Friday, June 27, 2014

College App Advice, pt. 3: Essays

In April, I published two posts on the college app process, one on pre-work and the other on peripheral work.

This, the third (and probably last) post in the series, is the BIG ONE. College apps for US colleges are, unlike the evil-sounding gaokao in China, based on your performance over the past four years. The application's resume-like section covers this, of course, but the essays are your chance to show the colleges who you are in your own words.

Since this is a big topic, I've divided it into a few sections: procedures, content, and getting help.


But first, read these:

Both are from the wonderful MIT admissions blogs and helped me a lot. This post will still be here when you're done.


(See? Still here.)


Most people write their essays in fall semester senior year. Some super sharp people (not me) got theirs done during the summer. I ended up writing my Common App essay on events that happened at the end of the summer, but even I would recommend: start earlier rather than later. At least start thinking about your content a month before your first deadline.

I have friends who got into very good schools who wrote their essays the day they were due. That may work for you, but I prefer to left-justify on long assignments. And I still submitted some applications very close to the deadline.

What my procedure looked like: I worked with a college counselor, and the first thing she did was have me write freely about all the stuff I did in high school--all the meaningful classes, organizations, experiences, etc. My personal projects. My goals. That kind of stuff. So my first step with any essay was to go over the open-ended material I produced and copy-paste it into a fresh document.

Then the iteration started. Look at the prompt but don't refer to it slavishly. Synthesize the stuff you have while adding new material and connections as needed. Build a structure. Realize that it sucks. Break it apart and keep going. Get feedback at various points in the loop. Ignore word count.

When you have an essay with a good, clear structure, which says what you want it to, from which your personality shines, then it's time to pull out the scalpel and cut it down to the required length. Compression is difficult: look for redundancies and get rid of them. At some point, if, like me, you overwrite a lot, you'll have to cut out awesome substantial content and it will hurt. But most of the time it's more likely that what you're cutting is fluff.

For later essays, you'll find that because many prompts are similar, that you can take bits and pieces from earlier essays and include those in your bucket of raw materials. This doesn't significantly change the process. On very lucky occasions, you can use a whole old essay for a new prompt, or you can slap two essays together, fix up the transition, and call it a day.

But those are variations on the theme of: get a mass of raw material, agonizingly get out a first draft, rearrange and rewrite as needed, get a decent iteration, distill/compress, polish.

Some essays I didn't do like this. Some, I approached the word count from the bottom, struggling to get out enough words. These were, I am sorry to say, the "why do you want to come to *this* school" essays for my lower targets/safeties. For these, I developed a template:

  • intro: my strengths/intellectual DNA
  • body: the specific opportunities at the school that I'd use
  • conclusion: my career aspirations--what I'd use my education to do

But above all, do what works for you. You'll find out, as you go through the process, which procedures work and which don't.

Some specific things that helped me during any given writing session:

  • embrace the SFD principle
  • change your font color to white to defy the urge to edit as you go
  • write phrases, even if they're ugly, and underline them so you know you have to fix them later
  • write different versions of the same sentence one after another
  • during compression: periodically copypaste into an empty document, strip of all formatting, and do a word count
  • change to a different font when rereading

Remember to run a spell-check and grammar-check at the very end.

How important is it to be a "good writing"? Writing well aids communication and is rarely a bad thing, but I would guess that, above a certain baseline of competence, strength of content matters more than being "a good writer."



What are you going to write about? Content, like procedure, is an individual thing. People will tell you not to write about a certain topic because it's "overdone." My college counselor advised me to keep a positive focus: if you're talking about problems, focus more on the overcoming, the learning from, than the wallowing.

In my case, the positive light did improve the essay. But I won't tell anyone that an entire subject is "off-limits" just because it seems cliche. An experience happened to you. If it meant anything to you, then you can write a strong, individual essay about it.

