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Les Mis, overview

I’m almost exactly a month late for Victor Hugo’s birthday (the man would have turned 416 on February 26th), but it’s never too late to talk about the man or his work. As far as I know, there is no other author who has managed to motivate a city to completely renovate and curate a crumbling building that had been around for several hundred years, just because he thought architecture was kind of cool.

As far as I know, there is also no other author who would mail someone else a live bat in an envelope. Yes, Victor Hugo was that kind of guy.

Though Lord Byron had a pet bear in college, so who knows, really. Those Romantics were all pretty crazy no matter which side of the Channel they were on.

Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris is probably the single most influential book he ever wrote, purely because we can see the concrete effects it had in the real world. I could natter about that one, but Lindsay Ellis is much more eloquent on the subject than I am.

No, what I’m qualified to talk about is Les Mis.

Naturally.

Fans call it The Brick because, well, you could probably kill a man with a hardback version. I own six different English translations of the book, some in hardback and some in paperback, because I wrote my senior thesis in college about the differences in those translations as well as translating a few passages from original French into English myself. (Does that establish my nerd credentials? I hope so.) My favorite translation is Fahnestock and MacAfee (FMA), but Hapgood is also really good for getting the historical context of the original text, although I do have a few bones to pick about the tutoiement and vouvoiement in that version. (And … that’s a subject for another post.)

The Denny translation is an okay starter if you’re just dipping your toes into the novel for the first time, though the translator does … take some liberties with the original text. A lot of the original punning is lost, and that’s just a crime.

The Isabel Hapgood English translation of Les Mis is actually available online for free, if you’re ever interested, and handily separated into the discrete chapters/sections for ease of browsing. Let it not be said that classic literature is only for rich snobs. Anyone can be a book snob, rich or poor. Equal opportunity snobbery.

I’ve nattered about Les Mis before now, and if you already know what I’m talking about, it’ll mostly make sense. But if you don’t know what I’m talking about, well, it’s a bit like car jargon. They go on and on about this and that and the other, specs and doodads and stuff, and meanwhile your eyes glaze over and you wait for the salesman to run out of breath.

So! In the spirit of not blabbering on incomprehensibly! Here is a brief run-down of the main characters in Les Misérables:

Continue reading “Les Mis, overview”

oberhau!

The fun thing about getting to whack people with swords (in a safe environment, with proper equipment) is that, along with meeting new and exciting people and getting to do something that makes a pretty excellent ice breaker, I also learned some things.

Shocking, yes, absolutely.

The downside: I wrote Singing in Key before I knew .. uh, anything about swords, and looking back, it really shows. My fingers are itching to go back and edit. Can’t do that, of course, because it’s already published and if I start, then I won’t be able to stop. It’s already out there. I gotta let it go.

The upside: Every other book I write is now going to be informed by this class, and every future class I take. What I now know about overhand/underhand blows, blocks, strong or weak binds, I can put that into the Iron Gentry series and my writing will be stronger for it. And what I know about sword fighting can translate into other types of action scenes as well. And now that I have this foundation, I can build upon it.

Guys, I really can’t recommend it enough. If you’ve got a local HEMA chapter (Historical European Martial Arts), sign up for a beginner’s class. The beginning classes usually provide the equipment for you, it gets you out of the house and meeting new people …

… and eight weeks of waving around a plastic sword is a hell of a lot of fun.

LTUE 2k18 recap

Life, The Universe, and Everything at Provo, UT is over now — yesterday was spent entirely in transit, and the jet lag has been properly dealt with. I attended for all three days, and my editor/cover designer buddy came with for days two and three. This was my first proper con, let alone writers’ con, and I think I’ve been stuffed so full of new ideas they’re coming out of my ears.

It was amazing.

As advertised, this was a con (or symposium) for the craft and business of writing, as opposed to a con designed for fandom. Indie distribution, school visits, construction of ancient languages, the tips and tricks of writing mystery … I learned something new at every single panel I attended. I have so many notes to write up.

And I have a long list of things to read, too. Research of course, and novels written by panelists and people I met at the book signing. Between new things to read and my own writing projects, I think I’ll have enough to keep me busy until Thanksgiving at least — at which point the word “audiobook” comes into the conversation. (And wouldn’t you know, there was an LTUE panel on audiobooks, too.)

