“If you would change gears it would be easier!” my husband calls over his shoulder as he rides along. If I knew how to do that I might agree but right now I am just trying not to fall off or run into this nice old Japanese man. He is bent over and using a cane so he would definitely be the victim. Rich weaves in and out of pedestrians, other bikers, mothers pushing strollers. He stands on his pedals. It looks so graceful it could be a form of dance. I want to throw up.

“I try to tell you but you just won’t listen.” Not only my ears burn at these words but my heart hurts. As a teacher how many times have I thought this, I’m sure it has slipped out also. What Rich doesn’t understand, is that this is not about listening, this is about doing. I need to ride my bike. I need space riding my bike.

I can’t think about gears when I am still working on not running into pedestrians, other bikes or …………

WHAM! Just like that I crumple between a gate and my heavy housewife bike. I don’t feel any pain because my face is on fire. I know without looking that there are many people trying not to look at the big foreign woman untangling her bike from the path gates. Luckily the path is on the river and I look at the birds and the fishermen as a distraction from my reality. Rich and I ride this route on the weekends. Each time I would come to these gates that were made to slow down bike riders, I would hear my brother’s voice in my head. He had coached me on how to ski in between the trees. “You look at the space, not the trees”. Today I was by myself and I had forgotten these words as I entered.

I approach the second set, an old lady riding a trike with a little wagon cuts ahead of me and weaves elegantly through them. My heart is racing. WHAM!! My pedal catches the second gate as I pass. This hurls me around; making a horrible noise in the process. My beautiful new bike now has a scratch on it. I look up and the old lady disappears on the other side of the bridge. I bet she is chuckling to herself I think. My heart isn’t racing anymore, just pounding like Taiko drummers.

The third crash is totally different. I had had to get off the path, cross a very busy street and was now finding the path again. Men dressed in gray are working on the very entrance I am looking for. It is marked by a beautiful planter and pyramid shaped cement that also discourages bikers from speeding. As I try to maneuver around the men and make the turn I just know I am going to hit the planter. I do. WHAM! This time the impact causes me to fall off my bike. Now in Japanese culture, when someone looses face, like I just did, the community does not contribute to it by acknowledging it. So luckily I don’t hear laughing. They have provided much needed space.

Sometimes learning is clumsy, messy and downright painful. I realize now I went through this doing boot camp. The entire experience was foreign. I struggled until the current teacher. He provided me the space I needed to become proficient. His voice also whispers in my ear when I ride the rivers of Hiroshima. “No one is looking at you.” There is no algorithm to learning how to ride a bike or a foreign language. We want to help the next person avoid the pain so we think “telling” them the secret, the short cut, the algorithm, will spare them. I don’t think there are any shortcuts. I think that sometimes the process of learning something is arduous. There in lies the rub.

They sound simple. Ride a bike. Speak Japanese. Geometry. But this is what happens after a million bits of information meld together and become one fluid intuitive thought. What isn’t said is you have to ride it in and around obstacles. You have to learn three abstract scripts. You have to understand you are measuring the area inside or outside a figure.

I am taking a class about teaching geometry and measurement. One activity we did took spaghetti noodles, I had chopsticks, and randomly laid them on the table, looking at where they intersect and what happens when we move one up or down. Over skype I hear the professor say, “look at the space, not the boundaries”. A light goes off in my head. My issues with riding a bike are about space. I am looking at the boundaries. So on the way to church, we always ride our bike to church, I shift my thinking to look for spaces to go through. I had been scanning for the obstacles.

Our Japanese is going along a similar track. It’s messy and awkward. It’s embarrassing and inefficient. I “learn” something in my lesson and then try to use it in my daily life. The real learning is happening out in the world as I stumble along. The Japanese language uses markers that my textbook calls particles. Due to the fact that the subject is usually implied {its that humble thing}, and the verb is at the end, all the who, what, where is in the middle. So it is a way to make clear what the hell you are talking about this all gets its own syllable that indicates its position. They are wa, ga, de, ni, o. The problem is we don’t use markers in English. Yes my teacher uses the English word to label it, but that isn’t helpful because language is communicating thinking and we don’t think the same way.

It’s comical. Sensei will say “In Japanese there are u-verbs, r-verbs and irregular verbs. This is what that means blah, blah, blah. Please study this so you will remember.” It’s like Rich yelling over his shoulder at me while I am trying to just stay on the bike. When I am at the Yubinkyoku (post office), in my head I am not regurgitating language lesson 4. I wish it were that simple. But instead I piece together whatever jumps into my head along with facial expressions, guttural noises and hand gestures to make myself understood while mailing packages back home.

