Twenty minutes of positivity.

Because that’s something we really need right now.

capture
The future.

 

We are dissatisfied, frightened, and anxious at this moment, but we can’t stay that way forever. Though we may feel wronged by our current political process, that process is mutable, and the power to change it is still in our hands.

Do not be afraid.

Things I miss the most.

Unlike a lot of my peers, I’m attending a college on a quarter system, so I’m just leaving home today for my first year. Big changes like this don’t tend to register in my brain until I’m in the midst of them, so I’ve only just  begun to realize… this is really happening. In honor of this most momentous of occasions, I present a no-b.s. list of the things I think I’m really going to miss the most.

1. My lab. No joke, over the past 18 months, I’ve spent more time in the lab than at school. I wouldn’t call my co-workers and professor close friends or anything, but they really did inspire me with their genuine interest in their work, support, and good conversation. My experiences at work showed me a glimpse of how much I have yet to learn, and I’m seriously pretty hyped. I can’t imagine a better way to begin what may well become my future profession.

2. My bed. It’s soft. It’s expansive. It’s mine.

3. Knowing how to get places. Over the years, I, like most people, have amassed a fairly extensive knowledge of the road and bus systems in my hometown. Knowing where stuff is and the quickest way to get there brings me unparalleled satisfaction. Unfortunately, there’s no way I’m going to be able to get this familiar with LA.

4. My sister. Although she is, at times, the most annoying, incompetent little nitwit, there’s no one I feel more comfortable chilling with, ranting to, and being super weird around. No friend, no matter how close, can replace a sister.

5. Rain. Is SoCal weather everything it’s made out to be? We shall see.

6. Free time. I’m told that, where I’m going, I won’t have much of it.

7. Home-cooked meals. Once during a two-week long, stay away camp, I found myself growing sick of cafeteria food and craving a bowl of my dad’s tortilla soup, a dish I had actually disliked before I left. Distance makes the taste buds grow fonder.

8. My person. You know who you are. I miss you.

Privilege.

Last week, the delight of ice cream interrupted one of my generally busy workday afternoons.  My department hosted an ice cream social, and after a bit of convincing from a friendly grad student and the melodious call of Blue Bell, I found myself holding a dripping vanilla cone in the middle of a crowd of undergrads, grad students, and professors, few of whom I knew, even by name.  I was drawn toward my lab mates like a magnet to… a bigger magnet.  Being one of the younger people in my lab, I was exiled to the little kid circle with three undergrads who had just started work in June, essentially strangers to me.  Prompted by the name of the event, I took a stab at socializing with the guys, who had just returned from a short excursion around campus in the name of Pokémon Go.  I quietly enjoying their frenzied geekiness for a few minutes, when one of them suddenly paused and said to me apologetically, “we must be boring you out of your mind.”

Despite my insistence on the contrary, the conversation turned to my academic life: what was I doing in the lab, especially as a high schooler?  Did I take a course in this subject in school?  How was my high school?  I had grown used to answering these kinds of questions, replying that I felt fortunate to live in a city with such a prestigious research university and that the teachers, administration, and curriculum at my high school were all excellent, allowing and preparing me to take time off during the school day to enroll in classes at the university and to hold a position in one of its labs.  One of the guys, looked quite stunned after I had finished talking and said wistfully, “I would have done anything to go to a high school like that.”

Daniel told us that he had grown up in a small town at the southern-most border of Texas, a place so small that its name would certainly not ring a bell for any of us.  His school had offered only a few AP courses, and the school’s average scores on the tests were almost universally below passing.  As the valedictorian of his class, however, he had tried to make the best of what his surroundings had to offer, taking classes at a local community college and earning an associate’s degree along with his high school diploma.  Coming to a university like this one and working in a lab was pretty much a dream, for more reasons than just the high school he came from.  His father, apparently the sole bread-winner in his household, has a job as pipeline worker.  No one in the family has been to college.  He told us about the classes he is taking and how much more rigorous they are than the equivalents he had taken back home, reiterating how much he wishes he had grown up in this town, gone to my high school, and taken classes here as soon as he could.

