Sleep Deprivation

It undercuts every thought and physical movement I have. It blocks the flow of ideas in my head. To be sleep deprived is to cut all tasks in the day that aren’t due tomorrow, then finish what’s left with the lowest passable quality and least amount of time.

All my aspirations are too far out of the reach of my addled mind, and I subconsciously lose sight of the bigger picture. Without this, I lose motivation to finish tasks, and I end up in the very holes I was writing about getting out of yesterday, if I’m not very careful (and in this state, it’s hard to).

More insidiously, dark memories resurface at the back of my mind. Memories of being torn between emotions. Memories of entire weeks spent being torn between my ego and my health. Memories of torn hamstrings.

Normally, I soldier on through the miasma and end up sleeping late again. One sleep deprived day often leads to many more.

Sleep allows me to reset whatever switches I didn’t get to reset the night before. My mind is wiped clean of bad memories and extraneous thoughts. I can simply focus better. So, in all reality, the safest thing to do is call it quits as early as I can and hope for a fresh, early restart the next day.

Which is exactly what I’m going to do right now. Good night.

Time Management

Up until sophomore year, I was able to get away with using my time pretty much however I wanted. This was probably because of easier classes, not knowing of huge time-wasters like the Internet, and not being able to drive a car (which enabled long hangouts with friends and driving myself to places my parents would drive me before).

When eleventh grade hit, though, I was forced to start actively managing my time. I especially struggled with it senior year [blogpost] (though I did make breakthroughs [blogpost]) and last quarter, but I don’t think I really got a good handle on it until now. I’ve discovered, by trial and error, things to do and guidelines to follow that almost guarantee work being finished on time. This is as much a reminder/documentation for future me as it is advice for others. I’m certainly no authority on this subject; this is just what works for me. It’s just that I’ve been blessed with a really optimal-for-productivity schedule this quarter (more on that later) and when huge variables like that change in my life in the future, I’m going to need to look back at this. Let’s get right to it.

  1. Move from place to place as efficiently as possible (most of the time). At a huge campus like UCSD, it can take half an hour to get from one corner to the other (Warren College to Galbraith Hall twice a week for Linear Algebra. 🙁 ) Biking takes seven minutes. Each day, I save anywhere between an hour to an hour and a half biking from different meetings and classes. I can’t imagine walking anymore. (Some people like to longboard, to which I say good luck going uphill and godspeed for your inevitable injuries. My suite mate has taken a fall at least three times since the beginning of the year. His latest one involved a gash to his butt and an ugly scrape to his elbow.) Travel fast and safe.The other (far more obvious) thing to keep in mind is to plan your stops to be geographically close or on the way to your next one. Have class an hour apart but want to get lunch? Make sure the dining hall you go to is close or on the way to your next class. This restricts your options a lot more for non bikers, but in general, the less time spent traveling the better.

    Disclaimer: Sometimes it’s better to slow down and turn your thoughts inwards instead of towards your next task. If you’re not pressed for time, there’s a huge spiritual and practical benefit to going about a task at a leisurely pace that is easily overlooked in our fast-paced lives (more on that in the next point). I personally find traveling quickly on my bike exhilarating, so I don’t like taking things slow there, but I almost always eat my meals slowly because…

  2. Meal times double really well as break times. Last quarter we read a bunch of different perspectives on American food consumption and how it relates to sustainability. An interesting point one of the authors brought up is that in the past, mealtimes used to be a communal activity. Back when packaged goods were not a thing, the family would work together to cook using raw materials and eat together right afterwards. It provided them an opportunity to spend time doing something that forces them to be in the same room together until the meal was eaten. I noticed this too about my own family. Though we could be in the same house all day, we might as well have been 1000 miles apart while we are focused on our work and activities, for all the interaction between us. But our basic human instinct of hunger brought us together for a precious 15-20 minutes each day just to sit. To enjoy each other’s company. And talk about things that don’t matter.Between experience at home and the author’s perspective, I decided to extend my meal times to an hour, relaxing over whatever I wanted after the food was gone, from reading a book to talking with friends. Now that it’s been a week in, it’s definitely official. My break time are now almost exclusively meal times, and it works REALLY well. I’ve never found the inner burning need to get my mind off work during work time now – which means I’ve spent a very minimal amount of time on reddit and youtube and video games. Moreover, it’s just more efficient – mathematically, I’m simply tacking on an extra half an hour to each meal time, but it’s an optimal sweet spot to do so. The magnitude of relaxation it gives me is far greater than an hour of Super Smash Bros. Brawl or whatever else.

