Thought Cluster: The Future

The idea that the people I’m surrounding myself with will most likely be on different parts of the country 10 years from now scares me. That the test I’m worrying about right now will have absolutely no meaning in the future. That of the thousands of hours I spend working the education system perhaps only taught me how to follow directions (Of course that’s not true, but let’s just pretend we’re all robots.) No one looks back on their past favorably.  What will survive the test of time?

Did you know that for pretty much the entire history of the human species, the average life span was less than thirty years? You could count on ten years or so of real adulthood, right? There was no planning for retirement, There was no planning for a career. There was no planning. No time for planning. No time for a future. But then the life spans started getting longer, and people started having more and more future. And now life has become the future. Every moment of your life is lived for the future–you go to high school so you can go to college so you can get a good job so you can get a nice house so you can afford to send your kids to college so they can get a good job so they can get a nice house so they can afford to send their kids to college.”
― John GreenPaper Towns

I always hear that it’s worth it to work hard now because it pays off in the future. However, the way I see it, either you enjoy life now and pay for it later or you work hard now and reap the benefits. Either way, you’re going to have to work; it’s just a matter of when. For now, I don’t exactly know how to enjoy life to its fullest, so the latter seems like the better decision.

There is a story of a young, but earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, and asked the Master, “If I work very hard and diligently, how long will it take for me to find Zen?”

The Master thought about this, then replied, “Ten years.”

The student then said, “But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast. How long then?”

Replied the Master, “Well, twenty years.”

“But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?” asked the student.

“Thirty years,” replied the Master.

“But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed student, “at each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?”

Replied the Master, “When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.”

-From Valedictorian Speaks out Against Schooling

As the youth of this generation, we have the responsibility to create, not simply live, the future. This is as big of a burden as it sounds.  And I have no idea how it’s going to be done yet. (Then again, if someone could forsee the future, they would literally be superhuman.) 

“Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia. (…) You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.”

― John GreenLooking for Alaska


Thought Cluster: Loud

  • Ever since I was in elementary school, I’ve noticed that teachers generally prefer the quieter students over the louder ones. Obviously, if you’re trying to maintain control of a classroom, this makes sense, but this is outright discrimination against people who have an inclination to talk more.
  • Statistically, the more you say, (or type in my case), the greater chance you have of saying something stupid/offensive/inappropriate. Is it worth taking the risk, or is it better to just shut up? (glares at everything I’ve written during NaBloPoMo)
  • Statistically, the more you say (or type), the greater chance you have of saying something intelligent/insightful/encouraging. Are twenty blunders and screw-ups worth that one moment?
  • “Have more than you show, speak less than you know”
  • Quiet people bother me. Or at least they boggle me. Loud people at least place everything they know (and pretend to know) in front of them and proclaim it to the world. On the other hand, quiet people rarely express their thoughts, and they’re the silent observers of the world, noticing things that most of us fail to recognize. They’re also the people I want to know better,  so I can learn about their perspective on life.
  • From Paul Graham’s What You Can’t Say: (fantastic essay by the way.)

The most important thing is to be able to think what you want, not to say what you want. And if you feel you have to say everything you think, it may inhibit you from thinking improper thoughts. I think it’s better to follow the opposite policy. Draw a sharp line between your thoughts and your speech. Inside your head, anything is allowed. Within my head I make a point of encouraging the most outrageous thoughts I can imagine. But, as in a secret society, nothing that happens within the building should be told to outsiders. The first rule of Fight Club is, you do not talk about Fight Club.

When Milton was going to visit Italy in the 1630s, Sir Henry Wootton, who had been ambassador to Venice, told him his motto should be “i pensieri stretti & il viso sciolto. Closed thoughts and an open face. Smile at everyone, and don’t tell them what you’re thinking.” This was wise advice. Milton was an argumentative fellow, and the Inquisition was a bit restive at that time. But I think the difference between Milton’s situation and ours is only a matter of degree. Every era has its heresies, and if you don’t get imprisoned for them you will at least get in enough trouble that it becomes a complete distraction.

