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? ????

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.

Choosing Your Major

For all you first/second years out there, I’m guessing it’s nearing the time when you got to officially declare your major. First off, congrats on finishing your year at UBC. You’ve taken a range of courses that you were either required to do or you picked for fun (while also, hopefully, fulfilling those credit requirements), and now you have to think long and hard about what you enjoyed out of those courses and what you might be okay with never seeing again.

My advice? The latter part can be both the easiest thing and the trickiest. It’s easiest when you know you hate a subject. You can’t like them all, and that’s fine. Don’t kid yourself that you love, for example, labs when they make your palms sweaty and your heart palpitate just thinking about them but you think that the Chemistry designation would look cool. If you like two subjects too much, you might want to consider combining them into some kind of Integrated major if your faculty allows it, or if that’s not an option, there’s always the opportunity to double major or minor.

I’ve had one full year of being a Biochemistry major and another full year of being a Behavioural Neuroscience major. I also double major in English. If you’re thinking about going into any of these, you’re welcome to leave a comment, and I’ll get back to you on what I can answer! And so, my personal rundown on the majors:

Biochemistry

Pros: You get to mingle with the Chemistry kids, you get to experience a nice array of science courses (genetics, mathematics, cell biology, etc.) before even touching the biochemistry material, you have a lot of lab work

Cons: Lots of memorization (which is okay if you’re interested in glycolysis, the Krebs cycle, ATP, etc. but, like my prof once said, will be like a march through Siberia if you aren’t), course load is pretty heavy (even in second year, there is a timetable you’ll have to pick from, and some of the courses seem only vaguely related to your major (e.g. calculus III)), you have a lot of lab work

Behavioural Neuroscience

Pros: The program is small and you have a lot of opportunity to work in groups; the program is flexible in its course requirements, meaning that you can take some pretty wacky electives and still graduate in 4 years; there’s a lot of opportunities to get into research, both in the micro-pipetting sense and the interacting with humans sense.

Cons: Grades are scaled, but this can be problematic because the program is so small and competitive to get in (although the prof does have some power with the averages, and most profs I’ve had are pretty reasonable about where they set the average to be); lots of Psychology courses seem to follow a 2-midterms-and-a-final format, so there’s the possibility of burnout if you’re taking a lot of Psychology courses in one term and you’re halfway through midterm season; the major is rather research-oriented

English Literature

Pros: You get to read super awesome texts you may have never picked up on your own, you get to analyze texts through interesting lens brought up in class or recommended to you by the prof, passing and failing doesn’t rely on memorizing a lot of obscure facts but rather your ability to engage with the material you’ve been presented throughout the term

Cons: You will forever be behind in your readings, what you get out of the class can really depend on the prof, you might not love all the readings but have to get through them anyways

That’s was pretty brief and in no way sums up accurately all of the cool and uncool things of each major, but maybe it will get you thinking in the right direction about what you want to pursue in your time here at UBC. You’ll notice that I repeat some things (e.g. lab work) in both the pros and cons section of a major, and that’s because it’s really dependent on you how you’ll take that info.

Declaring your major can feel pretty binding, and sometimes you might not feel 100% ready even when UBC says that you should. You should think carefully about what you want to do and choose wisely, but remember that your decision doesn’t mean the end of anything. You can switch, you can pursue extracurricular activities, you can take electives…tuum est, right? Best of luck with wherever your university years take you! ????