Transit

16027962396_dc920bf2e0It’s the summer after my freshman year of high school, and I’m riding the metro home from my first day of volunteering.

Halfway through the route, an old man -a veteran it appears- boards the bus. As he hobbles down the aisle, I unwittingly smile at him.

Mistake. He stops in front of me, articulates something incoherent, and shakily produces a Dum Dum from his pocket.  A ghost of a beard covers his chin. Everything I learned about drug safety in elementary school flashes through my mind, but I take the lollipop, smile, and immediately break eye contact.

That was the only time I ever accepted candy from a stranger.

Whenever I tell people that I semi-regularly ride the metro in a city where public transit is associated with people who aren’t rich enough to have a car, I feel like I get judged. Maybe it’s because they expect me to have a bunch of stories like this. Maybe it’s because they know I also have my license already.

But that first year, taking a lollipop from a stranger was the only interesting story I had. I was coming and leaving during rush hour with people working in the medical center, and I wanted to believe that my red volunteer polo and khakis made me fit in with their scrubs and business clothing. This was nothing like school bus rides in elementary and middle school, which were characterized by conversations with my friends and frantically bugging people for food.

Here, I was amongst a bunch of strangers and eating was prohibited. But in sixth grade, I did run a origami business from the front pocket of my lunch box, folding on the bus rides. (Instead of money, I charged Post It Notes.) I could still do that. I spent my bus rides folding with scraps of paper in my purse, leaving the piece on the bus in an attempt at an artsy project.

Over the next few years, I began travelling other places at other times, and I began to notice more things.

If you were selfish, you took the aisle seat so that no one could take the window seat next to you. Most people generally sat in the window seat. Not that the buses were full enough to warrant filling up both seats. No one in my neighborhood ever waited at my bus stop. The buses usually came at least a minute later than the published schedule, so being slightly late was ok.

As an Asian girl, I was stereotypically one of the most vulnerable populations on the bus. The further away it was from rush hour, the more likely I would be the only non black person on the bus. And the bus wasn’t the place to forge lifelong connections, but I acutely felt like an outsider. The drivers would always answer questions if you asked them, even the stupid ones.  If there were a lot of people waiting at the stop, there was a good chance that the bus was coming soon.

On more than one occasion, I’ve been 5+ miles from home waiting for a bus that’s 15 minutes late, with my phone at 1% battery, with no data plan, alone on the edge of a busy street, in the middle of a Houston summer day. I have a friend who was mugged after getting off a bus, yet I choose to have an almost sickening faith in the good will of people. That maybe the rational side of my brain telling me that crime rates are at record lows might actually overpower whatever psychological fears I have.

Even so, I still keep my keys and money in my pockets when I have a choice in case my purse gets stolen. I rarely take out my phone on the bus.

Sometimes, I feel like a tourist on the metro, since I clearly don’t rely on it as my sole source of transportation. Yet, I’m grateful to know that for 60 cents, I could get an air-conditioned ride to anywhere in the city without bothering anyone else for a ride. The metro makes me feel like a silent ninja, moving me around while leaving behind a minimal carbon footprint. I have $1.80 left on my metro card and less than 2 weeks left in Houston.

What are my last three rides going to be?


photo credit: 20140405 03 CTA Blue Line Shuttle Bus via photopin (license)

Advertisements

Organizing a Blogging Notebook in OneNote

Capture

A few months ago, I made the executive decision to create a new notebook in OneNote solely dedicated to blogging.

This was a huge decision for me. Previously, I only had two notebooks: one to hold everything I was working on and one to hold everything I wasn’t working on. But after seeing people devote entire binders to blogging, I figured that a digital notebook wasn’t too much.

That still seems excessive. Can’t I just use the WordPress editor/Microsoft Word?

For the longest time, I only used the WordPress editor to write and edit my posts. But ideas came to me sporadically. Sometimes, I’d get a marvelous idea and realize that I only had 2 sentences to write down. This led to an incredibly messy “drafts” folder. When I wanted to work on a post, I had to open all my drafts to see which ones I was interested in working on. Sometimes, I would write something I liked but didn’t want to publish. I didn’t know what to do about that. And I never quite figured how to keep all that writing advice I read online in an easy to access place.

The blogging notebook fixed all that. There were other things I liked about OneNote as well- no distractions a Ctrl+T away, the flexibility of the page (Literally, you can just click and write something on the side if it pops up in the middle of writing.), that it syncs with my phone, that it’s free.

