Book impression: “In nessun modo ancora”, Samuel Beckett

I initially gave this post the title “Book review” but there is not enough review to justify it, so I preferred the term “impression”.

This book is the Italian translation of Nohow On, and was lended to me by a very good friend. I usually read books entirely, including introductions and interpretations, but this time I skipped them and went directly for the text. The first novel, Company, first disoriented me then captivated me and I read it in one sitting. I assumed that the text was meant to be read, and therefore it would be written in such a way that thoughts could be followed by other people; instead, it seemed the full recording of thoughts formed into the brain, a sort of “raw data” version of a book. Surprisingly, I found that form extremely understandable, probably more than the potential revised form – and likely the introduction, that I haven’t read yet (sorry). I was led to analyse, think, smile, laugh, read again to appreciate every word. I read the following two prose pieces but I was not really focused and they were written in a slightly different form, so I will need to read them again.

Company sounded to me like a victory against revisions to a text and implicitely to thoughts. In school I had mixed feelings about someone else telling me “look, your text lacks clarity, you should change these parts, explain these ones better, remove that paragraph” because I didn’t feel that a third person could check if my text matched my own thoughts (in which case I would have accepted corrections that made the text a truer expression of my thoughts) and the corrections seemed to add their touch, their need for clarity, in my own words. My reactions got worse when I arrived to the point of writing scientific articles, because revisions tended to make the text less clear to me, the author, and that would have been ridiculous! I later kept writing my thoughts in a diary and started this blog. I don’t edit posts unless there is a mistake or a follow-up that I want to link to. I write only when the text has a clear structure in my mind, and consider it a snapshot rather than an encyclopedia entry – therefore, it represents my thoughts about something in that moment, and are not supposed to be edited afterwards, only connected to other posts.

On the other hand, there is text that I write as part of documentation or news items, for example OSM Weekly News. In that case the focus is on the tool/service that needs documentation, or the contents of the news items. I am not going to treat that text as my own thoughts, quite the contrary: I see myself as an ambassador for the tool/service/news item, so I am more than open to comments and review that get the text as true and clear as possible.

Apologies to Samuel Beckett for the minimal comment about his work. Next review will be a proper one 🙂 stay tuned!

Find the difference #5: what you say vs. how you say it

I have been thinking about what has made discussions among me and others become heated, and most of the time it was not what people said, but how. Here are the two sentences I wish to compare:

  • You are not allowed to say that!

vs.

  • You are not allowed to say that this way! which could mean: You can say that, but the way you said it hurts me!

It makes me think a lot of parents and children. How many times I hear: “Don’t cry!” or “Don’t complain!” and I guess that it’s because seeing the suffering of others make us uncomfortable, at the point that we could prefer to silence it completely. There is a great article about this dynamic on happinessishereblog.com, and a shorter post on The Badger’s Smial. But what happens when we try to silence the cries, and worse, when we succeed? The suffering person feels even worse: oppressed, unable to both deal with the issue and to get support. I (among many) noticed that children get increasingly upset when they feel that their message doesn’t get through, and with an immense sadness, that some children (and adults) stop communicating and are therefore considered “good” – just because they are quiet.

I find that if I were a parent, I would promise to listen to all messages my children send me, eventually suggesting to express them a way that makes it easier for me and other people to help, but in no way editing the original content.

A similar censoring reaction happens often also when people get aggressive during a discussion: it seems easier to stop fighting if the other party stops pushing its idea forward, while it could be that it’s a matter of how the idea is expressed, and if the atmosphere calls more for white/black outcomes, rather than mutual understanding. I am trying to practice this form of de-escalation with my friends: I notice how the most vibrant advocates of a given idea calm down when they understand that I am OK with them owning their idea, and I am focusing on the way it is expressed. I think it takes a lot of pressure away, because there are endless possibilities to improve the formulation of a message. It could make me look undecided, when compared with people who get heated when they feel that others don’t agree with them; but I don’t feel comfortable being so assertive. It is actually a reason I left OSGeo Board a few years ago, because I felt that I could not fight for my/our ideas, but it was expected from my role. Now I would come back to OSGeo with a new  awareness, that I can contribute, move things forward in this equally firm, but more understanding way.

About speaking many languages

m_5671ac41a88e7df327003b57
source: poshmark.com

Inspired by an hilarious post from MadameZou, I have been thinking on what it means to me to be able to express myself in more than one human language. It is obviously a plus when I am in a big city or at a conference and I can talk to people in a language they feel more comfortable with. I did this juggling more than once and I am quite proud of that, at a technical level.

On a deeper level, there are people with whom I can use two or more languages, so we usually end up using one language for a set of topics and the other(s) for other sets. It happened with a Canadian friend of mine, with whom I speak French when we discuss private stuff, and English for work-related topics and when others are around. I absolutely melt when we switch to French in public for a couple sentences. It is a mark of closeness that is so innocent, yet so profound.

Now that becomes interesting. That lead me to think if I was equally fluent in each language in each topic, and I ended up realising that I am not – even when I am alone, when I write, when I dream, each language allows me a different range of expression, like clothes can allow a different range of motion. Some are closer to me and I feel I can move naturally, others are like a heavy coat or trousers quite too big, shoes that don’t fit my feet. I feel like I am made of four personalities who overlap only partially. English almost perfectly fits my French and Italian, while my German is so hesitant and inaccurate that it is almost a bad copy of myself. I almost fear learning a new language because I would feel so unbearably blocked in my expression.

If I count music and movement among the languages I know, then there are even more interesting observations. I speak music like someone who knew it well at some point, then didn’t practice for a long time. A bit like a old dog which knew a lot of tricks, and when asked, tries with some difficulty to find the movements again, but even when he fails you can notice how skilled he was. With movement it is an open path, I am on the way, hesitantly, but progressing.

Edit and drawing streak preview: my languages as horses – red is Italian, green is English, light blue is French, black is German. The first three are more similar, German is a growing foal.

30434270471_152de7f5eb_z_d