Your gaze stinks of ease
The wake of a mad electron.
Twisted with pity,
You flare the match with a cool grin as the rest contorts upon itself
Like a fruit fly gone dyspeptic under the sun, or a
Calabi-Yau collapsing toward an infinity.
You smile wider, and stretch your arms warmly into the flames.
It will be okay, all right, alright, aight? Fine.
Do you know
Three years ago, I might not have been able to handle life in China. Because the only Chinese I could speak was the bastardized Canto buzzwords I hungrily gleaned from cookies fortune?
Well, yes, but no.
In normal countries (and, by "normal," I am of course referring to the all countries in my sphere of experience beyond China, which spans, impressively, the United States, Canada, and France), honking is a language of sorts. That is, a honk generally signifies something beyond itself, such as, "Kindly refrain from riding your tricycle in front of my H2 tank-machine," or "Why did you cut me off, you dirty poopsmear," or, most rarely, "Oh you damn fine piece of booty, help me christen my new Chevy with some serious love stains." But not in China, oh no, not so.
Zai Zhongguo, honking is an efficient route of self-expression for anyone behind the wheel of a car. In the West, automobile owners announce their presence with body kits, loud ghetto rap, and rumble mufflers, but in China, drivers need but a horn and a palm with a sufficient lead content (amply supplied in the country's water, toy, and toothpaste products*) to assert their transportational machismo (and, yes, it is mostly men who fall into the trap; surprises there). I daily cross intersections at which every other car inoculates its (already crystal-clear) passage with a brief honk, have ridden in taxis in which every turn or lane change is decorated with a delicate tap of the horn. Only once has the recipient of the noise (when there actually was one) been subsequently accused of any actual misdemeanor (and rightly so, as the perpetrator had parked his fat white van in the middle of the highway during morning rush hour). 讨厌，太麻烦, the siji had said, shaking his head with the same look of indignation that my host mother shoots at little Niuniu when he sticks his wet nose in our laps during breakfast.
No, no, most honks in China are seemingly without motivation or real effect, serving only to ornament the thick city air with the cacophonic strummings of lively but strangely polite anger. But perhaps I, a poor, misguided Westerner rendered blind by years of poisonous fast food and deadly sunrays bouncing off my glimmering pocketbook, am just missing something vital.
Logical or not, Beijing's horn-dominated outdoor aural landscape might still be a source of very real stress for the slight of heart or short of temper. Happily, three years of living in downtown Cambridge and a chronic-anxiety-induced boost in general stress immunity has smoothed over any neuropsychological fault lines that might have otherwise long ago effected some kind of aneurysm during my adventures here. Else I might have invested in a nice set of earplugs--which might also be useful for avoiding the output of the gargantuan outdoor speakers that spit the same damn song** into my workplace all day.
当然北京欢迎你---with a long, loud honk. Or several hundred thousand per day.
*Oh, no, not another blind and McCarthyist stab at Chinese manufacturing! Too easy; almost shameful, really. But I should disclaim here that such a comment is heavily tongue-in-cheek at most. I more than happily scoot off to work every morning fresh with a brushed-in 黑美smile washed out with some variant of boiled tea-flavored liquid cancer, aherm, tap water. I can't say too much, however, in the way of Chinese toys.
**It's actually a great song; it literally translates to "Beijing Welcomes You," and it's pretty nice to hear it floating through the streets when you're feeling like just another tall and out-of-place 外国人.
She raises her eyes,
Liquid-blue tortoise-flecked sunbeams from under her lids
To the infinity dancing atop her sadly insulated feet.
She flew this once
Running her fingers along soft gold cloud-trails, dipping her toes
Into cold stardust
Kicking her arms out into a teeming ocean of sunbleached musings
But now it is only dark skies ahead,
Pale starlights like dim shadows flickering against the rear wall of her mind
Limp as if jetted between her narrowed lashes
From a cold and darkling fire
Dimmed from its own ash,
Weak stirrings among the filaments of her thoughts
Too solid, too low, too standard to warrant any but a passing glance.
