Tuesday, May 23, 2017

What Survives Us

In life, nothing is more constant than change. Things are going to change around here as well, because the time has come for me to face the next big chapter of my life.
For the next two years, I will be serving as a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Hong Kong.This means I won't be around to write new posts for a while, but rest assured I'll have some good ones cooked up for June 2019. Start your countdown timers.

Although I won't be personally curating this dear blog of mine until I return home, I may occasionally write posts from Hong Kong and have them posted for me for you readers back home. While I will be quite busy and cannot really promise any degree of consistency, I'll try to drop some breadcrumbs to fill the gap between now and 2019.

Now, as for what I really want to talk about today, I'll tell you I got some inspiration from the obituaries in the newspaper. It sounds a little depressing, but I promise that's not the direction this post will go. I noticed that at the end of an obituary, it is commonly stated that the deceased "is survived by" his or her relatives. This phrasing made me think, and although in a literal sense it means nothing more than the fact that the living relatives are indeed still alive, I think it implies something more. It means that the deceased lives on, or in a sense "survives," through those left behind.

I could go a lot of different ways with that notion, but I'll stick to the one that speaks the most to me (I'm selfish like that). The people we leave behind act as an extension of us not necessarily by blood relation, but by the stories we leave them with. We survive by being remembered. Some are remembered for good reasons, others bad, and a tragic few are not remembered at all. I say this not out of a lust for fame or a desire to be remembered, but as a critique of my own "survivability," so to speak.

Each of us is the protagonist of our own story. I really don't think it's my place to judge whether my story deserves to be known far and wide, but I've come to realize that I want it to be something I would enjoy hearing. If I were a stranger picking up a book about some dude named Will, would it put me to sleep? I should hope not. In a perfect world, my story would be something I would find interesting, or perhaps even thrilling. Whether this is the case is determined by the small choices I make along the way.

The idea isn't too complicated, but to me it hits home. If we are the subject of our own story, why not do everything we can to make that story mind-blowingly awesome? Take a chance now and then, walk the road less traveled, as my pal Robert Frost would say. Make a story that will survive past you. I'm taking a step into my next great adventure, and I hope you can find yours, too.

Carthago delenda est!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Muffin in the Sky

This is the legend of Muffin.

It's not a long story, but it is a strange one.

The week my roommates and I moved into 1217, the week before classes started last semester, we received a gift from a girls' apartment in an adjacent building. It was a plate of six banana muffins, one for each of us. Five of us ate one, but Carson did not. We don't know why he didn't eat it; he claims to this day it didn't occur to him that it was his, but we aren't here to speculate. The point is, the muffin sat uneaten on the counter for two weeks.

When we checked on it to see if it had gone bad, we discovered the muffin had become extremely hard, like a cinder block. We showed it to Carson to see what he had done (jokingly, of course), and in so doing we saw fit to smack him with the muffin. When we did, I swear the thing made a resonating sound like a bell. and it bounced down to the table unharmed.

After observing its peculiar stability, the rest of us saw fit to do something more fun with the muffin. Three of us, along with a friend from another dorm, suspended the muffin from a small hook on the ceiling in the center of the living room, directly above a tipped-over chair and a note reading "Carson, you left me alone for two weeks. Why couldn't you let me die?"
Muffin's current state

We had a good laugh over that, and we thought that might be the end of the story, but there was more to come. We put the chair back at the table and disposed of the note, but the muffin stayed there, hanging from its scotch tape noose. After a couple more weeks, that wasn't good enough for us anymore, so I updated the suspension to a single sewing thread, which is nearly invisible in certain lighting and allows the muffin to turn lazily with the air currents.

Since it is now April, Muffin has been hanging there for eight months. Yes, eight months. He is still as hard as stone and shows no signs of decay, so we've endeavored to leave him there, declaring him our seventh roommate. I'm not sure if that's a greater testament to Muffin's wondrous qualities or our own unsurpassed weirdness, so I'll let you judge. In the meantime, we've been discussing strategies to preserve Muffin's legacy, appointing me to keep him safe and perhaps someday cast him in an acrylic block to keep for posterity. I suppose, in the end, diamonds are not forever. Muffins are forever.