Most of all, it was just awesome to be around fellow writers for three solid days. I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

countdown to the end

Or:

A teaser for Cliff’s Edge, the last of the Callan books in the Iron Gentry series.


The forest rolled across this part of the country like a thick green blanket, covering the northern sprawl of mountains down through a spread of flat land, where the only things that interrupted the green were the patchwork brown of farms and the massive gray clutter of a city. In the swath of land between mountains and civilization, take a magnifying glass and look closer at the forest there. The road was relatively narrow, compared to the greater thoroughfare on the southern end, and the trees were just beginning to be tinged with the gold and scarlet of autumn.

A meandering half hour’s walk away from the city, among the gray and brown tree trunks, there was a flicker of something that could only be seen by the right eyes.

The wrong kind of eyes — or rather, a person with the wrong kind of eyes — squinted against the setting sun. The light filtered through the multicolored trees and turned the road into a dappled kaleidoscope of emerald and amber, alternately searing into his vision and leaving him in sudden darkness. The air was crisp and cool, but not unpleasantly so; what leaves that had already fallen crunched gently under his boots; it was the kind of evening that promised to get darker very quickly, but that would be no less benign when the sun had finished setting.

Therefore when the traveler heard a rustle, behind him on the right side, at first he thought it must be a squirrel or a rabbit. And when he turned, and could not find the source of the sound, he shrugged and put it down to the stillness and camouflage that prey animals often employ.

Then a shiver went down his spine, like someone had very lightly traced a finger down the middle of his back. But those shivers happened sometimes for no reason, didn’t they. “Someone walked over my grave,” he muttered to himself, and shook his head.

Close by, something laughed. Only it wasn’t what you’d call a laugh, exactly — it was closer to a snicker, the kind of sound you stifle behind your hands when you’re about to pull an awful prank on someone.

It wasn’t the kind of sound the traveler liked to hear, even on a sunset-dappled road not too far from home.

“Who’s there?”

The trees, innocent in the whole affair, remained silent and immobile.

“All right, come on out, I won’t whup you if you don’t deserve it,” the traveler said, using the same stern tone that he took with his oldest children. “You leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone. That’s the end of it.”

Something else rustled behind him, and he spun on his heel to find the source of the sound, and now it was beginning to unsettle him that he still couldn’t see it. Whatever or whoever it was, it wasn’t possible to move that quickly, was it? Unless there were more than one …

“You stop that nonsense right now,” he said sharply.

“Or what?” said a rusty voice behind him.

This time he knew that it was a finger tracing down his spine, and he couldn’t suppress the automatic shudder of revulsion.

“Or what?” the voice repeated. “Tell us.”

He whipped around again, and he still couldn’t see the owner of that voice, and his own cracked automatically. “Show yourself!”

“If it please thee,” said a second voice, slyly, and he shuddered again.

Suddenly before him there were two feathery silhouettes. One of them turned to snicker at the other, and he saw the thick, sharp shape of a crow’s beak.

“What, thou wilt not speak, now?” said the other. It drew closer, its scaled clawed hands flexing at its sides. “Seelie got thy tongue?”

The first one laughed again, nastily.

“What are you?” he croaked.

“Stop talking,” said the second. With a click of its beak and a wave of its hand, suddenly the man felt his jaw glue shut. Instinctively he yelped with surprise, but only a muffled sound came out; and when he then tried to shout, he was just as unsuccessful. This, more than anything else, made his heart beat wildly against his ribcage. He stumbled backwards; his breath came fast and hard; he felt as though he were breathing through a straw, and wanted desperately to throw up, to scream, to do anything. He wanted to run, and knew that he would only fall over if he tried, because he couldn’t breathe; and he couldn’t, he couldn’t fall down around these things. He might be frozen stiff with fright, but at least he was upright.

“This one en’t putting up no fight,” said the first creature to the second. “Recall the last one?”

“Oh aye,” said the second. It sniggered. The creatures’ clawed feet made the leaves rustle as they approached, circled around him slowly once, and came back to stand before him. “Then again, the last one had somethin’ goin’ for it. This one? Not so much.”

“Still,” said the first. It stepped close to him — uncomfortably close, and he smelled the fug of decay on its glossy black feathers and gagged — and with its neat clawed hand, it prodded sharply at his shoulder.

