مرحبا عليكم!

I study languages.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


Today my cheeks are huge, my mouth is bleeding, and my pupils are dilated. The surgery was quick and I got to load up on nitrous oxide and watch Anchorman (ten times funnier when high) over my dentist's head. Hydrocodone's never been my favorite pain med (it makes me all queasy), but on the bright side I did get to watch six episodes of Hoarders (I just cannot get over those people) and lay in bed with packs of frozen peas strapped to my jaws. The highlight of the day was a visit from my sweet cousins Hannah, Mitchell, Erika, and David (who just came home from his mission to Honduras yesterday). They brought me a mango Jamba and a quesadilla, which I was pleasantly surprised that I could eat by ripping into teensy pieces. It makes me sad that my generation of cousins (Hannah, Michael-Sean, Mitchell, David, McKinlee, and Covey/Kelsey) are all going to be in Provo together this fall for the first time in over 3 years and I'm going to miss it. :-(
They'd better write me letters. :-)

I was also disappointed at missing Arabic class this morning (and probably tomorrow morning as well), particularly since I can only attend once next week thanks to the Fourth of July and a trip to the Shakespeare Festival. Where is the time going? Pretty soon (and by pretty soon, I mean in 17 days) I'll be giving my farewell talk. Talk about مجنون.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I am the intersection of infinite passion and a finite heart that yearns.

I read something like that somewhere once and mistakenly attributed it to Robert Browning, but I finally tried looking up the quote today and realized that it isn't actually a quote. Browning uses this imagery in his poem "Two in the Campagna," but his words are "The Old trick! Only I discern - / Infinite passion, and the pain / Of finite hearts that yearn." With all respect to Browning, I like my corruption of his words better than the original. I am infinitely passionate about many things and know what it is to feel pulled in a thousand directions only to regret having a finite heart that yearns for everything and cannot have it all.

Today I also learned that my Arabic name, منى (Muna)، means something. I picked it just because I liked شكل الكلمة وصوتها (its shape and sound), particularly since it sports a nice alif maksuura on the end (the large swoopy one that dips below the line; it's my favorite ending letter in Arabic). In Italian Mona (as in the Mona Lisa) is a contraction of ma donna, which means "my lady," but Wikipedia tells me that in Arabic Mona means "unreachable wishes." It apparently originates from a plural noun, though a rare one. So I am unreachable wishes, the intersection of infinite passion and a finite heart that yearns.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


The repetition in this poem perfectly captures the nature of its subject; it's like material synecdoche for something inherently intangible.

Warning to Children
by Robert Graves

Children, if you dare to think
Of the greatness, rareness, muchness
Fewness of this precious only
Endless world in which you say
You live, you think of things like this:
Blocks of slate enclosing dappled
Red and green, enclosing tawny
Yellow nets, enclosing white
And black acres of dominoes,
Where a neat brown paper parcel
Tempts you to untie the string.
In the parcel a small island,
On the island a large tree,
On the tree a husky fruit.
Strip the husk and pare the rind off.
In the kernel you will see
Blocks of slate enclosed by dappled
Red and green, enclosed by tawny
Yellow nets, enclosed by white
And black acres of dominoes,
Where the same brown paper parcel -
Children, leave the string alone!
For who dares undo the parcel
Finds himself at once inside it,
On the island, in the fruit,
Blocks of slate about his head,
Finds himself enclosed by dappled
Green and red, enclosed by yellow
Tawny nets, enclosed by black
And white acres of dominoes,
With the same brown paper parcel
Still untied upon his knee.
And then, if he then should dare to think
Of the fewness, muchness, rareness,
Greatness of this endless only
Precious world in which he says
he lives - he then unties the string.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Taking the GRE this morning stressed me out because I know this is a test for which you are supposed to study. However, I'm planning to enter graduate school for language (Arabic), and what gets you into the grad programs I'm looking at are actual skills in your target language, not the GRE. There's not a minimum GRE cutoff for language programs even at the best schools; it's more of a hoop you need to jump through in order to become a graduate student. Because my scores won't be considered very important by my future grad programs, the extent of my studying for this exam consisted of spending from 1-3 AM last night (this morning?) clicking through math concepts I've long since left behind (area and angle measure of an arc created by intersecting chords that do not pass through the center point of a circle? come on) and wondering how this was all going to go down.

