New Job!

I have a new job! Like, a real one!

On Monday I’ll be starting at Cozy!

Cozy logo

Cozy is based in Portland, and is a very small company with big ambitions. They are trying to change how tenants and landlords interact, and make things a lot easier. From the initial application through lease signing to paying rent and beyond.

I’ll be on their Operations team, managing production, managing deploy toolchain, etc. It should be pretty fun!

It’s also a departure from working remotely for me. As I’ve talked about in previous posts, one of the big things I felt was missing in my life was direct human interaction. So, I’ll be getting a lot more of that soon! There are other benefits as well, and not just Benefits, but I mean a lower stress working environment, where “take the site down” level mistakes don’t (necessarily) mean millions of dollars of impact, or massive amounts of recovery work on the part of the rest of the company. It doesn’t mean I can be reckless, but it means I don’t feel like I need to tiptoe so much around making changes.

The commute is fine, about 25 minutes on my bike, with moderately good bus connection should I want to not ride. I plan to move from where I’m at, but it likely won’t be that much closer, and definitely not *too* close. One of the nice things about having to go into the office every day is the context switch that comes with leaving the office and going home. Or leaving home and going to the office. Instead of getting up and walking to my couch to start working, I get up and get to have some sort of morning routine before heading to work. I am looking forward to that aspect of things!

I’m pretty nervous, because it’s been a long time since I’ve worked in an office full time, and it’s been a long time since I even worked, but I felt pretty good about the interview process, and I feel like they’re a great group of people to work with!

How I’m learning Spanish

I just hit my 30 day streak in Duolingo, so I thought I’d go over the tools and resources I’m currently using in my Spanish learning journey. I’ll start by simply listing them, then going into a bit of what they do, why I’m using them, etc. Also I want to talk a bit about my process, my “daily routine” so to speak, and what I’m hoping to find in the future to help me learn.

Current tools

These are things I’m currently using actively. Maybe not daily, but actively.

Easy Spanish Step by Step

I gotta admit, I was skeptical of this book. It feels very “Learn <something super complex> in 24 Hours” based on the title alone. However, it came well recommended, and it has been a great resource for me so far.

For me, reading is the gateway to learning just about anything. Better if said reading walks me through the learning process. Reference books are amazing, but tutorials are better. This book is much more about what to learn in what order than how to actually go about learning it, but once I stopped searching for an Anki deck that covered the stuff covered in this book and just started making my own cards, it became a lot more useful to me.

There are points where it just lists off huge lists of vocabulary. If you tried to read it cover to cover in one shot you wouldn’t retain anything. You’d probably be completely lost by the end. There actually might be a good reason to do a first pass, cover to cover, before trying to actually retain any of it, but that’s not how I’m using it. I’m walking through chapter by chapter, using it as a source of new Anki cards and explanations of concepts and knowledge. It introduces ser vs estar in the second chapter, which also introduces verb conjugations as a concept, all of which are *incredibly* important parts of Spanish, at least as I’ve gathered so far.

Good stuff. I’m on chapter 4 I think? I’ve been trying to avoid pushing forward on it until I’ve caught up with all of my Anki cards!

Duolingo

I tried using this several years ago as my primary (only?) tool to learn Spanish and it just didn’t stick. It didn’t really go into any detail as to why things were the way they were, I guess hoping you’d either look it up once you noticed the pattern or something? Like it will show “we eat” on “nosotros comemos”, but doesn’t show you the list of conjugations of comer or anything. I think they literally just within the past week or so changed that, however, as each lesson subject seems to have a little description box next to it you can click on and it’ll talk about the things the lesson will teach you.

I like it because it’s gamified. It is a great source of new content for my Anki cards. It gets me thinking less about individual words and more about sentences and phrases. I also like that it has some components of listening practice and has “what’s this is Spanish” as well as “what’s this in English”.

It has a speaking component, but I find it to be fairly buggy in its actual functionality. The number of times I have felt like I spoke the words perfectly and it rejected it to the point of saying “let’s move on”, as well as the times that I’ve messed up half way through and gone so far as to spew gibberish for a couple of seconds to hopefully force it to fail so I can try again, or the times I’ve literally said nothing and it’s been accepted, leads me to believe it’s not the greatest thing. But it *does* get me to actually speak the words out loud, which is good, and I do, so that’s good.

The questions are very repetitive and sometimes even directly duplicated within the same lesson. “How do you say ‘the baby'” is a good example. I’ve seen that question come up 3-4 times in one round at times. Up to level one of each topic seems to be a way to introduce you to the new things, with the first half of each round being introducing them and the last half being to review, and past that, repeating lessons is just repeating the same things, so what I’ve been doing is get to level one in a subject, add all of the stuff to my Anki deck, and do one lesson a day per category, with lots of active (not yet level 5) categories going, and pushing forward with new subjects (or a chapter of the book) when I run out or run low on new Anki cards in my deck.

It’s likely I’ll be dropping this at some point, as Clozemaster, which claims to be a good “post-Duolingo” tool, may in fact be a replacement for Duolingo for me, but I’ll talk about that more in its section.

It has groups and friends and such, and a “pro” subscription to remove the ads (this is actually a good counter-example to my ad-supported -> ad-driven argument, and a reason I still use it, despite the ads), but since I’m currently doing this mostly on my own, those things are lost on me. It has a “practice” mode, which … I think shows you random questions from all of the content you’ve “learned”, but I’m not sure how mixed together those things get or if it’s just a random selection of questions from your topics. I don’t use it much, unless I feel like grinding on some questions for a bit, as I tend to try to do more new Anki cards if I get bored and want to do some more practice.