Rich is finding this out also. He struggled but mastered the female Japanese script Hiragana. Hiragana is usually mixed with Chinese kanji so sounding it out doesn’t really help us. Katakana is the male Japanese script. It is everywhere and it is entire words. The reason this is that all foreign-mostly English words-are written in katakana. And they are everywhere-advertisements, signs, posters, and labels. So as he sounds out a word, ku-ri-su-ma-su-kurisumasu-Christmas! He gets so excited. Katakana is like a puzzle he can figure out. But it takes time to remember the characters, sound them out, and then put them together. You don’t do it while you are driving on the Sanyo Expressway. You do it on the train ride to downtown. The other day I looked up and Ushita Station popped into my head. I realized I am learning to read!

The reverse happens to our Japanese friends trying to speak English. Blog is said “barogu”. They have to learn to blend their sounds and not add a vowel at the end. They don’t have pronouns in their language so get ours mixed up. You have no idea what can get misunderstood when not saying consistent pronouns. I walk the river on Mondays with my neighbor, Etsuko san. We have developed way of speaking that helps us both. She puts in the English words she knows but adds the Japanese particles automatically. What this does is has me hear what English would sound like in Japanese grammar. For example, she would say, “In Idaho de …… your mother ni ……. potato o”. I in turn help her with her pronunciation and give her a native speaker. Etsuko san also reflects back my Japanese only correctly and then I say it again. I do the same for her. This sounds tedious and awful, but the fact is we can’t have an in depth conversation anyway. And this way provides a lot of laughs and we share our culture and language. And get a great hour walk together.

Today I got to babysit my friend Aubrie. She is almost three and although I have hung out at her house, she is not use to me. Due to a horrible snowstorm her mother is retrieving grandma from the airport by train. It will take all day. In my sunny apartment, she busies herself with a bucket of blocks (early Christmas present from me), washcloths, wooden spoons and Kleenexes. I am quiet. She stops and looks out the window. She puts the blocks under a washcloth and then pulls it off with a laugh. We line up cushions and play train. We make trains out of the fat blocks, and the skinny blocks, and the big blocks. It looks like Hiroshima station with all those trains. We have space.

Quiet is space.

Learning requires quiet. Learners need space to think. This is in the form of quiet-not interrupting-not telling. Many times when Etsuko san is trying to speak I just wait. She has the word, its inside her, she needs quiet to bring it forth. She does the same for me. Rich and I go around Hiroshima on our bikes every weekend. I just ride. My professors create experiences that allow me to struggle with geometric concepts in authentic ways. Consequently my new understandings are foundational. When you are listening to someone you can’t process and think your own thoughts.

Safety is space.

It is no fun to learn to ride a bike as an adult amongst a population that has been on a bike since birth. I know the neighborhood kids can’t figure out what the big deal is as I squeal to stop. The perfectionist expectation of the Japanese culture inhibits them from speaking English. You are expected to study hard and then be excellent at whatever it is. The river is a great place to be invisible and not overheard. Rich’s colleagues give him a “useful word” of the day. This encourages him to use it as much as he can. My geometry class comprises of teachers who teach kindergarten up to high school. Regardless everyone is respected at their level of math understanding. It is safe to show you don’t understand.

Time is space.

Learning takes time. Rich and I realize how much time we use trying to speak Japanese. If the counter has a long line, we pay and leave. But if the store is not busy we will use much more Japanese. Riding weekly, just a short distance has allowed my confidence to grow. The balance of readings, group work and contextual problems provide repeated exposure to geometry understandings. These concepts were being visited one way or another but in different ways. I knew something was happening when one day Rich came in with the mail. “I don’t know what this is, but it looks important.” I looked at it. The number caught my eye. 16 m3 . Whatever it was came in cubes. Water! Could this be the water bill? Then I saw the kanji character for water. All that thinking about something new had integrated itself.

Many times I wonder how I got here. Maybe I needed space.

I would like to dedicate this blog post to the group of people instrumental in my ability to finish the MCTE program through Boise State and the Boise School District. Elisa Pharris and group Four graciously volunteered and facilitates my participation.   Professors Dr. Brendefur and Dr. Carney never intended to have an online class. They generously have allowed me to continue regardless of the extra time and consideration I have required. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

IMG_1979 IMG_1986These are the dreaded path entrances. IMG_1989IMG_0082These are the gates. IMG_1991 IMG_0084  IMGP6536One day we biked on Etajima-Cycle Island

IMG_1603 IMG_1604 IMG_1925IMG_2010

2 thoughts on “Space

  1. Angie, Your blogs always generate a ripple effect of thoughts for me. This one, especially. Space, time, reflection, not so much focus on boundaries, how we connect, how a cultural’s thought process is penetrated in language. Wow. This is amazing. I admire that you not only navigate this world everyday but are able to reflect, connect and document so much for all of us. Thank you for this.
    Wishing you, Rich, and the boys a fabulous time together. Yeah! Merry Christmas. Peggy Jo


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