The whole testing experience was stressful; I was head-singing and leg-bouncing the whole way through. The testing center (all the way out in Lindon, by the way) is more like the sterile area with the air shower and protective gear in my Harvard lab than it is like a normal classroom, all take-off-your-sweatshirt-empty-your-pockets-and-turn-around and no-go-back-you-enter-one-at-a-time-and-we-take-your-picture-with-the-surveillance-camera. These days the GRE is an avant-garde computer-adaptive exam, but its software is an unsettling throwback to like '90s MS-DOS; before you begin you have to go through an inane tutorial on how to click buttons on a mouse and select options on a screen (my favorite "don't do this" picture: the mouse sideways with someone's hand straight on top of it, palm upward). By the time you get to the actual test you are half expecting someone in grunge gear to pop out from behind you and start singing the Saved by the Bell theme song, and you're mentally confused and worn out by perusing every screen on the computer use tutorial despite the fact that you obviously know how to use a computer (but what if there's some function I need to access and I don't know about it and it screws up my test? I'd better read everything, just in case).

There's a writing section (2 essays, one on the logic of an argument and one on your perspective on an issue), a math section, and a verbal section on the GRE, and then there's an experimental research section. I was under the impression that I wouldn't be informed which section was experimental, but the program told me so in a big gray '90s dialog box and asked for my participation. I thought, hey, what the heck, I'm already here, but the real reason I think I agreed is that there's always that fear in the back of your mind that maybe if you don't participate in their research they'll round down your scores.

The worst part is that at the end of the GRE you have to look at your scores. To most people this might be considered a benefit, but I like distance between me and my test scores. I like to look at the letter that comes in the mail three weeks later and say, oh yeah, I remember taking that test, and then I don't stress about what specifically I missed because it's been so long I can't remember a thing. I clicked in to see my scores and immediately felt disappointed, which was not a surprise. I knew I would feel disappointed no matter what, because as a perfectionist I hate to see any errors in anything.

Overall, I know I could have done better on the verbal section (apparently there's strategy to this; the computer weights more heavily toward the beginning questions, so if you miss one of them you're screwed right off the bat and have to reclaim whatever semblance of dignity you can by answering the rest of the questions perfectly, which I think happened to me), but I was positively surprised at my math score. I expected a 750 in verbal and got a (unofficial; real scores appear in a few weeks) 650, and in math I expected a 550 and got a 680. So my overall score is respectable for a graduate applicant and about what I expected it to be (1330), but with a different distribution than I expected. I might take it again just to prove (to whom?) that my verbal skills are way better than my test reflects...but I think that's just the perfectionist in me speaking (not to say that I don't let her take control of what happens in my life 98% of the time).

Friday, June 24, 2011


that's what i'm talking about.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


I was incredibly frustrated with my Arabic speaking skills last semester. I felt like in comparison with two and a half years of steady upward progress in grammar, comprehension, composition, and reading, my oral speech capabilities insisted on remaining grossly underdeveloped. However, as of two days ago I don't think I've ever spoken more fluently. I can't pinpoint a reason as to why, but somehow I speak with more fluidity, at a manageable conversational speed, and with most of the correct declinations. I'm nowhere near perfect, of course, but complex conversations about the roles of public social establishments in Islamic culture during the Middle Ages, the historical and architectural significance of Moscow's Red Square, and the different artistic styles present in the facade of the White House seem to flow more freely than ever. It's a mixed blessing, as I'm heading off to the MTC in just about a month and for the next year and a half my finally-emerging speaking skills will have to be put on hold, but I'm still incredibly pleased with my progress (and incredibly surprised that my efforts are finally starting to pay off). It's nice to know that I can do it, despite the fact that this has taken more hard work than I ever could have imagined, especially to push through periods where I don't think I'm making any progress.

