Uncertainty & Finitude


When I arrived at college, the thing that scared me most was endings. This is ironic, because starting school is a beginning. I wasn’t scared of MIT ending, or of my adulthood beginning, or anything like that. The endings of phases of my life don’t really bother me— I certainly felt little pain over leaving high school. I worry about relationships ending.

I have always had this worry. My grandmother was the center of my universe when I was a child, and her mortality was self-apparent. I remember when it sunk in that my parents were mortal. I never had to have that realization about my grandmother. It was always there. Of course, most relationships don’t end when someone dies— the majority just end in a sort of painless drift. Nonetheless, it seems as though close relationships come with an associated cost in pain when things end. This felt especially salient during the last chapters of high school. I held on to few friends for the entire ride, and on more than one occasion I found myself abruptly going from being close with someone to having no contact with them. I got to MIT alarmed at (what looked like to me) the path of destruction I had left in my wake and uncertain what it indicated for my future.

Now, though, I worry more about what I’m going to do with my life. I went to college fairly sure I was going to go to med school, and then hated the culture around the whole thing, couldn’t stomach the thought of another four years spent jumping through hoops, and realized that while I’d still love to be a doctor, I don’t want to be a premed. But if I can’t be a doctor, I’m not sure what I want to do. At all. I’m used to optimizing my decisions to fit a goal. Without a goal, I have no way to figure out if I’m doing the right thing. And that scares the shit out of me. To some extent, I wonder if I’m trying to pick up a second major just to decrease the amount of unrestricted decisions I have to make. Especially at MIT, I’m surrounded by competitive, ambitious people, and I feel like my current aimlessness can’t measure up. The situation is ugly, folks*.

Anyway, as I finish my third semester in college, I’m amused by the fact that I’ve exchanged finitude for uncertainty as the thing that scares me most. I used to be unhappy because I was sure that all my friendships would end, and badly, but now I’m unhappy because I’m not sure about anything. Well, I guess I’m still sure relationships end, but I guess I’m a little less scared of it, as it seems to be okay. And they seem to be worth it in the interim.

Hopefully maybe my future will seem to be okay in another three semesters and I’ll find some other variation on the theme life’s predictability to fear?

img_3306As a reward for reading my thoughts, please enjoy a pretty picture. In late summer, I took a trip with my former roommate, Emma, to her aunt’s place in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. This is the Shelburne Falls Bridge of Flowers. It relates to the topic of this post because something something life is a path something something.

*Please, no comments that everything will be ok! or I just need to try things! or most people don’t know what they want to do!… none of that is as comforting as people seem to think it is

P.S. Another blog post after another long period of silence! Maybe it’ll just be one blog post a semester… it’s unclear I have anything worth writing about more often than that anyway 😉


On Getting a B in Organic Chemistry (On Balance)

Warning: if you are going to be irritated by the fact that getting a B bothers me at all, you should not read this post. I don’t think that a B is a bad grade. I don’t think that everyone needs to be academically perfect. But I’m not always sure how to earn myself a good future outside of doing well in school, and so grades like these, marks on my record that are less than perfect, scare me.

For those of you sympathetic to my absurd melodrama, read on.

I have actually never received a B in a class before. B+, last in the sixth(?) grade, but never a B.

I’m writing about it on this blog for two reasons. First, I often hear people talk of how social media causes them to feel inadequate because people only publish their brightest moments. So, because I believe in leading by example, I would like to make public something that feels a great deal like failure. Second, in anticipation of a large mass of free time this summer and a slew of temptations to use it unproductively, I’m taking a stab at restarting my blog.

Regardless, back to the matter at hand. I’m trying to figure out how to explain to you that the reason I didn’t perform as well as I would have liked is that I’m pretty happy here. Maybe it’s my own inability to recognize the limits of my intellect, but I can’t help but think I could have gotten an A if not for philosophical discussions and interesting people and not eating meals alone. I was a lonely high-schooler, and it seems the price I have paid to buck loneliness is that I can no longer maintain the fiction that I am the best. This trade-off is one I was hoping to make in coming to MIT, but it still stings. There are people who are smarter than me who don’t have this trade-off, and that stings too.

And I know that grades are not the most important thing. And I know that medical and other graduate schools will likely still take me. And I know that there will be many other opportunities to prove myself, in the classroom and in the lab. It still doesn’t take the frustration out of knowing that there are other people, many people, who are outperforming me in a quantifiable sense.

Hopefully, my performance will improve in at least some of the semesters that follow. Orgo doesn’t play to my strengths, and I can think of some ways to do better that don’t sacrifice balance, such as getting more help from peers on my work (I studied alone almost exclusively this semester, and it was not fun). Even if my grades don’t improve, though, I think I’d still choose to keep regularly prioritizing human connection over studying. Maybe that makes me unsuited to be a doctor. Quite possibly, it makes me unsuited to ever accomplish anything great. I know it’s absurd, and I know I always claim to be okay with not being great, but I’m not really sure if I’m okay being mediocre. I guess I will be whatever I will be, whether I’m okay with it or not.

I’m not sure where I was going with this post, or if I got there. Please read generously- I’m still thinking through this stuff.

Having written a blog post between the hours of midnight and one-thirty, I am going to sleep. Goodnight, all.

First Week @ MIT

I didn’t get the blogger job.

Actually, I’ve been realizing the past few weeks that I might not want the blogger job- I’m my own person, and I might find restrictions on what I can say such as to toe a university line somewhat limiting. Plus, apparently you have to endure a lot of emails from college applicants who have the misguided belief that going to MIT means that you know some secret to getting into MIT… in short, I don’t want to answer hundreds of those emails. It seems like… well, frankly a large time sink. It would have been nice to have a paid job on campus, and other bloggers to meet, but I’m really okay with the whole thing.

Eh, the best reward for a thing well done is to have done it, and now I have a travelogue and a way to remember this summer, which overall was one of my better recent summers.

These past few days I’ve been in my dorm at MIT, going to my FPOP… it’s been fun. It’s a history and literature program, so it’s much lighter than a hard science, and I’ve already met a lot of interesting and nice people. I’ve also been enjoying MIT’s Z Center, which is the athletics center on campus. One extant MIT stereotype is that MIT students don’t exercise/aren’t athletic, but I’m going to try and exercise most days during my time here at MIT… I have help, because the athletic center has downright luxurious showers (giant shower heads) so if I roll together the reward of having a really nice shower with exercising, that might motivate me. They also have these really cool stationary bikes- basically, you play a video game on the bike where your pedaling and turning the handlebars controls the character on the screen. Normally, stationary biking is so boring for me that I can’t tolerate it, but you can make an account on their system, earn badges, play mini games, and everything. They’ve gameified cardio machines! It’s about time. If there was a similar running machine, I might use the treadmill more…

Right now I’m doing laundry… fascinating stuff, I know. I actually hate the laundry rooms because they’re so loud that I get frightened whenever people enter the room, because I can’t hear them over the din… Speaking of which, I made the wrong dorm choice to start out with! The culture on East Campus is much too wild and crazy for me. I don’t think that staying here aligns with the lifestyle I prefer, sadly enough. So, I’m looking into some other dorms. I’ve been to a couple of Random Hall events and they seem really cool, but I’m going to try to keep an open mind and look at all the dorms… the more dorms I rank as alternatives on the switching form, the more chance I have of actually getting out.

I can’t stay here. It’s 11:08 and I’m on the fifth floor and the music from the courtyard is still wafting into my open window… apparently there are 10+ parties a semester thrown at this dorm! I hate loud parties! This place is so not for me. However, I’m realizing this is just a learning experience for me… there was information I didn’t understand about this dorm when I initially ranked the dorms, and frankly living here gave me some self knowledge I didn’t have. Worst comes to worst, I’ll have to stay for a semester or two, but I am determined to look at it as a learning opportunity. God is it annoying to not be able to have my window open while I sleep during late August, though. The people who live here should live however they like, but I don’t find it conducive to my wellbeing. I’m sort of worried about the late-night thing at MIT in general… there’s an event that I can’t reveal much about going on, and it’s supposed to be really fun, but it starts at midnight and lasts for four hours! Even though I don’t have to be up early on either of the days during which I would attend it, I don’t want to throw off my sleep cycle. It just seems needless!

I so want to go to bed, but I have to wait for my laundry to finish. Stupid laundry. I’m just gonna go get it actually… I no longer care if it’s a little damp (it’s just tee shirts, socks, etc.)

Anyway, thanks for reading, and goodnight!

To Flubaflo!

I left Chicago today.

rear view
rear view

See that little black tower with the two white antennae on top? That’s the Sears tower (SEARS, not Willis).

We drove for lots of hours. We started at around 11 this morning, Chicago time, and got here a like 9 Chicago time, 10 Buffalo time. The drive was okay, but I’m not really interested in that.

Latin does a lot of things in an unorthodox way. One of which is that the valedictorian doesn’t speak at graduation-instead, the speaker is elected by the senior class. I really wanted to speak at graduation, but sadly I lost the nomination.

I had something I really wanted to say to my classmates, though, and I’m going to say it here. I can be balder in my assertions here, which should be fun.

Luke 12:48: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.”

There are very few people who go to high schools with as many resources as my high school. There are few people in human history who got the sort of education we got.

Many people were at Latin by accident of birth. Their parents were wealthy or influential, and so as toddlers they were admitted. Or, like me, their parents had the money to finance an excellent education leading up to high school and so they were positioned to easily go where they pleased. Most of us were there not because of our own merit, but by the families we happened to belong to. Some were not. But most were.

There’s nothing morally wrong with that sort of luck! However (and here’s another bald assertion) there is something wrong with failing to use it. As a high schooler, this was maddening to me. Every time people showed up to class and didn’t take things seriously, they were essentially taking a gift they had been given (and from which someone else could have benefitted) and throwing it in the trash. We are the stewards of the gifts we are given. And the reason we are the stewards is that ultimately the gifts are not ours- we need to use them to serve.

College admissions favors the wealthy, just like getting into Latin did, and again I must count myself as someone receiving an excellent education that they did not earn. I was a good steward of my gifts in high school (not only the gifts of opportunity, but also of aptitude- I pushed myself to learn what I was good at and how I was good at it), but I did not follow through on service. At 18 I feel an urge to help others; at 14, I didn’t understand what service meant. I didn’t start it as a freshman, and by the time I realized my error, I felt trapped into my other time commitments because of college admissions.

I’m not making the same mistake again. I want to serve others in college, and I want to do it in a way that utilizes what skills I have (at 18, relatively few). That’s my big goal for my extracurriculars at MIT- that in some small sense they better the condition of mankind.

I have to stop writing on this stupid, preachy note because my brother is making me. I hope this post is taken in the spirit in which it was intended. Time will tell.

Tomorrow I arrive in Massachusetts.

The Waiting Game

It’s kind of lonely waiting for school to start. I’m not sharing this post on my wall because I guess it’s not the sort of thing I want to broadcast- Facebook is not about being lonely. Facebook is about curating a version of your life where you are never lonely, because you are so great that you are always seeing other people.

To be clear, I am perfectly happy in just my own company for long stretches of time. And I am seeing some people- my dad and brother. And I did have breakfast with my old math class this morning, or at least most of it. We were pretty close in high school, so it was really nice to see them- I had a good time. But for the most part I don’t see anyone my own age, and  all the people my own age seem to be seeing each other without me. But then I do things like meet my math class and post a photo on Facebook, so it must seem like I’m seeing a lot of people my own age even though I’m not. I also have that weird rule for myself that if initiate social contact, it doesn’t really mean anyone’s interested, just that they’re being polite, and in large part people aren’t initiating contact with me. It probably doesn’t mean much- when I’m busy I don’t initiate contact with too many people, and people are probably busy. But it’s like fundamental attribution error- when you don’t know what situation people are in, you attribute their actions to their character even when their actions are situational. I guess I’m attributing lack of contact to my relationships even though it might be situational. And then even when you have online contact with people, it almost doesn’t stick, like how if you were hungry and you ate a bunch of iceberg lettuce, even though you were eating you wouldn’t get full.

I don’t know.

