Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year in Review: 2015

2015 is the first year the entire duration of which I was in college. I'd say I feel old but that's a lie.

What's this year been? Winter and Spring Quarters of freshman year. Indonesia for the summer. Autumn Quarter of sophomore year. A few indolent weeks of break (got back from vacation this morning, which is why there have been no posts the past week). Lots and lots of stuff.

I talked about race with white people. I came out as asexual and nonbinary and so began thinking more about LGBT+ issues. I continued working on Ubermadchen and am getting closer and closer to the end--although I need to step up my game if I'm going to finish before going to Berlin. I'd like to think that I grew a lot this year, and am less afraid now than I was at the beginning.

This is a self-centered post, as I'm going to talk about my own experience of the year.

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Winter Quarter was probably the most difficult quarter of the year, or so my health at the time would suggest. I took a life-changing class on environmental literacy, having a lot of great conversations about environmentalism and sustainability and meeting people whose love of nature inspires me.

At the end of January I broke up with my then-kinda-boyfriend, which is something I haven't really discussed here because it involves feelings and how they just disappeared. It's not a good story. The relationship wasn't really anything--we did not so much as hold hands--but the ending of it was important because failure to do so would be gross cowardice and representative of an inability to let go of the past.

I started contra dancing and learned some swing and waltz as well, figured out that I way prefer to lead, and am working through the ramifications of that.

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Spring Quarter was also very busy and yet I think I did a much better job of taking care of myself. Having determined to go to Indonesia, preparing for the summer took a lot of time and energy, and although I definitely could have handled the process better I did handle it. For me, confidence comes from a track record of doing things.

I started learning German this quarter! Which means I've been learning German for about nine months. It is a really fun language. My professor has been/will be the same for all three classes in the first-year sequence, which is nice.

Declared my major, too. Civil engineering = <3. We're going to build a better world.
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Summer: I went to Indonesia for two months to work on the project that I'd been a part of for both winter and spring quarters, and I certainly learned a lot. I was not as adventurous as I could have been, and didn't really see a lot of the country. But I did gain my first work experience, met some amazing people, and saw and learned a lot.

I also realized, belatedly (as in, I should have figured this out in third grade at the latest), that I am nonbinary. In terms of what I "feel", agender is probably the most accurate, but I'm still trying to figure out the border between gender identity and presentation, and if gender is anything but performative, so for now let's just say nonbinary.

The summer also alerted me to the fact that I need to open my eyes and learn more about issues in the world. In particular, living for two months in a Muslim country has made me more aware of the need to fight against Islamophobia.

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Autumn Quarter was the quarter this year where I took the fewest number of units, although I did also TA a class and work as a peer advisor for the public service center on campus re: summer fellowships. I started in on real engineering classes, and did all right, but have lost illusions of brilliance. If I've ever going to be worth anything I need to work hard.

I love my dorm. I also love being in positions of authority and think that when I have power I become kinder. I'm trying to hold on to both kindness and critical thinking at the same time. Being out in my dorm and certain other places as nonbinary and figuring out the repercussions of that, especially with my rise in aggression and the coming to light of dysphoria. Talking to more people about more real-world problems.

Writing poetry, and not as much UM as I should. Switching over to keeping my journal auf Deutsch.

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The past year, I've only been home for a couple of weeks at a time, and it's somewhat more difficult than I expected. I am bad at keeping in contact with people when I don't see them in person, so I am mostly responsible for the disconnect between how people see me and how I am, and the corresponding treatment. I'm on a trajectory toward greater competence and I want to control as many aspects of my life as I can--while still facing uncertainty and the ever-present fear that I can't in fact handle things.

Being in the closet with people who knew me before college is something that I haven't properly thought of a strategy for. There are people who know I'm ace but not that I'm nonbinary, people who know I'm nonbinary but not ace, and people who know both. It is still embarrassing that it took me almost 19 years to become one of the latter.

