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.) .

45 Thoughts During Every Board Meeting

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Inspired by the 4.5 long board meeting tonight.

  1. Finally here after the horrendous traffic again.
  2. Hmm the news stations are here. Maybe something interesting is happening.
  3. I wonder what all these adults are here to support today.
  4. Is it too early to walk into the room already?
  5. I don’t know anyone out here. I guess I’ll pretend like I’m waiting for someone.
  6. It looks like other people are going in. I guess I’ll go in too.
  7. How does security here work again?
  8. Where do I sit?
  9. *scans room looking for familiar faces*
  10. Should I be looking for people I know?
  11. Should I talk to that person? Nah they look like they’re busy
  12. Wait they’re not busy anymore.
  13. Did I just talk to that adult awkwardly?
  14. Nope. Nope. Not thinking about that.
  15. Would it be weird to sit down here?
  16. Wait everyone else is still talking.
  17. Should I stand back up and keep talking to people?
  18. Why do I actually know 0 about interacting with adults?
  19. I wonder what the other students think about these board meetings. Oh wait. I’m the only student that’s here every time.
  20. How long are these introductions and recognitions going to take?
  21. Finally onto agenda items. Oh wait general comments from trustees.
  22. Wow these people are busy.
  23. Ok, now agenda items.
  24. What’s this flurry of items they’re voting on?
  25. Would it be impolite to pull out homework right now?
  26. What about now?
  27. Ok I’ll look like an studious student now *pulls out homework*
  28. Oh yeah THAT item is on the agenda this time.
  29. That’s a good point from a speaker
  30. Oh wait. That’s also good point from another speaker.
  31. How long has this meeting been going on?
  32. HEY LOOK A STUDENT. *runs out and tracks them down*
  33. I guess homework can wait. This is worth listening to.
  34. Wow each trustee has pretty insightful comments.
  35. Why aren’t there more students here to listen? Oh right because board meetings take up like 3+ hours and aren’t actually relevant to student life 90% of the time.
  36. What’s being voted on again?
  37. Wait…so did they vote for it or against it? What was the actual measure?
  38. The politics is intense.
  39. Hearing of the citizens time.
  40. Ack complaint.
  41. Yay compliment.
  42. Is it over???
  43. Time to talk to more adults.
  44. Wow there’s not that many people left at the end. Guess I can go.
  45. I’m tired. But that was interesting.

Streams

Last year during NaBloPoMo, I wrote a post about mental mapping, mostly because I had just finished a mental map for  WHAP and didn’t want to write another post. At the time, I praised being about to organize this information non-linearly on a huge map. However, more recently, I’ve been thinking about organizing information more linearly, in streams.

This was one of the first things that attracted me about Twitter and Google Keep. Links and random outbursts about life could all be combined into one channel, with both the good and bad washed away as time passed. I make a conscious effort not to delete anything on either of these accounts unless it’s repetitive.

Anki runs on a similar principle– Break down each concept into as many pieces as possible, and only review the specific pieces that you don’t understand. The result ends up being that you review a series of usually non-related cards everyday. (Cal Newport advocates a similar system with physical flashcards for memorizing dates and other rote bits of information)

Thanks to computers, I can find a specific tweet or note with a simple search. Google Keep even allows you to color code your notes and sort by color, which is nice, because um, colors.

The search function (read: google) is changing the way we access information. Before, to find out a specific piece of information, you would have to look in a book (or multiple) and learn a bunch of extraneous information that would help you solidify the concept.  Now we only look for individual bits of information without getting the larger picture.

I use the same single subject notebook for all my math/science classes. It’s a bit of a hassle to find things at times, but  but I wouldn’t dare do something like that for my humanities classes. I see the humanities, namely history have to be learned in a set order or else everything falls apart.

Ok, that’s it

So I skipped a day of NaBloPoMo…(Google Keep II)

And it happens to be on my birthday.

I’m not planning to make up the post gap anytime soon, even though it’d be easy to just dig up a picture or quote and change the date. It’s like prescription medicine. If you miss a dose, don’t double-dose; just pretend like nothing happened and take your next dose as normal. However, I still want to claim that I wrote 30 posts for NaBloPoMo, so this mysterious gap may be filled in the future.

