I guess I haven’t blogged in a long time because a) I’ve been busy and b) I’m hesitant to write unless I have something worthwhile to say. And while it is fun to rant, I want to avoid ranting my head off, because I do feel as if all I say ends up being a first-world problem sort of thing I need to re-evaluate my writing. It is as important to me to become a better writer as it is to get my thoughts across, and questions I want to ask myself more often are: is this even good journalism? And if not journalism, is this good fiction? Non-fiction? Etc.

As I begin senior year, I finally have some space for electives, and as a result I’m trying to work on stretching my creativity in my spare time. This means just living with a sense of orbiting in a slightly different sphere than I do when I’m in hardcore analytic mode. I’m not sure if that even makes sense at all but it’s 1:30 am right now and I’m avoiding my problem set.

The only analogy I have is this:
If you’re bilingual, do you know that feeling, where you kind of just “tune in” to another language, not even switch gears but just slightly adjust the radio knob to receive a different wavelength? That’s how I feel about the creative state of mind. You know that it’s there and a language you can speak but there are others equally adequate and all of them interesting to use, but also that if you don’t speak it for a while all of a sudden you’re fumbling over verbs and names. Whatever language you use in your daily life will be the easiest and sharpest tool, but you know the feelings of the words and sounds of the mother tongue.

OK. That was also probably incoherent. Mostly I just mean that I’m trying to dedicate real time and effort to work on bending the only real Medium I possess on this Earth– my body (and mind) to wring out even an ounce of art (and by art I mean feeling) from it: whether it be through movement, drawing, or fiction. I’m trying to really work on some purely expressive forms.

Guten Nacht!

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Recently, this little comic from the Oatmeal, titled “The Terrible & Wonderful Reasons why I run Long Distance” popped up on several friends’ newsfeeds.

It’s a very good piece, and if you are a runner yourself, or maybe a biker, or maybe a swimmer, or maybe just a person, or maybe even a cat of the internet, you should check it out. With the simplest of drawings, it captures very well the essence of an amateur runner.

I myself don’t run in the way that the narrator of this comic runs. I run when it’s nice outside, I run when I’m frustrated, I run when I’m angry, and I run when I’m lost. But I run very rarely, and never do I run fast enough, or long enough, to reach euphoria. My running is always solo, always complentative, and never has it silenced the noise in my head. Very often, it smoothes tangled knots out– if only by virtue of making myself feel healthy and sunkissed again.

Recently, I started dancing again. I’ve been dancing since I was five. When I was three, I watched my older sister’s ballet performance and begged my mom to be onstage, too. I love to move, and I love to dance, and in a way dance is a healing process– after 10 years of competitive gymnastics, I love the feeling of being onstage without having my every step marked by point deductions.

In a moment of sheer luck, I’ve discovered a rare gem: the Manhattan dance studio that is relatively affordable, air-conditioned, spacious, and most elusive of all, not filled with judgemental, competitive, rail-thin preprofessional teenagers waiting to eat me up.

The dancers at this studio are very talented. The instructor is friendly and experienced. But best of all, this class– twice a week, an hour-and-a-half each– whips the my ass. And it also whips my abs, and my arms, and my calves, and my thighs, and most importantly, my brain.

When I enter the studio directly after work, there’s a million thoughts running through my head. Is it bad that I left work before 7? Did I slack off too much today? Will I finish my summer project in time? Do I need a Ph.D? Am I ever going to be a good scientist? Is the world driven by chance or does it have a telos? Is it possible to be both intellectually conscious and happy?

But twenty minutes into class, I’m struggling just to breathe, as this killer warm-up asks me to do thirty more sit-ups, forty more crunches. Bass beats rivet off the ceiling, and sweat drips off my nose.

“I’ve always considered the question to be ‘Why am I alive? Why am I here? What’s the point of me? And to that I say: WHO CARES! FORGET THE WHY YOU ARE IN A RAGING FOREST FULL OF BEAUTY AND AGONY…THIS IS BETTER THAN THE WHY. I run because I seek that clarity”, says the little stick figure in the Oatmeal comic.

There is only one reason why I dance. I want, I crave, I need a better way to express myself. (Sometimes, I wish I could sing louder, clearer, just so I could belt it out like Christina Aguilera in Burlesque at the end of a long work day in my little-town-accidentally-sexy waitress outfit. And then become a professional performer with Cher.)

