Quote of the Day

In that second she saw that she could bear anything, but only if no one knew that she had anything to bear.

Nella Larsen, Passing

A Special Kind of Victory

Between 3,000 and 5,000 Russian troops have been killed or captured near Lyman today.

Cue Tucker Carlson telling us on Monday how this was a gigantic victory for Russia. Russian propagandists have stopped trying to spin it as a victory, which leaves Tucker as the only doofus on the planet still believing in it.

No Off-ramp

There are two groups of people who keep calling on the Western countries to seek the “off-ramp” with Russia: Russian bots or congenital idiots. There is no exit ramp if you aren’t driving and have nothing that the driver wants.

Right now, today, at this moment, Russians are in the process of accepting that they will start a nuclear war. They are normalizing and justifying it in their minds. This started a while ago and it’s reaching a stage of placid acceptance now. This is scary but hiding from this fact behind feel-good fantasies is useless.

Example of Low-anxiety People

And by the way, this is why Trump is so beloved by his followers. There’s quite literally nothing he can do or say to put off the real devotees. He’s a low-anxiety person, and they are high-anxiety people.

I’m not talking about those who like Trump’s policies but can remain objective and feel critical towards him. This is all completely normal. I’m speaking specifically about the hardcore devotees.

Low-anxiety People

Putin would have never ever appeared standing between two much taller, bulkier men. He’d die of the ego wound. When he still appeared in public, the poor bastard would make people hide all tall waitresses and shop assistants at the restaurants and stores to avoid traumatizing him.

There are two things men can do about their height and women about their weight. They can feel uncomfortable about it and make everybody around them know it and feel embarrassed for them. Or they can embrace it and become the strongest man in any room at 5’5 or the most desirable woman in any space at 250 lbs.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve never been 250 lbs but I’ve been 230 at 36 weeks of pregnancy and still had men approach me with offers to be my “baby daddy.” (I didn’t wear the rings because my fingers were swollen like sausages).

Here’s the secret: most people have such high anxiety that anybody with the anxiety level lower than the societal norm is perceived as magnetic. It’s like in high school everybody would fall in love with the same boy / girl who was neither particularly cute nor funny nor seemingly special in any way. It seems incomprehensible until you realize that this is the low-anxiety kid. Teenagers carry a lot of anxiety, and any kid who has less is perceived as magical.

The Source of Truth

In my Cervantes class, we keep discussing what the truth is. Who is the source of truth? Who decides what the truth is?

A simple question, I said. Is Don Quixote a knight-errant? (Is that the word in English? In Spanish it’s caballero andante). Is he or is he not?

Well, depends on who you ask, say the students.

I’m asking you, I said. Is he or is he not?

Well, in his own mind…

That’s not my question, though. The question is, is he a knight-errant?

Well, if he thinks he is, it’s true for him.

OK, I said. What if Pete here decides he’s the professor and I’m a student and starts assigning homework?

At this point, of course, everybody laughed, and Pete more than anybody.

We also talked about hierarchies.

Are hierarchies good? I asked.

No! Bad! Everybody should be equal!

OK, I said. Then how come you are sitting here because I said you must and if I tell you we are all getting up and going to the lab to do writing activities, you will all do it? Where’s the equality?

Again, everybody laughed.

Teaching Cervantes is easy because the class practically teaches itself. There’s so much to talk about, and these are topics that interest everybody. People kept telling me I’d never get 10 students to sign up because it’s not a required course, there’s too much reading, the language is very hard, there’s a mountain of writing, and why wouldn’t the students prefer the Advanced Conversation course that’s taught at the same time? If you get fewer than 10, the class gets cancelled.

Well, I ended up with 16 students in the course, which is one more than the enrollment cap of 15. (We keep our language classes small to make sure everybody learns and gets to speak in every class session). The idea that students don’t care about “old books” is stupid. They care if you make them care.

How to Not Be Mousy

I actually do have great advice on how not to be mousy. In my youth, I was extremely, tragically, painfully shy. Pathologically shy, even. I couldn’t leave home for days because I couldn’t face people looking at me and possibly criticizing me. I would go hungry and thirsty all day in college because I was too shy to go into a cafe and order. Or even buy from a vending machine because what if it didn’t work and people noticed and that would be embarrassing? I wasn’t a child, I was an adult, divorced woman, and it was still this bad. Nobody who knows me today believes this because I’m now the exact opposite.

I trained myself out of it without any psychologists or any help from anybody. Here’s the recipe. You have to invent a different persona. Somebody who is exactly what you’d like to be. And be that person just for a couple of hours. Join a new group of people, a book club, a language course, a political group. It has to be in person, though. Online doesn’t work. Go to the first meeting of that group as this new person. Buy a different outfit for the persona. Change your name for the persona. If you are normally Katie, call her Kath. If you are Bill, call him Will. Playact at home and leave the house as this new person. Lock the door like she would, walk like she would, everything. Go meet the new group as Kath or Will and for a couple of hours be that person.

I did this when I was learning to speak Spanish, and my new persona was a Spanish speaker. Eventually, I enjoyed being the non-shy me so much that the persona became full-time.

Halloween is coming. It’s the perfect time to try out a costume and be different. This works for any personal quality, not just shyness. Are you indecisive, passive, or quiet? If you don’t like it, try being decisive, active or loud in the new persona, just for a bit. See how it goes and if you like it, repeat. If you aren’t popular with men or women and don’t have the personal life you would like to have, playact at being a mega desirable woman or man for a bit. Soon enough, you will actually become one.

Nobody is “just this way.” We all are a certain way because we had to be. And now we no longer do. We can change it.

Squash the Know-it-all

I found out that there are students who are about to graduate with a Major in Spanish, and they never took any Spanish courses with anybody except me. I’m effectively their entire Spanish major even though since 2020 I teach half of what everybody else teaches.

It works out because the most successful students are the ones who trust the teacher enough simply to do what they are told. In Beginner Spanish, I have to spend time to fight the resistance to the teaching method. That’s boring and a waste of time. Students who know me, however, don’t fight because they already trust me.

The best way to learn is to squash your inner know-it-all and unquestioningly do what you are told. I struggle with this myself because a know-it-all is exactly who I am. But whenever I stop worrying about the teaching method in the classes I take as a student, that’s when I start learning.