When The Snowflakes come back (NaBloPoMo Day 30)

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photo credit: snowflakes5-horGG via photopin (license)

Is it over already? 30 days? Of all the years that I’ve done NaBloPoMo, this time around has been the least “bleh”. Though it’s also ended in the most protected posts.

Now that I don’t have to expose my writing on the internet anymore, I can go back into my recluse and focus on writing college essays. Clearly, I’ve spent some posts writing drafts, but finally, there’s no pressure to post on a regular basis. (I’ll remove the password post-college decisions)

But even as I’m starting to think about college essays again, I’ve been wondering about the benefit blogging really had throughout high school. Though obviously not as consuming as most extracurriculars, I definitely do spend a non-trivial amount of time editing and writing each post, without a specific aim, without a specific focus. I never considered myself one to have extreme writer’s block, but whatever benefit I derived from simply churning out words month after month without too much concern for quality clearly isn’t evident. College essays definitely require more anecdotes and reflection, sometimes to the point that it hurts, and sometimes, I’m happy to hide behind vague ideas on this blog.

On another note, I surpassed 200 posts somewhere in the middle of the month.

Another idea that’s been buzzing around in my head is the true value of hastily writing something, specifically, on BSing it.

I rarely ever start writing something with the mindset of BSing it, but I often do take ideas and spend 2 or 3 times the number of words explaining it than necessary, often to reach a word count. Even then, I consider it writing badly, not necessarily BSing.

But what about writing BS in order to get to the good writing? Whenever I desperately need to write something I don’t want to write, I go to Write and Die, set a timer for 15 minutes, and force myself to let the words flow. More than often, I’m pleased with the end result ever time I get to the end of the 15 minutes. At the beginning, the ideas are jumbled, with sentence fragments and short paragraphs taking away any structure the writing originally, had, but as time goes on and on, the ideas become more refined, often just through starting over and rewriting, and something semi-coherent is left at the end.

Depending on how much I care about the resulting work, I either edit it, or leave it as is. Generally, I spend way too much time editing writing for it to be an efficient use of my time on schoolwork (especially considering that it rarely gets read), but I also spend an inordinate amount of time “editing” posts on this blog that maybe should have just been structured better to begin with. Sometimes, I read back on stuff that I didn’t edit, and it’s completely understandable and coherent, and it’s difficult to figure out what the value of fine tuning every word really was. Sometimes, I read back on works that I wrote in middle school that I know that I spent hours poring over and editing and rewriting by hand…and they’re embarrassing to read. (Cue Stories from Middle School)

This is a realization that I reached a bit too late, but not all writing has to be concise and clear in order to be effective. At one point, I thought that my blog could serve as a diary of sorts, where I could post about every day. As with the reasoning with NaBloPoMo, maybe the pressure of posting every day would force me to edit and closely look over my pieces. Yet at the back of my mind, I knew this wouldn’t work. Online, I would constantly self-censor my work, leaving out important details that I would simply find embarrassing, even if they looked seemlessly benign to an outsider. As a result, I started using Google Keep to store these diary-esque entries. And since they weren’t public, they were often 15 minute unedited blips that jumped from topic to topic.

That’s when I realized that it didn’t have to be perfect and public in order to be valuable.  There’s a place for public writing, and there’s a place for private writing. And then there’s college essays.

Happy December. (For anyone on WordPress, it’s only December when there’s officially snowflakes on your blog. This is always a nice end to NaBloPoMo)

Fun Fact: In the quest for discovering the value of leaving writing unedited, and for writing posts without an outline or any structure of sorts, I decided to leave this piece unedited (Once a complete word was down, there was no going back) and unstructured (Once an idea came to mind, I put it down.) .

Essaying to College

I’m at the second meeting of the Emerging Latino Leaders with over 40 other high school students from across Houston. I am one of three non-Latino/Latinas in the room, more of a bystander than a participant. I was invited as part of the HISD Student Congress, not as one of the members identified as a potential leader.

It’s lunchtime, and my mouth is burning from eating the homemade tostadas (I had completely ignored the heaps of sour cream that people were putting on their plates), and I run out of the room to get a bottle of water. Everyone else had cheered when the meeting organizer announced the food that was being served, but I had never even heard of tostadas, and evidently, I was not prepared to handle the spice.

As I enter the room where food is being served, I bump into Carlos, the adult who had invited us.

“So what do you think of the meeting?”

“Great!”  Silence.

The Latino chief of staff to the mayor pro-temp (“the personal assistant to the vice mayor”) spoke to us that morning about the importance of being civically engaged.  He talked of the importance of low voter turnout amongst the Latino population, about the low representation of Latinos in city council, about the day to day decisions of the city governments.  I felt like I needed to say more.

“Well, I mean,” I sputter out. “This whole thing about civic engagement never really mattered to me until I joined the Student Congress. It’s not something my family ever really talked about, and it’s interesting to see so many of these issues apply to the Asian community as well.”