I don’t have much else to report. I’m going to see a lot of shows with my dad in the evenings, and I’m getting to go to the gym pretty regularly, which is nice because my mood is much better after working out. The only thing I will miss about having this much free time is the ability to go to the gym almost every day without sacrificing anything else. I have annoying blisters from the rowing machine- I’m thinking about rowing crew in college (if only for the irony of ME being a Div I athlete (yes, crew at MIT is the only Div I sport)). Walk-ons who start rowing in college are pretty much the rule, not the exception. In other words, most people who row in college did not row in high school. So anyway, to keep my options a little more open I’m rowing a little. I just need to figure out how much distance is reasonable to add per day- I don’t want to go crazy and injure myself, but I do want to build endurance. I think I could try to row an additional 250 meters every day? It seems modest, but it would add up. Anyway, on the subject of crew at MIT, I’m just worried about the time commitment- 20 hours a week seems really crazy, and I’ll have to manage my classes and I’ll want to manage a social life. Also, I don’t think I could take a weekend off to do something fun, which I’m really not into. Overall, it might just be better to keep going to the gym on my own, even if it has none of the socialization benefits of joining a team.

I saw Back To The Future last night in the park, and it was really good. I had forgotten how well-constructed that movie is. It’s also weird that the movie is set in 1985, and in the sequel they travel 30 years in the future, to 2015, which is of course this year. We’ve failed to come up with most of the technology in the sequel, but I suppose that always happens when people try to envision the future. I think when people envision the future, they tend to think about improvements to the technology they have currently, when really the biggest innovations are totally novel.

I only have to wait a few more days… nine until my Freshman Pre-Orientation Program (FPOP) starts, and six until I leave. Just gotta keep on keeping on. By the way, this may be my last every-other day post. We leave to go camping on the 18th, and I probably won’t post while camping. I’ll probably post on the 21st, after we return, and maybe once during the FPOP and once during orientation, but this is the end of my every-other day experiment.

It’s been fun, folks. Thanks for reading.

If You Feel Just Like a Tourist in The City You Were Born in (Then It’s Time to Go)

Title courtesy of Ben Gibbard. (Also the grammar bugs me… don’t end with a preposition. Should be “if you feel just like a tourist in the city in which you were born”… somehow that doesn’t roll quite so trippingly off the tongue.)

This weekend, my dad and I are having a staycation in the city of Chicago. I wasn’t actually born in Chicago, to be fair, and I don’t actually feel like a tourist, but sadly it is time to go.

Yesterday night, to kick off my staycation, I went to my friend Claudia’s production of Urinetown. Well, it was a lot of people’s production, but Claudia had a huge role as one of the main characters. The show was really enjoyable, especially considering the fact that all the actors were high school students or incoming college freshmen.

Today, I went to the incredibly nice East Bank Club, which is a really nice place for a workout, (really really nice- their shampoo smells like what I aspire to smell like), and then planned out the rest of our weekend. (Also, a note… I’ve never gone to the East Bank Club and not run into someone from Latin, my high school. It’s a weirdly Latin heavy place.)

The first thing we ended up doing was serendipitous. Just recently I was recommended to visit the Chicago Cultural Center (the old Chicago public library), and we did, and it was beautiful. The whole place was decorated by Tiffany, who lined the domes in the building with sparkling glass and jewels. They were setting up for a wedding in one of the domes, and I have to admit it looked like a good idea, because it was just such an impressive location.IMG_1916

The second thing we did was visit the Art Institute of Chicago. The walk there was pretty, because there were airplane contrails- the Air and Water show is this weekend.


Note also the American flag just hanging there. I guess my time in Belfast made me more sensitive to flags and nationalism in general, though let’s be real, I was already pretty fascinated by American nationalism.

Here’s where I start acting like a tourist, because I took a photo of one of the lions outside the Art Institute:


Pretty imposing, isn’t he?

We didn’t have long until the museum closed, so we headed straight to the impressionists. The French impressionists make me feel really happy, unlike many other painters. I don’t know what it is about them. Below are a few examples.


For those of you that didn’t recognize it, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, by Georges Seurat. This actually isn’t one of my favorites but I took a photo of it dutifully as a tourist. I’ll photoshop out the other hand taking a photo of it when I get the chance, but I think it meaningfully demonstrates something about these really popular paintings… how photographed they are, that looking at them is interrupted by people photographing them, that even photographing them is interrupted by people photographing them. I don’t know.


One of Monet’s later works. Stack of Wheat… part of a series. I thought his earlier stuff was kind of harsh… something about the brushstrokes seemed harsh. But all the waterlilies and stacks of wheat weren’t harsh. This stack of wheat is kind of harsh because it’s in that harsh winter morning sunlight, but I think Monet perfectly captures the sunlight. With the way the stack of wheat pops out at me, I feel like I am in the scene, admiring it. It felt like a winter morning.


One of my favorite paintings that I saw today period. The Pallisades, by George W. Bellows. Obviously not a French impressionist. This is a painting of New York. I love especially the texture of the cloud (and everything else), the way the dock falls into the water in its color, the attention to detail with the lamppost. The color is incredible as well. I love the harshness of winter light in paintings, and this is another great example. The way the trees interact with the clouds is to die for.

We rushed off to look at modern American art as well as pre-twentieth-century American art. Both were fine and enjoyable, but not as fun as the French impressionists. I tear up when I look at some of their paintings- they were really onto something.

We went to dinner at Cafe Babareeba, a Chicago classic which serves tapas, and then off to my second theatre experience of the week: Brilliant Adventures, at the Streep Theatre. Oddly enough, one of my friends from high school who had been at Urinetown because she knew several cast members (including Claudia) was an intern for Streep Theatre, so I saw her again. Life’s pretty funny that way. She might go to college in Boston, so maybe I’ll have another friend there. If there’s anything I’ve found in life, it’s that one can never have too many friends. (That’s patently false. I have several foundational beliefs, and none of them involve gaining an exorbitant amount of friends. It would be nice to have her in Boston regardless.)

Anyway, Brilliant Adventures was one of the most messed-up but awesome plays I’ve ever seen. The acting was superb. The main characters each had really fleshed out personalities, physicalities, the works, and the relationships between the characters felt real. Even though it was science-fiction (there’s a time machine!) the play never felt unbelievable.

Science-fiction doesn’t mean happy, however. Most of the play I spent longing for the characters to understand each other, and for things to turn out for the best, but some really awful things happened. Onstage. Believably. I think the writers had a difficult time wrapping up the show and dealing with the paradoxical nature of time-travel, because the ending was probably the weakest part of the show, but overall it was an incredibly poignant experience. If you’re in Chicago, see Brilliant Adventures. It’s really a play about family. It’s on for the next two weeks. You won’t regret it.

Maybe when I go to MIT I’ll understand time travel and quantum physics and special relativity better and I’ll be able to actually explain stuff to my dad. For now, I settled for a lot of “I’ve heard” and “I think it would be negligible” talking to him.

11 days left till school. Terror.

EDIT: Clearly I need some MIT education, because apparently the things in the photo are smoke trails, not contrails. Whoops. #aspertheusual…Iknownothing

Unpacking, Repacking, Unpacking (Looking Forward)

I feel like MIT (or, y’know, the relevant parties at MIT (but then I doubt that, because I usually get about 20 hits a post, and I suspect the vast majority of those hits come from people whom I already know)) read my previous complaints about MIT perpetually being late, because today I got some information early. 

I’m in Concourse!

Everything's coming up Milhouse!
  Everything’s coming up Milhouse!

I explained last post about what Concourse entails, but basically it’s a program with smaller required introductory courses and some really interesting humanities courses as well. I checked Facebook today, and several people had posted to the MIT 2019 group that they were in Concourse (which made me panic for a moment that I didn’t get in because I hadn’t heard from them) but then I sensibly checked my email, and there it was! I’m almost glad that I’m almost surely going to fail my multi exam, because it means I get to take a class with professor Winters, who I heard great things about within 15 minutes of talking to Concourse students.The only downside is that it looks like to take multi within Concourse I’m going to have to take it first semester, which means I can’t take biology (which isn’t offered through Concourse at all) with Erik Lander. I can always stop in on a few of his lectures, though, I suppose. The spring bio course options both look good, though, and well within my interests, so really it’s all fine. I’m also hoping to take a Concourse HASS (humanities, arts, and social sciences) class offered for the fall: Becoming Human. The required texts do include some things I’ve read, in part (Nichomachean Ethics, Republic, Symposium) or in full (Apology of Socrates, Crito), but I really need a more coherent view of the stuff I’ve partially read, and a view in more context of the stuff I’ve fully read. Plus, maybe I can rework my essay on the Crito and do less work. Unlikely, but I’ve got to maintain fantasy somehow. 

Okay, excitement over. As I get more updates on everything from Concourse to what laptop specs are ideal for MIT, the reality that I leave for the place in about two weeks encroaches more and more on my happy-go-lucky gym frequenting summer. One thing I’m fixating on is my dorm room, unspecified as it is.

I’m almost fully moved into my new room at my dad’s. I could be fully moved in, but I kept leaving to do other things (work out, spend time with my mom, deal with moving our cats), so the process has been delayed. I finished all the boxes in my room proper today, and I’ll unpack the three outside my room tomorrow.

Before August 2014, beyond vacations and summer camp, I had never moved into a room before. By the end of September 2015, I will have moved into three: one in my dad’s old apartment, one in my dad’s new condo, and one (technically two, but the first only briefly) at MIT. 

As with any skill, I’m getting better at moving. My room in Evanston had existed before I was really a conscious being. I didn’t determine where anything went, so I didn’t have to think about it. By the time I could think about it, there were established rhythms that worked. As a result, I never figured out how to set up a space to live in. When I tried the first time to set up a space (my dad’s old apartment) I ended up needing to rearrange a few weeks in, and I still couldn’t always find everything. I’m a naturally messy person, so I try to arrange things in such a way that my natural messiness is mitigated, not exacerbated. 

The next one is the big one, though, seeing as I’ll be in dorm rooms for the next four years, and it would be nice to start things off well freshman year. Dorm rooms aren’t just private, functional spaces, I think. Because they also function as spaces for entertaining and group gathering, they’re a form of self expression: you curate the posters and decorations in your room such that they give the right impression to your visitors. And you can probably tell a lot about a person, or at least the image they seek to project, by looking around their dorm room. 

As it stands, I don’t have too many dorm room decorations. My bike might live in my room, and some photos, and a bulletin board, and a framed poster I have of the human skeletal system, but other than that, I’ve got no plans. I’m told that I can paint my dorm room whatever color I desire. Seems like an activity for a weekend. I hope I inherit a good color, so I don’t need to spend the time.

MIT, I’m coming for you.


So I forgot I was supposed to post something today. Please forgive poor writing and poor everything.

It’s 10:40 as I start writing this, and my father and I are removing the cats from his old apartment tomorrow- they go on a flight across ‘Murica to get to their new home in CA tomorrow.


Mainly I’ve been unpacking, and chilling with my mom. We’re not going to see each other for a long time after she leaves with the cats, so we have to cram in some quality bonding now.

I ended up unpacking my dolls yesterday. I had two American Girl dolls, Kit and Kaya, and I was pretty fond of them both. They were sort of sad shoved in the doll box. I took them out, brushed Kit’s hair, left Kaya’s in its braid, dressed them both in new clothes, and put them in my window. It’s strange how I assign feelings to these dolls, but it would have felt like mistreating them to do anything else. I couldn’t bring myself to put them back in a box or even in the top of my closet. I wanted them to at least have a view of Chicago.

American Girl makes incredibly high quality stuff. I have more Kit memorabilia than Kaya memorabilia, since Kit was my first doll, and the quality is fantastic. Kit even has a tiny working harmonica. As a kid I was fooled into thinking some plastic candy in Kit’s set was real candy. That’s how real everything looked. I chewed that plastic candy for at least thirty seconds before realizing I’d been duped. That, my friends, is craftsmanship. Or maybe stupidity on my part.

Today I got the most important school supply for the next year. My planner. I do not know if MIT gives out their own planners, but I have strong feelings on the format (I need a weekly and monthly pages, with plenty of room in the margins of every page as well as a designated notes area, and preferably vertical columns for each day in the weekly spread (columns should not be split up into hourly appointments). Sadly, I couldn’t find a vertically organized thing I liked, so I bought horizontal. Some change is acceptable) so I bought my own. Besides, the one I bought (or technically, the one my mom bought for me) has a beautiful soft cover and very sturdy binding. You have to look past the planners organized by calendar year to find academic planners. My mom, also a planner fiend, prefers Franklin Covey, but she’s in the workforce, not in school. I inherited my love of planners from her. She carries it with her everywhere, as do I. She checks it many times per day, as do I. She saves her old ones, as do I. I think the only reason I can get to sleep sometimes is my ferocious use of a planner. I check my planner more than ten times per day. I never missed an assignment in high school, and I owed it all to my planner.

I love planners.

It’s now 11:03. 500 words in 20 minutes isn’t so bad.