Overall I’d say it’s a decent tool, and a great onramp, but it should not remotely be the only tool you use, and don’t expect to be fluent after you complete your tree. And if you have any sort of “but why” question, look elsewhere for those answers.

Anki

Anki is a general purpose flashcard app. At its core is the concept of “spaced repetition”, which tries to show you cards again at the point just before you’d forget, to more strongly reinforce the material in your brain. It’s cool. It’s extremely flexible, which can make it hard to get started, and it was easy for me to get distracted by trying to figure out how to make a shared deck I grabbed for the book do what I wanted (and nearly made me stop trying to learn).

The biggest piece of advice I can give on this subject is: make your own cards. You’ll eventually figure out what you want on your cards / notes. Also, notes are kind of like the facts, and cards are the things that test your facts. It’s a one to many relationship with notes -> cards, though the UI doesn’t do a great job of making that clear.

Speaking of UI, Anki’s is fairly terrible. The actual “I want to practice my flash cards” interface is great, at least on the iOS and MacOS versions. There’s a sync service that enables you to sync your decks and practice information, and it’s all very functional, but not the most highly polished thing. Also, for many of the things you’ll likely want to do with Anki, you’re going to need a computer. The iOS app (I don’t have any android devices so I don’t have any opinions there) is good for creating new notes/cards if you’re only doing very basic front/back types of cards with no multimedia content and not using custom note types or multiple cards for notes or anything. It is, however, very good for studying. It shows you a card. You tap on the screen to see “the back”, you tap whether you got it right or not, and varying degrees of got it right, and it takes you to the next card.

Anki has support for hints, for multimedia (at least audio, and I imagine images at the very least) and the cards are *extremely* customizable. There is support for plugins, but I’m not sure how those things play out when talking about mobile apps. I try to stick with the most vanilla of features and don’t use any plugins. There are some plugins that seem like might be useful, so I might check them out in the future, but for the moment I’m getting by fine.

I started off with just basic front/back. But then I realized I wanted more. For instance, with nouns, the book (in Chapter 1) mentions a bunch of, not so much rules, but more hints about the gender of nouns. Like nouns ending in “-a” tend to be feminine. Some nouns can be both, and you sometimes change “-o” to “-a”. But the biggest thing it mentions is that these aren’t hard and fast rules. There are exceptions. So you really need to learn the gender along with each noun.

So, in my brain, that’s actually 2 things I want to learn about each noun. What it is, and what gender it is. And I might want to do that separately? So I did. I changed the note fields from Spanish/English to Spanish/English/Gender. I made these a separate note type just for nouns so I could then make special cards just for these notes. One shows the Spanish (including gender, just because) and asks me what the English is, and the other shows me the Spanish and a little blank just before it, prompting me to answer what the gender is. I used to also English -> Spanish, and pronunciation, but the English->Spanish cards I think I want to mostly avoid, and the pronunciation cards were kinda redundant, as I was pretty much always speaking things aloud as I read them, no matter if it was a pronunciation card or not, and culling these cards cut out a pretty significant amount of the cards in my deck, which means I have less new cards going at any given point, so I should be able to cover more content.

I’ve done this same sort of thing with other types of word, too. Like I have one for verbs which helps me practice conjugations of the verb, but I also just culled most of the regular verbs from the deck, at least the conjugations, simply because I had 7 different cards for each noun and it was getting ridiculous. I added a couple of notes that covered “the rules”, and I continue adding irregular conjugations, so I’m practicing the oddballs while hoping that learning and knowing the rules very solidly will help me with the rest. Additionally, as I start learning more conjugations, I’m going to want a better tool, as there are just way too many conjugations to try to have an anki card for each one. Wayyyyyyy too many.

Clozemaster

Speaking of better tools for conjugations. One of the features of Clozemaster that I haven’t yet played with is conjugation practice!

Anywho, Clozemaster is a tool I saw mentioned in an /r/LearnJapanese post (I previously was trying to learn Japanese, and the subreddit is still interesting enough that I subscribe, but it’s mostly an in-one-ear-out-the-other sort of thing) which combines a large phrase library, an ordered list of words, and clozes into a tool to help you learn languages. Clozes are a new thing I’d never heard of before, but something that Anki does support, too. They are “fill in the blank”. It shows you a sentence with a space missing and you choose or type in the correct word. Awesome.

Currently, my Anki deck is mostly this -> that sort of things. There are a few sentences and such in there, especially ones trying to cover some aspect of the learning process (ser vs estar, for instance) but it’s to the point where I mostly just know the answer based on what the card is, not so much the concept that is at play. It has been useful for some things, but I feel like I need a LOT source material to be effective, and I just don’t have that right now. However, Clozemaster does. And it comes up with sentences for you. And has spaced repetition stuff built in, though I’m not certain how best to use it, I feel like I can’t make a dent in my reviews queue and that things keep getting repeated. But I’m sure I’ll figure out how best to use it eventually, it’s only my second day using it after all.

It does a couple of things I am not getting elsewhere at the moment: exposes me to a *lot* of words I don’t know, especially conjunctions and such. It also exposes me to lots of different verb conjugations. I couldn’t tell you whether something is a past subjunctive or a preiterate indicative (are those even things? See what I mean?), but I can see a conjugated verb, identify the stem, and suddenly at least know what verb is in play. Which may not be the best way to learn conjugations, but it gets me reading more sentences and such, which, again, reading is my gateway.