Moral of the Story: I take a while to do things and get frustrated if I can't do them right away, especially if others can. But if I work hard and am patient I will realize success, even if it takes longer than I thought it might. Some people are naturally open and exuberant and changeable and can adapt to new things more quickly than I can, but I'm a grower. Slowly but surely I grow into people and situations and languages and roles, which takes seemingly infinite amounts of concentration, time, and effort. I just have to realize that it's okay and I'm okay, because if I keep plodding along at my very own pace I know I'll make it in the end.

Monday, June 20, 2011

My day.

I get up at sevenish and run for an hour or so on the elliptical while watching Lost, which is perfect because not only am I so sucked into the story that I almost don't feel myself ripping the fascioles of my gastrocnemii into small proteinaceous pieces, I also feel like I'm in the jungle running around with the Lost people. And, man, I would run anywhere with those guys.

I shower and style my hair/makeup/outfit/self while listening to my pretentiously international summer playlist which bears the distinction of having only one song to which I can understand all of the words (a favorite is a colloquial Lebanese Arabic indie tune in which all I can understand is شو مع لك؟ كيف تبان؟ [excuse the fact that I can't spell in Shami, but let's face it, neither can anyone]).

Then I go to school. I'm not enrolled but since school is basically the only thing I really know how to do I go to classes to keep myself busy. Arabic is the high point, of course, as I really don't think I can love anything more than I love that language, and then I also attend Mission Prep, which I hope will be helpful and in which I am glad I'm not actually enrolled because there's only one teacher this term and he is a dude who seems to enjoy inflicting undue stress on the poor new freshmen who populate the class (today we sat through a 20-minute discussion about how to log on to Blackboard).

I finish classes around lunchtime and go home to eat whatever I can find in the fridge or, alternatively, convince someone to give me money so I can live it up with whatever foods I choose for my last month of life as I know it (a good argument which almost always works). I particularly enjoy shrimp tacos from Bajio, tomato soup from Zupas, and fat-free pistachio yogurt from Golden Spoon.

The afternoon is the hardest part of my day because I generally have nothing to fill it. I basically hang out at bookstores with the creepers and senior citizens who also don't have anything to do from 1-5 pm, and I wander the shelves picking up ten thousand things and sampling them and putting them back. I can't seem to really get into any solid reading this summer, which bothers me on like ten subconscious levels, the loudest of which keeps reminding me that I won't be able to read anything I want for the next eighteen months so I should freaking get a move on or else I'm going to regret it.

I take the GRE on Saturday, so I should probably study for that at some point, but it's crazy hard to make yourself stay inside and review trigonometry when the sun is shining and you know you have limited days during which you can drop everything, think about nothing, and just lay out in the sun, which I often do (and love doing).

In fact, on most days this behavior devolves into a series of existential crises which I experience face down on patches of grass throughout Provo. (Keep an eye out.) Today's took place outside Borders at around 3 pm, where I lay on my stomach across the token strip of grass by the west exit and thought myself out. It was a small strip of grass and I almost took up the whole thing, but I couldn't be exactly face down because my face would have been right on the seam between the square grass pieces, which I had lifted up earlier to examine the little grassy roots underneath and wonder at the irony of having woven grass squares and look for little bugs because something has to live down there and isn't the whole thing just like Heart of Darkness, but the very existence of grass squares might mean the wilderness is losing, so does that mean Conrad is wrong and if so what does that do to my worldview, maybe I should reread Death of a Salesman because Loman and his concrete prison are sounding more accurate than ever, but no, we've got Barbara Kingsolver in this corner with her jungle that eats itself and lives forever and isn't that my favorite image in all of literature, so shouldn't I be convinced despite the fact that I am laying on my stomach at three in the afternoon with my face between grass squares that probably came out of some factory in the Midwest where the economy makes the dude that pumps the dirt into the machines grateful he still has a job despite the fact that it is mind-numbing and pointless, unlike me, who has no job and is currently laying face down on his product while wearing a pencil skirt and heels in the middle of the day in full view of other bookstore customers and employees.

