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. 

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? ????

Food, in Excess

Apparently there’s this belief that eating too much turkey will make you sleepy. This may or may not have originated from people noticing that after every Thanksgiving turkey dinner, no one wants to do anything but take a nap. There’s a common misconception that turkey increases tryptophan levels, which facilitates melatonin production in the brain, which in turn brings on the drowsiness.

But if that was the case, my entire diet must consist of turkey (which it doesn’t), because ever since twelfth grade, it has been almost a losing battle trying to combat that food coma once lunch time hits. Do any of you have the same problem? It’s particularly bad during the summer when the heat just invites laziness.

The sleepiness you experience after your Thanksgiving dinner is likely a result of just getting stuffed, especially when your meal is high in carbohydrates. It’s true that tryptophan and its relationship with melatonin will make you drowsy, but the best way to get tryptophan to the brain is not with turkey (which has only a moderate amount of tryptophan). See, tryptophan shares this active transport protein with other amino acids, phenylalanine included, to get to the brain. Eating carbohydrates increases the insulin in your body, and insulin moves phenylalanine into storage so that there’s less competition for tryptophan to do its Sandman business in your noggin.

So there’s your fun fact of the day. Science, people. You got to love it. ????

References:

Kalat, J. W. (2016). Biological psychology: Twelfth edition. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Your Short Guide to Short Stories

I get why it’s harder to invest yourself in a short story instead of a novel, but I think short stories don’t get enough love. When you’re on a tight schedule but want to get some uninterrupted reading done, they’re perfect. There are also a lot of technical feats you can achieve with a short story that wouldn’t work that well in longer form. And some of them can be pretty imaginative and inspiring. A quick burst of…well, whatever you want! If you’re up for some reading and want to try some short stories out, I recommend these, in no particular order:

  1. “ZZ’s Sleep-Away Camp for Disordered Dreamers” by Karen Russell
  2. “The Missing Guest” by Alice Sola Kim
  3. “The Summer People” by Kelly Link
  4. “Why I Read Beowulf” by Shashi Bhat*
  5. “Bartleby, The Scrivener” by Herman Melville
  6. “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  7. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  8. “The Last Ride of the Glory Girls” by Libba Bray*
  9. “The Speckled Band” by Arthur Conan Doyle
  10. “Zero Hour” by Ray Bradbury
  11. “Two Part Invention” by Doretta Lau*
  12.  “The Groom” by Emily Carroll**

Looking at this list now, I suppose you could say my interests delve into the more speculative and/or nineteenth century. Huh. What do you think of the short story? Love it or hate it? Any favourite genres you would like to share? I love talking about what I read to others, and listening to what they like to read! I only wish there was more time to do it in real life.

*The full version is not available online, but if you’re able to get it in print, either through the library or bookstore, then I highly recommend it.

** Short story comic! Woo-hoo!

University of Construction

It’s no secret that UBC has a lot of construction going on. When one building opens its doors for the first time, it’s like another building has just been knocked down.

The Nest didn’t exist when I was in first year; most of the events that take place in this spacious building, such as Clubs Days, used to be located in the smaller, kind of creepier-looking SUB. I used to be able to traverse this small valley located between Irving and Koerner, but I believe they’re constructing a museum there now. Science Advising has moved due to renovations. The old Aquatic Centre is a pile of rubble, while the new Aquatic Centre looks sleek AF. Obviously the bus-loop has been re-located. Sometimes when I’m not thinking too much about where I’m going, I head to where the bus-loop used to be instead of veering off to the right where I should be going.

I have a pen pal in Alberta who came to Vancouver in my second year to visit some relatives, and so we seized the opportunity to meet up. She had graduated from UBC decades back, and when I told her that I would meet her at the SUB’s Starbucks, we had a bit of trouble finding each other because the SUB apparently hadn’t been around when she had been a student. “The campus is very different,” she said to me as we walked from the Bookstore (she thought I was referring to the Starbucks there) to the Nest.

Last Saturday I was working my regular shift at the hospital, and I met a man who used to tend to the UBC Botanical Garden. The Botanical Garden had to be moved during his career here, imagine that. He also knew of a time before the Kenny Building, when there was Douglas T. Kenny, in the flesh, who was serving as UBC’s seventh president.

And just today I was talking to a UBC alumnus who told me how Irving used to be spectacularly spooky before all the renovations happened. To me that was mind-blogging. It never once occurred to me (even though logically I know it should) that Irving once did not exist, and when Irving did come into being, it still could not have looked exactly as I see it now.

The environment at UBC is always changing, and these changes are in no way small. We have these incredibly modern buildings resting side by side with the fantastically old ones, and we navigate through the old and the new, the old and the new, the old and the new every day. You know what I’m talking about. Look to your left, and you see one of those concrete blocks where the windows are tiny and there’s ivy creeping up the side like a cobweb, and look to your right and there’s this architecturally creative structure whose walls seem to all be crafted out of colourful glass.

Before we realize it, the old that we’ve become so familiar with transitions into the new. Soon what we’ve thought of as new becomes old to others. I mused to one of my friends during a mutual break we had before classes, “I wonder what it will be like when we return to UBC as alumni? Will we even recognize the place?” She shook her head without much contemplation, because the obvious answer is no. There will probably come a period when I will leave UBC and not look back at it for a long time, not observe in person all of the changes that are occurring, and maybe some years down the road I will suddenly remember again, and I will return back and be amazed at how just those few years apart has rendered a totally new landscape.

UBC re-invents itself all the time (in its appearance, at least). It’s easy to complain about how you have to go a different, longer route just to get to class, or how you miss such and such about the SUB, and heck, I do it all the time. I live for the nostalgia, people! But it’s interesting, too, to think that you’re witnessing the formation of this infrastructure that will affect so many other students and faculty in the future for a huge chunk of their lives. You’re in this moment in which some things are on the verge of becoming and no longer existing, this delicate liminal space, and you will never get it back. Neat, huh?

When It Rains…

It rains a lot in Vancouver. That shouldn’t be a surprise if you’ve been here long. Sometimes I resent the rain. I bear the long, cold walk to the bus stop from my home or from my class, head down, hair disheveled. I think, “My glasses need windshield wipers.” The rain has dampened my coat, soaked it right through (which probably means I should invest in better clothing), and it has dampened my mood. Other times, though, when it’s late in the evening and I’m in the midst of studying, I take a small pleasure in hearing the pitter patter of raindrops against the roof. I feel calm and content. As much as I complain about Raincouver, I guess it isn’t always so bad.

Not too fond of how I have to walk a bit farther to get to the 99 bus stop, but you have to admit, the new bus loop looks pretty clean.