7 Fun Alternative Facts of the Day

  1. The term “WiFi” is actually an abbreviation for “wildfire,” a nod to the original form of wireless communication, smoke signals.
  2. It is estimated that 5-10% of tomatoes are actually fruits, while the rest are merely vegetables.
  3. Technically, a doctorate in philosophy certifies you to prescribe certain psychedelic drugs.
  4. Elvis actually died of old age. He was lying about his age on his resume throughout his career, and moisturized frequently.
  5. Feminism isn’t actually about burning bras anymore. They stopped that practice in 1990 due to concerns about greenhouse gas emissions, and switched over to bra recycling.
  6. The Greek mathematicians Pythagoras and Isosceles, both known for their work on triangles, had a brief and tumultuous love affair in 550 BC–the little known origin of the term “love triangle.”
  7. There is no Nobel Prize for Attendance, because Alfred Nobel’s wife cheated on him with a guy who always showed up.
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How To Do College

As you may have heard, I recently finished doing college. As a person on the internet, I firmly believe that having just completed something makes me both qualified and obligated to give advice about it. So here are my top pieces of fairly generic wisdom for people beginning to do college:

You don’t have to stick with whatever you picked first.
Majors, social circles, extracurricular involvements, worldviews, haircuts, or whatever–there is definitely pressure to make your declaration as soon as you show up. But remember that for the most part, nothing is holding you to whatever questionable snap judgements you made during orientation. If something is not working out as well as you thought it would, you have plenty of time to get over the shame of being wrong and try something else instead.

Don’t waste time pretending you know stuff you don’t actually know.
Even if you get a few judgey looks sometimes. The less time you spend trying to seem smart or talented or cool, the more time you get to spend actually learning stuff.

Learn from what you don’t like.
Hopefully, your time in college will be filled with fabulous experiences, but you’ll also probably run into classes you find disastrous, books you find overrated, art you find vapid, policies you find oppressive, personalities you find insufferable, and ideas you find really wrong.

But even when you are entirely justified in your disdain (sometimes you are), that doesn’t mean you’re wasting your time–you can learn plenty by negative example.

Notice what you don’t like, but more importantly, figure out exactly why you don’t like it.* Be as thoughtful and specific as possible. From there you can decide how to adapt to it, critique it, fix it, avoid replicating it yourself, create something completely different from it, or make sure you spend the rest of your life doing the exact opposite of it.

*Tip: in some cases, this might end up teaching you as much about yourself as it does about the object of dislike.

Live life with approximately four regrets.
I mean “no regrets” is a little extreme, right? If you’re having any fun at all–and even if you’re not–you’re probably going to make some mistakes for which regret is the appropriate reaction.

Sure, some people say that mistakes are not regrets, just learning experiences. But your mistakes are probably going to have consequences that hurt other people whose pain isn’t cancelled out by your lesson of the day.

So I’ve semi-arbitrarily picked four as the correct number of times to really mess up. It’s pretty low, but not as low as some other numbers, such as three.

Show up.
Things happen when you show up. (Side note: I hope to one day get the first Nobel Prize in Attendance.)

You won’t do all of the things.
Get over it now. You don’t have to feel bad about it. Don’t waste one of your four regrets on the newspaper you didn’t join while you were busy 3D printing/srat partying/protesting/baking cookies/dancing/actually studying. Just try to do some of the things pretty well and/or enjoyably.

Never “find yourself.”
College isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about realizing that the “self” as a unitary, discrete, and stable entity is an artificial construct maintained for its convenience in a Western individualist liberal social order.

(Or maybe that was just my college.)

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Note: if anyone has some advice on how to do life after this, send it my way

16 Things I Learned in 2016

Remember how I learned something in 2013, 2014, 2015? Well guess what–I did it again.

