Bootstrapping and Finding the Fun in Language Learning

For my language learners and linguistics friends…


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I study and learn language versus how it was and is taught. I’ve been looking at a ton of language study apps (for myself and also my wife), and a lot of them have some of the main keys — learning words through multiple vectors and from different direction, interval training, etc — but they all feel pretty terrible at introducing NEW things.

So as I’ve been thinking about how I study when I make flashcards versus how these apps EXPECT me to study, I’ve come down to what I’m calling “bootstrapping” (term stolen from programming probably). That is, when you have no basis for building understanding, how do you get from there to HAVING understanding and having a foundation for building on more knowledge. It’s this idea of bootstrapping that I think most neglected — at least in the discourse of Japanese pedagogy. (There, I’ve gotten the big academic words out of the way, so I can write like a normal person again.)

Please allow me to start with an example of the problem:

I am an intermediate-level Japanese reader, and possibly an advanced-level speaker. But I have holes in my knowledge. Sometimes large, gaping, embarrassing holes (like I only within the last month learned the verb “to guide” and it’s one they use all the time, and now suddenly I hear it EVERYWHERE). So I’ve been trying to fill those holes by starting at the JLPT N5 word list and studying up so I know that I know the whole thing. (N5 is the beginning Japanese proficiency level according to the nationally recognized JLPT system — Japanese Language Proficiency Test. You have to get at least a C on each level to be awarded that level. It goes 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 in increasing proficiency. If you are an N1 speaker, you are probably better than most Japanese at speaking the language and could likely teach their kids how to speak it better.)

After completing out my N5 list one afternoon, I excitedly switched over to the N4 list, ready to finally feel like my knowledge of the language was moving forward. I switched to the new list in the app I was using (Sticky Study, one of the better flashcard study apps I’ve found) and started the process of learning some new words. Unlike in the previous list, N4 had a lot of words I just plain didn’t recognize, neither from kanji nor from pronunciation. And I very quickly became frustrated (I’ll get back to the frustration part). It would show me a handful of words, maybe 5 or 6, then it would review some words I had marked as already knowing, and then when it brought me back around to the new words from before, they looked exactly as foreign to me as they did when I first saw them. There were no lingering pronunciations or meanings trying to become attached to these new words. It became disheartening and I gave up for the day.

And this is a problem. When you are handed 5 new things that don’t have any attachment or reference points in your mind, there’s nothing for them to stick to — no memories or ideas for those new words to affix themselves to. I envision knowledge like a web or lattice system: the more similar things a new piece of information has to attach to, the more stable that information becomes. Also, the longer you spend reinforcing the connections, the longer it sticks together (and over time if you never come back, the connections will wither away. I guess they need time to set at each layer before you can apply the next coating or something. It’s not a perfect analogy.)

So these words, all I had was having seen them on the screen and read the meaning once. I had no memories of seeing the characters before, I had no feeling like I’d ever heard people SAYING the words before. There was essentially nothing to attach them to, and so no memory could be formed.

This is where I feel like we need to improve the bootstrapping of new words and grammar. “Bootstrapping” here (which, I mean, I could be wrong), I am using to mean the process of starting something up from nothing. No foundation, no similarities to other things. Functionally nothing. You give people a vocab list, and the words they are most likely to remember are the cognates first, followed by maybe either the really common words they hear all the time or the ones that they’ve come up with fun mnemonics for. But there always seem to be some set of words that people have a hard time with — words that sound nothing like their own language, or whose meanings are more subtly different and difficult to translate. (Japanese has a lot of both, btw.)

I feel like I have, on my own, been able to overcome this problem pretty regularly, but the technique I use doesn’t seem to be represented anywhere in the literature I’ve read (and certainly isn’t present in the tools I’ve tried).

Basically, I take two arbitrary items and compare them to each other. I build up the framework by hand. I look at one crazy character or word, acknowledge its meaning, pronunciation, etc; and then I look at a second one. I see how it looks different, sounds different, and how its meaning is different. Then, before I’ve had a chance to really forget the first one, I go back to it. First, second, first, second. I do that a few times, and then I add in a third. The third isn’t very difficult because I’ve already learned the first two, so at first it’s just “the new one”. And I go through those three for a while before adding a fourth, and then a fifth, and so on. Sometimes I’ll add more than one, but I never add a new word until I’ve got a pretty solid sense of the difference between the last new one and the other ones I’ve already studied. (Sometimes I call them targets, since “word” is maybe not always the best, er, word to use — maybe morpheme would be more accurate here? But “target” in that it’s the thing you’re aiming at to learn, yeah?)

