Thursday, July 2, 2015

Aspiring to Laertes

This week, I've been thinking about Hamlet. A few reasons: as I mentioned, I've been corresponding with my senior year English teacher, and the Hamlet essay I wrote senior fall was one of the first essays in which I actually got value out of analyzing literature. Also, at some point in the week or so that I've been in Jakarta, I heard the song "Fix You", by Coldplay, which I associate with the play's eponymous character.



The paper I wrote in autumn 2013 analyzed Laertes through the metaphor of waves (as in, ripple effect, ocean, Claudius introducing interference to bring Laertes down to a lower frequency). I was wondering, because I am self centered, why Laertes? Undoubtedly he is the character who resonates the most with me. But why? It seems fairly obvious that I'd relate to the younger characters, but why not Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Ophelia, Horatio, Hamlet himself?

The issue with Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Ophelia is that they are powerless. I am far too arrogant to imagine having something in common with them.

What about Horatio? He is not entirely powerless, and certainly commands more respect than the three characters I dismissed in the previous paragraph. Horatio even gets to survive. Any rational person would want to be Horatio. For all that, he is defined in terms of whom he serves, and is far too patient for me to feel kinship with him.

Assuming that I am irrational, why not Hamlet? He's the main character, after all.

The issue with Hamlet is that he is indecisive and makes excuses. I am kind of like this; I have a tendency to overthink things, to philosophize. But at the same time, when I look at myself--when most people look at themselves--I see myself not as I am but as I want to be, as I think I could be, and that is not the brooding and whiny Prince of Denmark.

Which brings me to Laertes. Laertes is a man of action, who storms home from college and raises a mob as just his first step toward avenging his father's death. He joins forces with Claudius to get his revenge, entering the partnership on more or less equal terms--forcing the king's hand through his rage.

This does not sound much like me, I'll admit. But it sounds like what I want to be: the kind of person who makes things happen, who will achieve the extraordinary in defense of honor and of the people who matter. The kind of person whom others cannot ignore or laugh away.

Laertes dies and causes many deaths in turn. (Maybe if Fortinbras made more of an appearance, I'd identify with him. I'd rather not die when I win.) But so does Hamlet, and had it not been for Hamlet's dithering, Laertes would not have had act.

I am eighteen, so every journey I take is one of self-discovery and development. I am changing, growing, becoming someone I was not before or, taking the view that there exists a self which needs only to unfold, becoming someone I always could have become. I don't believe in fate but I do believe in patterns.

Right now, I have a strong, if somewhat unfocused, image of who I am "meant" to be. The paper I wrote almost two years ago about Laertes interests me because it is evidence from before college (before I crossed the singularity, remember?) that the image I carry of my unfolded, as yet only aspirational self is not something the new person I became in college invented. The roots go back farther.

Perhaps I am being too teleological. Laertes is a strong example of someone whose honor is tied to the well-being of those important to him, but the landscape of characters I've identified with throughout time is widespread.

One can see the connection between Laertes, Kazul, Mulan, Patroclus, Reyna, and Kingsley Shacklebolt. Where do Yassen Gregorovich, Sailor Mercury, and Bolin fit in?

The pattern isn't absolute. On the other hand, it's probably significant that I am not drawn to characters who are structurally vulnerable. Kazul was kidnapped but she is also the King of Dragons. Mulan is my favorite Disney princess and it surprised me when a friend said she identified with Megara because why would anyone want to identify with someone who doesn't own her own soul?*

Also, I took a lot longer to come up with the second, shorter list of incongruous names than I did to generate the first, to which I could add a whole lot more. Maybe I'm not deluding myself. Maybe, in my journey toward the person I see when I see myself, I am heading in the right direction.

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*One could argue that Mulan also exists in a vulnerable state where she could be found out as a woman, but her way of protecting the ones she loves isn't to sell her soul, it's to throw away her family's definition of what she should be and become a soldier.