I’m still exhausted. Ireland time is six hours ahead of Chicago time, so the jet lag is hitting me pretty hard. I’ve also been working out and going to bed fairly early anyway, so I was very ready to go to sleep two hours ago, and I am extremely ready now.

I should have been using a planner today. I should have reminded myself to write a blog post in my planner. I would have managed my time more effectively.

Only three days until I find out about whether I will be doing Concourse next year. Concourse is a freshman program within MIT that combines advising with special smaller introductory classes, as well as a focus on integrated science and humanities. There’s a lot of philosophy studied in Concourse, which is one of my primary academic interests. Basically, the program is perfect for me, and I’ve been fairly anxious to hear back about it since I submitted my freshman advising application about two months ago. All of these applying and waiting things remind me of applying to college.

It’s not the fondest association.

Okay, it’s 11:10. I’m going to bed. I love you, internet. Try not to judge my tired stream of conscious too harshly.

Book Reviews, ASEs, and Just a Touch of Panic

Once more I write to you from a giant metal tube kept safe only by the collective force exhibited by, literally, thin air. I don’t care too much about the physics of airplanes normally, because normally I am much more interested in the science of nature (chemistry, biology, specific portions of physics, etc.) than I am in the science of things people make (engineering, most of electrical science, etc.). Once onboard an airplane, however, I find that I suddenly have a pressing interest in how it is that I’m not dying. Go figure.

We’ve left Belfast and are heading quickly for Chicago. Since I’ve spent my last two blog posts telling you about Belfast, I won’t comment further on the subject.

Planes provide a lot of reading time. I just finished Richard Feynman’s second book, Why Do You Care What Other People Think? Having read his first, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman, I knew what to expect. Feynman is very witty, a little arrogant, and trying to act as if he’s simpler than he is. His description of why he loves science struck a chord with me… how understanding things increases their beauty. I have a lot of science-y friends, and one thing that amuses me about Feynman’s authorial voice, especially in some of his published letters, is that I can hear some of my friends’ voices in it. They share a particular economy of words characteristic to people who mostly deal with numbers. Overall, the book is very well written though I suspect Feynman had help.

I’ve also recently read The Martian, by Andy Weir. The book follows astronaut Mark Watney, who is stranded on Mars and must find a way to get home… and stay alive until NASA can pick him up. It’s a very enjoyable book and a fast read. Most of the time the tone is pretty light, despite the fact that the protagonist is always fairly close to death. Weir does a good job creating enough tension to keep things interesting without making the reader uncomfortable. The book is surprisingly well written for the product of a computer programmer. It’s also very accurate- I would be interested to learn about scientific inaccuracies in the book, but for the most part I was impressed by the attention to proper science (even, and especially, in the details.) My final conclusion after reading the book was that I should take at least one engineering course in college; even if it’s not my area of interest, it might save my life!

Yikes. That reminds me. College.

I’ll be at MIT in 17 days (!!!). The thought is fairly insane. I think I’m as ready as I can be academically,* but I’m really nervous for college in general. MIT’s workload is supposed to be insane, and I’m going to want to be involved in extracurriculars, and volunteering, and research, and a social life, and, and, and… I need to choose priorities that really interest me, and not overload myself. I have no idea how to do that.

The other way to look at it is that I have 17 days left before I go to MIT. I can hang out with my family and friends, get out on my bike, and generally enjoy the middle of August. I can mentally prepare myself. I can read more books.

Speaking of reading more books, I still have four and a half hours left on the plane. (I’m finishing this post at 7:20 AM, August 8th, Chicago time).

Wonder what I’ll do next…

Update: 10:45 AM Chicago time. I have run out of books. I am reading the Spanish language magazine out of desperation even though my grasp of Spanish grows more tentative with each passing day. We land at noon.

Update: 12:13 PM Chicago time. We landed early. My father is picking me up late. Waiting.

* With the exception of multivariable calculus. I want to test out of it, but I haven’t been able to make myself study it on my own, and I don’t think I’ll pass the test if I take it without studying. Then again, maybe I should take it without studying to get used to not being able to wing certain things the way I could in high school? (Hear the stuttering sound of self-justification.) Also, I don’t know if taking an Advanced Study Exam (ASE) to get out of multi will fulfill the med school requirement to take a semester of calculus in college, seeing as neither flavor of AP Calculus counts. (Which would be another way to test out of the med school requirement.) Even if I ASE out of multi, I might still have to take a semester of scary higher math at MIT, which is pretty intimidating. Also, Aunt Sally told me she took a lot of repeat courses her first year of college and didn’t regret it at all because it made the first year transition easier. I’m torn. I may just take it without studying too much (the heresy!) and not be upset when I inevitably fail. But I digress.

A Photo Tour of Belfast

I am very tired tonight, so you are getting a post that is mostly pictures and not words. Not everything is going to be a complete sentence. I took these photos yesterday, on August 5th.

The Protestant and Catholic areas of Belfast are segregated. Less than 10% of Northern Irish children even go to integrated schools.

Protestant area in Belfast… they celebrate William of Orange taking Ireland.


Memorials to dead militia members… the most violent murals were taken down, so it’s striking to me that these memorials (which openly depict guns) remain.

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A to Z of Shankill road (the main protestant drag). The photos with text might look odd. I had to up the contrast greatly to make them readable.


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A side street off of the Shankill road. The Protestant parts of town hang English flags.


The gate on the peace wall. The peace wall divides Protestant and Catholic areas. The gate still closes every night. Our tour guide said that without the gate, there might be trouble.


The peace wall. There are 40 miles of peace wall in Belfast.

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Catholic area.

Memorial to the first interned hunger striker to die… “Gaeolgeoir” means speaker of Gaelic.


Murals on the Catholic side of the peace wall. Belfast Catholics strongly empathize with the Palestinians (both groups feel they are discriminated against in their own homeland).


More Catholic murals.

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“Friend of Ireland” Nelson Mandela


For a long time, Gaelic was outlawed in Ireland. This mural reads, in part, “language rights are human rights.”


Calling for the end of the peace walls.


More murals.


I should admit that I sympathize with the Catholics, being raised Catholic. The murals on the Catholic side are really about ending any sort of oppression… below is a killer mural about black oppression and civil rights in the US. This mural is pretty dope; I recommend looking closely.


A seagull.


It was kind of weird walking through the Protestant side of town and thinking that I wouldn’t be allowed to live there.

Belfast… and a Brief History of The Troubles

As I begin to write today’s post, I actually lack the factual knowledge to finish it. Oh well. Should be a good research endeavor.

I’m in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, which is the second country on this island. I’ve actually never been to the United Kingdom before (nor did I realize before a few weeks ago that Northern Ireland was part of the UK) so everything is pretty new. Here’s a picture of Belfast taken by not me:

area where I'm staying

I don’t have a linkup between my camera and my computer; I was borrowing Shaun and Mary’s. I’m working on purchasing something, but for now all photos are courtesy of google images. Anyway, I can see that large yellow H&W structure from where I’m staying. In fact, it’s right out my window as I type. It’s a Harland & Wollff shipyard crane… the type that built the titanic. Did I mention that the titanic is kind of a big deal in Belfast?

Okay, I have to stop stalling and get researching. There was a reason history was one of my least favorite subjects in high school, and it was the historical research. That, and my lack of passion for the subject. Anyway, the weird thing about Irish history is that one of my favorite sources, the BBC, can’t really be trusted to be impartial. In fact, almost no one can be trusted to be impartial. I’ll try not to get lost in the historiography even so.

Disclaimer: I am not a reliable source. I am doing my best, but some of this might be wrong. The broad strokes are right. Enjoy the wall of text.

So there’s a lot of history that led up to the Troubles, but I’m going to start us out in the 1890s. The entirety of Ireland was under British rule at that time, and Belfast especially was doing great. With its shipbuilding and tobacco ties, the city was thriving. The rest of Ireland was not so happy, and wanted to split off from English parliamentary rule, but with Belfast doing so well, the more protestant North was fine to keep things as they were. By the 1910s, the north and the south were preparing to war against each other. Then World War One happened and everyone had other things to worry about. By 1921, however, the Catholic republicans had caused enough trouble that Ireland was divided into Northern Ireland and an independent Irish state that in 1948 would become the Republic of Ireland.

The two countries had different religious identities. Northern Ireland was largely protestant (and still a part of the UK) and set up a parliament like that of the UK. What would become the Republic of Ireland (at the time just called Ireland) was largely Catholic. The problem is, there were Catholics in Northern Ireland, accounting for about 1/3 of the populace. The Catholics were not allowed to participate in government, and they were shut out from some jobs and public housing. As so often happens throughout human history, some people picked on another group of people because they could and because there was mutual dislike. So it goes.

The sixties weren’t just a time for American protestors. The Catholics in Northern Ireland, too, began to protest for equal rights. Sadly, the protests met with little success and became violent. By 1969 the British sent in troops to attempt to keep the peace, and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) adopted violent techniques of rebellion. Such as bombing. There were bombings from the 1970s to the 1990s perpetrated by the IRA in Northern Ireland. (The IRA was formed in 1917, and actually they won Irish independence for most of the Ireland. However, IRA members dissatisfied with the new deal and British control of Northern Ireland reformed the IRA in 1922. They were pleased with neither the British nor the members of the old IRA who had capitulated to losing Northern Ireland. But I digress.) There was also a ton of violence perpetrated by loyalist paramilitary groups (mainly the Ulster Defense Association (UDA) and Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)). Generally things were violent. In 1971, the British began using internment as a technique to snuff the rebellion. If you were accused of IRA involvement, you could be imprisoned without trial. In some cases it backfired, because if an innocent person was interned, it could cause their sympathies to shift to the IRA.

One of the most notorious episodes of violence occurred in 1972, on “Bloody Sunday.” British police opened fire on Irish protestors, killing 14 people. By 1988, the British government was so desperate that they introduced the Broadcast Ban. The BBC could not give voice to so-called terrorist groups… which included paramilitary groups on both sides. The real target, however, was Sinn Fein (pronounced shin fain), the political part of the IRA. The rule was that ‘terrorists’ could not directly appear on television.

Eventually, the situation began to improve. By 1994, the IRA, UDA, and UVF agreed to a ceasefire. Finally, in 1998, both parties signed the Good Friday Agreement, or the Belfast agreement. The agreement legitimized both national identities in Northern Ireland, promised political representation to both groups, and made it so if a majority of Northern Irish people want to join the Republic of Ireland, the UK must make it so. That didn’t mean all the conflict ended. In fact, there will be a march in Belfast next Sunday, supposedly to protest internment. I’m leaving on Saturday, and I can’t say I’m sorry I’m missing it.

The death toll during the troubles rose to over 3,600. 50,000 more were injured.

Sinn Fein and the IRA are still active today.

Belfast is beautiful. I’ve not been here long, but what I’ve seen of the city is great.

I don’t know.





Indiependence… and more thoughts on books

Last night I went to my first music festival.

I’m going to Boston Calling in the fall, so I wasn’t feeling the dire need to go to another festival. How wrong I was. We got tickets to Indiepenence, Mitchelstown’s independent music festival, from a friend of Mary’s who works in the music industry, and it was very exciting. I didn’t get any good photos, because it was so dark, but here’s a promotional image:


The first thing I noticed when I walked in was how big the space was. Indiepedence is held on a deer farm, so in addition to tents set up especially for the festival, there are also sheds and barns that are converted to musical stages or beer halls. There were four stages and I think about three tents or sheds acting as bars, as well as a tent for ‘silent disco,’ where people would sing themselves and dance to it. The whole festival was not just in one area… there were about three large clearings with tents, stages, and food trucks in them.

One unique thing about Mitchelstown festival is that most people wear wellington boots. It makes for an interesting contrast with the other sartorial choices on display… there were plenty of girls in shorts and low cut tops. To be clear, I’m no prude. People can wear whatever they like. But I had to wonder if those girls weren’t a bit cold! It couldn’t have been more than fifty degrees fahrenheit and it was raining. That, by the way, is why people wear wellies. Because of the mud.

I didn’t know any of the bands that were playing because I’m not too familiar with Ireland’s independent music scene, but according to Ciara Indiependence often hosts bands right before they get big. For example, Hoosier and Bastille both played at the festival before they became well known. Who knows, I could have been listening to the next big thing! Actually, the band I liked most was called All Tvvins, and the song I really liked is going to be a single off of their next album. Maybe if it’s a hit, they’ll be at a bigger festival, like Boston Calling, next year!

