A Self-Contained Explosion

I love entertaining the thought of stars aligning– I always envision it to be like Hercules, where these giant planets just kinda sidle up against each other with the arrogance of frat boys and collectively build up this awesome mega sonic beam of power that pews down to Earth.

…And then something blows up, but in this Hollywood day and age? That’s practically a prerogative, even for non-film-tastic grand celestial phenomena. All ye beware, here there be C4.

So, there’s that whole thing about planets in orbit and electrons in orbit, which means it only stands to reason (actually, it really doesn’t, but whatever) that the alignment of stars is graphically comparable to the alignment of thoughts.

I googled “pretty picture of neurons,” which is something I’ll have to live with forever

(Tangent Anecdote: Photoshop is one of the things many middle school master Escapists learn to do in their spare time, and as a devout Anti-Realist of that time, I dedicated hours of my life learning to simulate those sparkles (which are, of course, just dots with the glow effect) on a hipster non-Photoshop program. It involved too many layers and manual dotting to count, and I soon gave in and used my father’s ancient Photoshop 5, which was a very decent step up. I now have family pictures buried in USBs all sparkle-tastic and color-balanced.)

In the scatterplot of life, how awesome would it be to be able to derive the the perfect linear function? Instead of completely random events and happenstances, I can say my life is f(x) = 12x + 11. Like, not even quadratic– we’re talking seventh grade-vanilla math. How awesome would it be for my writing to just be input-output simple and correct? Perfect in content and easy in execution. It’s so dreamy.

I’m dreaming and dreaming, and all of a sudden I hear Heather’s voice in my head, all excited-like:

But it’s not perfect or easy. Life’s not perfect, writing’s not easy, and that’s what makes it all so worth going through.

And yeah, snaps to that. I mean, why else would everyone get bored in math class? It’s all so predictable after a while, like eating exquisite European banquets every day and crying with feelings over fried rice (my entire family has a Chinese food complex, I don’t even want to talk about it, oh my god). It’s kind of the entire point of writing, y’know?

(The non-perfection, not Chinese food.)

(Though it’s debatable.)

If I had to identify my life philosophy, I’d probably say Absurdist (yes that’s a perfectly legitimate philosophy shush), which, to rehash sort of all my previous posts, is the notion that Life seems to mean so much when it really means so little, and that’s the joke. Absurdism easily turns to a kind of bitter nihilism once you lose the humor, so you can sprinkle in a bit of existentialism there too, that nothing matters unless you make it matter. It’s why I write, to assign meaning to things so I can better maintain my brain-filing system (just call me Radar O’Reilly, bugle under B, clipboard under K).

So this filing, most of the time done with intention, but sometimes, things just line up, y’know? Jules (’14) tells me that someone told him that things come in waves– the happy wave, the sad wave, the people-getting-the-wrong-orders-at-random-cafés wave– and maybe, maybe. It’s a fun thought to entertain, but a bit too unsubstantial for me (which is strange, because I’m certainly not above superstition and strange beliefs, like whistling at night or untying friendship bracelets). Though there was the time with the Connecticut school shooting happening right after CinéClub showed Elephant, and the intruder alert practice at SOTA soon after. Maybe I don’t consider three “a wave,” just connections. Perhaps if five or six folks in my life all gave birth at the same time or something I’ll consider it a wave (of babies, so many babies), but it’s too big a unit of measure for me to consider viable.

Well anyways, things happen, big surprise there, and when things happen, other things happen, and though correlation is not causation, correlation is correlation. When things happen that I feel connect, the stars align. Stars move fast in my world, all this hyperactive spinning, and sometimes, I get three in a row, or an apple, a pile of gold, and the Taj Mahal. It’s all very motion sickness-inducing, but also awesome when I find the connections and draw a straight line.

I like bookend endings, so I often scroll up to reread what I’ve written and find the one thing to nicely tie things up (though Maia Ipp has told me to refrain from that urge, because it’s not necessary). Now, though, I can’t think of anything to tie back into Hollywood explosions, except maybe that they’re unnecessary, but is kind of necessary (c’mon, Pacific Rim was awesome)? Just like life. Alright there we go, ending tied up, life is unnecessary, but also kind of necessary. You know what I mean.

