The Best Case Scenario of Fluency

The best case scenario is that your skills will become invisible to you. In. vis. ible. You don’t even realize that the “mere” act of walking is a skill you developed through practice and that if you fell out of practice starting today (by falling into, say, a coma), just 6 months of not walking would force you to re-learn. You think vocabulary is a “use it or lose it” proposition? So is ambulation. So is most of what you don’t hold dear because it’s so highly developed that it just works.

My point?

You will get good at Japanese. If you keep it hitting your ears and eyes, you just will. That’s just how it works.

BUT…

You will forget that you are good at Japanese. You will not remember. You will not realize it. 1 This is the best case scenario: you will neither realize nor appreciate your skill. This means that if the getting of the skill, if the process of getting good, of shaving down your suckage, of chipping away at your ignorance, is not enjoyable to you, if you do not have fun at Japanese right now — while you suck — you will never have fun at it, because only two paths lie before you:

  1. Give up and forget/regret
  2. Keep playing, get good, and forget

You will either forget Japanese or forget that you know Japanese. Those are your only two options; the latter is your best case scenario. There is no happiness per se on the other side — not of the kind or in the way you’re thinking. It’s all here, it’s all now, and it’s all up to you to take. Once you get really good Japanese, you’ll be too busy using it to realize that you’re using it. You’ll be too busy doing other things. You’ll have moved on. All the fun of Japanese is right where you are now. The fun is in becoming, not being. Being is invisible.

Don’t get me wrong, you’ll have fun being, but you’ll be unable to attribute it to being. You have fun at restaurants because of refrigeration technology, but you never think how wonderful refrigeration technology is; you think: this is nice food; this is a nice person to be eating it with. Yesterday’s happy goal is today’s invisible baseline. As Kevin Kelly (or someone he quoted) once said, “technology is everything that doesn’t work yet”, because once it works, it becomes invisible and you don’t care any more. Once your Japanese works…pffft…who cares?

“Technology is everything that doesn’t work yet”. And happiness? Is everything that you don’t think about any more. Everything you “take for granted” everything that ‘s so self-evidently a part of you(r life), so obvious, so banal, so just there, so much a part of the scenery that you wouldn’t even consider being grateful for it. Disposable chopsticks. Big toes. Knowing Japanese.

Do you think people who have PhDs are weeing themselves with joy at their advanced degrees? They couldn’t care less; all their friends have advanced degrees and better funding and more pubs than them. In fact, they’re embarrassed at their PhDs; they wish they had a more pubs and a Nobel instead 2then life would be awesome. Plus their friends got their degrees in far less time. Plus they get no respect from their family because they don’t know “practical” things. Plus everybody says that if you don’t make waves in the field by the time you’re thirty, you’re doomed to mediocrity — and they’re 29!!!

Do you think Silicon Valley millionaires feel good about being millionaires? They feel like street urchins, because their friends are billionaires, to whom a few mill is a sub-decimal rounding error. And those billionaire friends feel like cheap hookers because they have trillionaire friends whose assets and lives are kept private. And those trillionaire friends feel like crap on a stick because they have friends who are royalty — royal blood; ya can’t buy that; it’s the real deal; you’re either in or you’re out 3.

And their friends who are royalty feel like sweaty sock lint because their royal house is relatively new — nouveau — and none of the other royalty treat them with proper respect (and wouldn’t be caught dead marrying into them). And within each house, the junior royalty wish they were senior and the senior royalty wish they could leave it all behind and just chill like the junior royalty or even just regular citizens, and…

Think about it: are you overjoyed that you can walk? No. You’re too busy trying to get places.
Are you happy that you can speak English? No. In fact, you’re so dissatisfied with it that you’re going off and learning other languages and writing systems; there are plenty of words in English that you don’t know, and you still can’t spell “Massachusetts” properly (how many ‘s’s? Nobody know!), but that isn’t stopping you.