And after you’ve done this for maybe 5 or 10 or 30 words, you start feeling less like you have nothing going for you and more like you have quite a lot going for you. I used this technique every other day in college to memorize (and let’s not kid ourselves, what I’m talking about here is memorization, not quite learning yet) sometimes as many as 60 new words or more to ace the morning’s vocab quiz.

My tactic was also assisted by a kind of defacto interval training. The better I knew the word, the further back I would put it in the list of vocab cards, so words I had trouble with would come back sooner, ones I already knew would recur less frequently.

The thing that I want to emphasize is that the bootstrapping process in learning new words — that route by which you take something completely alien and make it familiar by comparing it to something else completely alien — seem both vitally necessary and severely underrepresented in the work I’ve seen on language learning.

Finding the Fun

In my career as a game designer, there was a mantra that everyone has used: “Find the fun”. If a game mechanic isn’t fun, then you don’t have a good game. Period. End of line. The single most vitally important thing in making fun games is for the designers to “find the fun”. This is both harder and easier than it seems (depending on how you look at it), but for now, I’ll just leave it at this is the most fundamental job that a game designer has. Everything else is predicated upon knowing that fun exists, and where it is and understanding it.

I think that this should apply to how we live our lives, as well. From a personal and professional standpoint, whether dealing with hardships or learning something new.

Remember how I said I would get back to the frustration I felt? If something isn’t fun, we tend to stop doing it. Or we do it begrudgingly. I don’t want to hear any old-person jibber-jabber about “sometimes you have to do stuff that isn’t fun, it just needs to be done.” I think their definition of fun is either too narrow, or they’ve gone about doing things in a way that makes them more miserable. (Which is totally a thing that people do. Maybe another blog post sometime about that one.)

When I was studying and I came back around to the new words, not only could I not remember them, the only thing I DID remember was that there was a set of words, and visually, yeah, maybe this was one of them. I guess. It was frustrating, and also it wasn’t very fun. So sue me if I want to spend my life enjoying the things I do (wow, I must have some repressed something about that fun thing).

Basically, nobody needs to learn a language that isn’t their native language — and native languages are kind of acquired without having to try too hard. That is, little kids try REALLY hard, but they’re at a stage in their life where just learning and making connections at whatever pace works for them is not only fun, it’s also TOTALLY OKAY for them to be having fun. They haven’t had the sense of “it’s okay to have fun” beaten out of them yet, and so they slowly build up their working knowledge. But for the “grown-ups” of us out there, yeah, we probably don’t NEED to learn another language. You can see this all over the world by looking at immigrants and refugees who never learn the language very well for where they are now living: Spanish-speakers in the US, English speakers in Japan, German speakers in Brazil… You can get by with surprisingly little native language understanding.

So when we say we want to learn a language, we should acknowledge that what we’re setting out to do is, functionally, completely optional (even for schools that require it, you can still get a simple job if you fail out of school, it happens all the time). And if something is optional AND unenjoyable (or regularly frustrating), we’re almost certainly going to give up.

So could you go through the list of five new words over and over again and eventually pick them up? Yeah, probably. And you would almost certainly learn one of them first, know which one that was in order, be looking for it, and then learn the others in the context of knowing that one. But in the meantime, you’ll likely be frustrated and (like I did) put it down.

Another thing I learned as a game designer is that once someone puts something down, if there isn’t a strong draw to come back, they won’t. Once the game is off, it’s gone. Once you stop studying, you’re done. Unless the task was REALLY fun, or you want to learn the language SO MUCH that it overcomes how boring and tedious and frustrating the task it, you’ll give up. I can’t tell you how often I’ve given up and come back and given up again.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that language learning should always be fun — ALL learning should be fun — or else you’re going to give up and you may never come back.

Level Design

When designing content for a game — levels and puzzles and so forth — your main goal is to push the player without frustrating them. You take what they already know and you add some new thing to it to make it just a little bit trickier, or to make it just a little bit newer or different. In this way, you’re always showing them something new and challenging them just a little bit. There’s a sweet spot for video games between making players do the same thing over and over again, they get bored; and forcing them to grow in skill too quickly, and the game becomes hard and many players will give up. But if the game does it just right, then you can start from not knowing how to do anything at all in the game to now pulling off crazy skilled jumps and attacks that, if you’d been asked to do them from the start, would have frustrated you and you would have likely given up.