Growing up in a Chinese immigrant family with parents who had never voted, I had never seen the political process as one of my priorities. My entire life, I had focused on excelling within my tiny sphere of influence. I had no ambitions to ever run for political office, yet this morning, I felt like I had gotten a glimpse into the hard work that went into running the city. Little did I know, this same lack of exposure affected the Latino community as well.

Carlos and I talk about family and cultural influences in the Asian and Latino community for a few more minutes. By the time he walks away. the burn in my mouth is reduced to a dull tinge, but my mind has been sparked.

After lunch, each of us go up and talk about issues that affect us in our day to day lives. Some people talked about after-school jobs that prevented them from doing homework. Others talked about family obligations, long commutes, cooking, details that got lost in day to day life. I had never been in an environment where I could heard people talk so frankly about their issues. Even though I was surrounded by these same peers for 8 hours a day, I never heard about these struggles.

Even as just a bystander, I had known what I was getting myself into. I knew that I would be surrounded by people of a completely different culture and background, but frankly, I had expected something more…foreign.

At this point, I realized the importance of reaching outside of my bubble, of actively seeking diversity in a community.

The demographics of Houston will be the demographics of the US in 50 years. People keep emphasizing the importance of living in a global world, but I’m come to realize that it’s by digging deep into a community, sometimes just by sitting and listening to people, that people are able to understand one another. The only way to deal with a world that is speeding up is to slow down, to contextualize the problems I see within my own community, to attach to it a personal meaning. Only then can I see the universality of the issues we all face.

 

Giving Thanks: 13 Reasons Why Not

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photo credit: 17082050 via photopin (license)

A complement to my post last week, Thirteen Reasons Why in honor of Thanksgiving.

  1. Anyone who has ever said any variation of “Please let me know if you need anything” and follows through when I do ask.
  2. People who send me random things online, whether it be sites, articles, pictures, random, etc.
  3. My parents, for constantly reminding me to get more sleep and for bringing me fruit whenever I’m working on homework
  4. People who I can nerd out with and still be someone accepted (aka people in every
  5. Late night Google Hangouts
  6. Anyone with a car – because of the rides and the conversations that happen during those rides
  7. Anyone who actually gives a damn about something substantial
  8. The existence of paper, the medium of writing and origami
  9. Finding the perfect song to match my mood or to work with
  10. Being in a bad mood, realizing it’s just because of water deprivation, and then drinking a bunch of water
  11. Opening WordPress and finding out that someone has left a new comment
  12. Young adult novels that expose me to the serious issues and petty drama of other people’s lives .(Also, crushes on book characters)
  13. All the larger privileges I’ve been born with that allow me to indulge in these tiny wonders.

Today five and six years ago…

Every once in a while, I like to cringe at my previous diary entries and then use then as blog posts. As always, [personal comments in brackets]

6th Grade: Day before Thanksgiving (like today)

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11/25/09

No school! [random scrawl of song lyric is here…probably from some DDR song twitch]

My thoughts are whizzing around my head. Do I like [NOPE. NOT REVEALING 6TH GRADE CRUSH.]? Out of all the people I have liked, he was the only one I never regretted. Amazingly. He’s just…different from everyone. But…it’s in a bad way. But how could I? This is crazy! And I really want someone to kiss me. Just to see what it’s like. I’m just afraid if it happens, I’m going to regret it….[I may have been the one of the nerdiest people in a nerd school, but in many ways, I was a typical middle school girl.]

I got an actual crochet hook today! [Previously I had been using a knitting needle…somehow.] The one two problems are that I don’t really know how to use it and that it’s too thick. And I went to the library! Checked out books. (really obvious) I played DDR too!

Day Rating: 9.4 I will definitely reach my goal. [I was trying to stop nail biting at the time…sadly, it did not work]

7th grade: Thanksgiving Day

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11/25/10 [Where’s my pen? [This entry is the only one that year I wrote in pencil]

List of stuff I’m thankful for: 

  1. Our roof did not collapse
  2. Our roof/ceiling was only a little wet
  3. It’s not leaking anymore (partially thanks to me :) )
  4. I’m going Black Friday shopping tomorrow! [Judge me.]
  5. We still had turkey
  6. I don’t have a sore throat.
  7. I don’t feel like throwing up
  8. I have all 5 of my senses
  9. My brother’s home
  10. [The guy I stalked] knows that I exist. XD
  11. I don’t need Cymbalta [depression medication]
  12. I’m living comfortably
  13. “_____” [direct quote] is not reading my mind (Do I seriously believe that?)
  14. [Name of friend] (and all my other friends) are still at T.H. Rogers
  15. [Teacher who led this stuff] loves me – and I got a 100 on her test. [Why did I focus so much on grades at the time]
  16. I am doing Science Fair [I did my project with a friend that year..not sure why this is on the list. Our project ended up going pretty well]
  17. I don’t have a Facebook…yet
  18. My story got into Scholastic [Yup, it’s this one. Spoiler alert: it ends up not winning anything and I end up crying.]
  19. [Friend] and I got to do the teaching assignment. [We got assigned to teach a hearing impaired class about the American Revolution for an hour. Spoiler alert: It’s not as glamorous as it sounds, and it doesn’t go that well]
  20. I’m in [see teacher in #15] homeroom- and I got an orange [She threw me an orange slice during homeroom once. Laughing when I think about my current math teacher’s reaction to oranges.]
  21. I don’t like ________ anymore. [In pen, I’ve filled in the blank with *insert many names here*]
  22. I finished my crocheting!
  23. I have not worn [insert brands I swore I would never wear…]
  24. There’s a source of music.
  25. There’s still time to read [YES YES YES. CURRENT ME IS TELLING YOU TO BE THANKFUL FOR THAT.]
  26. I currently don’t have insomnia.
  27. I have a backup writing utensil
  28. There’s no homework over the break!
  29. I made this list
  30. I AM STILL ME!!!

