Learning Needs a Joyful Reason

I just started learning Italian on Duolingo. Because I’ve already studied French and Spanish (I would not go so far as to say I’ve learned them) I have something of a leg up: Italian doesn’t seem terribly different in many ways from those other two Romance languages, and I know enough about language learning to notice where my weak spots are and work on them (prepositions, how I hate thee). I’m slugging away. I not only like the language, I’m enjoying the process of learning it. My goal is to learn enough to be able to embarrass myself if/when I go to Italy. I wrote an entire book set in Italy; it seems to me I should go and see it for myself. So I’ve got a reason. That helps.

But not all reasons are helpful. Because I’m contemplating self-publishing some of my backlist, I was counseled that I should work on promotion: viz, a newsletter. Which has led me to learning of the sort that makes me want to lie down and howl. I researched newsletter management software–the stuff that will keep your mailing list and provide templates for newsletters. Based on cost, the size of my current mailing list, and various reviews, I signed up for a trial of one. I’ve done newsletters before at the museum where I worked. I was not fearful.

Silly me.

Let’s dive right in, right? I click the button labeled “CREATE YOUR NEWSLETTER.” Before you can design a template or write anything, you have to make the underpinnings of the program talk to the underpinnings of your website.  I created my website more than a decade ago, my recollection of the process is fuzzy at best, and I don’t go wandering the basement looking at the wiring for fun, because I just don’t. But I dig in. Shortly I find myself mired in the sort of technical backstage stuff in which I have no training, outdated information, and zero interest. 

After two hours of trying to fix the SPF and DKIM on my website so that the newsletter manager will accept it as a “sender”–each time coming up with a new and different way to not quite do it, and each time being terrified I would break my perfectly functional website–I gave up, cancelled my trial, and tried not to throw a tantrum.

Today, filled with renewed optimism (who am I kidding?) I will seek out a different newsletter manager and see what I can make of it. But there is nothing about this kind of learning that gives me joy. The best I can expect (aside from a working newsletter) is a kind of bitter triumph of the HAH! TAKE THAT variety. 

Part of the problem is simply that this is a kind of learning that doesn’t come easy for me. And an equal part is that my reason for doing it is of the hold-your-nose-and-just-do-it variety which provides no joy. When I think of  learning Italian, I think of wandering in a city I don’t know, asking directions, having adventures, ordering food and drink and making fun of how dreadful my Italian is, but trying anyway. It’s a joyful imagining. That’s my payoff.

The payoff for figuring out newsletter software is (theoretically anyway) being able to create a newsletter* and send it out with relative ease. That’s it. I appreciate the benefit that will provide. But there’s no joy in the process, and no prospective joy in that benefit, and at this point in my life I suspect I kind of need some joy to grease the wheels and make it easier to persevere.

If y’all will excuse me, I’m going to practice Italian for a while.
*The thought of sending out a newsletter makes me feel rather… squishy? Awkward? Send out regular bulletins about ME! What’s going on with ME! And my work! I have no problem writing ab out what’s going on with me and my work in a “you can read this if you want to” venue like Facebook or Threads, but there, I can just throw something up and people can read it if they want to. When you send a newsletter out you’re assuming that someone will want to see it (yes, I know: you send newsletters to people who have already indicated an interest). It just feels colossally pushy to me. Which may, in fact, be what is required for a self-published author. And yet.

One thought on “Learning Needs a Joyful Reason

  1. There are some tech things that can be a pleasure to learn — I recall getting into learning to write html back in the day. But most of it is nonsense stuff, not something you’d want to learn just to learn. Which is, as you say, the only kind of learning.

    I am with you on the self promotion issue. I don’t mind announcing something, but I don’t want to try to find a new hook to get someone to buy my book every time I put anything out. I will note that the newsletters I enjoy are the ones that are essentially an essay or report on something the author finds interesting and that include a link to their books at the bottom. Those are the ones I read. Charlie Jane Anders does a very nice one.

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