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Creation:

I did not write all that much in UM this year. Finished the Innsbruck section, got them from Innsbruck to Salzburg, wrote Salzburg, got them from Salzburg to Graz, began writing Graz. 2014 took them from the Dutch Republic to England to Scotland to France to Switzerland to Austria, and this year they've just been in Austria. I was without my computer for about two months, but I also have not been good about writing during the school year.

I need to be smarter about my writing during the school year and set aside unimpeachable time to do it. Consistency matters. My Monday/Wednesday/Friday mornings are free for the first time next quarter (that's another thing--in all of the 2015 academic quarters, I had straight 0900/0930s), and I will try to get up at consistent times. So there's hope.

Representation in media has been only infrequently on my radar since my consumption of books/films has been very low. But I have friends who do think about it a lot and have got me inspecting my own works more for representation. The UM main five were pulled together with an eye to diversity, and coincidentally follow the demographics of my group of five that I've lived with both years of college--2 ace (of which 1 nonbinary) 1 bi 1 gay 1 straight, 2 (different) minorities 3 white. This probably seems like I'm trying too hard.

What did I write besides UM? I've done some thinking about other stories that are on the back burner, especially Shadow Fissure. I also know that I need to do a major overhaul of Orsolya, because the ending doesn't actually work for me at all and the plot has all sorts of holes and I don't understand politics very well but the events that occur would definitely have a wider effect than they are shown to.

Lesson: Work smarter/harder, be diligent, be ambitious, be aware.

--

Some lists.

Best posts:

Playlist:
  • Uptown Funk - Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars //Don't believe me just watch.
  • The Good in Me - Outline in Color //It's raining bricks all over this glass metropolis.
  • Squid - InnerPartySystem //Don't worry now.
  • Laughter Lines - Bastille //I'll see you in the future when we're older, when we are full of stories to be told.
  • Can't Go On - Evans Blue //I can't go on forgetting what I'm made of.
  • Fairly Local - twenty one pilots //It's the few, the proud, the emotional.
  • I've Been Thinking - The Narrative //Baby you've got faith in a smile I think others would kill for.
  • The Real You - Three Days Grace //If you're the one to run (to run) I'll be the one you run (you run) to.
  • Anna Sun - Walk the Moon //This house is falling apart.
  • BLKKK SKKKN HEAD - Kanye West //Middle America packed in, come to see me in my black skin.
  • Doubt - twenty one pilots //Don't forget about me.
  • Volle Kraft Voraus - Eisbrecher //Volle Kraft voraus!
  • La Differenza Tra Me e Te - Tiziano Ferro //La mia vita mi fa perdere il sonno sempre.
  • Burning Out - Thomston //I'm really new to this, I realize that I'm fortunate.
  • Ohne Dich - Eisbrecher //Was ist die Sonne, ohne dein Licht?

Books:
I haven't used my Goodreads account at all this year, which means 1) my control freak self is irked 2) I may be missing good things.
  • Kabu Kabu (Nnedi Okorafor) - Nnedi is amazing and the stories were mind-blowing. Loved it.
  • The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years (Chingiz Aitmatov) - very well paced, masterfully combining a lot of disparate threads.
  • Godel Escher Bach (Douglas Hofstadter) - a huge book full of interesting ideas.
  • The Iliad (Homer) - I slogged through it in freshman year but rereading it astonished me by its power and depth. Patroklos is the best.
  • The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (Heinrich Boll) - read it for Deutsch Zwei and really, really liked it. Such a well-structured book.
  • Sherlock Holmes stories (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) - during break I reread a lot of the stories. Hound of the Baskervilles is incredible.
Closing out the year with All That is Solid Melts Into Air, by Marshall Berman. I want to get back into reading and thinking about what I read. Senior year I read a lot of short, dense, masterfully-crafted books (Frankenstein, Steppenwolf, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) and I want to get back into that. So help me, I want to get back into literature.

--

2015 was pretty good. Let 2016 be even better.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Black Hermione

If you, like me, are a Harry Potter fan, you've probably heard that black actor* Noma Dumezwemi was cast to play Hermione in the upcoming play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. You've probably also heard that people have Opinions about it.