On the subject of verb conjugations, it has a conjugation practice function. I tried it, but since I have such a limited verb set right now and relatively few conjugations, it’s totally lost to me. I want to see if there’s a way to limit the verbs being used to a subset, and the conjugations, but for now I can just look forward to the day I add that to my daily routine.

It also has a feature for “tough grammar points”. In the book it introduced early on ser and estar and said when to use which. Of course, that was a while ago, and that all went completely out the window since I wasn’t practicing it. Oh, I knew what the conjugations were, but I didn’t know wheter I wanted están or son, or somos or estamos or what the rules were. Since the book had some exercises that covered these exact things (with Clozes) I just plopped those into Anki (not as actual clozes, I haven’t tried using that feature yet) and drilled on them. It was effective. But again, I’ve started learning more the correct answer for the card rather than practicing the rule. I just don’t have enough material, and coming up with sentences is difficult. But here we are, exactly the thing I wanted. Oh, and Clozemaster also introduced me to “haber”, which is the verb “to have”. But “tener” is also “to have”. So in my notes, there’s literally a “tener vs haber” checklist item, in there as a “figure out when to use which and make some anki cards to drill that”, but there, in the “tough grammar points” section, tener / haber practice. Glorious. I plunked down for the annual pro subscription almost immediately.

By default, when it shows you a cloze it has the English translation underneath. The English translation is quite often necessary, to even know what word is being asked for. Sometimes you can figure it out from context (which is part of why clozes are awesome), but there are literally clozes in their library that are one word, so when they show up it’s just a blank line saying “what goes in here?”. Not very useful. However, I found when I was reading a card, I would read the Spanish, and I was trying to figure out what the Spanish said, but my eyes would drift to the English translation directly below, meaning I would not really even read the Spanish, and I would mostly just try to figure out which English word the cloze was asking for and enter that one. This isn’t useless, but I didn’t feel like I was getting as much value out of it. Fortunately, there’s a setting which allows you to change whether or not the translation shows up, and when. Right now there are 3 options: always, only after you’ve answered, and never. The only after you’ve answered option seems to be a bit misleading, because while it definitely does show up after you’ve answered, you can also show the translation prior to answering by tapping, which, as I’ve already said, is often necessary to even be able to answer. This is the option I’m currently using, and in the short amount of time I’ve been using it, it has improved my experience. I read the Spanish. I try to figure out what it says. I try to figure out what word it’s asking for even before I look at the multiple choice list of answers below (there is a “type your answer” mode, but given that I’m often dealing with verb conjugations I don’t yet know, I opt to stick with multiple choice for now), and if I can’t, I’ll show the translation. It has been immensely useful already, and I’ve seriously only been using this site for 2 days. Shut up and take my money.

Span¡shD!ct

It’s a dictionary. You can go Spanish to English or English to Spanish. It does some translation stuff, but I usually just use Google Translate if I’m looking up more than just a word.

It’s where I source the audio files for my pronunciations in my Anki deck, as they are real humans speaking the words (which sometimes has funny results), and I feel like that’s very important. It’s especially useful for “g” and “c” sounds, because I’m not sure if those are always consistent how they’re pronounced from word to word, and if they are I certainly don’t remember the rule (though I know where to find it if there is one, Chapter 1 of the book, actually maybe even the preface), but monkey-hear-monkey-speak is very useful as a check to make sure I’m pronouncing things as well as I can.

It’s also where I look up verb conjugations. On the page for each verb there’s a “conjugations” tab which lists out every conjugation for the verb and highlights any irregularities. Amazing. Terrifying that there are so many, but amazing that this exists and is so well organized.

There are also articles going into various aspects of the language, like possessive adjectives or negative and infinitive words, which is really REALLY handy to me when I start noticing a pattern in some words and want to know if it is actually a pattern and if so, are there rules that govern the pattern that I can apply more generally. I’d much rather know the why rather than just the what, and this supplies a lot of that.

My only real complaint with it at the moment is that it seems to have a pretty sizable space for ads on each page, and while ublock is effective at blocking them, it has whine-text about me blocking ads. So, while I find it to be a very useful tool, and it’s also another counter-example to my ad-supported/ad-driven thing, the size and number of the ads leads me to believe they would be distracting, terrible ads, rather than unobtrusive text ads or whatever, and so I won’t be unblocking the ads. I’d love a way to give them some money, because it has certainly been a very useful tool for me and will continue to be going forward, but showing me ads is not the way they’ll get that.

Update: I did end up finding a way to give them money, they have an iOS app which is actually quite good, and that has a $2.99 annual subscription to remove ads, which seems to also remove them from the website if I’m logged in. Cool!

El País

It’s a news site. I’ll pull this up sometimes and look at headlines. I am mostly using it right now as a way to gauge how much progress I’m making. The more of the text I can understand, the better I’m doing. And eventually it’ll probably just become a part of my daily routine to read a few articles, as I get to the point where I can read most of the words and not just get vague ideas of what’s being said. Again, reading being my gateway, this is something I want to keep available to me.

Past / Inactive tools

There are a couple of things I’ve come across in my journey which I don’t use anymore for one reason or another (most likely they just didn’t really stick) but I think are worth mentioning.