The only problem for me with concerts and festivals is that I can’t stand loud noises. When I go to Boston Calling, I’ll wear earplugs. God, I sound like an old coot, but when the music’s that loud, it’s almost as if you can’t hear it properly! It’s just a mess of reverberating sound.

In other news, I’ve been enjoying some trashy fiction. I used to be such a vociferous reader as a kid, but with the late nights and  massive workloads of school, I’ve mostly given it up except when I’m on holiday. I’m almost entirely for formal schooling, but the fact that I lacked time to read in high school makes me doubt the value of it just a little. Sometimes, I think I would have learned as much on my own, fulfilling my own curiosity. I must admit that my education would have been less well-rounded as a result, however. It also makes me think the college admissions game is screwing up education. (I have a lot of thoughts on college admissions, having just been through the process. If I get the MIT admissions blogger position, I’ll have to choose my words more carefully.) I did not really like participating in non-academic extracurricular activities. To be honest, they felt like a waste of time. But I knew that if I wanted to get into a good college, not only did I have to be very involved with extracurriculars, but also “show commitment” to my extracurriculars by staying in them for four years and getting leadership roles. I’m sorry, but if your interests don’t change between the ages of 14 and 18, that’s not a good sign. It’s a bad one. Anyway, I played the game by doing things that could go on a resume as opposed to just things I really wanted to do, and by staying in the same extracurriculars I chose as a freshman, and my reading payed the price. In retrospect, I probably would have been fine just finding my own way, but I made so many decisions based on bad information.


So I’m reading trashy fiction right now. Happy Families, by Janey Fraser. As Mary put it, it’s good escapism. It follows three different English parents as they struggle with problems with kids and marriages. There are a lot of unexpected twists and turns, and each of the story lines is equally interesting. I don’t think eighteen year old girls are exactly the intended audience, but I’m enjoying it a lot. The only minor issue with the book is that the author uses the same techniques to build suspense over and over, so the book is easy to see through. However, I wasn’t looking for good literature when I bought it. Maybe it’s just the fact that I’m an anglophile, but I think English trashy fiction is superior to American trashy fiction.

I might move on to something of literary value after I’m done. I’ve read 501 pages out of 531… so I think I’ll post this and finish it!

Thirteen Year Olds

This post will probably seem pretty annoying to my real adult readers (granted, there are like three of them). I’m not talking about fake adults (i.e. people around my age who can vote but are still not at all independent from their parents). No, you’ll probably find this post fine. Real adults, though, should probably leave, or prepare to be irritated.

I warned you.

Ciara’s little sister, Julia, turned thirteen last week. The fact sort of boggles my mind. In the first place, it boggles my mind because Ciara and I have been friends for eight years… and, I don’t know, I never really expected Julia to grow up so much. We see each other frequently enough that most of the change I see in her is very gradual, and it’s easy to forget she’s not still the five year old I met all those years ago. But now she’s almost taller than Ciara, and the facts are getting hard to ignore.

Julia, if you’re reading this, I think you’re a great thirteen year old, just like you were a great five year old. It’s just crazy to think you’ll be in high school in 14 months.

But it also boggles my mind because she’s still really young. Which means I was still really young at thirteen, even though I took myself quite seriously. Which means I am probably still really young at eighteen, even though I can vote and shoot a gun and die for my country and everything. Also, from the outside, her experience of being thirteen looks so different from my experience of being thirteen. She seems largely happy-go-lucky when I was often mopey at that age… things for her just seem less complex than I remember them being. But then again, maybe she feels all the complexity I did, and this is what it looks like from the outside. It’s a good reminder that you can’t really assume much about people’s motivations or feelings, because what you see on the surface might not be representative of what’s underneath.

And I should say I was a terrible thirteen year old. It was not my finest moment. But I was so convinced, within myself, that my behavior was justified. It’s one of my biggest reminders to myself of just how wrong I can be. If I ever need to be humbled, I can just think of how I was in seventh grade.

I think me saying this will irritate real adults, because basically from my vantage point of eighteen years, I’m realizing, “oh, thirteen is very young.” But when I’m twenty-five, say, I might realize that eighteen is pretty young, too. I guess it’s all relative. Maybe you never grow up totally and you’re still the same person inside, just with more skill and experience and more ability to act mature. It kind of makes me wonder why I felt so much disgust with most adults as a little kid.


For various reasons, I’ve been writing so much of late that I feel like words are going to start falling out of my ears. It really destroys my ability to proofread, because I stare at words so much that they just start to look like lines on the page, devoid of meaning. Ciara has been kind enough to read most of my writing that actually matters, which I really appreciate.

I’ve also been on my college class year’s Facebook page quite a bit recently. It’s alright, but sometimes the discussions get irritating. For instance, the whole class had to do drug and alcohol training as well as some sex ed/consent training online. The training itself was as painless as anything that scripted can be, but it prompted a whole thread of discussion about consent on the class Facebook page. Fair enough, that’s probably a good discussion. But then, several people commented only to say things like “this is such a mature discussion!” or “wow, you guys have such evolved viewpoints!” I generally don’t like it when people pat themselves on the back, and this was especially irritating. For me, it destroys an interesting/fruitful discussion to point out how good it is. I wish people would stick to the ideas, not the weird self-pleasuring stuff.

I might live to regret the above paragraph if many people from my class find this post. Luckily, the internet is so vast no one will likely take notice.

On the updates on activities front, Ciara and I spent the entire morning cleaning. Mary wants it to look nice for when Ciara’s dad Jesse and his friend Jeff get here on Saturday. I hope I am not a too annoying houseguest, making everything messy. I know I’m not the neatest person, so I’m trying very hard to go against my nature and not leave anything askew.

Rocks, Caves, and Collisions

Today we went to the rock of Cashel. The name is somewhat misleading, as it’s not actually a rock. Well, it’s made of rock. “Rock of Cashel” refers to an entire complex of ancient buildings, some dating back to the 12th century. Once it was the seat of power for the king of Munster, but in 1101 he saw that he might lose control of it and donated it to the church. After that, it was an abbey until it was abandoned in the 18th century. Luckily, by the end of the 19th century it was in the care of the state and remains so to this day.

Students with photo ID only pay €3 for entry and a guided tour, so in addition to the historic interest, it’s pretty cheap.

And you can get some good photos.

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The first and last photos are of the view from the abbey; the second and third are either side of the cathedral. In the third, you can also see the round tower, which is the oldest structure in the whole complex. I’m really glad my brother got a phone upgrade and I could borrow his old one. A photography class would really help my composition, I think. Photography is cool because it’s available for everyone… digital photography is as cheap as buying a device and supplying electricity. Not that everyone can afford a camera or even a phone, but I think most people in the states nowadays have smartphones, and everyone who does can benefit from some photographic training. Maybe I’ll take a photography class in college, on a lark.

Before our time in Cashel, Ciara and I visited the Mitchelstown caves. I have no photos of the caves because I have not the skill to take photos in low light. However, the rock formations are fantastic. No matter how many caves I visit, I am always surprised by the age of the rock formations. Even the smallest stalactite is thousands of years old. With that in mind, the giant formations I see become even more awe-inspiring.

Caves frighten me as much as they fascinate me. I’m not claustrophobic, but I am afraid of the dark, and I’m never far from wanting to turn and run in a cave. Then again, the science of caves is unique. Biologically, the cave ecosystem is pretty isolated and specific, leading to interesting adaptations. In Mitchelstown cave, there are 40 species of insect, and that’s basically it. All of the insects are white and blind. As Ciara pointed out, you know that energy is at a premium when it’s too much trouble for an animal to make pigment. Really, though, I’m not positive what those creatures survive on. There’s no real plant life in the cave due to the lack of sunlight, so it’s not as if the insects can eat plants. According to our tour guide, they eat whatever biological material is available. One of the caverns in the cave houses a small lake, which has been isolated for hundreds of thousands of years, certainly long enough for interesting bacteria to evolve. Disappointingly, there were no unique species of bacteria found in the lake.

Yesterday I was fascinated by the physics of golf. I’m sort of shallow in that I will briefly be obsessed with something and then abandon it entirely once I’ve fulfilled my curiosity, but I still don’t fully understand the mechanics of golf, so I still have interest. Shaun was kind enough to take us down to the driving range and set us up with some of his clubs to hit some balls. I quickly tired of trying to improve myself, but I really enjoyed asking Shaun about the theory behind all of it. AP Physics may not have been my favorite class, but it did equip me with enough understanding of physics that my worldview has shifted to include analysis of the motion around me. The moment of impact between club and ball should provide the vast majority of the information required to model the entire trajectory of the ball. That and the air resistance, I suppose. The best part of learning science is its ability to change the way you see the world and deepen your understanding of the everyday. Golf would have been totally boring to me if I could not think about the physics, but with a method of understanding it, it was thoroughly fascinating.

My goal in life is to be able to understand everything around me. It’s not attainable, but the worthiness of impossible goals has always been a belief of mine. Adults always seemed to give up trying just because what they were trying for wasn’t possible. They acted as if something not being possible was an excuse not to try. Maybe it’s just childish, but I hope I never think that way.

Your Incompetent Photographer

I can’t do this place justice in photos. I don’t have the skill. It’s doubtful that I can do it justice in writing, but I’ll try anyway.

The days are long, and for the hours near sunrise and sunset, the light is soft and gauzy. You can almost see the water hanging in the air, even when it’s not raining. The light moves constantly. I go to set up a photo, only to find the light has shifted. If you stand and look a while, your view changes before you.

Rivers and streams score the land here. In the countryside, I either hear running water or nothing. The soil is a reddish brown, and I can see the color in the riverbanks, contrasting with the trees and grass. There’s water everywhere in Ireland, I think, seeping into the ground and feeding the plants that threaten to swallow everything else up. Down the road from the house, there’s an abandoned house. The plants have engulfed it. Stinging nettles, popping snapdragons, and ferns that will hitch a ride on your sweater flank the roads. The plant life seems sentient in its activity.

This Irish summer smells of fall. The flowers have lost their intense smell after their earlier blooms, and now the dominant scent is that of wet underbrush and earth. Autumn has also lent this summer its temperature, comfortable for vigorous motion. Every time I step outside I think of new beginnings, which is what fall must represent to many students. It’s not just that, though. It’s the same feeling I get from every natural area, the feeling that I might explore and find something more than what I knew I was coming for. In the city, you can’t just walk. You have to have a path set for you, or inevitably you will run into an obstacle or a bad area. Even in towns here, you are never far from a forest, stream, or field. Just start walking and find your own way.

The biggest difference, though, is the size of the sky. In the background, I can nearly always see the Galtee mountains, and above them that sky. Looking up is impressive even when the sky is covered over with clouds, perhaps especially when covered it’s over with clouds, light blue and silver rimmed, their peaks and valleys like canyons in reverse. In an airplane, the clouds look like a landscape of their own, and it’s the same even from the ground here.

I don’t understand Ireland yet. I have an idea of its history, in broad strokes, and cumulatively I’ve spent months here, but I don’t know the nation. The national situation on the island is complex. If a majority of people living in Northern Ireland want to join the Republic of Ireland, and most in the Republic agree, then the UK must allow a unified Ireland. So far, Northern Ireland has opted to stay a part of the UK. But north and south have a common language, and history, and land. Are they a part of the same nation, even if they don’t want to be a part of the same polity? When I asked Mary, an Irish native, she said that the two places do not largely have the same national identity. According to her, the ethnic protestants in Northern Ireland would want to remain a part of the UK, the ethnic Catholics would want a united Ireland, and still others would see Northern Ireland as its own nation, not a part of the UK or the Republic of Ireland. It depends on who you ask.

We’re going to Belfast in about a week, which is located in Northern Ireland. It’ll be my first trip to the UK. Ciara’s dad Jesse (heretofore referred to as “the doc” because he is a doctor and that’s what I usually call him to his face) and his friend Jeff will join us on a tour of all the castles in Game of Thrones, which is largely filmed in Belfast. I’m excited for the trip, as I want to see as much of Ireland as I possibly can. I’ll take more photos when I’m there, and I have taken more photos between the last post and now, but I wanted to try to give you an idea of what my photographs leave out.

Edit: sorry, I have a photo of the big sky. Enjoy my inconsistency.


Lazy Days in Ireland

I really don’t want a roommate in college. I had roommates at all of my summer camps, and while they were all very nice girls, I don’t enjoy living my life on someone else’s schedule. We were all supposed to get emails about our room assignments (which would contain the name of our roommate, or the indication that we didn’t have one) yesterday, but my email never materialized, nor did the email of anyone in my temp dorm, East Campus.