The point of the college essay, as I see it, is to introduce the university to you. Who are you? The denotative content--the topic of your essay--is important; the approach you take to your subject matter also signals something about who you are.

As I mentioned above, it helps the writing process if you already have a large written pool of reflection on your experiences. What did you do the past four years? Your school activities, your extracurrics, your side projects?

The only metric I found useful for selecting which things to write about was this: how much did this matter to me? In practical terms, what can I write about for a whole essay?

Thus, my longest essay (Common App) was about band. I also devoted essays to the BC league, to volunteering, etc. Some line items on the "resume" part of the application remained there.

My guess is that passion and dedication (and leadership, if applicable) to any pursuit is attractive to universities. This doesn't mean pretend to be interested in things that don't interest you. This means write about the things that do interest you so you actually have stuff to say.

On the "what major" essay: colleges know that people don't necessarily know in high school what they want to do, so if you don't have a clue then there is nothing wrong with that. I happen to have an idea, so I just answered the question.

Side note: I've heard, whether rightly or wrongly, that private colleges care more about the essays than public universities do.


Getting Help

Should you get a college counselor? I used a college counselor, and she was incredibly helpful. I'm still debating the morals of that move: on one hand, I am a piece of trash for upholding class divisions and maybe I don't deserve to go to Stanford because without my college counselor my essays wouldn't have been as good. On the other hand, the system is broken anyway and I'm a human who would prefer not to think of herself as a piece of trash.

Leaving aside questions of morality: If your family can afford it, a private college counselor may have a high ROI. Different counselors will click more or less with different students, but based on my observations, the most effective counselors are the ones with whom you'll get one on one time to workshop your essays.

If you can't or don't want to get a counselor, then I recommend enlisting a current or past English or history teacher to help you look over your work. Teachers are busy, but if you have established a good rapport then most will be willing to work with you once in a while during lunch or a free period.

I did not share my essays with friends. Not because I'm afraid that my friends would have stolen my ideas--how could they have? Our experiences are individual. Your essays are your representative to universities, and your friends' interpretations of prompts could influence you to be derivative. But this, again, is an individual choice.


If you're reading this post as someone who has gone through the college app process, I would appreciate if you added your advice. Did I leave something out? Make an error?

If you're reading this post as someone for whom college apps are in the present or future, good luck, and let me know if you have questions. Having been through the whole ordeal, I'd like to help those who come after me to make it suck less.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

China Writing Inventory

As of Sunday morning, I am back in the US after sixteen days in China. The visit inspired a myriad of thoughts around family, high school, cultural differences, racism/racial profiling, and the importance of traffic regulations.

I may explore some of these topics in later posts, but today I'm taking inventory of my creative output during the trip. Spoiler: there was a lot.


In my sixteen days, I used up 33 sheets (=66 pages) in the orange notebook--the space between the two sticky notes, pictured above. That is about a third of the notebook. It averages to about two sheets, or four pages, per day.

What did I write on those pages?

First, I wrote a lot of poetry. I set myself a challenge to write a poem every day or every two days, and I found that it's actually easier to do something daily than to skip a day. It becomes habit, automatic. I haven't kept this up since I returned, because I've been working on other projects, but writing that much poetry in a short amount of time was a challenge I'll consider repeating.

I wanted to write more substantial poems than I have traditionally, so the poems run longer. Theodora Goss's post about writing poetry happened to drop in the middle of the trip, and when I read her admonishment that you shouldn't start by writing freeverse, I took that as a challenge to explore different forms. I ended up writing two sonnets, one Petrarchan and one Shakespearean, and a new sonnet, no matter how bad, is more of an accomplishment than another bad freeverse poem.

In total, I wrote fifteen poems. Some were, indeed, awful freeverse poems. Others I kind of like, and after polishing some more will post on this site. (By the way, I'm in the process of updating this site as promised, and have created new Novels and Short Works pages for your perusal.)