Readlang

Readlang is a site where you specify what level of Spanish you’re at and it’ll show you text that’s been rated at that. Letters from people, snippets of books, whatever. I’m not actually sure what all they have, but it seemed pretty awesome. Their trial to paid barrier is pretty fierce, so it’s not something I’ve played with very much, but it does seem really cool. The first thing I “read” in Spanish was using this site and it filled me with an immense sense of pride that I’m making some progress. You can highlight words and phrases inline and it’ll translate them for you and even go as far as to create flashcards (in its flashcard function) for the stuff you’ve highlighted. Super cool. I do hope to revisit it at some point, but it wasn’t mind blowing enough for me to plunk down right away on, and the pay barrier is too low for me to get enough out of the free functionality to keep me using it even just a little bit as part of my routine.

Daily routine

Right now my daily routine is to go through all of my active subjects in Duolingo and do one round of each of those. I usually do this early in the morning while still in bed cuddling with Bean (my cat). It has replaced my early morning reddit and google news perusing, so that’s a positive, I guess?

At some point during the day I’ll go through my Anki stuff for the day. If I am feeling up for it, I’ll generally do another round of new cards, just because I have so many of them that I really would like to go a bit faster through them if I can. I don’t want to burn out though, and I feel like there are diminishing returns on churning through new cards, there’s only so much your brain can take on at once, so keeping the new stuff fairly limited is probably not a bad idea.

And now that I have Clozemaster, I’m going through and hitting my goal on that for the day, which is 500 points. I think I may have gone a bit overboard with the “new” questions on the first day, and now I have a big pile of reviews, but I’ll work my way through those, too.

During the course of doing all of this I have a little Notes document where I take some basic notes. It’s more of a todo list than actual notes. I mostly use it for new cards I want to make in Anki (like if I learn a new word from one of my sources) and I’ll jot down ideas for either improvements to my Anki deck or to my process.

Sometimes I’ll pull up El País and see if there’s anything interesting or readable on there, but it’s not really part of any routine just yet. It will be, though.

The future

Right now one of my goals is to make it to the end of El principito, the Spanish translation of The Little Prince. I’ve gotten through about 3 paragraphs so far! I haven’t read this book before in any language, so I think it’ll be a good challenge, but not one that’s too hard. For some reason in my searching for easy Spanish language books I kept finding Don Quixote, which is *not* an “easy” book to read, in any language.

I need to figure out some way to practice listening. Duolingo has some basic listening stuff, and you can make it so those are the only questions you get, which I’ll probably do, but I want to do more “real world” listening. There are lots of podcasts for Spanish learners, I’ll probably find some sort of Spanish language video news source I can watch some of, etc. It’s certainly going to be a challenge, and I’m not really sure how to approach it other than “listen and try to find bits and pieces you can understand, and keep doing it”, but it’s far enough away at this point I’m not too worried about it yet.

Eventually I want to do actual speaking, too. Preferably with a native Spanish speaker. There are various apps online which can help connect you with a partner to “trade” language learning with, like HelloTalk, and there’s always the option of finding a tutor.

From there it’ll probably be starting to attend local Spanish learner’s meetups. This is going to be super scary, but I can only imagine these things tend to be pretty newbie friendly, or they have newbie friendly sessions or whatever. I’m excited about the idea, but also a bit terrified. I don’t expect this to happen for 3-4 months or more, and maybe that’s even being optimistic. I’ve never learned a new language before, so this is all new to me! It’ll be fine, though!

Conclusion

Ok, that’s a lot of words. I’m going to stop for now. If you’ve made it this far, thanks! I hope it was interesting!

Excitement, etc

So I just got rejected for a job. In seemingly large part due to my last blog post. From the feedback provided (which is totally awesome that they did this, btw, because it’s not just a “good luck in your future endeavors”, it gives me something to think about):

I just didn’t have confidence that you’re excited to come back to systems work. Uncertainty in your description of why you chose to leave your last job left me doubting that you knew what you wanted, and were committed to and excited for the opportunity to join our team.

Hmm. So, I can totally see that. I left NationBuilder because I was completely burnt out. My tenure at Stripe had many things stacked against me, and the recovery I wanted to have happen just didn’t work out.

But I’m not sure I agree that I’m not excited to go back to work. I would absolutely love to find a job where I can be happy and feel like I’m contributing to a team and maybe helping make the world a better place somehow and helping to provide people with a product that they enjoy using. A lot of my time on Te Araroa was spent trying to figure out what was wrong, what was missing. And I learned a lot about myself and what I wanted and what indeed was missing.

In this job search I’ve been focusing solely on jobs in the Portland area. I moved to Portland while I was working at NationBuilder and was remote with them for the rest of the time I was there. It worked out ok. I had been introduced to some people up here by mutual friends and was enjoying myself. I got super burnt out from work and lost the passion that had me going to meetups, various things happened and some of my friends drifted away, and combined with my usual shyness and social anxiety, I ended up becoming extremely isolated and lonely.

I started at Stripe super excited about the job. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about a job. And to some degree, that was the beginning of the downfall. But one thing my time at Stripe taught me is that I actually enjoy working in an office with people. My visits to the SF office were invigorating. Talking to people in person, socializing during meals and after work, etc. But I can’t stand San Francisco. It’s just not somewhere I could ever live, for a lot of reasons. So I got this taste of awesomeness, but it was tainted with sadness that it couldn’t be all the time.