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Created by a group of students at Harvard, Tsinghua, and Peking Universities in cooperation with the Strategy Alpha International 2008 Beijing Olympics Foundation, IMUSE, or Initiating Mutual Understanding through Student Exchange, aims to increase understanding of modern China and stimulate discussion on the most pressing issues facing China today.
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So this is how it feels.
I increasingly feel like I’m running on autopilot, that I no longer require intense concentration and reflection to get things done—and, even more disturbingly, to get them done as well or better than when I was actually able to completely focus on my actions.
I get this feeling most when I’m talking. The words just flow, often before I subjectively formulate what I’m going to say. In some ways, this is desirable. My social anxiety has all but disappeared—or become neurologically irrelevant—in most situations. I might feel intimidated by the people I’m talking to, but my discomfort has about as much effect on my verbal fluency as a rain shower on a semi truck’s expressway velocity.
It’s like I’m a puppetmaster whose toy has suddenly discovered the magic of batteries. There is a schism, a definite disconnect between “my” thoughts and the behaviors that my body effects. And as long as these behaviors get me into interesting situations, I don’t mind the system too much. But being aware of it is mildly unsettling.
Why am I able to let myself fly so much more easily now than four years ago? Is it the fact that for the last two years, I’ve been immersed in a richness of experience unprecedented by my life before college? Before I left for Boston two years ago, I expressed the concern to my father that most of my classmates, having grown up in privileged school districts, had probably enjoyed a far more intellectual childhood and adolescence than I. Instead of refuting my claim or telling me to get over it, he suggested something that I found both fascinating and inspiring. “To these students, Harvard is just a continuation of a lifestyle they’ve been exposed to since they were born. As a result, their intellect will have already plateaued to some degree. But for you—coming from a nondescript background and a stifling public school—this is your chance to explode.”
Does this principle constitute the basis of my evolution? Have some parts of my brain exploded more quickly than others? Have my more primitive posterior cortical structures undergone a college-inspired maturation faster than key regions of my lagging PFC, allowing them to buck off the reins and charge forth while “I” stand idly by to watch and smile?
But is it really my environment? Or might this marginally uncomfortable change in my subjective consciousness be a manifestation of something more inexorable—something purely biological? I skimmed an article in Nature once about how as one matures from an adolescent to an adult, the brain not only thins out its grey matter—the uninsulated neural cell bodies responsible for processing information on the brain’s surface—but also expands its white matter—the insulated axonal connections among these cell bodies—so that current can run through previously constructed neural paths with greater efficiency. How subjectively noticeable is this phenomenon? Is youth truly for building the program and adulthood merely for running it?
What if we only have subjective consciousness—a feeling of self, of identity, of oversight—and, more importantly, of control—when we are young software engineers? What if we lose this executive authority little by little as our neural programs begin to mature enough to solve their own problems?
To what extent might this evolution continue?
What if our identities—perhaps a direct result of the architecture of our prefrontal cortical regions, architecture that is irreversibly screwed with as we age—die before our brains do? There is no way to prove that they don’t, that adults are nothing more than self-less, un-experiencing automatons merely reacting to stimuli according to the software that their long-gone “identities” “consciously” built when they were young.
Oh, my god.
Something’s definitely changing.
Will I lose myself completely?
So today a bunch of people from my dorm got together and celebrated our friend's birthday by going to an Italian restaurant in the city. Sounds like a reasonable night out, right? Hah.
I knew it was a bad idea when the door of the restaurant was held open for me by a man who had apparently little else to do beyond facilitate the entry of the people walking into the building. It got worse when we strolled into the foyer and I laid eyes on the painted plates and crystal bowl of very expensive post-dinner mints smiling at me from beside the large cash register manned by a gentleman whose suit jacket was probably worth more than a month's worth of meals at the dining hall. Bu hao.