I eventually go home and have dinner with the fam and teach the two-year-old some Arabic and think about all the things I need to be doing that do not exactly have to take place right now, because I have five weeks to do them and if I do them all at once I will have nothing whatsoever to do for the next five weeks and that is what really will send me over the edge (if so much face time with the grass doesn't do it first).

Waiting to leave on a mission really does seem interminable.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


The soundtrack to my summer features amped-up Hindi fusion vibes--particularly the award-winning score from this movie (one of my all-time favorites). India is vibrant and colorful and the center of the world right now, and before I have to listen to docile hymns all day I am getting in lots of ear time with these crazy/sexy/free creations. This is fast becoming the genre that best matches my internal environment when I am in a driven/adventurous/psyched mood.

I love everything about this song. Listen even (especially?) if you hate embedded music files; just sit there and feel the restless motion. It's quintessentially summer.


As my MTC entry date (July 27) begins to bump up against my consciousness I am making many important appointments: interviews, endowments, wisdom teeth removal, goodbye get-togethers, farewell talk, etc. I am extremely grateful for my mission call and couldn't be more ecstatic about my destination, but as I think more and more about Korea I can't help but feel how automatically intelligible Latinate languages are, how much more accessible almost anywhere else in the world seems than someplace of which I have zero mental concept. I have been many places and I know what to expect from international travel, particularly from the Arab world and super-metropolis cities. But I have not been anywhere like the Korean countryside and in my mind it is a question mark, which is less bad than it is totally blank. I simply don't know what's coming. I don't know what spending three months at the MTC will be like, and I don't know what I will feel when I am dropped into a country and expected to become eloquent and convincing enough to persuade a person to change the fabric of his or her life using a language I will have studied for only three months. What I do know is that I am an adjustable person and can make a life out of practically any circumstances, regardless of how heavily the shadow of change feels before I take the plunge. And I take comfort in the fact that it will be the Spirit, not me and my choppy Korean, that will convert the people who are ready to hear the truth.

Throughout my entire life I have consistently and naively jumped into the end-games of specialists; with no particular preparation I chronically end up in situations for which others spend years training. As a novice I skip into and out of culminating events in people's lives and once there I get my bearings, adapt, and eventually mold myself into a semi-functional entity appropriate for my context, at which point my timeline skips again and I find myself somewhere completely different. As the youngest member of a medical aid team in the Philippines I had to translate physicians' notes but spoke no Cebuano; as a fifteen-year-old I moved to England alone to study liberal arts at Cambridge; at nineteen I bought a sublease in Boston and trained in cutting-edge stem cell research at Harvard Medical School; my freshman year in college I found myself heading a DNA research team of male students five years my senior and TAing for almost-graduates; my introduction to Middle Eastern Studies came through months of trial and error feeling out linguistic and ideological divides in Jerusalem; I selected Arabic as my first second language with no previous linguistic background; for no apparent reason I decided that my "sport" would be adult figure skating and, skipping the first three classes, I spent weeks bruised and falling until I learned to spin.

Missionary work is another end-game, and as usual I know I will work alongside people far more qualified than I am, people who know what they're doing and what they're getting into because they've worked to become good at what they do. And as usual I will have to feel out my boundaries, figure out my position and lay out the things I don't know so I can learn to function in my context, modeling those I see and admiring their commitment and knowledge. But this time I am in for the long haul; months in Western Europe or even the Middle East are small potatoes compared to a year and a half in Southeast Asia. Thrilled to start my journey, I realize that it will be a journey, a long and difficult learning process peppered with both positive and negative experiences. I guess my time on such a path is a microcosm of life, a small iteration of my living fractal sped up to fit in eighteen months. As usual, I don't feel ready. I'm not ready. But maybe feeling ready is impossible, because I can't prepare for what I can't anticipate. And maybe I need to accept that and simply move forward in faith.