After some trial and error, these were the sections I came up with:

  1. Word Vomits
  2. Currently Writing
  3. Advice
  4. Finished Posts
  5. Trash
  6. For another day

Looking back, these sections were a bit arbitrary, but it worked for me. Here’s how I use each section.

Word Vomits: The first place where all my well, word vomiting, goes. If something comes to me spontaneously, it goes here, whether it’s good or not. I recently purged a good number of drafts, and there are 13 other ideas I could write about here. The first page here is a running list of ideas.  If this notebook were a brain, this would be the working memory.

Currently Writing:  These are “Word Vomits” I feel comfortable with publishing. Once I feel like the post is coherent, I copy paste the post into the WordPress editor and move the page into “Finished Posts”. This section usually holds about 3/4 posts.

Advice: I reached out to two of my favorite bloggers via email a few months ago and asked for advice. I created this section after they both responded, and I never wanted to lose those emails.  If I ever find a good piece of advice on the Internet, I put it here as inspiration.

Finished Posts: After a post gets moved to WordPress, I move the page with the draft into this section. Sometimes there’ll be snippets of lines I didn’t use or personal side notes that I didn’t want to publish. Usually a post will go through much more editing before it gets published on WordPress, and this is another way to preserve the drafts.

Trash: The receptacle for “Word Vomits” that turn out to be actual vomit. I keep them around in case I change my mind (and to remind myself how I can write crappy pretentious stuff at times.)

For another day: I created this section after I wrote a reflection on a trip I took and the people I met. I felt like it was a good piece…but not something I wanted to make public yet. It was a bit too raw, something that would be more interesting to look back on a year. For now, this section is littered with half-baked anecdotes, as well as a page that’s literally “List of awkward moments”.

I could write more about the merits of such a notebook, but frankly, it’s a relief to come up with a writing process that doesn’t mind when I come up with 5 ideas in 2 hours and want to write about each of them, that doesn’t mind when I end up trashing more than half of said ideas, that doesn’t mind when I want to recover some of those ideas again.

Usually, it takes me multiple days to write, review, and finalize a post. This was an exception- 20 minutes to write in one sitting, 30 minutes to look over and publish a few days later. 

Concluding Stories from Middle School

wp-1465873909355.jpg

But how much has my handwriting really changed since 7th grade.

While I packed away my high school stuff (read: the 5% of work I deemed worth keeping) into a large plastic bin, I found some of my middle school writing- mostly academic assignments from my English classes, from a time where I cared about my school writing and knew that it would be read. Somewhere in high school, I lost that motivation. 1

But alongside those assignments (and a daily diary), I also wrote other things back then- namely, the pieces that would later become Stories from Middle School, a combination of A) true personal experiences and B) true personal experiences disguised as fiction. And four years later, all of them have been made public.

I like to think that these stories span a variety of topics. There’s a story about the guy in the year above me I stalked throughout 6th and 7th gradeThere’s 2 stories about how I enjoyed nerding out to math problems with my peers.  There’s a story about a lunch ritual I did with my friends that involved Yoplait yogurt. There’s a story that I refused to admit was about an elementary school crush (but it totally was). There’s a story about how my entire grade seemed to idolize one of my best friends and how I dealt with the resulting inferiority complex. There’s a story about my 6th grade math teacher that I must have annoyed the hell out of but gave me some odd sense of identity.

My writing notebook, a wide-ruled composition notebook from 6th grade, is still on my bookshelf. I used to handwrite stories 2 or 3 times before typing them up on a computer. First drafts were a bunch of segments that had no coherence, and crossouts, arrows, and doodles littered the pages.  Each rewrite was a chance to string together ideas until they made sense- very much the way I write nowadays.

Emotionally, I mostly just remember balancing the fear of sharing my writing alongside the desire for it to be seen, especially when I got mixed feedback about my writing. My teachers usually liked my writing, but my friends didn’t. (Looking back, my friends were the honest ones.) The only compliments I ever got were that my writing had “voice” and flowed well, so much that I questioned whether that voice was even good and whether “flow” was just a generic compliment.  I was picked as one of 7 students in my grade to enter the Scholastic Art and Writing Competition, but even with extensive help from my English teacher, my piece didn’t win anything. This happened two years in a row, while my friends always got awards. Talk about feeling inferior.