But we sat down anyway, smoothing our blazers and jangling our watches and grinning smugly like we were six-figure executives at Google instead of starving college students whose NIH lab jobs and Capitol Hill volunteerships paid pennies if anything. Cocky with cockiness and hungry with hunger, we opened the hand-crafted menus and feasted our eyes upon... $30 spaghetti? $35 veal parmigiana? Ah, that dish is only $15--shiiit, it's a just a frickin' bowl of soup.
Sigh. No matter. We would just pair up and split our food. Italian restaurants serve a lot, right? We'd be fiiine... we eased back in our cherry-wood chairs, admired the delicate ferns spilling over the painted wall-sconces, and filled our ears with the soothing strings of Mozart. Or was it Vivaldi?
With our dinner prospects brilliantly conquered, our attention turned to dessert. Samira and Hend had brought a birthday cake for Mohammed that we naturally wished to enjoy that night. Jalene flagged a waiter.
Could you plate this cake for us at the end of the meal?
Of course, ma'am. Ten ninety-five a person.
Ten ninety-five a PERSON? To transfer a cake from one flat surface to another and throw some chocolate sauce on top? To plate the dessert would cost more than the fucking thing was worth in the first place.
Sigh. No matter. We would just eat it outside after dinner like barbarians. Get in touch with our inner college student, perhaps even share some with the poor man getting paid to hold the door and smile. We rested our hands on the thick cotton napkins, stretched our grumbling bellies, and sipped our glass-bottled water, feeling pleased with our resourcefulness in such a harsh and hostile environment.
Wait a second. Sipped our glass-bottled water? An anxious doubt swept over the table, and Jalene flagged a waiter.
You don't charge for water, right?
Yes, ma'am. Twenty dollars a bottle.
We exchanged furied glances and ran the last ten thirsty minutes through our collective brain. One... two... three... three---four?
Dinner hadn't even started, and we had burned through four bottles of water.
Dinner hadn't even started, and we had spent $80. $80 on water.
I laughed inwardly at the irony of the situation. I had spent the last three weeks sleeping under a thin $10 blanket and eating raw oatmeal and cold rice noodles because I didn't feel like spending money, and here I was, sitting in the middle of a Federal District Italian restaurant so snobbish it put the Harvard Faculty Club to shame, being charged for water at a rate of $20 per bottle.
Needless to say, we quickly left for Buca di Beppo. And our college-student resourcefulness (helped along by some fiery Texan anger) happily reduced our pending bill to zero.
The Moral of the Story: When the waiter asks, "Will that be fizzy or flat?", smile and say, "Tap."
The bad news: I came home and encountered my very first cockroach ever, just chilling on my pants (which were, incidentally, sprawled over the floor). What you've probably heard is true: those motherfuckers DON'T DIE. Well, until they've met my hiking boot six or seven times.
The good news: I got my visa today and am leaving for Shanghai in less than a month. Hen HAO!
just passing by is not a choice
an axon curled: swept from the synapse by
this irrational dessication__an eardrum full with sound__
a heavy lid, glued to the nether lash like
one moth-wing crushed against another
rent from the frenzied thorax
and leaving a spring of dust
to blur the cracks of a clumsy palm
the sun won't rise
but the world still dries.
Today I slept from 5 to 11 A.M., listened to some guy talk about how--I swear to any god that may be that this is a direct quote--"the representation of the representation of the transcendence" of Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution in my discussion section, presented my midterm skit for a giant cookie in my French class, returned eight glasses, five bowls, two spoons, and one fork to the dining hall before spring break room inspections, attempted unsuccessfully to take an afternoon nap and ended up walking down to the river to climb a tree and write in my diary about the lack of real human connection pervading my life, met some friends for dinner and ate nothing but two more cookies and a bowl of cereal, argued over the merits of pivoting one's back foot while flowering a staff during wushu practice, passed this knowledge on while teaching my friend to flower a staff with a common room pool cue a few hours after practice, and finally downed a tray of cold French fries and stale mocha brownies said friend and I found in my dining hall after watching the greatest film in the whole very wide world (Casshern).