*My policy is to avoid using gendered terms where possible. If you think it's sketchy that the male-coded term is also the neutral/default, we can talk about that too.

JKR herself is in favor:

...and I am inclined to be, as well. But I ran into an objection put forth by the indomitable Nnedi Okorafor, writer of books such as Who Fears Death, Kabu-Kabu, and Lagoon (which is very high on my to-read list), and since her thoughts about race and representation are consistently mind-opening, I want to think about them as well.

Here are a series of her tweets criticizing JKR's response:

Here, also, is a Huffington Post article about the phenomenon of race-bending HP characters, including very good fanart.

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As the HuffPo article points out, white is taken as default and reinterpreting characters as POC is a way of challenging that assumption. Fans of any race put forth versions contrary to the canon whiteness, and that's powerful. I am not alone in being a minority kid who really enjoyed HP and seeing these already-beloved characters as POC increases the resonance that they have. Representation matters--it says, you exist and your story is worth telling.

One of Okorafor's points, though, is that the story of Harry Potter did not involve a black Hermione, and that writers are doing something wrong by embracing the retroactive "brownwashing" of their initially white casts. I have no doubt that JKR's initial Hermione was intended to be white.

I vaguely recall seeing one of the black Hermione fanarts linked in the HuffPo article somewhere (probably deviantArt or Tumblr) and reading a comment that criticized the racebending phenomenon on the grounds that this was "brownwashing" and not real representation, because Hermione is never depicted as having race be an issue in the canon.

For the Potter books, I don't see this as a strong criticism, because Dean Thomas, the Patil twins, Cho Chang, etc. also don't seem to run into any trouble relating to race. At a higher level, however, this is a stronger criticism against JKR's way of dealing with race, i.e. making it a nonissue/creating an unrealistically colorblind wizarding world.

The "diversity points" that JKR has gained by saying that Dumbledore is gay and that she loves black Hermione are worth less than they would be if these characters' marginalized identities were explicitly referenced in the books. Okorafor's point that the series owes its popularity to JKR not having written and stuck by minority characters from the beginning rings fairly true.

So it is a bone, and only a bone--but what harm is being done? Themes of discrimination run everywhere in HP and seeing Hermione, or Harry, or any number of other characters as minorities ties in well with the theme.

I don't know how much weight to put into the suggestion that JKR is being disingenuous in saying that she loves black Hermione. Maybe because if she really loved black Hermione then she would have written black Hermione more clearly? I don't think, though, that JKR is claiming that Hermione was black all along, just that, given what is in the books, interpreting Hermione as black is valid.

A quick aside on authorial authority (i.e. the authority of the author). I'm dubious of its power, because once a work is out there, readers will interact with it differently, interpret it differently from how the author imagined. The boundaries of canon are also murky--is "canon" just the books, the books + the movies, the books + JKR's subsequent interviews and statements? I tend to think that only the published books are canon, and even then flexible (we see everything filtered through Harry's perspective; who knows what else might have been going on in the background?).

For me, then, JKR's approval is not necessary for black Hermione's existence. Seeing Hermione as a POC clearly resonates with a lot of people, including me, and fans don't need permission or approval from the author in order to interpret their characters in ways that diverge from canon.

However, a lot of people probably do put more weight into JKR's support of black Hermione than any other person's. So what are we to make of that?

Another prominent theme in the series is remorse, repentance, making up for past mistakes. JKR probably had a white Hermione in mind when she wrote the books. It would have been awesome if she hadn't, but that's not how it turned out. Having written and become famous/wealthy because of a series whose three principal characters are white, and seeing fan interpretations of those characters as minorities, what is the best thing that JKR could do?

A) "Stand by her white world" and say no, Harry is white, Hermione is white, go home? Or B) say yeah, I hadn't thought of them that way but it definitely could be a thing, go forth and prosper?

