.


4.      “Holy Smoke” from No Prayer for the Dying (1990)

Like “Only the Good Die Young”, “Holy Smoke” is another song poking fun at Church hypocrisy, though this time from the tongue-in-cheek viewpoint of Jesus: “Lot of my friends making me a joke/ mixed up my words like I never spoke!”, or something like that. Hey! Bruce is singing in a flowerbed!


5.      “From Here to Eternity” from Fear of the Dark (1992)

A pretty straightforward song about giving into sinful temptations, kinda like “Heaven Can Wait”, but much more shallow. This time, there’s gang vocals, too—had Maiden gone glam? “Hell! Ain’t a bad place. Hell is from here to eternity!”


6.      “Judas Be My Guide” from Fear of the Dark (1992)

Maybe one of Maiden’s most underrated songs ever, and definitely one of their most misanthropic. How does one live in a world full of darkness, where everything is for sale and nothing is sacred? Who can one turn to in this Ayn Randian dystopia? Judas, my guide!


Bonus Tracks

If there’s no “holy smoke” by the end of the day, you might need a few more songs to get you through. Here’s a couple more from beyond Maiden’s “classic” era:

 1.      “The Sign of the Cross” from The X Factor (1995)

Most Iron Maiden fans consider the Blaze Bayley era to be a bit plodding and dull, but “The Sign of the Cross” still gets a little love now and then for its haunting, gothic atmosphere. I’m not sure what this song is about. Is it a genuine call for absolution, or another dark and twisted parody of the Vatican’s shadowy inner machinations? Or is it about “The Name of the Rose”? (The movie version, not the book, obviously).

2.      “Montsegur” from Dance of Death (2003)

Only Iron Maiden can make medieval persecution of Gnosticism rock this hard. “As we kill them all so that God knows his own/ the innocents died for the Pope on his throne”, etc, etc. Anyway, great song. Definitely still gets the blood boiling over crimes against humanity committed eons ago.

That’s all for now! I’m sure there are even more Maiden songs that’d be great for the conclave, so feel free to post them in the comments.

Election Night Facebook Musings

“Facebook wants YOU to vote in tonight’s election!”

As election night draws on, I’m sitting on my laptop. I flick back and forth between MSNBC and CNN while refreshing RealClearPolitics every five minutes. I’m waiting for 11 pm, when Stewart and Colbert begin their hilarious annual coverage. In the meantime, I’m browsing Facebook, too. Hurrah for multitasking.

Facebook on election night is exactly what you’d imagine it to be. One out of every three statuses to reach my newsfeed is something about the election. Out of these election statuses, a considerable number of them can be filed into the category of smarmy, sarcastic mockery; statuses like “insert political opinion here” and “UGH, I’m tired of hearing about election crap on Facebook!”

Statuses of that variety are interesting to me, because it seems like every time something is trending on Facebook or Twitter, there’s someone out there who wants to make sure you know that they don’t care. This doesn’t just happen on election night; this happens before hurricanes, and when breaking news comes out, and even over the holidays. And, this begs the question: if someone really doesn’t give a damn about what Facebook is talking about, and is even annoyed about what they’re seeing on their Facebook newsfeeds, then why is that person still spending so much time hanging out on Facebook?

I’m thinking the internet, and Facebook, is like some kind of addictive substance. When I’m annoyed by something in real life, I have no problem keeping quiet and removing myself from the situation. But, that seems harder to do on Facebook, or anywhere online. That might be because the internet makes people courageous: when physical confrontation is taken out of the equation, it’s easy for anyone to suddenly become a loudmouth. It might also be because of the nature of Facebook and the internet itself. The internet is a place for clicking things, opening new taps and refreshing old ones. When I boot up Chrome, I automatically open up several tabs to accommodate my favorite sites. It’s automatic, formed gradually by habit.

Maybe it’s also because Facebook and other internet discussion mediums have become such a major arena of discussion in our personal lives. I vent on Facebook. I make plans on it, too. I know people who’ve began and ended their relationships using Facebook. I know lots of people who don’t know what’d they’d do if there was no Facebook. And, just about everyone I know is stuck on Facebook, for better or worse, despite concerns over their own internet habits and  reservations about the company’s stance on user privacy. We just can’t remove ourselves from Facebook, and we can’t imagine a world where Facebook removes itself from us. We’re stuck with it.

Kinda like we’re stuck with the two party system…