Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Creating in the Spaces

Somehow it is already week nine. I am always worried about wasting time, yet I find it easy to lose momentum and drop the ball on important things like talking to professors or looking on companies' websites for interview dates on campus. After that week where I had five professional-content conversations, I took last week off mentally and did none of that.

I'm kind of exhausted. Winter Quarter is hard, they say. I've been doing fine academically but I'm just tired most of the time.

I miss certain people: people here of whom I saw more last quarter or earlier this quarter, friends from high school, my cat. I'm preemptively missing people on my hall who will live across campus next year, and my friends who are going abroad this spring.

But things are going reasonably well this week. I finally made the time to sit down and work on Ubermadchen for an hour, and it was fantastic. The story misses me. I got to write one of those scenes today that you wait for, that you love to write, the kind of scene where the words just flow because this is a scene that you finally see and get.

I wonder what other scenes will show up that will function this way for me. I didn't plan out the Austria section in as great detail as the rest because it's at the end of the story and I was tired at that point. But I need to think of cool things to include, because writing is difficult but it should also be fun. The carefully plotted story may be easier to write but I need outlets for creative work.

Speaking of which, I've started carrying around a small sketchbook. Yesterday in ODEs the prof was reviewing matrix algebra, which I got last quarter, so I decided to draw:

Und der Haifisch ist nie still
Soundtrack would be a mashup of "Haifisch" and "Rosenrot" (both by Rammstein).
Siehst du mich?
Inspired by the Unheilig song "Damien."
My friend mentioned Harry Potter so I drew a lightning bolt. But if you can have Blitzkrieg, why not Donnerkrieg?

I think I was going for the German indie film poster look. And it is quite fun just to play around with ideas, visual cues or themes, and let it get weird. That's something that I think I have been missing--letting things get weird. Do you see a theme in my recent posts? I want to take things seriously, and so I forget to let in light and creativity.

But I need that. I need a creative outlet, and the little pockets of time when I could be wasting time on my phone I should be using to do anything creative. I'm trying to get more mileage out of my notebook. It's a process, carving out time for your creativity.

Three weeks left in the quarter: week 9, 10, and finals. I can do this, and I can bring the light with me.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Two-Item Menu

Some firsts this week:
  • First time falling off my bike and injuring myself, first time wearing an Ace bandage (pun opportunity! see bottom of post if you don't get it), first time having to use bandages in college.
  • First time going to a musical performance (the Stanford Jazz Orchestra concert) and a theatrical performance (the Flying Treehouse show) this quarter, first time doing both in one week.

The second set of firsts is sadder than the first.


This month it is fair to say that I've worked reasonably hard. For a freshman, of course--none of my classes are that hard yet, but I did take three midterms in February along with a whole lot of extracurricular stuff. Also, because I am a freshman, I haven't developed the best strategies for work-life balance, so I get bored and lonely while doing work and then wander into the hall and end up talking to people for hours and finish up homework in the early hours or give up the weekend to assignments.

The point is that I'm working harder than I ever did in high school and my body is telling me, in more or less obnoxious ways, that I'm going about things wrong. Most notably, as I bike along Campus Drive and signal a left turn while going over a relatively minor break in the road, my mind blanks for a minute and suddenly "oh no, I appear to have lost control of my bike" "oh no, this is bad" "aha, that's the ground."

No serious injuries, just some scrapes and a sore wrist (most likely not sprained), but it is somewhat of an inconvenience because my left hand cannot grip very well so I'm not using my bike for the moment. I haven't injured myself this seriously before (which probably tells you something about how circumscribed my childhood was) and thus I am unsure of where the line is between proper caution and just being a wimp. I am not fond of feeling like a wimp, but I wonder if I am.

Anyway, I'm going to be fine. I always wear my helmet while biking, and it could have been worse.


But let me tell you about the performances I saw.

I go to school with some damn talented people, and I realized earlier this week that I have not been doing much to appreciate those talents. Also, I have not been to Cantor this quarter, and hadn't gone to any performances. Which is a crying shame, so I fixed the latter (will work on the former. Maybe not this weekend but soon).

The Jazz Orchestra concert on Wednesday was the first time I've been in Bing Concert Hall for a performance and oh my goodness what a beautiful venue. I had put on my (only) casual dress because I didn't want to be overdressed but thought jeans would be indecorous, and I wished that I had worn my (only) formal dress instead. A lot of people in the audience were dressed casually but it would have been good to dress to suit how special and wonderful the concert was.

I've never been a big fan of jazz, since in high school I played non-jazz instruments--flute for an unfortunate few months in freshman year, euphonium until the end--but now that I'm a trombone player I suppose I should get to know the full range of how the instrument can be used to sound amazing.

The guest soloist was bari sax player Aaron Lington, and they played a number of his original arrangements. The final number they played was "Sup," which I particularly enjoyed. I don't think the recordings from Wednesday's performance are up (or will be available for free anytime soon), so here is the song played by the FMCMEA Honor Jazz Band:

A good song with which to end. I grinned the whole walk home.