Friday, June 17, 2011


"I am almost 21 years old*, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I'm starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life's sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it's my own choices that'll lock me in, it seems unavoidable--if I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them."

~ David Foster Wallace, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again
*adjusted to reflect my age

Thursday, June 16, 2011


I finished all three of my remaining finals today (everything but Arabic, which I took on Monday) and wrote for so long (four and a half hours straight without stopping and then one more hour after a break) that my hand swelled up and froze into position around my mechanical pencil. Every time I tried to move my finger joints they creaked like ancient door jambs, but I finally made it and dragged myself off campus to the tune of what I hope will be a 4.0. The warmth and sunshine definitely helped; before my tests I studied sprawled out on the ledge next to the library and felt so happy I couldn't help but retain everything I read.

I'll still be hanging around campus for as much of summer term as I can, so don't celebrate yet, BYU; you haven't gotten rid of me. I'll attend the second half of my Arabic bridge class, hang out in the back of a section of Mission Prep, and try to find my way into a random history or politics class just for Arabic practice (I find trying to take notes or translating/transcribing a lecturer's comments in real time in Arabic boosts my at-speed reading-writing-oral comprehension; concentrating on spelling things right while making my letters and sentences grammatical and legible while simultaneously searching for appropriate vocabulary to match a speaker's words while listening for new information is a trip).

I came home late this evening exhausted and ready to crash, but most of the Friendship is in town and they coerced me into night swimming in the Crosbys' pool. It was probably the last time I'll see Katie before I leave on my mission (she lives in California), so I'm sad about that, but we had a nice catch-up sesh and she promised to send me lots of letters and pictures. :-) Tomorrow morning a few of us are hitting up the temple for baptisms for the dead at 7 AM, and then the rest of the day will stretch out in front of us and we will wrap ourselves in unscheduled time.

Welcome, summer. For me you'll last only a month. But I'm so glad you're finally here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Erasmus chiasmus.

I took my first class at BYU the summer before I entered as a student. It took place in room 250 of the Maeser building and our subject was fifteenth-century Florence. We picked apart Machiavelli and Erasmus, contrasting the former's The Prince with the latter's Education of a Christian Prince.

I took my last class at BYU (well, for eighteen months) the summer before I left on my mission. It took place in room 250 of the Maeser building and our subject was the biblical and classical origin of Western civilization. We ended the semester studying Machiavelli and Erasmus, and the bell rang to end my final class during a discussion of The Prince and Education of a Christian Prince.

Such serendipitous chiasmus lends poetic closure to my decision to take an eighteen-month break from my university education. I'll resume in spring 2013 at age 22.

Finals tomorrow, so I'd better get to the library. My goal is to end on a 4.0. :-)

Monday, June 13, 2011


There's nothing I want more than this right now.
Kunafe (الكنافة) is a traditional dessert in the Arab world with which I fell in love in Jerusalem. What's interesting about this sweet is that every place that has it, whether inside or outside the Middle East, seems to make it completely differently. The basic concept is always the same--cheese, dough, sweet wheat, sugary syrup, and pistachio garnish--but I've never had it the same way twice. The best way to have it, in my opinion, is the way they make it at my favorite دكان الحلويات in Jerusalem's Old City. Enter Damascus Gate, walk straight down the largeish middle road until you're forced to choose your path at a fork, choose the street on the right, and walk until you see Jafar Sweets on your right-hand side. You'll think you've gone too far, but keep walking--you'll know it when you see the blue-and-orange light-up sign. Ask for the stuff that looks like the picture above. The pastry is more than worth the trip.

I'd better be careful, though; the Arabic Wikipedia entry tells me that 250g of the stuff (sue me; I'm a scientist who worked with nothing but the metric system for years and I still cannot picture an amount in grams) is worth 961 calories. Go figure.