While we're talking about essays I wrote in high school, once in Italian I wrote about why Mulan is my favorite because her way of satisfying filial duty also enables her liberation and self-determinance. The next time I saw my Italian teacher she said, "Buon giorno! È la nostra Mulan!"

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Of course I know my arc in broad strokes is: Octavian -> Augustus. But what does it mean, to be an Augustus? A system builder. But what systems, and how?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Indonesia First Impressions

I like it here.

Everyone that I've met at the office is terrifically friendly. The organization I'm working for does incredible work all across the country yet it still feels very much like a family business, especially since all the interns are living in the executive director's house.

Even during Ramadhan you can get three different and delicious kinds of noodles for lunch. The food is pretty fantastic in general, spicier than I am used to but so good that I don't mind much.

Jet lag kept me fairly tired the first few days.

Many, many malls everywhere, from the kind that's filled with little booths selling shirts and pants and wallets for cheap, to the expensive shiny ones filled with international designers.

A lot of mosques. Not surprising in a country that is 87% Muslim. The calls to prayer have stopped taking me quite so much by surprise.

The project is going slowly. Using a virtual machine means a lot of yak shaving.

I have been in email conversation with a mentor (my senior year English teacher, also known as the one who got me to change my perspective on the value of literature) and thinking about how this summer might change me and what degree of control I have in how I change. No solid answers as yet.

A lot of reading. Yesterday I finished The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years, by Chingiz Aitmatov. Stunning. A good book to read on vacation because for me, vacation books are immersive, complex ones that would be confusing if you read them strung out.

Not as much writing. At the office I am working (except for right now, because it's near the end of the day) and at home, it doesn't feel right to be on my computer. But I will do so, because the Ubermadchen have been very patient with me.

Still figuring out what to do with all of my free time between work and dinner. May consult my fellow interns. Of course writing is a good option but while I'm here, I might as well do things that I can't do at home.

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Apologies for missing Friday's post. I'll try to keep to the two posts a week schedule, if only as a check to make sure I'm thinking and reflecting and processing these experiences.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Indonesia Summer

As this post goes live, I will be on or boarding a plane headed for Jakarta, by way of Tokyo. I'll be in Indonesia for nine weeks (though given the days lost to travel, 8.5 is probably more accurate) implementing a project that I've been working on for the past two quarters with a team of students.

I am nervous and excited, both. I still can't quite believe that this is actually happening, because this is the kind of opportunity that I would have been too scared to take if my roommate hadn't talked some sense into me. It's happening. It's finally happening.

What am I afraid of? I am afraid that our system's components will break and that I'll arrive empty-handed. I'm afraid that I won't be smart enough to figure out the problems that will inevitably arise in the field. I'm afraid that I will make a fool of myself. I am afraid that my coworkers won't like me. I am afraid that I'll get malaria or rabies and die. I am afraid that I will find myself unequal to the challenges that confront me. I am afraid that my fear will hold me back from experiencing this summer as fully as it deserves to be experienced.

What am I looking forward to? I am looking forward to meeting the amazing people who work at our partner NGO. I am looking forward to trying new foods (even if they are spicy). I am looking forward to getting the chance to work in a professional environment. I am looking forward to seeing parts of West Java that are beyond the big cities. I am looking forward to having time to read. I am looking forward to having time to write. I am looking forward to learning about the challenges of rural development through green technology, about the technical aspects of microgrids and distgen, and about contemporary and traditional Javanese and Sundanese culture.

I am looking forward to relearning how to be alone with myself, because during the school year people are always close at hand, and that's lovely, but I need to check in with myself and see again who I am when I'm on my own. For all that I talked about how much I've changed, a lot of who I am at any given moment is environment. On Sunday evening I lost my temper at my parents over a very minor issue, and I never would have done that at school because at Stanford there are environmental factors hindering my ability to be the petulant child that I still occasionally am.

I am looking forward to eating Indomie noodles.