You can probably tell where I’m going with this one.

I think we should be applying the same tactics to language instruction that we do to level design. Introduce things slowly. Give them some time to play around with that things and become comfortable and good at it. Then, right when they’re starting to get a little bored, you give them something new.

This, in a simple way, is an advantage that I think the system I use on myself has — at least in the sphere of learning new vocabulary targets. You play around in the space that you know until you’re comfortable with how to recognize it against the backdrop of all the other things you already know about. Then you add something new, and play with that. Eventually, you don’t have to do a direct comparison against EVERY other thing because you’ve built up that framework of knowledge. Though sometimes you do get thrown for a loop by targets that are surprisingly similar, or whose meanings get crossed somehow.

(I had that exact problem with the characters for big sister, little sister, and little brother in Japanese — I could easily recognize that each of them was one of the words in that group, and when placed next to each other I could have likely told you which was which; but when seen individually, I was just awful at remembering quickly which one had what meaning.)

A topic for another time (since I’ve written over 2,000 words already and I’m not QUITE done yet) is how we should take what I’m saying here and then train against things that are cognitively similar for whatever reason, to learn to differentiate them from one another.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say in this section is that, when you introduce topics or new words slowly and give people time to play and understand it, they will feel like they’re GOOD at it all, and they will want to do more. Whereas if you just hand them a huge list and say “go”, they’d probably do it ineffectively and they’ll feel like they’re bad at it and give up and (possibly) think themselves lesser than people who just naturally figure out how to study better for themselves earlier.

Memorization vs. Learning

Lastly, I just want to touch briefly on “learning” versus “memorization”. Obviously, the goal is learning. Learning is what we do with our native languages. It’s that instinctual kind of knowledge where you have a non-verbal thought and the words and grammar just materialize and you say them. Memorizing is more like having a high-speed look-up table. Like a dictionary in your head. And when you have a thought, you have to formalize it into something you understand (words, meta-thoughts, something weird like that) and then “look up” or “figure out” what those things are in the target language.

Memorization can happen very quickly, but it also goes away very quickly. It’s part of why I still got a D in that class where I was rockstar-memorizing over 100 words each week and acing morning quizzes. I did the quizzes, but then by the time class was out, the words were gone. The step I lacked was coming back to what I’d studied later, after a break, and RE-memorizing the ones I’d lost. It’s the classic long-tailed second half of recurrence learning. It’s the part that everyone already has figured out in all of their flashcard apps.

The thing they’re missing is that “getting started” bit right at the beginning.

And that little part is why I’ve started working on a flashcard app of my own. Because I’m tired of having to deal with poor bootstrapping of new vocabulary. Because it’s not fun, and I think it wastes my time.


Changing Seasons and Thoughts on Generic Study

While Christmas has been a thing here since Halloween ended (this whole last month), I’m starting to get excited for it myself, now... playing Christmas music, enjoying when I see decorations, etc...

While Christmas has been a thing here since Halloween ended (this whole last month), I’m starting to get excited for it myself, now… playing Christmas music, enjoying when I see decorations, etc…

First, a few simple notes about Japan, and the change in seasons.  Here in Tokyo, it’s rather humid.  And by “rather”, I mean it’s comparable to, say, swimming through the air.  The temperatures have gotten downright chilly over the last few weeks, ranging usually around 14˚ or less (that’s in C, on F, which I use because it’s what they use here, plus it has fewer flats).  In F, that’s about 55˚.  Well above freezing.  Yet, it feels frightfully cold, and you’re reading from a guy who will spend 15 minutes outside with a t-shirt and jeans when it’s snowing where he’s from.  Of course, he’s from a much drier climate, so the cold doesn’t absorb as much.

Also, it’s starting to come down to Christmas time.  Here in Japan, that means basically everything it means in America minus silly religious annoyances (the religious meaning isn’t annoying, but the ranting about religious meaning kind of is), and without it being a national holiday.  Also, I heard that in Japan, each person really only gets one present, which, if you’re a girl, means you get a fancy new bag (purse-thing).  That’s what girls get in Japan, I guess. ^_^  Don’t ask me, I just calls ‘em like I sees ‘em.