  1. “Doing it all” is kind of an overrated goal. “Doing some of it really well at a reasonable pace, and also having time to sleep, socialize, and be a person” is kind of an underrated one.
  2. Being interested in the ideas behind a field is different than enjoying the daily practice of it. Both are important if you want to be happy doing it.
    • Personally, I encounter this tension whenever I find an area of academic research super important and compelling, but realize that sitting alone in a library or in front of a computer all day makes me want to smash things. Ideally, I’d like to find ways to engage with ideas I’m interested in through practices I enjoy.
  3. Don’t trust people who always say it’s gonna be okay—it’s statistically unlikely. (Cheerleaders have a pretty bad accuracy record. So do some pollitical pundits.)
  4. Lots of people manage to have impressive careers without actually doing their jobs very well. My working theory is that whoever is mediocre the loudest and most confidently wins.
    • Or in the long-term, maybe whoever sticks around the longest wins.
  5. There is a such thing as trying too hard.
  6. Dealing with uncertainty is a skill. One that I’m going to need next year on several levels.
    • I did a lot of improv this semester, including a 15 minute piece of semistructured group improvisation on stage. In the process, I got pretty used to not knowing what situation I’m going to find myself in, but knowing that I can rely on the tools and skills I’ve developed to deal with it. And if I’m out of ideas, sometimes the best choice is to stop and look to the people around me.
  7. Ironic understatement is one of the overlooked love languages.
  8. Lots of companies/organizations project a positive/progressive image, but if you take a look at their internal practices, you might get a different picture.
  9. You know how some people gain so much academic knowledge but loose the ability to use common sense or talk in straightforward language? Or some dancers gain so much technical and performance training but loose the ability to walk naturally or dance at a party? Especially as I’m coming out of school, my goal is to make sure that whatever new/fancy/advanced skills I gain are supplementing, not replacing, whatever I had before.
  10. Half of knowing how to have a good conversation is knowing how to listen.
  11. Theories and frameworks can be useful ways to organize and understand reality. But if reality isn’t fitting your theory, you should probably rethink the theory, not the reality.
  12. People are always interpreting what they learn–news, history, other people–through the lens of narratives they already know. Sometimes that makes us ignore the people and events that don’t fit the pre-established narratives.
    • And if your reality doesn’t fit the dominant narrative, it’s a good opportunity to get an alternative narrative out into the world.
  13. One way to deal with feeling misunderstood is to get better at explaining yourself.
  14. Multiple famous/cool people died this year, but there are also lots of cool people still alive. We can appreciate those people too.
  15. Most things described as “it’s complicated” and “it’s a long story” can actually be summed up in one sentence.
  16. It’s been three years, and I’m still not sure what this blog is about.

A Practical Guide for Talking to People You Disagree With

Particularly since the election, there have been increasing calls for people to spend more time talking to those they disagree with politically. Some of these demands have been pretty generalized (e.g. Everyone should get out of their echo chambers and reach across the aisle), and others directed at more specific groups (e.g. White liberal allies have the most responsibility to talk to Trump supporters about racial issues).

But there is less talk about how to actually go about conducting such discussions in a way that results in something more than extreme frustration.

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This particular post isn’t a statement about whether you should engage in these types of conversations or the relative effectiveness of conversation as a tool for change (Given that the word “disagree” can refer to everything from liking different TV shows to denying someone’s value as a person, that wormhole deserves it’s own post.)

But given that you have chosen to have a substantive conversation with someone who has different beliefs about a meaningful issue (pollitical or otherwise), here are some practical suggestions for making it as productive as possible:

1. Listen to understand.

People often respond to ideas that they don’t accept with the statement “I can’t understand why someone would think that.” But given that someone does think that, it’s important to understand why and how they do.

Why does this person think what they think? What logical premises would you have to accept to agree with what they think? Why might this person’s experiences have lead them to have a different set of beliefs than you do?

Understanding a belief system doesn’t necessarily mean accepting it as true or valid. In fact, especially when it comes to hateful or damaging belief systems, understanding precisely how they operate is crucial in determining how to break them down.

2. Find some common ground of agreement.

As you listen, see if you can identify any premises, values, or goals–however small or basic–that you can use as a point of departure. For instance, “I agree that X is a problem, but I don’t think that Y will solve it.” This shows the other person that you are listening to their ideas fairly and thoughtfully, if also critically. It also helps to focus the discussion by specifying what the fundamental points of disagreement really are.