My university is less than half an hour away from my house. I've never really lived away from home for an extended period of time, and I am looking forwards to it.

I am looking forward to having a regular, responsible sleep schedule. Since I'll have a day job I will need to wake up early, and since I'm cautious I won't be staying out late, and will probably be too tired of staring at screens to waste too much time on my computer in the evening.

I am looking forward to practicing my Bahasa Indonesia. I only know the most basic stuff, but I think I know enough not to be completely useless, and I'll have to learn on the fly, through immersion. While I don't expect to be fluent by the end of the summer, I would like to think that I'll be able to carry on an informal conversation.

Do I know what to expect? No. I've never done this before. When I think about the near future I think of myself in sophomore year, since that's something I can readily imagine. This? I have no roadmap for this.

Let us see how I fare.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Ubermadchen Spring 2015 Progress Report

Covering the period from the end of March to now.

Words: about 10000 story words + about 3700 words of planning.
Time elapsed (story): about one week.
Time elapsed (real): 12 weeks.

Hohensalzburg Fortress
(src)
What these numbers tell me is that my writing output dropped a whole lot in Spring Quarter. There were quite a few weeks where I only wrote on one day, which is significantly worse than writing twice a week because you lose a lot of momentum that way. The trick is to make sure that not too many days go by between writing sessions, so that the story remains fresh and you're not scrambling to remember where you are.

The huge portion of the wordcount that comes from planning words is significant. That's the planning for the Salzburg section, which is one of the last BIG sections. I made a point to plan it out a lot, because a lot of important things happen in this section and I want to make sure that I don't leave any of it out of the plan.

I've been working on Ubermadchen for over a year now, and I have to admit that some of the shine is wearing off. That could also be because I've been away from the story for a long time, not having really sunk into it since the drowning scene in early March, and now, rather than backing off, I should be leaning in even further. I should be going deep for the Salzburg section.

The trouble is that I told myself that I'd finish the entire story by the end of the summer. Now, if I could count on the wordcounts I was getting last summer, that would be no problem. But I almost certainly will not see that kind of output, because I'm going to be in Indonesia starting next Tuesday for nine weeks, and I will be busy working, traveling, living, growing.

So I think...I think that I'm going to take off that deadline. I knocked out Orsolya in under a year and so I thought I'd get Ubermadchen done in a comparable length of time, but I'm already over 180000 words and most of Salzburg is still unwritten, not to mention the dramatic grand finale and the substantial denouement (because there are parallel structures in this story, and the surface action plot is wrapped up before the emotional/bildungsroman one). It's going to be another while before this thing is done.

Let's say, rather, that I should aim to finish the book by next Spring Break, because if all goes well, then that's when I'll be heading to Germany for several months.

I intend several things with resetting the deadline.

First, I don't want to pressure myself to finish a book while I'm in Indonesia, because I think that I will benefit more long-term if I can focus outward on what I am living and learning. This is my first real jump into a totally unfamiliar situation, and I can see myself using my writing to anchor myself, and transmuting my personal growth into the growth of the girls as characters, but I don't want to rush anything. Salzburg is an important section, and I want to be able to take my time with it and explore what this part means.

Second, I still do want to have a deadline. I like to have goals, to have plans. Some intermediate deadlines therefore need to come into place:
  • Summer 2015: Salzburg, journey to Graz, extensive planning for Graz.
  • Autumn 2015: Graz. Graz is a huge, important section, and I'm assuming much better writing output than I have demonstrated thus far this school year in saying that I can get Graz done in one quarter. But I'm going to try.
  • Winter 2016: Vienna and aftermath. This is probably doable, so there's some breathing room in here if I don't finish Graz by the end of 2015.

But really, I should be starting on Graz by the end of this summer if I want to make my deadline. The journey to Graz from Salzburg can probably be compressed, since there's nothing to send the girls off track at that point. I haven't done the plotting for Graz yet but I will want to allocate planning time.

