How I Survived Hiragana & Katakana

Earlier this year, the family splurged to get me a Steam Deck. I generally hate spending money on a “pricey gizmo,” and my manual dexterity sucks with joystick controls, so I was hesitant about okaying this one. But when my Barcelonan buddy Abraham Limpo Martinez brought his to Gary Con as a “laptop,” that ticked enough checkboxes to make it a go.

One benefit of its convenience has been playing the Learn Japanese to Survive series of PC games. I’ve been studying Japanese sort of casual like for a couple of decades now. First as Pimsleur lessons in the car on the way to work, then with Memrize & Duolingo.

(Duolingo is sort of my methadone versus Candy Crack addiction, a financially safe way to fill in spare moments here and there.)

I’m impressed as heck with the Learn Japanese to Survive series so far. This past weekend I concluded the second, Katakana War, and like its predecessor, Hiragana Battle, it’s an engaging game in and of itself, with the added bonus of language learning by osmosis rather than study.

Basically, the Learn Japanese to Survive games are Roguelite RPGs with monsters that assume the shape of Japanese language characters, and the only way your band of heroes can land a blow is to choose the correct symbol. It doesn’t feel like study. But by the time you’ve reached and defeated the Boss, you’ll have mastered a full writing system, and will have picked up some Japanese language and culture along the way.

One little bonus I’ve particularly enjoyed is that even after beating the Big Bad, there are legitimate story reasons for returning. In Hiragana Battle it turned out I had missed a couple of side quests, and though the village was now at peace, my champion could still complete those. In Katakana War there were also a few classmates remaining with whom I’d not had time to fully develop friendships and maximize their “class.” So it made an emotional sense to swap them out for experienced party members and go on cleanup detail, tracking down monsters that weren’t destroyed in the war. Yeah, basically a game rationale for continuing to practice, but it *feels* like denouement, not merely a mechanic.

Last night I started on Kanji Combat, and this one is definitely more of a challenge for an English speaker. Though Duolingo has been salting its lessons with various kanji, such as ? “mizu” for “water,” it gave no inkling that this is merely its kun-yomi reading—that when incorporated into a compound word, ? has a different, on-yomi pronunciation, and that some kanji might have more than one pronunciation in both kun and on uses.

Rereading that paragraph, I’m terrified. But in the game, I’m just playing in a manga-style story about a foreign student stranded in Japanese prehistory with three fellow foreign students and their language sensei. I’m immersed in the personalized character. If he is to survive, he’ll need to learn some kanji—a few at a time—to battle the shapeshifting demons and return home.

The Steam Deck makes playing convenient. I did have to tweak the Katakana War installation a bit to make it work, but gaining familiarity with the deck’s Linux desktop mode was one more appeal for buying the device in the first place.

One last comment about the game series: It’s a pleasure to see that its development was funded by Kickstarter backers. This is crowdfunding at its best, bringing to life something glorious that wouldn’t have otherwise existed.

Oh, and the trio is now on sale at an insanely low price.

100,000 Years and Counting

At 50, I got a big motorcycle and a tiny Chihuahua. The bike took me on many adventures, but the Chihuahua changed my life.

I’m not sure why a Chihuahua. Like pretty much everybody, I always thought they’re annoyingly yappy. But I came to realize that I admire their bravery, a spirit far larger than their physicality.

Humans and dogs, I’ve read, have depended on each other for 100,000 years. (Yesterday I saw a photo of an 8,600-year old burial site, the skeleton of a dog buried with its toys.) We’ve clearly affected their evolution, however you want to read that word, which makes me wonder how they may have affected ours.

They’ve certainly affected my own. I’m a kinder, more attentive person in general because of that first little Chihuahua, Dobie, who taught me that an old guy and a little dog could communicate far more clearly than I’d ever imagined. Could look each other in the eyes and see a friend.

I can’t be sure that the little guy in this video is a Chihuahua, but he sure acts like one. And I’m touched by the bond between him and his fellow. The fact that even as the man dodges between the cars, he’s calling for his dog to come to safety. These two instinctively care about each other.

I’m sure that little guy got all kinds of love and praise afterward. He certainly pulled off his part of the ages old human/canine partnership, regardless of his size.

The Act of Reaching Out

Photo by Mishal Ibrahim on Unsplash

We all know that the holiday season is difficult for people who have lost a loved one or who are simply facing things alone.

Heartfelt messages circulate social media, welcoming them to call at any hour, or to stop by if they’re feeling blue. And that’s wonderful.

But for some, it’s an act of hope beyond them. Been there.

Call them instead. Reaching out needn’t be a one-way street.

Thanks

“The Prison, Into Which We Doom Ourselves”

“‘What do you wish to see first?’ asked the abbe.” The Count of Monte Cristo

I haven’t posted much about my mental health journey of late. Mainly because for the time being it’s been more about observing and mulling than speaking.

But here’s a nutshell update: (1) a med change from an antidepressant that was also a stimulant (bad for anxiety); and (2) the realization that I’ve depended too much on employer/employee relationship for a gauge of success. The fact is, my work speaks for itself, not a company’s pay scale or willingness to share its profits.

It doesn’t take much of a look at human history to recognize the typically unhealthy relationship between business and its employees, companies and their “human resources,” owners and their hirelings, bosses and their workers. (The very word “boss” leaves a bad taste in our mouths: hence “bossy.”)

My work speaks for itself. I’ve poured heart and soul into it all, never stinting. Why the hell I’ve craved a pat on the head from whoever signed the paycheck is a shame.

In part, this change in perspective was jostled by a citation from Ursula K. Le Guin, herself paraphrasing J.R.R Tolkein, concerning escapism and the “real world.”

To quote Tolkein’s actual words, “I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. … Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?”

And Le Guin’s continuation, “If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape? The moneylenders, the knownothings, the authoritarians have us all in prison; if we value the freedom of the mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can.”

Part of my imprisonment has been an Evangelical upbringing that castigated “America’s sinful preoccupation with fun.” Church and State so often work hand in hand to support one another in this regard. And State itself is, to quote John Dewey, “the shadow cast on society by big business.”

I believe that in the long run, an Internet full of art and achievement will change that. In part, my own escapism has lately been the wealth of art, music, and laughter I find online. The amazing things we “common folk” share with one another. That, and the open source movements that sidestep business profits simply to help one another. I believe that these will outpace and outlast the tyrants and warmongers raining destruction down upon us to maintain the status quo.

In any case, I feel a little freer today than I have before. Here’s wishing the same for you.

[P.S. My misuse of Wordsworth’s words in my title is intentional. I’d say “Nuns fret not” foreshadows his hidebound future as Poet Laureate.]