I believe that the best writing inspiration comes from real life. Reflecting upon events, exploring ideas of “what ifs”, attempting to organize the human experience into a cohesive narrative, have all been catalysts for blog posts. (Very few of them end up being published.) But real life takes time, and the more experiences there are, the less time there is to write about it.
These past few weeks have been incredibly exciting and memorable…and for some reason, I have developed roughly zero ideas in my head. You’re welcome for the anticlimax.
As a result, I will be posting words from not-me. I’ve been collecting quotes in Google Keep for a while now, with ideas I found compelling, statements I connected with, advice that I didn’t want to forget, wake-up calls that I needed, and inspirational quotes. These are in reverse chronological order and range from yesterday to the beginning of the year. Older quotes to come in a later post.
The end of Fast Food Nation:
Whatever replaces the fast food industry should be regional, diverse, authentic, unpredictable, sustainable, profitable – and humble. It should know its limits. People can be fed without being fattened or deceived. This new century may bring an impatience with conformity , a refusal to be kept in the dark, less greed, more compassion, less speed, more common sense, a sense of humor about brand essences and loyalties, a view of food as more than just fuel. Things don’t have to be the way they are. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I remain optimistic.
Data scientist at Columbia (aka math nerd) who happens to run a high school student summer camp for activism in New York:
Because here’s the thing, you’ve got to be brave. You’ve got to live your life fully, and engage in the things that attract you, and trust yourself not to lose it entirely. You’ve really got no other options. Otherwise you’re retreating away from the only thing you really have, which is this one life. Fuck that! Go ahead and take some risks…
Why do we torment ourselves with these mind games, these rules like no double-texting, no instant responding? We do all these things because we’re scared as hell. I don’t want to be the first person to capitulate. We have grown up knowing, from enough self-help books or pop culture or relationship gurus on the Oprah reruns we watched on our mother’s laps, that the person who cares less in a relationship — whether coworkers, friends, or lovers — is the more powerful one. But I know from my international relations class that arms races only ever lead to mutually assured destruction. Escalating our levels of nonchalance and apathy will only ever lead to the absence of sincerity. Honesty. Love.
And yet those are the things we all want, right?
Love is not a power play. It’s supposed to make you unsteady, weak, and vulnerable. Lose some of the ground underneath you, so you can find out who to hold onto.
Origami artists who make flower towers:
It actually looks like I’m not going to do it for most of the time until I do it, because I’m just getting it ready to do it. The funny thing is it always feels awkward–like it’s not going to work.
-Chris Palmer, Between the Folds
Letters to crushes (Yes this is a real site. Yes it’s adorable.)
Sometimes I stare. I admit that I stare at people. But not because they’re hot or they’re not. Because sometimes I’ll look at someone and I see another human being trying to make it just like me. And honestly I think that’s beautiful.
For designers, the visceral response is about immediate perception: the pleasantness of a mellow, harmonious sound or the jarring, irritating scratch of fingernails on a rough surface. Here is where the style matters: appearances, whether sound or sight, touch or smell, drive the visceral response. This has nothing to do with how usable, effective, or understandable the product is. It is all about attraction or repulsion. Great designers use their aesthetic sensibilities to drive these visceral responses. Engineers and other logical people tend to dismiss the visceral response as irrelevant. Engineers are proud of the inherent quality of their work and dismayed when inferior products sell better “just because they look better.”But all of us make these kinds of judgments, even those very logical engineers. That’s why they love some of their tools and dislike others. Visceral responses matter.
–The Design of Everyday Things, Dan Norman.
Criminal justice system reform:
Criminal justice systems everywhere run on the assumption that people obey the law because they are afraid of punishment. B Tyler argued that the key factor is legitimacy: people obey the law because they believe the state has the right to tell them what to do. Broad legitimacy matters more than whether people believe an individual law to be right or wrong – although the public’s view about individual laws can influence broad legitimacy.
Seth Godin on art:
Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.
What makes someone an artist? I don’t think is has anything to do with a paintbrush. There are painters who follow the numbers, or paint billboards, or work in a small village in China, painting reproductions. These folks, while swell people, aren’t artists. On the other hand, Charlie Chaplin was an artist, beyond a doubt. So is Jonathan Ive, who designed the iPod. You can be an artists who works with oil paints or marble, sure.
But there are artists who work with numbers, business models, and customer conversations. Art is about intent and communication, not substances.
An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artist takes it personally.
That’s why Bob Dylan is an artist, but an anonymous corporate hack who dreams up Pop 40 hits on the other side of the glass is merely a marketer. That’s why Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, is an artists, while a boiler room of telemarketers is simply a scam.
Tom Peters, corporate gadfly and writer, is an artists, even though his readers are businesspeople. He’s an artists because he takes a stand, he takes the work personally, and he doesn’t care if someone disagrees. His art is part of him, and he feels compelled to share it with you because it’s important, not because he expects you to pay him for it.
Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.
Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
National level quizbowller:
I once heard the story of a competitor who, as a middle schooler, spent an exasperatingly boring class period watching the girl sitting next to him transform a candy wrapper into a tiny, intricate paper crane. At the end of the class, she joyfully presented it to him; he turned it over in his hand and ate it. “I’ll never forget the look of absolute horror on her face,” he told me. “The crane was beautiful, and it was impossible for me not to destroy it.” That’s really what we do: chew up everything amazing and worthwhile and beautiful about this world, just so we can spit it right back out.