Friday, June 10, 2011

نهاية الفصل الدراسي

I like to read this poem as reassurance in regard to my university experience. My flawless GPA lost its virginity to organic chemistry in the fall and its irreparable imperfection (however slight) freaks me out every time I look at my transcript. At the end of each subsequent semester I live in fear of causing further damage (and consequently further damaging my chances to attend whatever graduate school I want). I like this poem as it relates to school, but not as it relates to life, because lines 2-5 don't square with my religious philosophy in such context. The poem reminds me that I don't have to kill myself for academic perfection and that what is most important is allowing myself to love what I study. The world is bigger than my academic preferences and all of it is open to my imagination. Though lonely, as a thinking person I will always have a place "in the family of things."

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine,
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles and the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Two years.

 I think I'd do almost anything to be able to relive my Jerusalem Center experience as the person I am now, but at the same time I know I wouldn't be where I am today if I had not gone when I had.

I came to the JC as a disillusioned eighteen-year-old who had just finished her freshman year in college. I came searching for intellectual stimulation and new experiences in a world where it felt like I'd already done everything, a world for which I had such high expectations but which consistently delivered disappointment. I had wanted the world from college; I came bright-eyed, question-filled, and ready to blossom, but felt cheated by my experience. Two semesters of eighteen-plus credits, packed to the brim with chemistries and calculus and senior-level microbiology courses for which I had completed none of the prerequisites had proved mind-numbingly easy, not to mention impersonal, and I applied to Jerusalem to enhance my already-pristine medical school resume and to try something else--anything else.

You should know I loved my time in Jerusalem. I said I'd never been happier, and I still think that's true. But we detect happiness in an overwhelmingly general assay, and there were plenty of things I did to damage my own experience.

I didn't think about the social aspect when I applied; to me, such an issue has always been irrelevant. But in such an airtight, inbred community, where all we had (and all we were allowed to have) was each other, the social scene soon became all I could think about. If anything the situation became a dystopic experiment: What happens when 79 college students interact with no one else for four straight months?

It's painful to reread my journal and hear so much about interpersonal relations in my group and so little real information about once-in-a-lifetime visits to time-immemorial places. I remember becoming so caught up in who liked me and who didn't that I cared more about where and with whom I sat on the bus than our destination. I remember doing things that contradict my nature in order to (try to) win someone else's approval, and I remember being hurt by the pettiness and immaturity of others along the way. There was one chick in particular who always bragged about loving everyone while making her distaste for me very obvious (the hypocrisy bothered me way more than the dislike). Her blog (which I still follow as a Jerusalem relic; I don't think she knows) actually gives me my very favorite external description of myself from that time period. I think it's supposed to be negative, and I think that's why I like it so much.

I am hesitant to blame such social obsession on my relative youth. I was the youngest girl on my program, but definitely not among the least mature. I think my attitude and that of the similarly obsessed people around me stemmed mainly from living in a social vacuum; if no one else in the vacuum likes you then you are alone, and in Jerusalem you can't be alone, because if you are you are consigned to isolation from the city and the experience, as you can't leave the building without at least two colleagues, not to mention the fact that you don't want to be alone in your pictures (which I don't understand now, and I really regret not having more pictures of just me) which you are sending home to friends and family so everyone will think you are happy and socially well-adjusted.

I should have been happy with the friendships that came automatically, however few in number, and I shouldn't have cared so much about the image I wanted others to have of me. I should have lost myself in the experience and the schoolwork (which I did to an extent) and the learning of it all rather than worry about being liked. I should have listened more closely to the guides and professors and sat where I could take down their every word rather than hang out near the back so people would notice I was trying to be "cool" or whatever it is you try to be when you'd rather talk about nothing than listen about something. I should have documented my experience more thoroughly, giving precedence to things that actually mattered.