Its bright black eyes glittered with cruel amusement.

“There now, human man, let’s see how fast thou can run.”

He didn’t need telling twice. But it wasn’t long (in fact it wasn’t much longer than a minute’s worth of reedy panicked breaths) before he tripped, and went down, and they caught up to him with their wicked-sharp claws.

And it wasn’t until the next day, around mid-morning, that a different traveler on a wagon found a mute, terrified, mutilated man by the side of the forest road.

“You’re lucky to be alive,” said the second man to the first, but bundled him up in his spare cloak to keep off the autumn chill and helped him onto the wagon …

… And never knew, or never understood, the haunted look in the first man’s eyes that told him he knew exactly how lucky (or unlucky) he had been.

adaptations, Hugo style

A couple weeks ago they came out with the main cast of the new Les Mis BBC miniseries that’ll be coming out sometime in the next few years. Filming apparently starts this February on-location in France and Belgium.

Guys, I am yelling about this.

Which, you know, isn’t surprising given that I’m a humungous nerd about the book. A tv mini/series gives you the chance to spread out and really delve into the fun details of a monster like Les Mis (they call it “the brick” for a reason – the unabridged novel is almost 531,000 words long). And while the musical adaptation is a lot of fun, and there have been scads of movie adaptations in the last four decades, most of them haven’t … well … really been all that accurate to the book.

I know, I know. Treat adaptations like they’re completely separate entities and you’ll have more fun. It worked with Neil Gaiman books like Coraline and Stardust, it worked (mostly) with the Harry Potter series, it worked with Wicked by Gregory Maguire. The book-to-movie or book-to-musical transition, which naturally involves snipping a lot of things to make sure it’s at the generally accepted 2-3 hour time limit, means that something’s gotta give. And that’s only taking the plot and characters into account, let alone the execution.

Anytime that you switch media, there are going to be changes you have to make. A graphic novel transmutes fine to a movie or tv series because it’s essentially a storyboard; a novel transmutes fine to a podcast because it’s essentially a script. But going from something with only one medium (pure words, pure sound, that mix with the reader/listener’s imagination to produce an experience unique to each individual that consumes it) to something multimedia (words and image, or image and sound) means that the image in the reader’s head isn’t going to match what you see on stage or screen. How can it? Unless we develop telepathic technology to project our imaginations onto a screen, there’s no way to tailor-fit someone else’s thoughts into a movie. Even a movie or stage director won’t be able to do that exactly, because the actors or the set designers or someone will throw in something different. And sometimes the things that other person thinks up are really awesome. I sure wouldn’t have pegged Coraline for a stop-motion adaptation. But inevitably there’s going to be somebody complaining that the adaptation “isn’t what I pictured.”

The time constraints create the biggest changes, though, and these can make or break an adaptation. Cutting down a megalith like Les Mis into a two-hour movie or a three-hour musical is … well, that’s why a miniseries or a full tv show is a better multimedia idea, just off the top of my head. I mean, heck, just look at the Mortal Instruments series, or A Series of Unfortunate Events. Both had movie adaptations that kinda bombed at the box office, but that are doing really quite well on the small screen. (I still need to watch ASOUE on Netflix … one more New Year’s resolution, I suppose.) It gives the adaptation creators a chance to really take their time with all of the plot.

Wicked the musical and Stardust the movie? Almost completely unrecognizable from their original books. I found the adaptations more enjoyable, but then again I’m prejudiced; as much as I respect Maguire and Gaiman’s writing (and I can’t thank Neil Gaiman enough for introducing me to Terry Pratchett’s books), I … really just don’t have a taste for a lot of the weird stuff that went on in Wicked and Stardust. Sorry, but nihilism and unhappy endings just aren’t my cup of tea. I’m an escapist at heart. And probably, for all the same reasons that I love the adaptations, other people might think they’re too saccharine and dopey and prefer the original books. Whoops. To each their own.

Les Mis? Well …

… This requires a Part 2.

Stay tuned.

2018 reboot

Recalculating …

“New year, new me,” she proclaimed, and then proceeded to act the same as always.

2017 was the year I finally got off my butt and started writing things I wanted to publish – and publish I did. Not as many as I’d aimed for (yes, IG book 3 is still pending), but 2 books published is still yonks better than none. I’d say 2017 was a vast improvement over 2016, personally speaking. As to the rest of the world, well, let’s leave that alone, shall we.