On Thursday, I saw the Flying Treehouse show. FTH is a group that works with second graders on creative writing, and then turns those stories into short plays/sketches. As one would expect, the results are really, really fun to watch. They reminded me of the stories and games that I made up with my friends--full of strange characters, lots of dragons, drama, a mix of quotidian and fantastical settings, casual violence, and intermingling of things that one would not think go together, such as crocodiles and roller coasters.

On the crocodile-and-roller-coaster sketch--that one was startlingly deep (as were some others). One line in particular that struck me was "I've been looking at life through a two-item menu!"

Because that's kind of how I operate, and I've been realizing gradually, recently, that the way I live life is probably somewhat boring. There was a picture on the Humans of New York site last Saturday of a professional-looking guy in a suit, giving the camera a rueful look, with the quote "I should have made more mistakes."

And I feel that. Not because I want to screw up my grades or start drinking (I have very strong reasons that will prevent me from ever using substances, so don't worry that I will succumb to vice) but because I've lived in a metaphorical box* for essentially my whole existence. My favorite teacher from middle school told me, and I quote, "You're very smart, but you always put yourself in a box. Try getting out of it and see what happens."

So in high school I joined clubs and branched out and found myself in leadership positions in a few organizations and started thinking of myself as ambitious and thought that that meant that I had emerged from my box. But the perimeter is ever-expanding, and becoming a full human being means more than just doing more work for the things you're already doing.

I'm not sure exactly where I'm going with this, but my point is that at some point between elementary school and now I developed tunnel vision and it has gotten particularly bad this quarter. Tunnel vision is not a strategy optimal for health or for happiness, and I'm going to try to expand my mind.

Have a good weekend.


* Also a closet: as it turns out, I am asexual. If you know me IRL sorry that I'm not telling you this in person, but I've come out to my hall already and it seems unlikely that it'll emerge in a normal conversation, and it's not something I particularly want to keep dodging around here. Also I just finished a spiel about taking more risks. As a final note, if you know me IRL and are in any way surprised by this revelation, you really need to reevaluate your observational skills.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


On Saturday, I spent the day at the Monterey Bay Aquarium with my Environmental Literacy class. I have not been to the aquarium in a few years, and looked forward to the trip immensely.

Picture- and introspection-heavy post ahead.

Squid - InnerPartySystem


It's been a long, long week and I needed some alone time pretty badly. (I'm writing this post on Saturday, so that is why the time words don't seem to line up.) Right away, I split off from the main group and went to the exhibit called The Open Sea. A dark, winding space with brightly lit windows into tanks backed in blue.

First were the jellies. We arrived at the start of the day, when it was not so crowded, so I could go right up to the tanks and stare, just stare, at the jellies hanging silently in the blue.

One reason I love the ocean is, I think, that it seems timeless. Things are constantly in flux in the ocean, of course, but things change and stay the same and it is an alien enough world that I can recognize the global stability resulting from local chaos. When I am standing there in the darkness staring at a tank full of moon jellies, I can forget about time.

If I believed in souls, I would say that the ocean is lodged somewhere in my soul. It runs in my veins. It reminds me, again and again, that I am small and inconsequential and that even if I am weak and feeble and confused, that people have always had problems and mine are no worse than those that have been overcome.

That was a lie. The ocean does not remind me. It lets me forget that my problems exist. It reminds me that they do not really matter.


Then I got to the Open Sea tank. And I stood there for a long time, staring and staring at the life going around.

I saw giant tuna. I saw schools of fish in turmoil, coordinated movement an emergent system from hundreds of minds in concert.

I saw my brethren, the shark and the ray.

Why do I identify with these animals? I could not tell you. Perhaps because they are weird and slightly disconcerting and still powerful and fast and majestic, and I wish I could say that about myself but I certainly cannot. Either way, I love them.


Which is why this work of displayed art really hit me hard:

This is Shark Teeth, by Chris Jordan.

From the description given next to the picture:
From the photo illustration series Running the Numbers II, this piece offers a detailed view of thousands of fossilized shark teeth--the estimated number of sharks killed worldwide every day for their fins.

Every day.

I will not lie. While looking at this photo, I felt as though I wanted to weep. Thousands of sharks. Thousands. Every day. On the ground floor there was an exhibit about the depletion of tuna, turtle, and shark populations, and while I was looking at that I got the same feeling. A deep, visceral, wrenching emotion that was some mix of sadness and sickness.

One must try to empathize with other humans, but I do not understand why anyone would want to destroy such beauty.


Downstairs there was also a special exhibit called Tentacles, which displayed incredible art.

A steampunk octopus:

Contessa with Squid, by Omar Rayyan:

Night of the Ammonites, by Ray Troll:

Looking at beautiful art made me feel rather a lot better about existing. Then I saw this cuttlefish chambered nautilus (thank you LS for the correction!), who looks rather suspicious, in both senses of the word:

I do not know what it is about cephalopods that makes them so charmingly weird. But they are delightful, no?


