Eine flugzeug landet gerade. A Plane Lands Just.
That’s it. The extent of my German. That little sentence is completely useless to my life which is perhaps why my mind decided to remember it and keep it and repeat it to me every time I see a plane landing. And occasionally when I see a plane fly overhead. Not exactly a good place to land. On my head. Or maybe it is.
Yes, I can say please and thank you in German too. I can say please and thank you in several languages. A bit more useful. Except in some languages that is all I can say and understand. I can say ‘shut up’ in Iranian, which is very rude and so not of any use to me at all unless I want to insult an Iranian. I know the word for table in Japanese, and can sing bits and pieces of Japanese nursery rhymes. My mind has a different idea of what is useful, I guess. I can swear profusely in Italian, with hand gestures too. Now, that is useful, very satisfying and expressive. Although those who don’t understand what I’m saying probably think I’m being romantic. Why is Italian considered one of the languages of love? To me when Italians speak they seem to be arguing all the time. Maybe arguing is the language of love…
In which case having a superpower which makes people agree would eradicate love from relationships. Love does cause a lot of problems, perhaps removing it from the human consciousness would bring peace to humankind. I see you chuckling. Yeah, I doubt it too.
I have always yearned to be fluent in every language of the world even before I became aware of such a thing as a Babelfish. Once I had heard of those I wanted one. It seemed like the most wonderful magic wand in the universe. Oh to be able to communicate and be communicated with by every human in every nook and cranny of this planet… and perhaps even those from other planets!
I’ve traveled to many foreign countries. Being in a foreign land is foreign on so many levels. Trying to get your bearings is difficult. It’s like your inner compass suddenly went haywire. You have no idea where you are. You may know it intellectually, but the rest of you is screaming – Get me out of here, I want to go home! You need something familiar.
It helps if you can understand the language otherwise you’re surrounded by people speaking in tongues, and they may be doing it backwards for all you know. Being able to read a sign could make all the difference between having a lovely experience or ending up in a version of human hell. Being able to express your needs, to ask a question and comprehend the reply is an important part of human interaction. It’s hard enough as it is to do that when you speak the local tongue fluently, but when you don’t… in some ways it makes communication easier, you stick with basics and don’t get lost by taking a small talk detour, and in other ways something simple, like needing to go to the toilet, asking someone where it is, and comprehending their directions, can become exceedingly complex. When you gotta go… well, sometimes you just have to hold it in.
One of the first things we do in life is learn to communicate our needs. If our needs aren’t met, we die. So it is a primal instinct and vital to our survival. This instinct never goes away, even when it gives the impression of being dormant. As babies we can’t talk, and our talking skills take a while to develop. It doesn’t help us that adults tend to talk absolute gibberish. Gaga googoo. Really!?! How is that supposed to help when even adults don’t know what it means? No wonder most babies tend to learn to move around physically before they learn to chat. Bloody adults, all they want to do is talk, what about some action to punctuate all the chatter. Fuck it, I’ll just get the thing I need for myself!
When I hear a baby screaming, I often think it is saying – I’m surrounded by idiots! As an adult I often feel like an idiot. The more words I know, the less I seem to be able to communicate. I find it easier to talk to animals, because they’re very open, honest and straightforward in their communication. Humans tend to say too much and say nothing at all in a very verbose way. A closed book that is encrypted and wants you to open it and decrypt it, but each time you think you’ve decrypted it, the code changes. They also tend to say the exact opposite of what they mean. Which is confusing. You have to translate what they are saying even when they are speaking the same language as you. Their meaning of a word isn’t necessarily your meaning, and figuring that out usually requires making lots of mistakes.
How are you? I’m fine. Oh good, you’re fine. Oh wait, when you say you’re fine, do you mean that you are not fine and want to be left alone, or that you are not fine but want to be drawn out of your shell by further inquiry, pressed for details of how you really are… or is there another version of fine which is none of the above? Which one is it? Which one is the one which is going to cause me the least bother?
So having the superpower to travel back in time would be useful. That ever-increasing list of your litany of uncaring crimes against them which another person is compiling could be averted by popping back to that moment when you thought it was a good idea to get to know them. Problem solved. But…
Since you’re traveling back in time, there are a few other moments of bad decisions which seemed good at the time which have created knots that could be unraveled to the point of the first thread. Hey. Since you’ve got this time traveling, knot-unraveling power why not use it and abuse it. The world is a mess, and of course since you know every intricate detail of history by reading books and watching documentaries and listening to your elders, all of which are unbiased and completely correct, why not change the destiny of humanity. That’s an awesome idea! And everyone will be very grateful and think you’re a hero… or maybe they won’t because by changing history you changed everything so they won’t know what you saved them from. Oh well… you can be a silent hero… but wait, why is this new version of the world in ashes? Better go back and fix things. Wait why is this new new version full of angry people? Back you go. Got it! They’re all happy now, but why does that seem so creepy and make you feel so sad and out of place here?
I am multilingual. What I mean by that is that I absorbed several languages as I was growing up, and now I can speak all of them and none of them. Not even English, which is sort of my mother tongue, but not really. My real natural language is not a verbal one. I have dyslexia. Before you assume you know what that means, give up. I know you’re never supposed to give up. It’s our special secret, shhh, just do it. I have it and I still don’t get it. It’s a brain wiring thing. What you know about it is less than I do if you don’t have it, personal experience gives me the edge over you even if you’ve studied it and I haven’t. And my experience of it is different from the experience of others who have it. Dyslexia has many variations, but the one thing all those who have it seem to share is frustration in communication.
But is dyslexia really the cause of my urge to want to improve my ability to communicate with others by having the superpower of understanding every language in the world and being able to express myself in all of them? That superpower, as wonderful as it would be, would still suffer from all the quirks of my brain, and the weirding of my mind. And although it comes with the enhanced ability to understand another language, that understanding is intellectual. So understanding what the person is saying won’t necessarily mean I understand what they are saying. And vice versa. They may understand the words I’m using, but they won’t know how I am using them.
We all have superpowers, it’s just we were born with them so we don’t think they’re powerful or super because familiarity breeds, not so much contempt as a certain dismissive not noticing of the things, the talents we have, because they are always there.