I think that I need to run a lot now.
And perhaps use more periods.
I feel tamed and subdued and repressed and understimulated.
Someone give me a horse, a meadow, and a dragon to slay.
Sometimes I fancy myself an eagle. An eagle whose massive wings have been roped behind her back and chained with a fucking five-pound padlock.
"It was the first year that the government tracked the frequency of teens who reported getting high from over-the-counter medicine for coughs and colds.
'It's bad that kids are buying cough syrup and using it this way--it's not good for them,' said John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy."
Ah, livejournal. Coming back to you is like slipping into a pair of comfortable old pajamas.
Valuable life lessons from semester number three:
Sometimes, a percentage point--or fifteen--or even thirty-three--are not worth spitting your soul into a dank corner of the library. But only sometimes.
Never wing a presentation in front of your entire laboratory. No matter how many hours of sleep you got, no matter how many bowls of Wheaties you consumed for breakfast, no matter how beautiful your Power Point is, when you step up to open your mouth, it's just not going to happen.
Don't practice broadsword forms within three feet of a chair. Or another person.
No matter how smart you think you are, organic chemistry is not a subject to be fucked with.
And no matter how tough you think you are, sleep does matter. Sometimes it matters so much that it's worth skipping a calculus class to do it. Or two. Or six.
Living in a single sucks. Being single sucks. Living in a single and not being single? That's a different story.
It's generally not a good idea to start your multivariable homework at midnight on the morning it's due. Unless you have a genius friend in the next dorm to work on it with.
After forty hours of wakefulness, not all the things you see will actually be real.
In conclusion: Shit happens. So does procrastination. In fact, the two often go hand-in-hand. Especially after the dining hall serves its famous scallop dish.
P.S. I find that I'm becoming arrogant. I also find that I don't care.
P.P.S. But maybe that's only true at 4 in the morning.
I Am A: Lawful Neutral Elf Ranger Bard
Lawful Neutral characters believe in the triumph of law and order above all else. It does not matter whether the leader is for good or evil; the leader will be followed, because the order they provide is the most important thing.
Elves are the eldest of all races, although they are generally a bit smaller than humans. They are generally well-cultured, artistic, easy-going, and because of their long lives, unconcerned with day-to-day activities that other races frequently concern themselves with. Elves are, effectively, immortal, although they can be killed. After a thousand years or so, they simply pass on to the next plane of existance.
Rangers are the defenders of nature and the elements. They are in tune with the Earth, and work to keep it safe and healthy.
Bards are the entertainers. They sing, dance, and play instruments to make other people happy, and, frequently, make money. They also tend to dabble in magic a bit.
Silvanus is the True Neutral god of nature. He is also known as the Patron of Druids. His followers believe in the perfect balance of nature, and believe that nature's bounty is preferable to any other 'civilizing' method. They wear leather or metallic scale mail, constructed of leaf-shaped scales. Silvanus's symbol is an oak leaf.
Find out What D&D Character Are You?, courtesy ofNeppyMan (e-mail)
My eyes fell on a half-decomposed pink shoebox lashed shut with a few tattered pieces of duct tape. My right hand trembled slightly.
No, my prefrontal cortex warned as my limbic system glowed with hushed promises of a bittersweet catharsis. Before these hopes could be dashed by my better judgment, I pulled the box down.
I stood and stared for a moment, not feeling anything at all. Then, fancying myself some kind of Pandora, I lifted the object’s ragged lid.
“Damn,” I swore, brushing away the thick layer of Christmas cards and birthday greetings that swelled up to meet me. These aren’t supposed to be in here, I muttered silently…
As I swung my hand over these rude commercialized interlopers, my fingers brushed a slender cutting of balsa wood. So it begins.