M*A*S*H-ian Philosophy

This show has taken over my life:

I’m not post-Season 3 yet; give me a week or two

M*A*S*H is a TV show spin-off of a movie with the same name, about a group of army doctors during the Korean War. The picture above is a perfect depiction of this SitCom-y show, filled mostly with situational (thus dark) humor and spiffy one-liners. Example: in the episode For the Want of a Boot, main character Captain Hawkeye Pierce trades favor for favor for favor, creating looping chains of exchanges, all for the want of a boot without a hole in the sole; the epic mash-up of realistic bad situations and even more realistic relatively-good-humored handling of said bad situations.

Now, this isn’t going to be a long post, ’cause I’ve got to get back to watching M*A*S*H, but I’ve taken to profiling myself through the things I like, such as books, movies, or– in this truly inspirational case– TV shows.

So, dark humor. It crosses lines of social niceties and make you feel like a rebel for getting the joke about necrophilia. Bryan Fuller’s Pushing Daisies is next on my To Watch list (after watching Hannibal and needing emotional shelter). Now, anyone who’s discussed philosophy with me probably thinks of me as an optimist, and I do quantify myself as an optimist (with empirical data in metrics and everything). So why would I be such a fan of dark humor?

(That was not a rhetorical question, but the rhetoric device hypophora, in which the speaker poses a question and answers it. AP Composition, whaddup.)

Probably because dark humor is inherently optimistic. George Carlin said that under every cynic is a disappointed idealist, and the optimistic dark humor-oxymoron seems like the inverse of that. Humor inspires joy, that’s fact, and cracking jokes in order to cut open red white and blue-blooded teenagers is a coping mechanism. Go ahead, open the letter– they can’t draft you again. They’re old enough to pull triggers but not old enough to drink? Heard Eisenhower’s running for president; man, the things people would do to get out of the army.

Coping is optimistic because coping means survival. Not necessarily survival of the person you once were, but if the main parts are still there we can put it back together, no one will even notice the scars with the right turtleneck. Recently, the suicide note of Iraq veteran Daniel Somers went viral, drawing attention to the heart-breaking statistics of veterans’ suicide– one every 65 minutes (Huffington Post). Healing’s not easy in the first place, but when people aren’t allowed to heal at their own pace or when they heal wrong, that’s when the Bullshit Meter hits the stratosphere. Terrible things happen, and sometimes there are people to take responsibility for it (or should, but let’s not even get into that right now), sometimes there aren’t, and people get hurt. Given the love and support they need, people heal. We’re not allowed to call other people’s scars ugly, we are notnotnot allowed– I say this with the utmost solemnity and simple comprehension of a child, where I cross my heart and not my fingers behind my back.

I said this post wasn’t going to be long, clearly that was a lie. Self-reflection can go a long way, y’know. Literally. (Badum tish!)

Post-Season 3 M*A*S*H– I’ve been warned– will be heartbreak everywhere and breakdowns and hurt. Good. There is a quote out there somewhere about art portraying history better than any official document could; All Quiet on the Western Front taught me more about World War One than my history textbook. (This is probably my only tie-back t0 CW-related matters.) It’ll hurt, but hopefully, innate optimism will get me through.

A Balancing Act on Slackwire, Part I

Which came first, the summer or the lethargy?

The easy connection to make is, school’s out, it’s vacation time, hence the desperate urge to do absolutely nothing. But it can also stand to reason that the urge to do nothing during the summer is some sort of universal truth of humanity, so instead of trudging through a forced-work ethic, we just give everyone three months off.

This is all rhetorical reasoning. I just wanted to think about the summer.

Or not. The do nothing-urge is quite all-encompassing.

…Ten minutes have passed since I typed the last sentence. I’ve gotten myself a glass of orange juice, and am congratulating myself on making the effort.

