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.

Memory lane in summertime.

With the hot weather comes the relief of the load of homework finally being lifted and an excessive amount of free time for us school-aged children. I recently spent one evening scanning my bookshelf halfway expecting some new volume to materialize, and the familiar spine of a book I hadn’t touched since elementary school caught my eye. Pretty soon, an hour had gone by as I surveyed the largely untouched shelf of my childhood favorites… and a few unsavory ones (I’m no longer a big fan of Rani in the Mermaid Lagoon). To me, books written for “children” can often still hold a lot of meaning. Rereading them when I’m older allows me to understand the events, themes, and symbols I glossed over or misunderstood when I was younger, or simply provide less demanding, more plot-driven reading – not to mention the waves of nostalgia I personally experience when I cracked open these old books. I’ve detailed a few of my old favorites, so if you’re interested in a bit of light reading, I invite you to check these books out!

1. When You Reach Me — Rebecca SteadWhen_you_reach_me

This book is hard to classify, but it’s like nothing I’ve read before. It discusses a gritty but glorious period of time in the life of a young girl in the New York City of the 1970s, and it involves time travel, a perfectly awing combination. It has a simple feel – the chapters are short and the writing style is undecorated – but all of that contributes to a simply fantastic storyline. Even the minimalistic cover art turns out to be infinitely more important than it may initially seem. If you like books with plots that suddenly fall together and leave you thinking, I highly recommend this novel.

gummstreet2. The Secret Order of the Gumm Street Girls — Elise Primavera

This book is a real mind trip. And really long. The storyline is quirky with more than its fair share of twists, turns, and Wizard of Oz references, but its eerie atmosphere forces you to bond with the four somewhat disagreeable girls the story revolves around as they are forced to bond with each other against a foe who will probably make you shiver. Trust me, Cha Cha Staccato is terrifying.

ElyonAll3. The Land of Elyon Series — Patrick Carman

While I don’t usually go for fantasy, this series is one notable exception for me. It holds a special place in my heart, as I read it starting in second grade and finished over the course of five years, purchasing one book each year as they were released, and thus became really invested in the fate of soft-spoken Alexa Daley. I love the mood of this book, which is perfectly portrayed by the cover art – it’s soft and subdued, but adventurous, and I feel like I would really love to live in the world Carman created and meet the wise and diverse characters that inhabit this world on the brink of takeover by forces of evil. This series is also notable because it has one of those rare *actually good* prequels, Into the Mist. Awesome.

63638234. The Magician’s Nephew — C. S. Lewis

So I lied when I said Into the Mist was one of the only good prequels I’ve read. While most of the popular hype about The Chronicles of Narnia is given to The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, I personally prefer this book. The origin story for this series is really flawless, and while it’s sad to think that the four siblings of the aforementioned sequel didn’t get to experience the multitude of other worlds that existed in this first book, I’m glad we get to see it and some characters we know well from such a new point of view and in such rich and beautiful detail.

EgyptGame5. The Egypt Game — Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Like many good children’s books that end up hitting us hard when we’re older, this book begins lightly with a child’s imaginary game and suddenly unravels into much darker, more serious themes (I’m looking at you, The Watsons Go to Birmingham). The children’s takes on the myths and ceremonies of Ancient Egypt remind me very much of the games of make-believe I played as a child, and I’ve always had a penchant for Ancient Egyptian history. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t really recommend the sequel. This book is where it’s at.

maticover26. Matilda — Roald Dahl

No list of children’s books could be complete without a Dahl book. It’s impossible not to fall in love with the bright, charming little Matilda and to root for her as she attempts to develop her mind in spite of her derisive family and abhorrent school principal. The movie adaptation of this book is excellent, but nothing can replace the classic, expressive ink illustrations that fill this book. The humor, pitfalls, and triumphs of this book are delightful, just what you would expect from Dahl.

51I+56UlczL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_7. Falling Up — Shel Silverstein

I’m not really well-versed in literary poetry, but I’ve memorized every page of my beloved Shel Silverstein anthology. Every one of his smart, and even openly mocking little poems reflects his personal style, one that I’ve come to recognize and enjoy immensely. It’s hard not to appreciate these simple rhymes paired with matching ink drawings.

I made an airplane out of stone…

I always did like staying home.

Tell me you didn’t chuckle… at least internally.

little-princess-book-cover8. A Little Princess — Frances Hodgson Burnett

This story is a classic tale of, not rags to riches, but the reverse. Though it isn’t exactly realistic, readers can empathize with the tragedy that the little princess faces and share her joy when she finally has her happy ending. It belongs in the class of books with novels like The Secret Garden – stories of children growing and changing, undergoing hardships that I couldn’t really imagine, and ending up in good places by following their instincts of morality and hoping that their situations would eventually improve.

Book.littlehouseonprairie9. Little House on the Prairie Series — Laura Ingalls Wilder

I feel like most people know what this wildly successful (I’m not sure if I want that to be a pun or not) series is about, and a lot of people act like they think it’s silly. Personally, I think everyone can find some place in his or her heart with which to love this series. Something about the way frontier families lived seems to continue to fascinate people. I don’t think this kind of heartwarming story will ever go out of style.

lemony_snicket_a_series_of_unfortunate_events_the_bad_beginning_cover10. A Series of Unfortunate Events — Lemony Snicket

At a whopping thirteen volumes, A Series of Unfortunate Events is one of the longest and most depressing series I read in elementary, and the steadily increasing length of the volumes began to put an increasing weight on both my young arms and my psyche. Nevertheless, I fought hard on library websites and in the stacks to secure at least three books ahead of the book I was currently reading should I find that the book I needed was gone the next day. Why? Because every book, every unique adventure was fantastic. I wanted so badly to see justice for the Baudelaire siblings and a torturous end for the most clearly evil villain I knew of, Count Olaf. I was inspired by the genius of the children, particularly Violet, and their maturity in the midst of all the incompetent adults around them gives hope that some day, the children may finally get the happy ending they deserve.

