Career Choices

Today I had a more than pleasing conversation with my Physics TA after our lab ended at 10pm. It was unexpected, wondrous and beautiful. I didn’t have a particularly special day, having spent 4.5 hours sitting in front of a library computer, working out the details to my school’s ballroom dance team winter break trip to Tahoe. I enjoy the planning and am learning from a dear friend how to efficiently utilize Google Spreadsheets to organize a trip for 20. She’s got everything down to the smallest details, from activities and chores assigned to the time of day to the cost estimate of every food needed for the entire trip. It’s a thrill to share the same love for detail-orientated planning, but a wonder to see how if it plays out so smoothly.

Back to my Physics TA. I was having a particularly difficult time understanding today’s lab. Admittedly, I haven’t been keeping up with the physics class. This lab covered Coriolis and Centrifugal forces and how to apply the Right Hand Rule to the omega, velocity vector, and Coriolis force. Our lab included Foucault’s Pendulum swing and a frictionless (hovering!) puck across a rotational axis. We observed. We recorded our observations. We drew out the Free Body Diagrams. We analyzed and applied. I felt the first sense of slight annoyance and disappointment from my TA today–our 8th week into the 10-week quarter. She knew I didn’t understand the concepts. For the first hour, I shied from the embarrassment and dumbly attempted the work in ignorance and quiet desperation.

Finally, I gave in. I’m not a quitter. This is what I’m good at: approaching the leader with my questions and giving in for help. To my surprise, she was willing to reteach the concepts. I worked and reworked extra problems, and finally got them down, feeling confident, capable, and freshly motivated to finish my lab report. I remained till the last student left the lab, and it didn’t bother me. “Emily, I have to leave in 5 minutes”, she reminded me as the clock neared 9:55pm. I was hurriedly writing up a comparison between the puck pushed across the rotating axis and the Porsche test site with the kick-plate… Amusement park chair ride for the pendulum swing…. She asked about it, I spilled everything out, from my love for cars to my fascination with Synesthesia. “I have a form of Synesthesia, and many other friends who have it worse, too!” “REALLY?!” “Yes!” We immediately dove into conversation, walking back to her lab/office.

I talked about my dilemma with too many interests in life to choose a single major from, and she gave me the best advice whilst comparing it to the universe: “Let’s say the universe is a single being. We are bits of its consciousness looking back at the brain, and wondering… how did we get in here… and how do we get out? Anything you pursue–whether it be mechanics, design, astronomy, or cognitive science–is worthy of your time. Because you are learning, fulfilling your curiosity. Category doesn’t matter in the universe’s mind, because it is part of something anyway, and you exploring that area is just as important as any other pursuit. What matters most is if you see yourself loving the work you’d do in that career for the rest of your life. Once you find a way, you’ll effortlessly make the progress.” What helped me connect with her the most was the fact that we were very alike, ethnically. She is half Chinese and half English-Canadian, where I am half Chinese and half Jewish-Russian-American. We both shrieked at the thought that we shared the same burden of “Wondering which side of the family we’ll take from” and “What part of my body is from that side”… We shared the same mixed-race issues. And the same mixed interest issues; “I was always interested in singing–which I do choir now and used to sing opera. I’ve loved marine biology–especially encephalopods! But, most of all, I’ve always wondered how time and the universe works. This is what drove me to choose astrophysics–the overarching goal. That’s what you need. Pursue one. I don’t regret it.” “Also, you don’t have to be great at one thing to do something. You can do poorly a few times before you realize you love it.”–wow, I realized this is where my high school calculus vs college calculus comes in–“Work hard, and you can become good, even great, at something. That’s what separates us from the majority–we are curious. There are too many who are lazy and don’t have a single wonder in their mind about how and why things are–they aren’t curious. Being curious is a gift, a blessing. You are favored, lucky. Do whatever you want with it–let it take you somewhere. Allow yourself to explore. It’s alright to fail. Don’t be afraid.”

What hit me hard was the fact she endured the same pains and conflict I suffer right now. I believe her all the more. She seemed wise beyond her age. Her birthday is today–24! Married for 5 years… Matured so quickly… Mother passed when she was 14 (“That’s what motivated me to take my education seriously and decide on something”). Father adopted (“Who knows what genes I got from him!”). Parents who are computer scientists and yoga-enthusiasts. I admire her story. I admire her optimism. I admire her understanding.