In preparation for the new year kick-off I spent most of NYE and NYD making lists. Astoundingly exciting, yes, I know. What can I say. I enjoy making lists. It helps me calm down instead of worrying my head off. And if I have a list to stick to, a schedule to follow, then I don’t spend my time faffing around and not getting anything done.

First item on the agenda: write more.

Write more here, specifically. I’ve been pretty bad about posting here lately, and I want to fix that. So hand-in-hand with sticking to an exercise schedule of 5 days a week, I’ll also be writing here 5 days a week. Now, whether they’ll be posts about writing, or movies, or flash fiction, that all depends – and if you tell me there’s something you’d like to see, I’ll try to provide more of it. But having a more constant presence on here is the main thing.

And writing more fiction is the other big thing, of course. I want to try to hit the 10-book mark in 2018, and have them be longer books, too, not just 50k novellas. Along with that, I’d like to try my hand at short stories so I can have some free reading material for y’all to peruse. Hopefully, along with the novels, I’ll be able to put up one short story every other month, and in different genres, too.

Second item on the agenda: get out and about more.

It’s really flarking cold outside, but I found an exercise schedule that I think I can persuade my suspicious lazy lizard brain to actually agree with. This pairs nicely with the “blog more” goal; if I already have to spend 20 minutes sitting down trying to stop sweating, I might as well put that time to good use on WordPress. And this way, when the local HEMA longsword class starts up in February, I’ll be in enough of a shape (besides “round”) that whacking people with pointy bits of metal will be something that doesn’t leave me wheezing after the first ten minutes.

(Longsword class is something I wanted to do not just because it’s cool (it is very cool), but because, hey, I’m writing a series about fairies with iron swords. Maybe I should learn how to actually fight with one of those.)

And the other fun thing that’s happening in February: I’m going to LTUE! Cue the pterodactyl shrieking – Larry Correia and Sarah Hoyt will both be there (two giants in the indie writing world, and Mad Geniuses, too), along with a whole slew of amazing panels and workshops. My editor/cover artist/all around renaissance friend will be there too, and we are gonna take Provo by storm. I can hardly wait.

There are other things that I want to do in 2018 as well, but those are the main things. I’m not going to say “here’s hoping I can make them all happen”, because I know I can, and hoping never did diddly squat. As Sir Terry himself said in The Wee Free Men:

“If you trust in yourself … and believe in your dreams … and follow your star … you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.”

Words to live by.

attack the (writer’s) block

The yearly review for the day job is coming up, and I’ve been doing some evaluating of my own. There are some things that I hoped to accomplish this year that I haven’t, but one pretty big thing that I have accomplished is – well, is getting published. If this time last year – or two years ago – someone had told me I’d have published two novellas and be working on the third by December 2017, I’d probably have laughed. Which is silly; it isn’t the easiest thing that I’ve ever done, but it’s not the most difficult, either. Indie publishing is the comfortable-chair epitome of DIY. It’s not making my own furniture, but it’s pretty darn satisfying.

I’ve not finished the draft of Cliff yet, but hoping to get that finished by the end of the week so I can get all the edits (& the finished product) out of the way before the holiday break. I’m slower at cranking out drafts than I had hoped, but this is still my first year at this – and if I keep practicing, I should get faster. I have to keep reminding myself that writer’s block is a state of mind rather than an actual obstacle. Especially when I’m tossing all these other words at these other projects I’m doing with my friends.

So writer’s block isn’t about “I can’t figure out what to do next.” There’s always another idea of what to do next; and when you’ve got the plot mapped out, you know exactly where to go, so the issue is just how to get there. And the issue isn’t necessarily “I can’t figure out how to get from A to B” either, though that can sometimes throw a handy wrench into the scrolling cinema behind your eyes (or my eyes at least). Because even if you don’t know how to get there, if you want to get there then you’ll find a way.

Writer’s block is about wanting to get there. It’s about wanting to tell the story, and the tangible feel of unrolling the story in realtime.

You can’t force yourself to want to do things. You can force yourself to do them, and achieve a result, but I know my editor can tell when I’ve been dragging my feet and when I’m actually enthusiastic. (The difference is whether I have to rewrite the entire chapter or not. This isn’t me complaining about my editor, you understand; this is simply awareness of the way we work through a draft.)