    It’s so strange. I tried so hard in senior year to focus on stopping the bad habit of wasting time on the Internet, but I guess all it took was allocating my leisure time to the right time slot. I’m really grateful I found it though.

  3. Using the SelfControl Application. I don’t really need this anymore because of 2), but near the end of last quarter I used this and it was the perfect solution to my problem. SelfControl unconditionally and irreversibly blocks any domain for a specified amount of time up to 24 hours (even if you uninstall SelfControl), after which the websites will be accessible again. This solves the main problems with other website-blocking software:One, for example, is that blocked sites are easily accessible via a password which, unless you have an accountability partner (and you may not be comfortable with one), you have to write down and keep somewhere. This never works because at some point you’ll give in to temptation, or you may lose it and screw yourself over, especially if you’ve blocked a site that also has a lot of value (Facebook, for example, which is a great PR tool and the most complete, accessible contacts list in existence).

    With the way SelfControl works, you can reassure yourself that a) there is absolutely nothing you can do to access the website you’ve blocked until the time is up and b) you are guaranteed access later – so it’s better to just not think about it and have patience. In practice, this mentality truly lets any temptation out of your mind, because it’s so much easier to let go of desire when you can reassure yourself you can fulfill it later on. By the end of the 24 hours (the time I usually set SelfControl to), I have almost forgotten about the sites I usually waste time on, while urgent communication through Facebook happened through my Nexus 4 (which I would keep in an inconvenient place when not necessary).

    SelfControl is Mac only, and I don’t think Windows has an equivalent out there [Update: Windows does have an equivalent called Cold Turkey. Thanks Keshav!]. However, this article describes a lot of other great software for both Macs and PCs that approach solving the problem for maintaining focus while on the computer in a bunch of different ways. SelfControl worked for me. Maybe a different tool will work betterfor someone else.

  4. Schedule commitments that require you to move from one place to another, and schedule everything else in blocks of work time. Up until about three weeks ago, I habitually made the mistake of trying to schedule each individual task (i.e. do Math HW from 1:30-2:00, CS Project from 2-3pm, etc). What would ALWAYS end up happening, WITHOUT FAIL, (and like an idiot I continued to beat the long dead horse), is that I’d be deep in the task when the end of time hit. So I’d have to choose between ending my task when I’m most productive at it, or pushing everything down by however long I went over time. I usually went with the second option because I couldn’t deal with having multiple unfinished tasks, and the resulting breakdown of structure just also broke down my self-discipline. The thought process usually went something like this: I broke the rules I set down for myself. If the rules I set down for myself work best when broken, why should I follow any other rules? or something like that.Blocking out a few hours of work time and simply prioritizing a list of tasks (it’s very important to write down ALL your tasks on the same page so assigned priorities are optimal) works a lot better, mentally.
  5. Figure out the optimal portable solution for when grinding is necessary. By grinding, I mean churning out 7-8/10 material in time for a deadline. I say portable because no one really knows when or where the time to grind will start – the solution cannot depend on environmental variables, and should be with you most times of the day, by default. Some people can grind without preparation, but I’m definitely not one of those people. For me, I’ve discovered that engaging in some power poses for about one minute followed by sliding on my Sennheiser Momentums and turning up instrumental-only electronic music with a consistent, repeating, deep baseline without the acuteness of dubstep, like Sun Burst by Minnesota, One by Swedish House Mafia, or the Sly Cooper 2 Nightclub Theme, all while ignoring all incoming interactions from humans and technology, is really effective for me.Something about that repeating baseline. It brings out some inner work-beast hidden deep within me, and the repetitive nature of the music keep riling it up until it’s taken over my soul and it expands until I become my task at hand. That’s when I know I’m grinding.
  6. Working out. Feeling good about yourself is closely linked with productivity – a simple google search will reveal that. As I expressed yesterday, maintaining my fitness is central to my spiritual well being. My grades were always higher during cross-country season in high school, and I always get more work done when I spend an hour or two in the morning working out or running. It’s a fact of life.
  7. Work hard (separately) and play hard (separately). I don’t think I understood this over-quoted phrase correctly until this quarter, because you can work hard for two minutes and play hard for 3 hours (you think it’s atrocious and then you look back at some of my days last quarter…).It’s best interpreted as working hard in the same proportions as playing hard, and the longer the work or play time is, the farther separated they should be. Planning on going to a hackathon this weekend, which will be almost nothing but fun and traveling and meeting new people and doing what you love for 36 hours? (That’s me!) Work hard the entire previous week with no long break times. No binging on Brawl or going to the mall. Work and play have to balance out.