I finally felt I share the same feeling about the world with someone else. Who knew…someone who was constantly in my academic life. Something peculiar marked me at the beginning of the school year–I knew she was someone I’d get along with well. Eventually, she saw me as a good student. But I didn’t realize that maybe we worked so well is because she saw a form of herself in me–that’s why she took me in, the extra time afforded to only the select few students who seek it out, and essentially laid out the life lesson before my ears and eyes. In a way, she granted me her “I believe in you” token. The token that everyone has to give to the select few they see the potential and commit their life to them… (Thank you Cal and Amita).

Edit this later, but I don’t want to forget this experience. Here it is raw, for now.


The Hotel Towels Smelled Like Freshly Blanched Almonds

Traveling is fun because hotels are like rent-a-mom’s.
Leave the room a mess, where your bedsheets convincingly sketch a murder-scene strangle, your sink is water-stained by last night’s drunked attempt to remove makeup, and your soaps/towels/shampoos/etc. are scattered around the bathroom like a fucking Easter egg hunt at Willy Wonka’s C.F. (Chocolate motherfuckingscaryasfuck Factory).

….Not like I would be rude enough to leave any room fucked up like that….that’s just rude.

But for real, I’m calling out to all the hotel maids who contribute that much more to the love of travel. I take such joy in the fall and landing on freshly laundered sheets of white cotton and springy neatness. I soak in the spotless bathroom shelves restocked with “Lemon Zest Cucumber Coconut Crème Brûlée Strawberry Savarin with Amaretto Cream Scented” bath products. I thank the good almighty power that they didn’t mistake my $100 bill forgotten on my laptop at the bedside table for a generous kind-stranger tip. After a soothing lemon-zesty shower, I burrowed my face into the sweet, sensational smell of freshly-blanched almonds. Thoooooose towels. I’m obsessed with those damn towels. For their smell. That smell…..

(Guys…. hint hint.)

I’m away for my cousin’s wedding. For the first time, I’m meeting my dad’s-side-of-the-family of 235,464 Philly-native Russian Jews who were unknown to me, for the most part, from my sheltered life on the west coast. Today was that wedding. And boy, was it perfect. 75° F temp with sunny-and-pretty-white-clouds-weather all the way through in scenic Brooklyn Botanical Garden. The bride sported a lovely white dress with a classy heart-shaped corset with a layered chiffon bottom–it glowed in the beaming sunlight and swayed with elegance during the bride-and-groom’s first dance. The giant greenhouse that sheltered the reception after-party from the elements (barring the sunshine) was perfect for its natural lighting and decoration (various trees and plants seen through the clear walls) provided well for photo opps. I finally connected with my half-sister and got down to the boogie and the hollering of songs we both loved. I met many lovely relatives who–EACH–never failed to remind me that my father was crazy, wild, and reckless when he was my age up to my birth. I noticed some more discreet….sadder things, too. My aunt, who was as happy as ever with her first daughter finally married, now has shaky hands… She blamed it on the “drugs”. I know this doesn’t say much, but it hurts to see your direct relations and the ones you love seem to jump years when you see them from so long ago…. You want them to just pick up where you left them. When you left them.

The wedding ended at 4:30pm. Good food. Great band. Genuine people.
I feel whole. Less introverted.
Ah, families…

Heading back to the hotel, I saw a post by a late professor on Facebook of his Asian dish-out at Japan. Recognizing the bitter melon I loved to hate when my Chinese mother cooked it for dinner, I made a note asking why some people bother to eat bitter foods at all. He responded, “Acquired-taste.” Less-than-pleased with the answer, but inspired so, I researched. And I picked up a delightful post by a UCLA alum on how we evolved to eat bitter foods. I learned…[more on this]

[More about Chinese Moon Festival and Navy officer Ronald’s discussion on Chinese language and learning]

[Add in from previous post on multiple other universes that depend on other rules, not physics]


To Question Our Existence…

After watching TED talk by Jim Holt: Why does the universe exist?


This following is pretty much a thought-porridge of my reaction to the video. Please disregard any careless errors–it reads like my thinking process, bare and unedited.

I’ve had many thoughts about the birth, purpose and fate of our existence as conscious beings…. Perhaps there are a multitude of other equally or rather more conscious (and therefore intelligent) forms of life that exist in other moving mounds of rock hurdling through the fabric of space and time. And perhaps the reason we, specifically Earth humans, exist is to ponder about our own actuality… But what if there are other (and the more conscious) creatures inherently born with this dilemma resolved and continue with their existence with a higher purpose? To do work. What kind of work? Work that accentuates the good in life and attempts to keep the bad influences at a minimum? Is that work? Are there even types of work or is work a universal term for doing anything?

If a Zambian girl, who’s reached menarche and is denied more schooling based on her “dirtiness”, learns of a better country where girls are allowed education after puberty, would this be cause for her to question the system of her backward government/country? Would this questioning lead to higher forms of thought–ones that eventually lead to questions of her own existence?

