“She may not look it, but actually she’s really sad that you’re leaving,” said the girl’s mother.

I knelt down to look into the face of one of my favorite kindergarten students. A shy, sensitive girl of six, she spoke perfect English and had a penchant for embellishing her handwriting with cute little curlicues. I had noticed this and taught her to write in cursive, something none of the other kids learned. We enjoyed goofing off together and had developed a special bond.

“I’m sad too,” I said, “but I know you’ll do a great job. And if I come back, I’ll make sure to visit you.”

I hugged her and almost wanted to cry. Was I breaking this poor little girl’s heart? But no, she was good and smart and talented and had a wonderful mother– she would be fine and go on with her life and probably soon forget about me, her kindergarten teacher. And I had to do the right thing for myself, right?

But was this really the right thing? Either way, it was too late to change my mind now. [click to continue…]

I slid my feet into the old leather shoes one last time. I knew I would have to get rid of them, because the right one had a little hole in its toe that let the rain in, and the soles were worn so thin that I could almost feel the pavement directly on my feet. But I had grown attached to those shoes. People often complimented me on their unique style, and the wear on the leather almost made them look better, as if they’d been made with an intentional “worn” look. They looked like they had been some places. They’d seen some things, man.

But what had they seen, really? I found myself thinking about it as I stepped outside in them, feeling the now familiar bit of leather insole curling up against my toes on the right side. I walked down the drab gray stairwell of my apartment building, onto the sidewalk past vending machines and convenience stores in the artificial glow of neon signs, and I thought, what have I done in these shoes?

oldshoes [click to continue…]

Dear Polyglot Gathering Organizers and Participants,

I have a problem, and it’s all your fault.

You see, before I decided to join the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin this year, I thought I finally had my life all figured out. I had immersed myself in making music, and it felt so right that I was sure I had found my “one true calling”. Finally, I thought, I could stop this confusing lifestyle of endless wandering and indecisiveness, and dedicate myself to one thing like normal people do. But oh no, you had to come along and tempt me by scheduling your gathering of language geeks right when I happened to have my spring vacation. How could I not go? I even had some frequent flyer miles saved up.

And since I was going to Berlin, of course I had to learn some German. It had been quite a while since I’d seriously studied a language and I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d be into it, but after going through a few online lessons I was surprised to find myself hooked. Soon I had bought textbooks and was spending all my spare time studying German, my musical instruments forgotten and gathering dust in their lonely corner of my apartment.

A couple months later, I was there in Berlin. The Gathering was a great experience. I met several people whose names and faces I’d been seeing online for years, and I was surprised and flattered that several people recognized me as well. (I honestly thought my name had long fallen into obscurity in the language learning sphere.) I have to admit it was a bit tiring sometimes, with people attempting to converse with me in just about every language I’ve ever studied, but it was very motivating and inspiring. It was also incredibly freeing to be surrounded by people who actually think learning languages for fun is “normal”. In normal circumstances, it’s very rare to be able to discuss my unusual hobby without getting blank looks or furrowed eyebrows in return! And the speakers were just… wow. I was blown away by the vast knowledge some of these people had about so many different languages. [click to continue…]