Saturday, March 31, 2012

Weekend joys

Weekends were made for relaxation. They were thrown in at the end of every work week to give us some time to vegetate and not think about the oodles of responsibilities we have Monday through Friday.

My weekends are not for relaxation. They are thrown in for a couple measly days during which I would like to be wasting time with a worry-free conscience, but when I am actually forced into a feeling of eternal guilt should I not do all of my homework for the week in my 48 hours of free time.

It's for this reason that I've begun to dread the weekends.

In elementary school, teachers always made it a point to not schedule work on Friday so that weekends would be free for us to frolic and enjoy the general splendor of time off.

One of my most terrible memories is from my first year in middle school, when I was sitting in class expecting my math teacher to let us off for our first Saturday after a long and tiring week at school, and instead of writing "Have a good weekend" with a smiley face tacked onto the end, the board was filled with page and problem numbers.

You're not off the hook anymore, my mind told me.

The pain continued through high school, but it was always conquerable. Assignments were large in quantity but short in length, which is perfect for a brain like mine that has been raised on television and expects 15 minute breaks for every five minutes of work.

But getting to college taught me that I couldn't flip channels and decide to stop working. Reading assignments grew from 40 pages for English class (why did I complain about that much reading in high school?) to 150-200 pages every week spread out over three or four classes. Just the thought alone of having to sit down and read bland texts for at least a few hours each week made me sick to my stomach.

When I would hunker down with a course packet or a $50 textbook, I'd watch the minutes fly away and the amount of pages left to read shrink very slightly and very slowly.

So I started loving going to class instead.

Instead of the weekends being the excuse to think about frivolous things and focus my attention away from my responsibilities, they became the time when I was finally free to do outside work, and therefore saddled with ten times as much to do than I was during the school week.

We extend ourselves only so far when we go to class. We're focused on the lecture within the hour and 20 or hour and 50-minute time span. All the other assignments and readings that we're required to do are placed out of our conscience minds, if only for that short amount of time - and somehow it becomes more liberating than actually having time to ourselves to do the work we loathe.

This problem has become magnified because as a Film & Media Studies minor, I'm required to take many classes with screenings where I am forced (oh, so unwillingly) to watch hours of television and film instead of listening to lectures. Though the classes are longer, they feel shorter simply because they don't feel like classes at all. If I was in my room on my own I'd probably be choosing to watch a movie anyway, so having the luxury of doing so on class time is the best reward I could have after typing up copious notes on a lecture.

As a kid I would wait for the bell to ring at the end of the day just so that I could go home and enjoy the solitude and emptiness of my empty house for a few hours. Now it's safe to say I never have that luxury.

It's not that my room is full of people or I don't have solitude in my dorm. Living in a single I get all the emptiness I need. But my time is compromised to the point that I never actually feel alone. My computer has become such an extension of my person, to the point that I actually feel like I'm being watched by it at all times.

Sometimes she (I've given my laptop a gender and a name too, Soleil) says things to me like "You know you haven't transcribed that interview yet" (not really, I'm not schizophrenic).

I do know, Soleil, but why do I have to?

I wish I could call for a whole revamping of the school system so that I didn't have this problem. But in truth, it's me that's the problem and not the school. By overextending myself in work and in play, I don't give myself quite as much time as I need to not feel overwhelmed by whatever I have to do.

Try as I might to incorporate time to do nothing - and you can barely imagine how greatly I adore doing nothing - I am constantly finding ways to make myself productive or to think about making myself productive.

It has gotten so bad that at night when I am in the shower I am considering how much work I can do after I get out and before I go to sleep. Most people just take this time to dry their hair, but I'm busy making lists of all that I have left on my agenda.

This blog, sad as I am to say it, has become a lurker on my agenda. Though I don't intend on stopping any time soon (simply because I get so much satisfaction out of writing once a night), I recognize that this is just another example of how I've put so many personal expectations on myself that I can barely manage to fit in the quiet time that I crave.