Absolutely, Okorafor is right that neither option is ideal. But C) say "what do you mean, Hermione has always been black, look at how she's explicitly said to be so in the books and movies" is not an option because that wasn't how the books were written

I hope to see more books coming out with explicitly minority characters. Writers standing by their nonwhite worlds > writers not standing by their white worlds. Retroactive representation < upfront representation. But still--I'm glad JKR chose option B.

Long live black Hermione!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Winter Break Week One

Apparently I have two modes of being: 1) workaholic and 2) lazy layabout who quits the nest of their blankets only with the greatest reluctance, and frequently after midday. Long live Winter Break.

I've been keeping my waking hours occupied: books, a few meetings, writing, and a great deal of wood-cutting for the competition team I'm on. With hundreds of notches to cut out of balsa wood, I've gone through several videos--including a couple of panels about climate action and a suite of videos on engineering ethics put together by ASCE--and audiobooks (first, The Hound of the Baskervilles; now I'm slicing my way through Pride and Prejudice).

Yesterday was actually a fairly active day, starting with a meeting in a relatively low-key SoMa startup hub, then working my leisurely way down the Embarcadero from the Ferry Building to the Caltrain station. I always seem to cover the same stretch when I'm in SF, and really need to expand my repertoire. On the train ride down I got it into my head to amuse myself by listing things I like that start with vowels, which range from "Architecture" and "Infrastructure" to "Eating Good Food" and "Open-minded People" and "Underwater Ruins."

I cooked dinner for my parents on Tuesday. Very simple: cut up a broccoli and one entire onion, put in a pan with oil and some salt, dump atop spaghetti along with sauce. Voila.

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In the middle of high school I remember feeling incapable of making solid plans for the future because I thought that the university I chose would change my life so irrevocably that none of my plans would matter anyway. That, I think, was missing the point. The point isn't the plan, it's making the plan.

I've been thinking again about life after college. Last year I was very into this whole college business and disowned the person I was before college, and thought of little else but the monumental changes that were set into motion when I arrived on campus for orientation. I think I needed that at the time, but there will come other thresholds and I need to think of them too, and how the person I am can become the person I need to be.

Listening to the videos on engineering ethics is probably the catalyst for these thoughts. Whatever specialization I choose, I need to become a competent engineer. That means being diligent with my studies now (junior year especially, when I take almost all civil engineering core classes) and in the future (going to grad school, possibly after an interval working [?] and finding a fellowship for such so that I'm not burdened by student debt). Choosing work experiences that make me grow.

(If I'm going to grad school I should probably do research, but when? This summer will be in an internship, if all goes well. Next summer I will be even better equipped for professional work, having taken the majority of the core. Perhaps during junior year? Seems I'm in for a rough haul, but even if I am not equal to the task now, better to suffer in pursuit of something worthy.)

My ambition has almost always been to work internationally. I'm looking into minoring in German, because it looks like I should be able to do so without too many additional classes, and this summer I intend to make the most of my introduction to the German engineering industry. But I should probably also pick up a few more languages, to make my global ambitions more feasible. Improving my Mandarin is advantageous, but since I'm focusing on Deutsch right now that will probably have to come in on my own time, after I get back from Germany. Learning Spanish would also help a lot, and since my Italian is still pretty good I don't anticipate a whole lot of trouble--but again, that must happen on my own time.

I came in expecting to major in CS and that's shot. My first CS class will probably be senior year. But since when have I depended upon formal classroom instruction to learn programming? I have a mind to learn Javascript and Ruby, although again--when? If I do research I'll probably have to brush up on Matlab, and I want to keep extending my Python capabilities. More important than the specific languages is the base of knowledge that will make programming a viable tool I can deploy to solve problems. I've not yet built up that base.

What other skills am I lacking that I should build up sooner rather than later? Public speaking. I hate raising my voice but that's a psychological block that I should do away with. Leading. Staying on top of the news.