On the trail I thought I’d be fine by myself. I was the last 2 trips I’ve done. And surely I won’t be *that* lonely, I’ll probably be meeting plenty of southbounders and we’ll probably have some overlap at huts so we can hang out there. And I had some of that. What I wasn’t expecting was the “trail family” that came together out of a handful of northbounders who happened to be pacing roughly together for a week or so. At first I was afraid, afraid of judgement, so I kept them at arm’s length. But eventually they sucked me in and I felt like part of a group. It wasn’t until the group split apart with some people doing side trips, some people staying back, some people forging ahead, and I was alone on the trail again that I realized what I’d been a part of and just how much I enjoyed that.

Later on I’d reunite with a couple I’d met very early on in the trip and we’d spend a week together in the Richmonds. It was then that I found out that I still did like being alone sometimes. I would often intentionally get up later than them or whatever so they’d get a head start and I could have some alone time on the trail. Eventually I’d either catch up to them or I’d see them at the hut at the end of the day. It was great to find that balance.

What all of this told me is that one of the big things that was missing was working in an office with people. Maybe if I had a well established local social life outside of work I could work remotely and be fine. But I don’t have that. So I think I need to work amongst people again.

The main reason I’m also exploring other things is that for a good portion of my time at Stripe I was really struggling, and trying to figure out what I could change to improve my life. What was missing? I’d been wanting to ride my bike across the country for years, and my spontaneous decision to travel to New Zealand and walk around for 4 days got me hooked on backpacking. My “fallback” then was “I’m just going to go walk somewhere or whatever.” However, I also wanted to make that a thing that I actually did for more than just 1-2 weeks while on vacation or something. So I then worried about things like when am I going to have the time? I need to save super aggressively so I can do a mini retirement or extended sabbatical (read: 1-2 years), or whatever.

So while I was there I was worried about my work performance, super lonely, and afraid of alternatives. But I wasn’t doing anything to solve any of those problems, I was just stuck in a loop of worry.

The Te Araroa trip helped be break that loop. It also helped me figure out what I was missing. Or at least some things I can try, as opposed to just recognizing that something is wrong and worrying about that. So, if anything, I’m actually more excited about the idea of going back to work than I have been in a long time, maybe even as much as I was about going to work for Stripe. Now, that’s not to say I am as excited about any particular company, but I *am* excited about going back to work, meeting new people, learning new things, and seeing if my changes make a difference. A best case scenario would be finding fulfillment and happiness that keeps me in Portland, with the occasional bit of continent hopping of course, but one that helps me make a connection with a community, be part of something.

One of the other things the trail taught me I was missing was a creative outlet. Sure, building stuff with computers is creative, sure, but there’s a difference between creative for work and creative for fun. I’ve tried lots of things. Knitting. Learning a new programming language. Trying to build a website about interacting with friendly cats around town. Ham radio stuff. Whatever. And none of those things has really stuck, for various reasons. Knitting and programming because while I could learn the basics, and did, I never could figure out what I wanted to do with that knowledge. Other things had other forms of Resistance which contributed to the project or hobby ultimately resulting in failure. And because of those failures, I am hesitant to try something new, afraid to add another failed idea or project or hobby or goal to my long list of those. But the trail taught me that it didn’t matter. I needed something. So I’ve been exploring a bit. I’ve been trying to explore something that can be practical in a “Plan B” sort of scenario. Hence, Spanish. And my “Plan B” is actually the creative outlet itself. Not only am I learning new things, figuring out logistics of whatever, thinking wild thoughts like “maybe I could get someone to pay me to write a book about trails in Japan” or whatever, but I’m instead of *worrying* about what my Plan B might look like, I’m actually creating the Plan B. During my NET training one of the things they taught us was giving someone something to do, no matter how trivial or seemingly unimportant, can help them handle the stress of the situation they’re in. The act of exploring possibilities helps me focus my energy on creativity or problem solving, rather than just worrying about what if.

The idea of going back to work, with all of this newly gained wisdom, and testing the results is extremely exciting to me. And if it doesn’t work out for whatever reason, well. There’s always Plan B.

No hablo Español

A little bit before I came back from down south I decided I wanted to learn Spanish. When in was in Japan I decided I wanted to learn Japanese, but I didn’t stick with it. There were a number of reasons, some of which aren’t resolved as of this attempt at learning Spanish, but others that are.

I have been going pretty solidly at it for almost a month now and wanted to talk a bit about my journey so far. I also want to talk about why Spanish, and what I hope to get out of it, and why not Japanese and am I ever going to revisit Japanese?

The why is pretty easy. To quote the great Korben Dallas: “I only know two languages: English and bad English.” I’m actually a bit surprised and somewhat disappointed in myself that I lived in Los Angeles for 9 years, sometimes in very heavily Hispanic neighborhoods, and didn’t pick up Spanish. It could have been very handy. There are a lot of really great people in Los Angeles who speak Spanish but not English and it would have been great to be able to talk to those folks.

As of late I’ve also been doing a fair amount of traveling. Once to a place where almost nobody speaks English (Japan), and once to a place where English is widely spoken but not the native language (Iceland). There are many other places I’d love to go where English isn’t the primary language spoken or even spoken by a significant portion of the people. So I should really pick up another language.

But why Spanish? In short: it’s easier than Japanese and spoken in a lot more places. But there’s some deeper reasoning behind this.

During my trip and since, I’ve been trying to figure out what’s next. For the moment I’ve settled on going back to work, but I also have decided that I need to take a very active role in figuring out what’s next and how to do it, rather than “just wait until I have lots of money and just travel”. If I can work while traveling, my travels will be able to last a lot longer. There are problems with that, though. I am over 30, so I’m no longer eligible for most (all?) working holiday visa programs offered in some countries. I also don’t have a degree. This makes it very hard to get a work visa, even if I am otherwise more than qualified for a position. So the countries I can legitimately work in are very few, and I’d assume that most of those places aren’t primarily English speaking places.