Weekends have become a nuisance to me - a time where I just sit around complaining about how much work I have left to do and where I feel unfulfilled constantly. In truth, what needs some changing is me, if only in the form of someone telling me to slow down and stop adding on more jobs to my life.

But since I don't have the time to change or the person to keep me in check, I'm just going to go complain about my oodles of responsibilities. That's what this blog post is, after all.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Waiting at the window

There was a point during my schooling that my teachers actually cared about making us more worldly. Instead of lobbing names of places, dates and facts at us, we were introduced to brand new information less about memorization and recitation come test-time and more about becoming a better-informed human being.

During that brief spark of ingenuity, one of my teachers showed the class a few Edward Hopper prints.

Hotel Window by Edward Hopper
One painting of the bunch we were shown did not resonate with me much at the time. It was a terribly sad image of a woman waiting patiently and expectantly at the Hotel Window, dressed in a lavish red dress, fur-lined coat with a hat and stockings. Since the image is static, it becomes clear to the viewer that this woman will be waiting for an indeterminate period of time - for however long the painting exists, she will still sit on her perch looking through the window.

A few years down the road, I was able to put myself in this woman's place. No longer did I look at Hopper objectively as an artist we studied in elementary school. Once I found a place in myself that connected with Ms. Waiting (as I will now call her), I could never go back. Because I'm often waiting too.

Ask my friends and they'll say I'm ridiculous for arriving so early to events. I'm quick to start pounding on everyone's door asking if they're prepared to leave when we still have 30 minutes before a play starts.

I still don't know the origin of this hyperactive obsession with being on-time. So I decided to look back at my past just a little bit to try and understand if this really is just an inane problem of my late teens and early 20s, or perhaps if it has some rhyme or reason.

Let me tell you now, I never settled on any rhymes or reasons - at least as far as a solution is concerned.

Perhaps you could blame genetics. I come from a family of prompt arrivers. If my grandma is two minutes late when coming to see me, she apologizes profusely for the same length of time that she had me waiting. My dad always leaves for the airport nearly three hours early. Promptness is a neuroses that's in my blood.

And they say that the early bird catches the worm, so I've never felt at a disadvantage for always being reliably on-time. But they never said anything about waiting.

In so many ways our lives are governed by the whims of others - by their best interests and if or how those meld with our own. That's the real trouble of being someone like me - the early bird, or what have you.

Growing up in a family of early birds, I never understood the concept of running late. When I did it was because my mom was working late or had some legitimate excuse for doing so. But foreign to me was the idea that anyone could choose to be inexpedient and arrive either "just in the nick of time" or slightly late.

My first encounter with this situation came when I started going to Disneyland with my friends on a regular basis. As in love as I was with the Disneyland Resort and my own luxury of going there practically weekly, waiting on friends to go on our D-Land adventures was the most exasperating experience.

We'd plan out a grand day at the parks, expecting to wake up early and get there in time to beat out the mid-morning crowds. We'd settle on a time for pick-up and drop-off. We'd decide whose parents were doing either trip.

When it was my dad and me, we tried to arrive early or on-time as best we could. When the tables turned, I didn't feel the same was returned. Some days I felt like Ms. Waiting, sitting at the window staring out (with a cat by my side, just to mix things up a little), waiting forever for someone who I could only hope would arrive within the hour.

After a while of being prepared 15 minutes early and waiting for my friends who notoriously arrived 20-30 minutes late, I realized that I seemed to be in the minority as someone who generally arrived early for events.

It has become ever more clear at college, where I will even arrive at classes 15 minutes before the start time simply because I enjoy being early and hate the anxiety of trying to arrive some place on time on a tight schedule. My peers, on the other hand, are happy to get to class just before they might be counted as tardy or absent.

I've really never come up with a solution to this problem or a hypothesis as to why I'm so far from the norm in being so neurotic about arriving places on time.