After lunch, a few friends and I left the aquarium for about an hour to explore Monterey. We hit up the ocean and a used bookstore (remarkably, well-organized), which are really the most important things.

...and got back to the Aquarium in time for me to stare at the Kelp Forest tank. Luminous.


At the beginning of high school, when I still made time for such things, I read a lot of poetry on deviantArt. I remember a line from one poem that has stuck with me even though I can no longer find the source:

"I need the ocean like I need to breathe/And I feel so landlocked beside you."

It was an anti-love poem, of course, but it was running through my head and I think the "you" could be me. A friend recently asked me to justify my motives in not doing something and I realized that I live a very circumscribed life. I don't take a lot of risks. I don't go on a lot of adventures. I don't like to rock the boat. My way of rebelling against my all-healthcare/medicine family is...going into engineering.

To be honest, I felt kind of weird about going to the aquarium. Most of the patrons were families. It seems such a juvenile thing: a class trip to the aquarium! How cute. How trite. "Shouldn't you be doing something more serious with your time?"

But I have a hard time remembering, sometimes, the wonderstruck child I used to be, and I found her again for a moment as I sat in a porthole window and watched a hammerhead swim by. I found her as I clambered over rocks to sit closer to the water, watch the waves come in and out.

She's going to leave again--me, I mean--the me who doesn't feel like she has to have a justification for being happy--the me who can forget about time--but that's okay. Don't worry now.

The waves will come back in, and you can never outgrow the ocean.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Talking To/Like Real People

This week, I had five Real Person conversations, by which I mean I had three interviews for fellowships, one meeting with a grad student in whose lab I might work, and one conversation with a mentor I've met through the Stanford Alumni Mentorship program. A few things in common with all of these: handshakes, "tell me about yourself," "do you have any questions for me," "feel free to email if anything comes up." More handshakes.

I do not think of myself as a Real Person because I have never had a job besides tutoring, I have never lived on my own, and the most money I have made through one source is winning Italian writing competitions. But now that I am in college and applying for things, I have to seem employable.

How am I doing? I don't know. I haven't gotten accepted anywhere yet; haven't even gotten responses to most of the emails I've sent to construction companies, even the ones that were just asking for more information. Job anxiety is strong.

On the other hand, the interviewer for the fellowship that most interests me told me, flat out, that my writing sample was impressive enough that it compensated for the fact that, as a freshman, I have less technical and work experience than other applicants. At least my written communication skills are up there, even if I am not good at communicating verbally.


What worked well, and what could I work on?

Work On:
  • answer questions more directly, and have an idea of where things are going
  • redirect questions or find opportunities to talk about things that demonstrate my passion
  • stay engaged and attentive even if utterly exhausted
  • have a go-to list of questions that cover a broad spectrum, so that follow-up questions can flow naturally
  • research the organization or position a lot more pre-interview
  • smile, prove that I'm not a robot (I'm very reserved and in normal life it takes me a while to build a connection with anyone)
  • figure out what persona I'm wearing/integrate my persone in a genuine way (idealistic eager freshman? serious engineering student?), which in practice means being able to talk about my idealistic goals without having my voice jump an octave (I feel a lot more in control and competent when I'm speaking in a lower register)
  • think more about what I've done so that I'm not referring to the same projects/classes over and over

Worked Well:
  • ?????
In seriousness, I did think that I did all right. I remembered to say thank you and send thank you emails, I asked some questions that garnered lengthy and informative responses ("what are the final deliverables of this project?" "what is the state of the work to date?" "what skills would allow someone best to contribute in this position?"). I was up front about the fact that as a freshman I have less experience, and also managed to say, in more or less effective ways, that I learn quickly and that if I believe in the importance of what I am doing then I am not afraid to put in the work.


One thing I know for sure is that when I'm doing this next year, things will be easier in some ways and harder in others. I have to get something good this summer, something that will challenge me and give me valuable experience, because it's okay that I'm unproven as a freshman but as a sophomore I'll be expected to have some more substance. I'll have taken more engineering classes, which is good for some jobs and less good for some fellowships because it seems no one wants civil e except other civil e. Right now I can say that I'm fascinated by everything, and I will still be able to say that next year (hopefully), but with a more directed transcript some places might not want to give me that chance.

I don't know. I have gone to career fairs and my upperclassmen friends who see me there say "it's great that you're getting practice!" People say to chill out and not worry too much, that I have time, but I don't know if I do.

Just hoping that something good comes out of these conversations. Well, good has already come: I've identified ways to improve, and that information is always valuable.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Week Seven

Short post today because I'm busy finishing a pset. This is going to be a busy week and I really should have written this post yesterday since we had no classes, but alas. I had a pretty good interview this afternoon, and have a couple more lined up this week, so that will probably be the topic of the Friday post.

Good night, all.