Are you happy that you can swallow food? Are you grateful to just be alive and breathing? Drawring bref on this Erf? No. And if your life were suddenly put in danger, you wouldn’t so much be grateful for it as you would be angry at the threat of losing it, because “WTF?”. And it doesn’t matter to you how many miscarriages it took to get to you, how many tens of millions of sperm died that you might be great, how you used to be microscopic — you (you!) used to be invisible to the naked eye, how you used to live in a man’s…balls! Because of-far king-course you’re here and alive and speaking English and using computers and electricity and flying in planes and having a smartphone — that’s normal!

Are you happy that there’s cheap and plentiful food for you and your cats? No. You’re upset that you have to get up and open the stupid can eeeeevery daaay like some sort of machine. And then you have to make sure to put in recyclables, and there’s cat food juice that gets flicked up and sometimes you get it on your fingers, and…

Are you happy that there’s cheap and plentiful food for you? That you have so much food that your problem is overeating, not being underfed? That you can afford to buy enough gourmet doughnuts to make yourself acutely and chronically ill? No. Are you even happy that your food is clean? No. You go out of your way to buy “organic” vegetables at the farmers’ market, you know, with all the dirt still on ’em!

Are you happy that you live in a big house? No. You’re past that. Now you don’t like the view. Plus your friend’s house is bigger and better.

Are you happy you have people who clean up after you? No, because it’s awkward and you have to get dressed and make sure your computer wallpaper isn’t set to something embarrassing when they come over. And that vacuum cleaner…it’s so loud.

Are you happy that you have a vacuum cleaner that’s freed you from sweeping? No, because it makes too much noise. And you have to empty the stupid container.

Your life is amazing 4, yet you’re “suffering” through it as if it were some kind of tearjerker movie. The only exception to this is road trips. Everybody knows the fun of the road trip is the road part. The destination is irrelevant. The destination is a McGuffin; it’s a pretext; it’s what sets the track that makes the scenery change. You’re in a car, a sort of mobile couch, with your friends, singing Alien Ant Farm and eating sunflower seeds. That’s what matters. That’s all that matters. If the destination and “making good time” really mattered, you’d fly there instead of puttering cross-country in your friend’s dad’s Oldsmobile with the quaint 1970s upholstery.

Well, Japanese is that road trip. And, baby, the fun is not at the destination.

There is no end. There is only more 5. So either you’re happy with your Japanese now, or you’re never happy with it, because more of it will not (and this is hard to believe) make you happier than the current amount: it’ll just make you numb…in a good way — it’ll numb you to Japanese itself and graduate you to another level, and give you other things to focus on; so the time to love it is now. The payoff, the fun, the joy is now or never. Ahora o nunca, meng.

It is a very bad trade to sacrifice present happiness for future happiness. It’s a massive scam. And you’ve been taught your whole life to make this trade. Perhaps you trade 5 days of work for 2 days of “rest”, not even realizing that you’re getting scammed (“please give me two things for those five same things”). I’m a pretty scammy guy; I use AJATT to buy cocaine and underage South American hookers (hey — I create jobs!), so…I know a thing or two about scamming. So believe me when I tell you, sacrificing your present happiness for future happiness is not fun or smart.

Despite what I may have told you, I have never sacrificed present happiness for future happiness, at least when it came to Japanese. I sacrificed pleasing friends on occasion, and incurred their ire, but only because I was happier watching something in Japanese than watching a bad movie in English (one of my groups of friends likes to deliberately watch bad movies for the sheer, perverse joy of it; it’s their “thing”; they’ve been doing this for at least a decade now). It was never a difficult choice for me and I never felt a sense of loss.

Actually, here’s the full story, since you asked: the time my friends got angry, it wasn’t a choice between Japanese and English, it was a choice between their way and my way, and they had no intention of accommodating win-win exceptions, so I metaphorically said: “no deal”. I was willing to watch an English movie while doing Japanese reps discretely, causing no visual disruption, but they wanted everyone focussed, as if we were in school or getting conned in some sort of church. I politely refused. At the time, my friends were really upset, but some time later, unprompted, one by one, they apologized to me and said they had immense respect for my drive and commitment. The thing is, I wasn’t really committed: I was just having fun seeing how far I could take Japanese; I was more curious than committed.

