I’ve been trying to learn a few new things lately.

I continue to want to write fiction (probably fantasy or sci-fi or perhaps even a mystery), but I continue to have absolutely no idea what I want to write about. Near as I can figure, the problem is that my nature is to unravel problems and fix things – so to put together a plot where wrongs are not righted at the beginning or immediately after, I just can’t do that. (This, for example, is why I can’t tolerate Julia Roberts movies, because every last one of them could be cut down to four minutes if only the characters had told each other what’s on their minds.)

I believe that bit about having to crank out a lot of bad work before you start to get good; but I can’t even start getting started. It’s not just writer’s block, it’s also about being deeply frustrated with myself. But that’s another topic for another time.

So, instead, I’m working on some more tangible items from my to-do list. One is that I’ve always wanted to be able to draw. I know the dry rules about “make your characters a certain number of heads tall” and “draw geometric shapes first, following an action line”, but it just never clicked, and I don’t want to get good at drawing bad drawings because I don’t know the why behind the how. So a few Christmases ago, my brother John got me “Art Academy: Lessons for Everyone” for the Nintendo 3DS from my wishlist, and last November on vacation at Vero Beach I finally spent some time with it. It’s about oil painting and composition, and I learned quite a bit for it but it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for; so last Christmas, John got me (also from my wishlist) the Pokémon version of Art Academy. This is exactly what I needed – it’s about drawing characters, but it takes baby steps, going from simple tracing and coloring to drawing characters around geometric shapes to drawing the shapes myself. Lots of time is spent building up the budding artist’s confidence, and I can already see my lines getting more confident. (The banner above is from a freeform Pikachu I drew as part of one of the lessons.)

Another item from my to-do list: I’ve always wanted to learn Japanese in my free time. The language has fascinated me, and I want to someday be able to understand anime without subtitles. I highly recommend the iOS app “Human Japanese” (; it’s a friendly, low-key, lesson-by-lesson approach with quizzes.

As I see it, there are three aspects to learning Japanese: the writing system, the words, and the grammar. I’m decent with hiragana and katakana (and I have a reference card), and I figured the words can be looked up in a dictionary. So I tore through much of the Human Japanese app to learn a bunch of the grammar rules, and then I sought a challenge.

Jill loves the Disney Aristocats character Marie. I found a storybook about Marie that she didn’t have yet: “Miriya & Marie” (, about the kitten befriending a young witch. But the book is entirely in Japanese. No problem, thought I, I will learn by translating it! How hard can a children’s book be? And so I ordered a copy from Japan, and a few weeks later it arrived.

How hard? Very! I know what the letters say, so I could read it out loud if I wanted, but I am having a very difficult time figuring out what it means. Finally I asked for help on the Facebook group “Let’s Practice Japanese”, and people came to my aid. Turns out I was on the right track but the text uses some colloquialisms and “kiddie-speak”. I take this as a sign that I should go back and learn the basics better. If only the old magazine Mangajin were still published… oh, but this is the modern era, and just about all of the issues are up on BitTorrent! I know how I’ll be spending my evenings for the next while.

Oh, and the other thing I’ve been learning recently? Minecraft. Not that it’s a deep subject, but it’s wildly popular and I knew nothing about it, so I purchased it and immediately got drawn in. I love the exploration aspect of it, the fact that it’s an infinitely-generated world, no box canyons with high walls to limit where you can go. I’m not going to be a Minecraft junkie forever, but so far there’s still more I want to find.


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