I’m not a great dancer, by any means. Sure, I can bust a few moves at a party. I’m relatively in shape, I’ve been dancing a long time, and most of all I Love it With All My Heart. I’m a slow learner, I’m a little off-beat, but by show time I’m giving it my all.

Sometimes, dancing makes me feel very small and adolescent again, while I watch the slim beautiful girls at Barnard and Columbia in my dance group rule the stage with their wonderful years of ballet training and their illuminating stage prescence. And when that happens, the voice of my fourteen-year-old self is telling me again that I’m not thin enough, not blonde enough, and just so damn awkward.

But goddamit, sometimes I like that. Sometimes it’s good to worry so much about things that my Computer Science classmates would find trivial, to feel small and nerdy and inadequate again, to feel the ruthless female competition of beauty and grace. Sometimes it’s good to want so much to be good at something that isn’t just a desk job.

It’s a struggle, and so much work, just to be able to express one-tenth of what I want to say in my movement. But in that moment when I’m finally on the beat, and not stumbling over my own feet, I never feel so much alive.

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Absolutely loving this article on understanding introversion from The Atlantic. Introversion seems to have a resoundingly negative connotation in (Western) society, which is a real shame, considering that it is estimated ‘a minority in the regular population but a majority in the gifted population’ identify as such.

Why has calling someone an introvert become such a bad name? There is an idea that to succeed in the business and political world, one must be outspoken and outgoing, and thrive off the energy of others, which defines the traits of extroversion. Parents are constantly egging their toddlers to be “less shy”, and worry when they occasionally refuse to socialize. These unfair stereotypes even tread the territories of areas closer to our heart– the author, Jonathan Rauch, sympathizes: “Female introverts, I suspect, must suffer especially. In certain circles, particularly in the Midwest, a man can still sometimes get away with being what they used to call a strong and silent type; introverted women, lacking that alternative, are even more likely than men to be perceived as timid, withdrawn, haughty”, which I can state as true from personal experience.

Misunderstanding plays a key role in the perpetration of the Introvert Myth. Introversion is not equivalent to shyness; this is a grave and unfortunate mixup. Neither is it misanthropy; the central characteristic of introversion is that we “find other people tiring”, not that we don’t like them. Many people are surprised to find that I identify as an introvert; after all, I am a very vocal student, a big fan of public speaking, and enjoy meeting new people. I love nothing more than animated discussions with people whose ideas intrigue me.

Yet at the end of the day, I need a large portion of time to be alone with my thoughts. It is both a mental and physical necessity; my body literally repulses from the thought of others invading my mental space. If I am not granted this peace, my intellectual and emotional state will literally deteriorate; it is “recharge” time from social interactions, and the way I am able to perform challenging mental tasks on a daily basis at school and/or work. Yet, due to the commonly accepted myths of introversion, I find that people who do not know me well are often confused or worse yet offended by my need to be alone when I so clearly have the skills to socialize, which is a real shame.

Failing to recognize and respect introversion is highly problematic as it can lead to deteriorating business and personal relationships and injustice at large. My own case is only a small and rather weak example, as I do not test extremely introverted, and can sustain interaction with people for extended chunks of time (as in, more than 24 consecutive hours) if necessary. In fact, an estimated 25% of the population identify as such, although the real percentage is likely higher.

For more, read the article. And then, leave me alone. (Just kidding. Somewhat.)


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I pose to you today a question that I wish for you to consider, as you re-enter your classrooms and dormrooms and lecture halls (that is, if, you, like me, are a university student; else, perhaps as you send your sons and daughters and friends back to such similiar places).

What is the price of a good education?

It is true, of course, that on some level a good education has no price. For knowledge is both priceless and infinitely valuable.

But this is not how, for all intents and purposes, we are taught to think in pragmatic life, or at least not at our present state and nation; and this you must surely know, for even public schooling is not truly free, paid for students in the form of taxes and subsidies and other pecuniary means. Budget cuts, tax increases: these are the buzzwords we often hear in the political arena with respect to education. I, for one, loyal to my liberal stance, default to protest the cut of funding for schools and cheer programs to increase its quality. Yet at what point may we say, STOP? and when must we say, GO?

I am an undergraduate of Columbia University, surely among the most expensive educations in the world. The raw cost of 1 year’s tuition is $45,028.00; with financial aid and scholarship, it becomes incrementally more affordable, but even so, an enormous sum (and not all Universities provide such great financial support). Surely, at this price, my education must be nonparallel; and in some ways, this is in fact true, and I am extremely fortunate.