One of the directions I’ve been looking in is getting a TEFL certificate and going to teach English somewhere for a while. There are a good number of countries where I can find work teaching English with a TEFL and no degree, but in some of the cases I’ve looked this usually involves working for cash under the table on a visitor visa which is actually only moderately illegal or not illegal, or illegal but nobody really cares, or whatever, but given that these tend to not pay taxes or provide benefits or whatever, it all feels extremely shady and not something I’d like to do if I can avoid it. I’d much prefer to be above board, even if it involves some hassle.

Another direction is going back to school and getting a degree. This is something I’m VERY interested in, but schools in the US are outrageously expensive, and I’m not willing to go to a diploma mill or something. So to go to school full time would cost me a lot of money and probably make it hard or impossible to work while I do it, at least not for any reasonable amount of money so I’m not completely bleeding cash, and I’m not very interested in taking on large amounts of debt. If I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to study, how much it would cost, and he quickly I could turn that degree into a high dollar job to pay off the loans, I might be more interested, but for the moment a 4 year commitment without much vision is fairly intimidating to me.

There are, however, places in the world with free or inexpensive higher education. Germany, France, Argentina, Colombia, I think Sweden or Norway or Finland or maybe all of them. This goes for foreigners as well. Some have English language programs, or like first year English while you learn the local language or whatever. I’m still looking into these, but I’ve already ruled out Germany, my high school diploma doesn’t fit their admissions requirements meaning I’d have to enroll in what I guess is their equivalent of a GED, but that requires proficiency in German. Colombia and Argentina are Spanish speaking programs (hence Spanish). France has some English programs, and I’m exploring those, they may fit the bill, but I’m hedging with Spanish, too. The Nordic countries are great but expensive and cold!

So, the thing I’m kinda thinking right now is learn Spanish, get a TEFL, go to a Spanish speaking country with inexpensive school, and try to figure out a visa situation. Some places might have Spanish classes I can take for a year to get me qualified for university and also qualify me for a student visa which allows me to work part time. Then once I get the degree the whole world literally opens up for me.

So that’s why Spanish and what I hope to get out of it. If nothing else also, it is something fun to do. And learning something new is good for the brain.

So why not Japanese? For one it’s significantly harder to learn. Not only is the grammar wildly different, but there’s the added difficulty of Kanji. Hiragana and Katakana only took a few days to learn, and they will be very useful if I return to Japan, but they aren’t even the entire picture. I feel like I’ll be able to learn the language a lot more quickly if I can read it, and Spanish gets me that. Sure, I can learn a bunch of kanji on the side, and would have to, but it’s one more added difficulty that I don’t want to have discouraging me.

Additionally, while I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Japan, and very much want to go back, I honestly don’t think I would ever want to move there permanently. So learning the language would be mostly an academic exercise and be useful for visiting and as a fun party trick, but not all that useful in my daily life. Japan is not a country with free education, and cost of living would be roughly comparable. Plus I likely would not be able to get a student visa for Japanese classes in Japan, and therefore no way to work while I’m there or even stay an extended period of time, and there are no primarily English programs in Japan that I know of.

I do eventually want to learn Japanese and depending how some of these other irons I have in the fire end up, I may switch back to Japanese, but for the moment I’m focusing on Spanish.

One more motivator is I know of at least one company doing tech educational materials in Spanish language, so who knows, maybe I can get a job doing that. There are a lot more Spanish speakers than Spanish speakers who know tech, and I have skills that people would also like to have, so there’s definitely a market for it.

Anywho. This iteration of my language learning is getting off to a good start. I hope to write more about my adventure, and about things I learn along the way and tools and techniques I use and discover. Hopefully at some point I can write a post titled “Yo hablo español”.

Te Afteroa

It’s been a few weeks since I finished walking. A lot has happened. A lot hasn’t happened.

The biggest thing that has happened, however, is I’m back in Portland, sitting on my couch with my cats, contemplating things.

To quote an article a friend linked me to: “life has ceased to be linear”. On the trail I had very few decisions to make. What am I going to eat for breakfast? Well, I had bars and I had muesli, not a tough decision. What am I doing today? Well, I have 2 choices: walk, or not walk. And most days I chose walk, if I’d already been walking the day before. Where was I going to walk? Up the trail. How far? To the next hut. What am I going to do after that? Eat. After that? Read. After that? Sleep. Rinse. Repeat.

Even adjusting to life off the trail while in New Zealand was hard. I’ve often found myself lacking the ability to make a decision about what to do, where to go, when I’m visiting a place. This was no exception. And it reminded me of what I liked so much about my time on the trail. Things were simpler, I just needed to feed myself and walk and everything was fine. Sometimes I’d get bored in a hut if I got in too early, but that’s ok, I can just eat, or sleep. Things I can’t necessarily do when I’m in the real world. I read somewhere once if you get hungry during the day to ask yourself “are you hungry or are you bored?”. 9 times out of 10 the answer to that is “bored”, but on the trail it’s ok if I just eat anyways, because I’m burning so many calories it’s all I can do to eat enough to get me through the day. When visiting places it ends up that I have this dilemma a lot, and I’ll recognize that I’m just bored, but I can’t figure out what to do, what I want to do, and so I’ll spin on that for a while until I end up going and eating anyways. Sometimes I’ll even get stuck on where to eat! That was also easy on the trail, eat what I have or if I’m in a town, eat something cheap or something good. Preferably both, but $8 fish and chips is always there and always good, so if all else fails, just go do that.