I really haven’t been in the mood to write lately, so here’s to purging my google keep below. In chronological order starting from summer break…


awkwardness is relative


 Writing out my FOMO

It’s the beginning of summer already and I’m feeling bouts of FOMO again, reminding me of my lack of a social life. Particularly the pictures of people [insert social stuff] . Like, why don’t I get invited along to these types of excursions and why don’t I plan these on my own.

OK OK. enough of the actual FOMOing. Time to my reflection. Originally, this was going to be a list of all the social outings that I found “worthwhile”, whatever that meant, but I couldn’t think of anything off the top of my head.

Then I remembered what I wrote earlier about interactions with somewhat strangers being more interesting than hanging out with friends.

*Conversations, not outings are the most important


 The best way to get someone to like you is to talk to them and spend more time with them–it’ll happen naturally


On Trich

I realized that I’d be stronger on both fronts: If I was able to stop, it would be a personal victory in the practice of self control. However, if I wasn’t able to stop, I’d be stronger through dealing with the judgement. If it meant that I had to work twice as hard to hold anyone’s attention (in the right way), So. Be. It.

It was more worth it to focus my attention on what I could control rather than what I couldn’t control.


 So quizbowl is my last chance to learn about anything that i won’t get a chance to learn about in school


History stuff

It’s been proven that showing individual stories is more effective at getting people to donate to charity than mere statistics.

Similarly, wouldn’t it make sense to present history as a series of stories from 1st person rather than a book of facts?

Maybe this is the result of too many SAT critical reading practice tests, but I can’t remember anything anymore after just reading it once, especially purely factual information.


 Justifying cheating

This seems like a safe time to write this post.

This is what I define as busy work: Any work that doesn’t utilize the most efficient method of learning something and that the teacher doesn’t value. By this definition, almost all work is busy work, but to different degrees.

I’m going to argue that cheating is more justified as the degree of “busy-work-ness” increases. In the end, as long as you learn something, I don’t think the process matters. During NaBloPoMo, I explored the idea of whether cramming for a test and passing was better than failing a test and actually learning the information afterwards.
Change this situation so that the first person crammed and passed and the second person cheated and passed. Does that really make them a worse person?
The main problem is that when people cheat, they don’t bother to learn the information afterwards. (Also tests only measure how much you know at a certain point)

BSing isn’t really that much different from cheating. In either case, you’re not putting effort into your work. However, BSing (if detected, which it rarely is) is often punished with a bad grade, while cheating will lead to really bad moral consequences


 Problems with School

1) Our work has no real world relevance (imagine what would happen if all our english essays were published online)
2) It’s not intellectually challenging enough.


 Doing it “just for the college app”

I first heard someone say this freshman year when I heard someone complain about someone else for a group competition. At the time, I vowed to never become the type of person to whom that’d apply.

However, as I’m entering the second half of high school (AHHHHH) with college apps less than a year away and seeing all the the seniors in the midst of the college frenzy, I feel like that label is inescapable. It’s impossible to say that we’re doing everything out of complete good will and a passion for learning, but the motives doesn’t drown out what actually gets accomplished.

I have a belief that accomplishments will look good on paper if done properly and that the end goal should to be the type of person who gets into a good college, not necessarily to get into the college. For instance, if I cured cancer and got rejected by Harvard, I could easily say, “screw you Harvard, I cured cancer. Your loss.” Obviously, I’m not curing cancer any time soon, but that’s what I’m aiming for.


 COLLEGE STUDENTS DON’T EVEN TAKE 7 COLLEGE LEVEL CLASSES. WHY IS IT ACCEPTABLE AND SEEM TO BE THE NORM WITHIN MY SOCIAL GROUP.


 On not being likeable

I’ve had a hunch from about 1st grade that my teachers didn’t like me. I wasn’t sure of an exact reason, but I always suspected that it was because I was so loud and wanted to prove that I was better than others. I guess I just wanted (and still do want) attention.

A quote from one of the old stories on my blog popped into my head, and I feel like it hit the core of most of my motivations

I would exaggerate my actions whenever Timothy was anywhere close in an attempt to catch his attention. Laugh a little harder, speak a little louder, wave my hands more, all while stealing glances in his direction. No response.

From what I could observe, Timothy was a quiet person who kept a small group of friends. If anything, I had to get him to acknowledge me by not being outlandish and crazy, unless I wanted to be perceived as an insane 7th grader. On the other hand, he had no reason for noticing me unless I stood out in some way, say, being outlandish and crazy.  (Nevermind actually, like, talking to him.)


standardized tests wouldn’t be necessary if everyone got perfects


 You need to write something that people will read, but it can’t also be pageview journalism. (why? ethics?)

