Friday, September 25, 2015

Fighting Complacency

It's been a good first week back. Quiet...too quiet. I love my dorm, my classes are going well thus far, I've gotten to meet a lot of cool people, and I am not used to having this little Sturm und Drang. Of course, it is early days yet, and I'll probably look back nostalgically at this time when the psets start getting difficult and the midterms and projects pile on.

I don't know. I feel a lot more secure than I did last year, a lot more confident in myself and my ability to get things done. Somehow I've landed myself multiple positions of authority, which I love because my unfolded self is an authority who embodies noblesse oblige. That creates some pressure to get it together and keep it together, because I'm not a freshman anymore, there are people who should be able to come to me for advice, and I don't have any excuses for letting things get out of hand.

What I want is to be strong and reliable and there for people, which means I have to be there for myself, which means I have to get more comfortable leaning on other people too. Secrecy and bottling things up has lost the allure. I want to be able to be honest and open with my friends, and indeed they know things about me that I used to hold close to the chest.

But strong and reliable and authoritative says nothing about growth and change and progress. I'm comfortable, and that's partly a good thing and partly a bad thing. It's a sign of character development that I am capable of relaxing and that I trust my friends with sensitive information, yet too much comfort leads to complacency. Last year as a freshman I had the searching anxious restlessness built in. Yet now, major declared, four-year plan neatly laid out with contingencies for if I do/don't get into the study abroad program, I am not really in search mode anymore.

That's a problem. I don't really have space on my plate to start up something entirely new, but I need to keep off-balance somehow. I'm going dancing this weekend for the first time since June, and dancing was a way of shaking things up last year, but now I know that I want to lead and that feels more like consolidation than discovery. Maybe working out more at the gym could function as a "something new"?

Confront your weaknesses. That's what I have to do. My physical weakness, my emotional weakness, my mental weakness. I suppose that if I go all out on my classes and projects, that will count as confronting my weaknesses because honestly I haven't gotten slammed academically yet and the class load I'm taking, even though it's only seventeen units, should pose a challenge. The need to stay one step ahead of and one level deeper than the students in the class I'm TAing is also a challenge. My apathy is the enemy inside, and I need to keep on pushing myself to care more, to learn more. I have brilliant friends who are amazingly knowledgeable about their fields because they have a genuine and wondrous curiosity that I am afraid I lack.

What do I avoid? Confrontation. Conversations about topics about which I have decided my opinion (e.g. abortion). Conversations about sex. Things at which I could fail. Topics where the depth of information is immense. Difficult things. Time pressure. Physical exertion. Parties. Which of these do I avoid because of legitimate reasons, and which do I avoid because I'm afraid that I won't be enough? The answer is basically all of them, which means I should stop avoiding all of them (though not all at once--I don't want to scare myself off my plan of self-growth).

Well, I will keep avoiding conversations about sex because they legitimately do not interest me and occasionally disgust me. But I might go to some parties in order to be wingman for a friend who avoids parties not because they aren't interested (my case) but because they are nervous.

As a civil engineer, I find my imagination caught by the eternal. I'm a low energy, set-it-and-forget-it sort of person. But change is important, especially the kind of change that is progress, and I am too young to be complacent.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Starting Sophomore Year

Apologies for missing a post last Friday. I moved back onto campus on Thursday and have been keeping busy, more or less, since then. This is shaping up to be a busy quarter, so this post is going to be mostly me setting my thoughts in order and compromising my quasi-anonymity.

I'm in 17 units of classes this quarter, which is lower than my average. But the classes themselves are more difficult, probably: physics of light and heat, managing sustainable building projects, solid mechanics, and second quarter German. I'm also the course assistant for a seminar class I took last fall about modern energy resources, and will be a peer advisor at the public service center on campus. For extracurriculars, I'm still on my competition team (probably going to be co-heading construction) and in band, and will be joining the biggest student sustainability group. It is unclear, as of right now, whether or not I will return to the project team I've been on since January (the one that brought me to Indonesia this summer), since I'm trying to go abroad to Berlin in the spring and would therefore not be around for the main work quarter.

My big goals at this point are 1) become a competent and responsible civil engineer 2) finish Ubermadchen. The way my classes are set up will support goal #1 (I include environmental awareness as a subset of being a responsible engineer). I will need to carve out more time to complete goal #2. Right now I am still in the planning stage for Graz, which is behind where I wanted to be when I set out my revised schedule at the beginning of the summer. But the flow of events needs to be at least somewhat sensible, and I'm juggling a lot of different groups of people who could be causing unrest in the city. I'll need to do a lot more research to get it right, but I'm okay pushing that duty off to second draft.

