This, to me, is the good life: a strong latte. a book. a pen and some paper. a text editor to write in, and an idea to write of. some code to tinker with. (free wifi.)

Don’t get me wrong, I very much like being thrown into the chaos of the material world. I love working on teams and the fast pace of start-ups. There are times I yearn to put on a business suit and heels and lead high-powered debates and discussions. I like working, with all of its politics and frustrations and setbacks. I’m an engineer, and I like making things. But at the end of the day, undeniably, it is designing the models, not building them, that I prefer.

In the US, I think, there is a huge emphasis on big material accomplishments. We want our most hopeful children to become leaders, and we want to see them move, create, and break things. This, however, is neither suited to nor approved of by everyone. Yet, there is the Machiavellian assumption that it is in fact the most noble and right to sacrifice one’s own self-cultivation to worldy action. Pursuing the Platonic “good life” is tinged with guilt and the malodorus scent of elitism.

Is there shame, in this society, in being an introspective creature? And, if we think so, is a product of Western culture only, or is it so universal that it must be imperative? Is there shame for those who’d rather Think Big than Make Big? Is it selfish and cowardly, or perhaps noble?

This tangent popped into my head on my flight on the way to Paris, which, most definitely, holds a kind of cultural expectation far different from our own. I was sipping some white wine I had gotten gratis (I can’t emphasize it enough…FLY EUROPEAN AIRLINES!) and flipping through some magazine I had picked up at the airport, the French version of the sort of publication I secretly (or not so secretly) really enjoy, along the lines of Glamour, or Elle, or some other probably sexist crap that’s filled with really entertaining probably idiotic love advice, when I happened upon an article with the title “Travailler Moins Pour Vivre Plus!” (work less to live more). We often joke about the French being selfish and self-absorbed (my mom, who went to University in Paris, jokingly said of this to me, “l’enfer, c’est les autres”), but is it maybe self-protection, and if self-protection, is that really selfish in the long run?

In any case, it is worth thinking about. I do not in any way have a definitive answer nor opinion yet on this thought, but I will leave you with a quote that is inscribed on the Berlin wall in the East Side Gallery, which, by the way, is absolutley gorgeous:

“Viele kleine Leute an vielen kleinen Orte, die viele kleine Schritte tun, können das Gesicht der Welt verändern.”

“Many small people in many small places, who do many small steps, can change the face of the world.”

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En Vacances…

11 Aug 2012

Hi all,

I will be in Berlin and Paris for 10 days starting tomorrow, armed with one sturdy little backpack, an iphone, a notebook, Nietzsche’s Human, all too Human, and a pair of walking shoes. If I have a spare moment perhaps I will attempt to punch out something on the tiny little iPhone touchpad. If not, peace till then!

À bientôt,

Sophie

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To-day in yoga class the girl next to me had a very large and slightly unseemly tattoo on her ankle of a phrase both succinct and wise: What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Who You Are.

This statement struck a deep and harmonious chord inside of me, because I think we are told far too often that What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger, which I feel is a cheap way of sugar-coating hardship and ignoring it for face value. While a lot of times what doesn’t kill us does indeed strengthen us, if not physically, then at least in some mental way, it would be a blanket statement to hold this as a universal maxim. Sometimes what doesn’t kill us really does weaken us. Sometimes it cripples us, sometimes it blinds us, and sometimes it even breaks us.

To learn and grow from trying times is not necessarily the direct function of the difficulty itself. While there definitely benefit in thinking positive, let’s not confuse cause with correlation.

But what doesn’t kill us most certainly molds us into who we are, unto death, for better, or for worse.

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Now here I was, sitting at home on a lazy summer’s day, full of food and sleep, reading through the NYTimes to find something good and juicy to write about, and thinking maybe, just maybe, that actually none of the articles annoyed me today.

Then aforementioned now ex-roommate Jennifer comes to the rescue (as usual!) with a link to this appalling post. And I smack myself in the forehead now for forgetting: Silicon Valley’s like a gold mine of Sophie-rant material. Put together 99 parts men, one part opinionated woman, and an extremely distorted and sensationalist media, and you have one big recipe for trouble.