I have one last story that I still don’t feel comfortable posting (or even rereading.) It’s a 10 page story- to date the longest I’ve ever written- from the end of 6th grade about how one of my friends had changed upon entering middle school. It drew a lot of judgement from my other friends and essentially marked the end of a friendship. Yikes.

What do I think of my middle school stories now? Some make me cringe, some make me laugh. Some of these stories are undoubtedly silly. And I could choose to remember middle school as a place where an idiotic me did idiotic things, under the premise that my brain wasn’t fully developed or that I was underexposed.

But on the other hand, in some of these stories, I see a raw and innocent energy, that same desire to write down ideas and experiences, that same desire to connect my life into a narrative, a less refined version of that same “voice”. These stories embodied the experiences I cared about enough to write and then to share, experiences I could proudly embrace and call my own. And given a choice, that’s how I choose to remember middle school instead, because chances are, I’ll look back on high school in much the same way. 2 3


  1. But actually, if your teacher is reading and grading 100 essays in a night, is she really reading them. 
  2. I’ve contemplated putting together a series called “Stories from High School”, but I’ve decided against it. If a story needs to be told, it’ll find its way into a post. 
  3. Reminder to self: You just graduated high school, not middle school. Stop thinking about middle school. Also, stop with the consecutive footnotes. You’re not Wikipedia. 

Dealing with inferiority complexes

um

A reflection on being un-extraordinary, plus a bit of advice.

I’m a second semester senior.

Let me repeat that again. I’m a second semester senior.

I’m a second semester senior.

I’m free to not care about anything, free to say #yolo to anything and everything. And yet for some reason, I’ve begun caring more and more about certain things. Knowing that I won’t see most of my classmates in a few months means that I should be nice as possible now. (Or maybe rather, there’s no risk in starting a friendship that could end poorly.) Knowing that I’ll be leaving most of the organizations I’ve been involved with motivates me to make some sort of difference before I leave. (Or maybe rather, that I’m finally not plagued with the idea that I’m just doing everything for my college apps.)

Of the organizations I joined as a freshman, Quizbowl has been one of the few organizations I’ve stayed in. And last week, as I saw 7 new members join the team for the last time, I began thinking back to when I first joined the team as a freshman.

Still fresh off the novelty of  high school, I was eager to join the team, to continue something I had done in middle school. In some ways, it was great. I was included in on the jokes. Most people knew my name. (This was a bigger deal to me than I care to admit.) My team members and the sponsors were witty and intelligent and nerdy. Plus, there was free food.

But something else wasn’t right: my actual quizbowl ability. Week after week, I watched juniors and seniors on the team name things I had never even heard of, much less could identify. Spending 90 minutes each week listening to hundreds of questions I didn’t know the answer to was demoralizing.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise that after a few months, I didn’t want to come to practices anymore. I wasn’t contributing anything to the team, and people had no reason to pay attention to me.

* * *

If this were a good story, someone else would swoop in right about now, motivate me, and I would muster up the drive and self-discipline to become a national quizbowl champion. If this were a good story and had I not won the birth lottery, this type of story might even become famous: the girl who beat all her more privileged peers.

None of that happened though, and now,  I’m still mediocre at quizbowl. End of story. Simply another failed story, a direct result of my lack of hard work…

…but is that really it? I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly was so discouraging in the first place. Was it being exposed to the genius upperclassmen? Nope,  I had seen plenty good quizbowl players in middle school and been pummeled at every math competition I went to. I had been exposed to the limits of my own intelligence early on. That didn’t explain everything.

What was different, however, was that in middle school, there were other people affirming how I felt. When my friends and I saw these “geniuses”, we could marvel at their intelligence together before throwing ourselves into studying more. But as a freshman on the quizbowl team, I was an outsider among a group of people who had already assimilated. (at least from my perspective).

When I ask people why so few stories of people overcoming tough situations exist, their response has been “some people just aren’t cut out to do well” or that everything can be accomplished with enough “grit”. My parents occasionally talk about the necessity of “chi ku” (literally: eating bitter) in order to succeed. Every work of literature I’ve read in English has had the theme “Wisdom through suffering,” to the extent that it’s become a joke.

I believe that mindset too at times: I’ve told myself: “Screw the inferiority complex. I’ll just work twice as hard and prove myself” more times than I can count. Because maybe that’s the right attitude. Maybe I’m just trying to rationalize my laziness, and maybe I’ll just have to face the uncomfortable truth that I don’t want to put the work into being a good quizbowl player.

