The snake eats the mouse
Nothing is lost in translation; everything is gained.
I downloaded Duolingo, the language-learning app, 38 days ago, and I’ve never become obsessed with something so quickly in my life.
I’m learning Italian, and in just over a month I can already communicate things like “The woman has a skirt,” “The snake eats the mouse,” and “I have your pants.” Every now and then, the app offers up a sentence that feels as if it were crafted just for me, a gift from the all-knowing algorithm. “I write books.” “I do not have children.” “The dog is mine.” “He does not eat cheese.” (That last one, tragically, is for my husband.)
When I started using Duolingo, I expected it to teach me colors and animals and food. What I didn’t expect was to rediscover the beauty of language, simply by making it new.
I’m the kind of writer who loves words almost as much as I love stories. The highlight of my morning is playing Wordle. I adore Scrabble and puns and books without plot as long as the prose is beautiful. I delight in Duolingo, especially the moment it introduces a new word and I can figure out its definition based on something as concrete as context clues or as mystical as how the word makes me feel.
Sure, the tenses trip me up, I don’t understand Italian’s insistence on gendering every noun, and I speak like a poorly trained toddler. But that’s part of the charm, the magic. Learning a new language is like—well, it’s like learning a new language. It forces me to slow down, to speak carefully, to think about what I’m trying to say and why and to whom, which is a profoundly different experience from the thoughtless way I communicate in my native tongue. In Italian, I take nothing for granted. I haven’t yet learned how.
Learning Italian isn’t just a mystical experience. It’s also practical. You may remember from my 2022 goals issue that I want to go on a trip to celebrate my 40th birthday. When I started considering destinations, I immediately began limiting myself. “We can’t go abroad,” I told myself. “Who knows what will happen with COVID, it’ll be too expensive, I’ve never planned an international trip, it sounds like a lot of work. Let’s just go camping or something instead.”
Then I remembered my word of the year: reimagine. As in: forget the stories you previously believed about what you can do or afford or accomplish. If you’ve never been the kind of person who travels abroad, the answer is simple: become her.
And so, after thinking deeply about how I’d celebrate my birthday if money and experience and fear didn’t exist, I settled on Italy. I downloaded Duolingo and started learning some basic Italian. And exactly 30 days later, I purchased two plane tickets to Italy for September. I didn’t mean to time it that way, but sometimes kismet can’t be avoided.
If you have recommendations for things to do and see and eat in Italia, please send them my way. I’ve already started a spreadsheet and filling it with plans might be more fun than the actual trip. In the meantime: Grazie! Addio! Alla prossima volta, amici!
Speaking of Italian… Mangio pizza! Last weekend one of our favorite couples had a kid-free night and we hit the town hard. Two bars, one restaurant, and I was still in bed by 10pm. (The trick is to start at 4.) For dinner, we went to Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria, our local Vivian Howard joint, and as usual it did not disappoint. Two words: HOT HONEY. Delizioso!
Thank you to all the kind, generous, and talented folks who attended my Write Wilmington session last Friday! I had a great time sharing some of my work(!) and leading everyone through writing exercises focused on 1. grocery stores, and 2. money. (I AM WHO I AM.) It was a great reminder that saying yes to something that scares you is nearly always a good idea.
I love the idea of carving out 30-60 minutes each Friday to take care of all those dumb little tasks that needle your brain and ramp up your anxiety. So simple, yet so effective! Gotta love a plan.
“No one explanation accounts for [balloons] cultural ascendence, but the pandemic was a factor, moving more parties outside, and from elaborate hotels and event spaces into people’s homes, where balloons can be set up and broken down like Bubble Wrap. The reliance on livestreamed events helped too; lush, screen-filling décor looks better than sparser floral arrangements. And of course, because this is a social-media-fueled trend, there’s a Kardashian at the center of it all.”
“When we view others’ successes, we tend to ignore the cost of that upward movement. All we see are the impressive profit margins, the big job announcements, and the beautiful family photos. We don’t see the employees who were laid off to keep stockholders happy, the added work that comes with that new position, or the stressful moments leading up to that picture-perfect snapshot.” My Sweet Dumb Brain is one of my favorite newsletters. The way Katie writes about life, love, grief, and everything in between is so relatable, and one of the many reasons I’m a paid subscriber!
Very good tips! I’ll be fluent in no time.
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Thank you to Megan W. and Jenica J.! I didn’t send a newsletter last week because life got in the way, but your support reminded me that returning to this space is a gift in itself.
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