    And does it make sense to squeeze in 5 minutes of work just before embarking on a weeklong adventure? Of course not! Nor would you be motivated right after (like three minutes after) the end of 10 hour brawl marathon to work on anything at all. It works the other way too. A 5 minute break after a 10 hour coding session isn’t going to do anything for you.

    So what to do in the transitions between work and play? Things that are mandatory tasks but aren’t stressful, or things that simply allow you to think of nothing. Like cleaning, doing laundry, brushing your teeth, shaving, walking nowhere. Whatever works for you. The transition is a deceleration period that can consist of activities that affects you in a way similar to a break, but devoid of thought.

    Work hard, play hard. Be honest with how long and hard you’ve worked, and how necessary each break you think you need is. Like I said earlier, breaks for mealtimes are great because you get to hit two birds with one stone AND they’re mandatory, but sometimes you just won’t have time to eat dinner. In which case, keep the work hard, play hard mentality in mind – the correct way.

And that’s it. A great thing to remember and keep you going is that productivity engenders more productivity. Feeling good about yourself and having confidence in your abilities to finish the task at hand is honestly the best enabler of continued performance you’ll find. The first steps are the hardest. Future me, I don’t know how far long your journey to your maximum productivity you are, but just follow these tips and don’t give up!

Working Things Out

I don’t know if it’s exactly insomnia, but lately, I’ve found it really hard to sleep early. I can’t count the number of times I’d try to sleep at 11 or 12 and end up laying in bed for two or three hours, wide awake. Last night, I’d had just about enough and took some Zyrtec to help me out. Knowing that I was guaranteed early sleep now, I relaxed a bit and, by examining myself in my last waking moments of the day, tried to understand why I wasn’t able to sleep.

My feet, calves, knees, hamstrings, quads, glues, lower back, abs, traps, biceps triceps hands neck face – all good. Is there something in the room that’s unconsciously bothering me? TV, fan sofa no one else is moving around smells? no it can’t be that. What’s on my mind? I can’t stop thinking about how there’s no way I can finish a full week’s worth of homework that 18 units of classes gives me in time for my flight MHacks on Friday morning. I rearrange my schedule for the next few days in my mind over and over again, trying to figure out a way to reserve enough time to get everything done, attend to all my commitments, and still get seven hours of sleep. What worried me more was that some tasks weren’t even definite – my computer science assignment could take anywhere from 4 to 12 hours depending on how many bugs –

Ah. Here is the problem. I’m constantly worried about my schedule, and that I might fall behind like I did last quarter (and I’ve secretly vowed never to let any quarter be as bad as last quarter – more on that sometime later). Soon after I realized this, the sleeping pills began taking effect and I slept like a baby.