This next sections, I debated putting up here or on my personal Japan-blog, since it does pertain to an individual problem I’ve have in school (you have no idea how many times I had to edit that sentence so that people wouldn’t sit down – metaphorically – before continuing on), but I think because the general idea is more widespread and generically applicable than just to my personal situation, I will post it here.

First, you should know that kanji is hard.  If you don’t know that, well, you do now.  Japanese people tell me that kanji is hard.  It’s the hardest thing to learn and the easiest thing to forget.  There’s even a rising trend where everyone can read it, but more and more are able to write less and less of it.  (Thanks, computers…)  So it’s not just us stupid white guys. ^_^

In Inensive Japanese, we’ve set a pace of studying twenty kanji each week.  That’s a very hefty pace, considering that there are potentially dozens of new words for each kanji…  Kanji is also very interesting, as when you get more into it, it can actually make it easier to learn new words, which is one of the reasons I really actually like it, but that’s not pertinent to the current topic.  What is pertinent is that with all these kanji, plus speaking and vocabulary and grammar in class (of which we cover dozens of new items each week) can easily run any person down.  In the case of this class, I find myself in one of two positions: either barely staying afloat on the homework/study scene, or rapidly sinking beneath the piled on load.

When things get really heavily piled up, however, is not a time I find myself really wanting to “get to it”, as it were, and work hard to overcome the load.  Rather, utilizing arguments that what they’re “teaching” is useless, I argue that there’s no point in doing the homework to catch up, so I drop a few assignments (don’t worry, there’s probably a hundred assignments or more this semestre, of which the grade impact is around 7%, so I’m not hurting too much for that) and pick up the next ones as they come.  This actually works rather well in areas other than kanji.  You see, the kanji builds up on itself.  If you miss a vocab here or there, you can usually pick it up later when needed, but if you miss a kanji, then it makes learning future vocab more difficult, and when it comes time for a mid-term/final, well, it’s just bad.

The second major problem in learning kanji, unlike doing an assignment (of which there are at least two for kanji each week), it’s not something you can just do, say “I did it”, and put away.  Each kanji has its shape (that you need to know how to write), at LEAST one pronunciation (often more, with as many as 4 or more), several words that use it, along with a general idea for the meaning of the kanji which can help you to learn the words better, and maybe even a bit of their history if you feel so inclined.  When you have these 4 (four?  I didn’t count as I wrote it) facets of kanji earning, you can’t simply sit down for an hour one night with some flash cards and learn them all.  I can learn 40 words that way easily (recognition, pronunciation, and meaning), but the kanji are more intricate and involved than simple vocab in which they are used.

For these reasons (personal and logistical), I find my subconscious often pushing kanji to the back burner.  (It also doesn’t help that kanji is the least emphasized and least frequented class among the collection that forms “Intensive Japanese”.)  It says, “Oh, you have more important homework due tomorrow, and kanji’s not ‘til the day after,” and things like that.  It also says, “If you start studying kanji now, you’re not getting to bed until 3 in the morning (this being around 11, an hour before I usually hit the sack), OR you won’t have studied well enough to know it well enough for the test, so there’s no point getting involved now.”  That along with the knowledge that if I study one day I’ll likely have forgotten it by the next day, making kanji seem rather like a never ending battle to remember things.

But then I thought of something, which I had later confirmed and endetailed.  (Is that a word?  Just “detailed” seems wrong there, even as a transitive verb… >.>)  The idea is this:  Just a little study each day would likely spread out the time needed to study it all in one day, and probably only take a slightly longer length of time in total, but resulting in a much stronger knowledge of the information presented.  I achieved this conclusion based more or less on my knowledge of increasing interval theory in linguistic learning as well as personal experience in studying.  So that’s what I decided to do, is I’ll sit down for a little while each day, acknowledging that I won’t finish my study that day.  My goal will merely be to get some of it done.  That’s the biggest wall, is the notion of “finishing” something, because you can’t “finish” learning a language.  I haven’t even finished learning English, and here I am working on a second… or third… or… whatever.  A different one.  Anyway, I think you see the point.