So much for poetry. The bulk of the pages I wrote hosted prose-related planning--no actual prose, because in the early days I got stuck when I tried doing prose and so I ended up making a bunch of mind maps and other such things.

I intended, from the start of the trip, to plan out or brainstorm many stories. My tendency to do long projects means that vast tracks of my mental space remain unmapped, and I have a lot of loose ends hanging--stories with a handful of characters and a vague idea of a world or conflict.

In total, I did work in eleven worlds, some including multiple stories. As I went on through the trip, some practices began to emerge from the work. Here are some of the forms of work I did on stories:

  • a mind map to get out all my preexisting thoughts, characters, etc.
  • a mind map to identify topics of research
  • story bones noting background (initial conditions), inciting incidents, main conflicts, climax, resolution, and denouement (I saved this one for stories that are already pretty far along)
  • story atmosphere including a half-page mindmap on what kind of "feel" I want the story to have, with the rest of the page devoted to synthesizing the nodes generated
  • family trees
  • straight-up imperative worldbuilding and plotting (this is how some structure works in this story)
  • character studies/character ensemble studies

I didn't do every single one of these for every single story, of course. For many I just did a mindmap, or a mindmap and one other thing. But for my major stories, the ones you'll find on the Novels page, I would do more, with the mindmap/story bones/atmosphere/character-oriented thing combination yielding a solid grasp on what kind of work I want, eventually, to produce.

Working on this many stories over such a short time gave me a broader, work-spanning perspective I rarely get to see (because, as I mentioned, usually I'm bogged down in the middle of one long piece). I noticed some trends: my typical protagonist is young, innocent/idealistic, and powerful; I'm moving toward more stories set on the American continent; and I really like alternate history.

The broader perspective was useful in another way, which may be more subjective: it made me more optimistic about my writing future, because it proved that my mental landscape doesn't just end at the borders of my current work. Also, a lot of the stories I plotted out are novella-length and operate over a short, continuous time frame with one main character. I hope I'll be able to devote more mental space toward higher-quality writing craft on these simpler stories than I have done for past works.


The rest of the notebook pages I filled up with more personal thinking-on-paper: mindmaps for who I want to become in the future, for what my strengths/weaknesses are, that kind of thing. Unlike with my creative work, the content of these musings probably won't show up here (though, who knows? I overshare online), but I still recommend doing such self-centered thinking. You are important.


What allowed me to achieve this level of productivity?

First, I had loads of free time. When your relatives don't need your help with chores, which is all the time because they think you'll do it wrong, you're left to do your own thing.

Second, I only rarely had Wi-Fi and when I did, Google-based sites and Facebook weren't available. (I did develop an attachment to Hacker News, but I won't lament that too much because the articles are often thought-provoking.) Thus, my usual distractions were nullified.

Third, I kept a log of the trip in my small notebook. If the box for "writing" or "poem" was unfilled, then the whitespace bothered me and I wrote, story-related or verse, so I could fill the box.

Fourth, in the middle of the first week I made a list of the stories I wanted to work on, so if I ever ran out of ideas for what to do next, I could check the list. It did lead to some choice paralysis, but having the list meant that I didn't have to worry about forgetting which other stories I wanted to hit.

These points are listed in order of importance. Free time was definitely the key factor.


Is this level of output sustainable? I haven't kept it up since coming back, because things like mindmapping and poetry-writing don't scale very well. Instead, I'm working on longer-term projects, such as writing Ubermadchen, because that requires continuity and dedicated time. Scattershot early-stage planning is something to do when you're in a distractible mood, as I was on a vacation where we traveled every few days (side note: taking the train >> driving).

Some may see as implicit in that statement the assumption that long-term, words-of-story-on-page writing is superior to big-picture planning and idea exploration. That's not quite what I mean, though: I'm glad that I got this work done, and I did need a break from the writing trenches to strategize.

If a story is a vector, then the strategizing is the direction while the words are the magnitude in that direction. You need both parts.