Woke up at 7:45AM today, five minutes before my alarm (waking up naturally right before your alarm feels freakin’ amazing) The worries were still on my mind, but I decided to not think too much about them and do instead what I promised myself I’d religiously take up this quarter – working out at RIMAC (our gym, which, is pretty awesome (check out #5)) Ran to the gym, which is about 0.7 miles each way, did leg day, and ran back within an hour and a half.

I still have the same amount of work. Writing this post isn’t as important as getting my hw done, and here I am. And yet, I am more carefree than I have been all weekend. Working out focused all of my mind and body and spirit on the act of lifing that weight, mentally preparing for that last set (“It’s gonna hurt. But you can do it. But it’s going to hurt =(. Come on!”), . Seriously though, when you walk out of the gym and the post workout endorphins are coursing through your veins and you’re walking all bowlegged because you can’t feel your calves anymore and its a bright crisp morning and you have so much confidence for upping your weight just within 6 days, anything seems possible. Even 18 units worth of homework I have to finish two days early. Today, I’ve reminded myself that maintaining my fitness allows me to maintain other aspects of my life. Fitness defines who I am, and allows me to become who I want to be.

What an awesome way to start the week.

How to Be a Good College Dorm/Apartment Host

When I went to Georgia Tech for my first major hackathon, I had the pleasure of staying with an old friend I’d met through a Muslim youth camp the winter before, Waseem Hussain, and he turned out to be the best overnight host I have ever had. I just recently hosted my own friend at my dorm, and I tried to model my hosting after Waseem’s. Having now been on both sides of the equation, I’ve come up with a list of ways to be a good host for your guest (I will refer to your guest as “he” for the sake of brevity, but everything I write can be applied to hosting both genders), assuming that they’re staying at your dorm or apartment (I’ll just say dorm, but this applies for apartments as well) for anywhere between one or two nights and a few hours:

Brief your roommates and dorm mates of your guest’s plans ahead of time. This avoids the following problems:

  • Your roommates disturbing your guest when they are sleeping
  • Your roommates not having the chance to prepare for sleeping with someone different on the bed near them
  • Your dorm mates being ignorant of the idiosyncrasies and date of arrival of your guest. This will also be an opportunity to inform them of any idiosyncrasies of your guest that would change (in a positive way, of course) the way your dorm mates interact with them.
  • Your roommates shocked that you didn’t trust them, and feeling insulted they were denied the common courtesy of knowing someone other than you would be sleeping in the same room as them

This solution also has the chief benefit of getting sleeping equipment that you otherwise wouldn’t have had. Need an extra towel, pillow, blanket, or bed sheet? Letting your roommates know ahead of time will allow them to prepare their rarely used ones.

Your money is their money. While your guest is under your care, obstruct all of his attempts to spend his own money (within reason, of course). Your guest has come all the way from who knows where and has already spent a lot on travel and meals and supplies and bribes and who-knows-what-else along their journey. Allow him to relax and forget about his financial situation by taking care of his expenses while he’s with you. Another way to look at it: when your guest is under your care, he’s “entered your house” – if you wouldn’t expect your friend to pay for meals or amenities when he comes over to your real house, he shouldn’t have to pay when in, to them, an unfamiliar environment, which, to you, is a familiar environment.

Despite your best efforts, however, some cavaliers may insist on paying for themselves in the moment when it’s time to cut the check at the restaurant – to avoid this disaster, take action when you first meet them by laying down the ground rules, the first of which is that they don’t get to spend a single dime while under your care.

Of course, there are circumstances where it doesn’t make sense to splurge on his behalf. For example, you shouldn’t put yourself in the position where you approve their purchases – please allow them to spend their money as they please when they are by themselves. Also, do not offer to reimburse their $100+ cab fare from your dorm to the airport – if you’re reading this, you’re probably a broke college kid too. Lastly, if your financial situation doesn’t allow you to spend as much money as your guest as the most extreme laws of hospitality call for, be the best judge of how to save your money. Perhaps explain the situation – no one wants to be thought of as stingy or selfish simply for being financially sensible. Or just don’t offer – most people won’t have this expectation.

