St-St-Stuttering!

A lot is conveyed through language. You don’t need me to tell you that. Because many of us rely on speech in our interactions with others, we often exploit it to form assumptions about them. Our perceived answers to “How well does this person articulate their ideas?” informs us (although erroneously at times) about this person’s, say, sociocultural background, and it’s thinking about some answers that people probably conjure for me that’s got me feeling down lately. Maybe more than usual.

This is what happens when I speak (especially in class when there are dozens of eyes on me or even one-on-one with a professor when I’m obviously the ignorant one in the situation): I open my mouth; one or two words escape; my brain divides into two parts, one that thinks about what I am going to say next, and the other that thinks, “Does this person think I’m stupid? Is what I’m saying stupid? Does this person think I’m stupid? And if I am stupid, will I always be stupid? Does this person think I’m stupid? Will I forever be saying stupid stuff to brilliant people who can see how stupid I am?”; I stumble on my words; the latter part of my brain seizes the controls over the former; my brain shuts down; and everything goes blank. The desire to communicate my opinions becomes eclipsed by a suddenly urgent need to salvage my sentence on some half-decent note.

Nearing the end of September, Almighty Chem Wizard*, Alex, and I attended this special Writers Fest event at the Chan Centre, which featured author Salman Rushdie in conversation with Hal Wake. (I know, I can barely believe Rushdie was in Vancouver too, and I was freaking there!) After the event, when we were gushing about how intelligent and humorous and profound this guy was, Alex said, “He’s cool because he’s at this level where he talks as well as he writes. It’s like you’re listening to someone write right in front of you.”

I never wanted so much in that moment to be able to do just that, to take all of what I loved best about reading–the diction, the clauses, the syntax–how the careful organization of each of them, and sometimes the deliberate misuse of them, can elicit such intense emotion and debate in and among us–and be able to churn it out so spontaneously, offer it in a medium so tenuous–literally mere reverberations of air–that people would be forced to pay attention to it in a way that’s impossible with text. Much as I love the printed word, there’s something to be said for a form of art that can’t be skimmed, that requires real-time engagement, because it’s not like you can rewind speaking, at the minutest level, a word and have the person not yet hear it.

Long, long ago, I watched a documentary on sand mandalas. A posh voice speaking over scenes of crouching Tibetan monks kept stressing the importance of why the mandalas would be destroyed soon after their completion, almost as if to placate the viewer who would mourn their (tragic) loss, but even as a kid I could never disapprove of the monks’ motives. There’s a lot to be said for work that endures, but the ephemerality of all the rest makes them just as beautiful and just as meaningful, don’t you think? Because when they’re gone, that’s when we realize that we lived in that special, almost miraculous moment in which both our existences collided, and no one else will ever have that experience ever again. And although it’s sad when the things we loved aren’t here anymore, the simple fact that they evoked this pure, earnest feeling in us lends greater credence to their value.

Besides, everything eventually gets lost to the human consciousness anyways.

People are often fooled by high rhetoric. You know how in The Merchant of Venice, when Bassanio is all like, “So may the outward shows be least themselves./The world is still decided with ornament./In law, what plea so tainted and corrupt/But, being seasoned with a gracious voice,/Obscures the show of evil?” when he’s deciding on which casket to open to win Portia’s hand? I totally agree. Yet is it wrong to desperately want this power too, to be able to fool the world with my (currently non-existent) verbal prowess? I admire the people who can speak in class so effortlessly and elegantly, because to me it means that their minds also work that effortlessly and elegantly. Meanwhile, all I’m able to muster is a babble akin to some first grader describing her favourite t.v. show–all superficial: “Um, yeah, I liked the part when Franklin shared with his friend, Bear, because that was the kind thing to do.” Makes me feel like I am a first grader.

Part of what I like about writing is that I get to think it through. I can rise above, say, the limitations of my sociocultural upbringing. I don’t have to be that dumb and dumbstruck student when I can mull over questions as long as I want with no one the wiser, and I can give my response in a well-organized, well-articulated fashion with sources to boot. I don’t have to worry about all the variables that come with the spontaneity of speech. Or maybe it’s true, and my mental dexterity will never match up with everyone else’s, as evident by my sucky speaking and writing, but at least for that one moment, I feel that I get an honest chance to try and be a realer me, a me that deserves to have her opinion heard because it’s a damn good opinion.

Problem is, people don’t communicate through pen and paper 100 % of the time; I know this and I can accept this, but it’s hard to. It is so, so hard. And yet…I can’t seem to shatter this tiny kernel of hope within me that someday, I’ll be able to talk the way I want to. Tl;dr: I wish I could speak like a champ in class and in life.

*Obvs not her real name. 