But if I had not gone to Jerusalem as the person I was, I would not be the person I am now. I made a few lasting friendships that have been huge blessings in my life. I learned to live in a land of divisions, to respect Judaism and Islam and their adherents equally. I learned that I do not hate international politics. I learned how to love new foods and how to fall in love with a city and an ideal. But most significantly, I found Arabic, which has gradually wrested control of my schedule from the sciences and radically altered the direction of my future and career. I can't ask to go back. I would have to live it the same way, with all my imperfections, to receive the benefits I now enjoy. But I would like to have the same experience again at this point in my life. Extrinsically, the emotionally balanced Arabic scholar would glean more from her experiences in Jerusalem than the self-confused teenager. However, that's not a choice I have the power to make, and for that I am infinitely grateful.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Rereading my first impression of what became my major (assessed as an eighteen-year-old neuroscience major) sounds like something out of a movie. Relationships don't really start like this.

On one hand I remember my frustration and my argument remains valid. I've always been an empiricist, though I'm not as brutal as I used to be, and my call to "make a physical difference with your work instead of postulating hollow, sophistic nonsense that boils down to nothing more than circular reasoning" still rings true. On the other hand, as I rack up years in college hours in literature I feel like I'm finally learning to value abstraction.

I've spent most of my intellectual life devaluing the intangible, deriding the liberal arts for concentrating on invisible ideas rather than concrete truths. As my eighteen-year-old self so venomously put it, "What keeps you alive and able to articulate such ill-defined principles are the ion concentrations in your neurons, not some metaphysical connection to universal mythemes." Sure, it's the ion concentrations that keep you alive, but maybe it's the simple realization of human togetherness that keeps you wanting to live. Or not.

I know it's college-student cliche to finally immerse yourself in Plato and fall in love with the theory of recollection not just because it's fascinating, but because you've articulated it, too. You can laugh because before now I've never gone through Herodotus, Thucydides, or Livy (my place-in-history obsession hasn't died) or because I've never written about Cicero or Vergil. The ideas might not be new--I could argue history and philosophy before I read any of it; the theories are familiar to anyone who's been in school. But for a science-hardened neophyte, the opportunity to draw my own conclusions from the texts I've heard about for so long has proven surprisingly satisfying. My mind (and my library) is richer for the experience.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Complex II.

I think I've finally reached the spillover point for my current intellectual phase; for years I've convinced myself that it's enough for me to vacuum things into my mind and evaluate them in dialogue with myself rather than venture outside to solicit the opinions of others about the things I think. My internal rhetoric has always been enough for me. I am both egotistical and open about my powers of reasoning, as I find others' opinions perpetually fascinating and worth testing (from which point I may incorporate iterations of them into my repertoire or not) but by nature inferior to my own. I am continually learning--testing and weighing and sampling and piecing together my self from the conglomeration of ideas that exists outside my internal world--but in a more proletarian sense, unless you're interesting, I don't care what you think, and I definitely don't care what you think about what I think.

Though egotistical, my philosophy is egalitarian. My thoughts don't matter to you in the same way yours don't matter to me. Others are rulers of their own internal dialogues and so have no reason to value anything I believe. They will draw their own conclusions from our common source of information and whatever they come away with is as valid as what I construct. I have never understood the need to share information about what one thinks. Though gratifying in a sense--it's nice to have someone listen--if I read a book, listen to a lecture, or attend a class and come away knowing the presented material I can be content in my interpretation and no one else has to be involved. Don't get me wrong; I can defend myself, so if someone manages to compel me into a debate he can prepare to argue, but unless he is factually wrong in his argument I feel no need to let him know I think otherwise. To others I am irrelevant. They shouldn't care about my thoughts; they are fundamentally uninvolved.

But I've become increasingly frustrated at reading and reading and reading and never having an open dialogue in which I can present my ideas--the real ones, the ones that live outside the boundaries that sometimes seem so set in stone. BYU isn't the right forum for those, though it's not because they aren't compatible with the gospel. It's because they're not traditional, and in this culture you grow up learning that nontraditional things must be kept to yourself. Teach the mainstream, keep the eclecticism, right or wrong or otherwise classified. And maybe that's where this whole complex originates. I live an environment in which I have been primed to keep anything remotely interesting inside myself. Is it any wonder I can't make comments in class?