Then I came home and looked at an article I received this morning from my older brother, who likes to lurk around on RSS news feeds and send me interesting articles, pointing to this science report.  Feel free to read it, but it’s a bit long (and this blog post isn’t?) so I’ll summarize here.  Basically, we learn best when we look at intelligence as something you gain, not something you have.  Children who are naturally gifted have a predisposition to look at intelligence as a natural extant thing that is what it is.  In America, we like to exacerbate this problem by telling our children things like, “You’re so talented,” or, “He’s very bright.”  This leads to children tending to look at themselves as naturally intelligent (the research started in the 60s, but the more pivotal parts have only recently been published) but when they encounter trouble, rather than look at it as an obstacle to get over to improve their knowledge, they will say, “Well, it’s pointless anyway” (sound familiar?), and move on to something that makes them feel more confident.  However there are some children who look at difficulties and failures as a factor of their not working hard enough to get it done right.  They look at every challenge as a chance to get a little bit smarter.  Kind of like, it’s not the naturally brilliant plan that gets you from point A to point B, but rather in the plan’s execution, if that makes any more sense.  (The brilliant plan being natural ability, which some have and some don’t; the execution being effort applied to a subject, which everyone can do to accomplish the task, natural talent or not.  I think natural talent just eases the process…)

I find it fun that I arrived at this conclusion to make learning kanji a process and not a goal on the same day that I received this article.  (I made my conclusion before reading the article, however, in case of temporal confusion. ^_^)

Incidentally, there are actually a number of areas in which I have already come to this conclusion, for instance in the area of teaching language, learning to sing, understanding religious principles, etc…  Just never had I thought to apply it to something as mundane as everyday schoolwork.  The fact is that everything we can learn is really just a process and a stop on the road to knowing more, as there’s always something more to learn about a subject.  What we are given in school are really just milestones.  My determination was to stop looking at the milestones and to start looking at the road leading up to them.

…And that sounded way more “mysterious wise person on mountain” than I would generally feel comfortable with, but I’ll let it stay for now, since I wrote it, and I dislike editing these things… ^_^

( ^^)

Oh yeah!  And you can totally apply this to everything!  Relationships, losing weight, learning a musical instrument, everything!  Every time you work at something, you’re doing it!  Who cares if you’re not seeing results immediately.  Just do it because it’s something you want to do, and then you’ll forget about looking for results until one day you stop and say, “Hey!  I’ve actually made a LOT of progress!”  ^_^  Trust me!

Thoughts on Language Study

There are various ways to study a foreign language.  I’m’na ramble a bit about some ideas that just occurred to me.  Hope y’all don’t mind.

There are various ways to study a foreign language. I’m’na ramble a bit about some ideas that just occurred to me. Hope y’all don’t mind.

Something very troubling just occurred to me with regard to language study in schools, and it’s very closely related to the fact that language study goes on in schools.  See, when we were all very young children learning to speak, we heard sounds made by parents and those around us, and eventually made connections of sounds to meanings, and began to understand.  Then we tried to make the sounds ourselves to be understood, first with easy sound/idea combinations (“No!” anyone?), then with more complicated ones (“I don’t want to say precocious…”). We were often told what to say in various situations and thus repeated it over and over, spoken correctly (well, correctly enough…  terms like “I should of” and “I’d just assume” and “I could care less” notwithstanding), and we said correct, understandable things.  All of this largely through imitation.  Then we got to school and learned to “created” rules about speech being “correct” (which the descriptivist will tell you is a waste of time) or not, and we choose to use or remember those rules based on interest, capacity, etc…

But when we made mistakes in speech growing up, there was always someone there to correct our speech.  “I juice please” is not a sentence, but the mother knowing the correct way will likely correct saying either, “I want juice,” or “You want juice?”, but likely emphasizing the forgotten word.

In school, we are taught words to memorize, and grammar principles to use, told to study them, and then tested on our understanding.  This fails.  We may occasionally be corrected on our improper use of grammar, but we are not constantly asked to say correct things once we’ve made a mistake.  In fact, almost every day, we are told to speak to one-another in the language we’re learning, with the hopes that we will somehow magically figure out how Japanese people speak Japanese if we attempt to speak it to an American (or German, or Russian, etc… in my local classes) who is ALSO learning.  Thus far, I see that we have a very strong potential for reinforcing bad grammatical skills.  I will very often better understand something said by a student in “Japanese” than will the teacher who has to say, “Wait, what was he TRYING to say?”  See, because I know English, and thus the Enlish way of thinking about things, thus I can easily say, “Oh, he was trying to say _____ in English!”

Okay so problem #1 is reinforced errors.  That is, a lack of correction in as many times as possible.

