valediction for a&m consolidated high school’s class of 2017

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This is it.

Here we are, in the center of Reed Arena (do you remember the free tickets we would get in elementary school to watch the A&M women’s basketball team play where we now sit?), sporting the overpriced maroon gowns we’ve witnessed our older siblings, friends, teachers—but never us—wear.

Here we are, flipping through the pages of programs that have our names listed in alphabetical order and listening to the congratulatory air-horn-blowing that Mrs. Elder tries to put an end to every year. (This year will be no different—she will eventually give up. But for us, the fact that this repeated, obnoxious sounding is reserved for our class makes all the difference.)

I ask you to pay close attention to the sensations you feel right now. Pinch the ceremonial fabric draped over you. Reach up and touch the tassel hanging from your cap. Turn your head to exchange a quick glance with your best friend, who is sitting 200 or so strangers away. In a couple years, you’ll remember graduation as a “milestone,” with the haziness that accompanies all such Momentous Life Events, and you’ll have trouble remembering the specifics—only that you walked across a stage and got handed a fake diploma and exchanged “Oh my gosh let’s hang out this summer!!!”‘s with acquaintances you knew deep down you’d never see again.

Yet the specifics are important. So, go ahead, grab the edge of your cold, metal folding chair. Remember the back-pain-inducing stools and creaky blue and maroon chairs you’ve sat on for four years.

In some ways, we’ve had a unifying experience at Consol. We’ve taken required classes that often served to disinterest us from learning altogether, struggled to navigate around (or inside) the ‘Grind Circle’ at school dances, and occasionally smelled weed—among other things—in the bathroom in the cafeteria. We’ve encountered rude, shove-crazy people in the hallway, and on our bad days, we have been that rude, shove-crazy force.

We’ve had wonderful teachers who exuded passion for their job, and we’ve had weary teachers who never made the effort to learn names, even if you did sit in the front row for an entire semester. I don’t know if they knew, but we could always tell if teachers didn’t actually believe all of the idealistic sayings displayed on the posters that covered every inch of their classroom walls.

We’ve walked the same hallways, and at times, felt like the off-white paint and the cracked tile floor were oppressing us from all sides; other times, we thought they were endearing—this was our Consol, imperfections and all.

Already, we’ve experienced heartbreak—not in the woe-is-me, romantic sense, but the suffocating kind we thought only happened to “grown-ups.” We decided to conceal these emotional burdens every time we walked through the school doors, accessorizing our fraying sense of self with a lanyard, ID, and dress-code compliant clothes. Somehow, though, in the middle of the afternoon, we would suddenly be struck by how impossible it seemed to get through the rest of today, and the day after, and the day after that.

You may think I’m being overly sentimental. I used to be. But ever since my dad—the loyal family man, the impulsive dog-adopter, the repeater of “Yanichka, never forget where you come from”—ever since he left my mom and me to figure out the rest of our lives without him, I’ve decided that melodramatic sentimentalism rife with hypocrisy and defensiveness is not a philosophy I’d ever like to follow.

I’m here today with something else: I task you with remembering high school without the haziness and deceptive nostalgia. To remember the specifics: the good, bad, everything in between. To neither have “stuck-in-high-school syndrome” nor forever think of Consol as a prison—it looked like one, and sometimes felt like one, but you and I know that there were worse places to be.

Class of 2017, I congratulate you all on making it through the past 4 years. I know how hard it’s been for you, but you’ve done well. I am proud.

It’s been both my pleasure and my personal hell.

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march madness

I’ve discovered something the last couple of days: people who you thought were your friends are sometimes not genuinely happy for you when good things are happening to you. (You‘re supposed to tell good—not just bad—news to your best friends, right? That’s a thing, right?)

In fact, some won’t react at all, others will full-out glare at you, and maybe even one will ask, “Is that it?” 

And you will suddenly feel very, very small.

This was a blog post I wrote the morning of March 25th. I deleted it shortly after because I got over it pretty quickly—but I thought I’d re-post it for this week’s prompt, since it was fairly applicable. 

Q: “What grinds your gears?” 

