99

It just so happens that my 100th post will be tomorrow, the first day of the A to Z Challenge. It’s kind of poetic, how it ended up like that.

My 99th post. I also (technically) started my blog last September, so this is also the end of the 6th month of having a blog. So timely! It feels like a season finale or something.

Since I’ll only be blogging about myself on Sundays, I wanted to do a little update today. In April, while I’m writing a new piece of fiction for this blog every day, I will be taking final exams and later moving back home. My boyfriend, who (as you are likely tired of hearing by now) spent this semester in Mexico, is coming home on Sunday the 17th, which I’ll probably talk about when it happens. I’ll continue working at the Globe, and my final few posts at the Emerson Pub Club blog will go up, which I’ll share with you accordingly.

Enough about me—I want to thank you for reading my blog, especially if you “follow” it. It makes me and others in the community feel like they are not alone. I feel so lucky to have such a thoughtful community. Often I feel like the comments you leave are better than the posts themselves—which is a good thing!

Basically, I want to thank you. If the Playground keeps growing, and I hope it does, I may buy a domain, in which case the site will change slightly (most likely to introvertplayground.com, instead of introvertplayground.wordpress.com). We will cross that bridge when we come to it, and we likely won’t come to it for quite awhile, but I wanted to notify you now just in case.

Finally, as I mentioned before, my boyfriend is starting his blog tomorrow with the A to Z Challenge. His theme idea is very creative, and if you like nerdy, educational things about history and geography you’ll probably like his blog: https://voiceswalking.wordpress.com/

Overall, thank you, and I hope you enjoy reading my A to Z Challenge posts as much as I will enjoy writing them!

 

Prioritizing vs. Balance

One of the most important things you learn in college, people will tell you, is how to prioritize.

For me, prioritizing wasn’t only a factor in choosing which essay to write first—it also applied to my personal values. You can probably list a few things you value highly, like honesty, or perseverance, or family. And you can probably rank them from most to least important, a form of prioritizing. The problem with this ranking form of prioritizing is that while it does keep the top values important, it tends to let the lower values fall to the wayside. It creates the illusion that the lower values are unnecessary…and they’re not. Let me explain–

When I was planning this semester, I ranked my internship as the first priority, my education second, and my friends and free time third. This was what I thought I was supposed to do, and after all it does make logical sense. College exists to get you a better job, right? So placing my job over my education made sense, and people always say “school first, friends later,” so that made sense as well. Do my job, do my schoolwork, and then all the free time goes to my friends.

Well, this system didn’t work as well as I thought it would. I ended up feeling guilty whenever I was with my friends, and worse, I always felt rushed and spent most of the time with them glancing at the clock no matter what I was doing. I would skip important classes to cover assignments, since work took priority, and I would skip events I wanted to go to to do homework, since school took priority, and soon I found myself cutting out friends more and more and using those precious hours to take naps, as sleep was at the bottom of the totem pole and nearly always got shafted for more important things. Doing that made me feel guilty for spending too much time asleep, and so on.

I was falling apart, but didn’t know why. I thought I was finding a “work/life balance” like all those fancy BBC articles told me I should, but I didn’t feel balanced, I felt exhausted.

Prioritizing works alright for writing papers and doing assignments, but when it comes to scheduling your life, a more fluid system works far better. I told myself to look at the clock less, to listen more to myself and others. To do my work, sure, but to do things to make me happy as well. “As well,” not “instead.”

I realized that happiness wasn’t on my list of priorities at all. I figured that this semester would be crunch time, saving money and getting experience for the future. With my boyfriend returning from Mexico and my upcoming trip to Europe, I had time in the future to be happy, but for now, happiness wasn’t important. However, thinking about how I would be happy in the future didn’t make me happy in the present, it only made me sadder as I calculated the seemingly endless days and weeks and months until his return and my departure.

A while ago I was discussing with my roommate the “nomadic” lifestyle of traveling the country in an RV working minimum wage jobs. She said if it made people happy, then they should do it. I said it would be naive to assume that life was all smiles and roses, and that having the security of a job would allow for a more comfortable life. We were both right. The RV life would be difficult, but if it made people happy, then they should do it. I am just now seeing that both of those things being true at the same time is both possible and necessary.