Hic Manebimus Optime!

Friday, April 14, 2017

One Year Later

It's somewhat of a special time right now, because this month marks one year from my initial rejection from Harvard. March 31st 2016, I realized my dream was not coming true, and I started this blog. Back then its purpose was mostly to vent, not to entertain you folks. My, how things change.

A year can seem like an incredibly long time looking forward, but not long at all looking back. A year ago today (the 14th, that is--the day I finally got around to finishing this post) I wrote about my problems securing the housing contract I wanted, and right now I'm gearing up for final cleaning checks in that same dorm. Back then, all I knew about the people I'd spend the year with was that my direct roommate wanted me to transfer to another building to make room for his friend. Seriously, that was our first interaction. Not what I'd call getting off on the right foot, but such is life. I didn't know back then that these strangers would become some of my best friends or, even more surprisingly, that I would become one of theirs. All I knew was that I wasn't where I wanted to be, and the thought never crossed my mind that perhaps I was where I should be.

No, I'm not talking about where I deserved to be; that's an issue lost to time. I'm talking about the place that would help me grow as a human being. This isn't to say that I wouldn't have experienced similar growth at Harvard, because in fact I'm certain I would. I just wasn't prepared to handle the idea that multiple options could afford me the same opportunities. My heart was set, my target was in my sights, and I missed, and that was all I could think about.

Twelve months later, I can at least say that I can more fully appreciate the mundane. Despite the aftermath of a less-than-stellar midterm and the impending doom that is finals, I noticed today for the first time that the air itself smells sweet now, from everything in bloom. The sun is also out for the first time in months, which is equally refreshing.
Looks nice, doesn't it?

So have I changed in the past year? I don't think that's for me to say, really, since I doubt I'm an objective measure of my own progress, but perhaps I have, at least a little. I've loosened up a bit, learned to roll with disappointment a hair better and make time for fun things, but I'm still me. And for whatever reason, I feel that's important to say. While the college experience shapes who you become, I think that feeling more or less the same as I did a year ago means I've been able to make choices consistent with the version of myself I'd like to be. I don't notice the changes in my character because I had to take the incremental steps to get to where I am, changing a tiny bit with each step.

Since I know what was happening to me a year ago, I also know what just happened to 28,000 more people. The world just got a fresh batch of Rejects, and they'll have some important decisions up ahead. While no single case is identical to mine, I can at least act as proof that things work out fine in the end. Welcome to the club, my friends!

Hic Manebimus Optime!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Sometimes You Just Need a Cave

When in the course of human events we find it necessary to retreat from our surroundings and hide in the fetal position, we require a space in which to do so.

Nobody famous said that (unless you count me, in which case I'm flattered, but you're overly generous), but that does not make it less true. Maybe extroverts do not feel this way, but as for my introverted self, I find that when I'm so overwhelmed by the chaotic world that has incidentally prevented me from posting for a very long time, I need someplace to cool off without outside interference.

My room used to be enough, but I still found myself too easily disrupted by roommates bursting in at random. I could lock it, but my actual room-roommate (to use a scientific term) never carries his key. Thus, I set out to find a way to more perfectly isolate myself from other humans.

The solution is to build a fort, obviously.

Some people may deny having any desire to build a fort, but we know they're lying. Fort-building is an intrinsic part of our humanity; we just have to reach the point where we're willing to admit that forts aren't just for small children. As soon as one admits that he or she no longer has any shame, one can accomplish some impressive things. I have developed, in my opinion,  a stellar fort construction method myself, and although I will probably unveil it to you fairly soon, it would take up far too much space in the apartment. I needed a more permanent, more specially conservative approach.

The beds in our dorms are in three pieces: the big (and extremely heavy) horizontal piece that holds the mattress, and a frame piece on either end. The frames have multiple notches in them so the bed can be adjusted to multiple heights. Interestingly enough, the frames are not vertically symmetrical, so the bed can be lowered much more than it can be raised. However, I found that flipping the frame pieces upside down allowed me to raise the bed higher than intended, creating a very large space underneath. With the addition of some Christmas lights from last semester and a stock of sodas, lightsabers and nerf weaponry, I had created my own personal Will-Cave.