More about goal #1: this is my goal, and will probably remain one of my two Big Goals until, well, I stop practicing (so in several decades). But what are my objectives for this term and year?

Term: give my classes my best effort. I trust the professors; they've been doing this a long time, and have turned out classes and classes of competent engineers. This objective is simple, though perhaps not easy, and I've got the whole "be academically diligent" thing more or less sorted by now (at least, I know how to motivate myself). Going for mastery of material instead of focusing on grades and getting assignments done is the key here, since the stakes are higher than in my high school classes. This is material I'll actually use, so I need to learn it well.

Year: the worst part of being a freshman was not being an upperclassman. I am far happier now that I can give advice and be useful to people. I'm moderately power-hungry, but I don't see this as a bad thing necessarily because I am kinder when I am in a position of authority than when I am in a position of dependence. I'm in a lot more such authority positions than last year and I'm trying to be as approachable and benevolent as possible, becoming the kind of mentor I'm lucky enough to have had and better. Unfortunately this also takes more energy than my refresh rate so I'll need to be careful not to get too drained. 

What other resolutions do I have this quarter and year? I've started being more open and want to continue being so. At a sophomore welcome for my dorm I outed myself as not cis by saying that they/them are among my preferred pronouns. I'm more comfortable with myself than I was a year ago, though I hope never to be complacent. 

This is going to be a good year. I have the power to make that happen. Full steam ahead. 


Volle Kraft Voraus - Eisbrecher


Happy birthday, Augustus!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ubermadchen Summer 2015 Progress Report

From June 19 to yesterday.


Next stop: Graz

Usually I begin with an estimated word count. It was probably around 17,000 words when my computer broke, and I'd guess another couple thousand for the pages I've handwritten. Definitely not as much as last summer, but then, I wasn't working last summer.

Last night I finished the journey from Salzburg to Graz, which means I am somewhat behind on my schedule since I had hoped to have extensive planning for Graz done before going back to school for Autumn Quarter. I will work on it today and tomorrow, of course, and hopefully get a good portion done, but I doubt I'll be able to plan it all in two days. And my quarter is going to be busy, so I'll definitely have to be more disciplined than I have been if I want to wrap Graz by the end of the year. I did leave myself with some buffer in Winter Quarter, though, so as long as I make sure I'm never too far from a writing session in Autumn Quarter, I will be able to meet my deadline of Spring 2016.

This summer I wrote the second to last big section, Salzburg. The later scenes feel somewhat sparse since I was working longhand and I tend to compress the writing more when I have to write each word out. Then I wrote two scenes to get the girls from Salzburg to Graz, and that honestly should not have taken as long as it did. But I'm satisfied with the way the scene I finished last night went.

What did I learn from what I wrote? That research is important. I wrote a scene I really enjoyed in which the girls take a funicular up to the fortress, and then discovered later that the passenger rail only got put in in the 1800s. Then I found out that Festung Hohensalzburg is a palace/castle as well as a fortress, but since I'm writing fantasy historical here I can handwave and say it served a strictly military function. For most of the time I was in Indonesia I wrote when I didn't have internet (i.e. not at work) so some historical facts and details are missing and will need to be filled in upon revision.

Characters can become flat quickly, so be on guard. There's one character who is essentially a plot device, and his backstory needs fleshing out because no one is this generous and willing to look the other way without a reason. More alarmingly, I remember at one point realizing that despite having traveled with her the whole book, I'm not sure if I really know Katya. She's a streetsmart extrovert, which is the opposite of me, and I'm worried she doesn't read as a real person. Her experiences are very different from Marilla's, so it makes sense that Marilla would occasionally have difficulty understanding why she does things, but I am the author and I don't have that luxury.

Terez, on the other hand, I feel I understand much better after this summer, with all my confusion and resentments about gender. She is also a nonbinary ace, although I suspect she is not agender. (Also a note on pronouns: they/them and she/her probably are both okay for Terez, though I don't know how common nonbinary pronouns were in the 1700s.) Demographic parallels aside, I realized Terez was being too passive and thus I became more critical of my writing choices, e.g. in this situation, who really would be the one to ask a question? Which of the three girls is most likely to act in these circumstances?