Balance isn’t about prioritizing. Balance is about…balance. Happiness and success, together, both in healthy amounts. You shouldn’t have to choose between one or the other. And neither should I.

Potterheads Rejoice! (But Maybe Not so Much)

Check out my thoughts on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them:

http://web.emerson.edu/undergrad-students-publishing/2016/03/25/alumni-author-spotlight-frank-gao-2/

Lying to myself

When I’m sick I often can’t tell how sick I am. I tell myself it’s not that bad, that I’m faking it, that I’m being a wimp. If I eventually cave and go home sick, however, it washes over me like a tidal wave and I realize how I was on my last leg all morning.

I lie to myself. Usually it’s in the form of “It’s not that bad” to help myself get through things. It’s surprising that it’s even possible to lie to yourself, since in lying one must by definition know the truth and purposefully evade it. Perhaps a better term would be pep talk. I give myself little pep talks. It’s not that bad. You can get through it. It’s only X more hours.

I’m also constantly telling myself that the worst is over. X is half over; just repeat what you’ve already done. You’re closer to the end than the beginning. The rain is letting up.

Or I bargain with myself. At least it isn’t a sore throat. At least it isn’t still morning. Double whammy: At least it’s almost over.

A common theme is thinking about myself in terms of “You.” I think it’s because hearing “You can do it” from a voice, even if it’s my own, gives me more confidence than an “I can do it.” It gives the impression that someone else thinks I can do it, not just me.

I wonder why I can’t give myself pep talks in my own voice, as myself. I have to use this “You” to take myself seriously.

Then again, I wonder why I need these pep talks at all. I suppose the reason for both is a lack of self confidence. Something like, I don’t trust my own judgement so I have to hear it from someone else, even if that someone else is just me pretending to me someone else.

Maybe I’m overthinking something everyone does, I don’t know. All I know is, I’m not a good liar, especially not to myself.

Sunshine Blog Award

Thank you to IntrovertCove for nominating me! It’s been awhile since they did, but I had just done one of these so I scheduled this one back awhile. Well, here it goes:

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RULES:

  • Thank the person who nominated you in a blog post.
  • Answer the 11 questions set by the person who nominated you.
  • Nominate 11 blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions to answer.

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My 11 Answers:

  1. What made you decide to start a blog? I wasn’t writing as much as I wanted to be. I tried it, and loved both the community and the schedule it kept me to.
  2.  What is your dream vacation? Hm…tough one. I’ve always wanted to see Iceland.
  3. If you got the chance to start your own business, what would it be? I’d like to be a freelance editor for novelists.
  4. What is your best stress reliever? Deep breathing!
  5. Who inspires you the most in your life, and why? Probably my friend Darian, because she is very ambitious but also never stresses out, and usually knows exactly what to do, especially in emotional situations.
  6. What is something that you want to say to someone, but can’t? It’s awkward to talk to my sister sometimes, but I think she’s the bee’s knees.
  7. What is your favorite accomplishment in your life? This is tough too! Probably finishing NaNoWriMo.
  8. What is your favorite book? Right now it’s Room by Emma Donohue.
  9. What is the next goal you would like to accomplish? I mean, number one on my list is to get my next novel finished…maybe published?
  10. What is the best life advice you have been given? You don’t have to be perfect.
  11. What makes a good friend? Someone who has a great sense of humor, shares similar interests, and knows you well enough to read your mind.

My 11 Nominees:

 

Mayam

Laura Marie Clark

Ebbasage

Jay Sparrow

Kindofcoffeecup

Retirement Lifestyle/Nomadic Adventurer

61chrissterry

Sarahnity

The True Light!

Ni~

Further A than B

My 11 Questions for The Nominees:

  1. When did you first start writing?
  2. What is your favorite dinosaur?
  3. What’s the funniest, wrong thing an older family member has done with technology?
  4. Are you friends with any teachers on Facebook? Why?
  5. Do you subscribe to any magazines? Which ones?
  6. How many times do you usually sneeze in a row?
  7. How many books in the Divergent series did you get through?
  8. Favorite YouTube channel?
  9. Would you compare Bruno Mars to Michael Jackson, James Brown, both, or neither of the two?
  10. Oranges or apples?
  11. Where did you go/are you going/will you go to college?