Sneak peek…

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Brainstorm of topics for tomorrow. (This is not something I do often.)

Comparing my blog to the laws of economics is tough though. Not sure how to label the axes exactly or determine what output and input are.

More to come tomorrow…but for now…Marginal cost of blogging (sleep) >>>marginal benefit of blogging

Therefore, I should reduce production. Goodnight.

A Different Metric of Impact

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Inspired by interviewing a nonprofit leader about their work for Givology. Rehashing many of his ideas in response to the question “how do you measure impact?” 

There’s something wrong with the way with we’re measuring impact.

Governments and large corporations want to fund large scale projects that have easily quantifiable results. With people demanding accountability from their governments, governments have been hesitant to fund projects that don’t guarantee measurable impacts. (“Statistically speaking, you’re three times more likely to get cancer than you are to get a grant funded by the N.I.H. to cure cancer”1) Then again, most companies are hesitant to fund projects that won’t generate profit.

In the world of research, researchers choose to tackle small projects that have a big chance of success (and thus a big chance of being funded) over potentially groundbreaking projects that may not yield results. In the non-profit world, people donate to non-profits that save lives (read: buying nets for malaria) over ones that address more ingrained and systemic issues (read: educating a community on the importance of education.)

But the latter category of issues, the ones without easily measurable impacts and where success isn’t guaranteed, may be where the slow, sneaky, and powerful impact lies. However, this type of impact is the most difficult to measure, and accountability may be impossible in some cases. In an area where paper and other resources are scarce, is collecting receipts and tracking every piece of equipment realistic? What if a more efficient use of the money comes up? 2 Accountability is clearly important for large scale projects where a dollar or two can easily slip out.. For small scale projects that don’t require a lot of money though, can a general belief in the good will of people really overcome the need for accountability and allow for more flexibility?

What if there were a metric of impact that somehow managed to capture these slower, more systemic changes? One that wasn’t as concerned with hard numbers but still could be adequately compared with numbers. Something that finally humanizes social impact. (While you’re at it, make it spew unicorns too.)

Right now, perhaps the closest measure is something like crowdfunding and microlending platforms that give ordinary people the power to collectively fund big projects. Not an accurate measure by any means, but it’s something that relies more on emotion than accountability. The one caveat is that crowdfunding lacks sustainability. Everyone wants to help start the next big thing. Very few want to keep it going. 3

Would this metric be easy to develop? Clearly not. Would it be worth it? I’d say so.

Thoughts? 4 5 6


  1.  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/01/education/edlife/revenge-of-the-non-nerds.html?_r=0 
  2. This was something I read as a criticism of Kiva and similar organizations. Even though a 
  3.  This was an idea that I first heard through a #givchat with Teal Leaf Trust. 
  4. I’m like 99.9% sure all these ideas have been more accurately and precisely discussed in an economics paper somewhere. And that metric I described most likely exists already, but I don’t know about. (Please comment below if you know about it.) This is why I feel mildly not-accomplished after finishing these long ramblings. 
  5. Really wanted to include a point about how these were like the issues affecting education in the developed world. The focus on standardized test scores over the slow gradual development of a human. The need for “accountability” from the government. The large corporations promoting “reforms” that are only easily scaleable. 
  6. Would have been nice if I could have mentioned 80,000 Hours in here somewhere too. 

Non-epiphany: How I see others vs. How I see myself

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TL;DR: Stop being judgmental of everyone, including yourself.

Through reading modern/classic literature (turns out all those YA novels did have some benefit), reading other blogs, thinking about/reading/writing college essays, talking to people, and my own life, I’ve noticed a disconnect between the way I saw other people and the way I saw myself.

When other people (fictional or real) share personal struggles, I admire then and be proud of overcoming them. When I see my grades slip or show some sign of imperfection, I see it as an irreversible mistake. And when I share them, I feel like I’m asking for pity. (Even now.)

Whenever I give praise, I always want it to be received positively, but I’ve been one to shy away when receiving compliments and gifts myself.

Whenever I meet someone, I used to think they would assume the worst of me and that I would have to prove myself somehow. But when I meet someone, I generally like them or have no opinion about them.

When other people talk about their accomplishments, I feel happy for them. When I do it, it felt like bragging.

Traits that I see positively in other people become negative when applied to me and only me for some reason.

The generic advice is to ignore what others think, but it’s it important to get this outside perspective sometimes, especially when it can boost my ego be comforting.

That is all.