In terms of the scenes I wrote: I don't know how effective any of the exploring-the-city scenes were since I haven't been to the places I'm writing about. Conversation scenes are easy to get lost in, and I know I pay less attention to the physical world than most people so I will have to keep an eye out for that when I revise because Marilla is much more observant than I am and she would be noticing details, expressions, nuances as much as paying attention to the words being spoken.

Why do I like fortress scenes so damn much?

I love technical magic stuff. In one scene I found Logstash a useful metaphor for a magic tracking system. But remember: always leave a little room for chaos. It's also fun to think about how magic use would evolve, as science and technology progress. (I mean "as" in two ways: "at the same time as" and "in the same way as".)

Minor characters: I think I'm getting more economical with these. No idea if I'm doing appreciably better but I'm able to do the same with less work. Given the revolving door of supporting characters (this is what happens when your characters travel) it's good that the process of minor character creation is becoming less burdensome, even if the returns aren't increasing.

In this story, magicians have auras of different colors, and I think I need to make a table or chart with all the colors I've already used. I'm pretty sure I have repeats of a comforting dark green aura, but nothing pink or yellow. (Call it my own bias for dark and cool colors.)

More about characters: I'm becoming more socially aware and consequently more uncomfortable with the extreme whiteness of most of my casts. The GW universe is easy to change, since the cultures are aggressively mixed anyway and given the gods' chronic racebending, systematic racism likely would not persist in a majority of places.

But the UM world is historical, and the characters' races will have an impact on how people respond to them. I came across an OOTD on Tumblr of a really pretty black girl wearing a light blue dress and immediately thought, that's Marilla! But is it Marilla? It could be, but I need to think about what in the story would change if Marilla was black. Part of the important tension between Josefina and Marilla stems from Josefina's ill treatment as a Roma girl when they are in France, where Marilla's feeling of utter belonging makes her more confident and also more entitled.

I am open to the idea of altering Marilla's race, but since she's the main character and race, unfortunately, affects pretty much everything, I'd need to think way more than I can right now about what would change. After I'm done with the first draft I'll revisit the question. Representation is important, too important to do haphazardly.

I'll close with some practical remarks. Since my computer broke, I am really glad I put my writing on Microsoft OneDrive. (Any cloud service will do, that one just happened to come built in.) I was also lucky that my computer broke while I was at work and everything had been synced. I need to be better about backing things up on hard drives, though, since if my computer had crashed a couple weeks earlier I could have lost two weeks of work. Lesson: back up your work.

Typing while under a mosquito net: there is no ergonomic way to do this. If there is, please let me know for future reference.

When writing longhand, pen or pencil works fine as long as the writing implement doesn't break or give you trouble writing. Crossing things out >> erasing.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


This week I have been thinking a lot about masculinity. 

It seems a little odd to me that I would. Masculinity is a concept with a whole host of unsavory connotations and associations: violence, brutality, entitlement, war, rape culture, aggression, domestic violence, ruthlessness, misogyny, etc. "Be a man" brings to mind war stories, overbearing conservative older male relatives, sexism. 

Yet as a result of all my thinking about gender this summer, I have been forced to admit something that has been true for as long as I can remember: I want to be more masculine. 

I'm really starting to worry that I'm a bad feminist. 


There are a lot of pieces that go into this and I'll try to go through them somewhat systematically. Here are some points I want to hit:
-connection to race
-the body
-the mind (gender identity)
-thought experiment: if I had been dmab (designated male at birth)
-role models for masculinity
-the world (gender expression)
And maybe some other errant thoughts. 



I'm East Asian. You may be familiar with the stereotypes about Asian girls: tiny cutesy submissive femme. Small hands. Giggly. Pretty handwriting and emojis. Pastels and frills. The stereotypes about Asian men are similarly emasculating, though less fetishized. 

I feel angry just thinking about it. I hate being small (more on that in the next section). I never cared much for pretty things but since becoming more aware of the stereotypes around Asian girls I've grown to actively try to reduce the decorative and frilly and femme in my life. My messy, cramped, decidedly un-aesthetic handwriting has long been a somewhat perverse point of pride for me, because it shows that I'm not the stereotypical cutesy Asian chick.

The "model minority" narrative is utter bull. Females are supposed to be pleasant. Asians are supposed to not cause trouble. The raw arrogance and entitlement of masculinity are tonics for me in countering these stereotypes. I am not here to please. 

(See this article on the misogyny of certain Asian men to see what I'm trying to avoid.)