But if we may read the quality of education as proportional to its price, and thusly say that this is truly the highest quality of education that humanity can provide at this moment, than I reply that humanity must be in a very sorry state indeed.

In the first 2 days of courses this semester I can already count 2 classrooms that had not enough seats for students; 3 that were over-registered. In one class more than 10 students sat on the floor for the duration of the nearly 2 hour lecture below the vision of the professor; in another, students were encouraged to sit on window ledges rather than crowd the aisles on a day of 7°F wind chills.

This is one of the highest price tags for education in the world; and if at 45,028.00 dollars we cannot provide even the bare essentials for students (a place to sit and the ability to both see and hear the lesson), it frightens me to hear at what tuition hike this may be proposed feasible.

I have, of course, no definite answers, and my question of price is less about money than to suggest a point about the usage of that money and the approach that the society in which I live takes to approach the education question. It is a question that, as a student, one has a responsibility to ponder, and that I hope to explore, and I ask you to do the same.

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“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”"

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Congrats! we made it. despite threats of superstorms, presidential elections and a mayan apocalpyse, here we are, for the most part whole, stumbling headaches and all into the year 2013.

I will be the first to admit that I love making lists: to-do lists, to-don’t lists, shopping lists, restaurant lists, playlists… but to be perfectly honest, most of the time I get a whole lot more out of writing lists than following them. In fact, oftentimes I will spend a good deal of time thoughtfully assembling bullet points, only to never even glance at them again.

therefore, the practicality of New Year’s Resolutions remains doubtful. Let’s be frank: I have no idea what I decided to promise my self last year, and even less idea of whether I achieved it or not. And it was still a pretty freaking good year anyway, and one i feel was absolutely essential in the development of self and character.

anyway, like i said, i really do enjoy making lists, so why the heck not. so without further ado, some resolutions, in no particular order, and varying degrees of importance:

1. This one’s really important, and is a general goal I’d like to make the theme of 2013/life: to keep an open mind. Computer Science has taught me really wonderful life skills (patience, making REALLY CLEAR AND EXPLICIT ALGORITHMIC INSTRUCTIONS SERIOUSLY when telling someone what to do, creativity, etc.) but unfortunately it has also somewhat increased my already present tendency to view things as binary. I’m somewhat hot-headed and a whole lotta stubborn, so it’s very, very easy for me to jump to binary (GOOD || BAD) conclusions about things right off the bat, when in reality, this can be a silly, not to mention dangerous, practice. And if 2013′s taught me anything at all, people (and life) are constantly full of surprises.

2. Have better study habits, seriously. OK so I know this one is really run-of-the-mill and y’all are yawning but as I always tell myself if only, only I stopped shopping online in all my lectures for the first 5 weeks of the semester this would save me a LOT of panic later.

3. Stop pulling up my jeans by the pockets because the pockets start ripping and yes I know this is a random-ass resolution BUT it is important and hey it fulfills the characteristic of a well-formed resolution being both succinct and specific.

4. In contrast to the previous, try to live life with more focus on the present space and dimension. I have a mind that feasts on large, abstract concepts and likewise has a tendency to fixate on abstract worries and puzzles. there are some issues that simply cannot be resolved within the current brainspace and timespace– and i have to learn to be comfortable with that. Not every worry and problem has a closed-form solution and I need to get that through my stubborn head and focus on matters at hand.

5. And a light(er) positive one to finish off: continue to be involved with performance groups at school! Seriously, it brings much needed perspective to schoolwork and a different sense of accomplishment.

6. Just kidding, one more: Yoga! Yoga really, really does me well.

7. Oops, really, really just one more: make a conscious effort to stop being flaky. I used to get so annoyed about people not living up to their plans– that was, until I became so busy this semester I started missing social obligations left and right. Yes, I will always have code to write, and sometimes that code is really important, but no one likes being stood up for a last minute NLP assignment 3 days past its due date. (If you are one of the many people this happened to this semester I am really sorry but sometimes code gets really needy and i promise i value our time.)

What are your New Year’s Resolutions (if you believe in resolutions, otherwise what would be your pretend resolutions if you are already perfect etc.) ?

*Oh wait, I just found last year’s resolutions! now this is entertaining… (Although it does seem like I made good headway on a very important one– to stop calling myself “stupid” when problems get tough–a bad habit I found to be very counterproductive, and for the most part, untrue.)