A: When people feed off of my unhappiness and undermine my joy.

equality of opportunity

raj-chetty

All researchers should strive to be like Raj Chetty.

Chetty, a world-renowned public economics specialist, is known for how his research, composed of unbiased data, is something that all sides of the political spectrum can freely learn from and use to strengthen their stances to reflect actual evidence in its appropriate context. In fact, in Freakonomics host Stephen Dubner’s words, Chetty is the “policymaker’s policymaker”—”the economist’s economist.” At only 37, he has 1) directed politicians’ focus more concretely to income inequality (and ways to alleviate its many resulting issues) and 2) shed light on the often-misrepresented “American Dream.” Both HOR Speaker Paul Ryan and former Secretary of State/presidential candidate Hillary Clinton have actively drawn from the information Chetty has contributed to the economics world. (Chetty may be the only thing these two have in common…aside from wanting to needlessly bomb the Middle East.)

In the Freakonomics podcast “Is The American Dream Really Dead?”, Chetty explains The Equality of Opportunity Project, which is a collective effort by a coalition of well-known economists to find the most effective AND efficient ways—as in, ways that require less money because the government is very broke and very in debt to itself—to address chronic poverty in a nation that is no longer reliably doling out the American Dream. As the project has found from mass data, factors such as residential segregation, income inequality (it’s easier to move up if there’s a shorter gap to cross), family structure (single parent households correlate with lower levels of income mobility), social capital (the measure of strength of social networks and community support), and school quality are enormously influential. In particular, childhood exposure to low income neighborhoods and underfunded schools can often stunt someone’s income mobility later in life.

Unfortunately, most of the government’s affordable housing initiatives that in theory should be able to assist low-income families to move into better neighborhoods fail because of long waiting lists. When the optimal time for a family to move is when a child is born/very young (since childhood exposure is important above all), programs with these waiting lists are unsuccessful at spurring income mobility. And because they’re seen as failures, they don’t get any more funding. Interesting stuff, right?

Though I definitely lean tuck Frump (not that Trump is the best representative of the Republican Party), unbiased, basic research is so, so essential to improve this beloved country I call home. Go research that isn’t politically charged or cherry picked to suit a politician’s stance! Go research that’s given the necessary space & funds to be adequately far-reaching and thorough! Go research that doesn’t give social science a bad rep!

karen, heather, or valerie ?

My mom has recently expressed that she wants me to get a “white name” so I can be more employable in the future! After talking it over with some friends, I’ve selected my finalists: Karen, Heather, and Valerie. Which name do you think says, “I’m conforming to ridiculous social pressures that contradict my personal values so I can get a job,” the best?¿?¿ Comment below!


With the help of these sample W-2 1099INT, and 1040EZ forms, I’ve calculated that the fictional taxpayer in question owes $2,423.41 to the IRS. To be honest, it took me an embarrassingly long time to finish the “EZ” form—accounting has never been my forte, partly because my mom usually takes care of that (bless her), and partly because I feel compelled to take a nap every other line I complete.

I did have some exposure to money-form-stuff when we were filling out financial aid applications in January for the hellish number of colleges I decided to apply to, and that was pretty excruciating since every college seemed to require unique forms. (Real talk, I’ve had long back-and-forth email conversations with the respective regional financial aid office specialists of six different colleges. I think I’m on a first-name-basis with some of them?) I don’t think the experience impacted my accounting skills as much as my annoying-strangers-via-email skills, however.

Who knows, though—next time I fill out a 1040 form, I might actually know what I’m doing, and my name might even be “Karen.”

august 13th at 10:12 p.m. on my living room floor

So begins a hurriedly written college essay about Michael Phelps, who is, as far as the writing prompt was concerned, my “special interest”:

It was a vaguely anticlimactic end to the career of the greatest Olympian of all time.

I half-expected the world to stop right there, for my television to suddenly freeze out of respect for the sheer finality of the moment, for the flag-holding masses in the stands (those lucky dogs!) to bow their heads in acute awareness of the occasion’s magnitude, for the commentators to sputter out at least a couple eulogy-esque words to commemorate greatness in its final competitive platform before the chance disappeared.