That is the truth of AJATT. It’s about curiosity, not commitment. The truth is, doing crazy things is amusing and fun. Pretending to be Japanese is fun. It’s like make-believe with sounds and pictures. Looking up words is fun — I’m curious about what they mean. And I only paint it all in heroic terms because that makes me seem more heroic, and because I thought that you would find that more palatable — more believable.

Verily, I kid thee not. I clearly remember thinking, when I first started writing AJATT: “I have to recast, reframe my actual story of goofing around in more concrete terms of effort and drive and commitment and effort, so they can see and believe that it would work, because just telling people I just played and had fun seems too…almost (and I hate this phrase because it self-fulfilling-prophetically implies that life is bad by default) ‘too good to be true’, too happy, too easy to be credible. But the cold, hard reality is that it is easy; it was easy, and I am just…narcissistic; I like to take ideas and wear them like make-up and see how far they can go. 6

It’s like…I feel like a guy who spent all night playing SimCity or Minecraft — having fun — turning around and giving preachy lectures about finger exercises perseverance and practice regimes, when really he was just goofing around. Of course there’s exertion involved — the mouse won’t click itself (yet 😉 ) — but it isn’t work! You’re probably more likely to break a sweat during coitus than washing dishes, but are you seriously going to compare the two and call the former more effortful?! I can see it now: “while you people were just standing here enjoying warm, sudsy water soaking between your fingers, I was in that bedroom breaking my back…”

So now that I’ve told you the AJATT secret, that the entire thing was a make-believe game turned real, it must just be my “talent” right? My “calling”. I must have “language genes”, and that’s why I find it fun, right?

Jesús Dawkins, half-Mexican atheist lovechild! Talk about fitting the evidence to a theory (if you tell them it was easy, they say it was genes; if you say it was perseverance and hard work, they say it was perseverance genes)! First of all, stop taking home the wrong message from Gattaca. Secondly, fun is more about structure — form, container — than content, and so you can generate it “artificially“; in fact, there’s a whole fun (discovery) algorithm you can use.

To restate the washing dishes versus coitus dichotomy, think of how fun playing capture the flag is, and how unfun walking around a government office is, and observe how the former takes far more “work”. Yet every last one of us — whether or not able-bodied — would take the order-of-magnitude harder exertion option of CoF. So what does that tell you? It tells you that laziness is not, has not been and never will be your problem.

And neither will lack of knowledge — if, that is, you respect the kind that you yourself generate. Knowledge isn’t just something people give you in school; it’s something you can and do produce on your own; it emerges from experience. But you don’t pay it any notice or respect when it comes from you, because you respect nothing that comes out of you; whether from the front of the body or the back, it’s all just crap to you. Yet as soon as some bimbo who can enunciate reads it to you and it’s called “news”, suddenly you respect it. And this is why you’re forced to read and hear people like me telling you your own good ideas right back at you. Right in the face. Like a roundhouse kick.

So instead of being a little pissy princess and quitting Japanese altogether because of magical assumptions based on an immature science that you know jack all about (because even the people who know about it still don’t know jack), you can be an emotional grown-up and quit all boring vehicles (containers) of Japanese as soon as they make themselves apparent. Arguably, you never need quit neutral generals if you just isolate clear specifics. Don’t quit the game, quit playing with those jerks.

  • Don’t quit Japanese (unless you want to), quit that book.
  • Don’t quit Japanese, quit that person.
  • Don’t quit Japanese, quit that method.

It is very easy to learn languages. Once you decide that you don’t care what anyone else thinks, it’s almost unfair how easy it is. Once you’ve got it so that it’s a path of happiness and joy and fun, not a path to happiness, not a duty…well…you’ve won.