I picked up the model glider, scrutinizing its slightly bent fuselage, its swooping wings, the graying string carefully tied to its nose. Nothing. I set the toy aside.
Next came a series of greeting cards—mostly hand-drawn, excepting one from Valentine’s Day.
“…many, many more Christmases with you,” I read, tasting the bitter irony in these words.
My eyes ran over the rest of the note, glazing past the “I love you!” smiling at me from the bottom of the page. Nothing. I closed the card.
The rest were no different—crude, affectionate constructions, peppered with adolescent jokes and frosted with the same sugary words. Some were elaborate compositions of marker and pen; others were mere pencil drawings—no matter. They were one and the same.
I stacked the cards next to the gliders and dove back into the box.
My hand fell upon a thick wooden picture frame. Ah… I pulled it out.
Two smiling youths, no more than sixteen years old, stared up at me, heads and shoulders pressed so fiercely against each other that they threatened to melt into a single happy blob. The context was a school formal—the girl, her short hair twisted back into choppy ringlets, was wearing a satiny black spaghetti-strap dress; the boy, his deep brown locks neatly combed over to one side, was sporting a matching button-down shirt with a large, securely pinned scarlet boutonnière.
I gazed at the female for a full two minutes, at once questioning and drinking in the light in her eyes, the strength in her touch, the confidence in her grin. I touched my own mouth, worn through myriad false joys, transient conquests, and empty visceral games. Had it once held such conviction?
My eyes turned to the boy, who offered me a more subdued smile matching the soft trust that shone from the depths of his mahogany eyes. Did he know? I shook my head. He must have; he had to have known!
I rested the picture upon a nest of used wrapping paper inhabiting a far corner of the shoebox and thumbed through the slim stack of photographs that had been hiding beneath it. Two years of formals, a Christmas party, Stairwell A, the driver’s education hallway… the same couple in each one, holding each other and grinning like a matching set of
I suddenly realized that the chasm between me and the two lovers cut far deeper than two linear years. I slowly wrapped my mind around the idea that they enjoyed a naiveté, a purity, an emotional virginity that I would never again call my own. A fire surged within my throat, and the youths’ once blissfully oblivious pupils began a slow, cold laughter.
Shaken, I placed the pictures facedown atop the frame, and, for the first time, my eyes scanned the whole of the box’s contents—movie tickets, candy wrappers, a couple of pens, some old drawings, a rumpled dollar bill, a thread from his backpack. I marveled at the decaying stacks of kitsch that had once seemed an entire universe. How painstakingly I had collected it all!
From amidst these piles of junk something oddly shiny caught my gaze. A coin? A ballpoint? A fun-size Snickers wrapper? No, none of the above: A silver bracelet.
I picked the object up, letting its weight seep into my palm. I sadly realized that I had forgotten the occasion of its original intent—Christmas? My birthday? An anniversary?
I frowned and rubbed the bracelet’s delicate links between my fingers. To my chagrin, my skin came back grey. Tarnished. How fitting, my brain spat, even as my veins were washed with a peaceful nostalgia. Once, this bracelet had served the vessel for a comfortable faith that I had embraced without question. Now, like the innumerable sketches and notes, the dried-up corsages, the lock of hair taped into that birthday card, it was just a shell, a shade, a skeletal remain languishing in the reaches of a dark and closeted shoebox.
What had they come to, the sentiments and devotions behind this old piece of jewelry, this Tribune Building guest pass, this carefully colored dragon picture? What had it all come to? Had I gained anything but a deep-seated skepticism, a slow-burning rage, a loss of my capacity for innocent, unbridled affection?
What had it come to? What had I come to?
I did not know.
I replaced the lid of the box but did not tape it shut.
I am restless and buzzing and brewing and stewing and creeping and crawling for excitement.
OH MY GOD NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
That is all.
Kelley: "Why don't you ever talk?"