Never allow your guest to feel like he’s imposing on you. You’re a busy college kid, and that’s a hard fact of life. If your guest have awareness about when they’ve arrived and where they are, they will understand that you’re in the middle of an academic period and will try to not take up too much of your time, especially if they believe you would have otherwise used that time to study or catch up on homework. As the host striving for perfection, this is not an option for them. If he arrives at the conclusion that he did impose, he will feel guilty, uncomfortable, and possibly even misunderstood in his intentions for staying with you.

Don’t work on anything major when he’s under your care. Work ahead of time to finish everything you would have otherwise done in the time you spend not them. This will avoid making him a) feel unimportant b) not special and/or c) imposing. But take it one step further  – give the appearance that you’re still productive with him around (regardless of whether you actually are productive around him or not). Work on something minor, but make sure you do it where they can see you.

When I stayed over with Waseem, he went above and beyond and faked losing his apartment key so that they’d give him an extra one for a couple of days – and suddenly I had my own in and out to his apartment. I didn’t need him or his apartment mates to be there for the simple task of entering the small living space they’d set up for me in their common room. This definitely contributed to allowing me to feel like I wasn’t imposing on him, and I felt far more free and independent – just like I would at my own suite or back home. This obviously isn’t viable at all universities, but it was a thoughtful touch that truly made my stay extra memorable.

If you can accomplish all this, here’s what will be going through your guest’s mind: “I certainly had a lot of fun here with my host. We didn’t have to worry or stress about any pending tasks, which is exactly what I wanted to get away from when I left on this trip. At the same time, I didn’t feel like I imposed on him – even with me here and spending so much time with him, he still finished whatever they were able to when I was there. I even saw him working on his computer! This has been the best stay ever!!!!11!”

Above all, make your guest feel secure. Showering, using the restroom, sleeping, being in our nightclothes – these are examples of things we’ve always done in the comfortable sphere of our own living complexes. Now, your guest will be doing all of these activities in a place he’s most likely never been to, around people who he’s never met and may be uncomfortable around. He needs to feel like he is the master of his domain, that he knows every nook and cranny of the surrounding 20 feet, just like we know each nook and cranny of our rooms and common rooms. This spatial, self-generated (as opposed to verbal reassurances or persuasion from the host) guarantee of safety is key to his relaxing. Convince your guest he is secure by doing the following things:

  • Educate him on his surroundings. Show him around your living area. Show him the bathrooms and showers. Allow him to know the major components of his surrounding environment, so that in case he needs something important (like a sink or a toilet) he doesn’t need to search for it.
  • Without boring him, educate him on intimate details about his surroundings. Tell him about how the tap in your sink that’s supposed to provide an easily adjustable spectrum between hot and cold is in practice a flip switch between scalding and blood-freezing. Give him stories about major features of your room – the balcony someone threw up over, the dent in the wall when your suite mate got angry. Give him stories about minor features of your room – the small holes in the wall where you’ve put push pins where you’re not allowed to, the incessant blue light of the internet router that keeps you up at night. Tell him about the most mundane things. The more intimate knowledge he has about his surroundings, 1) the more important he’ll feel 2) the more like a member of the dorm he’ll feel and 3) the more he’ll feel at home, for the intimate knowledge you’ll be giving him is usually gained only by residing in the same place for many weeks.
  • Get your dorm mates to interact with him. Fears about security at night stem from humans, rarely from imagination. Your guest hasn’t had the time to build trust with any one of the 5-10 other people in your dorm (and maybe they shouldn’t!) Allow them to judge for themselves what kind of people their temporary dorm mates are. The feelings of security when generated from within are far more powerful than those generated by verbal reassurances.
  • Consistently ask them if you can do anything for them, and actually make them feel comfortable in asking you for something when they need it. The fact that you can get him an item he needs is not what matters – it’s that there is more security in knowing that anything you need is merely a request away. Also, there’s a difference in someone telling you they’re at your service, and feeling like someone is at your service. While you shouldn’t establish yourself as their slave,
  • Verbally guarantee and physically ensure his alone time. Whether it’s sitting down on the toilet, changing our clothes, brushing our teeth, lying in bed – there are just some things about our daily/nightly routines that we just like doing by ourselves. During these times, we are subconsciously “prepping” ourselves for the long period of vulnerability that lays ahead in sleep by processing the events of the day, taking stock of our body, and cleansing ourselves. Make sure they have a comfortable space to sleep. Once you’ve taken your leave of him, don’t keep returning back to him to check up. It feels motherly/fatherly to want to look out for them, but the action reinforces the idea that they are living in your space, instead of having their own space for the night. If you’ve done a good job of the previous bullet point, they will be able to take care of themselves on their own initiative. Make them feel like they have lived in your place for many weeks. This is especially important if your guest is used to having their own room back wherever they live.