A_wrinkle_in_time_digest_200711. A Wrinkle in Time Quintet — Ruth Stiles Gannett

This series is known to be one of the greatest works of juvenile fiction, and for good reason. To me, one of the most striking features of the series is the range of situations covered in the books, particularly the first one. From the life of a troubled schoolgirl to quasi-psychedelia and from budding romance to the G-rated version of the world of 1984, this book truly has a lot going on. It’s relatable yet fantastical and undeniably heartening – what more can you ask from a children’s book?

phantomtollbooth12. The Phantom Tollbooth — Norton Juster

There is no doubt that you missed something the first time you read The Phantom Tollbooth. To a child, this book is not much more than a wild adventure of a young boy through a strange land. To those who appreciate word play, the book is teeming with punning and clever witticisms. To those looking for a life lesson, they will most certainly find one. This book seems to me to be seeking to instill an appreciation for learning in readers of all ages, and it does so in a playful, and original way.

Happy reading!

Note: Sorry about the atrocious formatting…. WordPress, you’re killing me!

Reblog — How to write a headline 101.

I have expressed my dislike for partisanship before; this is a neat little example of why. Props, Annie.

Small World, Smaller Girl

I’m a pretty big proponent of journalism, free press and media in general. But, as politics grows more divisive, I’m getting to be a little peeved by the same trend in news.

Today was just a normal day, with me checking my news from the Trending section of Facebook instead of doing my homework, when I see a topic called Washington State Capitol.  There’s a section called the live feed, where anyone who posts about that particular topic can have their  two second of input before disappearing into who-knows-where. And looking at that section for this particular section, I see two alternating headlines:

Tea Partiers Tear Down Chinese Flag At Washington State Capitol – Huffington Post

democrat flies communist flag AT washington-state-capitol until patriots come take it Down – foxnews

I get it. I’m a journalist too. Headlines sell, political propaganda to your fellow party members sells and money and pushing your…

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(read in one breath.)

On my most recent physics quiz, I answered the second question correctly, not because I understood the question, but because I knew the answer – it was a repeat from previous quiz -, and things didn’t get much better from there; specifically, I quickly found that I had transferred my correct answer to question five, A, over to the margin as B, changed the answers to questions six, ten, and eleven all from accurate answers to incorrect ones, completely butchered three more simple calculations, and skipped number twenty four, giving me a final score of 64, although, in spite of it all, I’m still told something that I don’t really believe: I could still make a 5 on the AP exam.

Have a little faith.

Much like the next person, I spend a lot more time considering my flaws than coddling myself for my best traits, but I have pinpointed a character trait of mine which I find to be quite agreeable: that is that I have the unwavering belief that people act with the best of intentions. It’s a very naive belief, and I know this, but for some reason I never doubt that everyone around me at least subconsciously considers the possible outcomes of their actions and what effect they would have on others.

This conviction of mine leads me to have some more pleasant characteristics to offset my arrogance and often scathing candor. I tend to be very open with people whom I judge to be thoughtful or interesting. This summer I was placed in an environment full of people I had never encountered before, and within a week I found myself wanting to spend my entire day with my new friends, laughing with them, crying with them, and telling them every thought I dared to think. Along with this trusting nature comes abundant forgiveness. I don’t hold grudges against people for long, and if I find that I misjudged someone, I am quick to take back my ignorant opinions and entirely reform them.

Though it may sound idealistic, I strongly believe that everyone has the ability to think critically about their actions, and if we were all to think only a little bit more carefully about how our choices will play out, society could be a much more harmonious and empathic.

I preach about emotional restraint and pay tribute to the breathtaking Mr. Spock.

Humorous, yes?
Humorous, yes?

It is needless to point out that I am most definitely a Trekkie. Sorry not sorry. Though he is hailed most often for his nearly unshakeable logic, Mr. Spock brings much more to the 1960s television show Star Trek than may initially meet the eye. Through his suave composure and apparent lack of emotion (which is in fact not the case), viewers can learn a lot more than how to issue relentless and quite probably cynical rationalizations.

It is my opinion that Spock serves as fine example of a man(?) with an intensely powerful mind and an equally firm control over it. Rash, unadvisable actions are often excused as the results of unavoidable human nature, a tame expression for the animalistic instincts which Vulcans are proposed to have completely discarded in favor of calm analysis. The ability to set aside these intense, fiery emotions and examine a situation as a third party is rather difficult, but it is also the essential premise of maturity. Completely preventing personal sentiments as well as factors beyond one’s control from clouding one’s perspective is a truly admirable skill bestowed upon only a few, if any. The vast majority of people, including Spock, will never be able to reach a point of total control, and for many, not even moderate control; however, emotional limitation is something we should all strive to achieve, as it would definitely make individuals and societies more coherent, empathic, and serene.

The term “emotional restraint” may seem a bit terrifying. Indeed, a society of passionless people of total deprival sounds more than slightly depressing. The variation in the levels of mental control people have achieved is part of what makes us interesting and diverse as a species and a society. Without some zeal and vigor, our world would certainly be different, and probably not in a positive way.

Something brief must also be said of the Vulcan salute “live long, and prosper”. These well-wishes seem rather shallow in light of the developed mindset of Vulcan’s, especially if the meaning of the word prosper is limited to its financial implications. Ultimately, however, these are the objectives we live for. Upon hearing these words, I can’t help but imagine them as a summary of the world view of some special brand of alien philosopher-hippies: “have a fantastic life”.

Counterpoints credited to Li.