In the spirit of finding a way to make myself want to finish telling the story instead of slogging through an awkward ending, I’ll be conducting an experiment this evening on the commute home. Instead of listening to music, for a solid half hour I’ll be monologuing about the current draft in progress and recording it with my phone. Hopefully the act of talking about it out loud for an uninterrupted half hour will do me some good, and having a record of it will mean that any ideas I come up with will be preserved in their entirety. If it doesn’t work, that half hour wasn’t wasted because I would have been driving home anyway. If it does work, it means I’m on to something I can use with future projects.

old ideas

Since today is a kind of a braindead day – must be Tuesday – and seeing other people’s writing can sometimes lead to feelings of inadequacy (especially when Autocorrect has to come to the rescue), let’s go down memory lane and see what sort of things I was up to in middle school. That’s always good for a laugh.

In no particular order:

  • A pair of middle school kids get possessed by ghosts who live in the garnet studs on their glasses (green garnet for the boy, red garnet for the girl) and magically fall in love.
  • A blind seer accidentally kidnaps a man who wandered, injured, into her cave, and who subsequently gets captured by evil villagers and has to be rescued.
  • The Pirate Story, lovingly ripped off from Pirates of the Caribbean and a romance book I read in sixth grade, with a highly amusing misunderstanding of the way drunkenness works and a gunner named Romulus. Rampant abuse of the Stockholm Syndrome trope. Also the first story I’d ever written (and finished) that made it past fifty pages.
  • A girl magically travels through time for no apparent reason and, through her intense nerdery and love of Ancient Egypt, learns to decipher spoken Ancient Egyptian and falls in love with Thutmose III.
  • A princess in a fantastical pseudo-medieval court named Aiden disguises herself as a boy named Aidenof and … I don’t really remember, but I think there were dragons involved. I mostly just remember that her nom de guerre was created through an unfortunate accident of “add to dictionary” and I decided I liked it.
  • Two high school kids (a Jock Boy and a Nerd Girl) magically fall through, uh, a portal in the air? And enter this alternate universe, again with a fantastical pseudo-medieval theme. The boy becomes a … knight? I think? And the girl becomes a bar maid, and they live in this world for a solid five years or so before … banding together to defeat … somebody? An evil prince? Something like that. And then they fall in love, yadda yadda, they get married, and they both fall back through the portal to the same homecoming dance they had left, only a split second having passed in the real world. I remember writing extensive notes and snippets on this universe and then not writing a lick more of actual scenes.

Dang. Some of these would actually be pretty cool if I revisited them now and took the time to work out the plot holes and characterization.

Maybe I should start writing romance novels?

this is why I don’t kill my characters

Redemption arcs seem to go one of two ways: either the character dies, or the character lives. Sometimes their dying acts are the ones that redeem them – sometimes the only possible thing that can redeem them is death – sometimes they die immediately after having redeemed themselves, just when things have started looking up again. It all depends on how much you want your readers to yell at the book.

It seems to me that a dead-but-redeemed character is – well, not lazy per se. It definitely has an emotional impact on the other characters, and can throw a nice wrench into the plot. But in terms of character development, there’s not much you can do with a dead person unless you reanimate them somehow. Ghosts, zombies, someone from their past ready to rain bloody vengeance on them, a long lost child, et cetera – a little far-fetched, maybe, but you get the gist. It’s still possible to influence how a character is perceived if you have secrets ready to be revealed at a plot-convenient point. Cough, JKR, cough. But even then, what’s mostly happening is the changed perception of a character – Dumbledore can’t exactly react to having his secrets revealed. Oh no, he used to be Very Good Friends with Wizard Hitler back when they were teenagers. That’s … some loaded information right there, but the guy is dead. Harry can’t confront him about it. No one can. Unless you’re doing a prequel (where the dude is alive), it’s essentially an “oh that’s nice, but what does it have to do with the plot?”

Whereas a redeemed character that lives – now that’s where it gets nice and messy.

Because the thing about redemption is that it isn’t a one-and-done deal. You can’t take a villain, or an anti-hero who’s done some messed up things, and then wave a magic wand and say that everything is fine now because he Had a Change Of Heart. Okay, again, that’s nice, but why did he have a change of heart? How did he take that change and use it to affect the world around him? How are the other characters reacting to this change?