A Sick Day

Or rather, sick days. I caught a cold on the Tuesday. The night before, I had worn a hoodie over my pyjamas and, mistakenly, had thought it would keep my warm enough to forgo a second blanket. (I need more blubber, is what my mom tells me.) That could have been the cause, or maybe not, but regardless, I woke up that day with a sore throat, and now here I am, feeling like I’ve done nothing but swallow fish bones for the past few days and my nose constantly dripping. I have taken to carrying a whole box of tissues in my backpack. I haven’t gotten sick since, I dunno, tenth grade? As colds go, this is not the worst I’ve contracted, but I forgot how clouded your head can get. People tell me things, and all of it goes straight through my head like an ragged arrow. It’s like I’m always on the brink of a headache when I try to hold a thought in my head, but that could also be me trying super hard not to sneeze at the same time. There’s so much work I want to do, but maybe I’ll take it easy tonight and have a nap, drink some chamomile tea. Or maybe not.

Goodbye, Summer

Taken at UBC at the start of the summer. Can you guess where it is?

This summer has been so different from the other summers I’ve had.

I didn’t enrol in a course this time, which logically makes a lot of sense but is still a point of insecurity for me. I hate the idea that I’m slacking, but I know there are limitations to my abilities to excel in a course and devote my time to other just as important means of gaining experience. (Yeeeaaaah, I’m a course fiend–there, I’ve said it.)

I did some of my usual stuff: volunteered a the hospital, went to festivals, visited the typical cool spots in Vancouver, chilled at the library (ha ha, yeeeeaaaah, I’m that kind of nerd)…

But I also took on a bunch of new responsibilities that challenged me and made me reconsider what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go in the next few weeks, the next few months, maybe even the next few years.

This summer, I interned for an online magazine, I volunteered for some labs and a program that seeks to educate kids in science, I got hired at a bookstore, I went to China for the first time with my family. I met new people, and some of them, as this summer draws to a close, I might never see again.

I also lost a few opportunities taking on too much beforehand, and at times still regret it. I dealt with some devastating news concerning friends and personal health scares. My fears on how I am an utter moron (because yeeeaaaah, I have low self-esteem sometimes) couldn’t be trampled despite everything, and I went through a couple of bad days. I noticed a bitterness in me that came with the sunshine I always pine for come winter, and for once I missed the calm that comes with the rain.

And of course, there was always the occasional lazy day in which I did nothing at all. And that was nice.

It has been a long and eventful four months. I don’t have any epiphanies to share, because now more than ever learning has become a gradual and tumultuous experience for me rather than an earth-shattering “Eureka!” moment (although I wish, heh heh), but I appreciate the challenges that I took on and overcame and even those I’m still in the process of overcoming.

As a student, the start of September is more like New Year’s than actual New Year’s. I am fearful and excited as always for what’s going to come next, wondering how I might be able to sustain this feeling into the school year of trying to be someone worthwhile.

How was your summer, folks, and how do you feel about this upcoming winter session? ????

How to Deal

Last Thursday, my friend said to me, “I cannot say honestly that I’m very happy where I am now.” I can relate.

You know when you’ve had a really sucky week? Or term? Or maybe year? (I’ve had all three in my time here, if you’re wondering. No? Well, I’m telling you anyway, mwahaha!) This is probably bad timing, as it’s coming after the long weekend and all, but unfortunately feeling bad doesn’t wait for anyone and doesn’t take a break for anything, so whenever this happens to reach you, here are some tips I’ve learned for how to deal:

  • Schedule time for yourself. Like, actually put into your agenda a day when you can just relax and not guilt trip yourself for doing so. That way, you’ll have something to look forward to after the deluge of terribleness, and you’ll find that afterwards, you’ll be much more energized to tackle on the later work.
  • Find your friends. It’s easy to hole up in your misery, and you’d be surprised how much talking to someone–about feeling sad, about what you hope to do in the future when things get better, about random stuff you haven’t had the chance to think about lately–can make your troubles feel more surmountable. You don’t need a whole barrage of people to do this; if you have only one person at the moment, that can make a helluva difference. (I know I felt better when my friend and I talked it out last Thursday.) You just need to go seek them out.
  • Do/find your “opposite” hobby. You know how people say that there’s time for everything (lol), or at the very least, you have the same amount of time that geniuses like Einstein et al have? I’m not going to pretend that being a university student is all ample time to study and very few projects and early nights to bed (because it’s not), but there are those “in-between tasks” moments that you can use to your advantage. You’ve probably heard the whole “find your passion” spiel, but I’m here to tell you that you should try to work out two, at least while you’re here. You don’t have to be so serious about the second one, but consider it as your “opposite” hobby, the interest that is not part of your academic studies, even opposite to it. For example, I’m a science kid, but I also like to write, so I scribble in my notebooks between classes, and this is extremely helpful if that science part of me isn’t going so well at the moment.
  • Watch cartoons. And by that, I mean the really old ones, the ones you used to watch as a kid and give you those “ah, the good old days” vibes. I don’t know what it is about it, but watching cartoons like Avatar: The Last Airbender, Kim Possible, Teen Titans, and the sort make me feel happier because I get to remember how much I loved these shows. Maybe this tip is more to reignite the fangirl/boy inside you, because the same happens for me with well-loved books. It’s even better when you can do this with someone else with the same enthusiasm, because then you have a fandom. 					</div><!-- .entry-content -->
		
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