 

Flowers and wine

Today is my birthday! Yay! And tomorrow is Easter! Happy Easter, if you celebrate!

I’m running around crazy this weekend so I asked my boyfriend Colin to write another guest post, since his post last week got great feedback. He’s planning on starting his blog, Voices Walking, at the beginning of April. He’ll start along with the A-Z Challenge (which I’m also doing), so these guest posts are his way of testing the water of the blogosphere before diving in.

Tomorrow I’m doing one of those chain blog post question things, but regular Playground posting will resume on Monday. Without further ado, Colin’s post about his trek through the Mexican jungle, Flowers and Wine:

 

Last summer I watched a documentary called “Somme,” about new sommeliers training for their exam by testing each other’s palates and aptitude at describing the flavors hidden within each wine. Watching these people with seemingly superhuman aptitudes to taste and smell, I was inspired: I wanted to be like them, something about the sheer depth of knowledge and carefully honed senses made me tremble with envy. How could one possibly embark on a journey like this? When I can barely taste the difference between a red and a white, how could I cultivate a palate to match the excitement that sparkled in the sommeliers’ eyes for their craft?

I recently met someone else with that same joy, that sparkle in the eyes and the inability to sit still and not explore a new flavor. While in a botany class, hiking through the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca, I felt an immediate desire to learn how to savor each and every plant around me, thanks to the bright-eyed excitement of our professor. Having that joy in your work, coupled with the skill of knowing deeply every secret in a fern’s leaves, is deeply infectious to me. It makes me want to learn, to have that same passion. Watching him identify a plant was just like watching a master savor a taste of wine. He would look the plant up and down, drinking in the intricacies of the shape and texture through his hand lens. Next, he would tear up a leaf and smell deeply whatever odor it excreted, and bite into the stalk with the same tentativeness of a sommelier moving on from the swirl to the first delicate sip. The sommelier lists the characteristics and pinpoints the exact variety of wine. The botanist does the same.

How do you develop this precision, this deep understanding of your craft? Luckily, I was blessed with an insight into the process, that was the point of this class after all, and my professor pushed us hard to understand the work behind such a passion. We had to understand the structure of plants, how they grow and reproduce. After that we had to know all the characteristics plants could keep, in order to differentiate between different groups and families. From there, we got to start our business in the cloud forests of Oaxaca, armed with a basic understanding of how plants work. We used all our senses to identify these plants, learning more families as we went on. We used broad stokes at first, but with time we got more precise, learning a few genera and species by the end. But in general, we were learning to taste a Merlot, but we weren’t pinpointing flavors, nor were we learning to taste the manufacturer or the region of production. Nevertheless, I loved learning, even on such a surface level, the skills required to place a plant in the Solanaceae or the Cucurbitaceae, the nightshade and squash families, respectively. It felt as though I was gaining a skill! And because of that I continue to find the specifics immensely beautiful, the small things people spend so much time honing their skills to identify out of sheer passion.

When I turn off the documentary or return from the forest, however… Those passions seem to fade. I study geography and global studies, two very open ending subjects in the all-too-often unspecific social sciences. Too few of my compatriots spend time to learn things. My school professes to teach students how to “think,” but how can one think when you aren’t required to know the details behind your hypothesis? The sommelier has his wine and the botanist his plants, but what do I have? One day I hope to find the specific thing that I can push myself to study and know inside and out. I’ll keep on looking, studying how the world works, and praying that one day I will be drawn to a subject less wide, but as deep as the sea.

Opening up conversation

Today I wanted to open up a conversation with you guys about a recent comment on my post from Wednesday, “I would prefer not to.”