The way I see it, we (in general) function on a trial-and-error basis. As in, the way we figure out what we want to do when we grow up is through first figuring out what we absolutelyewgrossgetthatawayfromme not want to do. Maybe that’s what mandatory K-12 education is for (or has morphed into, for bizarre, tragic reasons). Throughout the school year, there’s a constant undercurrent of dissatisfaction, perhaps on account that we’re not strictly there by choice, and because school is all about workworkwork (if you’re lucky, not of the tedious sort), the natural rebellion is to not workworkwork. Of course, it takes some rumination to understand that not all work is the same (some work are just more equal than others) and further contemplation and self-reflection etc.etc. to figure out what work one is okay with doing. Just okay, as in, my tolerance level for this is decent enough. Then we take that as a starting point, move forward to find work that perhaps we actually– god forbid– like doing.

Or, you make like me and find ways to appreciate all of the workworkwork, convince yourself all work are created equal and smile ’em all to death. All in a day’s work in Stockholm.

So maybe summer serves a function. Just throwing it out there: it’s either a rehab, or a re-envisioning.

Rehab in the sense that you finally get to breathe without a bunch of grunt work on your shoulders, you quit every facet of school you can, and you come back in the fall with hastily-done work and regret/irritation that you didn’t space out your workload over all your free time (I speak with too much experience); it rehabilitates you for another year at school, where your teacher builds and schedules your learning for you, and by the end of the school year, you do feel accomplished, but in that awkward way when someone compliments you on store-bought pie-filling, rather than a cake which you made from scratch.

Re-envisioning in the sense that you have ruminated and contemplated and reflected, have combed through your school year’s learning with grains of salt relative to your care for them, how they matter to you. In the summer, you have the barest infrastructure to keep you conscious of school as an entity (summer reading, writing), and at this point you know how you best fit in (or out) of the school’s system. Once you are comfortable with that, you start doing work on your own, and moving forward on your own, and school becomes the extra jacket you keep slung over your arm that you don’t mind carrying around, per se, but would most definitely put down, put on, put into some kind of use at any given chance.

I’d like to be re-envisioning, especially seeing as it seems terribly convenient for the process of writing a senior thesis. I was so excited about writing the thesis for the past year, O woe be naive me. Nah, I’m still excited, just excited in that jump-up-and-down-and-cry-and-puke way. It’s only June, and the panic’s already settling in. Relatively unwarranted panic, but when has that ever stopped anything?

I’d like for my summer to be re-envisioning, but for now, I might be better off working the rehab. Just a month– I think I deserved it (Junior Year was exhausting in the best way, which is the worst way, ’cause you like that feeling of accomplished exhaustion). In July, I’ll get back on my feet, hopefully rejuvenated in a September way, and move forth with awesome work ethic.

For now, I think I’ll settle for another glass of orange juice.

Modern-Day Absurdism

Lately I’ve been pondering war. They’re political, they hurt like hell to think about– I’ve carried this morbid fascination with the topic since Modern World last year. That’s probably where this got started, learning about World War One and reading All Quiet On The Western Front. WWI was the last of the Romantic wars, trench warfare the disillusionment, the mass murder of innocence and honor. I have a book of WWI poetry sitting on my desk:

When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you’ll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
it is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, ‘They are dead.’ Then add thereto,
‘Yet many a better one has died before.’
Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you
perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
it is a spoke. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.

–Charles Hamilton Sorley

–and that’s just one poem. This is the consequence of dividing soldiers in war from a bigger political agenda, I think, when even the people know not what they are fighting for. We see this again in Korea, in Vietnam, in Iraq. Why do we fight?

But that’s a digression– I’d like to focus on the act of war itself, fighting on a battlefield, fighting for your life. Today we hear about PTSD, flashbacks, blackout episodes in veterans, how they are unable to reintegrate into civilization. We don’t hear about that happening after World War Two, it was more of a post-Korea thing. Post-Vietnam thing. Apocalypse Now, Mr. Kurtz and the horror the horror, that was the first Art&Film movie I walked away from shaking and sobbing in fear and distress. Line that up side by side with Paul from All Quiet, the soldier he killed in a trench, and we see a theme. These men aren’t fighting for a greater cause, they’re fighting for their lives. They’re fighting to survive in a situation the Great Civilization dumped them in, and they’re coming out– fast as new cars in an assembly line– disappointed. Disillusioned– the great lie of politics and society, we make it so much more than it actually is, Governor Smoke and President Mirrors. This is the type of hopelessness that spreads, a pervasive undercurrent of thought already worming through the American consciousness, the great distrust in power. Watergate just made it official.