The world is going to look significantly different when I enter the workforce from what it looks like now. Here I am, complacently chopping wood and listening to the tale of English ladies with nothing but marriage in their minds, and making grand plans all the while. I'm going to enjoy this break, as much as I can; because when it ends I know I have a lot of work to do.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Intersections

As I mentioned last week, I had a rather heated discussion involving race on Monday last. One of the other participants brought it up to me on Thursday night, and I have been turning over both conversations in my head in an attempt to sort myself out on a variety of issues that have been swirling around in my head this quarter.

The main takeaway for me was a reminder to be careful when talking about race-related anything with white people, especially if I'm the only minority in the conversation. That's a position with a lot of stress and pressure attached to it (and that's unsurprising, as stress and pressure have the same units) because--well, if you're part of any minority group, racial or otherwise, you know: if you're surrounded by the majority, you don't get the luxury of being an individual. You are speaking for *the collective*.

Be aware, too, of how the stress affects you. You're probably a better person than me; when I am in a position like that, unless I absolutely trust all the people involved (and I didn't, and more on that in a moment), I don't feel safe. Vulnerable + safe = openness and deep communication. Vulnerable + unsafe = aggression. All the aggression.

I've heard and am sympathetic to arguments condemning the practice of tone-policing. Certainly injustice merits anger. But the first philosophy to touch me was Stoicism and I got it into my head somehow or another that crying is weak, that emotions are weak. It's something to unlearn, certainly, but feigning a thick skin and an imperturbable nature might help with discussions conducted "out of house." The people with whom I was speaking were all allies--even if they didn't make me feel as though they were, I know that at their core they are in favor of racial equality--and I should be able to have a discussion with them.

Unfortunately the main other participant was an intellectual devil's-advocate-playing white boy. We actually are friends, but one of the traits for which I have the least tolerance is glibness. That glibness is universally applied, but when done so towards an issue that he could plausibly not care about, the effect is to trivialize. That could be an effective rhetorical device--ironic trivialization--but my patience for white people ironically saying racist things is zero.

Am I being oversensitive? Is my friend being undersensitive? We both furnished half an apology to one another for our conduct. What I apologized for: giving no benefit of the doubt and therefore jumping straight to aggression. What he apologized for: using a method of conversation that he knew was inflammatory when doing so not only did not add to the conversation but in fact made it more difficult for other participants (i.e. me) to carry it on.

Maybe we'll take another shot at it after break.

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There are some white people that I can talk to about race comfortably, and there are some--like my glib friend--for whom the task is more difficult. Girls are easier to talk to than boys, in my experience. But I did have a very productive conversation about race with no less than two straight cis white male friends in the spring, and in that conversation I felt safe enough that I started crying in the middle of it. It was exhausting, yes, but very worth it.

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To go on another track--my aggression. Apparently it wasn't noticeable to anyone but me and my roommate, so I'm not letting Marcus down entirely. But it came on very quickly and very strongly and while my friends weren't being particularly fantastic allies, for a few minutes there I actually saw them as enemies, which is wrong.

I'm concerned because I've been feeling a lot more aggressive this quarter than previously, and although this is not the first sophomore year in which that has been the case (2011-2012 me had a lot of anger) I am concerned because this is also the quarter in which I am growing more into my nonbinary gender identity--which, for someone raised as a girl, means becoming more masculine. Coincidence? I wish I could say so.

I suppose the theme of this post is allyship, because my gender identity moves me into an ally position on the feminist issues that are specifically upholding femininity || feminine/female-identifying people.* And I want to be supportive, want to do no harm, present no threat, etc.

*Yeah, I and other less-feminine people do benefit from these issues, but that's not the point. We're not the point in these cases.

But I wonder sometimes if the very act of disowning my female-ness and femininity plays into misogyny. I used to be very proud to be a girl in engineering--psych, I'm not actually a girl. What does that say? I used to be a tomboy who would look down on girly things, like pink and ruffles and princesses that weren't dragons, and that came out of internalized misogyny. What I'm doing now--getting sweaters from the men's section, speaking in a deeper voice, loathing my female body (validating my dysphoria instead of brushing it off)--does not come from that core of misogyny, but the actions are the same.