But when Michael Phelps touched the wall, finishing the butterfly leg in the last event of his swimming career, the camera quickly followed freestyler Ryan Murphy into his leg of the relay, leaving Phelpsstill recovering from his swimout of the shot. I never got to see the unreadable expression that would have undoubtedly flickered over his face as he looked back at his last Olympic split. I think it would have been a mixture of relief tinged with sorrow.

Of course, there were the televised theatrics afterwards, if I only wanted to see emotions running high: the medal-bestowing, the hand-shaking, the tearing-up, the sappy-waving-to-the-crowd.

Yet some precious feeling was lost in transmission through all the cameras and wires and screens. Was it the sharp smell of chlorine? The balmy natatorium air? Or perhaps it was the knowledge of having some concrete part, minor as it was, in the legend of Michael Phelps.

corruption, corruption, corruption everywhere

For the past two years, I’ve been flirting with the idea of going into medicine. I mean, it’s a nice, vague answer to questions about your future from nosy family friends and your parents’ coworkers—whether you want to become a physician or nurse or medical researcher or biomedical engineer or anything in the field, there’s something inherently noble about having a profession that (ideally) seeks to directly benefit the health of the common man or woman.

But make no mistake. There’s also a great deal of corruption in the healthcare field. According to a 2017 Freakonomics podcast and 2015 Guardian article, many of the people “who design the clinical trials, who write up the manuscripts, who write the review articles” in the biopharmaceutical industry have financial ties to drugmakers. Naturally, this encourages misleading, over-optimistic reviews of “cost-effective” drugs that are actually not really cost-effective nor tested sufficiently.

Furthermore, since billions upon billions of dollars depend on clinical trials, drugmakers have incentive to use only the fittest patients for their trials, a sample of “perfect” people who don’t represent the population who’ll be using the drug (but who ensure the drug meets FDA drug approval and will eventually make it to the market). In fact, the age is almost 10 years younger in pivotal trials for FDA drug approval than in the real world, and women are excluded from many trials, partly due to the thalidomide catastrophe in the ’60s (thalidomide, used to treat morning sickness in the trial process, caused fetal limb malformation, much to the world’s horror) and partly due to the fact that men are less complicated. They don’t have monthly menstrual cycles; they don’t go through menopause. Studying only men “reduces variability, and makes it easier to detect the effect that you’re studying.”

However….what does this mean for women who will eventually use the drug? In the case of the sleeping pill Ambien and its active ingredient zolpidem, the FDA had to cut the recommended dosage in half for women after discovering that “10 to 15 percent of women still had enough zolpidem in their system to impair daily function, compared to 3 percent of men.” The verdict: sex difference certainly influences drug metabolism and should be considered in preliminary research.

“It’s just heartbreaking to know that so many women had to wake up in the morning — and they still got up — but they went out and drove into the side of a mailbox, because we didn’t have sex as part of one of the variables that we would study.” – Teresa Woodruff, director of Women’s Health Research Institute at Northwestern

And so, because the medical research industry-centered agenda doesn’t align with patient interest, incredibly expensive drugs that presumably have benefits in “very carefully selected populations” may not work at all (and even have negative impact) in the real world.

Meanwhile, in October, our current president promised to “speed the approval of life-saving medications” and “cut the red tape at the FDA.” We should be very scared about that.

late new year’s resolution

Two weeks ago, when my college interviewer told me he found this blog by googling me, I, despite being thoroughly prepared for every conceivable, obscure question related to the particular institution I was interviewing for, managed to only respond with a quiet “…Oh.”

I sat in my car in the parking lot of Sweet’s for a long time afterwards, thinking about what that meant. Though he’d complimented my voice as a writer, my interviewer had no doubt seen my deep-rooted insecurities and my impressive affinity for self-deprecation both comedic and awkwardly serious in action–in short, much of my overly honest, at-times-ugly side.

The author of (the misleadingly-named blog?) “Mongoals” is certainly not the coolly confident, “I’M PERFECT, PLEASE ACCEPT ME” -sign-holding Yanichka Ariunbold whom I thought for a long time that colleges–and people in my life–would naturally prefer. I think I’m starting to realize the reality lies somewhere in between.