The commenter goes by “A Layman” but was “M.E.B” at time of commenting, and their blog can be found here. Their comment:

 

It is a good concept that you bring up. My first question to you, which can only be answered subjectively, “What does it mean to live.” For me, I rebel because there is too much in this society. I rebel against the instant gratification. The instant creativity. Have a blog, everyone is a writer. There is nothing wrong with this, but having everything at our fingertips kills creativity, rather than enhancing it.
Creativity is a struggle. A struggle within and a struggle without.I don’t find working in an office, which I did after spending years getting a degree, enjoyable at all. I actually regret going to college at all. It was a complete waste of my time. In my opinion, I could have spent that time living life. Living it the way I would live life. Free. Another subjective word, of which it would take far more than a blog page to define what freedom means to me. In a few words, freedom is to be free of the society. Free of commercialization. Free of the hell that has formed around me by rich tycoons who control the colleges, the institutions and the government. Free, simply to be me. Not some droid with thoughts implanted into my mind to perform the duties of the society. I am not a member of a society. I am member of humanity.

 

This inspiring comment really made me think. I agreed with it, deep in my heart. I think a lot of us have the gut instinct to rebel and run away from all our responsibilities…but the realist in me was holding back. Freedom, in its nature, is a scary thing. It’s risky to be free, easier to go along with the system put in place by society. I can never quite decide which is better, for me or for others: to play by the rules, or to change the rules so the game is fairer.

I’d like to hear your opinions on this, since mine are far from being concrete. Without judgment, share your ideas. As a community we can have a great Friday discussion on freedom, creativity, safety, and society.

4’33”

A performance of 4’33”. If you haven’t heard it, give it a listen!:

4’33” by John Cage always brings up the question, “Is this music?” By definition, music means sound, right? How could four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence possibly count as music?

Let’s back up for a second. Before John Cage (1912-1992) was Charles Ives (1874-1954), an experimental musician who was one of the first American composers to achieve serious international renown—for a long time, American composers were not thought of as real musicians at all. Ives wrote pieces that pushed the boundaries of music, such as “The Concord Sonata” that requires tapping keys with a 14 ¾ inch block of wood to create tone clusters, and “The Unanswered Question” which features extremely long single notes. His pieces often sound like a bit of an unorganized mess, but as time went on he came to be recognized as a legitimate musician perhaps a bit ahead of his time.

If Charles Ives pushed the boundaries of music, John Cage smashed them with an iron rod, recorded said smashing, and sold it as a record. He composed by using charts, tossing coins, and using random geometric patterns. He would litter the strings of a piano with objects to change the sound. He would swish water around in a seashell. He wrote pieces called “A Collection of Rocks,” “Paragraphs of Fresh Air,” and “Water Music,” which was performed with a radio, bird whistles, and a deck of cards which the player would shuffle and then deal over the piano strings. His most famous piece, of course, is 4’33”, which is performed by a person sitting at a piano and making as little sound as possible for exactly 4’33”.

I’ve heard multiple interpretations of 4’33”. Some say that the music is the accidental sounds a room full of people make, such as coughing or dropping keys. Some say that it’s arguing that silence is music, just like scheduled rests and pregnant pauses in (to avoid the phrase “normal music”) musical pieces including sound. Some say John Cage was plain crazy, like all the other Andy Warhol’s and Yoko Ono’s that dare defy convention.

Is John Cage the “Emperor’s New Clothes” of music–something people pour meaning and relevance into when really there’s nothing there? Or is it taking the easy way out to wave experimental art off with a dismissive hand and call it pretentious?

My favorite theory—plausible, since John Cage was interested in Buddhism—is that 4’33” was a sort of surprise meditation. In concert, the audience is captivated by the performer. In an anticipation-riddled song like 4’33”, they are focused intently, waiting for something to “happen.” This singular focus, all in silence, makes the audience unknowingly meditate, in a way. Their mind is clear, they are focused, and they are silent. Perhaps John Cage felt we all needed a meditation break now and then, and what better way to ensure people were getting one than putting one right in the middle of his concert? Then again, this doesn’t explain his other experimental music, so who knows?

Of course, we’ll never know, and that’s a good thing. What’s the point of art if there’s nothing to interpret? Then again, with 4’33”, there is literally nothing to interpret except the concept itself: silence as music. Perhaps the question isn’t whether or not it “counts” as music, but the message of the song. The method in the madness. The sound of silence.

