Thursday, September 6, 2007

Counting sheep

I will get to the somewhat primitive looking drawing above in a moment. The title of this post refers to the book I am currently reading, the wonderful Three Bags Full . To quote an reviewer:

"If you read only one detective novel about a murdered shepherd told from the perspective of his sheep, translated from the German and written by a woman who looks like Emily Watson's twin this decade, this should be the one."

Yes, indeed. crime-solving sheep. They are hilarious.

But this post is also about counting sheep in the figurative sense. This week, for reasons unrelated to ambient noise (my hotel room looks out on a quiet side-street), I've been having difficulty sleeping again. The Spanish have a nice way of expressing this - they say "me cuesta dormir", literally, "it costs me to sleep". The reason is simple - as I lie in bed, words and phrases that I've heard or read during the daytime gambol around in my head, like so many unruly sheep. Of the 25 or so weeks I've been here in Spain, I estimate that I've had this problem roughly 20% of the time, usually for about a one-week interval at a time.

Oddly enough, though it does leave me a bit tired during the day, this "problem" no longer bothers me. Because I finally figured out that it is actually a very good sign, as far as my progress with the language is concerned. Which brings me finally to the crude sketch at the top of this post. What the drawing is meant to represent is an approximate sketch of my (self-perceived) mastery of the language over time. (I've edited out the temporary backward slide attributable to my week in San Francisco earlier in the summer).

You will notice that the graph consists, for the most part, of a series of straight-line segments, representing gradually decreasing linear rates of improvement - that decrease in the rate of improvement is the law of diminishing returns in action. But every so often, there is a distinct jump in the graph, which corresponds to a substantial improvement that happens almost overnight. This has actually been the case - on several occasions I've shown up in class on a Monday, with a noticeably better command of the language that seemed to just arrive over the weekend. What I finally figured out is that these significant improvements always happen during, or towards the end of a week where I've been having difficulty sleeping because of the "words bouncing around my head" phenomenon. It's as if some part of my brain is driven into overdrive during these periods, with the result that, although my sleep patterns suffer, there is a definite payoff at the end.

OK, this post is decidedly geeky, and probably of little interest to anyone other than my own self. So I will leave it at that. Except to note the analogy with the received wisdom that children's physical growth is also subject to sudden short-term spurts of a similar nature. I'll spare you the geeky details about the pulsatile nature of nocturnal growth hormone secretion, because really, enough is enough.

The plain people of Ireland: This is possibly your most boring post ever.

The management: You may be right. But why don't you just be quiet and move on?

The plain people of Ireland: Crime-solving sheep, though. That's an idea with some potential. Sinéad was always very fond of them "Freddy the Pig" detective books growing up.

The management: An astute girl, Sinéad. The "Freddy the Pig" books are an overlooked treasure.


O'Donovan said...

I would have liked this post for this alone:

> The Spanish have a nice way of expressing this - they say "me cuesta dormir", literally, "it costs me to sleep".

But the crime-solving sheep are an extra bonus.

Sweet dreams.

Sherri said...

I agree. The Spanish lesson and the sheep mystery review are the high points.

The rest, if I'm honest with you, made me sleepy. Then again, I just woke up about 15 minutes ago. Fireworks would make me sleepy.

gaelstat said...

Next time, maybe I should just include more pandas.

Sherri said...

Pandas are good. And I'm awake now.