Bringing it back home, I’ve found a similar morbid fascination with Absurdist writings– maybe it’s related, maybe it’s not. All I know is I get the same big swallow in my throat, breathing hard the wrong way down my esophagus so my stomach gets bloated on emptiness. Let’s go. We can’t. Why not? We’re waiting for Godot. Ah! This hilarious sadness for something we’ve blown way out of proportions, we care so deeply for and mourn its lost– it’s ridiculous. It’s absurd. Civilization is a method for bookkeeping, its entire purpose to ordain and streamline modes of interaction between humans, and we’ve let the plaque build up in guise of Romanticism. We’re festering. We’re self-destructing. What the hell, hero, America, you weren’t supposed to let these ideals get out of hand. You weren’t supposed to idly stand by and believe anything with a federal stamp of approval over it. How little we want to care, it’s crass. It’s utterly, completely absurd.

Depression, Angle of

Without even getting into the whole ugly mess of “Asian kids are good at math!” I’m going to say that I recently received a 70% on a Pre-Calculus test. Those that are familiar with PreCalc concepts will know that this:

is an angle of depression. I am neither the hot air balloon nor the bag of money; I am the angle itself, the oft-calculated, exasperated angle of depression fanning out from my initial angle, spreading more and more, but never getting anywhere, because no matter how long the sight line is, the angle is still the same.

Or, in shorter terms, I am angry. As hell.

Hear me out: I’m not looking for consolation, merely a source to vent at. I know that a C won’t break me (even though tests are weighted to measure as 50% of our overall grade, gross), I know that there are ups and downs to everything. Trust me when I say I’m not being a snob about grades. I don’t need anyone to tell me, “But Midori! C’s aren’t failing!” I know that, I know that.

Frankly, I’m embarrassed. Embarrassed because I was pretty damn confident about this test, confident that I knew the concepts well– and then all of a sudden, a goddamn C. It’s humiliating, I think, not so much that I was arrogant, but that I needed to reminder to see my own arrogance. At least Icarus was pure of heart, y’know, sensibility lost in a moment of excitement. I’m just somewhat of a snooty toerag, believing I have something and to screw it up so completely as to get a C.

Okay, yes, I’m blowing it way out of proportion, but the longer I linger on being angry, the more angry I become, and if I’m not angry, I can only be sad, and if I’m sad I only get sadder, so to avoid that I just get angry and more angry and–

So, what really is the purpose of this post? Venting, okay, but also a bonus package deal of moral while you’re here (for just $5.99!). I know this is often said again and again, that you shouldn’t care so much about grades, and honestly, I disagree. But that’s on a case-to-case basis– I personally want to get good grades because for one, I have excellent teachers I feel personally responsible toward, which drives me to work hard in response, and for another, I like to be recognized as good at what others challenge me to do. In the case of this math test, however, let’s take a look at the context:

  • it was one test, worth a lot, sure, but there will be more
  • the teacher does not offer extra credit
  • the teacher does not do test corrections

Given this, even if I do weep and mope about, it wouldn’t make any difference whatsoever, and as much as admitting that makes me bitter, there’s nothing I can do but accept it. And move on. What’s the point of staying upset and upsetting others? Just for the sake of my pride? The best I can do is learn where I made a mistake and reprimand myself to never do it again.

So, it’s not don’t care, but also realize that there’s such thing as caring too much, on irrelevant levels. I’d like to claim that I’m over the test, but evidently I’m still bitter enough to write an entire blogpost about it, so I still need to take my own advice. But hey, I’m trying– I can fault me for ultimately failing the test, but I can’t fault me for trying.

Teaching: An Unexpected…?

I’ve never particularly fancied myself a teacher.