I hope I’ll remember this more in 2017, wherever I end up.

how i almost disappeared into the wilderness on a water buffalo to “careless whisper”

Finding your lost wallet and keys after spending half an hour frantically scouring the CSMS parking lot and swim pool locker room for them is (probably) a better feeling than eating the serotonin-infused deliciousness that is the Five Guys bacon cheeseburger, experiencing requited love for the first time in your life, holding your newborn baby in your arms after undergoing the miracle of childbirth, fulfilling your long-term career and life goals, etc. Bless the kind middle school teacher who found my precious life source lying on the ground (where it landed after presumably falling out of my bag) and took it safely to the middle school front office.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the moment I first registered that my keys and wallet, which are attached to each other, were gone–as soon as my Prius refused to unlock at my touch like it’s supposed to when I have my keys on my person, the comprehension that the world as I knew it was basically over hit me like a truck (speaking of trucks, read The Roar’s fabulous, scorching review of Monster Trucks!).

Naturally, then came the panicked bag-sorting, the rocking-back-and-forth, the numbly-contemplating-the-unescapable-fact-that-Mom-is-going-to-kill-me-so-hard. After all, my wallet had my credit card, driver’s license, probably 100 dollars in cash, and my only means of transporting myself home. Suddenly able to recall random facts from middle school world history, I considered pulling a Laozi and disappearing into the wilderness on a water buffalo to never be heard from again. At the time, my only objection to this idea was the lack of water buffalos native to College Station Middle School.

The worst part of this whole frightening situation, however, may have been how I had “Careless Whisper” (lyrics below) by the late George Michael stuck in my head the entire time.

I feel so unsure
As I take your hand
And lead you to the dance floor
As the music dies
Something in your eyes
Calls to mind a silver screen
And all its sad goodbyes

[Chorus:]
I’m never gonna dance again
Guilty feet have got no rhythm
Though it’s easy to pretend
I know you’re not a fool
I should’ve known better than to cheat a friend
And waste a chance that I’ve been given
So I’m never gonna dance again
The way I danced with you

Time can never mend
The careless whispers of a good friend
To the heart and mind
Ignorance is kind
There’s no comfort in the truth
Pain is all you’ll find

[Chorus]

Tonight the music seems so loud
I wish that we could lose this crowd
Maybe it’s better this way
We’d hurt each other with the things we want to say
We could have been so good together
We could have lived this dance forever
But now who’s gonna dance with me
Please stay

[Chorus]

Now that you’ve gone
Now that you’ve gone
Now that you’ve gone
Was what I did so wrong
So wrong that you had to leave me alone?

“Careless Whisper” was probably fresh on my mind because my mother often forces me to listen to the hit pop single in the car, no matter how many times I hide the CD that includes this song as well as the foul likes of C.C. Catch and Modern Talking. In fact, the root of my dislike of ’80s music stems from a fateful 17-hour car ride in which my mom played “Careless Whisper” ~40 times, George Michael’s repeated croonings only serving to make my angsty feelings about moving angsty-er than ever.

Around thirty years ago, my mom discovered George Michael when he was first played on the local radio she religiously listened to in her home– amidst traditional Mongolian folk songs and the usual communist propaganda, there was suddenly Michael’s voice desperately bemoaning the ill effects of the “careless whispers of a good friend.” My mom had no idea what he was saying, but the mournful “ohhh”-ing and the implications of the woeful yet “sexy” saxophone solo (thanks, Brandon) were pretty clear. The fact that the song pervaded Soviet-controlled Mongolia to become the most well-known foreign song there–that is, until Mariah Carey’s cover of “Without You” popped into the scene, or as all of Mongolia sings it, “Can Leeeeeeeee”– indicates its truly international-sensation status.