The Body

I mentioned that I hate being small. Let me repeat: I hate, loathe, and downright resent being small. When I was in elementary school I was tall and have never stopped thinking of myself with a tall person's mindset. Look at all my Doppelgangers: Orsolya is the shortest at 5'8". The male Doppelgangers are all at least six feet tall. 

I can do nothing about my height, but I can do something about my scrawniness. I've gotten out of the habit of exercising but if I got more muscular I would be way closer to what I want to be, so I'm making plans to work out regularly with one of my friends. I'm probably going to work on upper body strength, because as this guide to passing as male points out, on men weight is distributed higher than on women (shoulders, not hips). 

Incidentally, I am inordinately pleased that my waist:hip ratio is higher than what is considered normal for women. My body dysphoria would be way worse if I had more convexity (by which I mean I am glad I have no curves).

A friend of mine recently made a video answering questions about gender following something called the gender tag, and in it he mentioned a concept I had not come across before: gender euphoria. It is the opposite of gender dysphoria and it blew my mind. 

In terms of the body: I loved being tall. I loved being strong (I used to be able to do a lot of push ups) and fast (I used to run). I love having short hair. I am appreciative of the fact that despite having a stupidly round face, my jawline has a definite angle at the hinge. I like that my voice is alto but wish it was deeper. 

What this boils down to is: if my body was more masculine I would be a lot happier with it. 

(I really wish I was tall.)


The Mind (Gender Identity) + Thought Experiment

In case you drew certain conclusions from the FTM guide I linked to above: I'm still agender. I don't feel like a boy or like a man, not do I want to. But I suspect that if I had to pick a gender, it would be nonbinary and masculine of center. 

Since I'm agender, though, I don't really have a good sense of what it's like to feel as though you have a gender. I thought I was a girl until recently but I always filed female under "what" I am, not "who." 

If I was dmab (designated male at birth), I think I'd still eventually realize that I'm agender. But I don't think I'd realize it any earlier than I have in this world, because I wouldn't have had to fight as much against the associated gender stereotypes. I like math and engineering and playing bass clef instruments (and yeah, I'm probably compensating for something) and don't want to spend time thinking about my clothing (but I do because as someone who looks like a girl I'm judged on my appearance) and don't wear makeup. I've gotten BS about all of these things, and if I had been a boy I would not have. There's a reason half my Doppelgangers are male.

As a side note: songs sung in high pitched voices are less likely to resonate with me. The voice I use to speak to myself in my head sounds way closer to Till Lindemann than Taylor Swift.  


Role Models for Masculinity

I've internalized a lot of misogyny. But I'm working on getting rid of it, and I'm aware that toxic masculinity is responsible for a whole host of ills. So I'm picking my role models carefully. 

The main thing is that being masculine, for me, is a self-centered deal. You have confidence in yourself, even when it may not be backed up by the evidence (arrogance). You believe you and your ideas are worth time and space and respect. You don't put your self-worth into your appearance or how pleasing you are, but rather into how much you can accomplish. 

This doesn't tell you how to treat other people. So I will fill in my own definition: with respect and empathy and patience. 

My unfolded self is my main model, and unfortunately for my feminist cred, it's damned paternalistic. I want to have power that I can then use to protect and support those who have less than I do. Anything about nurturing them or being emotionally available? Eh. That's not my strength. 

Literary models: all listed under my animus. Patroklos. Horatio. John Watson. Men who are strong and competent and uncomplaining but also kind. In addition, Marcus Aurelius, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and King Mendanbar. Wise rulers. 

(I identify with Turnus but he's really not a good model for how to behave. I want to be Augustus but, much as I idolize him, I would never treat anyone the way he treated his children.)


The World (Gender Expression)

What am I going to do about all this?

I haven't decided how out I want to be. I definitely don't trust my parents enough to be out at home (hell, I'm not even ready to tell them that I'm ace). I don't know if I trust enough people to be fully out at school. My closest friends know I'm not cis but they sure don't know how masculine I want to be, since I'm only figuring that out now. 

(Incidentally, in high school I gained the epithets of both knight and gentleman, and this induced gender euphoria. Maybe I can tell my closest high school friends?)