I’m beginning to expect this from MIT, what with their having released our admission decisions late and our housing assignments late. I think the institute is just perpetually late. (I feel like I shouldn’t write anything negative about MIT when this blog is for the admissions job! It doesn’t seem to send the right message…)

Ciara and I have been getting up to shenanigans in the meantime. Well, not really. Yesterday we took her metal detector down to an old abandoned house and looked around for a while, but most of what we dug up was just rusty nails. The nice thing about a great friend is that you can have a wonderful time digging up rusty nails with them, so it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

We also watched the end of yesterday’s stage of the Tour de France. I’ve been following it loosely, and I have to say it’s much more interesting than I would have initially thought. Yesterday was their last day in the Alps, and after the days they spend climbing, you can just see the amount of pain that they’re in. Their form also basically goes to pot… they wobble and waver so much when they’re crossing the finish line that it’s a surprise they’re even moving forward. Shaun really seems to like watching sports, so he’s always usually got something on to watch if he’s home, and it’s not unpleasant to watch with him. I usually have questions, which he does his best to answer.

After dinner yesterday, Ciara and I went down to what her whole family calls “The New Bridge.”Maybe capital letters are not required… “the new bridge.” Ciara likes to look for fossils in the stream under the bridge, and I am building a dam. MIT’s mascot is the beaver, so it’s only appropriate, though I am building my dam out of stones, not wood. I’m going to see if I can recruit Ciara’s little sister Julia to help me build the dam. She’s turning 13 today, so I guess she’s not really a kid, but when I was a kid I loved projects like these… my brother and I used to do things like build walls or dams all the time. I would generally gather the materials, and he was in charge of the assembly. Looking back, I definitely had the less glamorous job, but to be fair, he was older than me.

The last thing I did yesterday was commune with the cows. Well, I suppose they were bullocks. Anyway, the cows near Shaun and Mary’s house were all little ones, only a few months old. I would have to hop the electric fence to go see them, but even from behind the fence they are quite friendly and very cute. They seem curious as to who I am and what I am doing near their pasture. They are especially charming when they lick each other because they remind me of my cats. Here are some cows that wandered off from the main group:


Today, we are going to visit a castle, celebrate Julia’s birthday, and clean up the house a little. Well, we already cleaned the house a little, and I already ate breakfast (exciting, I know). I had Flahavan’s instant porridge for breakfast today, which is pretty much the most delicious instant hot cereal I’ve ever had. Along with Barry’s tea, I’ll be buying a package of Flahavan’s porridge to bring back home. Depending on the expense, I might buy more than one package! It was seriously good. It also comes with a little measuring cup for the water, unlike American brands which make you use the paper packet the oats themselves come in as a measuring device. The Flahavan’s packet works that way as well, but the box of them also comes with a plastic cup. The porridge takes much more liquid than the American porridges I’ve seen, but it doesn’t come out watery. It might just be a larger serving size, I suppose.

We’re visiting Cahir (pronounced care) castle, which (according to Wikipedia) is one of the largest castles in Ireland. Here’s a photo taken by someone with more skill than I:


I have a small chance at recreating that photo because today is the first truly sunny day I’ve seen since we’ve been here. Maybe I shouldn’t say that, though… I don’t want to jinx it.

Off to Cahir castle!

My Life as a Book, Closed Minds, and the Blarney Stone

Do you ever think about the literary value of your life? Maybe the fantasy is common, or at least common to people who read a lot, but I often think about my life as if it were a book. Just the bits of my life that are actually interesting, mind you. I don’t think anyone would write about someone studying for four hours. As I write this, it seems self-important, but I don’t mean it that way. I know that I don’t lead a particularly special life. It’s just that my penchant to see things verbally and construct narrative shapes the way I look at the world. Maybe, if the impulse to think about one’s own life as if it were a novel is self-important, it’s a particular impulse of the young.

I’m reading The Closing of the American Mind, by Allen Bloom. He seems to argue that an education from great books is necessary and that today’s youth lack the literary background to lead what a philosopher would call a good life. I feel as if I’m firmly planted in books, though not necessarily great ones, and I don’t see how that’s any better than being intellectually influenced by music, or movies, or your own life experience. I was also appalled by his views on women and subsequently amused that he had translated the edition of Rousseau’s Emile to which I subjected myself; Bloom and Rousseau seem to share views on the role of females.

Anyway, Bloom also argues against cultural relativism, and on this I must agree with him; cultural relativism is a black hole into which many interesting discussions fall and from which they can never escape to reach any sort of resolution. If we give up the ability to stake a claim towards what’s right and wrong, we give up the ability to say anything at all.

Overall the book is alright.

On a different note, we visited the Blarney castle today, home of the Blarney stone. Like any good American tourist, I kissed the stone. Supposedly, it gives you “the gift of the gab” or eloquence, but I’m not sure the effect can be trusted. Likely, if people have spoken well after kissing the stone, it’s because so many people have kissed it that some of them are bound to speak well.

The best thing about the castle itself is that you can go into all of the side rooms and little areas; none of them are closed off. Of course, as a result, there is plenty of graffiti, especially in the smaller chambers, but I think it’s worth it to preserve the feeling of exploration of the castle. The views out of some of the windows are stunning as well:


After going through the castle, Ciara and I explored the grounds, which are also lovely. We went first into the “poison garden” which has a large variety of poisonous plants. However, their definition of poisonous seems to be quite broad… they were exhibiting tea, tobacco, and even marijuana (it was not available to pick… it was sort of being grown in a cage)! I generally don’t think of tea as poisonous.

We continued through the “Irish gardens,” where they were growing some of Ireland’s 850 native flowering plants. Apparently there are so few flowering plants native to Ireland because Ireland broke off from the main continent of Europe at a pretty early stage. They were lovely as well. Then we had to rush back because we had agreed to meet at the car park at three, and it was nearly three. We had also lost Ciara’s mother. She had come to the castle with us, but within fifteen minutes we had lost sight of her. We did successfully reunite with her and Shaun, who had been running errands in town while we explored the castle. Then, we went out to dinner, and here I am blogging.

I’m not actually sure what the meal schedule is supposed to be. We eat breakfast and then dinner and then tea(?). I’m not sure if tea is dessert(?) or if we’re supposed to eat lunch(?). Hopefully, Ciara doesn’t read this and laugh at me. I’ve been to Ireland three times, and I still don’t really know how they eat their meals here. I mean, I know what they eat, but not when they eat it. The Irish diet, or at least the Irish diet as I’m experiencing, is sort of a cross between what one would typically imagine a traditional Irish diet to be (meat, boiled vegetables, potatoes, and porridge) and the sort of stuff I eat a lot of at home (pasta, pizza, sandwiches, and the like). Luckily for me, Shaun and Mary are pescatarians, so they have a lot of meat substitutes readily available.

Anyway, off to watch a movie and go to bed.

12 Photos, In Roughly Chronological Order, With Commentary

What follows are photos I took on a drive to Lismore and other places.

The cast of characters included:

-your humble narrator


-Ciara’s sister, Julia

-Ciara’s mom, Brid

-Ciara’s aunt, Mary

Mary is one of my gracious hosts here in Ireland. Ciara and I are staying with her and her partner, Shaun.







The differences between the latter two are subtle, I suppose, but I liked both of them. We drove up to Lismore to see Lismore castle. We were at sort of the scenic viewpoint of the castle, which I suppose was lovely to look at, but made for rather lackluster photos on my part. Hopefully, you can infer which of these three photos is actually of the castle proper. On the way back to the car, I wandered off a little to take photos 2 and 3. I initially didn’t appreciate the children’s presence in my shot, but then I realized they lent some character to an otherwise rather plain photo. I especially like the little boy with the net, and I like how each of them is conveniently wearing a different color.





After visiting the castle, we went on Lady Louisa’s walk, which is just a pleasant stroll on the outskirts of Lismore. I wanted to take some photos of the river alongside the walk, but there would have been power lines in the shot, and the walk verged into the forest before we would have walked past the power lines. So, yet again, I wandered off from the group in search of good photos. I got to the lines, which were a little further away than I had estimated, but by then even my path had gone into the trees. I soldiered on. Eventually, I did find myself on the river bank. I took some photos of the view down the river and of the cow who was steadfastly ignoring me on the other side. I had to do the rest of the walk on my own because I never caught up to the group. They were waiting for me at the end.





Still in Lismore, we happened upon an eighth-century church, surrounded by a graveyard, as old churches predictably are. None of the photos of the inside turned out well enough to make the cut here, and photo number 6 is really a bit overexposed, but they still give you an idea of the place. Amusingly enough, the pathway around the church was called the “biodiversity walk,” which just isn’t what I would think to call a walk around a graveyard. As is quickly becoming a theme, I wandered off from the group in order to go on the biodiversity walk of death.



Eventually, we did leave Lismore. We drove to an area called the Vee, which is so named because of the shape it makes on the horizon. The above is not a photo of the Vee. At several points on the drive to the Vee, I asked Mary, who was driving, to pull over so I could wander off and take photos. You can see a bit of the road in this photo. In Ireland, the roads are really quite narrow, and at least where we are they are sometimes embedded in hills. I can’t vouch for the safety of the combination.



This was another stop on the drive to the Vee. I tend to take too many photos of rivers and streams, now that I look at all of these photos. I had to go a bit further off the road to take this photo. I followed a small curving path down to the stream, which apparently prompted this conversation:

Brid: “Where’s she going?”

Ciara: “Round the bend.”

Just to note, everyone else stayed in the car, which means, as you may have anticipated, that I had wandered away from the group.



I did not wander away from the group to take this photo, surprisingly enough. From this vantage point, you can see several Irish counties all in one. Yet another stop on the way to the Vee.





Can you see the V shape in these photos? Also, you might notice that you’ve seen the second photo before… I took a photo from the same vantage point last year. I stumbled upon it rather randomly. The water is not visible from the street, but I heard it running and climbed down to inspect. Again, wandering off from the group yielded great results.

Anyway, we went to the Vee on the 19th. As I write this it’s the 20th. Today, we went down to Cork, where it was too overcast to be photogenic. My best buy was a pair of rather nice heels for only nine euro. The situation was improved by the current exchange rate… right now, the dollar is relatively strong against the euro, so everything is effectively a bit cheaper.

Hopefully, I’ll have more photos for you by next time!

How to Choose a Dorm at MIT

This post is a bit of a bait and switch. I wrote two successive posts about going to Ireland, and I’m in Ireland as I write this, but I’m not going to write about Ireland.

Instead, I’m going to write about housing!

MIT has a very unique housing system, which I didn’t really realize when I applied. Not sure how I missed it, but there you go. Basically, the June before their first year starts, incoming freshmen have to rank all of the possible dorms as choices, with the help of some interesting resources. My top choice was Senior House, followed by East Campus and then Mac Gregor. If someone is reading this in 2016 or later, trying to navigate choosing a dorm, I can offer you insight into my process. First, I decided what information I was going to use to make my decision. I don’t think one should factor in every little factor when making a ranked list. Instead, it’s better to prioritize a few factors that really matter to you, and go from there. I mainly thought about proximity to the infinite corridor, availability of single rooms, cat legality, and dorm culture.

However, I haven’t visited every dorm, and all the resources we had to use couldn’t show us the whole picture, especially about dorm culture. That’s why there’s a process called FYRE. After we get to campus in August, we will tour all of the dorms, going to the orientation events they throw. If we decide that we prefer another dorm over the one in which we are placed temporarily, or ‘temped’ in, we can request a different placement. Then, after all that, many dorms go even further and reassign rooms within the dorm according to the culture of each of the separate halls. This is sometimes called ‘floor rush,’ whereas the process of looking at all the dorms is called ‘dorm rush.’

While I like the emphasis on correct placement for everyone, it is kind of annoying that there’s very little certainty as to living location until just before classes start. When I arrive, I will have to unpack as little as possible, because I may end up moving. Even if I like my dorm, I may end up switching floors or rooms. However, I think the upside is that people may be more likely to stay in the same dorm for four years at MIT than at similar institutions, because MIT students put a lot of effort into finding the right dorm up front so they don’t have to worry about it later.