I admit it seems cowardly to keep quiet. When I read about the harassment to which the Scientologists subject their critics [12], or that pro-Israel groups are “compiling dossiers” on those who speak out against Israeli human rights abuses [13], or about people being sued for violating the DMCA [14], part of me wants to say, “All right, you bastards, bring it on.” The problem is, there are so many things you can’t say. If you said them all you’d have no time left for your real work. You’d have to turn into Noam Chomsky. [15]

The trouble with keeping your thoughts secret, though, is that you lose the advantages of discussion. Talking about an idea leads to more ideas. So the optimal plan, if you can manage it, is to have a few trusted friends you can speak openly to. This is not just a way to develop ideas; it’s also a good rule of thumb for choosing friends. The people you can say heretical things to without getting jumped on are also the most interesting to know.

  • I’ve said some really idiotic things that I never got to take back or apologize for, and it haunts me, since I know people are judging me for it. However, most of this is my own fault anyways, and I’m honestly not sure how to deal with it. (“Hey, uh, you know that thing I said last Monday? Well, I kind of regret saying it…what do you mean you don’t know what I’m referring to? It’s been bothering me for the past few days!”)
  • Because Calvin and Hobbes is always relevant: This comic. And kind of this.

Other thought clusters.

Thought Cluster: Beauty

A guy I hadn’t talked to in a long time came up to me today after lunch and said: “Amy, you need to stop stressing about high school so much.” When I asked what gave the impression that I was stressed, he pointed to his head and whispered, “your hair,” mouthing “hair” as if it were a curse word. While I babbled about how it was an instinct and how it was hard to control, he faced me with the reality that I was going bald and that I needed to stop pulling out my “beautiful hair.” (Ha.)  He explained that sophomore year was tough for him as well, and that I needed to stay strong. Holding his hand up at shoulder level, I reached to squeeze it before thanking him and rushing off to my next class, hearing one last “you need to stop stressing!”

  • I’ve mentioned before that I don’t particularly care about my appearance. Does a balding head cross any lines?
  • On makeup: I had a friend wearing some eyeliner today for a performance, (“They forced me to!”) and I didn’t notice until I looked closely. I reassured her that it accentuated her natural beauty. Asians look down upon heavy makeup, and their ideal of “good makeup” is putting on enough makeup so that it looks like you aren’t wearing any. Contrast that with Western society.
  • On selfies: I think that the number of “likes” on a Facebook/Instagram picture often isn’t reflective of how good a picture is– it’s  more a measure of how hard the photographer was trying to look”pretty” in their picture. “Beauty” in teen culture is different than the rest of society.
  • On being beautiful: Everyone has a natural inclination to please people that are good-looking, making their lives so much easier. Obviously unfair, but it’s pointless trying to deny it.
  • I have ridiculously high standards of beauty for people expected to be good-looking (aka all of the media and pop culture), yet I find everyone I know to be beautiful at some point, often times mid-conversation or when they don’t know I’m looking at them.
  • Most pressing: By what standard is my dry, poufy, fried-looking hair considered “beautiful”?

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.

letters to crushes

Thought Cluster: Happiness and Sadness

I’ve been struggling to come up with a good post idea, but I’ve had plenty of semi-philosophical epiphanies and questions about happiness and sadness recently. Here they are, concepts that otherwise would have made it into the rejected pile.

  • Why is there a medical condition for extreme sadness (depression) but not a corresponding one for extreme happiness? (taken from my diary)
  • Studies have shown that people feeling sad can analyze and edit a document better, while slightly angry people are better at distinguishing between good and bad arguments. Seen from another perspective, depression is an evolutionary adaptation to help us focus and analyze.  Is it any wonder that so many people dislike school?
  • In response to Miley Cyrus’ new-ish song Wrecking Ball: I feel like you almost can’t criticize it because it’s so emotionally desperate. Not much separates it from a normal pop song, yet the haters are seen as “insensitive” because it’s “expressing her true emotions”, while most cheery pop can simply be passed off as shallow. What makes criticizing happiness more acceptable than depression?
  • On “the real me”: Often times, we only acknowledge our “true selves” when we’re depressed and secluded with no one around to see us, and consider all other interactions to be fake and artificial. (read: school) However, I refuse to believe that the times I spend hysterical and hyper are any less “real” than the not-so-pleasant emotions at the other end of the scale. (I have a feeling this is mostly an insecure teenage girl problem, but an extremely prevalent one.)
  • News reporting is ridiculously biased on reporting tragic events, while the rest of the media and society (including social media) is preoccupied with portraying happiness. What’s causing this huge gap, and is it distancing us from reality?
  • And…the overarching question: What makes sad emotions carry more weight than joy in general?