The universality of the song is further indisputable: the moral of the song may be to not cheat on your significant other, or it might as well be to not leave your swim bag unzipped when you walk from your car to the natatorium. Four days ago, while I agitatedly looked under cars and accosted the swim group chat for information on my precious lost cargo, the song’s memorable chorus–“I’m never gonna dance again / Guilty feet have got no rhythm”–sprang to mind. As I reminisced about the blissful days I experienced with my knock-off Michael Kors wallet-keychain, the “We could have been so good together / we could have lived this dance forever / But now who’s gonna dance with me / Please stay” lines hit me in my feels. (Yes, I actually imagined dancing with my wallet.) While I internally sobbed about taking my time with my cherished wallet and keys for granted, George Michael perfectly narrated my alternating terror and desperation: “Now that you’ve gone / Was what I did so wrong / So wrong that you had to leave me alone?”

So I guess as long as regret is relevant, “Careless Whisper” will be, too. And though I probably won’t be listening to it of my own volition anytime soon for fear of being reminded of sad car rides and my traumatic freak-out session, George Michael and his artistry meant so much more to the music world (in ever sense of the word “world”) and my mother’s generation. He will be missed and undoubtedly remembered.

comments on beats without a home

Yo, making beats is insanely difficult.

First off, if you’re sampling another song, you have to cut your sample correctly so your loop sounds clean (with no harsh cymbal-like sounds near the end or your beginning because then the loop sounds like…not a loop). You actually have to pay attention to the time signature of the sample you’re using.

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isn’t the maschine beautiful

And if you have free trial digital software like I do (#broke), it’s difficult to have live-sounding instrumentation, so you have to go through the extra step of distorting the sound. Grendel sigh. (If only I had the MASCHINE Studio, but the price of that ranges from $600-1000, aka from only-in-my-dreams to never-going-to-happen-ever.)

There are so many controls in my software and 40000 ways to do each little thing, which objectively I guess would make experimentation easier, but no, it’s just really confusing. A good beat has to have a strong layering of bass/rhythm and actual notes (and everything in between), the combination of which requires a huge amount of musical intelligence. I honestly have no idea how people can sit down and bang out an insanely complex beat in 10 minutes because I’ve been working on one beat for a solid three weeks now, and it’s, at best, semi-not-bad.

Anyways, in honor of J.Cole’s upcoming album drop (two days!!), here’s a video that makes me want to keep trying: J.Cole casually making a wack (in a good way) beat on his tour bus and quietly muttering, “Fire…” to himself. I love everything about it.

(As well as making some of his beats himself, J. Cole hires professional beat engineers, whose sole job is to create dope beats for him.)

(A concept: a beat engineer with a biomedical engineering hobby.)


COMMENTS~

boots n cuts n boots n cuts (say it out loud relatively fast):

In which Emily details her awesome BEAT-BOXING hobby. I wholeheartedly believe in how essential beat-boxers are to the world– do you think any group would have lasted 2 seconds in the hit a capella competition “The Sing-Off” without beat-boxers? Do you think ancient civilizations could have arisen without beat-boxers? Do you think that Einstein could’ve developed his theory of relativity without beat-boxers? No, I thought so.

what if:

Lamya’s touching post about the pain that comes with associating random, mundane things & places & music with really personal memories and people is insanely relatable. At Consol: the CATE ramp for her, the orchestra hallway for me.

how can mirrors be real if our eyes aren’t real:

It’s like Janisah was actually living the first part of Paranormal Activity in real life…Don’t read this blog post at night, or you’ll feel compelled to dust off your 10-year-old nightlight. (I mean, not that I did.)

my window hates the crack in my bedroom ceiling. splintery, misshapen, its bumps and inconsistencies are nothing more than a streak of dust in the sunlight. i keep staring.

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a story” – li young-lee (from poets.org)

Sad is the man who is asked for a story
and can’t come up with one.

His five-year-old son waits in his lap.
Not the same story, Baba. A new one.
The man rubs his chin, scratches his ear.

In a room full of books in a world
of stories, he can recall
not one, and soon, he thinks, the boy
will give up on his father.

Already the man lives far ahead, he sees
the day this boy will go. Don’t go!
Hear the alligator story! The angel story once more!
You love the spider story. You laugh at the spider.
Let me tell it!