As for the increased poetry output: we shall see.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Emergent Mind

Second week of China! Scheduled post for this week is my AP Literature final project, on the Emergent Mind.

I made a Prezi, and, since I'm one of those presenters who thinks that lots of bullet points is no fun (not to mention it would be difficult to work in with the *surprise* at the end), I thought the script of my talk would be helpful to include.

I don't exist. Or, to be more precise, "I" doesn't exist. Let me proceed, brainlike, by analogy. [->]

Behold the termite hill. As individuals, termites are rather stupid, but collectively, they display intelligence, capable of finding efficient paths to food and building nests such as the one you see. And so it is with neurons and their connections: instead of a central director calling the shots, intelligence emerges as a result of the myriad interactions and feedback loops of the group as a whole.

So maybe I lied. "I" does exist, but in a decentralized form, as an aggregate. [->]

Cartesian dualism, which postulates a strict dividing line between mind or spirit and matter, is wrong. Mind v. matter? No, mind from matter. [->] The mind is an emergent property of the neuronal substrate. The behavior of the system as a whole cannot be represented by the sum of its parts. (The technical term for this is a nonlinear system.)

What happens is that the neurons work together as a system, which intakes outside stimuli and arranges them into usable symbols. This system grows more complex and is able to create ever more powerful abstractions--ever higher-level generalizations. Finally, it creates and perceives and accepts as real the symbol representing itself.

Congratulations. You and I and all of us are nothing more than pattern-recognition machines. [->]

But we are also nothing less, and it is important to note that there is nothing reductionist about this view. Our individual experiences cause physical or chemical changes which rewire our brain's connections. These physical changes at the lower level have a ripple effect on the emergent property, the mind or self, that emerges from these structures, changing how our minds, which arise from that matter, perceive ourselves and the world. [->]

Just as with the Mandelbrot set--which should be familiar to anyone who has taken precalc at BHS--deterministic rules at a low level produce interesting, chaotic, unpredictable outcomes on a higher level. [->]

Those outcomes, of course, are our selves. We may be pattern-recognition machines, but we are fancy deluxe models. [->]

In such a chaotic system, it is not surprising to find that we often don't seem unified within ourselves. Some, such as Harry Haller of Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf, go so far as to feel as though there are two souls inside that threaten to tear the mind apart. This is an extreme view, but all of us have been taught to respond to different stimuli in different ways, which give rise to different "personas" that may, at times, seem to be in conflict with one another. These selves combine--like the neurons one level below--to create a multifaceted, whole person. [->]

This phenomenon is not intuitively strange. Consider this quote from Steppenwolf:

"[E]very ego, so far from being a unity is in the highest degree a manifold world, a constellated heaven, a chaos of forms, of states and stages, of inheritances and potentialities. It appears to be a necessity as imperative as eating and breathing for everyone to be forced to regard this chaos as a unity and to speak of his ego as though it were a one-fold and clearly detached and fixed phenomenon...The delusion rests simply upon a false analogy. As a body everyone is single, as a soul never."

We look at that and say, all right. Humans are complex creatures, each of us with a rich inner life, more or less. Indeed, we may consider it necessary to think of ourselves as one person, but we have no problem admitting that that one person has various modes. This acknowledges our individuality.

A stranger phenomenon, psychologically more repulsive, happens when we go the other way. Flip the ratio. Instead of one body holding many minds, how about one mind spread out among many bodies? [->]

Among the invertebrates, we find examples of "colony animals," including the Portuguese man of war shown here. These animals are made of many smaller suborganisms which operate as a unit in the larger ecosystem. This is another edge case, but if you've ever been in a team or a group working for some cause, then perhaps you are familiar with the experience of a collective mind, in which the boundaries between you and other "individuals" seems thinner because of your shared goals. There is no "I" in "team": we give up part of our individualism to be more aligned with others' needs. [->]

In Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (DADOES?), the human population subscribes to a quasi-religious experience called Mercerism, in which people can use "empathy boxes" to join in the suffering of a martyred old man, Mercer, climbing a desert hill while others throw stones at him. They do not merely sympathize with or pity Mercer: rather, they share in his pain, feeling it as their own. [->] This is similar to the merging of the Self with the Whole found in many eastern religions. [->]

And empathy, even in less extreme forms, emerges as the factor that many cite as the litmus test for deciding to what degree an entity is conscious. The more empathy a mind is capable of feeling, the more conscious it is: mosquitoes and psychopaths are thus considered less conscious than people who take others' suffering onto themselves.

Why empathy? This seems a non-rigorous approach. Why, after denying the existence of a real "I", would I suddenly turn to warm fuzzies? But the choice of empathy as the indicator of consciousness is not arbitrary. [->]

To understand why, first we must recall that the mind and consciousness are emergent properties of a vast complex system, the brain, which excels at creating and using patterns based on information input. The greater this system's "processing power," the more complex its self-image, and hence, the greater its level of consciousness. So consciousness isn't just a yes or no question--instead, it represents a gradient, and any entity's position along that gradient is a function of its abstraction power. [->]

So if we're saying that empathy is correlated to consciousness, then empathy must also be correlated to high abstraction power. How? Well, it takes a certain level of complexity to develop first person experiences at all. It takes another huge leap of generalization to realize that not only do I have acute feelings and desires and first-person experiences, but so do you. And you. And all of you, probably.

Thus empathy.

This conclusion may make some people uncomfortable. After all, empathy is the emergent property of an emergent property: it is far removed from the level of brains and neurons and DNA. And in fact one of the main points to take away from the emergent property thesis is that pattern matters more than substrate. Thus sufficiently complex animals and AI may also be called "conscious." [->]

I admit that I am a robot sympathizer, and I have little patience with people who say that machines will never attain full intelligence because they are non-biological. Certainly our current AI has a long way to go; perhaps we won't have the technology to build a system that will give rise to a soul for many centuries. But, if or when we create a robot that can create and process high enough levels of abstraction, then it will be conscious even if it is not organic. [->]

Even Cleverbot [->] can be profound--and relevant--sometimes. The advanced androids in DADOES?, and particularly those in the movie adaptation Blade Runner, are almost indistinguishable in their behavioral patterns from humans. [->] They avoid death; they help one another; they have irreplaceable first-person experiences. [watch clip] [->] [->]

Anyone who would refute this argument by asking me to point out the exact region where consciousness arises is invited to find the ghost in their own machine. "I" only exists out of psychological necessity: "I" is an illusion born of particle collisions and feedback loops, the chaotic results of chaotic systems. [->] Yet it is a more convenient shorthand to say, yes, I am a self, I have an identity, I live and I will. We delude ourselves into existence. [->]

Stimuli and experiences from the outside create an I at the center of our existence. And from that eye, we perceive the world that created us, [->] and think ourselves its master.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Bogland--Seamus Heaney

Bogland, by Paddy Kelly
(source--more beautiful images and information) 

Seamus Heaney

We have no prairies
To slice a big sun at evening—
Everywhere the eye concedes to
Encrouching horizon,

Is wooed into the cyclops’ eye
Of a tarn. Our unfenced country
Is bog that keeps crusting
Between the sights of the sun.

They’ve taken the skeleton
Of the Great Irish Elk
Out of the peat, set it up
An astounding crate full of air.

Butter sunk under
More than a hundred years
Was recovered salty and white.
The ground itself is kind, black butter

Melting and opening underfoot,
Missing its last definition
By millions of years.
They’ll never dig coal here,

Only the waterlogged trunks
Of great firs, soft as pulp.
Our pioneers keep striking
Inwards and downwards,

Every layer they strip
Seems camped on before.
The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage.
The wet centre is bottomless.