3. Speak a common language.

It’s hard to get on the same page when you are using completely different sets of terminology. Try to avoid using language that is highly specific to particular academic field, pollitical movement, or other community that the other person is not a part of. If you really think a specialized term would be useful, explain what you mean by it first.

Jargon and canned phrases can be useful shortcuts when talking to people with a similar background and understanding of the issue. But outside of that sphere, restricting yourself to the plainest language possible is also useful in forcing you to explain your logic from scratch, with fewer unspoken assumptions.

4. Argue about opinions, judgements, interpretations, and values, but just look up the facts.

If you have internet access, there’s no reason to let an opinionated discussion turn into a heated competition of egos over who’s better at remembering easily verifiable historical events or statistics. Save the heat for stuff that matters.

5. Pick your battles. 

You have limited time and limited emotional energy, and these types of conversations often demand a lot of both. You simply can’t, won’t, and don’t have to talk to all the people about all of the things.

To get the most effect out of your personal resources,  consider talking to people who are reasonably likely to change their opinions, and starting by presenting the aspects of your beliefs that they are relatively more likely to accept.

6. But also plant seeds.

On the other hand, there can also be value in exposing people to ideas that they are unlikely to accept right now–but just might resonate later on or leave them with some questions that take root over time.

You won’t walk away from seed-planting conversations feeling great–like you “won” or even came to a mutual understanding–but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you had no impact.

This is obviously non-comprehensive list, so please feel free to comment with your own suggestions!

 

Things I Did In Paris

The Shmoop version:

  • Spent time wandering through parks and sitting on benches and lingering in cafes not feeling bad about not being productive like I do in New York.
  • Improv-ed a lot.
  • Found my groove. Forgot where I left it and lost it again. Found it. It ran away. Chased it around.
  • Krumped.
  • Choreographed in a park.
  • Learned to like journaling.
  • Wine.
  • Had some late night w(h)ine and feelings conversations that dug deep.
  • Needed friends. Found them.
  • Cried in public.
  • Cried in private.
  • Had about four and a half identity crises.
  • Ate snails. Didn’t hate them.

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    Garlic can fix anything.

  • Almond croissants.
  • Macarons.
  • Monoprix brand chocolate mousse.
  • Saw seven performances, which I loved, hated, and felt meh about, sometimes all at once.
  • Noticed which moments from those performances (whether love, hate, or meh) still stuck with me after a few weeks.
  • Was impressed at the size, diversity, and casual-ness of theater audiences. Realized that subsidized tickets probably have something to do with it.
  • Developed an appreciation for NYC’s 24-hour subway service after 2am.
  • Dealt with some transportation strikes.
  • Learned to get around using actual maps instead of just Google Maps.
  • Took dance classes in French. Was thankful for ballet terms and body language.
  • Was an open class junky as usual.
  • Really felt like I was hitting a wall with my performance (in that I literally ran into the wall during a performance).
  • Got good at saying “je voudrais”” and “pardon” and “Je ne parle pas français.”
  • Gave directions in Arabic once (which is a big deal for me given that I rarely have competent directional knowledge or language skills, let alone both at the same time).
  • Got lost in museums.
  • Wondered why I was in museums and theaters when the world is a mess.
  • Went to more museums.
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Posture jungement.

  • Spent a long time looking at art and an equally long time looking at graffiti. Tried to figure out the difference.13494989_10208692991714392_1993365495488247232_n
  • Wandered around cemeteries looking for famous dead people. Wondered about the non-famous dead people I saw along the way. Tried to Google their names. Found nothing.

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    Nijinsky though…

  • Decided that I should to make a resume section for every airport security additional screening test I pass (It’s senior year–gotta pad that resume with something).
  • Realized how quickly I can get comfortable in new cities.
  • Didn’t necessarily leave with the feeling that I need to move to Paris, but with the feeling that I could move there, or a whole lot of other places, and find bits of home-ish.

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