Meta | Journal

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Le beau (yes, pronounced ‘la bo,’ and I said la beu for clarification) stumbled upon my blog last night. Well, I had given him a link to one article I thought he’d read–not the entire blog!

For context, this digital blog barely crosses over into my real life, if at all. I don’t mention it to my friends, family, or, until recently, boyfriend, and I certainly don’t share it on social media. It’s just weird. The cross between real life and digital blogspace is like that one episode from Fairly Odd Parents when Timmy Turner leaps into Jimmy Neutron’s world. Timmy goes from being a flat animated cartoon to a well-shadowed 3D character. It’s jarring. The worlds–they’re different, but not entirely.

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When la beau first told me he’d read my blog, I sweated profusely. “Why’re you rolling down the windows? It’s 30 degrees,” he said.

“This conversation is making me warm,” I said.

I’m okay with people, in general, reading these little creative outbursts or blurbs, but it feels strange when I know them. So if I know you in real life, do me a favor, please don’t tell me you read my blog and then proceed to quote some of your favorite posts. Because le beau did this. All day. I’d forgotten I’d even written some of these blurbs. 

“You’re 18 books away from completing your 100 Books Challenge.”

“Math is a house filled with nooks and crannies. I read that on your blog. Remember that post?”

“That poem, bad cliffhangers, I didn’t really understand that one.”

“I saw the one from August 2017, and I was like aw, the quote from Winnie the Pooh.”

“I liked the post where you felt happy with the people in your life.”

“I was looking for cameos. I’d just sort of pop in and out. Also, I was referred to as le beau! Ha-ha. Clever.”

He also mentioned some kind fellow bloggers. Some would extend hugs in murky times and others would simply be there. I think of Monika, TheWayFarer, Shahirah, Kendall, Connie, E.L, Robert V., Zheng Fan….so hello, if you’re reading this! And if not, I’ll figure out how to make proper mentions one day. I send my greetings to the blogaverse.

Le beau also asked a good question about how I’ll sometimes end a post with a different time than the time stamp. The lower date is when the post was written. I’ll often tweak and edit previous posts from times I’d write more (read: random creative bursts or sad bubbles). This ties in with my last journal post about being more prolific when I’m depressed, and writing less when I’m happy. So when I’m happy (the past 2 years), I’ll revisit older posts in notes/docs from sadder, but more prolific, days.

12 hours later from our warm conversation about my blog, I feel a little less weird. Everything feels a little more meta than usual, reflecting on this blog and readers and whatnot.


Itching to Write | Journal


nov 29th 2018 

Reflecting on the highlights of 2018. Several memories stick out: meeting new people on cold city trip; hours long chats with le beau; sleeping over at my best friend’s for some of the last few times. Sleepovers filled with food, pho, Netflix, The Bachelor, open-heart late-night talks.

Spring hibernation was pleasant, albeit freezing. It was the closest I’ll ever get to being a bear. For weeks, I slid around, warm and huddled, slowly expanding from pizza and cake and club lulu’s. I’d occasionally leave my home to bumble around with friends, grab coffee, make dinner, watch TV, then curl up at home.

Then came the muggy heat of summer. Solidified future plans. Busy, busy. Friends, movies, restaurants, art pockets, coffeeshops. Fall descended–was, again, busy. Sweet lull during Halloween weekend, when we went roadtripping. Winding cows, cow orchards, violently pretty sunsets. 3 cities in 3 days. We finished Haunting of Hill House & fought to stay awake ’til 3. On Sunday, we stayed in, basked in the slow weekend, ate at Lupe’s.

(Oh, the memories are already fragments)

dec 1st 2018 

I was so reluctant to wake up this morning that I dreamt I was going to a separate city.  I was booking a train there. Instead of driving 20 minutes away, I was shuttling into another country. I woke up exhausted but relieved I didn’t have to ride over to the next country.

The weather was beautiful today. All windows open, open breeze. Warm pink floral room. Pink is my favorite color. I worked, did research, doodled semi-realistic portraits, and saw le boyfriend. We ditched the lights show and stayed in instead because he seemed tired. I munched on chocolates and fries and sipped some coffee while working on materials.