If you follow all of this advice, your guest will truly feel at home.

Am I missing anything? Comment with more ideas below!

Slowing Down

For our required writing class, we recently read No Impact Man by Colin Beavan. It’s him documenting his attempt to live without impacting the environment for one year. He accomplishes his goal by accumulating practices that decrease his impact on the environment. He begins by committing to make no trash, and by the end of the year, is buying food locally, using his bike and rickshaw to get around, and turning off his electricity. In his local-food phase of his project, he bakes his own bread instead of buying packaged loaves from the supermarket. There’s one excerpt from his book that really resonated with me.

Bread-making, this quiet, non cerebral activity, provided much needed space in my life. It’s a break. It’s one of those things that takes the rhythm of your day and slows it down right to what it’s supposed to be.

I had my first yoga class today, and after the 100mph first week of the quarter, it felt so relaxing to spend an hour and a half focusing on my body and its rhythms. I gave my body attention that it needed, slowing my body and my thoughts down right to where I needed to be. It’s important to stop and smell the flowers every once and a while.

Lasts

Here’s a draft I saved last year that I’m going to finish today.

June 14, 2014

My thoughts are in a jumble, kinda. I don’t know what to feel or how I should have felt about graduating from high school. May the following paragraphs be an accurate representation of the cacophony of voices in my head.

This would be the first time in my memory that I wouldn’t bring a backpack to school. I planned for this in advance. I drank water until my urine was clear so I wouldn’t need a water bottle; packed all of my snacks in a plastic bag that would fit in the cargo pocket of my worn khaki shorts that I had specifically set aside for this day; kept a pen and pencil for signing yearbooks in the other cargo pocket; and brought my AP Physics C Princeton Review Guide and yearbook in my hands. Because this was going to be the last day of high school, the last day of Fremont schooling.

Yet it was the last time I walked outside at 7:50 AM and closed the garage door through the remote signaling keypad attached to the side wall. It had become a habit for me, these past six years in this home, closing the garage when I walked outside 10 minutes before school begins. This was our thing, our tradition between the garage and I. I walked outside, and then it closes.  It was the last time I would ever use that keypad to close the garage on a school morning. Repetition and familiarity had somehow made this mundane action sacred between the garage door and I.

The day went on with more and more “lasts”: the last time being late to first period, the last first period, the last time seeing Mr. Geschke as a student, the last high school “break,” the last time Mr. Aucoin would lecture us about our apathy and procrastination in studying for tests, the last time he would break out that Texan accent when he got sassy, the last time a high school teacher would ever chew us out for being lazy (honestly, we deserved it. But we were SSS. No one cared enough that last month.) Then finally, the last bell to dismiss us from school, the last end-of-the-school-year/beginning-of-summer cheer, the last time walking out of that classroom with the group of friends I’d made while struggling through music theory with them.