Even with analysis of what drives this feeling in me, I arrive at only one logical reason: I've been raised this way.

As a kid, my dad would always drive me to school with about 20 minutes of waiting time factored in before I walked through the schoolhouse gates. We'd sit in the car listening to Radio Disney or reading from a book, knowing that nothing would get in the way of us making a perfectly timed entrance.

But as far as I know, most people aren't raised by a parent who is willing to sit in the car with them while they munch on a banana and talk about Molly the American Girl. It's this weird kinship with my father - and maybe also with my grandma who can be a bit German train-esque when it comes to time efficiency - that has preordained me to be a child of no leisure, but rather hurried tension.

There's really no cure, though, as far as I can tell. They say you can choose to reduce your own anxiety - to teach yourself to be calm and not worry about doing something incorrectly - in my case, arriving late somewhere. But psychoanalytical fixes have never been my strong suit.

So I will leave it at that.

If you ever have a class with me, see a show with me, travel with me or anything else with me where timeliness might ever be an issue - be prepared to be annoyed and overwhelmed by how much time is spent casually waiting for something to happen. Because in my humble opinion, being early is far superior to making others wait for you. Take a little subliminal message from Edward Hopper and don't make the woman wait at the window.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Plight of the cat lady

The day I was allergy-tested is still very clear in my mind. I remember sitting in the doctor's office with a middle-aged nurse. She had bleached blonde hair that was piled on top of her head, strands falling next to her face in wisps as if she'd just stepped out of a music video from the 1980's.

She smiled at me very tenderly as she wrapped a tight rubber band around my arm. I was already determined not to cry, though this was my first time ever having blood drawn and I didn't know what to expect. As she aided the doctor in pricking my inner elbow with the needle, she told me to squeeze my toes and concentrate on them.

It seemed like only a second had passed when she told me that it was all done. All that was left was the wait between now and the results of the allergy test. She walked away for a moment, then came back with a Band-aid for my wounded inner elbow.

A cotton swab was placed over the puncture wound, followed by the bandage. It was all topped off with a smiley face drawn on my bandage in black felt-tip marker. I felt pride as I became the master of my first experience having blood drawn. "That's so easy!" I said. "Way better than having any other shot."

The doctor gave me my test results not long after. That's when it occurred to me that the shot itself wasn't really the worst thing I'd have to experience at that office.

"You're allergic to cat and dog pet dander, grasses and dust mites."

I still remember the order in which these were mentioned because after I walked away from that office, I would be forever required to list them on school administrative papers and doctor's new patient forms. Pet Dander. Grasses. Dust mites.

Up until this point, I must have always brushed off my constant runny nose. Maybe I assumed it was a natural part of life - that everyone with a cat suffered some nights from the inability to breathe through their nose. That it wasn't unusual to breathe through your mouth as you slept and wheeze during the day.

Marie, my baby kitty.
I bought my cat, Marie, when I was five years old. My mom and I would often eat out at a mall near my private school in Los Angeles, and one evening we decided to pick up a cat on our way out. No big deal.

We ended up with a little calico named Marie. To this day whenever I introduce her to new people I always explain that her name is not simply a vain reuse of my own middle name, but also an homage to the youngest kitten from The Aristocats.

I loved Marie, and the feeling was mutual...except when it wasn't. Sometimes I got so frustrated when I was little and couldn't smell or inhale that I would push her away from me - even though at the time I didn't know she was causing my ailment. I became an angry owner and she became an angry cat by extension. I still loved her, though, and at times we had an affectionate relationship.

When I finally discovered that it was in fact Marie who was the bane of my nasal existence, we were informed it might be in our best interest not to have a cat. But we kept her.

And I learned to cope.

My whole life since then has been a series of episodes of coping. I could no longer pretend that I wasn't aware of what was causing me to feel physically ill whenever I got home. So I just learned to deal with it.