A newscaster, a psychoanalyst, a singer, a broadway dancer, sure– never really a teacher.

Why? They’re so under-appreciated, is why. I think everyone who has gone to a “normal” school can attest to this– ugh, teachers are so mean, ugh, they gave me detention, ugh, they’re so stupid why do they give us so much work, ugh. Having grown up surrounded by that, no matter how much I love my teachers, it’s hard to want to be in their position.

And then, last Friday, something changed.

Fourth period, I’m the TA for Heather’s Honors World Lit class, and on Friday, Heather had to be partially absent, so I took over. For an hour or so, I guided the class in a reading of Romeo and Juliet. Heather arrived partway through, and afterwards, told me that I was a good teacher, and that maybe I can think about going into teaching. It was lunchtime, so I just sort of went “Aw, shucks,” and left it at that.

Fast forward to the next morning, when I got up at eight to go teach Chinese for two hours at a local Buddhist community school. At eleven, I leave to teach Tap Dance to six-year-olds at the Geary Dance Center, part two of my Beginning Tap Class, for I also teach for an hour on Wednesdays.

…Upon reflection, maybe I’m a bit closer to the “teaching” thing than I had initially thought.

Just… why?! This is a bit of a panic attack-inducing realization, I’m not going to lie. Not that I’m against teaching, it’s just such a shock to find myself doing so much of something I’ve never even considered. Well, now I’m considering it, sheesh, thanks Heather. As if college wasn’t enough.

(Just kidding; I love you.)

What a Few People Want to Say to the World

by Abigail (’14)

On December 16, Mykel, Midori and I went to a reading from Carville Annex. It was held in the Arboretum, in the redwood grove, which is difficult to find. I showed up early at the entrance and met some of the readers. None of them were sure about how to get to the redwoods. “We were hoping Sarah knew.”

Sarah Fontaine showed up. “Hey, where are we going?” we asked her. “Well…I don’t really know,” she said. So we started wandering. I noticed a sign that said, “Redwood Grove,” with an arrow, but nobody else seemed to. I was walking behind them, and they were too far away for me to mention it… Since they had they the map, I figured they knew what they were doing. Not really, but whatever. Someone said, “Even if nobody figures out where the reading is, they’ll have a great time walking around with the plants!”

“Yeah!”

“This place is rad, right? I love the weather!”

“Yeah!”

The entire reading had, in some ways, the tone of this conversation. Everybody was happy to be there, and everybody liked and trusted everybody else. The readers were all young—two were high school students, the rest were maybe twenty to twenty-eight. Many of the pieces were about not knowing how to be a good adult, or not knowing what the author’s place in the world was, but the readers were figuring it out… they were getting there. They were enjoying themselves along the way.

the halcyon bird, or Kingfisher

One of the pieces, a “sermon” for the holidays—“’Tis the goddamn season,” it began—explained (convincingly and hilariously) the importance of paying attention to one thing at a time. Apparently, “the ancients” believed that, for a few days during the holiday season, birds called Halcyons floated in nests on the sea, keeping it calm so people could celebrate. The author said that, this year, she’d celebrate the season by not multitasking— she’d try to live some halcyon days.

Her fellow readers seemed to be living halcyon days, too. They were all calm and appreciative and earnest and fully present. Which you don’t get often at your average reading.

It was nice to hear my friend Annakai read (I hadn’t in a long time) and it was also nice to sit with Midori and Mykel, listening, in such a pretty spot. Birds kept popping out of the surrounding bushes, flying past the readers’ faces, then disappearing again. There were more great things about it, but it would make a very long blog post to talk about them all. Midori said it was the best reading she had ever gone to, and Mykel and I agree, so keep an eye out for more.

The title of the reading was “What a Few People Want to Say to the World.” I wish I could quote the first piece read, which was Sarah’s, but the gist of it seemed to be that self-promotion is only gross when it’s egotistical—when it’s just because you want to tell people about yourself, it’s helpful, and bigger than yourself, and necessary. The readers were all happy to be included in the “few people,” and they were confident that they were talking to a larger audience than just the people in the redwood clearing.