Complete with laptop space.
Oh and also this stuff.

Every cave needs a bat.

The Will-Cave has become an object of jealousy for my roommates, which I frankly did not expect. I guess it really is true that somewhere, all of us want an awesome fort, but not everyone realizes that there's nothing stopping us from making one.

Hic Manebimus Optime!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Avocados and Sudden Epiphany

At the beginning of last semester our RA, Travis, had put paper Lego minifigure heads on the doors of the rooms on our floor, labeled with each person's name. We thought that was great, but this semester he left it up to us to decorate our own doors. My roommates set about drawing door signs for themselves with crayons (as it turns out, as soon as you abandon your stubborn teenage pride you grow back into coloring with crayons) but I wanted to do something better, because that's how I roll. I'm still working on my own sign, but I decided that wasn't enough, so I made one for the entire apartment in photoshop. Behold.
Yeah, this is probably proof that I've been listening to too much Retro Wave while doing homework.
As a side note, that chrome effect is WAY harder than you think it is. We're talking, like, six layers of gradients.

As I hoped, everyone loved it, and we're going to print a big one to put on our door. Basically we want our door to say you wish you were as cool as us, because nothing strikes fear into the hearts of your rivals like laser grids and neon pink. While talking about the sign and its overwhelming 1980's influence, we theorized a substance that is, in fact, the condensed and purified essence of the eighties, which we named Compound-80. A single drop of Compound-80 can turn a normal group photo into the gloriousness you see before you.

Now, I expect you want to know what's up with the title of this post, but by now you should know that I always get around to it eventually. This story has little to do with avocados, although I just recently discovered that avocados actually taste okay. This is a story about chemistry.

Back in my sophomore Honors Chem class, we learned about a special number. It is called Avogadro's number (or Avocado's number if you have any sense of humor at all), and it is defined as 6.022 x 10^23. That seems kind of random, much like the quantity e in other realms of math and science, and naturally my classmates and I wanted to know what the heck it meant. My teacher explained it as the number of atoms in a mole (a mole is a measure of matter to chemists, and a small, furry burrowing creature to everyone else), such that a mole of a particular element had mass equal to the atomic mass of that element. It made the math easier, but in practical terms that definition made NO sense whatsoever. It all seemed much too arbitrary.

Three years later, while teaching myself chemistry again, I finally realized something: Avogadro's number is the number of atomic mass units in a gram. For some of you that clarification might not help at all, in which case I'm sorry, but for me it was like harp music and beams of light descending from heaven as I rose to a new level of sublime enlightenment. I had never thought of the quantity as a unit conversion factor, and that realization alone will make Chem 105 as much as 12% easier. Don't ask me where I get my numbers--they're just as fake as all other statistics.

So either you learned something just now, or you're saying to yourself Will, you idiot--it took you three years to realize that? If the latter is the case, you aren't entirely right. It only took me a matter of seconds to learn the truth. It took three years to occur to me to Google it.

Hic Manebimus Optime!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Who's Up For Round Two?

I think many of you likely noticed that I went dark at the very end of my first semester, and this is my first entry since. It seems that when finals week arrived and the demons were at the door, I had neither the time nor the presence of mind to advertise my situation, but right now I think it's only fair to provide a short recap of how things went down.

First of all, I'd like to express how fantastic it is to have a window in which I can take tests whenever I want. Definitely an advantage over high school, where everything was rigidly scheduled. Beyond that, I think finals week wasn't as bad as it was cracked up to be. This is not to say that it wasn't stressful, because I narrowly avoided a few nervous breakdowns through a Pavlovian self-reward system of unhealthy foods, but I found that none of my tests were really that... hard. Perhaps I was lucky, but I like to think that with good preparation, exams do not deserve the irrational fear we have for them. I'll see whether my theories hold after my second semester.

As far as grades go, which my earlier posts should indicate I have a minor obsession over, I think I did respectably well. Despite my 90% on my calculus final I only eked out a B+ in the class, which was disappointing at best and discouraging at worst, but I'll have to live with that. Getting a grade with a B in front of it was a first for me, and somewhat of a rude awakening, but I had to realize that it hardly spells doom for me. I secured an A- in physics and A's in all of my other classes, for which I'm touting a bit of well-deserved pride. Even that dance class, which I was so worried about the entire semester. I had to fight tooth and nail for the extra credit I needed, but I got it.