Our kind isn’t born to immediately question life. If we don’t go through the copious amounts of schooling, like the tedious geometry equations that lead our whiny teenage brains to question the most important thing in life–“Why do I even have to do this?”–then many of us would not have gotten to the point of questioning. THIS is what’s good for us. Thrusting upon our young the concept of labor until they question.

Or maybe not. Maybe we could approach this another way–by highlighting the beauty, the ugly, the evil, the good, the black and whites of the world to our young and gently guiding them toward “What is life and why do we live it?” questions. We could just as well constantly direct these questions to our children through their maturation–they might not fully understand the meaning of the question nor the thought process to the “right” answer… but, really, who does? There isn’t a right thought process or understanding of the question beyond the comprehension of its basic message. The “imagination”, or unbiased, thinking of our children (unpolluted by the structured system in our schools today) may lead us toward more answers… and thus more questions. Perhaps the reason music and art and writing seems to plateau in originality is due to the evermore organized system in our schools that influence our scholars. They hinder creativity and identity, and breed harsher definitions by categorizing and forcing students to choose one or two majors that will define their careers/lives, like “Marine science” or “Mathematics”. Brown University, at least, is making the effort to diverge from these hindrances and permit its students to essentially create their own curriculums.

Other life forms may have higher purposes, intelligences, consciousnesses, whatever you label it, but WE have our own: To question. To be curious. To learn.

Why does a dog not question his own presence? Or a fish its own? Or a goat, or a fruit fly, or a parasite or a tree or a venus flytrap? They are different levels of consciousness. From simple to complex, the humankind seems to take the highest reign of consciousness on this planet. But are we really that complex? What more could a consciousness question, observe, or learn in another world or life form?

I once read a cartoon that pictured a child ant with its mother ant. The child ant observes humans walking around, and the mother ant simply responds with “Don’t bother. There is no sign of intelligence in that species.” We are as ignorant of our surroundings as we are willing to accept intelligence from any form of life.

Every time I finish a TED video, I have a flurry of thoughts that I don’t bother to write down. Thoughts that might help me get somewhere and cure this incessant want for answers. Writing helps. Writing also hurts. It continues this process by helping me pick up where I left off in thought and further my thirst for knowledge.

“As our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness surrounding it.” –Albert Einstein.

Teenage Angst Strikes Once Again!

I just want to rant. Online. To kick it up a notch. From personal to public.

What am I to do with this teenage angst? Everything from the past 7, 5, 6–FUCK, I can’t count now….


From the past 6 years, I’ve bundled in my extreme emotions, thoughts, feelings into this ugly woven ball that no kitty would be proud to own. And now… I’m seeing the ball untangle and roll out its unsightly discoloration.

You know those rainbow knitting balls?

My rainbow ball of life

My string would start out white for birth, purity, innocence, buried deep in the grasp of the trailing line. The line ravels out yellow for 4 or 5 yards, bright red for a whip as I discover my fifth grade crush… orange for confusion when the best friend transfers to the rival middle school.

Dammit, internet. I just wanted to get this stupid blog thing started. “Please choose between themes: Flat, Padhang, Twenty Fourteen…” “Hero” it is! Best fits my present state: dark, solemn, blunt. The “ease” and time I put into making this blog really belittles my damn anger. 


So that string would eventually hit dark royal blue, a few shades off from 000000 black. Just centimeters up from the bright shades of middle school. This is where I experience thoughts which we like to describe as “suicidal”.

Haha, oh you’re thinking, “Wait, don’t tell me this is another ‘misunderstood’ kid who complains about life because it just didn’t go her way.”

In a sense, yes. This blog will be about number of eye-rolls and name-callings I can manage from my vain stepmother before I feel the need to slap the 64-year-old Scottish accent out of her contumelious lips. But, alas, your first impressions will reshape as you stick with me through the test of time.

Well, for the next few years or so until I give up writing to an empty audience on-the-line.

This site won’t only display my toils and potty-mouth-thoughts. I’ll parade my accomplishments and express my gratitude for life just as well. There should be a balance to things.

Right now, I’m about to flip out and I’ve created this space to release myself. You’re invited into my world. If you leave it is my fault for I failed to entertain you. But that is not my concern. I’m taking steps to reinvent myself. I need to start thinking straight. I’m only trying to thwart this bullet of insanity as it creeps into and shrouds my thoughts whenever the trigger has been set off. Set off by the one person who I cannot bear: my step-mother.


My desk's mood today: fuck you.

My desk for today