Friday, September 27, 2013

The Interface

If my classes aren't giving me a lot of homework, then why do I still go to bed after midnight almost every night? Oh right - college apps...

I wrote last week about how college apps have been giving me existential crises. Feeling better this week, more like I know who I am, but new questions continue to arise. For example: I may know approximately who I am. But how can I convey that to other people?

Earlier today, for Lit I wrote an in-class essay on The Man in the High Castle and how one character in particular chooses to present himself as different from he is, and how the deception falls through. The entire book is basically about the subjectivity of the reality we perceive and the malleability of fact/reality. So my mental space is all about identity and deception today.

We tell stories about who we are through how we look/speak/behave/&c. Questions I'd like to address: how accurate/complete are those stories? How are they built up? How reducible?

I'll start with the second question, because Theodora Goss has already written about it. Style is, to summarize what I got out of her post - which may not be exactly what she intended, but that's another interface, isn't it? the one between writer and reader - the expression of your personality through external factors. You develop an individual style - of dressing, of writing, of living - through items or actions or habits or _____ that conflict the least with who you are/that are the most honest expression of your self.

So style is choice - but do you have to choose? Deborah Tannen says that "there is no unmarked woman", meaning that for women, no choices relating to appearance are default. Every choice you make on what to wear and how to wear it says something about you. I'm not sure if I agree that this applies only to women, or to every woman the same degree. There are conspicuous and inconspicuous choices.

For example: prior to my MIT alumni interview (which went reasonably well) I was looking up a lot of interview-related advice and etiquette on das Interwebz, and on one thread the OP asked something along the lines of "I have dyed pink hair, should I dye it a conventional color prior to my interview?"

Most of the responses approximated "it'll be fine, things will be better for you down the line if you're honest about who you are; if you are otherwise professional then you should be okay." One commenter said, and I paraphrase, "leave you hair as it is. It could be a good way to talk about what's important to you, because clearly if you dye your hair pink then you feel strongly about something."

That comment struck me, because the converse is not true: if you don't have pink hair, then you don't feel strongly about something returns False. So conspicuous choices in appearance tell people more about you right away, but lack of such distinguishing characteristics does not mean there is nothing to be said.

My college counselor has said that I am like a geode. I'm pretty quiet, I give off the impression of being another boring Asian nerd, but on the inside I am - well, you know me. I won't claim that I'm interesting, but I'm less boring than I look. So (we're moving to question 1 now) the story that I - and many others - convey to the world is accurate, as far as it goes, but not complete.

I doubt that anyone's story is ever complete. Even people who make a big deal about what they believe in, what they stand for, what matters to them - even people who advertise who they are in every detail of their appearance and behavior - even they must have parts of themselves hidden away. My best friend does not know everything about me; I am sure I do not know everything about her.

We can interface with other people, but we can't get at their source code.

How, then (returning to the college app question), can you show who you are on paper? The reducibility question - how do you distill your self into 500 words? Transcripts don't tell much of a story: oh, hey, another hard-working kid who stuck with one foreign language and one elective for years. Great! Now what else?

I don't know how reducible I am. I'm wrestling with that now, as I've said, through college essays. I know I can't get everything onto the paper. But what few things give the contour of my personality? What telling details illustrate my character?

Interviews are supposed to make up for the holes in the application - but I feel as though I come across better in writing than in person. So it's all down to the essays...

A few metaphors that are popping into my head:
-essay is a ship, and different facets of the self are people - who gets to come on board as an ambassador to another nation?
-essay is a traveling bag - what is essential?
-essay is a guided tour through the country of your mind - what sights/sites are essential?
-essay is a thing I must work on now. Thus, I bid thee fare well.

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