Two days ago, we were assigned to our preliminary dorms. The process was very reminiscent of checking to see if we had been adMITted because the 2019s immediately crashed the website, which is exactly what happened in March with the decisions website. I was assigned to my second choice, East Campus. Luckily, it is a cat dorm relatively close to the infinite, and it has plenty of singles. I think I might like the culture as well. I was temped there during Campus Preview Weekend, and I liked the people I met there. Actually, an East Campus experience was sort of the turning point of wanting to go to MIT for me.

photocreds http://eastcamp.us/media/images/courtyard.jpg
East Campus… photocreds: http://eastcamp.us/media/images/courtyard.jpg

After the dust settled on the college decisions season, I had two top options: MIT and the University of Pennsylvania. Most of the other schools to which I was admitted were not located in cities or were too small, which made narrowing down my options easy. Anyway, when I visited Penn, I loved it. I thought that I would certainly go to Penn. MIT has a reputation for being unnecessarily difficult, and I had very little fun in high school. I wanted to learn things in college, but I also wanted to actually enjoy myself. In high school, the hours I spent alone studying were seemingly endless. It would seem that I was the only one awake for miles; the sense of isolation was crushing. The academics at Penn seemed quite manageable. Most of the work I saw freshmen doing was on content with which I was already familiar to some extent. I didn’t want to go to MIT if it meant another four years of the same old grind.

But then I visited MIT. The kids at MIT reminded me of the kids at CTY, my beloved nerd summer camp. The student body at CTY made me feel at home. I hope the student body at MIT will, too. I didn’t go to all of the scheduled events at MIT’s campus preview weekend. I spent a lot of time wandering around, talking to students. The first night I was there, I wandered into the kitchen on my host’s hall and talked to the East Campus residents inside. Somewhere during that conversation, I became convinced that I could actually survive at MIT.

I guess that got a little far afield from housing. Anyway, I’m glad I got temped in East Campus. I think I could feel at home there. Or somewhere.


This is a short, nonofficial, not factoring into the post schedule, post.

I have safely arrived in Ireland.

I have already had several cups of tea.

I am going to bed soon.

Life is good.



Scenes from Cork.

Blogcrastinating: How Not to Prepare for a Trip to Ireland

Hello friends! As this posts, I will be on a plane to Ireland, but I am writing it on July 16th so as not to add yet another wrinkle to an already busy day of flying.

One of my primo techniques in high school was a little something I liked to call ‘workcrastinating.’Because I didn’t have time to actually procrastinate and get all my assignments in on time, I had to find a new way of putting off work that I didn’t want to do. If I had an essay due on Friday, I would do all of my work (other than the essay) due on or before Friday. That way, Thursday night was clear to write the essay. When you’re staring down the umpteenth work of literary analysis you’re going to have to complete in your high school career, multivariable calculus problems and biology readings seem sinfully entertaining. (And, factually, I still do get excited when talking about the endocrine system, so I did have some really amazing biology readings.) After I did all of the interesting work, I would have a full night left over to slog through whatever essay I had to write. Best of all, I still felt virtuous throughout the entire process, because I hadn’t actually wasted any time. I’m not sure if I will workcrastinate at MIT, however, because I hopefully will actually like most of my work.

If I get the blogger job, I may blogcrastinate. Which is what I’m doing right now.

I still haven’t packed. Okay, well I’ve packed a little, but the vast majority of my packing still needs to happen as of me writing this post. I can’t find all of my clothing well, and it’s just hard to sort through. Also, I seem to have developed a mental block around the task, which is one of my worst habits. I put a task off because I think it’s going to be horrible, but upon actually doing it I discover that it’s not so bad after all… which is actually what usually happens with my essays, truth be told. When it comes down to the moment, I actually enjoy writing them. So hopefully I might enjoy packing? We’ll see.

I did get my passport though! I don’t know how well I’ve explained this previously, but basically I lost my passport and only realized it when I was in Topeka, so I had to apply for a passport only three days before I was supposed to leave for Ireland. In addition to blogcrastinating, losing one’s passport is another good way not to prepare for a trip to Ireland. I picked up my passport today. Never let it be said that the US government doesn’t work, at least to some extent.

it doesn't have bitemarks from our cats, which the last one did... not sure if that's good or bad
it doesn’t have bitemarks from our cats, which the last one did… not sure if that’s good or bad

Because I am leaving, tonight will be my last night with my cat, possibly for some time. My cats can be annoying and mischievous. They can be needy. They can create work for me when I am already busy. But they are sweet and companionable. One of the reasons I even applied to MIT was my inability to imagine a life without my cats. I don’t know how I will survive without them at college for the first semester (I’m hoping to bring one of them in the second)… maybe I can ship them to me? IMG_1892 They wouldn’t even stay in the box long enough to take that photo, so I suspect it wouldn’t go over well. I am trying to keep them with me in my room as much as possible, while still giving them enough time in the bathroom with their litter boxes as needed. I feel so much guilt over trapping them there, which is of course what they want me to feel.

Manipulative little things.

Also, good news, dear readers. The two images in this post are the last two that will ever be taken with my comparatively crummy 5 megapixel iPhone 4S camera… my brother was able to upgrade his phone, so we are delaying trading in his old one so that I can take photos with it in Ireland! It has a 13 megapixel camera. After I get back, I too can upgrade my phone… and I am thinking of jumping ship from apple to android. The iPhone 6 is very large, and frankly doesn’t necessarily have the camera I want. My three most important features in a smartphone are a small(isn) screen, a good camera, and good battery life. Right now, my iPhone only delivers on the first. I think most smartphones are designed for men, who have larger hands. I don’t have small hands, and I have fairly long fingers, but I can’t comfortably operate my father’s iPhone 6 plus or my brother’s Samsung S5. I think my mom has the iPhone 5C, which I can use, but those aren’t available any more!

Regardless of my phone camera, the photos should be beautiful. Ireland, here I come! Hopefully the plane doesn’t crash!

EDIT: I just took this photo of Duncan and he is the cutest. I had to share. I was overcome.


Everyone should have a sleepy kitty.

Preparing for Ireland and FAQs

Update on my room cleaning, because I know you were all dying for one: we had to move the cats out. I couldn’t use my floor for anything, because no matter how many times I swept and swiffered, they would just throw more kitty litter on the floor. It was actually pretty terrible. Now their cat boxes are in my bathroom, so they will spend most of their time in there. Actually, right now they’re on parole hanging out with me in my room, but their new home is the bathroom. I still may sleep with Joy in my room, because she’s made it overnight without a letterbox before, but I’m not sure about her brother. We’ll have to see. Anyway, it’s only for two more nights, because…


I leave for Ireland in just two days! Why am I so excited, you ask? Take a look at the photos I took last time I was there. IMG_0599 IMG_0525 IMG_0543

Those are three, out of dozens. And I have not seen even an eighth of what there is to see in Ireland. The place is consistently, intensely, stunningly beautiful. I’ve been twice before, but this will be my longest trip. And I am so excited.

When I tell people I’m going to Ireland, I get certain Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Why are you going? Are you visiting family?

A: I am lucky enough to have a very good friend who is in many ways the Cristina Yang to my Meredith Grey. Her name is Ciara. We were lab partners in the fifth grade (I have yet to have a better lab partner) and the rest, as they say, is history. Her mother was raised in Ireland and still has all her family there, so Ciara and company visit often. I am lucky enough to come over with them sometimes. I am going to be staying at her aunt and uncle’s, which is next to her grandmother’s farm.

Q: Where in Ireland are you going? Are you going to Dublin?

A: We are going to be staying in a small farming village in County Cork. The nearest city will be, unsurprisingly, Cork. We will certainly visit Cork, and I’d say that it’s pretty likely we will visit Dublin this time, though I haven’t been to Dublin yet.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re there?

A: Sometimes we go to Cork, and I think this time we’re going to go on a Game of Thrones tour (?) of some castles, which sounds awesome. Honestly, though, we spend most of the time on Ciara’s grandmother’s property, either inside reading and drinking tea or outside mucking around. I got through a lot of books the last time I was there, and I hope this year’s reading list can be similarly edifying. We will probably bake something, Ciara and I, and we’re working on creating a set of Tarot cards inspired by popular culture. We have not collaborated on many creative projects before, so working on the cards should be fun. I think the best thing about Ireland is that I don’t feel rushed or pressured to do anything in particular, as one so often can at home.

Q: Who else is going with you?

A: The cast of characters on the plane to Dublin will include Ciara, her sister Julia, and their mom. Sadly her dad (or as I like to call him, “the Doc”) is not coming. I really like Ciara’s mom and sister, so it’s nice to spend time with Ciara and the both of them.

Q: Well, you’re a lucky bastard.

A: True.

Anyway, I’m pretty excited about going to Ireland, and so grateful as always to Ciara’s family for having me. I try to be a decent houseguest, but I really admire their fortitude in remaining awesome hosts well past the point where I’m sure I get irritating. So all that remains is to pack, which is a bit of a challenge. I’m putting it off by finishing this blog post because it’s so intimidating. The weather in Ireland can be… variable. Reliably, it will rain, and there will be cold days, but every other aspect of the weather is totally up to chance. Also, I have to pack up the entirety of my wardrobe because we’re moving out of this building, so anything that doesn’t go to Ireland either has to be packed for MIT or for my dad’s new place. This constant packing and re-packing of clothes does get tiresome.

I am doing some fun stuff with dad and Chris, however. For example, we went to the Museum of Science and Industry. Christopher had never been to see the U505 exhibit they have, so we spent a while exploring that and then explored the rest of the museum. We haven’t been in a few years, so the exhibit about the weather and the one about health were new to us. I especially liked the exhibit about extreme storms, which had many interactive features.

My next scheduled day to post is the day I leave for Ireland, so I may have to write it tomorrow and make it about something slightly more abstract. We’ll see!

Reflections on Cleaning My Room

Before this post, shoutout to all the places in which people had read this blog by last night: Australia, Austria, Canada, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Hong Kong SAR China, Israel, Norway, Puerto Rico, Romania, South Korea, Taiwan, Ukraine, and the United States! After the US, the second most views came from Taiwan… four for you, Taiwan! You go, Taiwan!

I love my cats, but having them in my room all the time has been a nightmare.

she's worth it, but the cost is high
she’s worth it, but the cost is high

We’ve gotta talk about fecal bacteria, folks. It’s true that cat urine is unpleasant, but my real problem with having the cats in my room 24/7 is that they have to use the litter box to poop in my room. I’m not trying to be crass, but that’s the reality. Cat urine is not sterile like human urine (according to some pretty unreliable sources, but several of them. I tried to find a good source, but instead found a study entitled, I shit you not, “Effects of Storage Time and Temperature on pH, Specific Gravity, and Crystal Formation in Urine samples from Dogs and Cats.” It studied 31 cats and 8 dogs, during what I can only assume was a pungent lab experience.) But despite the fact that there are bacteria in the urine, (according to equally poor sources) most bacteria in cat urine are gram-positive bacteria, which, in addition to having a thick peptidoglycan layer, tend to be non-pathogenic. Apparently the lower third of the urethra is not sterile in cats, as it is in humans. However, you know what’s even less sterile? My cat’s colon.

Which brings me back to poop, where the real bacteria are. That’s the nasty stuff. I just… have no interest in tracking fecal bacteria into my bed from cat litter on my floor. No interest. As a result, I’ve been wearing socks when I have to walk on the floor of my room, and then taking them off when I get to bed. Luckily, I have plenty of socks.

aerial view of my sock drawer on 10/28/13 (coincidentally my mom’s birthday)… have since acquired more socks

So, I embarked upon cleaning my floors. Here are my thoughts:

  • God gave us the Swiffer as a reward for something. Perhaps, say, when Salk decided not to patent the polio vaccine, God was like, “well I guess they’re not all bad and selfish after all!” and gave us the Swiffer.
  • Tidy Cats cat litter does not have the deodorizing power of Arm and Hammer cat litter. Come at me, Tidy Cats enthusiasts, but can you beat the majesty of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda? You cannot.
  • I am not fully to blame for the state my room is in. I’ve been away for a while, and we are moving, which creates clutter. Still, I need to clean more than just the floors today!
  • Despite the majesty of Arm and Hammer, I still need to buy some Febreeze. If it works, I’m going to use it in college. I think it goes without saying that I will use the miracle that is Swiffer in college.
  • I had to change the socks I was wearing to clean at one point because I realized otherwise I would track kitty litter into the apartment. I don’t care what I have to do, but I am never going to let my floors become that unclean again.
  • I should have done more chores as a kid. My parents had every right to use their money to pay to not have to clean their house, but I wish I had had more chores in elementary and middle school. Cleaning my floors last night took me like 20 minutes when it should have taken 5.

And now, today, as I wake up, less than nine hours later, my floors are dirty again. Someone vomited and I’m going to have to clean it up, and there’s a fair amount of kitty litter scattered across the floor. Entropy wins again. C’est la vie.