Look at the FTM guide above. I'm going to try working out so my shape is, if not masculine, at least somewhat less weak. I already dress in a fairly unisex way but I think limiting future purchases to the men's section is a good idea (except shoes, because my stupid feet are too small). The FTM guide includes specific injunctions against clothing that will "make you look like a lesbian" ("And while there's nothing wrong with being a lesbian or looking like one, butch lesbianism is a mode of being female. [sic] This is about being male. Lesbians are women who are cool with being women; that is not me") but I'm not trying to pass as male so I can ignore that. 

Clothing is the boring part. I'm worried more about behavior. Because while I would dearly love to cut out all cases where I act more feminine than I want to, I know that I read as female and that acting "like a man" might have consequences for me that it would not have for someone who reads as male. In an ideal world I wouldn't have to care.

Luckily, though, acting more masculine in social situations won't have any downsides that I can't deal with. Look at my role models for masculinity above: their masculinity is more in doing the right thing with confidence than anything else. (I shouldn't have to go to masculinity to find this expressed clearly.) No mincing about, no angsting, just clarity and action and kindness to the people who matter. 

I was deluded into thinking that I should want people to think I'm pretty. I don't want to be pretty. I don't even like pretty. And when I tried for pretty I didn't succeed, so not trying shouldn't have any fallout. (Besides, a lot of that impetus was because I thought I should be attractive. Now that I know I'm ace I can look at that, see I don't actually give a damn, and toss that goal out the window. I don't want to be attractive. What do you care what other people think?)

One goal I have is to let myself be more real with more people. Liars need good memories and I don't have enough energy to front. I've noticed that my fakeness rises with the pitch of my voice. If I sound contralto I'm probably realtalking about race. If I sound soprano I am lying to you or putting on a nice-sweet-young-lady act for someone I don't know well. Being more real == using a deeper tone of voice. This works perfectly. 

I want to dance lead more. Therefore I will. 

How much farther will I go? I don't know. I saved this photoset of self-identified "butches" with the caption "Goals". Was I referring to being comfortable exploring and expressing my masculinity? Was I referring to not looking like a joke when I don't have sleeves? Was I referring to the awesome undercuts? 

I don't know about the last couple of questions, but I do know that I've been terribly ambivalent about my masculinity for a long time. Taking pride in certain aspects while also playing along with societal expectations of femininity (to some degree). Simultaneously wanting to be "pretty" and wondering wistfully if anyone has ever mistaken me for a guy. Bearing people's comments about how small and cute I supposedly am because it's meant as a compliment (note: if you know me IRL and have ever done this, don't sweat past examples since I didn't articulate before that it bothered me. Now you're warned).

I still don't know if I'm being a good feminist or not. I get that this applies. The ugly truth is that masculinity is associated with power and I want power. But if that was all it was, I'd be more vocal about expanding the definition of power to include the traits I already have, which would be feminine. And I fully support those who are fighting the notion that feminine is weak, but I'm not feminine enough to make that my main fight. 

I don't want to be a man, but I do want to be like a good man. Masculinity is a large part of my power, my weakness, and my truth, and it's about time I owned up to that. 



Friday, September 4, 2015

Being Chinese in Indonesia

Being in the US again is comfortable. Of course it is. I was born and raised here. But small traces are left of Indonesia: I no longer mind if the water in the shower comes out cold, I jaywalk with confidence, I compose emails with way more niceties than necessary. I am thinking about my race in a different way. 

I am Asian. Specifically, East Asian. More specifically, Chinese--a mix of Han and Hui. 

In the US, particularly in the Bay Area, if you say Asian people assume East Asian, just like when you talk about a person people assume white. East Asians are considered "more normal" than Southeast Asian.

My conservative Chinese parents were not initially pleased by my decision to go to Indonesia. They spoke of it as some weird exotic place--why would you go there?

In I think my second week, I was walking to work when I suddenly realized that in Indonesia I count as light-skinned. That day we had a meeting with some partner who commented that she had thought that the pale-skinned French Vietnamese intern and I were siblings and asked if we were Japanese. When I said I was Chinese she said, "Oh, well, I knew it was East Asian or something."

People mistook me for Japanese a whole lot. A couple guessed Korean. People at work sometimes said "ni hao" or "xie xie" to me. "You don't eat pork? I thought all Chinese people ate pork."

In general, people pointed out my race a lot more and a lot more blatantly than in the US. For some reason, though, I didn't feel nearly as offended.

One reason may be that my race was counted, but not counted against me. In other words, I experienced no racism. Is this what privilege feels like?