All of these “lasts” kept going through my mind and I kept worrying that I wasn’t cherishing this moments enough and I was focusing so hard on remembering the position everyone in the classroom, the things people were saying, trying to take a living picture with my mind – I mean, shouldn’t the last of anything associated with high school, my life for the past four years, make me feel the least bit sentimental? (And no, I was definitely not one of those “I’m so glad I’m finally getting out of this shithole” type of people. I really appreciated my time at Mission.) Yet I couldn’t figure out what made these moments so important. Sure, I would never sit down in a high school chair again, never ask permission from Mr. Gomez to use the restroom to meet up with friends… but so what? The absence of this busy, bustling forum I was standing in will not impact on my life or anyone else’s; we’ll all forget this and get over it in about a week, and the hazy, timeless ocean of summer will envelop us and we’ll be somewhere else. In fact, some of the “last” things that were going through my mind were so contrived as to make them truly idiotic – “the last time I’ll see Officer Pipp at school in the bell tower quad in these shoes at 2:55PM with this many days without shaving while the World Cup is being played in Brazil,” for example – I wanted my last day at high school to be memorable and special, but it was all so fake and contrived.

So I was struggling with this – realizing that the prospect of uprooting repetition and familiarity somehow made mundane actions sacred, but without a rational cause. Was it because everyone else was enjoying their last day, and I wanted to enjoy it with them? Was it because I’ve been too influenced by movies that always make “lasts” more romantic than they really are? Or am I just afraid of change? I couldn’t satisfactorily pin down why I was feeling sentimental and yet apathetic at the same time.

January 9, 2015

My friend –

Let me tell you what you already knew.

You did a great job remembering everything, especially that music theory classroom. I still remember where Young Jin and Alex and Kelly and Adrienne and ZiZi and Anna and Pranav and Allen used to sit, and that one game of Tank Wars you played with Young Jin. I don’t remember exact words from that day, but you did such a good job preserving each person’s personality – I can still imagine how Mr. Aucoin would react to you if you told him you’d like to use the restroom in the middle of his lecture.

Here’s a fact of life: Time speeds up. At least, it feels that way. I’m already done with my first quarter of college and it feels like I left home yesterday. So many things have happened in these last 12 weeks that I can remember barely anything important at all. I’d have to go look back at my calendar to jog my memory, but the nuances, the small moments? Gone. If they’re not remembered, they cease to exist.

It wasn’t always this way – sixth grade was positively monolithic in how long it felt, how many significant things happened. Our memories feel richer when we’re younger because we aren’t rushed – we notice every detail and unconsciously appreciated things more – just like you were trying to do on that last day of school.

I want to remember these important things. Memory allows us to examine our life in that memory. The content of our memories define how we view ourselves and how we view what we can and can’t do in the future. Humans have this deep instinctual desire to understand their identity and memory is a key part of that process.

That’s why lasts are important. When we’re transitioning between major eras in our lives, we have a few valuable moments before we change to take in and process all we know about the era we’re about to pass out of. Those last golden memories of music theory and high school, preserved through your intentional memorization of small facts, serves me now as a “key” in memory that reminds me of so many other things important in their own right that would otherwise have been forgotten: which direction you’d walk out of the classroom to meet up with Jonathan for those memorable walks home, the direction you came to the classroom from Physics with Geschke where you were so proud of yourself for making the mousetrap car, the songs everyone played at the beginning of the year on the piano, the satisfaction of finishing homework in class the same day it’s assigned, and so on.

I remember walking away from the garage door and looking around and taking the feeling of my weight-less shoulders, the birds chirping in the crisp morning air, the entire atmosphere pregnant with the possibility of a perfect summer day. A time with no worries, and four years of the unknown waiting for you 800 miles away in sunny San Diego, but only after the longest summer you’ve ever had filled with hanging out with friends, getting back in shape, experiencing new literature and movies, and so much more.

It’s a safe haven for when I ruminate. I remember, and I know myself better for it.