And if I'm getting more aggressive at the same time that I'm getting more masculine, what message does that send about what masculinity is?

I think there is another way, and I thought about it a lot in a previous post, but I also wrote that previous post before going back to school and being in contact with a lot of people and having to interact with a lot of people who either know or do not know my gender identity. The best laid plans...

I revert to a slightly higher voice and slightly more feminine mannerisms when around certain girls. This is kind of problematic, because I think the reason behind it is because I know that a lot of girls have been hurt by males, so I want to avoid giving any threatening vibes. Is this coddling, is this misogyny masked as chivalry? I don't know. I'm somewhat harsher and more bro-like to men who are friendly acquaintances, which is an improvement on being the shy girl. I don't know many other nonbinary people but I trust them implicitly.

The same questions again. What does a good ally do? Who can you trust? How does what you say and what you do change depending on with whom you interact? Minorities--how can we engage in productive conversations on race with white people? Transmasculine people--how can we do justice to feminism and our identities simultaneously?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Sensitivity

Done with finals and other academic obligations for the quarter. I still have a lot to do--internship applications, putting together an information packet for my project team--but it'll go by much faster now that I can devote my time to it. Also looking forward to writing and reading more, because I've definitely been missing that.

Monday evening, I had a conversation about sensitivity in conversations that got kind of heated, because it spun off into a discussion of discourse on race. I certainly got way more aggressive than the situation merited, but I think that's worth examining rather than dismissing.

Sensitivity has two main meanings, which are related but distinct. (At least it had two in the situation.) One is awareness of things that other people may not notice. The other is the capacity to get hurt by these things that may not seem serious to other people. In conversations, the first kind of sensitivity is seen as valuable, while the second typically is not--as if having an emotional response to something hinders the conversation and is something to be dealt with on your own time.

I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about that. On the one hand, some conversations are not about feelings, and expressing feelings does not add to the conversation. I don't believe in censorship on principle, so I would not--on principle--shut down someone who was saying 1) something to which another person would have an adverse reaction or 2) someone having an adverse emotional reaction. At the same time, people are responsible for the effect their words have on others and making a deliberately inflammatory comment that is known to cause a reaction, when the same idea could be expressed more moderately and in a way that does not disrupt the conversation's progress, is a choice.

What about the person having the adverse emotional reaction? How much of the burden of civil conversation lies on them? This is another question I have a tough time with. I know I get too aggressive sometimes, and that also turns conversations that could be more open into confrontations. But when the topic is about race and I'm talking to white friends, why should I be expected to maintain the same level of emotional equanimity, when the topic is far more personal for me? Racism isn't theoretical.

I try not to be the "oversensitive minority kid," meaning I try not to rely too much on pathos when talking about race. I can construct arguments about the ills of racism that go beyond "it hurts that I'll always be seen as foreign in my country of birth because I'm not white."

Also, what is this "over"sensitivity if not a symptom of the first, more acceptable, more "valid" kind of sensitivity? When a problem affects you more directly, you will be more aware of how it plays out in more situations, including those where it doesn't seem to be an issue for other people. Usually. I internalized a whole lot of racism as a kid and consequently ignored a lot of cases of subtle racism that I now see as real issues. Being more aware of them has led to a stronger emotional reaction to them.

I don't think that people should be penalized for having an emotional reaction to injustice, or even for expressing that reaction. Certainly people are responsible for the consequences of their words and actions. But what of provocation? My aggression is problematic, but it stemmed from frustration caused by white people being flippant about racism, acting as if my anger at racist deeds I have seen hinders me from contributing logically to a discussion about racism.

In hindsight, being the only minority in a conversation discussing a conversation that happened "in-house" with white people probably wasn't a winning situation. There are conversations I will never have with a white person about race; perhaps it's an unfair double standard that everything that a white person would say to another white person should be fit for my ears as well.