But I do the same thing at home. I’ve observed many times in the past that I can’t seem to leave my house without spending money. Like I have to have a destination in mind before I leave, and 99 times out of 100 that destination is “spend some money somewhere.” On a coffee, on food, a museum, whatever. I can’t seem to leave the house if I’m not going somewhere to spend money. On the trail there wasn’t anywhere to spend money, or any need to really. My goal for the day was always clear: walk to the next place. Because it was in support of my overall goal: walk across the country.

So the challenge now is that I’m currently at a major crossroads, with many options and none super clear. I can go try to find a job. Will I enjoy that job? Are there any jobs I would enjoy in Portland? Am I going to have to move somewhere? If so, where? What about a job doing something other than what I’ve been doing? What would I even do? How much would I be able to even make? Enough to support myself? I dunno.

One of the things I keep feeling like I “should” do is engage my creative side. Most of my career I’ve just been problem solving and bashing head against computer, and when not doing that I’m just watching TV or reading or whatever, all consumption and no creation. But there’s the problem of “what creative side?” I’ve never felt artistic or creative at all. I know the basics of knitting, but I don’t knit because I have no clue what to make. I’ve tried to just go make something, but my brain tells me that’s “leaving the house to spend money.” And so many of my ventures (read: all) into hobbies in the past have failed that I’m hesitant to even try.

Now, not all is doom and gloom. One of the biggest positive changes that I’ve noticed after the trail is I feel a lot less wired. I feel like I’m more able to stop spinning on something and if not find a clear path to go forward and execute, at least stop the spinning. Break out of the loop. It helps me be able to think more rationally and less anxiously. This means the fretting I’m doing about “what’s next” is at least feeling somewhat productive. I’m coming up with lots of ideas, and lots of them are really good. Each of them has something to be fearful of, anxious about, but this break in the cycle of my life, this exploration of what else is out there, is making me think more seriously about those things, and look at them with less “why won’t this work” and more “how could I make that work?” I feel like this in itself is a great change, and if I can continue that line of thinking, will be extremely positive for me overall.

In the mean time, I’m facing a bit of a financial snafu at home. I spent a lot more on this trip than I probably should have, and now my cash reserves are on the lower end of the spectrum. Nothing terrible, but it means I’m going to have to do some belt tightening. Eat out less (which is something I’ve been wanting to do forever anyways), spend less money on stupid crap (also something I’ve been wanting to do forever), probably sell some stuff that I’m not using or don’t need anymore. But it also means I have a bit of time pressure to take action, which is honestly a good thing. It means I can’t just sit around and do nothing, at least not all the time, that I need to get moving and do research and search for what’s next. Easier said than done, true, but it at least should help me focus my actions. I can’t just sit around and do nothing, or do effectively nothing all day, so that at least narrows the scope of my decision making process a bit!

Ok, I’m rambling, I’ve been rambling. It’s ok, but I’m going to stop rambling for now. I’m going to spend some time cuddling with my kitties. I really missed them a lot while I was gone.

Fin

I’ve called it. I’m finished with the trail. So many feels.

This morning the rain was pretty fierce and I just wasn’t feeling it. I delayed a couple of times and waited before making a decision, but ultimately decided to call it early and take the boat into Picton directly. I have a lot of mixed feelings about that decision, especially as now, at least here in Picton, it’s not raining, but honestly I feel like the end of the trail for me happened when I got to the gravel road at the end of the Richmonds, the last 15km or so into Pelorus Bridge. When I got to that road, I felt so much relief. So much accomplishment. Part of it was that I was fairly sure I was going to make my 5pm deadline into the campground, but in large part it was a recognition that the hard parts were behind me.

I’d been considering the Queen Charlotte track the “icing on the cake” of the trail, and that I was going to carry nothing and eat at places along the way and stay in fancy resorts and whatnot. Which I did do. But it just didn’t feel like the rest of the trail to me. Especially with the rain and then the shin splints. I let myself get lazy and that kinda hurt the experience, and I feel a little bad about that but I keep reminding myself that the QCT was never the challenge, getting there was. And I did.

So now I wait here in Picton waiting for my rental car to be ready to pick up, so I can go to my hostel for the night and do laundry and figure out what’s on for the rest of my time here in NZ. And also to figure out some things for my week in Sydney.

One thing I really want to do is try to reflect upon the trip. Write up some journal entries. Think about parts I liked, parts I didn’t like, look at photos, etc. I had some really great times on the trail, and some really trying times. I met some really amazing people and hopefully have made some good friends along the way. I’ve seen things so few will ever see, and done things few have even thought about doing. I mean honestly 2 years ago I had no idea this trail even existed, or that I might want to do it and today I’m writing about how it was to do. That’s pretty amazing, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to do it.

Anywho, I feel like I’m rambling now! I’ve got about 30 minutes to get my car and I forgot to pick up the postcard I mailed myself from Bluff, so I need to go do that and see what past me wrote to current me.

I got a few photos as we pulled into Picton. The setting for this place is really great, and the ships in the harbor here are huge. Very busy for such a small town.

Day 52: Punga Cove to Miner’s Camp

It rained today. A lot. I sat around at Punga Cove until just before 1pm when I left to head to Miner’s Camp a bit up the trail.