You may wonder why I am posting this so early (for me) in the morning. Or, perhaps more probably, you do not wonder because you were not aware of the time at which it was posted, or because you don’t care. Fair enough, but I’m going to tell you anyway. I had to bring my bike up to my dad’s, and he has his bike here (obviously), so we wanted to get up early this morning to go for a bike ride. However, when I woke up this morning it was not only to the sight of cat vomit on my floors but also to an impressively dark grey cloud stretched across my entire field of vision. Since then it has begun to rain. The upside is that I like rainy days, and the lightning is a pretty purple color. The downside is that I’m up early for no appreciable reason.

Oh well. Good morning!

Remember Entropy

The second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy (the disorder) of our universe must always be increasing. It was introduced to me as a dry scientific principle, the kind that explains reaction spontaneity, but none of the quirks of human life.

Recently, however, I’ve been thinking a lot about the second law of thermodynamics as it relates to our daily lives. I think it even explains death, which is essentially caused by all the complex systems in the human bodies becoming rearranged in such a manner that they no longer function. We are not immortal because of entropy. The great monster of entropy wins, and our gene acquires the mutation that gives us cancer, or enough cells die in a particular organ to topple its functioning, or we can no longer keep at bay the slew of pathogens which we encounter every day. In a way, all our bodies do all day is fight entropy. According to the second law of thermodynamics, they’re not likely to win that fight.

And the courses of our lives are highly entropic. There is so much randomness involved with who ends up where, doing what. I think it lends some credence to the nostalgic claim that at some unspecified point in the past, life was simpler. As entropy increases, life only becomes more and more complex, so of course life would have been simpler at some past time. It just stands to reason!

Entropy isn’t all about decay, however. I have often struggled with the idea of scientific determinism, the idea that the state of the universe at the big bang contains all the information needed to predict everything that has ever happened and will ever happen. In this view, there is no free will. We act in particular ways not because we choose to, but because the molecules in our brains interact according to a predetermined physical law. It’s almost scientific Calvinism. The second law of thermodynamics frees us from the trap of determinism. (It is at this point that I should note that the following is not my argument, but one I read somewhere… somewhere, of course, that I can no longer locate.) Basically, the highest amount of information is not conveyed by order, but by disorder. In a pattern, all you need to detect the next item in a sequence is the knowledge of the pattern, so new terms in the sequence convey no additional information. If items in a sequence are randomly arranged, however, then each additional item in the sequence conveys more information. In this way, with increasing entropy, or randomness in the universe, the total amount of information contained in the universe also increases. If the total amount of information is increasing, then the start point of the universe by definition cannot contain all the information needed to predict everything, and so scientific determinism cannot be true. In this way, the second law of thermodynamics rescues free will from the jaws of determinism. Thank you, entropy.

I’m not sure what’s got me thinking about thermodynamics. I write to you from within a shiny metal tube hurtling through the sky at hundreds of miles an hour, held up only by air molecules. For all that airplanes are conceptually surreal, the experience of them is hopelessly mundane. At least I got a seat in the exit row, though I’ve always wondered whether people in the exit row stand the most risk of death in a plane crash because they’re responsible for helping everyone else depart before they do. Sitting here also makes me wonder about the ethics of everyone who ever sits in an exit row. Are they all truly capable of lifting the heavy door, or are some people comfortable risking the lives of themselves and others just to get some extra leg room? Then again, need for leg room (height) is probably positively correlated with strength.

I’m happy I went to Topeka, even though my mode of transportation causes me to contemplate a grisly death. I loved seeing my aunt, and her cats, and I hope that I was in some way helpful to her. I am bringing back some catnip from her garden to give to my cats, but I can’t give them too much at one time because they’re pretty mean when under the influence of catnip. They are still at my dad’s because the furniture delivery to my mom’s was delayed a fair deal. I do not think the moving company she used was trustworthy. I hope she sends a complaint after recovering her belongings.

It is so nice to be returning to my home city. I love Chicago. It’s a sprawling, vibrant, welcoming city, especially in the summer. Plus, it has so much to do! I haven’t visited many of our museums in a while, so I hope to do that in the time I’m back. I actually came back a little early from Topeka to spend time with my dad, who got unexpected time off work. Often we don’t have much time to spend together, so I really appreciate the opportunity to see him.

All in all, I’m feeling pretty blessed… even though I know this situation will change, as all do (remember entropy!), I am enjoying the moment.

What am I going to do next summer?

I’m still connected to my old summer camp, the Center for Talented Youth, through Facebook, so I still think about it quite a bit. It was a pretty formative experience for me. At CTY I felt a sense of social comfort that I had never experienced before. It’s a haven for middle and high school students who are academically talented and pretty odd. At CTY, we made cults, read bad fan fiction out loud, and danced to the Pokémon theme song. I had my first kiss there, and my first real romantic relationship. I fit in in a way I never did in high school. The place is pretty dear to me.

Dressed as an ‘internet pirate’ for a CTY dance (the theme was pirates and… zombies? I can’t recall)

And it was always the dream to come back. Lots of CTYers want to work for CTY as college students. The most obvious position would be that of Residential Assistant, which doesn’t require teaching expertise. This morning, when my thoughts drifted to CTY, I realized that I am now a college student, and if I liked and I had the necessary prior experience, I could become an RA! However, the requirements seem daunting. I would need prior paid experience with children, and it seems like just one job wouldn’t cut it at all. It looks like being an RA is out, at least for next year, because I probably wouldn’t be qualified for the job! I didn’t even want to work for CTY so that I could come back… honestly I wanted to do the job to give back to an organization that did so much for me. I liked my high school and everything, but I would feel more compelled to donate to CTY than to donate to Latin (my high school) because I want people whose parents can’t afford the tuition to be able to experience the place I loved.

If I can’t work for CTY, what other sorts of jobs appeal to me?

Obviously, if I get a cool internship in Boston that would be good, or in Chicago, but if nothing that advances my job prospects that linearly opens up, I think I might like to work as a lifeguard. My cousin Robbie worked as a lifeguard for years, and my brother did it for a summer. I’m a pretty strong swimmer (having survived exactly one season of Latin School of Chicago girl’s high school varsity swimming), and I want to be CPR and first aid certified regardless, so it seems like a good fit. However, I would have to become certified in lifeguarding as well, which requires a little more previous planning. I don’t even know why I’m thinking about this right now, considering I haven’t even started school yet. It reminds me of an amusing exchange I had with my brother.

I was talking about something about two months away, and he said, “Is that your long-term plan?”

I said, “No, that’s my short term plan.”

He said, “Well that’s my long term!”

I said, “Two months? My long term is ten years!”

I do tend to plan ahead excessively. I suppose all of this thought about how I will spend the next summer is motivated by the fact that it’s actually the soonest thing I can visualize. My whole freshman year is a big cloud of uncertainty right now, seeing as of course I’ve never went to MIT before! I don’t know what my routines will be, what classes I will take, or how I will spend my time outside of class. I don’t even know what dorm I will live in yet!

I am pretty jealous of all of my high school classmates who know more at this juncture about who they will room with and where. I’m hoping I don’t get a roommate, because the idea of cohabitating that closely with someone whose routines don’t necessary match up to mine doesn’t exactly appeal to me. But if I do get a roommate, I’d like to be able to know who she is sooner than July 17th! Some people even coordinate their dorm room decorations over the summer with their roommates, though honestly I think I never would have gone that far.

I suppose I should give you the Topeka update, at least briefly. Yesterday I quilted in the morning. It was with a whole group and I think I had the best job, which was designing the quilts. Then Aunt Sally and I went to lunch, and then spent the whole day preparing for, and then having, dinner with the Kennedys (three family members- the dad, Tom, a retired professor; the mom, Ava, who used to work with my great-grandmother; and their adult son, Joey). Tom Kennedy’s parents were close with my great-grandparents as well. That was last night. Today, we went to a genealogy writer’s group, and then to a meeting of the historical preservation society to support one of Sally’s neighbors, who want to tear down a non-historic building on their property in order to build a victorian style garage.

Painting, Indian Food, Jurassic World, Lilliput, and a Thunderstorm

Sometimes painting comes out well, and sometimes it comes out poorly. At least when you’re me. This time, it came out poorly.


That’s my attempt at painting my mom’s cat, Duncan, along with the source image of Duncan himself. Not very good, as you can see, but it was fun to do. After that, my aunt and I went out for Indian food, which was pretty darn good. Topeka does not have as many restaurants with non-american cuisine as a college town like Evanston, so it’s hard to find good “ethnic” food, but I was really impressed by this restaurant!

After dinner, we went to Jurassic World. As one reviewer said, “death has never been so fun!” The movie itself lacks believable characters, good writing, or even a terribly plausible premise. What it does have is a T-Rex fighting a bigger T-Rex, Velociraptors that can talk to each other (yeah, right), and a lot of poor science. It’s so amusing! I mean, genuinely, the movie is really enjoyable. Jurassic World knows it isn’t a thought piece. Jurassic World knows it doesn’t need character development. Jurassic World focuses on making awesome CGI dinos fight each other and scare the shit out of the audience. Bravo, Jurassic World. You are excellently terrible, and thoroughly fun.

Sort of a topic change here. I’ve been sharing a room at my great aunt’s with Lilliput, her son’s cat. Lilli is staying over because my cousin Robbie is in Korea, so she needs looking after. Lilli is tiny. Rob and Aunt Sally caught her off the street, thinking she was a very young kitten judging by her size. However, at that point she was six months old and very feral. Lilli is very shy. As such, she stays in the room I’m staying in all day so she won’t be attacked by the other cats.

Lilliput feat. my hand

The first day I got to Aunt Sally’s, I couldn’t see Lilliput at all. She stayed completely concealed under the bed. Recently, however, she’s been warming up to me. A few nights ago she let me pet her, and the next night she let me brush her. The thing about Lilli is that if you are sitting up on the bed, she finds that too intimidating. You need to be flat on your back. Anyway, last night, after I petted her for about 20 minutes, I hooked my thumbs behind her front legs, and pulled her forward a little. If I had tried this on the first night, she would have freaked out. To my surprise, it went over really well. She sat on my chest and went right on purring and just wanted to be petted more. So that was my first big breakthrough.

Eventually, she went back to lying more on my lap area. Mind you, I was still flat on my back. I lifted both of my hands to where she could see them, fingers outstretched, and very slowly, I sat up. She didn’t take to that as well, because she stopped purring, but she stayed on my lap, and now I can move around on the bed without scaring her too badly. I just have to move very slowly.

Poor Lilli, though. She just loves to be petted, and she’s too scared to come out most of the time. I am happy to be patient with her. The mistreatment of animals is very distressing to me, which is why I am a vegetarian, I suppose. Lilli’s not mistreated or anything, but she’s at such a disadvantage because she was feral for the first sixth months of her life. Nowadays she’s very well cared for.

Spay and neuter your pets!

One final thing happened yesterday. My aunt took a fall! There was a big thunderstorm, and she was outside calling a cat to the front porch. I was inside, because I had to take cookies out of the oven and start a quiche. I didn’t hear it, but she fell, and came back bleeding pretty profusely from her right eyebrow. She knew she needed stitches, so she drove herself to the hospital, leaving me at home because I had to take the quiche out of the oven. I was very worried she had broken something, but she did not. She should recover, but she will never have a career as an eyebrow model.

Today was another pretty laid back day. We washed Robbie’s car, and then went out for Thai food with one of Aunt Sally’s friends, Jean. The Thai was pretty good. Then, we went to the mall, to Lens crafters, to pick out some new glasses for Aunt Sally. I should probably get my eyes checked…

I am having a very good time in Topeka. We’re not doing anything earth shattering, but I like hanging out with my great aunt, and all of this is very relaxing.

The Watermelon Champion

Yesterday was independence day, one of my favorite US holidays. I spent it with my great Aunt Sally, in Topeka, Kansas. There are a couple of differences between Topeka and Evanston in the celebration of the Fourth, but the most noticeable one to me was actually one of the more subtle ones. In Topeka, a lot of people set off their own fireworks. The night of the fourth, and even the night before, there were just a ton of fireworks going off late into the night. In Evanston, there’s a city fireworks show, but other than that things are pretty quiet at night. Adding to the noise were the sirens of firetrucks. You’d think that people would stop setting off fireworks when it becomes apparent that the fireworks are causing FIRES… but no, they kept right on going. When I was smaller I thought fireworks were pretty cool because I was big into rocketry, but I was still pretty afraid of the things. Here’s hoping no one was injured. On a more positive note, one similarity between Evanston and Topeka is that they both have parades. Granted, the Evanston parade lasts over an hour and the Topeka parade lasts about fifteen minutes, but the spirit is the same. I almost like the shorter one better, because I have a tendency to get bored at Evanston’s fourth of July parade when it gets past the hour mark. There are only so many interesting types of float! Anyway, Aunt Sally and I went to the parade, which goes right by her house. There were a lot of kids in the parade, and they threw out candy as they went by. The highlight of the parade for me was the antique cars. My favorite was one from 1930, pictured below.

pimp this ride!
pimp this ride!