I’m sure most of my peers are quite familiar with this kind of story, but actual hearing it told by someone who had lived it, is living it, meant so much more to me than any vague concept of some John Doe struggling to gain the opportunity that others so easily take for granted.  Hearing the conviction in his voice as he told us his story left no doubt in my mind that his determination will lead him to success.  As someone in a place of my privilege, academic and otherwise, I hope I will have the ambition to achieve something worthy of my upbringing.  Maybe hoping isn’t enough.

A letter.

The following is a letter sent to my state representative. If you have thoughts on any issue of importance to you that you wish to share, I hope you too will consider writing a letter to your own governmental representatives, if you feel so inclined.

June 17, 2016

To the Honorable Bill Flores:

My name is █████ ███████, and I am a recent graduate of A&M Consolidated High School’s class of 2016 in College Station.  In light of the recent tragedy in Orlando, I, as well as many others, have spent some time considering how the Second Amendment of the Constitution ought to be implemented in today’s day and age.

I come from a family with a history of military service where the ability to own weapons for recreation and self-defense is considered to be a fundamental freedom, as the authors of the Bill of Rights and Constitution intended it to be.  This background considered, however, I’m unable to ascertain the need for ordinary citizens to own assault-style weapons.  These types of arms and the high-capacity magazines that can be used with them provide neither the clean wound of a hunting rifle nor the convenience of a handgun in the event of an attack on a person’s home; the only logical use I can see for such weapons can be found quite conveniently in their names – assault.

I would therefore like to ask you to act upon these issues by voting to:

  1. Keep civilian versions of weapons of war out of the hands of those who have been ordained as threats to our nation’s security, if not out of anyone’s hands at all
  2. Ban the sale and use by noncombatant citizens of high-capacity magazines

While I am sure you are under immense pressure regarding this issue from all sides – your other constituents, your colleagues, your party, and your supporting organizations – I entreat you to consider whether assault weapons truly have a place in the lives of ordinary citizens and whether preserving access to these weapons is truly protecting the rights of your constituents to bear arms or threatening our most precious right of all – the right to life.

Whatever stance you choose to take on this issue, I am grateful to you for your civil service to our district, state, and nation, and hope that each of our lives are better for it.

 

All the best to you and your staff.

 

Too good to be true. Ever.

Today, BuzzFeed published a letter from a rape victim to her aggressor1,2. A warning, it is quite disturbing to read. And disturbed is just how I felt after finishing it, not only because of its contents, but because it got me thinking about another phenomenon that I’ve experienced much closer to home.

There’s a certain adult in my life (who shall remain nameless) with whom I’ve occasionally tried to bring up issues of social justice such as the one underlying the case mentioned, and the interactions would generally go as follows: I would express my feelings of dissatisfaction with the way a certain area is being handled in our country be it rape and victim blaming, race relations, support and education for the poor and disadvantaged, bigotry toward the LGBTQ community, or some other topic to this person, and although they3 never made any statement of disagreement, within seconds they would quickly dismiss my “idealism” as naive, uninformed, and, most discouragingly of all, utterly impossible. I won’t deny that I haven’t seen much in my short lifetime, but it seems to me that the group of people who are dissatisfied with the mainstream mindset toward these issues and those who express hopes for changes in that mindset don’t overlap each other perfectly – far from it, actually. That is, the adult I’m talking about is definitely not alone in their belief that the “system” is unchangeable and that we should focus on protecting ourselves from symptoms rather than attacking causes.

To me, this outlook seems depressingly bleak. I’ve written previously about my general optimism about people’s abilities for critical introspection, but the fact that people feel the results of their deep thought are meaningless, that their ideas lack efficacy, doesn’t sit well with me. After all, societal norms and ideas are ultimately made up of individual actions and thoughts, so while one person’s beliefs don’t necessarily change anything, discussing and advocating for those beliefs definitely has the potential to do so.