I would prefer not to.

“I would prefer not to.”

The famous words of the resistant Bartleby Herman Melville’s short story “Bartleby the Scrivener,” are a quiet rebellion against society. It is not an outright refusal, it’s a preference. His words mark Bartleby as an individual who has his own ideas, exactly the sort of person the capitalist lawyer cannot understand nor control.

Bartleby is a scrivener—a low-tech copy machine.  He does nothing all day except copy papers, until he chooses to do nothing at all. He even refuses to quit, or leave the building.

I take this as an Office Space lesson in what the workforce does to people. When there’s no outlet for individuality or creativity, it bursts out of the seams in a destructive mess. If people can’t use their minds, their minds will use them.

If there’s no way to do anything fun, or engaging, or individual, one will eventually “prefer” not to do anything at all.

Bartleby’s job could be done by a 6 year old with good penmanship. A lot of jobs could be done with 6 year olds with good penmanship, or 6 year olds who can use a phone, or 6 year olds who can figure out a cash register. No wonder a lot of us feel useless.

Perhaps if Bartleby went for a nature walk after work, or took up playing guitar, or tried art lessons, or cooking, he would not have felt the need to rebel. Maybe if he unleashed his creative individuality in a healthy way it would not be fighting him from the inside for release. If Bartleby felt respected and important and alive, perhaps he actually would have preferred to work during work time as long as he could be himself during his off time.

Perhaps not. Perhaps I am looking at an old story with new values, with the knowledge of the severity of mental illness and a 21st century appreciation for creativity. But I do know that if Bartleby were alive today, the lawyer would have more tools at his disposal for dealing with who is likely a man dealing with depression. Then again, Bartleby would have more tools to express himself with. So if today’s world is easier for both parties…why do I and many like me relate to Bartleby?

Is it because we all feel useless and unappreciated? Is it because we are all individuals, ready to burst out of our skins? Is it because no one is ever satisfied, and everyone would prefer to just sit on a couch doing nothing? Is it because we’re all depressed? All caught under the thumb of a unforgiving world?

I suppose I understand Bartleby’s preference not to. I understand, but do not agree.

I prefer not to be like Bartleby. I prefer not to prefer not to.

I prefer to live.

Days feel like hours, months feel like years

A teacher once told me that in high school, every class lasts forever, but the years fly by. It’s so true. Same thing happens in college—the weeks last a lifetime, but the semesters fall between your fingers like dropped coins. Coins worth $40,000, perhaps, but coins nonetheless.

And now—when it’s nighttime, it feels like the day flew by, but at work each hour lasts a week. And now—with less than a month left before my boyfriend returns from his semester in Mexico, each week feels like a month, and this last month feels like a year.

I try to tell myself to live in the moment. After all, life is like, 80% waiting. It’s just hard to live in the moment when the moments in the future and in the past seem so much better than the one I’m in now.

It’s sad that each night is joyful because it’s another day I can cross off on a calendar. But it’s also motivation to make the future better than it is now. To make the future’s grass the vibrant green I hope it will be.

Sometimes it feel like I’m passing through life on a subway, looking out the window. Like I’m going through it passively, doing what I’m meant to do, arriving on time, trying to interfere with the clockwork world as little as possible. I wish I tore through my days like a motorcycle slicing through the wind. I wish I devoured every second with insatiable hunger, but life isn’t like that.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how stories function, in preparation for my A-Z Challenge in April. Stories, by definition, have a beginning and an end. They are satisfying. Even stories that are unsatisfying are satisfying in how they leave you wanting more. Life isn’t like a story. Life doesn’t follow the rules of literature.

In life, people die in the middle of their plots. Plots begin and end without pomp and circumstance. Lives do the same. A life never ends with a marriage or a promotion or a vacation or a graduation, it just keeps on going, and going, and going, until a random moment in time when it doesn’t.

Life doesn’t follow a plot structure, and that’s why it’s often uninteresting. Regardless, we must push on, through day-long years and year-long days. In the end, it’s all worth it.