I'm wondering now when I've been on the other side of the issue--recently, that is, because I know I was often insensitive in high school. What are topics that get other people more personally than they get me? Class/SES; experiences of racism that are not through the East Asian lens; family, particularly people planning to have them in the future; experience of being female/feminine-identifying; experiences of overt homophobia/transphobia/etc.; religion; culture shock; education. Basically, in what ways am I privileged? There's a whole lot of ways.

The use of the word "privileged" is often mocked. To be clear, what it means to me is the ability to choose whether or not to think about or otherwise engage with a topic. I don't have the option not to think about race, but I do have the option not to think about how differing levels of familial support and economic capability affect access to education and opportunities. That means, I suppose, that it's my responsibility to become more sensitive (definition 1) to these topics, and to respond with compassion rather than impatience when people who are affected by the topic appear sensitive (definition 2) to their discussion.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Autumn 2015 Reflections

Three finals on Monday and Tuesday, so this weekend is all studying. But I just finished making my note sheet for solid mechanics, after getting the practice final mostly correct, so I'd better write a post for the week.

I haven't been quite as self-reflective this quarter as I was freshman year, when I could feel myself changing, but I know that the way I behave at school is very different from the way I behaved in high school, or even last year. I think I am becoming kinder, and a little more relaxed, and certainly less self-conscious.

The intellectual defensiveness that I had at the beginning of freshman year is slowly being worn down, and although I still assume I will perform above average, academically, I also acknowledge that my friends are smarter than me and do not get upset when I have to ask them for help on homework. I am somewhat less disciplined, or at least proactive, about studying as I used to be--partially because I'm running harder in the day-to-day and don't have as much time to get ahead on my work as I did in high school.

The politics of my thinking are getting more and more liberal. I still think that Communism is a bad idea and that no political system that depends on changing human nature is worth considering, but I support the idea that if there is a societal shortfall somewhere--public health, for example--the government does have the responsibility to step in, or at least to provide incentives for private organizations to step in. This goes especially for cases where the system as it currently operates causes negative externalities.

(I wonder how COP21 is going to turn out.)

I've also felt more and more confirmed in my choice of major, because civil engineers can do a lot to help ease the world's problems. Building needed infrastructure, energy efficient buildings and cities, sustainable energy systems, resilient structures. My management class has also highlighted ways that the construction industry as it exists now is screwed up and inefficient and unproductive, and how that is changing. I'm eager to get started on the work and be part of the progress.

The world is not yet optimized, so build useful things.

Thinking more and more about the future, about life after I graduate. I need a Masters to do anything, so that's step one. What will I do? What will my life be like? Who will I be?

(I'm not aromantic but for some reason it's very difficult to imagine myself in a relationship. If love is a choice, and I believe that to endure it must be, why would I choose that?)

Who am I now, even? This quarter I came out as nonbinary to my friends and have been working through that. It all seemed much clearer over the summer when I took on the term agender--but I don't think I merit the term because I am playing the gender game. There is nothing inherently masculine about shirts that button left over right, and yet I feel more secure in my identity when I wear a "male" shirt.

That's an issue, I know. At the end of last year I was proud of the fact that I was comfortable in a dress because it was a sign that I was unlearning misogyny. What does it signal, then, that I can no longer touch any of the dresses in my closet? I'm starting to flinch when people who know I'm nonbinary use "she" even though I said at the beginning of the year that "she" is fine. But "they" still sounds strange--not uncomfortable strange, just unfamiliar strange.

I'm starting to uncover some patterns in my personal philosophy/the values underlying it, one of which is a preference of the mind over the body. I am no dualist, but bodies just disgust me. A philosophy that values mind over life could tread into very questionable territory, so I'm trying to define system boundaries such that I avoid being a monster.

Noblesse oblige is a central component of my philosophy of conduct--that is, power creates responsibility. I think that's one reason I'm a better human being now than I was last year: now that I have a little more power than I used to, I have greater responsibility. Power lets me be kinder--or at least, it gives kindness more meaning because there is less that I could gain from it. Or maybe I just think that power should be used to help people.