I haven’t done a lot of thinking about this efficacy deficit beyond what I’ve expressed, but what do you guys think? Do you know anyone like this or do you feel like your well-considered opinions sometimes aren’t worth expressing? The discussion is, as it should be, open.


1 This is related to the Stanford case that’s making national headlines – a lot of them. I avoided getting into my thoughts about the case too much because that would require a whole separate, very opinionated post. I’ll just say this: I hope that, after being hit over the head with these kinds of stories enough, people won’t be forgetting this issue after a news cycle or two.

2 Props to BuzzFeed for its attempts to grow into a legitimate news source.

3 Also remaining genderless. No, I’m not that uneducated or careless.

My farewell.

Although I like to try to avoid getting super emotionally invested in anything that’s too popular, I have to admit that finishing high school is worth noting.  It’s kind of a big deal to leave the group of people, environment, and sense of security that’s been all of my conscious life in the making.  To me, the unknown ahead isn’t nearly as frightening1 as the thought of the past becoming unknown, that is, losing track of the things that matter to me in this moment.  So now, I’m going to take some preemptive action against forgetfulness.  Here’s a little list of things I want to remember.

1. The joy of giving something my all… and then moving on.  As an eighth grader, I remember hearing that members of the high school robotics team stayed at school every day until 6 pm working, and I was sure I would never join… until I did.  And then a particularly awesome person convinced me to spend at least a hundred hours of my life memorizing insect orders and families.  And then I randomly went to Louisville, Kentucky for a week to do a bit of math and stand in front of a booth.  Extracurriculars consumed my life until my senior year, when I was forced (for a variety of reasons) to give them all up.  Needless to say, I was extremely torn up about it, but I learned a pretty important lesson about priorities and will always be thankful for the experiences I had in those clubs and the amazing people in them.

2. The linalg struggle.  I’ve made some mistakes in my academic history, but none so grave as thinking I was prepared to take an honors math class at A&M (especially during the spring semester of senior year… seriously, what was I thinking?).  It’s not really the feeling of being murked by an exam that I hope will stick with me, but my subsequent commitment to actually doing my best and being okay with the result, whatever it may turn out to be.  (Also, I don’t think I’ll forget how to grind out eigenvalues for a 5×5 matrix even if I wanted to.)

3. The knowledge that I have people to fall back on.  Especially a few adults.  They know stuff about life. That’s pretty cool.  My friends are also pretty cool.  I’m bad at being publicly sentimental, sorry guys.

4. Same.  Basically same.

5. Kites, praise-worthy trees, mitosis, and small metal objects.  As cheesy as it always sounds, ponytail Derek was right when he said that high school really makes you find yourself.  I’ve experienced a lot of amazing little things throughout high school with people I’ve really grown to care about.  These memories of little adventures can be captured in photos, mementos, and even journal entries, but in the end, I’m sure most of them will still fade away.  My hope is that the feelings they inspired in me will become ingrained in my person without need of special recognition, and that a small part of me will always choose to call this place and these people home.


1 My parents have told me that every summer when we went to visit the daycare or elementary school I’d be attending in the coming school year, I’d throw a fit when told that I wouldn’t actually be going to class there for a few weeks, and act in a similar vein when picked up after the first day of school.  The point is, I don’t think I’m going to be too homesick.

Show me the food.

Once on a trip, I was assigned to room with a girl I didn’t know well at all. As far as I knew, we shared very few common interests, if any, and I had planned to simply stick out the two nights we would be spending together with minimal interaction and then move on, business as usual. She, however, seemed to be the type who felt awkward tension unless she attempted to interact with every breathing being in sight, and I soon found myself in the uncomfortable position of being asked to go to dinner with her at a restaurant I didn’t particularly care for, but I had no other plans or legitimate reasons to refuse her invitation, so we went.

