Year 2, Week 11: The Chaos

 The stats:

I have studied Yiddish for 412 days
I have studied Yiddish flashcards for a total of 260 hours
I have reviewed 4,678 individual flashcards

I have mentioned my dog, Burt, in the past. Burt is a rescue dog, and, when we first got him, almost a year ago, he was a mess. He was twice his body weight, he had just had an eye removed, he did not know his own name, he was not really house trained, and, further, he wasn't anything trained.

Burt has benefited from a regular schedule, some of which he made up on his own. For instance, he tends to wake up between five a.m. and six a.m. and demand to get into bed with me, unless he is already in bed with me, in which case he will sometimes jump out of bed, wander for a few minutes, and then demand to get back in.

We feed him twice per day, which was new to him. We walk him four times per day, and try to make his third walk, in the late afternoon, especially long to tire him out, or he will spend the next few hours moving our shoes around, digging tissues out of the garbage to tear up, barking with frustration at the garbage can when he can't get into it, and otherwise getting into mischief.

When we have had to change Burt's schedule, things have gotten chaotic. He's still not clear on why he can't pee inside the apartment, so we need to make sure we stick to his walking schedule. If we take an afternoon nap with him, his early evening mischievousness is magnified, because he has so much energy. He came from chaos, and, without structure, easily reverts back to chaos.

I mention this because it is all true of me too. Well, not the peeing in the apartment, but most of it.

If I don't get to sleep early enough, I wake and cannot focus on studying Yiddish. So I will decide to nap, figuring I can always get back to it. And then I will get back to it too late, and not finish it, and words I am studying will get pushed back to the next day.

The next morning, the amount of Yiddish I must study will be more than I have time for before I must go to work, and so I will put it off until the evening, and I will forget until the last minute, and more words will get pushed to the next day. So I will not add any new words, figuring 200, 250 old words are more than enough for me to do in one sitting, and I won't get them done. So maybe I need to not add any new words for another day?

This was last week. I finally nailed it all down a couple of days ago, getting caught up on my studies, but, man, it took me back. Years ago, it felt like everything had that sort of quality, like everything in my life was a growing avalanche of overdrawn bank accounts, unpaid bills, untidy apartment, incomplete projects.

I did not like it, and, in my late 20s, later than I should have, I set out to change it. It took most of a decade to unlearn bad habits and learn good ones, which was tremendously frustrating, but, as things became less chaotic, I found myself getting more done. I wrote plays and got them produced. I managed to move from being a cashier, which I did throughout my 20s, to being a journalist, which I have done ever since. Like the dog, I needed structure, and, unlike the dog, I had to impose it on myself.

The thing is, old habits don't really go away. I can always feel the chaos creeping at the edges of my world. I know that, without these little, ridiculous tools I use to try to keep my life from going off the rails -- numbered lists of things I need to accomplish, etc. -- my life would go off the rails.

It hasn't been easy fitting Yiddish into all this. It is hard work -- much harder than I expected. It requires at least an hour a day, and, when there is a lot you want to do, seven hours a week is an awful lot to carve out. Worse still, I have mostly made up for the missing time through lack of sleep, and lack of sleep is a great way to let the chaos in.

On the other hand, studying Yiddish has also forced me to be even more precise in how I schedule my day. More than that, it has forced me to think about how I schedule longer stretches of time. I have not been a patient man in the past, and could rarely sustain any single project for a few months, much less a year.

But I noticed over time that the really important projects, the really significant ones, generally took years, and sometimes decades. They took someone committing to the project, and pursuing it, sometimes without any end goal or without any visible accomplishment. They did so because the project itself was valuable enough that it didn't matter if there was any big payout at the end, or where the project was going. It was just worth taking the time to do.

I needed to learn how to do this. In the long run, it is less important that I now know the Yiddish word for maniac (I learned it this morning, and it's maniak) than the fact that I am doing something that is very hard over a very long time period.

Although, that being said, I do like knowing the Yiddish word for maniac.