Yet,  I can’t help but feel bad when year after year, I see the same excited students join the team each year and leave discouraged after a few practices. I see a bit too much of myself in them,  and most of them didn’t even have my exposure to middle school quizbowl. The last thing I want to blame it on is their own laziness or the lack of some innate quality.

This also makes me uncomfortable. By not doing more to help these new members, am I actively choosing to perpetuate the cycle that almost made me quit quizbowl? Am I guilty of my own crime?

I try to tell the new members “It’s okay if it’s tough. It’s always a difficult transition.”  in hopes that it will help. But I really doubt that’s enough to get them through the months it takes to realize that yes, Quizbowl  indeed only tests a finite list of topics, that yes, you can still have fun even if you’re barely answering any questions and that yes, it’s definitely worth staying.  What if they become systematically desensitized and developed a feeling of learned helplessness, like I been so close to? Until I had more friends join the team my sophomore year, I wouldn’t have had many qualms about dropping out.

* * *

It’s weird that I chose to focus on Quizbowl here–it’s been neither the most influential nor distinctive feature of high school for me, not by a long shot. But it’s something I’ve been involved with for a long time, something with easily quantifiable metrics, an activity in which I’ve felt both superior and inferior.

In fact, it’s a lot like school, though doing well in school has been an ego boost for me more often than not. What can it be like for the other half?

This weekend, I heard a former district superintendent talk about dismal literacy rates in my county. (Spoiler: two-thirds of students can’t read on grade level.)

At its heart, he said, not knowing how to read is a form of emotional abuse. Not even considering the social and economic implications of illiteracy, constantly being evaluated by your ability to take tests that you can’t even understand is emotionally devastating.

This bothers me. I didn’t grow up with parents who spoke English, I certainly wasn’t a hardworking preschooler (if that even exists), and I learned to read just fine. But for a myriad of other smaller, more subtle reasons, this isn’t a reality for the majority of my peers who grew up in the same community as me, and I can only imagine what their attitude towards school must be. 1

Ignoring that inferiority complex that we all possess in some form is just going to result in more and more insecurity, more jealousy, that constant feeling of not being good enough, or worst (and perhaps the most logical conclusion), simply not caring anymore. Affirming someone’s feelings goes a lot further than denying that they exist. We’re naturally hardwired to connect with one another, and ignoring emotional and biological feedback is rarely a good idea.

With that, I present…

Amy’s list of self-reminders:

  1. Find pleasure in what you’re learning/doing
  2. Find private, intrinsic, quiet pleasure in what you’re learning/doing. No one can take that away from you.
  3. Practice every day.
  4. Silence the outside voices and competition
  5. You’re not the best. Don’t get cocky.
  6. You’re not the best. It’s okay.
  7. Most of the journey is going to be done on your own. Be prepared.
  8. Other people are important. Find a good support system.
  9. Other people are important. Find a good system of people to support.
  10. Worst case scenario: Things don’t go your way, and you learn a bunch in the process.
  11. It’s okay.
  12. Get enough sleep .

Anything to add?

 * * *

Reading:


  1. To be fair though, one of the first things I did after learning to read was to pull a handle on a bright red box with the words “pull”. The fire alarm. Whoops. 

When The Snowflakes come back (NaBloPoMo Day 30)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.) .

Conscious Design

15845571977_0cc18e631dphoto credit: E8 via photopin (license)

When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and you’re life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

Steve Jobs

It fascinates me that every day, I’m experiencing the result of other people’s conscious decisions. Almost everything I use was created by someone else. And 90% of the time, I have no idea who these people are. Who designed my pencil bag? My socks? My notebooks? My cell phone charger? I will probably never know.

I became fascinated with the design of roads at one point. Not city planning, the chemical composition of asphalt, or the campaign signs next to potholes, but rather the very shape of roads. At some point, it was someone’s job to decide how wide to make the roads, how thick to draw the lines, what the different sorts of lines meant, even how curved each street corner should be.

But instead of just soaking in all the things around me, I’ve become impatient and wanted to create things myself too.

The Engineer Vs. The Marketer 

When I first began blogging, I read all the tips, I put in all the sweat and tears, I posted semi-regularly…and yet very few people were reading my posts. What was going on?