Another impressive aspect of the Topeka parade is the Topeka high school drumline. We only got to see half of the drumline because the other half were performing at another parade, but they were really professional! They’re all high school students, but apparently they have toured throughout the country. They had some really cool effects. At one point, they even used some white powder (maybe cornstarch or flour) to create the illusion of smoke. That’s creative! After the parade, my aunt and I returned to her house to do some genealogical research. She showed me her genetic profile, which was very interesting. Then, we dove into research on my father’s line, which was kind of her because she is not related to them at all. She is my maternal grandmother’s sister. After we found some draft cards, we took a break to look at the wartime memorabilia of my great-grandfather, her father, who served in WWII. He saved so many things, like menus from Thanksgiving meals and his letter from President Roosevelt which he received after enlisting. I have been thinking a lot recently about the degree to which large geopolitical events affect the course of individuals’ lives. We like to think that everyone determines the course of his or her own destiny, but of course that isn’t wholly the case. So much is affected by luck and situation. What prompted this philosophical thought? Watching a masterpiece theatre series called Poldark, about an Englishman who comes back from the American war of independence to discover that his father  has died and their house is in shambles. Not exactly the most academic point of entry, but hey, I’ll take it. After all genealogy, Aunt Sally and I went to the Potwin picnic. My neighborhood in Evanston also has a Fourth of July picnic, so that was another similarity between the two areas. At the picnic, they had a very long winded speaker who reviewed the entirety of American history. He was clearly very well versed in his history, but it was still boring as shit. The food was really good, however. People brought a large variety of foods, many of which were vegetarian! There was even my favorite food, macaroni and cheese. Sadly, I couldn’t eat too much, because I participated in the Watermelon eating contest. I was given a three pound slice of watermelon, and allowed to eat as much as I could in sixty seconds with no hands. I ended up eating a half pound of watermelon, which left me tied with the winner from the first heat (I was in the second). Then, we had a spitting contest to determine the overall winner, and I won by a hair. The prize is pictured below:

to the victor go the spoils

I’ve been a slow eater all my life, but I actually won two pie eating contests in high school. This suggests that I can eat quickly when I want to! Today, my aunt and I are going to a painting studio. This should produce some good photos. Thanks for reading!


In addition to being one of my favorite songs by Ludo, Topeka is where I am, currently. I’ve come to visit my great Aunt Sally. I used to visit her every summer when I was younger, but I don’t think I’ve done so recently, so it is nice to spend some time together. Also, I am really looking forward to the forth of July celebrations tomorrow, because I’ve gotten sort of bored of the celebrations in Evanston (where I’m from).

I got here yesterday, after a pretty short flight. On my flight, I started the long process of studying for the multivariable calculus exam I want to take during orientation at MIT. Hopefully, if I work hard this summer, I won’t have to re-take multi, and I’ll have more time to explore my major in my freshman year. Anyway, all I did on the plane was sort my papers into things I could use, and things I couldn’t. Because I had such a large stack of paper to recycle, I was somewhat concerned that the flight attendants were lying when they said they would, in fact, recycle it. I would hate to see all that paper going to waste, and they seemed to just put it in with the trash! But I needed to get rid of it. I also finished a really good book, called How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill. My friend’s father loaned it to me. I’m glad he did, because I’ve learned so much from it! I learned not only about the Irish around the 6th century (the central focus of the book), but also about the fall of the Roman empire, and a little about the ancient greeks. The book even caused me to refresh my knowledge of greek and roman history, and clarify my understanding of that timeline! Overall, I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s a great read.

One of the best parts of visiting Aunt Sally is her cats. I love cats, so it’s nice to play with them and pet them. Right now, she has four cats that come inside, one that stays outside, and one that she is taking care of for her son, my cousin Rob, who is in Korea. She also has a dog, who stays outside most of the time. My cats are declawed and incredibly docile, so it’s fun to spend time with cats who won’t put up with as much harassment. Pictured below is Godzilla, who is so named because of her Godzilla-like temperament. She’s not very large, but I’ve never wanted to mess with Godzilla. It has always seemed like a very bad idea.

Godzilla, who looks much less fierce than she is

Today, Aunt Sally and I have run some errands and decorated the house for the Forth of July. Everyone in Potwin (her neighborhood) goes all out in decorating for the forth of July, so Aunt Sally felt she had to get with the program. She has a US flag, a Kansas flag, and a Potwin flag. We had to put hooks in the side of her house to hang the flags, because the rings in the flags did not always fit the preexisting hooks. I had to climb a ladder to hang the flags, and I also had to operate a power drill while standing on a ladder, which frightened me a little. I don’t have very good balance, so I usually avoid ladders, and heights off of which I might fall, in general. Then, I stuck a bunch of little flags in the ground around her house, sort of at the place where her yard met the sidewalk, and along the pavement walkway up to her house. The overall effect was very patriotic:

nationalism at its finest
nationalism at its finest

Also, as you can see, the houses in Potwin are just beautiful (as is Aunt Sally’s prize-winning garden). They are all painted wooden houses, and when you drive down the street with all of these differently colored but similarly styled houses, the effect is very impressive. I’ve never visited for the forth of July, but the quality of decorations around the whole neighborhood makes me really excited for the quality of the celebrations! I’m most looking forward to the parade and the potluck. I will get to meet a lot of my Aunt’s neighborhood friends, I’m sure, which will be really nice.

Overall, life is good! I am very happy to be in Kansas and start out my summer adventures, and it is really nice to see my Aunt Sally. I still have plenty of time to read and study, which is a pleasure over the summer, as opposed to more of a chore, which it can become during the high-pressure school year. Next post I’ll write about the forth of July celebrations and the painting thing to which Aunt Sally and I are going on Sunday, so stay tuned!

Day 2

Hello internet. I’m blogging today because I can’t blog tomorrow, so I’ll just write the next post the day after tomorrow. Today we had to get up early to sneak the cats down to my dad’s house. My cat was so frightened she wet her carrier, so we had to clean her up. My brother was a real grouch throughout the entire process, and managed to piss both me and my father off. Oh well. Then, I watched a few episodes of the magic school bus- can’t get enough of that science! Then, I went to the doctor’s office for my MIT physical. Now, I just need to fax that form.

You may noticed that I have an avatar- I created it myself using an online application. I wish I could say that I was emulating the MIT bloggers, who also have drawn representations, but actually I was just emulating a buzz feed article. Actually, a lot of what I do emulates buzz feed articles. I find a lot of food recipes on there… which brings me to the only interesting thing I’ve done today.

After my trip to the doctor’s office, I let myself into my mother’s house, which is very empty. What I didn’t realize was that as of yesterday, there are no pots and pans in the house! When I got home I was starving, but my choices were either to eat something cold/premade, or improvise a way to cook things on the stove. Naturally, I chose the latter.

The only real ingredients in the house right now are a selection of butter and oil, eggs, and some old bananas. That’s where the buzz feed article comes in. A while back, I learned on buzz feed that you can make pancakes of a sort out of just eggs and bananas- two eggs per banana. So I mixed up the eggs and bananas, made a little pan out of tin foil, and fried myself up some pancakes. I didn’t have a spatula, so I needed to use a fork to turn them over, but these pancakes are best made really small, so that was fine. However, I also had a hankering for some fried eggs, which was where things got a little trickier. I made a tinfoil pan again, and lightly greased it. Then, I cracked the eggs into it, set it down on the gas burner grate, and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, the outside edges of the eggs ended up burning, but the middle was still barely cooked. Fortunately, I like runny eggs, and the burnt part actually tasted like popcorn, so it wasn’t a total wash. However, I will be concerned about salmonella for a little while now.

On another note entirely, today will be the last day I will ever be in this house. My weird pancakes and burnt eggs will be the last meal I ever eat in this house. I’m sleeping at my dad’s tonight, so last night was the last time I would ever sleep here, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I’m packing up all my stuff and leaving today. That’s it.

I don’t even think I’ll remember today, though. The days you remember are the days that are important, and while I guess we sometimes ascribe importance to the last in a series, this last day in my house is just any other day in my house. Memory confuses me. Some of my memories are general. They seem to be amalgams of many similar moments, which have all combined to form a single impression. On the other hand, many of my memories are specific- a moment, a word, an image. And sometimes I can see the many little details that form a general impression, but only sometimes. Some things are just hazy.

I should stop writing now and go pack up- heaven knows I need to. I wish my brother would come home to keep me company. After we dropped the cats off, I left my brother in the apartment on his own to go to the doctors (which is walking distance from the house). Even though I’m annoyed with him, it would be nicer to have him here.

Hello world!

BEODFMIT (bee-od-fmit) That’s actually pronounce-able, so I suppose it counts as an acronym. Blog Every Other Day For MIT. That’s the goal, here. I just found out today that the MIT blogs require wanna-be admissions bloggers to submit a portfolio, in some form, to demonstrate native blogging ability. I want desperately to write for their admissions blogs (perhaps even more desperately than I wanted to be adMITted… hmm) so I’m going to try to demonstrate my love by blogging every other day.

Today is Tuesday, June 30th. My starting line.

Anyway, that’s why I have to blog, but not what I’m going to blog about. This summer, I’m traveling to Kansas and Ireland, and maybe fitting a family reunion in there too. My mom is selling the house I grew up in, and moving to CA, and my dad is moving to a new apartment in Chicago. This month, I’ve been mainly packing, but on Thursday I leave for Kansas and the big adventure starts.

Packing up the room I’ve lived in for the last 18 years was hard, but I don’t think it was hard because I was getting rid of so many things- actually, I think deciding to keep things is hard. My life has changed a lot in the last few years- my grandmother, who was my primary caretaker when I was small, passed on, and my parents divorced. So my room had a lot of reminders of the way my family used to be. It would have been easier just to toss everything that I didn’t need. After all, it’s not like all the things I saved will really be of any use- who needs all the old Valentine’s day and Easter cards? What could I possibly do with my first holy communion dress? Just throwing everything out would enable me not to think about things, and honestly it’s a lot less work. Anything you get rid of becomes someone else’s problem, whether it be the person to whom you give it away , the charity where you donate it, or simply the garbage man. But I can’t throw everything away. I can’t bring myself to it, even if there’s no point in keeping half the stuff I did.

I hate long goodbyes, and this move away from the house is the forced long goodbye, happening in pieces, awkward and unnerving. When have you really moved away? When they change the whole interior to stage it? When all of the furniture is gone? When all of your personal items have gone? When the new family moves in? Or did I move away a long time ago, when I started spending more time at school and at friends’ houses than at home? I don’t remember moving into this house: it predated me. I suppose it only makes sense that I’m not quite sure when I should bookend my history with it on the other side.

Anyway, on a lighter note, moving does present some amusing logistical challenges. Tomorrow, we need to move the cats from the old house to my dad’s, because my mom’s place in Cali will not be ready to receive them until after the new owners have already moved in to our new house. The only problem is that cats aren’t allowed at my dad’s apartment, and the building has really tight security. You can’t even come in the back and reliably avoid the doormen. So, in about 7 hours (which will be five in the morning), my brother and I will get up and drive the cats to our dad’s apartment. Our plan is to put them in cat carriers, and then about a block from the apartment (where no one can see us) put the carriers into medium size U-Haul boxes. Then, we will come in the (hopefully) un-policed back entrance, and take the cats up the freight elevator. Then, they’ll need to stay in my bedroom in his apartment for a few weeks until my mom’s place is ready, because my room doesn’t share a wall with the outer hallway, meaning hopefully they won’t be heard even if they meow.

Our backup plan is to send them to my best friend’s house, but I hope it doesn’t come to that, because our declawed, sweet cats don’t really stand a chance against their clawed, more violent kitties. Speaking of which, I’m hoping to take my little cat to MIT. I requested cat friendly dorms, but not all of them seem to have open spaces… and there’s no guarantee I’ll be placed according to my wishes (or that I’ll stay there through REX). Hopefully, though, she won’t be separated from me for too long. There’s only one thing I can say for certain: I’m jealous of the cats’ ignorant bliss about the impending changes in their lives!