Sunday, March 26, 2017

Winter 2017 Recap: Everything Else

Spring break has finally arrived. As I alluded to in the previous post, Winter 2017 was a rough quarter, and I'm enjoying the chance to have some time off. Some time to think about all the things that I didn't make time to think about during the quarter.


This quarter, Trump became president. Dumpster fire is an appropriate description. I still haven't gotten around to writing that post about Islamophobia and what to do to combat it, but the topic has definitely been on my mind. The courts have in general stood against Trump's travel bans, but on Friday Virginia judge Anthony Trenga ruled in favor of the new executive order.

I hope that it gets definitively taken down by the Supreme Court. But even if it does, the effect these travel bans have had on people who come from the countries on the list is already immense. There are a lot of Iranian students in my department and I talked to a couple of them right after the first executive order was issued, and the level of fear and uncertainty is something I, an American citizen, can't imagine.

The grassroots resistance has been astonishing and heartening. I can't say that I've participated at a high enough level. "Call your senators," everyone says. Okay, but Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein are already voting the way I would hope for them to vote. The few donations I've made, to all the usual suspects (Planned Parenthood, the ACLU) are one-off things because I'm a stingy student. I went to one march. A lot of people on my Facebook feed post articles and share stories and so on, but I don't have the energy to get into fights with people on the internet.

I should budget in time, budget in money, for these things, these actions that constitute a resistance, because it's naive to think that I'll just do the right thing when I haven't built a habit of doing it and haven't carved out the space. This past quarter I felt pretty much at capacity with just academics and other activities. Sure I had time when I wasn't working, but I didn't have the mental energy to do anything useful. Budgets set priorities.

The way I live when I'm at school, as I said in the last post, is unsustainable. In the future I will not be able to go to bed at 04.00, I will not be able to get away with taking naps during the day. College is a four-year sprint, sure, but I want to build habits that will remain useful into the rest of my life.

The story I'm working on, which is set in East Berlin, has been stalled since winter break, partially because of the whole lack of time and energy, and partially because a large part of the story is the main characters becoming involved with underground resistance networks and I 1) haven't done enough research to know what that looks like in the 60s/70s and 2) don't have an adequately good idea of what resistance means today, now, in America. Ubermadchen resonated with what was going on in my life and this new story does too, but I need to think more about how to get myself to where the story goes. And to do that I need to figure out where I'm going.

Some big-picture decisions that I'll need to make in the next few years are where to live and what to do for a living. I've been thinking about moving to a red state, preferably in the West, with blue cities. Arizona and Texas are looking pretty good, especially because the arguments for renewable energy are compelling there.

I've decided that I won't work for any company that has submitted a bid for the border wall. This isn't actually a big sacrifice since Bechtel and AECOM are sitting out, but it makes me feel better to draw that line. And I'm thinking more and more about how everything is political, including engineering, mostly because the ASCE has been trying to stay politically neutral with the result that, despite Trump going after the EPA, they are publicly uncritical of the administration. This is of course not true neutrality.

Next year I will be an RA in the dorm where I lived sophomore year. I've been thinking a lot about the best and most responsible way to inhabit that role. Frosh come in with all sort of backgrounds and life experiences, and, without getting into too much of the discourse around the terms, kids need a safe space to examine their ideas and how they might or might not be consistent with their morals and with reality. By safe space I don't mean a place where people will be "coddled"--I mean an environment in which it's okay to make mistakes and everyone assumes good intent but you're still responsible for the impact your words have on others and listening goes both ways.

My dorm tends to have a high proportion of contrarians, libertarians, people whose worldviews are strongly shaped by the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Dawkins. And since campus is on the whole very very liberal, I can see how people would bunker down. I don't want to brainwash all my residents into being leftists, but I do think that people who--as I did when I first got to college--consider themselves "socially liberal and fiscally conservative" haven't thought enough about what the second part means in practice and what fiscal conservatism does to already-marginalized communities.

The main advantage of residential education is talking to people, whether that means talking to people who share you experiences or those who very much don't. Sometimes you find you need to shut up and listen; sometimes you find you can and should speak up. And it's okay to say things however you want to say them, but it's also important to be able to practice ways to say what you mean in a way that other people will be more inclined to listen, in a setting where modulating your tone != being silenced or being forced to hide your intent. And listening is more than just not speaking.

Something I really want to be able to help my residents understand is something that was huge for me to learn when I was a freshman: the importance of emotions. In discussions, usually you have more to learn from someone else's anger than your own calm. In general, people don't give their emotions enough credit, or even enough space to develop. But letting yourself experience joy/happiness/delight points you to what you want/what sustains you; letting yourself experience sadness/loneliness points you to what may be lacking; letting yourself experience anger points you to what is important to you. Not all emotions are "good," per se, and I would argue that you should always be aware of how extreme emotions may affect your actions, and make sure you aren't getting carried away or having an effect on others that may be damaging. But ignoring them isn't a sustainable long-term strategy.


Some extra-academic thoughts. Will try to write more structured things while I have time over break to set my thoughts out in an orderly way.

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