My mental engagement with the issue of racism has been shifting. I'm Asian so of course I get the usual insulting questions such as "Where are you from?" when the answer is clearly expected to be an East Asian nation. Random white fools come up and talk to me in East Asian languages, for what reason I cannot fathom. There's ever present anxiety--is my race affecting how other people are interacting with me? Or am I just being paranoid? Are people surprised when I open my mouth and "standard" English comes out and the only accent is Californian? What are people assuming about my personality and background based on the color of my skin?

In previous conversations about race, the ones that have brought me the most catharsis are the ones where I and my other minority friends share our experiences and frustrations with one another. I learned this summer that "people of color" is a solidarity term and that makes me happy. My friend group has been predominantly white for most of my life, so it's a huge relief when I have the chance to talk to people who get it. 

But different races experience racism differently. Obvious, I know, but it's only started to occur to me over the past year that when the topic turns to race I and my East Asian problems need not be discussed every time. 

My black friends aren't assumed to be foreign. I don't need to fear for my life if I encounter the cops. There's a huge difference in the severity of these examples of racism. 

I loathe and detest the term "model minority." But some of the associated stereotypes do confer benefits. Privileges, one might say. People look at me and assume smart and hardworking quiet math nerd who plays an instrument. 

Privilege. I've used the word twice in this post already and I know that without having to go back and check because it's a charged word. I will only use it for effect. The phrase "check your privilege" is one I could only use in jest if I was speaking to someone in person. Because I play respectability politics (another highly useful phrase I have been introduced to) and I don't want to sound like one of Those People. 

But in all honesty, going to Indonesia this summer, being Chinese in Indonesia, was a privilege check for me. Because I'm a wealthy American university student, East Asian, and easily closeted. (Note: I actually don't know how accepting the people I stayed with are of LGBT+ but I didn't have to find out. Which is the point.) 

Some of those privileges stood out more to me in Indonesia than at home. The East Asian aspect, certainly. (Though there is also a history of anti-Chinese violence in Indonesia, which is part of the reason my parents were initially opposed. In a book I perused about Indonesia's history, these incidents were referred to as pogroms.) But these identities also confer privilege when I'm in the US. 

In the middle of my stay, one night I had trouble falling asleep because I kept on remembering incidents of racism from elementary school that I hadn't really realized were racist at the time. Stuff like people doing accents or asking if I knew  kung fu. The next morning I woke up with Kanye West's song "BLKKK SKKKNHEAD" stuck in my head and I listened to it on repeat while I was at work. I don't know if this makes me a terrible person or not. 

The most resonant line for me in the song goes "middle America packed in, come to see me in my black skin" because being a minority in America sometimes feels like being on display constantly, like I'm an exhibit of an East Asian Female outside of her "natural habitat" and that people see my race before they see my personhood. But maybe I'm projecting myself too much onto the song, because being black is a different experience from being Asian. My skin is golden, not black. (If you find this phrasing cringeworthy, l apologize. But gold > yellow, no?) I dig the song but maybe I'm not digging deep enough. I doubt it was written for people like me and I may be guilty of pushing myself and my own experiences into something that's not intended to speak to me. 

I'm confused, as you can probably tell. I am not white or straight or male or cis, and when I thought I was straight and cis I was too much under a rock to care much about finding my proper role in the community of other people facing discrimination as a result of not falling into the demographics above. How can I be a good ally to people whose problems are linked to but different from mine? What can I do? What should I do? What must I not do?

Clearly ignorance is the first opponent. One of the worst things about talking to white people about race or people who were socialized as males about sexism is when they respond with incredulity--"no way, that doesn't happen. I've never seen it. (You're being over sensitive.)" I can keep that in mind. If step one is shut up and listen, well, I can do that. 

(Incidentally, if you know any good re/sources for learning more about anything that this post suggests, I will happily take recommendations.)

That is something else I learned in Indonesia: before any venture, gather information. Be prepared to adapt when you are proven wrong. If you want to help people, you must first listen and learn. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Advice to Freshmen

On Sunday I attended a send off party for the incoming frosh. After the event I wrote my thoughts out because I don't think I hit all or even most of the important stuff, and I think better through writing than speaking.

Here. Contains both the practical and existential. 


I would say brace yourself, but that would imply that you should become more rigid, when really, you should move freely. Be adaptable.

Be humble. Work hard. Get a bike and a helmet. 

Be open to trying new things, such as dancing. Question your assumptions and your limitations. Don't feel the need to drink or do drugs if that's not what you want for yourself. 