Don Norman, in The Design of Everyday Things, talks about the constant battle between the engineer and the marketer when designing a product. The engineer believes that her product 1 is inherently good. If someone doesn’t see the value in it, that’s their problem. She’s frustrated that products that “look better” are more popular, even if they don’t work as well. On the other hand, the marketer is frustrated that the product simply doesn’t look appealing. It’s useless designing something good if no one even knows that it exists or knows how to use it.

Even though this applies to products, it can easily be applied to other things. 2 As a nerd who believed that intelligence could and should speak for itself, I had fallen into the snares of the engineer. To this day, I don’t care terribly much about how I look or how others perceive me. And I’ve suffered the consequences. 3

StuCon meetings need to promoted well, but they also need to be interested and engaging so that people come back. I keep hearing about user experience for designing apps and interfaces, but it just recently occurred to me that it applied to events as well.

As for my blog posts, it means that even though I may have engineered a good post (questionable), I have to put deliberate effort into promoting them. Fun.

Creator-Consumer Disparity

Other non-epiphany I realized: The amount of time it takes to create something is more than the time taken to consume it.

  • Food takes longer to prepare and cook than to eat
  • A 10 minute musical piece could have easily taken a year of preparation.
  • The best hour-long lectures took a lot long than an hour to prepare. The best assignments take more time to create than to do. If a teacher is just reading powerpoints and making up assignments on the fly, it shows.
  • Each blog post takes hours to write, yet can easily be read in minutes
  • Any enjoyable experience you had (a fair, a class, some other experience) probably took more time to plan than to experience
  • Getting someone else to care about something requires you to care 10x more than they do. And even then, you may only tangentially get their attention.
  • Shooting, picking, and editing a good photo for social media takes a lot more time and effort than scrolling through a feed and liking it [^4]

The biggest trap is that it all seems effortless. Especially with the volume of quality content (see: Youtube), it’s hard to comprehend the amount of blood, sweat and tears behind each excellent product. And after doing a few too many homework assignments that have an audience of exactly one person (the teacher) for a few seconds at best, I lost sight of the effort it takes to create something that will hold someone’s attention in the real world.

Closing statements:

As it becomes easier to be a passive consumer and harder to become a creator, I see this gap quickly widening. The problem with good design is that it takes bad design. [Read: Non-ephiphany: The Only Place for Bad Work] And in a culture where everything has to be done right the first time and every mistake carefully tracked, it’s easier to follow inertia and not do anything.

To that, I say to shut down all internal marketing and self-promotion voices and focus on creating something that is inherently good. Maybe it’s just building a intelligent mind. Maybe it’s another project of some sort. It doesn’t matter. In the end, that’s where the sustainable and fulfilling things lie. And that’s what life’s all about, right?

Further Reading:

Song: All We Are, OneRepublic


  1. Subverting gender norms. 
  2. I am about to objectify people and experiences. Whoops 
  3. Namely, through making people suffer by being awkward. 

Dissecting Middle School

624861649_8c039b00b0

“I don’t know how they do it. I don’t know how anybody does it, waking up every morning and eating and moving from the bus to the assembly line, where the teacherbots inject us with subject A and subject B, and passing every test they give us. Our parents provide the list of ingredients and remind us to make healthy choices: one sport, two clubs, one artistic goal, community service, no grades below a B, because really, nobody’s average, not around here. It’s a dance with complicated footwork and a changing tempo”

-Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson

In middle school, I saw education as a chance to become as smart as possible. Learning was a moral issue– how could I dare to contribute to society without knowing how things worked? Often times, I found that if I didn’t know something, I wouldn’t simply not know it- I would “know” the information incorrectly. My education was a chance to fix up the misconceptions in my broken mind. And this was my youth, when I would absorb the information the quickest- why not take complete advantage of this? But in the reality of carrying out these noble motives, I could often only see immediate numbers and not wanting to disappoint a teacher. I got A’s in all my classes without any special effort.

However, I would get frustrated at only getting 95s on tests when my friends got 100s. (Literally, when my class made a “dictionary” with a definition of everyone in 7th grade, one of my synonyms was “Not Quite There”) I checked my grades online less than 3 times throughout all of middle school and learned to avoid the question “What did you get?” by simply saying that I didn’t know. I told myself that these tests were merely a test of accuracy, not knowledge (I made and still make a lot of stupid mistakes.)

And an the midst of Mathcounts competitions and quizbowl tournaments, as close as one can get to an approximation of a purely academic competition, I began coming up with (unfounded) justifications of why I wasn’t doing as well.