Number two, which I think is a much bigger problem, is that we are tested.  It is expected that through study you can become useful in a language to the point where you can fill in small words around a sentence.  Look at the English words “in”, “at”, and “on”.  Now try explaining those words to someone who’s learning English.  Now let’s say you test them.  How can you even test to see if they can use the words correctly?  Well, you could have them memorize sentences with the words and regurgitate those sentences, but that’s not really “learning”, then, is it?  You could have them create sentences on their own that use them, which could work.  You could give them a sentence with all words but the one they need to choose written, and they fill in the plank.  (The last is what they do in my classes.)  How could you possibly expect someone to know the difference between “I went home on the bus” and “I went home in the bus”.  The first is the obvious choice for a native speaker, while the second makes no sense at all.  “What, so you were in the bus when you went home?  What are you trying to say?  What’s your point?”  And “by bus” works, but it’s just weird.

Now you maybe know how it feels to be studying Japanese for me.  Every time I think I understand something, I find out I’m wrong in at least some case, and when I ask the teachers why, all they have to say to me is, “It’s the rule in this case.”  They can’t even explain it any better in their own language, often saying, “I wonder why…” or “I don’t really know why.”  You just do.

So now we have a situation where the student has to remember something arbitrary for a test wherein they aren’t given the exact same sentences to regurgitate.  How on earth can you expect them to succeed?  There’s SO much extra work to overcome that was built up by their previous language as well, that you just cannot give them flat-out rules with the expectation that in studying, somehow, they will manage to integrate those rules into their own understanding of the language!

I think the missionaries have it easy, because they find themselves often saying the same things over and over again in teaching lessons, and so they are more likely to become good at them.  We don’t really practice useful phrases in an environment where it’s useful to know them so much as create very fictitious scenarios and memorize words for a test, not because we may need to know them in the future.  I think the very nature of language learning is that you do it because it is necessary, and it can be easy because it is important to you.  But you can’t overflow someone with words and expect them to remember even the important ones very well.

Why, I can memorize the kanji (recognizing them) for upwards of almost 100 words a day for a single test.  But then, right after the test give me a practical reading in it, and it takes still a decent length of time to see the words and remember, “Oh, that was one of the words I studied this morning.”  ANd of course by the time I’ve studied the next set of words (usually more like 20-40 than 100, of course) for the next day, I will have forgotten most, if not all, of the previous day’s words.

So roundabout-ly, problem #2 is being tested on something that is most naturally gained through use rather than study.  And believe me, I’m positive that use it the better way to learn the words…  From experience.  At best, I can say to myself, “Well, we studied the word I want to use recently, but I honestly have no idea what it was anymore because we’ve had three other chapters since then.”  (Okay, at absolute best, it’s one of those few words that I just seem to remember somehow, but that’s incredibly rare…  I think.  Compared to the flood of new vocabulary we need to use almost every day.)

Lack of helpful, nurturing correction and a malformed focus of import and learning are two major issues that I would like to tackle through graduate studies, assuming I still manage to pass the Japanese class somehow (I’m convinced it’s no in my hands, nor was it likely ever, how my grade will be.  The class is that crazy.) and graduate from my university without having to do some weird academic probation or something terrible and unfortunate like that…

Ah, but I’m saying worrisome things again.  Please keep in mind that when reading my blogs, as with reading most anything I write (or hearing things I say) that I am rather prone to make the truth sound more dramatic than it really is.  Partially because I probably perceive it as more dramatic than would most people…  Maybe it’s a defense mechanism to make my life feel more interesting or something. ^_^  No sense in seriously freaking out over something you’ve no control, eh?  Besides, school isn’t NEARLY the most important thing going on over here.  I’ve learned far more outside of school than could be understood probably in ten-times the classes I’ve attended.  So good things.  Just life as I would LIKE to live it being frustrated by the System.  And let’s be honest: when has my life NOT been frustrated by the System?  Right, so I’m used to it.  I just love bitching about it SO gosh-darn much…  It’s really a hobby of mine.  I honestly think that I somewhat actively strive to “bitch better” about things, as it were.  So please, do not stress yourself over my stress, as my stress only exists in the specific situations or when recounting it to others…  (Though recounting is much more entertaining for me, I promise!)

If you’re worried about me, ask my older brother if you have any real reason to be.  And he’ll tell you ‘no’.  Or maybe, ‘probably not’.  In any case, his answer won’t be anything like ‘yes’.  Unless it includes the word ‘guess’ in it… but it still won’t indicate an affirmation of your fear, regardless of the verbiage he chooses.

Do you all even know how to contact my brother?  Meh, I suppose it may be better that way.