Mozart, my cat brother.
At 11 years old, I moved in with my dad full-time. We brought Marie over to round out the happy cat family picture, leaving us with a grand total of four cats and one dog. I couldn't be happier. I also couldn't be sicker.

Every moment that I am home is a struggle between what I love and what I have to do for myself. I've always adored my cats and wanted to spend time with the two of them (the others passed away over the years), but I've been kept from providing any sort of affection to them because my health simply won't allow it.

While allergies to grass (supposedly, though I've never felt that I'm actually allergic to nature) and dust are hassles as well, it becomes an incredible loss to know that one of your best companions is also a deeply-rooted enemy.

For years I've struggled with wanting to be close to my cats, secretly hoping I might eventually bring new pets into my life, but logic has always stood in the way.

People don't realize what a luxury it is to be close to their animals - to get to have a dog sleep at their bedside or to sit with a cat on their lap as they watch TV - unless they're as pitiful as I am. It seems like such a simple piece of happiness. But for me it's this monumental hardship.

Maybe one day I'll get allergy shots or find some perfect cure for my inability to be near my pets without sneezing. But until then, I've managed to get by with my sheer, undying love for them, despite my inability to touch them.

It's like one of my favorite shows, Pushing Daisies, in which the main character (Ned) can bring things back to life - including his dog, Digby - but can never touch them again without killing them instantly. He ends up creating a wooden hand mechanism to pet Digby. Okay, maybe it's not like that.

But like Ned, I feel very strongly for my pets, but I can never show them that affection through my own physical actions.

Still, I like to think of myself as a happy teenaged cat lady. Now with only two cats - two of the best cats in the world - I still live a life at home fully taken over by water and milk bowls, cat food dishes and dry food containers. But I wouldn't exchange them for anything.

Even an allergy-less existence.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Disney Sing-Alongs: Heroine Edition

Right now I'm under the impression that I will never have time to do anything I want ever again. I have a plethora of reading assignments to complete, a ton of homework I keep forgetting I have to do, a bunch of movies to watch by next week and all these extra things that I didn't even realize I had to do that must be finished very very soon.

It's come to the point that I can barely keep my head on straight. I wake up in the morning thinking about how much work I have to do and I go to bed thinking about it just as much. So to help myself along a little bit, I'm going to start a new trend in my blogging that will hopefully not become a regular occurrence.

Instead of writing a typical and lengthy blog post (I've already done two paragraphs and I'm working on a third, so I'm not being absolutely terrible), I'm going to take up space with some of my favorite Disney music shared via YouTube.

Whenever you see a post that seems to be very video heavy and not so text heavy (okay, still pretty text heavy - I can't control myself), assume that it's because I am under tremendous pressure and if pressured into writing a text-only blog post, I may actually fall apart from anxiety.

For this week's Disney video theme, I will be sharing with you my favorite heroine songs. Heroine with an "e," as in the music from the awesome females that make up Disney's greatest animated films.

I will try to provide a bit of commentary so that I don't grow too complacent, but bear in mind that I am also slightly distracted by how much work outside of The Songs of Spring that I have to do. Tonight will be fun.

And now to the songs:

"I Won't Say I'm in Love" from Hercules

I've always loved the mid-90's heroines of Disney animated film. They took on a new feminist role that emphasized the state of conflict that a lot of women are faced with when they feel they are subordinate to men and want to break through those shackles, whilst they are also feeling strong romantic feelings for a man whom they worry might hurt them. Megara is the ultimate feminist symbol in Disney film. She has been hurt, she is cynical, she is strong even if she seems physically weak. And she won't let anyone in because she fears letting her feminine frailties get in the way of her self-empowerment. I love Meg for her strength and her weaknesses. And I love this song.

"God Help the Outcasts" from The Hunchback of Notre Dame

I was three years old when The Hunchback of Notre Dame was released in theaters. And once I saw the film, I was convinced it was made for me. I was a little kid with tan skin and a messy matted mane of raven black hair. Being surrounded by images of pale blonde beauty, I was so proud to have someone to feasibly aspire to look like and admire in Esmeralda. I may not have lovely eyes of greenish-blue, yet I thought of her as an model of ethnic beauty as well as powerful female strength. She was such a great, emotional, introspective character. A great role model as far as Disney heroines go.