Thought Cluster: The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions

I first heard the line “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” when reading A Wrinkle in Time in 4th grade, but I didn’t quite understand what it meant at the time. Since then, I’ve realized the brilliance of the quote and picked up a few examples, which I’ve organized and dumped below.


Microaggressions

After reading this article and scrolling through this tumblogI became interested in learning more about microaggressions, which are actions or words that subtly convey something (usually offensive) about a particular group of people based on their race, gender, or something else. In short, the modern form of racism/sexism/-isms. 

Each event, observation and experience posted is not necessarily particularly striking in and of themselves. Often, they are never meant to hurt – acts done with little conscious awareness of their meanings and effects. Instead, their slow accumulation during a childhood and over a lifetime is in part what defines a marginalized experience, making explanation and communication with someone who does not share this identity particularly difficult. Social others are microaggressed hourly, daily, weekly, monthly.About, The Microaggressions Project 

We’ve all said our share of insensitive things, probably none of them with the intention to offend people, but rather the opposite–to be able to relate with them somehow. This makes it all the more difficult to combat, because fixing microaggressions will require an entire society to make an active effort to respect different people. In the meantime, I like to laugh at racist Youtube videos.

Making an impact

After being introduced to 80,000 Hours a few months ago, I became obsessed with the idea of measuring impact. In less than an hour of exploring the site, I had learned that going into non-profit wasn’t necessarily the best way to make an impact and that jobs that were traditionally seen as “philanthropic” could even have a negative impact. [See: How many lives does a doctor save?] Instead, they suggested some unusual alternatives, namely becoming a personal assistant to someone making a large impact and earning to give.

Replaceability is the main factor behind 80,000 Hours framework of measuring impact. Their belief is that if the person who would replace you if you left your job would do the job as well as you, then your impact is zero. If they would do a better job, your impact is negative. Only if you are better than the person you’re replacing (or better, do something where you have no replacement) do you have a positive impact.

Since I’m working with Givology this summer, the idea of making an impact and not being replaceable has constantly been at the front of my mind. I’m bothered by the fact that there’s no easy way to evaluate one’s impact, since so many factors influence a person’s donation, and I can’t give any money of my own. Yet.

Because John Green and pseudo-philosophical stuff

Almost everyone is obsessed with leaving a mark upon the world. Bequeathing a legacy. Outlasting death. We all want to be remembered. I do, too. That’s what bothers me most, is being another unremembered casualty in the ancient and inglorious war against disease.

I want to leave a mark. 

But Van Houten: The marks humans leave are too often scars. You build a hideous minimall or start a coup or try to become a rock star and you think, “They’ll remember me now,” but (a) they don’t remember you, and (b) all you leave behind are more scars. Your coup becomes a dictatorship. Your minimall becomes a lesion.

[…]

Hazel is different. She walks lightly, old man.  She walks lightly upon the earth. Hazel knows the truth: We’re as likely to hurt the universe as we are to help it, and we’re not likely to do either. 

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

(The concept of being remembered and leaving a legacy is also one of the central ideas of an earlier John Green book, An Abundance of Katherines, though said by an awkward nerdy guy instead of THE Augustus Waters.)

Why I’m wary to write on education

Even though I read on education every chance I get, I have rarely, if ever, officially written about it. And even though I’m a student who is living and has been living through the so-called system for more than a decade, I don’t feel qualified enough to say anything. Even though I may sincerely believe that my views may be THE best opinion on religion/education, often times, they may be misguided or outright incorrect. (I feel like I’m falling into the mindset that prevents people from actually doing anything. Bleh.) Everyone has their own opinions on what the ideal school would be like, and adding mine in would be like, say, offering my views on religion to the internet/world/whatever.

Speaking of religion, a Paul Graham essay I read a while ago targets what makes topics like politics and religion generate such heated discussions. Sometimes I feel like education could fit under this umbrella. [See: The Hardest Job Everyone Thinks They Can Do.]

 I finally realized today why politics and religion yield such uniquely useless discussions.

As a rule, any mention of religion on an online forum degenerates into a religious argument. Why? Why does this happen with religion and not with Javascript or baking or other topics people talk about on forums?