–I Was A Quizbowl Champion, Andrew Hart
Smile at the customer. Take the initiative. Tweak a few rules. Steal cookies for your colleagues. Don’t puncture the impression that you know what you’re doing. Let the other person fill the silence. Get comfortable with discomfort. Don’t privilege your own feelings. Ask who you’re really protecting. Be tough and humane. Challenge ideas, not the people who hold them. Don’t be a slave to type. And above all, don’t affix nasty, scatological labels to people.
Amy Chua’s daughter
I am that I am, you are that you are, we were not that we had been. Every day with you was red, orange, gold, white and blue. Remember me in color. Remember me with fire. Remember me.
Performing isn’t easy—in fact, it’s heartbreaking. You spend months, maybe years, mastering a piece; you become a part of it, and it becomes a part of you. Playing for an audience is like giving blood; it leaves you feeling empty and a bit light-headed. And when it’s all over, your piece just isn’t yours anymore.
Ender’s Game (Which I have yet to read.)
“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them -”
“You beat them.” For a moment she was not afraid of his understanding.
“No, you don’t understand. I destroy them. I make it impossible for them to ever hurt me again. I grind them and grind them until they don’t exist.”
Paul Graham (Erm a speech published by him)
You find this happening again and again; good scientists will fight the system rather than learn to work with the system and take advantage of all the system has to offer. It has a lot, if you learn how to use it. It takes patience, but you can learn how to use the system pretty well, and you can learn how to get around it. After all, if you want a decision `No’, you just go to your boss and get a `No’ easy. If you want to do something, don’t ask, do it. Present him with an accomplished fact. Don’t give him a chance to tell you `No’. But if you want a `No’, it’s easy to get a `No’.
It’s racist to think that any given Asian individual is unlikely to be creative or risk-taking. It’s simple cultural observation to say that a group whose education has historically focused on rote memorization and “pumping the iron of math” is, on aggregate, unlikely to yield many people inclined to challenge authority or break with inherited ways of doing things.
The difference between MOP and many of these state and local contests I participated in was the difference between problem solving and what many people call mathematics. For these people, math is a series of tricks to use on a series of specific problems. Trick A is for Problem A, Trick B for Problem B, and so on. In this vein, school can become a routine of ‘learn tricks for a week – use tricks on a test – forget most tricks quickly.’ The tricks get forgotten quickly primarily because there are so many of them, and also because the students don’t see how these ‘tricks’ are just extensions of a few basic principles.
I had painfully learned at MOP that true mathematics is not a process of memorizing formulas and applying them to problems tailor-made for those formulas. Instead, the successful mathematician possesses fewer tools, but knows how to apply them to a much broader range of problems. We use the term “problem solving” to distinguish this approach to mathematics from the ‘memorize-use-forget’ approach.
After MOP I relearned math throughout high school. I was unaware that I was learning much more. When I got to Princeton I enrolled in organic chemistry. There were over 200 students in the course, and we quickly separated into two groups. One group understood that all we would be taught could largely be derived from a very small number of basic principles. We loved the class – it was a year long exploration of where these fundamental concepts could take us. The other, much larger, group saw each new destination not as the result of a path from the building blocks, but as yet another place whose coordinates had to be memorized if ever they were to visit again. Almost to a student, the difference between those in the happy group and those in the struggling group was how they learned mathematics. The class seemingly involved no math at all, but those who took a memorization approach to math were doomed to do it again in chemistry. The skills the problem solvers developed in math transferred, and these students flourished.
We use math to teach problem solving because it is the most fundamental logical discipline. Not only is it the foundation upon which sciences are built, it is the clearest way to learn and understand how to develop a rigorous logical argument. There are no loopholes, there are no half-truths. The language of mathematics is precise, as is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ (or ‘proven’ and ‘unproven’). Success and failure are immediate and indisputable; there isn’t room for subjectivity. This is not to say that those who cannot do math cannot solve problems. There are many paths to strong problem solving skills. Mathematics is the shortest.
Problem solving is crucial in mathematics education because it transcends mathematics. By developing problem solving skills, we learn not only how to tackle math problems, but also how to logically work our way through any problems we may face. The memorizer can only solve problems he has encountered already, but the problem solver can solve problems she’s never seen before. The problem solver is flexible; she can diversify. Above all, she can create.
I don’t think something has to last forever to be successful
I guess what I would like is to become so good at something that my social deficiencies no longer matter
Neither the love of self–what educators call self-respect–nor love of others–responsibility and love for his fellow man–can ever be taught in our present educational system.
Teachers are too busy managing to be creating. As Albert Einstein said, “It is nothing short of a miracle that instruction today has not strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry. For this delicate little plant lies mostly in need of freedom without which it will fall into rack and ruin and die without fail.”
So the individual, now fully grown, leaves our schools lonely, confused, alienated, lost, angry, but with a mind full of isolated, meaningless facts laughingly called an education. He knows neither who he is, where he is, or how he got there. He has no concept of where he’s going, how to arrive there, nor what he’ll do when he gets there. He has no idea what he has, what he wants, nor how to develop it. In essence, he’s a type of robot–old before his time, living in the past, confused by the present, frightened by the future–much like the teachers who made him.
Song to this post: Wonderful, Everclear