Later, we watched some Youtube. I wonder how Flithy Frank, now known as mainstream Joji, skyrocketed to fame. His videos are just so strange. Did the cameraman just laugh? we rewinded quickly, paused. A stifled chuckle in the background. The cameraman just laughed. Then Cool3DWorld. Then a video called Cream, where a special Cream could fix anything, everything in life, from blemishes to broken arms to old age to famine. Concentrated wealth put Cream to a stop. Too strange, good stuff, too deep, too real.

Lately I’ve been itching to write, but about nothing in particular… When it comes to writing, I’m most…prolific when I’m depressed, which is kind of strange, but I guess all the world’s a sad stage when you’re down. I remember reading some quote about how people relish in their small tragedies a little too much, to the point where it’s self-indulgent. I guess it’s half self-indulgence and half self-expression. When I’m happy, as I am now, it’s just harder to write. About non-superficial things, anyway, but I’ll chug on along and (likely) private this later.

East of Eden

Lately I’ve been thinking of a book I’d read years ago that, upon finishing the book, all I could do was reread the ending and sink into the couch and bawl a little bit.

The book: East of Eden, by John Steinbeck. I barely recall the plot, to be honest, but I remember the way I felt: enthralled (cringing at my use of this word, but it’s fitting) by its lurid prodding complexity and numb…. from all the philosophy.

Some themes quotes from the book that resonated with me:

“We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the neverending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is.”

But where does free will, or lack thereof, factor into it? Steinbeck weaves in the concept of timshel, that man ultimately exercises free will in choosing to do either good or evil:

“But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.”

On monstrosity as deviation from the norm; on normalcy as deviation from monstrosity. A reference to the monstrous Cathy, whose character was evil incarnate (so much so that critics described her as too flatly evil.)

Interestingly, what Steinbeck describes is a feeling that many sociopaths may have: the unnerving sense that others have something they lack, something internal, a moral compass, a set of emotions, a conscience.

“Just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? Monsters are variations from the accepted normal to a greater or a less degree. As a child may be born without an arm, so one may be born without kindness or the potential of conscience.

To a monster the norm must seem monstrous, since everyone is normal to himself. To the inner monster it must be even more obscure, since he has no visible thing to compare with others. To a criminal, honesty is foolish. You must not forget that a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous.”

There was no single takeaway from the book, at least, not for me. Its significance didn’t lie in the plot, but the themes. But maybe I say that because I’m not as familiar with biblical stories, particularly the one of Cain and Abel, which the novel recreates between the Civil War & WWI.

At any rate, I highly recommend the book, especially if you’re interested in postwar fiction, philosophy, religion, ethics or literature. Or a book-induced mindfuck.

bad cliffhangers

my memories keep me
warm until I
remember they're just

I wrote that in the summer
first I was defiant
then I was tired
then I was reminiscent
but mostly I
was sad

sometimes i wonder
what the sheer durability of
emotion says about humanity
and whether it says
anything at all

and i wonder whether it's a
reflection of openness
or brokenness or
the inability to fit into
social narratives

it's hard to imagine
that i used to stay up late
for the sake of it
that i'd stay up late 
to talk

to scour the internet
to find articles i'd read not
once or twice but
eight dozen trintuplion times

at night i'll want explanations

when i revisit late-night
memories, there's
an buttery hazy glow that envelops them
which i'd get lost in
during the summertime

June 2016

on teaching

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Quiet holiday season, quiet twinkly lights.

As much as I enjoy teaching, I don’t think I could do it for the rest of my life, or as a long-term career. Teachers are notoriously underpaid and undervalued–in society, and by students.

I didn’t appreciate teachers for a long time. You know, when you’re young, they’re just there, like child caretakers who vary in leniency. Some are strict. Others are not. Some are terrifying. Others are not. Some will yell at you for sneaking spicy chips in class. Others will not.

Also, viruses spread like wildfire among kids. I love taking care of them, but one uncovered cough and the whole class is down. As a germaphobe, I’d just rather not.

But in the meantime, I’m happy to be doing what I am. Math still gives me a minor headache, but I enjoy it a lot more than I used to. I can tell when a student doesn’t understand by the way they blush or their eyes fog over. I backpedal in concepts until it’s easily understandable. I sometimes wonder about the school system and how knowledge is just…left behind.