What’s different about religion is that people don’t feel they need to have any particular expertise to have opinions about it. All they need is strongly held beliefs, and anyone can have those. No thread about Javascript will grow as fast as one about religion, because people feel they have to be over some threshold of expertise to post comments about that. But on religion everyone’s an expert.

Then it struck me: this is the problem with politics too. Politics, like religion, is a topic where there’s no threshold of expertise for expressing an opinion. All you need is strong convictions.

Keep Your Identity Small, Paul Graham

In the case of education, in addition to having strong beliefs, practically everyone in America can claim that they were a student at one point, supposedly adding to their credibility. However, if almost everyone’s credibility is based off of being a student, then that’s not saying much anymore because credibility is relative. Ugh.


Other Thought Clusters

Google Keep and Fringe Thoughts

Whenever my life gets too busy, the first thing I always neglect is this blog. Blog posts can easily be delayed a few weeks without much impact, but turning in a school assignment or studying for a test a few days too late can make the difference between passing and failing a class. 

But just because I don’t have the time to write long-format posts doesn’t mean I don’t get hit with non-epiphanies throughout the day. I’ve been looking for a way to keep track and remember them, and Google save the day with Google Keep, an service that creates an attractive pin-board with all my (colored!) notes, perfect for recording fringe thoughts.

keep

I may or may not have hidden some of the more incriminating stuff. And rearranged the notes so there were more colors. Ugh and now I realize the typo. WHATEVER. 

I had been using Twitter as a link/outburst dump, but Google Keep was better for private thoughts, and I wasn’t restricted 140 characters.It’s been a little over a month since I first started using Google Keep, and I’ve already created more than 100 notes. What was life ever like without all these colorful stickies. 

Among this board of pretty letters I’ve recorded some blog-worthy ideas, but most of them were quickly typed out in a burst of inspiration and aren’t long enough to justify an entire post. Which is why I’m dumping them below. 


In reverse chronological order:

#cool2bsmart 

For some reason, HISD thinks the best way to reward students for taking challenging courses is by spending 30k on a celebration that basically tells us that luck and reality-TV show esque games are the ways to get rich. That your ability to guess heads and tails correctly is more important than passing an AP test, because, oh, simply being EXPOSED and TAKING AP classes should prepare you to college so much better. The results don’t matter, simply the input does.

“HISD students took over 23,000 AP tests this year. Over 8,000 of them received a 3 or higher.”

*loud applause*

That’s worse than the national average. Why are we proud of this. 

Related: Amanda Ripley’s book The Smartest Kids in the World states that the two major physical differences between schools around the world, even the successful ones, were the non-glamorous school buildings and the lack of technology in the classroom.. Guess what HISD’s promoting the most right now? That’s right, new school buildings and laptops. What. The. Actual. Heck.

Sometime before the World History AP exam 

I can explain pretty well the laws of science and figure out idealistic math problems that have little real-world applicability, but ask me to explain the messy world of history and the patterns of rise and fall, and I fail miserably. 

Talking to people I don’t know well

When given the chance to talk with a new group of people or people I know, I almost go for the new group. Even if I’m only able to build shallow relationships with these people, I still feel the need to connect with more people and talk to them.. 

[insert private details of day]

Maybe I’m so deprived of social interaction that any conversation seems magical to me, but I feel more…alive after talking to these people. 

OH MY GOSH THIS ARTICLE

My Inner Perfectionist

Back in elementary add middle school, my friends were perfectionists in everything they did. Flawless handwriting that could pass for typography, projects that looked like they were designed by computers, fussing about every detail simply because they could. I was the more awkward and messy one, so I didn’t quite relate with them and rather sat back and laughed at their OCD tendencies. 

I think I’ve figured it out now. Although I may just be less refined than them, I just didn’t see the point in trying so hard for something that had little meaning after the teacher graded it. Give me a challenging assignment that actually has some impact, make me write a blog post, and I’ll work just as hard to perfect it as anyone else. 

Scientific Learning

Even if we found the best method of learning, would we use it? Breaking down learning into a science seems to dehumanize the process of learning, and in a society where we’re trying to cherish the meaning of living, I can’t picture this happening. 

Living Life “Right”

I used to think that other people were “living life right,” that they were the ones who knew how to be popular, that they had some fundamental truth of living that I had missed out on. However, as I grew up, I realized that I knew more than most people realized, and most people knew less than I thought. I had to be careful with this type of thinking though, as it could quickly become dangerous.