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manhattan musing #1

17 Dec 2012

Sometimes I think to myself, wow, I am a lucky girl.

To be a young student in Manhattan: to have had snippets of summer, to have been to secret speakeasies and after-hours parties at the MOMA, to have taken the cab and the subway in the wee hours of the morning, to sip cocktails under a different age.

We do not have much in the way of savings but there is nothing richer than the culture of the metropolis, nothing more luxurious than the gold of youth.

Yet, we could be old and still chic. There is nothing preventing us from being so in this great city but our own monotony. We could be grand, we could have dinner parties. We could own even more black dresses and cynicism than we do now. We could never have everything; we could hardly have the rent. But we could have our pride.

These are the stuff of sweet memories, one day we shall recite to our children. Perhaps our first love will sway, but for now, we have never before been so alive.

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22 Nov 2012

Every day I am thankful but some days I forget.

It is easy to forget and attack the day in steely resolve because life does not take so easily to being loved. We wish for her to be always apple-cheeked and rosy like the girl next door of our childhood dreams: forever preserved in our imaginations, she never loses her temper; her skin always porcelain and clear.

In reality this is not so. Life, she is complicated. When she frowns upon us it is not always the pout we wish we could adore. There are times when she rages and the rage is geniune, full of hatred, bigotry, and fear. She is full of angst and her complexion polluted by man. She is fickle, she smiles upon the beautiful and the wealthy, and she is unfair: unabashedly so.

Still, we would not have it any other way. (Save, maybe, for the extremely uncreative or extremely boring.) There is no great art without an element of tragedy; there is no great genius without a touch of insanity. In its greatest imperfections and frustrations, Life is most human, most poignant. Only chaos can give birth to a dancing star.

Every day I am thankful for a million different things: a list that could be processed across a dozen parallel computers and still take more than seconds to complete. I can’t always recite them but I know they are there. These are just a few.

I am thankful to have a wonderful, caring boss at my work study job who bakes the whole office cake and lets us all know that there is still a place for Southern hospitality in a no-nonsense, metropolitan school.

I am thankful to have parents that are open-minded and loving: it is their eccentricities that make me unique.

I am thankful to have a sister who is my best friend that I talk to everyday just like in books.

I am thankful to have best friends who are like sisters (and brothers). They keep me afloat and are great fun to boot.

I am thankful to be privileged to attend this University; flawed though it may be at times, the knowledge and opportunity is unsurpassable.

I am thankful to have found a field of study that challenges and never fails to fascinate me. I am especially thankful that academic grades are relatively irrelevant in this field.

I am thankful for my good health despite my sleep deprivation and correlated penchant for caffeine and sugar.

I am thankful to wake up in the city that never sleeps, where even shopping for groceries could have taken place in a movie. I never fell in love as a teenager and the City is my first.

Above all I am thankful to be able to put my thoughts into words and those words on a page. This is, perhaps, as Aristotle suspected, what really makes (wo)man (wo)man.

Happy holidays. Take care.

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How ironic it is that 2 weeks ago I wrote an article on How Women Can’t Have it All, when I was, in fact, on my way to breaking point.

These past 2 weeks have been hellish to say the least.

The workload at Columbia has always been tough but I never envisioned how brutal it would be taking 2 graduate level courses along with 3 other programming intensive classes. Perhaps there are some who can handle it, but I do not have the build for it…

As a disclaimer, I have never placed too much value in letter and number grades and so the stress was really purely situational and not the blame of perfectionism, etc.

On the other hand, I am am a bit of an academic “purist” and have always loved learning for learning’s sake–thus placing a great emotional investment in what I study, especially towards Computer Science and Philosophy, which are my two main interests and have become part of my identity. And so perhaps that is even more of a burden than the pursuit of numbers, as it pains my soul not to learn what interests me well.

And identity, I realize, is integral to the issue. All my life I have been involved in very artistic and expressive pursuits, and so it has always been a secret fear in the back of my head after I started seriously dedicating my studies to the hard sciences I would lose part of myself. Close-minded stereotypes and assumptions of Engineering students I discovered existed after arriving to college did not help. So I imposed concrete, tangible markers on my self– a minor in Philosophy, Writing for the Spectator– to make sure someone, something else aside from me would be putting checks on my identity and keep it from slipping away to monotony.

On the one hand, dance (ballet classes and student groups), writing (for my blog and for the Spec) and philosophy (the Ethics class which I am taking, which I adore), have been saving graces in overwhelming times.