You can’t wring your hands and say “oh I’m terrible” and then just keep doing the destructive things you were doing before. Or, you can (and people often do), but it has to have consequences, and also it doesn’t count as redemption.

Roll your eyes all you like, but the best example I can find of a redemption arc is in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Zuko has a few false starts, and they matter to the plot and the other characters. He’s forced to confront his mistakes and how they affected the world around him. He acknowledges what made him the way he was, and he takes responsibility for his actions, and he actively works to heal the damage he’s done. He develops friendships with the people he once considered enemies. He reconciles with his uncle. He overcomes his rotten family – confronts their toxic behavior – and at the end of the series, he’s grown as a character and become an actual good guy. Yes, it’s a kids’ show that aired on Nickelodeon, but it goes over some really important themes, and it shows that goodness and kindness are things that you do, and traits that you can practice. The show never took it easy on Zuko. He wasn’t handed redemption on a silver platter. He had to work for it, and it made his characterization a hell of a lot stronger.

It’s easy to die for a cause. It’s harder to live for one.

transliterate

Let’s talk about translations.

If you’ve read Cyrano de Bergerac in English, or seen the filmed version with Gerard Depardieu that has yellow English subtitles, that’s one thing. It’s a tragic story about unrequited love, and assumptions, and carefully constructed perceptions of other people, and also two guys willfully deceiving a woman for a ridiculously long period of time. Neat. I kind of want to yell at everyone in that play, but for a lot of French literature that’s par for the course.

If you’ve read Cyrano de Bergerac in French, you very quickly realize that the entire play is written in rhyming couplets.

Now – speaking as someone who’s performed a bit of Shakespeare – if you act in a show that has rhyming verse, and you recite it to emphasize that rhyming verse, pretty soon everything sounds like a nursery rhyme and you want to bash your head against a wall, and so does the audience. It’s much easier, both for the audience and the actors, to pretend that the rhymes don’t exist until you decide to emphasize them for dramatic effect. Great! Spectacular.

The fact remains that Shakespeare, one of the greatest poets in the English language, didn’t write everything in rhymes. There’s a lot of blank verse in there, with some prose tossed in for the peasant characters to remind us that they’re the salt of the earth etc. etc. Shakespeare used rhymes pretty sparingly, specifically for dramatic effect.

Edmond Rostand, who wrote Cyrano de Bergerac – that guy wrote the entire play in rhymes, line for line.

Mind you, French can be a lot easier to rhyme than English, but it’s still impressive.

But it is impossible to translate the entire play from French and still keep all of those rhymes as well as the sense. At some point, you either sacrifice the literal meaning for the aesthetic of the rhyme scheme, or you sacrifice the rhyme scheme. Maybe sometimes they can coincide, but for an entire play that’s nearly 80,000 words long? Yikes. I can respect the man as a poet, that takes some serious chops, but I don’t think even the best translators would be able to preserve 80k worth of pristine rhymes.

Which is … I don’t know if it’s sad or not. In translation theory, there’s the ethnographic which includes connotation and historical context, as well as the literal and the aesthetic. There are some linguistic things that you can only truly get the sense of, by encountering them in their native languages. There are some things that are elegant in one language but that become clunky in another. There are some things that will always be lost in translation, because it’s impossible to convey every connotation of every word without a billion footnotes. And that’s – weird, really, because there are so many works of literature that we wouldn’t have if they hadn’t been translated. How much smaller, how much poorer would our culture be without shared literature from other cultures? Can you imagine a France without the influence of the American Declaration of Independence? Can you imagine a Europe without the influence of Voltaire, or Marx, or Martin Luther? I know I can’t.

Good excuse to push for a multilingual society, I guess. English as the lingua franca is convenient for those of us who learn it from the cradle, but it engenders a complacency that to me feels stagnant, if not toxic. That stereotype about French people gossiping about American tourists is absolutely true – and, look, we get mad when other people refuse to speak English, so why wouldn’t they be mad when we don’t even try to learn French, or Spanish, or any other language? I absolutely get that it’s hard for some people the way math is hard for me – but again, it’s a skill that can be practiced rather than solely a talent to be born with. It means that no matter where we go, we can find a way to communicate with the people around us.