Don't feel obligated to be happy all the time.

Keep in touch with people you love from the previous stage of your life. Even if you are lucky enough to live with people that you get along with well (and I was very lucky), you have not known them for long and you may be missing the emotional support of people who know you.

At the same time, don't be afraid to open up to people at school. You're living together, after all. Fronting is unsustainable anyway, and most people aren't cold, just cautious/conservative. This goes both ways: be emotionally available to people and give a damn about their lives. 

Take a risk and talk about something you care about. If the people you're talking to don't care, probably someone else will--you just have to find them.

Go to career fairs and other events. It doesn't hurt to hit the ground running, and even if no one wants to hire a freshman, it'll give you practice talking to people for when you actually are looking for work. 

Go to the career development center and get your resume checked out. They know what they're talking about.

Get the ball rolling early. If you don't know who to talk to, schedule a meeting with your assigned advisor and ask them who in your major is the point person. Talk to that person and ask who you can talk to. Go from there. Email professors. Some will reply and some won't. Lurk the lectures they hold, and then go to their office hours.

I rarely went to office hours with professors for classes I was actually taking, because the classes I was taking were mostly big intro classes with TAs who were less intimidating. But you can be braver.

Join stuff you find interesting. Be aware of overcommitting your time, however. 

Use a calendar system, whatever works for you, to keep yourself organized. I got into the planner habit in middle school; you may have a different system. If you didn't use anything in high school, try to find a method of organizing yourself now because it will be more difficult.

You're not a freak if you don't feel a lot of enthusiasm for something or other. At the same time, don't dismiss things you're unfamiliar with out of hand.

Go off campus every once in a while. It's good for you.

Go to performances, plays, concerts, etc. Your classmates have a lot of talent--appreciate it! Especially since student tickets are usually free or deeply discounted.

Really make an effort to get a reasonable amount of sleep. Don't overbook your weekends, except once in a while. Take naps.

Get the university to fund your adventures.

Make sure you get alone time regularly--not just alone time in terms of being by yourself, which is also important, but alone time in the sense of having time to reflect and think about what you're doing and why you're doing it.

Get your notebooks and textbooks before the first day of class for less stress. In particular, plan ahead and get your books for the next quarter during the finals week of the previous quarter to allow for shipping times--if and only if you are absolutely certain you will take the class. Avoid the bookstore if possible; it's guaranteed to be a ripoff. 

Explore things on campus. Cantor! The Dish! Jasper Ridge! All the libraries! (The Law library is quite nice.)

Move as much stuff off your local computer as possible. Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote for thoughts, Github for code, Microsoft OneDrive if you have Office--I'm two for two for years where my computer has broken and knowing your data is safe is intensely comforting.

Speaking of which, some helpful apps: Dropbox, GroupMe, Evernote. WhatsApp is popular in some places. Slack is good for large groups but I haven't needed it yet. Lots of people use Venmo and I'm not quite ready to make the plunge. Uber can be cheaper than taxis. Stay away from Yik Yak, it's a whole lot of pettiness.  

Continuing in the theme of making your phone useful for you, put your school email account on the Mail app. If there's some kind of authenticator app you can use to log on, use that too. Needless to say put your school's town on Weather. Schedule repeating alarms for every day you have a different schedule. Get heavy rotation out of your calendar and give different calendars different colors. 

Go to events and speakers--the event calendar is good for figuring out what is going on.

Compile a list of places you like to study. Windhover, the Bender Room in Green, the Law Library, etc.

Compile a list of things you like to eat at Late Night. Acai bowls, waffles, etc.

Write emails, send emails. Remember your professor probably isn't going to take longer than a minute on your email and just hit send instead of agonizing over every word. I use exclamation points sometimes because "have a good day!" sounds friendlier than "have a good day.", but your mileage may vary. 

Make time to do things you enjoyed doing before high school, like reading or baking or going on walks. 

Try things that are a little outside of your comfort zone. Ignore any pressure to do things you have absolutely no interest in (for me, drinking and Greek life).

Don't demand of yourself that you always be happy. I said this at the beginning but it needs to be repeated. It's okay if you miss home or feel overwhelmed or isolated. Do something about it, of course (call home, make lists, cull obligations, realtalk with someone), but if you really can't, don't push yourself to do something about it right away. 

Fear complacency but remember that you are fallible and that's okay. 

Get ready. You are not invincible but certainty is never a prerequisite for victory.