But the boy is packing his shirts,
he is looking for his keys. Are you a god,
the man screams, that I sit mute before you?
Am I a god that I should never disappoint?

But the boy is here. Please, Baba, a story?
It is an emotional rather than logical equation,
an earthly rather than heavenly one,
which posits that a boy’s supplications
and a father’s love add up to silence.

I was first introduced to Li Young-Lee when I read the poem “Discrepancies, Happy and Sad” in my 8th grade English class.

The poem didn’t employ flowery language (something I always had thought was a requirement in order for a work to be considered good), but it was stirringly beautiful, perhaps all the more for its simplicity.

One line of the poem has stayed with me, engraved in my consciousness, these past 5 five years: “voices coming closer, voices moving away.” Voices coming closer, voices moving away. It’s so lovely that I wish I’d come up with the phrase myself– it sounds like a question, or some kind of riddle, the more you repeat it in your head. Voices coming closer, voices moving away.

LYL’s other works have this same decidedly lyrical, spare quality to them. Meditative and reminiscent of Buddhist thought in their perhaps cliched style of phrasing, his poems focus on subject matter that often draws heavily from the Asian immigrant experience (and the Asian-American experience in general). In the poem in the quotation box above, “A Story,” LYL describes the implications of a father not being able to come up with a story to tell his five-year-old son, despite being earnestly asked to do so: in the father’s eyes, this means that his son will eventually “give up on [him]”and that this is foreshadowing of the day his son “will go.”

By attaching such importance to the power of the namesake of his poem, a story, LYL suggests that telling a story is, in fact, shaping reality; consequently, the teller of the story defines the world for the listener. When the father no longer can find stories to tell his son, it signifies that the father is no longer able to construct or explain reality to his son– he’s no longer the “god” who “never disappoints.” Thus, the beginning of the poem, Sad is the man who is asked for a story / and can’t come up with one, references the devastation felt by the man when it seems like he can’t continue his role as an all-knowing mentor, as a father, and please his son.

Furthermore, in a completely heartbreaking prediction, the father visualizes himself pleading with his now-grown son to stay, trying to tell him his favorite childhood stories. However, the “But the boy is packing his shirts/ he is looking for his keys” lines that come right after the father’s pleas indicate that the son is now focused only on real life, on the material, practical, tangible world (ex: shirts and keys)– and seems to have neither time for nor interest in his father’s stories, even though they once completely dictated his worldview. The father does not comprehend and uses present tense to insist that that the son “[loves] the spider story” and “[laughs] at the spider,” even when it’s clear the son doesn’t care about the stories anymore (he lovED the spider story, laughED at the spider). The father simply doesn’t want to believe that his son has no need for the stories now that he apparently has his own life and is capable of experiencing his own reality. He then screams, in the most desperate part of the poem,  Are you a god that I sit mute before you? Am I a god that I should never disappoint?  By comparing both his son and himself to a god, the father shows himself to be struggling with the apparent imbalance in the father-son relationship– more specifically, the imbalance in power that has occurred with the son growing up. (Perhaps the word “balance” would be more accurate, since the father and son are becoming equal).

Now the last stanza, which switches back to present from the future, is a puzzling one: But the boy is here / Please, Baba, a story? / It is an emotional rather than logical equation / an earthly rather than heavenly one / which posits that a boy’s supplications / and a father’s love add up to silence. This obviously implies that the highly emotional fear of his son leaving him is the reason why the father can’t think of any stories, but somehow, I feel like that’s a little too simple. Maybe the father is silent to minimize the harm felt in the perceived future? Moreover, I always thought that “emotional” would be more associated with “heavenly” than “earthly,” but LYL may be trying to distance the father’s fear from his mention of gods–and power–earlier. Which I don’t really get, quite honestly, because that means the father’s fear doesn’t stem from power but from only his “love”?

I’ve read this poem over and over again, but this last part never fails to confuse me. If you guys have any thoughts about it, feel free to comment below. Thanks for reading!

Note: LYL’s relationship with his own dad is probably reflected in this poem, which is interesting since the poem looks inside the father’s mind rather than the son’s.

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