I came from a middle school that even I knew was renowned for its nerdiness, and I loved it. (It’s not like I had known any other place). I entered high school with the perception that I’d be less popular than everyone else. That wasn’t a problem for me, and it still isn’t. However, now I’ve realized that they were less popular than I thought they were and that they weren’t actually living life better than me. I just thought they were because of the high school myth of popularity. We’re as lost as the others. 

Just because I don’t profess my love for my friends doesn’t mean that I don’t have any. Just because I …yeah I should stop.

Sophomore Year 

If anything, sophomore year has made me more detached from life. I’ve started talking in more of a monotone, and I have to make an active effort to interact with people.

I’m still confused as to whether I’m an introvert or extrovert. I like talking to people, but organized social events aren’t that appealing to me, and I don’t have any natural charisma. However, according to music an piano, I definitely get all my energy from the crazier, faster-paced songs. And whenever I try to impress someone around me, I get obnoxiously loud in hopes that they’ll noticed me.

I could possibly be an extrovert who’s hidden by all my awkwardness, or maybe I’m just an ambivert.

On Listening 

People generally don’t listen to authority because they respect what people have to say, they shut up because that’s what they’ve been told to do. We’ve never really been taught how to listen, more on how to obey authority. 

Humor

Some things are only funny in the context of a conversation–that type of funny is relatively easy to create (but hard to think up in the midst of a conversation) That’s why inside jokes with friends are funny at the time, but don’t make sense to anyone not there.

Comedians have it more difficult because they have to make funny stuff without a common connection with the audience. That’s why they resort to using the news or other things that draw national attention. 

Why monotonic people are the best writers

The generic writing advice is that people should write how they speak. However, the problem with this is that with speaking, most people can get away with saying stuff without much substance because their emotion can cover up. Another improvement is saying “write an idealized form of how you speak.” But even with that, there’s still the problem of using inflection to cover up. This is where monotonic people come in. Their entire life, they have not had to rely on body language to convey their message, which could be seen as a disadvantage, but when it comes to writing, it allows their message to come across through their words. [Insert relevant Paul Graham quote] [here]

On competition 

At the higher levels of competition, everyone has put in an astronomical amount of effort and everyone is trying their hardest. There’s no points for “doing your best” and everything is dependent on your results 

Moar rejecting the system

I used to be under the impression that the reason to try hard in school was because school allowed one to be able to learn more efficiently. However, as I went more and more into the system, this seemed to be less true, as completion grades replaced actual grades and grades seemed to be equated with learning. Now, I’ve come to the conclusion that learning something by intrinsic motivation is the most efficient and the best way to learn. 

Attempting to be objective

Heck I don’t learn about the importance of triangles in circles because I have a passion for Stewart’s Theorem. I learn about it so I can solve more geometry problem. I don’t want to learn how to draw or write better because I have an important deep philosophical message to convey to the world. I want to learn to draw and write because art and writing reveals the spatial and ideological misperceptions that we have, and it’s important to recognize them. (While I’m making the comparisons here, math reveals all the logical fallacies we make.)

Creating bureaucracies

Sometimes actually doing anything gets lost in the bureaucracies. Instead of doing work, it’s all reporting and paperwork

(cough Stuco) When there’s not much work to do, delegating all the work to other people just makes the system more complicated

I like to think of debate as a bureaucracy, because people have created such a huge circuit and had people devote their entire lives and travel across the nation. To do what? Talk about a couple of topics that have no real world impacts.

When creating a new system, a bureaucracy often seems like the only way because there’s just so much to be done, but more modern designs are often more efficient.

…I think I’ve just had bad experiences with complicated systems.

Pretty handwriting 

I used to marvel at the beautiful calligraphy that the founding fathers used to write in, the tall majestic cursive that contained words that would still be reveled by a nation for over 2 centuries. Then I realized that their handwriting was how they got the respect of others. Sure, it wasn’t indicative of their leadership skills, but people were at least impressed by their penmanship.

This is why I’m wary of typed papers. They look all professional and formatted, making it hard to detect how much the presentation affects the role of it. (See Paul Graham’s Copy What You Like)


Somehow this adds up to be 1500+ words. Guess I haven’t been not writing for this past month. Goodnight.

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?