A third reason why I want to finish Ubermadchen before I (hopefully) leave for Berlin: I think that being there, I'd want to write something else, something new. Of course, this reasoning isn't very strong because if it's about being in a new place, well, Indonesia is new also. Writing something non-Eurocentric there makes more sense. But I'm not really one of those people who can set aside a story mid-flow and come back to it, so I'm going to forge ahead with Ubermadchen, and take in Indonesia, and besides, new experiences take time to sink in. Maybe by the time I get to Berlin, I'll have grokked Indonesia enough to write something with it.

Anyway--here I go again, getting caught up in all my future plans. What have I learned from this season of writing?

The biggest lesson is an admonishment: write a little more often. Momentum helps a lot. Continuity helps a lot. Keeping your story close to your mind.

Maps are fantastic.

Don't get so caught up in historical accuracy that you forget that you're writing a fantasy novel. Take some liberties. Looking stuff up less frequently will also improve flow.

Focus. If you're going to write, just write. Put on an album so you're not fiddling with changing your music.

Remember to pause sometimes and think through your magic system and write things out to make sure that your solution to the big plot problem actually makes sense. Longhand is good for collating information, drawing graphs and charts, making big-picture connections.

You've done this twice and you don't give up. You have swum out farther to sea than this. You can dive deep, and need not have any fear of drowning.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

One Commit Behind

Being at home is weird.

I moved out of my dorm last Thursday, and have been at home ever since. Getting ready for Indonesia. Rereading books. Writing (less than one would think) in Ubermadchen. Trying to overcome my natural activation energy and getting more familiar with the technical aspects of networks and servers and a whole host (ha) of topics that are new to me.

Wondering if people see me when they look at me.

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Car Radio - twenty one pilots

Thank you to LS for being my source of good music, as usual. This song would be better suited to a post where I took a good hard look at who I am and the good/bad/ugly, but I'm including it with this more self-indulgent post because I've been listening to it on repeat for most of today.

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I've made a big deal out of how much I've changed since coming to college, and I'm always surprised when I come back to people who have, themselves, changed, and we treat one another as if no time has passed. I'm a different person, I feel that, but it sounds silly in my head when I'm with family, friends, who only knew me when.

Much of our identity is tied to our environment. But I'd like to hold on to the changes that I've made. When I am with people who think of me as a dependent, as someone incapable of executing the most basic household duties, as a kid, can I still be the independent and competent adult that I am trying to become?

Partially because we moved right after I left for college, I feel disconnected from the me that graduated high school. The house and room that I made my own, the familiar neighborhood, the daily routines, all disappeared at once. The person went away more slowly but there's little enough that is left, physically, as a reminder.

In the last few weeks of school one of my friends remarked that the most difficult act is to stay silent. I disagreed immediately. Silence is easy. It is easy to hold your cards close to your chest, to let on nothing about your thoughts and opinions. Harder is to speak up for yourself and present who you are, especially to people for whom that may be surprising. Harder yet is to speak up in a way that isn't petulant, that isn't defensive. In a way that will get respect.

That's the biggest thing, I think: how can I earn my parents' respect? My grades are fine but this is gold-sticker stuff that I've been doing for years. I'm trying hard to do this planning for Indonesia correctly because I really want it to go well. I really want to prove that I can work in a professional environment and execute a project.

Since coming home I've felt less able to experience the delight that I often felt at school over delightful experiences such as contra dances or performances. In part this is because there are fewer such events; in part this is because I can't trust that child-like will not get conflated with childish, and I can't seem like a child.

The feeling of needing to prove yourself is pretty common for people my age, I'd guess. The frustrating part is that I've changed, for the better I think, and am trying to push those changes out to the world. But I am not apparently doing a good enough job of it, because people at home still seem one commit behind the master branch of me.

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No apologies for the Github analogy. Minor apologies for the self-indulgence and whininess of this post.