Voices, and sounds, and sleeping.

I was raised on American English; it's a language of street signs and bullet points. Through that filter other languages take on unique tenors: French soaks into the loam; Italian fills a room, then overflows into the street; Spanish and Portuguese can be music; German is accurate, if raw.

Hebrew, which surroundss me all day, is rough as tree bark. The hard consonants become slaps in the air, firecrackers going off. The letters of its alphabet are stocky, carved out of butcher block, bold even at their lightest. Hebrew seems designed - by G-d himself, I guess - for arguing. Spoken with firmness - in meetings, in taxicabs, across the lunch table - it sounds like an argument, even though I'm promised these loud exchanges are only plain conversations. I've never heard a real argument in the language; I expect a good Hebrew argument could tear a door off its hinges.

Everyone is kind and considerate towards my expatriate state, but still I miss ready access to native English, and I miss the half-narcotic pleasure of certain voices. Thus I feel incompatible, non-Jew, American, monoglot, as if by speaking English I have the wrong kind of currency, even though people will accept it for transactions.

Last night I sat up going over words, speaking them quietly as I looked out my windows to palm trees, behind the trees the normal violet sky, with a full moon. The words are strange, like spells: "Ani lo medaber ivrit. Ani lo mevin. Walla, ken, beseder. Bevakasha. Ka'anaf. Inkoo inkoo inkoo inkoobahto! Sleeka." Ka'anaf means "rhino."

Alone, and quiet, in my baritone, Hebrew became gentle, the hard syllables forming rhythms as I repeated the words. I discovered - a trivial discovery - something kind inside the language's hardness, something fathers can use to calm their children. Eventually I lay on my back, mumbling to the ceiling, ani lo mevin, I don't understand, a slight bouncing resonance off the hard walls and marble floor, filling the room with Hebrew, then fell asleep, and dreamt of New York, in English.




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

Antilunchism, by Paul Ford. Snack trams. (May 11)

Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

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