Enjoy your music. Enjoy your video games. Enjoy your comics. Enjoy your kanji reps. Make it fun, make you laugh. Because this is it. Today is the good old days. 7

😀

Notes:

  1. I cannot emotionally remember what it was like to not know Japanese. It’s as though even my childhood memories have been retconned. In fact, my only way to access those emotions, and thus have any empathy for (with?) a beginner, is by exposing myself to other languages I don’t know yet.
  2. And maybe a popular book for a lay audience…but not too popular; they wouldn’t want their fellow professionals to brand them a glib, shallow, “popularizer!”
  3. (the Silicon Valley entrepreneur equivalents of the Industrial Revolution in England tried desperately to buy their way into the aristocracy; back then, “merchant” was an insult. I guess the moral of the story is that human beings crave respect, and if they can’t get it from themselves (which is the case with most people — they’re socially conditioned to place their locus of control and respect outside themselves), they’ll spend good money to import it from outside themselves. It’s probably an Abe Maslow hierarchy of needs thing.)
  4. Can it be made even more amazing? Sure! But that doesn’t mean it sucked! New world records don’t make the old record slow: they just make it old. The trick is to enjoy both the current state and the improvement process, the “kaizen quanta”.
  5. Your problems will go away…and be replaced by new problems of unbelievably high quality. Now that you can read Japanese, you’re annoyed by this writer’s style; that’s a problem only a literate person can have. Now that you have a private jet, you’re annoyed that today, it’s not your usual pilot that you like best, your favorite guy, the one you can tell Archer jokes with and who laughs knowingly when you say “phrasing!”; that’s a problem you only have after you become a private jet owner.
  6. Much of my life, people have been telling me that I take everything to extremes. That’s probably a character flaw. But a character flaw is just another name for a talent that hasn’t found a home yet. “But, Khatz, didn’t you say there was no such thing as talent?”. Sure. I did and I stand by that, but there is such a thing as things people keep telling you to fix, and I’m saying, just as Edith Piaf did, don’t fix your faults, use them.
  7. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself tomorrow, or in 5~10 years. Today will be recast as part of a, no, the Golden Age, bursting with promise and opportunity, when everything was perfect and people were smart and nothing sucked and kids obeyed their parents.

  9 comments for “The Best Case Scenario of Fluency

  1. Danchan
    October 18, 2013 at 01:17

    Old skool.

  2. Lunar
    October 19, 2013 at 06:18

    “Are you happy that you can speak English? No.”

    I’m DAMN happy I can speak English. When I was like 10 or 11 I was constantly like “it would be sooo cool if I could speak English already.” Of course, I guess this only applies to non-native speakers :p

  3. Pingfa
    October 19, 2013 at 21:28

    I can relate to a lot in this post, such as the part about people getting worked up because you’re doing your own thing.
    I encountered a lot of social resistance for learning Chinese. Some peeps didn’t like that I would rather do what I want to do than what they want to do. “You don’t have to do Chinese” peeps would say. I also don’t need to not do it, nor do what others want me to do.

    Making friends isn’t hard these days. There are tons of people in the world who no doubt share many of our interests. What does it matter if so-and-so won’t do such-and-such with you? Find someone else, or find something else to do.

    “(if you tell them it was easy, they say it was genes; if you say it was perseverance and hard work, they say it was perseverance genes)!”

    Man, I’m no stranger to this one. I’m also known for going to ‘extremes’ – which is layman’s terms means ‘more than I do’ – and some people are convinced I’m either a genius or have a special chip inside me that makes me want things more than they do. “I don’t have [imaginary gift] like you do” they say. “I will never have the thingymejiggy that you have” they say. Not with that attitude, that’s for sure.

    The reason I’m more ‘extreme’ than most people isn’t because I have a special chip or care more, it’s the opposite. I acknowledge my suckiness and I don’t care. I do it because I can.

  4. Noah
    October 28, 2013 at 15:44

    “Enjoy your music. Enjoy your video games. Enjoy your comics. Enjoy your kanji reps. Make it fun, make you laugh. Because this is it. Today is the good old days.”

    This made me tear up a little bit(I’m 19). Thanks for the read and motivation.

  5. Erik
    March 30, 2014 at 07:52

    “Yesterday’s happy goal is today’s invisible baseline.”

    This is so true. I was playing a visual novel today without and help from software or dictionaries and was doing pretty well enjoying the story and characters. There were of course few words here and there I didn’t know but it was enough to understand what was going on. It then hit me “wait when could i play these type of games without stopping to look every other word up in the dictionary!?”.

    • Erik
      March 30, 2014 at 07:53

      any*

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