Anyway. Apparently 140 Stiches is “dedicated to all you tech nerds who have far more important things to do than care about what the hell you’re going to wear. You were gifted in many ways – fashion sense not one of them. That’s okay, because I have absolutely nothing better to do than tell you smart asses what to wear.” Umm, OFFENSIVE, JUST A LITTLE?

But to cover-up right quick, the author makes sure to clarify that even though she just insulted the pants off your algorithm-loving asses, she’s just one of “the boys”. “If you think I’m just your average fashion obsessed girly girl, think again. I know my fair share about the interwebs and my favorite movie is The Social Network, in which I may or may not know every line.”

Look guys, fashion sites are GREAT. Fashion advice is helpful and fun for those who WANT and need it. But making the bullheaded and unfortunate assumption that all nerds are men and unkept ones at that is not only offensive, it’s, well, sexist. To both sexes!  I am a computer scientist and a nerd, but I also happen to be a fashionable metropolitan woman. And I also happen to like my algorithm-writing, bespectacled companions in their hackathon shirts. At least it shows a preference for intelligence over vanity, which not many people these days seem to have.

 

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Olympics Mania

03 Aug 2012

Today I wanted to bring a little attention to an article that recently caught my eye. It’s a piece based off an interview with Dominique Moceanu, the youngest American, at age 14, to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics. The article is part of a series, “Tell Me When It’s Over”, in which former athletes speak about the moment in which they realized their careers were finished.

Moceanu does not mince any words. I am not sure when the interview was conducted, but there is something almost child-like and innocent in how straightforward she is in relaying the alterior motives and politics in which her pure love of the sport was inevitbly intertwined. “[I]t was never the competition that frightened me”, Moceanu recalls. “The hard part is the self-serving adults who wanted to use me as a means to an end”. She then recounts how she was constantly belittled and abused after being taken under the wings of the world-famous Karolyis at the age of ten. The road to her Olympic gold was by no means easy, and even after victory there were no signs of gratitude from her coaches.

Accompanying the writing is a photograph of Moceanu at fourteen. Her leotard is white and her cheeks are still round with the slightest hint of baby fat. I long to reach out and give her a hug, even though I know that in real life she is near thirty now, because I know how it is. I think that anyone who was ever deeply and emotionally involved with a sport–especially one that relies on images of perfecition and beauty– has a lens into a whole different rabbit hole.

I’ll never know exactly what it is that motivates some coaches to act in this way.* Maybe it’s tradition: the Russian Way, or the Bulgarian Way, or the Chinese Way is the way your ancestors did it, it’s the way sponsored by the government, and it’s the only way. Or perhaps the reasoning is empirical: harassing and hammering perfection into children is surely one way to make them obey. It doesn’t work on everyone, for sure, especially those with weak nerves, but for some, it ignites a cold and dangerous fire inside. I don’t think these men and women view what they do as wrong, for they are focused on creating champions, not well-balanced and stable human beings. Coaches are mysterious and private people, and the more vicious and crazy and flawed they are, the harder it is to hate them. Maybe that’s the tactic all along.

Without rambling too much, I encourage you all to read Moceanu’s “exit interview”. Her thoughts add an important level of humanity and gravity to the games we all love and know and cheer for. It is easy to be caught up in the glamour and the gallantry of the Games. Even for a hardcore cynic and ex-gymnast like myself, watching the “Fierce Five” blew my mind away with the beauty of the sport and brought a glow to my heart for these girls, who seemed so very tiny and earnest. But when those Russian gymansts cried big fat tears all over television for their silver medal, there must have been a little more than just dissapointment going on.

The Olympics is a shiny, sparkly time in which we all hold hands and play good ole’ sports and feel proud of our nations in a squeaky-clean way (aside from the occasional Chinese doping incident). Our athletes make us proud because they are so single-minded and incessantly loyal in their pursuits. There is no need for brain twisting or overthinking because there are no games. The goal is physical and explicit: all we have to do is sit back, knock down a few beers, and shout for U.S.A. It is important to remember, however, that no pursuit so grand can ever remain unadulterated, and that any lifestyle based on the sole image of perfection is ulitmately unsustainable.

*Edit: I also strongly recommend reading Karolyi’s “autobiography”, Feel No Fear. Still not sure how that man works but it provides the opposite perspective in a colorful way.

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