  • I don’t have teachers and coaches to teach me the fastest way to solve all the problems
  • I don’t soullessly memorize lists and formulas.
  • I actually enjoy what I’m doing.

But who was I even to say anything? (Even assuming that everything above had valid ground.) I could complain and justify my actions all I want, but at the end of the day, they still knew more than me, still did better than I did. I wasn’t willing to put in the sweat and tears they had. Any dislike I had was really just secretly jealousy…right?

…To be continued

And it begins again: NaBloPoMo 2015

NaBloPoMo November 2015

Because for some reason, I only find posting every day for a month slightly terrifying.

Before the jumble starts again,  some (more) meta thoughts about writing.

  1. I talk to myself. A lot. Interesting stories, potential ideas, assorted non-epiphanies, I’ll tell them over and over to myself until I realize I’m wasting my time. (This does wonders for my productivity…not.) And most of the time, no one else hears them. I distinctly remember being stopped in the middle of the hall in middle school by a friend and asked “are you talking to yourself.” At a board meeting a few weeks ago, as I was coming back from the restroom, an adult came up to me and asked “are you practicing your speech?” That’s when I realized I was whispering to myself about nothing.
  2. Comments have been dwindling down on this blog more, and more and more, this has been a place to post cleaned-up versions of theories. As soon as something is typed out, I generally stop trying to convince myself of it.
  3. Note to when writing the rest of my college essays: Writing them backwards (e.g. from stories -> thesis) DOES NOT WORK. YOU WILL GO IN CIRCLES.  I am speaking from personal experience. It hasn’t been drastic for blog posts…but IT WILL LEAD NOWHERE IN COLLEGE ESSAYS. (Clearly, I learned this the hard way.)
  4. The one major difference between college essays and (my) blog posts: anecdotes. I would always write a draft of an essay before realizing that it lacked something…personal. The reflection parts sounded pretty much the same, but the narrations reminded me of the writing I used to do in middle school.
  5. At the beginning of 8th grade, my English teacher showed us this TED talk. Since then, I’ve like seeing literature as a way for (warning: non-epiphany ahead) people to reflect their humanity at each other.
  6. I’m not exactly sure whether I write well when I’m tired.

Same disclaimers as last year (and the year before that):

  • The day isn’t over until I say so. Depending on the situation, the day may start from midnight, or it may be defined by when I go to sleep. (Also don’t be surprised if I change the times on these posts so they’re within the hours of the day.)
  • Because I’m going to be writing about whatever comes to mind, some posts may be password protected. My main reason for doing this is to know who’s reading each post (sucks for all you silent lurkers out there). I’ll probably tell you the password if you ask.
  • Motivation comes to me sporadically. That means that even though I may have the drive to complete NaBloPoMo today, that state may not hold a few weeks from today. A little extrinsic motivation would be nice, ahem.

Song: Slice, Five for Fighting

I Guess My Blog is a Toddler Now

gChat conversation with a friend a week after I stopped posting on my original blog. I still attribute the not-dying of this blog to this chat. Nothing like trying to prove someone wrong to motivate me.   (Also, cringing at middle school me using XD excessively)

gChat conversation with a friend a week after I stopped posting on my original blog. I still attribute the not-dying of this blog to this chat. Nothing like trying to prove someone wrong to motivate me. (cringing at middle school me using XD excessively)

When I set up my first blog, I had to make decisions. A lot of them–regarding titles, taglines, URLs, hosts, platforms, themes, fonts, column widths, blog backgrounds, headers, sidebars, footers, colors. Zero of those things have stayed the same since then. But even as I’ve gone through three URL changes, two blog names, two platforms , three taglines, various theme changes, and even more color and background changes, 1 writing to the internet has gotten easier.

Now, I only have one decision to make. What to write.

What hasn’t gotten easier is coming up with topics. I don’t like regurgitating other people’s ideas, I don’t read/experience enough to write a review/travel blog, fashion blogs are not my thing, 2 and I was never one for writing fiction or poetry. My posts now are a messy synthesis of my readings and thoughts with pseudo-legit personal analysis. I constantly have tangles of thoughts fluttering in my head, and it’s only recently that I’ve started chasing and pinning them down before they fly away– usually to 1) return and bother me later or 2) annoy me when I read someone else writing about MY COMPLETELY ORIGINAL EPIPHANY.