One of my subgoals for the summer is to read more Heaney poems, and to write more poems like that.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Che Ne Sara' Di Noi?

I meant to write this post as my graduation day post. The title is inspired by an Italian movie I watched two years ago, a film about three friends who go to Greece after taking their high school exit examinations as a "senior trip."

There they behave like fools, carouse, fall in love, get into trouble, get out of trouble, and find something out about themselves. The title means What Will Become of Us, and the eponymous song by Gianluca Grignani is one of my favorites:

Warning: this is a personal-ish post.


So: what will become of us?

I posted about my immediate plans for the summer on Tuesday. But the question has a long-term time frame: what will become of us in the future? We've graduated high school. We're heading off to college (most of us: I have a friend who is going to make bank at a technician job), some in-state and some out.

There, we will find challenges academic and social and other. I expect to fail a lot, to do things wrong, to embarrass myself, to get rejected. Hopefully I become the kind of person who can go to grad school and then get a job and, ultimately, change the world. What I really want is to be able to engage my competent, resourceful, level-headed mode in more situations.


But before I look too closely at the future, I should say goodbye to the past. Skip this portion if you'd like; it's a self-indulgent travel through my four years of high school.

I graduated only a week ago, so I don't yet have a good perspective on the experience as a whole. But as I've progressed, I've kept a sort of rolling interpretation engine going.

My first two years of high school, I was frequently unhappy. I had graduated middle school in a wave of glory and then found myself at the bottom of the heap again. Being at the same school as my older sister caused me a few issues because I couldn't stop comparing myself to her, and since I hadn't really come to terms with my introversion, the comparison was always unfavorable. This image explains how I felt a lot of the time:
Why the Sea is Salty

But some good things happened: as I discussed last week, my misery as a freshman contributed to my successes in mentoring; breaking away from my former group of friends allowed us to find people more suited to us; and, most importantly, I switched to euphonium.

It scares me sometimes how close I was to not switching: if I hadn't complained to my sister one evening in October 2010 about how miserable I was on flute, then I wouldn't have become part of the lower brass family, wouldn't have been mentored by the Trombonist, probably wouldn't have joined band staff, and definitely would not be heading to Stanford in the fall.

It humbles me sometimes how much I owe to the band, in particular staff and most of all, the lower brass. No wonder I started crying when I saw my empty locker.

Junior year I remember as a wave of stress and glory: learning to code, taking AP Calc (and self-studying BC) and Italian and Physics, playing in wind ensemble beside my hero, getting principal euphonium for the district honor band, writing several long stories and starting Orsolya. I don't know why that year went so well, though I suspect the occasional weeks-long bouts of misery and exhaustion had something to do with it.

During junior year, my group of friends began to coalesce. I use "group" loosely because, unlike most people at my very cliquey school, I don't really have a friend group. I am a band geek but my strongest connections are to people in my section and, oddly enough, to underclassmen. Probably has something to do with being the only female brass player in my grade. I get along well with most people in robotics but even there, I don't think I'm "close" to many.

When I say, then, that I found my people in junior year (or rather, began finding, since several have since drifted back out of my circle), what I mean is that I found individual people that I want to hold on to (though most in the list to follow were already my friends). Lieutenant Sarcasm. GG. The Chairman. The Teal Knight. The Master Ultra Clarinet Wizard. Leprechaun Z. And so on.

Senior year was too recent for me to evaluate properly. It was very stressful. There were several large failures but I have gotten over them, mostly. (It still makes me a little sad to think back to first semester when MIT was my dream.) Robotics, band, and volunteering shaped my experience the most. Successes came along with the failures, and I know I'm coming out of high school a better person than I came in.


Again: che ne sara' di noi?

Aside from me and my Tuba Brother, none of my closest friends are going to the same university. We have a lot of California, a lot of East Coast, and a few in the middle. My friends are overwhelmingly STEM-oriented: one wonderful person is contemplating psych or English, but mostly its stuff like CS (a LOT of people want to major/double major/minor in CS), math, mech e, physics, evolutionary biology, etc. I'm looking into civil e, as longtime readers know.

