Archive for category Misc.

Yearbooks late at night

I’ve been having trouble sleeping. This happens to me a lot: I’ll go through periods of a few weeks where I lie awake for hours before falling asleep.

This time, I think it has to do with the fact that I’m going to live in a different country next week, not to mention that I’ve just begun spending a lot of time with a person who happens to live here in the States and not in Japan.

When I can’t sleep, my first recourse is to lie in bed with my eyes closed, then open, then closed, willing my mind to let go. It doesn’t cooperate. If thoughts aren’t running through my head, it’s music: I remember one particularly resilient bout of insomnia that struck when I was taking a class on Bach my freshman year. Bach will stay in your head forever.

I’ll often get hungry, having eaten dinner some 4 or 5 hours before going to bed anyway. Can you think of anything more profane and boring than standing in a silent kitchen, munching on mozzarella in order to quiet your stomach without actually getting any enjoyment out of the act of eating?

So what have I been doing tonight? Since I’m going to live halfway across the world soon, I’ve been cleaning my room. It’s an archaeological exhibit. Since I left for college 3 years ago, I’ve been aware that I have been allowing things to pile up in here. But some of this goes waaay back. This week I unearthed six yearbooks from third to eighth grade. SIX. Beginning at age EIGHT.

So I find myself looking through yearbooks late at night. This is a terrible pastime. Rehashing the past is pretty much never a great idea. It’s not that it makes me terribly sad or resentful — but it does make me mushy and nostalgic. And I find myself doubting that I really took the best course of action in some small, insignificant area of my seventh-grade life. Like resenting the very pretty girl whose photo always appeared next to mine in the yearbooks and, year after year, overshadowed my long forehead and braces.

You can always tell, looking back, which kids were going to become the popular ones. The supreme confidence with which they worked the camera, the uncannily mature poses adopted at age 11 or 12. One of those future popular boys appears on the first page of my eighth-grade yearbook, blond hair spiked, cocking both hands like guns at the camera in an incredibly effortless example of 13-year-old cool. In two years, that boy would pass by me in Spanish class and say to me, “Your makeup looks good today.” I think those were the only words he ever spoke to me, and I was flattered to a degree that embarrasses me now.

This is the problem with looking back at those early years now: I cast a (more or less) adult outlook on adolescent circumstances. I judge my younger self — and, worse, the younger selves of my peers — too harshly. As kids, we were all rash, insensitive and at times a little cruel. Or, we were on the receiving end of actions and words motivated by those traits. It’s easy to forget that the irritation I feel, looking back on those years, was born well after the fact. At the time, I was perhaps a little confused and more than a little angsty, but for the most part I was content with my life, like I am now at age 21.

I think that my perusal of old yearbooks can be attributed to a peculiar and slightly obsessive personality, so I doubt if I have to warn any (imaginary) readers against doing the same thing because it wouldn’t occur to anyone else. But I guess I’d like to say, in general, avoid analyzing the past. It’s there to guide you as you make your way through the present, but nothing good will come of applying your current perspective to a younger self. Especially not sleep.

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The case for tried-and-true

A few months ago I went to a dance at my university and experienced, for the first (and last) time in a while, the way our generation dances — that is, grinding. The experience has haunted me enough to inspire this post.

I couldn’t look at any couple without being strongly reminded of the way a dog or an insect would mount another. In any other setting, most guys wouldn’t be caught dead swinging their hips the way they do on the dance floor, in order to accommodate the girls situated neatly on their crotches (sorry, I’m trying to avoid as many gory details as possible). Faces are slack, expressionless, concentrated on matching the rhythm of the partner’s hips. It’s instinctual, repetitive, easy — and it feels damn good.

But I think we can agree that this kind of dancing is also intrinsically artless. There’s nothing to memorize, no sequence of movements to practice at home or learn under someone’s instruction. While the dancing of 50 or 100 years ago had elements of performance and procedure in it, grinding exists only in the moment and there are no rules.

Ritual is defined by Merriam-Webster as “an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner.” (Side note: Instinct had directed me to Dictionary.com, but my higher brain function, which has been co-opted by my unpaid editor jobs, took over.) I actually like the Dictionary.com definition better because it includes the words “pattern of behavior” rather than just “series of acts.”

Compared to the past, I think that our behavior (as a culture, as individuals) is perhaps losing some of its association with patterns. The silliest evidence is the evolution of “random” into a catchall reaction or descriptor (“That’s so random!”). But more generally, our daily choices and actions are influenced by technology that offers us unlimited choices. Commercials for smartphones flash city streets, lavish living rooms, the interior of a bar or just eye candy of the device itself, in just a few frames each. Why spend time and effort doing something you’ve done before, when your “intelligent, maybe even genius” device (Verizon’s words, not mine) can always lead you to a new experience?

Personally, I see a connection between our growing impatience with routine and the increasing secularism of the first world (and of American society in particular). While there are many more factors to this than the abandonment of ritual, as a Christian I know that a major turnoff to religion for many of my friends and peers is its reliance on repeated rites, singing or speaking in unison. Even within the religious population, many communities of worshippers are employing a more “contemporary” approach that eschews the centuries-old hymns and books in favor of guitars and PowerPoint sermons.

As for me, I love the simple hymns and the prayers we say week after week. I eat that stuff up. I find that having something stay constant in my life makes it easier to examine what’s different today, this week, this year. I have studied karate and yoga, and the challenge of learning to do something in a set way, and to replicate it, is a valuable experience.

So I think ritual and routine are underrated. You can take this with a grain of salt because I happen to be a very plan- and routine-oriented person; I love waking up at the same time every day and fixing my Cream of Wheat and cup of tea the way I did the day before, and the day before that. But the point is, I think ballroom dancing, yoga, karate and religious rites exist because people are programmed to imitate, learn and reproduce (sequences of actions as well as DNA) — and in a culture that prizes originality and individuality, we’ve lost sight of that.

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Why I like train travel

I didn’t have a car for the first 2½ years of college, so I rode the train from San Diego to Los Angeles to visit my family some weekends. Now that I have my car, I think I still prefer train travel. There’s a certain feeling of independence and competence that comes from learning the transfers, becoming familiar with the stations, walking purposefully with my little duffel bag in tow.

This past weekend, I decided to take the train in order to avoid CARMAGEDDON. Ironically, the train ended up being delayed for over an hour and I sat on the floor of the aisle for most of the trip. I’ve experienced more public transportation mishaps than you’d believe, but even these are invigorating, in a way. They foster simple social interactions — commiseration, jokes — that remind me I’m not alone in the midst of all these strangers. Adversity brings people together, and trains seem to possess a magnetic attraction to adversity.

There is also a peace that comes to me only when I ride the train or metro. I’m always at my greatest moments of clarity when I’m sitting on the cheap rainbow-printed seats, flanked by other travelers (having semi-willingly abandoned my standards of personal space), staring at my greenish fluorescent reflection against the dark Los Angeles night. The bleak city landscape somehow crystallizes for me the senseless wonder and chaos of our miraculous world. I still can’t put it all into words, but someday I’ll be able to articulate why it is that gray train yards and empty lots are almost more beautiful to me than anything else.

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Logical fallacies can happen to YOU

Ryan Seacrest recently graced my car radio with this jewel of contradictions:

“You won’t realize you can’t live without a Windows phone, until after you’ve gotten one.”

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