Saturday, October 6, 2007

I Hate That In the End It Always Comes Down to How Much I Have Invested in People Liking Me.

I read 4 or 5 blogs every day, and another batch of them I read weekly. A few of them are newsy, but most of them are more like mine, just people writing about the little stuff that goes on in their lives.

Last week, one of my bloggers posted a youtube clip from the Dr. Phil show of Sandy Patti singing Ain't No Mountain High Enough while a girl with Down's Syndrome did ASL interpretation. I didn't notice that the girl was retarded until halfway through the clip (the camera mostly avoided her), but I was having a good laugh at Sandy Patti, the big white lady pouring her heart and soul into the Motown tune. Sandy Patti is like a blonder, less famous Kathie Lee Gifford, and just as ludicrous.

When I finally did notice the girl, it became suddenly exponentially more bizarre and hilarious. I cracked up at the insanity of this woman who had decided that the best way to convey her message would be to sing this song and have a retarded girl do ASL with her, and that it was working because this room full of people was obviously deeply affected by it. What a world.

I sent the clip to J and another friend who I was sure would find it as absurd and funny as I did. Both of them replied saying, basically, "I don't think this is funny." In an instant I changed from the sophisticated artist with a dark sense of humor to the cruel oaf laughing at the retarded girl, and I was mortified. (Neither of my friends reprimanded me. This anxiety was of my own creation.) I know I wasn't laughing at the retarded girl, but, for some very frustrating reason, it was more important to me to know that my friends know that. And of course there's no explaining it. ("I wasn't laughing at her, I was laughing with her." How ridiculous.) And really, even though I wasn't laughing at the retarded girl, I was laughing at the fat white lady, who, after all, was just doing her best to bring joy into the world.

There may be a lesson bigger than the size of my head in this, something like, "A dark sense of humor is fine until you hurt somebody." But mainly what I've learned (for the ten billionth time) is that despite the fact that I try to chip away at it every day, my ego is still as big as Mt. Everest.

Last night over dinner, J told me something that might serve as exculpatory evidence: On the youtube site -- when I forwarded the URL to my friends, it took them to youtube, not to the blog where I found the clip -- it's titled "Sandy Patti Butchers the Hits with a Retard." On the blog where I watched it, there was no title. I never would have laughed if I'd seen that title. You know that, don't you?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Brouhaha de Español.

My Spanish teacher sat the class down for a heart-to-heart this morning.

Apparently there's a big flap in the Spanish department because the average test scores in all 20 classes of first-year Spanish were very low. Also, the range from highest to lowest score was very wide, some 45 points (which for some reason is also a bad sign, though I'm not sure why).

This is the first year they've used this textbook and curriculum, and they're thinking maybe it's not going so well. They've decided that they can't -- again I don't know why -- help a brother out and adjust the test scores on a curve, but what they can do is lower the test's percentage value toward our final grade. Also, our teacher passed out a survey for us to evaluate the course so far and offer suggestions. For some reason I'm not feeling very secure in this little expedition. It's slightly encouraging to find out that it's not just me at sea. But, still, I'm at sea. And I think the boat is leaking.

I don't mind being a guinea pig -- I spent most of last year doing it for a living. But if they want me to test out their new curriculum, they should be paying me, not the other way around.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Boo, Spanish.

I had my first Spanish exam yesterday, and our instructor already had our tests graded to give back to us this morning. I got an 81.5. I wasn't surprised. Most of the exam was based on an audio recording of two people speaking at a normal conversational speed in two different accents (one Mexican, the other Colombian). We heard it twice. I could understand about 15% of it.

I have a hard time listening to poor-quality audio amplified in large rooms, because I have a slight hearing impairment. It's never been diagnosed, but what happens is some frequencies just turn into noise, like analog distortion. I can hear things, but I can't always understand the words. The impairment is subtle enough that it hasn't affected my life much -- though it does affect the lives of my friends, who have to put up with me constantly saying, "What?"

But I can't completely blame it on my hearing. The speakers were talking fast, and they sounded very different from anyone I've ever heard speaking Spanish. The woman totally swallowed her S's. S is kind of an important letter to leave out, I think.

The second part of the exam consisted of a synopsis of a movie in Spanish, mostly in words and syntax we haven't studied yet, and then questions about it. The idea -- this is a technique that's used a lot in our textbook -- is to skim the text for cognates (words that are similar in English) and then try to guess the general sense of the paragraph. This part was a little easier, though most of the class objected to a few of the questions, which were tricky considering we've only been studying this language for 5 weeks.

I'm frustrated. It's not like Biology where the material is just difficult and complex, but I know if I study like a maniac I can get it. A foreign language is difficult and complex, too, but I'm doing well with the written stuff. I know the grammar. But listening comprehension is an intangible skill. I don't know how to study it. We don't do much listening in class. Not even in lab, which I think is supposed to be for that. Lab is a waste of time. We'd be much better going to a Mexican restaurant and ordering in Spanish, or watching a Spanish TV show, or anything where we could be listening to people actually speaking the language.

I'm going to get some tutoring.