I remember one morning waking up so exhausted and sleep deprived that I had the terrifying revelation that I could not get myself to feel anything at all. I wandered through my morning in a stupor–unable to empathize with any human being. It was incredibly disorienting. The moment I finally regained my sense of humanity was when I walked into my ethic professor’s office hours. In the sunny room, in the mahogany Philosophy Hall, we had a great conversation on normative ethics and I finally felt myself again.

But on the other side, I realize that I am stretching myself way too thin just to hold on to these societally imposed, arbitrary markers on myself. And so I have withdrawn from my position as a blogger at the Spec*, and have dropped my Philosophy minor, even though it pains me to do so. Health comes first, existence precedes identity (arguably). I can still grow as a writer on my own time, and read great works at my leisure, perhaps auditing courses as life permits.

Dimensionality comes foremost from dimensionality in thought and an open mind– which can barely be achieved when it is overworked and undernourished.

I hope to keep these things in mind, as I learn to worry less about the labels I place on myself. Quality over quantity.

Thank you friends and family for being infinitely valuable.

Take care.

* On a separate, but related note, I have learned a valuable lesson from writing for a web publication– please be insightful but always respectful whenever commenting on the Internet. Anonymity need not make assholes of us all.

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This is a little late in coming, but I really, really like this article published in the nytimes. Without going into too much detail, since I highly encourage you to read it yourself, the piece, titled “Follow a Career Passion? Let it Follow You” debunks the idea that in order to be successful, you have to start chasing after that one and only dream job, something the author, CS professor at Georgetown Cal Newport calls “the Cult of Passion”.

I see a lot of the detrimental effects of this “Cult” at Columbia. I, too, fell victim to its pressures when I was first starting out in Engineering school. I have always been a passionate learner and somewhat an academic “purist”: learning for learning’s sake, never for grades or awards. When I arrived at Columbia, for the first time in my life, I hated all of my classes. It destroyed my morale. The one course that I truly enjoyed– a writing seminar– ironically, caused me even more anxiety, since it had naught to do whatsoever with Engineering.

There is nothing wrong with encouraging young adults to pursue their dreams or find careers that inspire them. This is all very good and ideal. The old adage holds true: if you are doing something that you love, you are successful already.

However, this philosophy can be problematic because it puts unwarranted stress on career decisions, and moreover, really hurts those who have not yet “discovered” their “calling”, which I think is a BS idea anyway. Combine that with the financial and societal pressure that comes with attending an elite school, and you have a lot of Ivy-League tears. It is nearly impossible to know at age 18 or 20 what you want to do for the rest of your life and that’s okay: you can’t know and if you do, you’re probably wrong.

The issue is intensified when very smart, very passionate indivduals have not yet figured out what makes them happy or what exact field they are enthusiastic about. In these situations, and under high pressure, the urge to slap on the passions of others– perhaps a parent or a professor– or subsitute alternate motives (money, power) becomes all too tempting. For those with a high drive to succeed and perfectionist tendencies, the option to quit or reevaluate, even when unhappiness ensues, may never occur. I am, and remain, highly doubtful that a career, or moreover life, driven by any of these motives could ever be truly fulfilling or even healthy.

Newport, now a professor, argues that his love for teaching has “nothing to do with figuring out at an early age that I was meant to be a professor”, or even that there was anything special about his particular career path. The qualities that cause satisfaction in a career can be found in many areas– and most of all, they have to be earned. What matters is not the choice you make– but what you do once you have made the choice.

I could not agree more. I do not often use the word “love”, but I say it without qualms that I truly love Computer Science. It is a fascinating field of study and I am an eager evangelist. In it I see reflections of myself: the connections to Plato and Aristotle through logic and philosophy, the magic of words and drafting something beautiful that I crave in writing. Sure, there is a lot of debugging and frustration in between, but it satisfies, and most of all, challenges me to be a better thinker. None of these traits are apparent to the non-Computer Scientist or even many Computer Scientists. That’s because I took something that piqued my interests, and molded it into a passion.

I don’t know if I want to be a developer 5 years, or even 2 years (after graduation), from now. That’s because there is never only one right way or one right answer– not even in science. I don’t even know if my enthusiasm or GPA will survive this brutal semester of for and while loops. But I do know for sure that when it comes time to reeavaluate, I will try my best not to worry– because I know that where hard work and dedication go, love will follow.

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