– Yourself

Fleeting Inspiration

Because I’ve taken writing in this blog as a daily commitment, the task is always somewhere in my mind at all times. This has turned on some sort of internal radar that constantly scans for things that could potentially be the topic for my next blog post. When that “radar” picks up something, either from my own daydreams or from something I observe, I immediately whip out my phone and frantically jot the idea down in Evernote, often worried that I won’t be able to keep up with the pace of how fast I’m thinking things – in that moment, I could write forever, riding on that avalanche of thought. But here, nine hours later, when I’m tired and sitting at my desk, ready to write, I’m expecting the floodgates to open as they did before but there’s nothing there. I’m looking at the same text I wrote when the idea was new and raw, but my state of mind is different now. I could write about it, but I wouldn’t do it well, and I’d feel like the idea is wasted. Knowing this now, next time I stumble upon that same train of thought again, I’ll whip out my laptop instead of my phone and type the blog post right then and there. Anyhoo, meta-posts aren’t usually as interesting or fun to write, but it’s good to record realizations of what works and doesn’t work for my writing. Have you noticed this about yourself? It feels abnormal that inspiration should be so fleeting.

Special People

According to the Free Dictionary, voice in writing is “The distinctive style or manner of expression of an author or of a character in a book.” In elementary school, we were taught to use voice in our writing. Voice in writing endears the reader to the writer, because it feels so much more personal when it feels like the writer has a presence in his or her words. I’ve noticed that this same concept concept applies to personalities. There are just some special snowflakes out there. People we’ve met that just stick in our mind long after we meet them. Maybe it’s the one guy who just has that gravity, because every word he speaks and action he takes is deliberate and calculated, or that other girl whose laugh was so genuine and real that you couldn’t help laughing along too. It’s a trait falls into that category of magical things that aren’t measurable but are immediately identifiable. And we think about these people, at least unconsciously, in awe – not out of admiration, but out of novelty, for they show us that there is a kind of human we’ve never met before.

Cleaning

My 100 miles per hour college life instantly halts. All that exists in each consecutive moment are me and my organization-inducing arms. I am devoid of insidious doubts, impending worries, and distracting emotions. While my limbs carry out the perfunctory tasks of vacuuming the floor or washing my dishes, my mind wanders freely and processing the events of the day. In this state, I ponder over an insightful passage from a book, explore the implications of a what-if scientific scenario, or forgive myself for an embarassing mistake, leaving me unburdened and weightless. As I am brought back to reality, my eyes scan my clothes-free floor, organized desk, empty chair, and made-up bed, and I feel like I’ve done at least one thing right today. It’s a deliciously satisfying way to meditate.

20×20 Challenge

Writing is so cathartic for me. I love writing here on this blog. Yet, as evidenced by my post history, I rarely bring myself to write one. There’s a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, I never feel like I have time. Most of my previous blog posts have been quite long, and the expectation I’ve built upon myself to write blog posts of similar length is too daunting when I have the alternative of learning programming or going running instead. Two, I am certain that my writing ability has decayed, and I unconsciously avoid situations like this that reminds me of that fact. Lastly, I fear that the people who read this will judge me for any of the reasons mentioned above, or for the content of what I write. I keep reminding myself of why writing is good for me – it’s a great skill to practice, feels productive, brings confidence not just in my writing but in my speech, and allows me to examine an internal thought or struggle that normal, everyday daydreaming usually cannot penetrate or come to terms with.

To solve these problems, I’ve devised this challenge of writing 20 paragraphs for 20 consecutive days. The length of a paragraph is long enough to express an insight or reflection, but short enough to force me to be concise and not feel like I have to write too much. The consistency will allow writing to become a habit rather than a chore. So, starting tomorrow, 20 days, 20 thoughts!

[I most likely won’t post this Saturday because I won’t have access to Wi-Fi, in which case I’ll still write one that day but publish it on Sunday along with Sunday’s entry.]

Let writing be a skill I consistently exercise this year. Here’s to a great 2015!