I ordered the most filling salad I could find on the menu, hoping to receive my food quickly and return to the comfort of my room and noise-canceling earbuds, but my hopes were dashed when she ordered a pricey and complicated steak meal, guaranteeing that our wait time would be at least half an hour. Luckily, the weather that night was particularly notable, dark and very stormy, providing a good subject for casual conversation until a while after we had ordered, but our chatter eventually died down, and inevitable, uncomfortable silence had fallen over our table. In a moment of what I now believe to be sheer genius, I muttered something about how anxious I was for our food to arrive. Her eyes lit up, and she suddenly launched into a happy spiel about food she liked and how much she enjoyed cooking, allowing me to sit back quietly and listen without the agony of being forced to make small talk.

So now, to actually address this blog’s prompt, (no, I hadn’t forgotten about that), I propose that the English language needs a word to describe anticipation for a meal to arrive. This seems like a pretty common sentiment, and it’s relatable nature definitely saved me from at least one pretty awkward situation.

A cream-colored box.

There was a great commotion aboard the 9 pm number 12. Passengers flowed out of cars, most rushing off toward the street with eyes grim or brimming with frightened tears. I sat up a bit taller on the bench as a stretcher rolled past me into a dining car, soon reemerging carrying an older gentleman – I say gentleman because ‘man’ doesn’t reflect the sharpness of his pressed suit, the precise line at the intersection of his pallid skin and trimmed grey beard, the shimmer of his cracked and unticking gold watch.

“The guy’s filthy rich as far as I know,” said an excited voice beside me. I looked up to see a man, red in the face with excitement, transfixed by the unfolding scene. “Probably best this way though,” he continued. “I heard he is, err was, a big shot in the mob or something like that. I was in the car when it happen ya know. The lights flickered, and then a thud and the old man was choking on the floor foaming at the mouth still holding his drink. We all heard the back door slam and saw a guy all done up in black climbing out onto the roof and-”

His morbidly gleeful retelling ended abruptly as shouts came from the last train car; and old woman wearing a small hat covered in flowers and holding a well-worn map looked innocently up at a young man holding a cream-colored box under one arm, his face twitching unpleasantly. His white-knuckled fist trembled at his side in an impressive display of self control. The look on his face suggested that he was imagining how nicely his fist would fit inside the old woman’s hollow cheek.

His shouts were audible from outside: “I’m telling you, lady, I bought that hat for my daughter’s birthday, and I know you snatched it. Just give it back here and I won’t make anymore trouble.”

“I’m sorry sir,” she responded meekly. “I don’t think I know what you mean, but I’m just looking for directions to the nearest subway entrance to visit my sister.”

Suddenly, the man lunged at her, barely an inch from beating her skull in, stopped just in time by a policeman who had been attracted to the scene by the shouts. The box the man had been holding tumbled to the floor, scattering its contents all over the floor of the train. Black shirt, black pants, black socks.

Black ski mask.

The policeman deftly twisted the man’s arm behind his back, not hesitating to acknowledge his prisoner’s shouts of disagreement. As he was dragged from the scene, the old woman turned slowly and returned to her seat. She removed the hat from her head and placed it into a cream-colored box under her seat. Then, she gingerly plucked a black glove and a small plastic bag with a single white and red striped pill  from beneath the hat. After a pause, she walked past the spilled clothing and quietly dropped the glove into the pile. Tucking the baggie into her coat pocket, she exited the train, taking each step one at a time, and trotted off toward the street.

Comments.

  1. Eat Pray Catz – Jackson Pollock, in which the author offers a down-to-earth opinion on Jackson Pollock’s art informed by his personal background and, I would assume, her own experience with art.
  2. Maybe I Should Sleep – Space Oddity, in which I question the themes that both the author and myself (oops) wrote about concerning “Space Oddity”.
  3. The Frogg Blogg – Hamlet in the Queen’s Chamber, in which the author discusses a rather traditional depiction of the closet scene in Hamlet.