High school hasn’t made me much wiser, but it has given me more issues to think about and the (delusional) confidence to type them to the internet. In retrospect, I see my transition from the early overly-cheery, sterile posts written out of boredom, to the active cynicism and ranting during second semester freshman year,  to typing out the first thing that comes to mind during NaBloPoMo, to the lack of posting around AP season, to my yearly post about being indecisive about trich, to the craft posts that make their way in, to formulating half-baked ideas about society and identity and other -ty’s.

I’m not satisfied with most of my posts at the time of publication, but occasionally, a couple posts jump out at me when I read them a few months. (Yes, I read my own blog. Judge me.)

I’m hoping that I become well-read enough someday to have an educated opinion that matches my blog title. 3 Writing isn’t something that makes me bubble up with excitement inside, but I always come back to this blog with some wacko idea that I need to formally write out and structure, oftentimes pushing aside other important tasks in order to write.

I want this blog to become one of the great works of my life. Here, I get to frame my life narrative. Here, I can express thoughts that have zero relevance to my life. [See: How to Pretend to be Happy on the Internet] Here, I’m allowed to obsess over phrasings for hours. 4 Here, I get to be indecisive. Here, I can to not post for a month or post every day, with only myself to blame. Here, I get infinite second chances.  Here, I have an audience that motivates me to write. (I think.) Here, I can spend hundreds of hours writing and refining posts and am proud of every minute.

This marks post #173. Let’s keep going.

~ ~ ~

Feel good, trashy pop, 3-song playlist to this post:

  • New Romantics, Taylor Swift
  • Want to want me, Jason Derulo
  • Believer, American Authors

  1. And learning how to footnote! 
  2. Though I still have no idea how Tavi Genivison accomplished Rookie Mag and will be forever envious of her 
  3. The title “Educated Opinions” was a punny suggestion by a friend for the blog that ended up being “Dear HISD.” Meaning, the posts weren’t supposed to be educated opinions, but rather opinions about being educated. I hated to see the name go to waste though after it wasn’t used so I took it for what was formerly “afois” which was formerly “afanofideas” I never fully explained that. 
  4. I’m still trying to figure out a rough estimate for how long it takes to write a blog post. 100 words an hour is a good rule of thumb, though it may be closer to 75 depending on distraction level/nit-pickiness in editing. 

Learning shorthand

I like to pride myself on learning things that have absolutely zero practicality just because I think it’s cool. (Well, also for the bragging rights). Over the years, this is what I’ve picked up:

  • Pen spinning
  • Juggling
  • Freehand drawing 7/8/9/any number point stars. (But really, all the credit goes to Vi Hart)
  • Origami
  • Speedreading
  • Solving Rubik’s cubes

Halfway through English class last week, when I was frustrated at not really processing the notes that I was typing, and not being able to handwrite my notes fast enough (even in cursive), I got the burst of motivation to learn something new: shorthand.

I heard of Gregg shorthand in this Atlantic article last summer, but I didn’t really know how to start learning. I guess searching the Internet never really appealed to me at the time. But now I was in English class with a laptop in front of me. Time to start Googling.

After reading all the articles I could find about the various forms of shorthand, I went for Ford shorthand. (I should stop being persuaded by articles written by people trying to promote a product.) Most other shorthand forms were made for transcribing speaking and involved learning a special set of phonetic rules. They were also harder to read. Ford shorthand was just a simplified alphabet–no special rules or indistinguishable letters. I didn’t need to write at 200 words a minute –I would be perfectly content if I could write as fast as I could type.

With a one minute test, my normal writing speed was about 35 words a minute, and that was barely legible. I would need to double that rate with shorthand if I’m to see any benefit. Anything less than that, and I’m just wasting my time.

I’ve started writing random stuff in my notebook in shorthand in class to practice. I’ve also started taking class notes in shorthand, but it’s awkward when I’m having to read my notes and spell our words in the middle of an open-note quiz.

Here’s my progress so far:

Warning: This is just my homework copied. It's nothing interesting.

Warning: This is just my homework+ the alphabet. It’s nothing interesting. Decipher at your own risk

Sure, I want to learn shorthand so I can write faster, but it’s also kind of cool to be able to write in code that anyone can decipher through Google.

If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to write proficiently in a few months. If not, this’ll be just another random thing to tack onto

Meanwhile, I already know what I to learn next after this:  notebook spinning. I tried learning it over winter break, but it didn’t go too well. (Also, my notebook was falling apart because I kept dropping it on the ground. Whoops.)