Here’s a story about making things a little more complicated than they need to be—on purpose. Later this week, I’ll take the final set of exams in my Irish translation program, and even though I’ll need to submit my answers in a Word doc within a time limit, I’ll write about half of each exam by hand before I type a word. (Don’t worry! I did the same thing the last two semesters, and it all worked out!) The reason is simple: my written Irish is way more accurate when I write by hand.
Here’s an example: I can’t spell the word aghaidh unless I can see it in my own handwriting. (If you’re wondering how that’s pronounced, think of the yg in bygone, and you’ll be close enough.) It’s equivalent to the English noun face, but it’s also part of several common expressions: ar aghaidh is equivalent to forward or ahead, in aghaidhmeans against, le haghaidh is akin to for the purpose of . . . This is a high-frequency word. If I’m just typing it, I second-guess the placement of every letter between the first aand the last h, making an utter mess of things. When taking an exam without access to spell-check, I could waste lots of time agonizing over details like this one. But look at the note I made before attempting to type this paragraph:
I don’t think I could misspell it by hand even if I tried. The loops just feel right this way. And once I’m looking at the word in my own handwriting, copying it onto the keyboard is a cinch.
At this point you might be assuming that I favor writing by hand in general—that perhaps I’m the type of person who would draft a novel on legal pads. As it happens, I have repeatedly tried to write and translate fiction by hand, but I find it maddeningly slow. In English, my touch typing is fast enough that I can pretty much keep up with the pace at which I’m thinking. I’m able to type with about the same speed and accuracy in French and Spanish, which I learned in my teens and twenties in courses with a mixture of typed and handwritten assignments.
It’s no mystery why Irish is the outlier here: it’s because of the way I was introduced to the language. My first exposure to Irish was in an intensive program with a strong focus on conversation and no computers in the classrooms. I took tons of notes by hand in class, but aside from looking up individual words in online dictionaries, I had no reason to type in Irish until I had decent conversational proficiency—by which point Irish seems to have settled into a different slot in my brain than my other languages.
And you know what? It’s fine. Writing by hand feels like an unnecessary hurdle to me in other situations, but in this case, doing “more work” actually saves me time and stress.
A Humble Suggestion
In each newsletter, I’ll offer at least one recommendation for your reading, watching, or listening pleasure.
Sayaka Murata’s novel Convenience Store Woman, translated from Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori, is the story of a woman in her thirties who finds it impossible to meet the societal expectations placed on women in Japanese society but thrives in the highly regimented environment of her workplace, a Tokyo convenience store (konbini). I also recommend Lit Hub’s interview with the author—an enjoyable read before or after the novel itself.
On Twitter and Instagram, @CatsOfYore posts beautiful and quirky vintage photos, paintings, and sculptures of cats and their people. The account owner is also a great advocate for the adoption of cats with feline immunodeficiency virus, and she posts regularly about her own healthy, active, FIV+ cat. The whole thing is heartwarming and delightful.
Finally, if you need to catch up with the final season of Derry Girls (now available on Netflix in the United States), do that! If you’ve finished watching and would like some more time with those goofballs, check out the special episode of The Great British Bake Off in which five cast members attempt to prepare a New Year’s feast. The results are as charmingly chaotic as you might imagine (“I can honestly say you are five of the most troublesome people we’ve ever had in the tent”). On Netflix US, you can find it in the third season of The Great British Baking Show: Holidays under the title “The Great Festive Baking Show.”
Here, Look at My Cats
The world is a mess, and you might welcome a pleasant distraction. For what it’s worth, here are my cats.
All the best for a happy and healthy holiday season. See you back here in early January!