Saturday, March 21, 2015

Finals Week Adventures

I haven't been writing this week. I've been living.

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MONDAY - Contra Dance


I haven't been since the first weekend of the quarter, and it was marvelous. I wore the one non-formal dress I brought with me to college and though the skirt was not a particularly twirling kind it was fun. Also, I danced the lead role for one set and it was amazing. Swinging people is really fun and next I want to learn how to twirl people.

The people at contra remind me a little bit of the theater kids at my high school: exuberant, fun, eclectic, and openly affectionate. I'm not used to that and, being reserved, cannot reciprocate those actions, but I like the fun and open atmosphere.

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TUESDAY - Physics Final

There were some questions that I did not get right away. First time (ever) needing to go outside during a test and ask for clarification because I genuinely did not know how to proceed with the problem. A humbling and eye-opening experience, even if the test ended up turning out well.

I had reasonably good study habits in high school that have somewhat translated to college. I didn't make the time to sit down with my notes and bust through making study sheets, which would have helped. Just because the people I live with are smarter than me does not excuse me from working hard. There's something fun and satisfying about consolidating your knowledge and making it as compact and usable as possible, and I should have done that more.

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WEDNESDAY - MRI Scan


I participated in a study in the Psychology Department that involved getting a brain scan. Emotional and gender Stroop tests, which entail looking at pictures of faces and identifying happy/fearful, male/female when there are words written across the faces that may contradict. Being in the machine was cool, of course, and oddly comforting. Maybe because of the feeling of being tucked in.

To be honest, the tasks got boring quickly and my eyelids kept on feeling heavier and heavier. I tried resting them one at a time by squinting but that was ineffective. At the end, though, I got pictures of my brain! The cerebellum looks feathery, fern-like in certain cross-sections, which is oddly disturbing because it looks terribly delicate. After I got the pictures I kept touching the base of my skull, imagining all the soft tissues hanging out there, making me into a person.

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WEDNESDAY - LASER/Imagining the Universe Lectures


Later that evening, we made the trek to Alway, a building near the med school, for a series of lectures about art and science. We got there somewhat late because we got lost (yes, on campus) and had to leave early, but heard two full talks:

1. Allison Leigh Holt: "The Beginning was the End: Hybrid Reality in Javanese Culture"

It felt somewhat serendipitous that she was talking about Javanese cosmology when earlier that day (at around 0300 in the morning) I had sent in an email to the Haas Center saying that I would be accepting their offer of funding to go to Indonesia this summer to implement my team's ESW project. The content of her talk was fascinating. I've become less mystical as I've gotten older (said the eighteen year old) but I felt the stirring of something as she described how the reality we see is just a shadow of what is really there.

The speaker also seemed fascinating as a person, and I think it would be awesome to hear more about her story. What got her into this art? This project? She brought up an interesting point: when researching a belief system, at what point do you go from researcher to disciple? How far can you go into something and come out essentially unchanged?

I put forth as a hypothesis that you don't want to come out unchanged. I've been thinking a lot about Indonesia and how utterly different that will probably be from anything else I've experienced before, and I know that part of my attempt at being less afraid is being less afraid of changing. The old self must in some ways die.

Another point: do some people just experience the world in a different way? Shamans, theologians, astrophysicists?

2. Chris McKay: "Imagining Life in the Universe"

Hilarious talk. The speaker was a scientific researcher at NASA Ames and I expected the talk to be very technical and somewhat dry but instead it was a prime example of scientific communication. Some highlights:
  • First slide: typo in the title, date of talk given as "Today"
  • References to different novels that had been coming out just as he was doing his graduate work, envisioning alien life forms
  • Political jab: "some groups, like the INS, think that being 'alien' is defined geographically when really it should be defined biochemically"
  • Venn diagram: within all possible amino acid combinations, there is "known Earth biology" overlapping with "strange biology" and not overlapping with "stranger biology"

Fall Quarter I used to go to a lot more talks. I will make time for them next quarter, because you learn lots of interesting stuff.

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WEDNESDAY - Dance Break

Lots of different kinds of dances. Lots of spinning. Lots of confusion. Lots of fun.

Someone brought a D&D book to read during water breaks and the level of worldbuilding detail just kind of blew me away. I want to build worlds too big and too complex and too interesting for the stories I can come up with to have any chance of filling them up.

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THURSDAY - 99 Ranch Market, pt. 2

No rain this time. We biked over, got lots of delicious food, biked back along the same way (Junipero Serra). Getting up at 0730 was a little miserable, but the day turned out glorious, and the hills are beautiful, and we found a little bridge not too far from campus. I need to get out more in the sun.

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THURSDAY - Studying for ODEs

This is what I missed with physics: going to office hours, hearing people's questions, getting a more and more solid road map of what we covered in class because knowing the material is not enough, is never enough: what's important is to know how it all connects. I made another study sheet of everything that we've covered since the second midterm but what I really should do is make a study sheet or a mind map or something that consolidates everything from the entire term into an interconnected and hierarchical web.

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FRIDAY - ODEs Final

It went well, I think. Not sure when I'll get the grades back but I feel reasonably confident.

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FRIDAY - Cantor Art Museum

I went to Cantor with some friends and ended up staying for three hours. Since I haven't been all term, many of the exhibits were new to me and I got to stare at a lot of beautiful art for the first time.

The first exhibit we saw was "She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World," which was pretty much mind blowing. One set of images showed a woman with her daughter and a doll in increasing more conservative head coverings sitting for a portrait, and the final image was just the outline of the chair underneath the black backdrop cloth and that hit me right in the gut. I need to learn more about the Middle East. Ethnically I'm all Chinese as far back as anyone can tell, but since my mom's side of the family is Muslim I feel as though, in some way, I have a personal connection to the Arab World.

I got somewhat turned around when we walked through the second floor galleries and thought that the Napoleon portrait had been removed, and found myself terribly distraught. Then when I realized my mistake I dashed through the doors of the correct gallery and exclaimed, "Napoleon! There you are!"

Whenever I go to Cantor, I make sure to greet three representations of animals. There are also a few works of art to which I bow. This is, I feel, the only appropriate response.

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FRIDAY - Movie Night

My roommates (present and future) and I made pizza and watched two movies tonight.

1. Good Will Hunting

Lots of excellent one-liners, including: "See, the sad thing about a guy like you is, in 50 years you're gonna start doin' some thinkin' on your own and you're going to come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life: one, don't do that, and two, you dropped 150 grand on a fuckin' education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library!"

Which hit me in the gut because one, the education I'm getting is not cheap and two, I need to read more. That is always going to be true: I will always need to read more. But I really, really should get on that because break is short and the quarter is busy.

2. Life of Pi

Gorgeous visuals. The story is wrenching, and I kept on imagining what I would do if I was stranded on a boat in the middle of the Pacific with a tiger. Would I be strong enough to keep on living, or would I fall over the side of the boat and drown myself? I hope I never have to find out, and I hope that if I did I would chose to live.

Also, seeing the tiger made me realize just how much I miss my cat.

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It's been a fun and adventuresome exam week, even if I have gotten no writing done since Sunday. I'm figuring out that work/life balance, slowly.

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