I cannot see the future. But we're a good group of people (of course I say that--I'm in it), mostly smart and hard-working when we need to be. I hope we all get into MIT for grad school (hahaha *sobs*), follow our dreams to good places, or (inclusive or) succeed big. I hope the world does not implode because of resource overstraining and the resultant political tensions, and I hope that the population does not exceed the Earth's carrying capacity.

I hope everything turns out all right, and if not, we'll make the best of what comes.


Note on scheduling: I'm going to China the next two weeks. Scheduled posts on Fridays only.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Summer Plans

I've been off my blogging game lately, probably because real life intruded upon my creative process and practice. But this will be the longest summer of my life (three and a half months) and I intend to use it well.

Because I am me, I made a Google Doc with all my goals, mind-flooded it, and then went through methodically breaking it down into monthly and weekly goals. I'll discuss more specifics lower down, but the gist is that I want to learn a lot and I want to create a lot. Most summers I get a deep sense of discontent around the four week mark because I don't think I've done anything. I want to avoid that this summer by having clearly identified goals toward which my task is to work substantially every week.

Some of those goals, for no other purpose than to keep me honest here:
  • Read a lot.

To start, here are the books that I've bought or that friends have lent me/teachers given me. The Three Books mailing will, as expected, add three more books to that pile--though hopefully by that time I'll have polished off a few of these. At least they all look interesting. Hopefully I can finish them all in enough time to work my way through a bunch of science/fantasy/poetry books at my library.

  • Deepen my knowledge and practice of programming.
I want to learn how to make simple scripts to automate some of the tasks I slog through every month with backing up my files. Also, I created a Bitbucket account ages and ages ago and still don't know what Git is, so it's high time I learned.

  • Relearn calculus and physics.
I haven't had a real technical class (by high school standards) in a year, and as an engineering calc and phys are going to be absolutely essential. Since I got a 5 on the Calc BC exam, technically I could take the honors track of calculus, which includes more multivariable calculus and is generally more difficult. I want to do this, but since I haven't had calc for a year I need to prepare myself.

  • Improve languages.
On Sunday I downloaded the Duolingo app (first app I've ever downloaded, if you can believe it) and am using it to learn German and keep my Italian. I'm quite pleased with how little my Italian has deteriorated; good job to junior year me for making it a habit of writing my journal in Italian. Sadly I have awful Chinese language skills, so the next two weeks in the motherland I'll have to force myself to try, embarrass myself in front of my relatives, and hopefully improve a little.

  • Research and write a lot in Ubermadchen.
Work on Ubermadchen has been consistently inconsistent this year. I don't know exactly why, or else I'd take measures to fix it, but I think it's because it is a long project that involves a lot of research. As such there is a lot more friction acting on UM than there was on Orsolya, and even though I'm aware of that I still compare my progress with the two. Also, since I like the characters a lot, it's easy for me to slip and write dialogue scenes that don't do anything; thus, this summer my goal is that every day I'm not on vacation, I will write two pages that move the story forward. The story hasn't quite built up enough momentum yet, but it is a story that leans forward--and I must honor that.

  • Refine social media presence.
I'm planning to redesign this blog after I get back from China, since I am after all entering a new era of my life (college). Also, I made a bunch of what I'm calling story box Tumblrs, and I'd like to integrate those facets as well.

  • Practice trombone.
I can make sounds come out and sound not horrible, but the slide is a bit tricky. My practice time is being cut short by the fact that I have to return the trombone at the beginning of band camp, but hopefully I can make a lot of improvements in the intervening two months.

There you have it. These are a lot of goals, though less than I could accomplish if I was more disciplined and more than will be feasible if I'm not prepared to work hard. But I have twelve weeks even taking out vacation; I'd better be able to make something of myself in all that time.