My first semester taught me quite a bit, but not really in the subjects my classes covered. I had to learn how to survive on my own, communicate with strangers and coexist with other humans, which was quite a struggle for my cloistered, introverted, borderline-isolationist self, but has definitely molded me into a better person. This semester I plan to work on time management, habit building and actually reading the textbook, so we'll see how that goes.
Here are some nice clouds, just for fun.
This brings us to now. I fully enjoyed my three-week break to relax and decompress, as well as not having homework over Christmas for the first time in my memory, but all good things come to an end. It's the dawn of a new semester, full of gloomy January weather, a wealth of uncertainty and the looming threat of Chem 105. It's currently the most oft-failed course at the University, and I didn't exactly have a good experience in tenth grade chemistry, so it has become cause for major concern. I'm not worried about failing, mind you, but the average grade is far lower than I'd like, so it's going to be a battle.

I think that's all I can really say for now. The next few days will be devoted to finding patterns in my schedule and developing a sensible routine, which is going to take a lot of mental dedication--perhaps more than I'm willing to give it, but options are few and time is short, because the sooner I can find my rhythm, the better. Ready, Go!

Hic Manebimus Optime!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Thoughts On Perspective

Earlier this week I took my third midterm exam for my physics class, and was extremely disappointed to discover that I received a raw score of 80%.

Now, before you say 'but that's a good score!' just hear me out. 80% may not actually be that bad, but I haven't seen a score that low in a very long time. I expected better of myself. I had spent long hours studying the material, and I felt I was finally getting the hang of it, but that score made me feel like all that work was for nothing. Factor in that this is one of the three classes that will determine whether I get accepted to my major, and it seemed like the end of the world. I was legitimately freaking out.

Two days later, however, I received an email from my professor to the class, in which he said that the class average was 54%. Suddenly my 80% looked a lot better. I hadn't just survived the test--I had destroyed it. Realizing that the curve required to put the class average in the correct range will have me sitting pretty, I let out an obligatory shout of joy and bought myself a soda.
*calculator drop*

So why am I telling this story? It's not to brag. I hate bragging, and that's why college applications were so difficult. It's because my opinion of my score changed when I was able to see a broader context. From just my own score, it seemed I had not done well at all, but with improved perspective I saw that it was actually something worth celebrating.

I think that oftentimes our perspective clouds our judgment in much the same way. We may think we see the whole room, but we're actually looking through a keyhole. Sometimes we don't even realize that the door is unlocked. So even though it's been said many times, I think it bears repeating that we need to see the big picture, because it's something we humans habitually struggle with.

So how do you develop perspective? The short answer is I don't know, because with my limited life experience I'm not in any position to sprinkle you with sage wisdom. I can, however, tell you what works for me, and you may do with it what you wish.

First, identify the worst-case scenario. Assuming everything goes wrong, what will happen? What will the lasting consequences be? This is a great way to weed out the problems that don't matter in the long run. If it won't do any permanent damage, it's probably not worth the energy to worry about.

Second, think of actions you can take to deal with the issue. Is there something you can do to avoid the worst-case scenario? If not, what options do you have for coping with it? Again, if it turns out to be something you have zero control over, it's not worth worrying about.

Third, try to see from another point of view. By no means am I saying you have to adopt someone else's perspective (unless you like it better), but simply to try to understand.  Seeing multiple sides of an issue can help you make better judgments and leads to a lot less conflict.

Lastly, be sure to try both zooming in and zooming out. Sometimes with all the emphasis on the big picture, we lose the benefits of looking closer. Many issues that may at first seem unsurmountable can be broken into smaller pieces, some of which can usually be solved.

At the end of the day, we're all still seeing through keyholes, and we spend our whole lives trying to widen them. Sometimes it isn't easy, but I hope that we can all come to appreciate that a little perspective goes a long way. Perhaps it's a twist of fate that this is my first post since the U.S. Presidential election, but I'll leave that for you to consider.

Hic Manebimus Optime!