Ran into John and Christine one last time. They were headed back to the road to try to hitch out to Picton. Hugs and goodbyes all around. Gonna miss them. Will have to visit Asheville some time.

Rain so camera lens was wet which means I didn’t get any pictures. It’s ok, there was nothing to see. I walked for about 2.5 hours and was at Miner’s Camp. Really nice folks here. They have 2 pigs, a handful of sheep, ducks, chooks, and a cow. And lots of wekas of course. Apparently there are times when they feed the pigs that everyone comes over to take part, including some of the wekas. Funny little birds.

Tomorrow rainy again. Gonna be bleh into the finish line but looking forward to being done!p

Portage Bay to Punga Cove zero

It rained today. In fact, it’s still raining. And hasn’t stopped once all day. Between that and the shin splints I decided I was not walking today. There wouldn’t have been anything to see along the trail, I would have been miserable, it wouldn’t have been a fun day. And I’m beyond the point of needing to prove anything, so no walking.

Instead, I took a water taxi! The sound is big enough with enough locals and enough tourists and such that there are actually 3 different competing water taxi services, some with fixed route and fixed schedule and others with on demand bookings too. Nifty. The boats range from fairly small to surprisingly large. The one I was on probably had capacity for about 30 people. I was expecting something like 8, maybe.

Despite the weather, the sound was actually quite pretty. And there are a lot more holes along the water than I could have imagined. Makes me wonder how many of them are residents vs baches.

After some cruising around picking up and dropping others off, I was finally dropped off at Punga Cove Resort. This place is pretty nice with a little bar and cafe by the water and a kinda fancy restaurant up the hill with great views. Their backpackers accommodation is actually a bunch of small private rooms with shared facilities. Mine is at the very end, and actually has a pretty great view.

Not too bad for $63NZD a night. I spent more than that on dinner, which was delicious. I had the steak. And the fanciest sundae I’ve ever seen. Also the head waitress was extremely good. Always awesome to watch a master at work.

With nothing much to do here during the wet cold rainy day I used the WiFi to book some things for after I’m done with the trail and read a book. Pretty relaxing day, if a bit boring.

The resident weka population was showing off just how cheeky they are. One had ventured into the laundry room and made off with a plastic bag of toiletries, many of which had spilled out onto the ground. But it wasn’t going to give up the bag. Silly bird. I tried to get a photo of it but it’s just not really possible to see it sadly. Mischievous little weird chicken duck looking things.

Tomorrow it’s supposed to rain most of the day too, but the route is fairly flat and pretty short, and there’s supposed to be a window of not rain in the afternoon so I’ll probably sleep in a bit, hang out at the cafe some more, and leave the moment the rain stops. The place I’m heading tomorrow night has pet pigs. It should be awesome.

Day 51: Anakiwa to Portage Bay

Showering in the morning before going out has been pretty rare for me lately. I’ve been cleaning up a bit when I roll into huts in the afternoon, or showering when I arrive into town, but I haven’t been doing my usual morning shower routine. This morning, I had a shower. It was rather nice.

The weather was also rather nice. A bit warm, but a cool breeze. I was sweating a lot, but didn’t feel overly hot. Fairly decent overall.

The only real downside right now is that I’ve developed shin splints. Pretty sure it was due in part to the literal running I did a few days ago, along with the fast pace I was trying to keep up that day to get into town. Especially on descents. And now I’m paying the price.

Fortunately the trail is quite beautiful, and while I have longish days, I’m still beating the estimates by a lot, I’m just dealing with a fair amount of pain and discomfort. 4 more days and my legs can finally rest.

Anywho, the track goes up and down along the peninsula, crossing back and forth from one side to the other, meaning I get amazing views of both sides, and from time to time I get a peak thrown in with some really amazing views. But I’ll shut up and post pictures.

Also in the area there are lots of wekas. At the high point for the day there was one in particular which didn’t seem to care too much about my presence and was going about its day, so I got some good pictures of it.

They’re such weird little birds, and they are super cheeky. You don’t want to leave anything you care about near them as they are notorious thieves. But they’re just funny little things. I like them.

Along the trail there are numerous places to sit. I liked this one in particular because it felt like it was carved out of the trail, which I guess it kinda was.

Finally I got a view of my destination for the day.

 

After struggling down the hill with my shin splints I made it into my home for the night, took a shower, and chatted with the folks I’m sharing the place with. The nearby resort has a restaurant so I popped over there for dinner, the view was pretty good.

Sadly I am not sure if they have takeaway lunches anymore so I might just need to eat an extra big breakfast since there’s no lunch stop tomorrow. I have some snacks and such I can eat but was really counting on being able to take a packed lunch away. Oh well.

As far as my shin splints go, I’m not 100% sure I’ll be walking tomorrow. The road here goes directly to tomorrow’s destination, so there’s a possibility I could hitch it. Fortunately there seems to be a bail out from the trail to the road a few hours in, so if I need to I can do that. I should be ok though, I’ll just have to take it slow and take lots of breaks. Something I should probably do more anyways!

Oh, one thing which is pretty neat about this area. A lot of the things on the Queen Charlotte sound side of the peninsula are only accessible by boat or via the trail. So the trail itself is kind of a transportation corridor. Which means you get signs calling out accommodations and such off the trail in places. Pretty neat.

So far the “major” accommodation areas have had paved roads leading up from the north side, up and over let the trail to the other, but there are a few places tomorrow and almost all of the next day where the trail and by boat is what you’ve got. Super cool.