I’d rather teach a student Math than English, despite my preference for the latter. It’s hard to communicate an intuitive grasp of English, of where commas can and can’t go, of apt vocabulary. Math, on the other hand, is just a house filled with nooks and crannies and foundational rules.

Anyhow, I appreciate teachers much more now (and professors, in particular) for all they do. They really deserve more recognition–and raises, for that matter.

The Marshmallow Test

Photo of Marshmallows

I’ve been chewing on Psychology books and studies lately, as per usual.

Recently, I’ve been mulling over The Marshmallow Test. It’s a famous study, one many readers might’ve heard of. It essentially goes along the lines of: child can choose to eat a marshmallow, OR delay gratification to get 2 later. The experimenter, who tested on Stanford preschoolers, then followed up with the adults. He saw a positive correlation between self-control and higher SAT scores, higher income, lower BMI, etc. In other words, many of the children who could exercise self-control in The Marshmallow Test had better life outcomes.

But, as it often happens, the study was mildly bastardized, causation was surmised from correlation, and people took it too far. They figured that all a kid needed was self-control from candies to succeed in life; they worried when their child gave into fluffy desires. Amid the psychology revolution, where countless scientists are now trying to “disprove” popular studies (which, by the way, is not possible–nothing in psychology is provable, and there’s always a chance that the outcome was due to chance), one psychologist sought out to disprove the findings. He stumbled upon a larger data set compiled by the NIH, which had also conducted a similar experiment on children. He then followed up with the adults, and found that, if controlled for education and income, the correlation was not nearly as strong.

The conclusion? That The Marshmallow Study’s findings were fake! Null! The correlation was there, but barely! What really mattered was the child’s income background, and their family’s resources! The initial sample consisted of Stanford babies, privileged babies! Self-control meant nothing! Delayed gratification was not worth teaching in schools!

At least, that’s how many popular news sites framed it. But as I read The Marshmallow Test written by the Walter Mischel himself (the mastermind behind it all), I realize his thesis, and studies, are far more nuanced than “marshmallow decision => life outcomes.” In the book, he explores his interest in self-control, and influencers of self-control, such as biological disposition and environmental factors. He opens with a primary idea that self-control may be malleable, perhaps worked like a muscle. By no means did Mischel imply that self-control was a you-have-it-or-you-don’t trait. As he tweaked his experiments, he noticed that various factors affected the children’s decision to delay gratification: whether they trusted the experimenter, how old they were, what gender they were, and what questions they were asked.

In addition, he notes the crucial interplay of biology and environment on self-control and life outcomes. Resources–including income and schooling–matter. He writes of a boy living in poverty who wins an educational lottery to a better school. At this school, educators didn’t shit on him; they encouraged him when he did well, punished him when he performed badly. He learned from these experiences, described the program as ‘saving’ him, and subsequently attended Yale. His life outcomes had more to do with just self-control, but perhaps they had something to do with it.

At the same time, it’s facetious to assume that self control (and, while we’re on the topic, Duckworth’s idea of grit) is all a child needs to succeed. Of course family income matters. It matters–a lot. The greatest predictor of a child’s adult income is how much the parents make. And so while delayed gratification may be of importance in certain situations, odds are, it probably won’t cancel out the impact of poverty on a child. If resources are scarce, and short-term goals are prioritized (understandably), then delayed gratification won’t cause that upward life trajectory.

But given a person does have the resources to delay gratification, it seems obvious that it’s an important trait. For kids who get high standardized test scores, they delay the gratification of fun-right-now, for dull studying. For people who want to lose weight, they delay the gratification of rich cheesecake, for a lower scale. For people who want retirement savings, they delay the gratification of early gifts and vacations, for a financially secure future. Of course the capability to not cave into impulses can lead to better life outcomes. That is, given a person has the means–the test material, the food, the money–to even delay gratification.

Delayed gratification won’t close the educational gap between the rich and the poor. It won’t give children the full toolkit to succeed in school, in the workplace, or in life. And one marshmallow decision–self-controlled or not–won’t spell out a person’s entire future. The marshmallow study investigates a broader topic within psychology: self-control, impulsivity, and consequences. But by no means is delayed gratification a life solver or high SAT score bringer. And it certainly won’t nullify the crippling effects of certain impoverished environments. At the same time, it may highlight something important about people and their decisions. And given the general recklessness of children, self-control should still hold a place on an educator’s list.