"Just Around the Riverbend" from Pocahontas

Though I never identified with Pocahontas personally, I always enjoyed the movie and the music for its very nature-centric imagery and beautiful melodies. "Just Around the Riverbend" is the kind of song that you can't help but want to hear again once you've heard it once. As everyone knows (we've all seen Pocahontas, right?), the song is Pocahontas' outlet for her misgivings about having to settle on a marriage to Kocoum. It's the kind of song that can inspire you to feel tremendously hopeful and sad at the same time. So beautiful. So worth multiple listens.

"When Will My Life Begin?" from Tangled

When I first heard "When Will My Life Begin?," I thought I'd found some defective version of the song. It ends in an inconclusive way, making it seem like there is a chorus or a verse coming up to fill the gap in your soul that Mandy Moore's trailing voice leaves you with. It's the perfect example of how music can really tell an emotional story, this time about a young girl who is dreaming and who has to wipe those dreams away much like the song fades, to be re-had once she is in the privacy of her own solitude. Rapunzel is a very interesting character who, even with a peppy song like "When Will My Life Begin?," expresses a really fascinating message about hopefulness.

"Almost There" from The Princess and the Frog

There's a line from another song in The Princess and the Frog called "Dig a Little Deeper" that is one of the best quotes of any song I've ever heard. Mama Odie sings, "You your daddy's daughter, what he had in him you got in you." In "Almost There," our main character Tiana makes a similar claim for herself when she plans out her rise to notoriety as the proprietor of the best restaurant in New Orleans. It's such an uplifting song, not only through its melody and lyrics, but also through the message it sends to young girls that (alert for triteness) once you set your mind to something, you can achieve it.

"Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid

Finally, we come upon one of my favorite childhood animated films that coincided with my love of Hercules and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but also probably preceded it by a few years. The Little Mermaid was the 1989 return of Disney Animation that ushered in a golden age with a beautiful melody sung by a red-haired heroine with giant blue eyes. In my opinion, "Part of Your World" marked the beginning of a new era not only in Disney Animation, but in Disney music and in the Disney message. Disney's The Little Mermaid is, after all, not just a story about a girl who goes from having fins to legs, but rather about her journey of heartbreak, self-discovery and eventually happiness.

I realize that the heroines' songs are some of the most famous in all of the collective Disney songbook, but to start off this new series of "I'm-so-busy-that-I-can't-think-of-what-to-write" blog posts, I thought I'd take a simple route. In the future you may see some more creative, revolutionary categories of Disney Sing-Alongs.

Hopefully this is an opportunity for you to, despite my laziness, enjoy a really beautiful few minutes of listening to classic Disney music that you may have forgotten over the years. For me, listening and watching these films and these songs is one of the greatest joys and most uplifting experiences of life. Maybe you can find that same happiness too.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hello, Reporter's Notebook, my old friend

My dear, loyal friend.
It's been such a long time since I've seen you, my dear spiraled Reporter's Notebook.

We parted ways at the end of the winter quarter of my freshman year, over one year ago now. When I was done writing enterprise stories for my Multimedia Storytelling journalism course, I knew I wanted nothing to do with you for a long time. It was stress that you brought me, not comfort or reassurance. Certainly not happiness.

In fact, I did anything in my power to pretend that you never were the haunting notebook that reminded me of how much work and how much interviewing and reporting I had left to do. I wrote notes to myself on your pages. I kept you in my purse, but only to pull out should I have a surge of inspiration, hear a wonderful quote or feel like writing down a secret nickname to share between friends.

The one thing I would never use you for was to take notes on interviews. After all, why would I ever want to do such a thing? Oh yeah, because I'm a journalism student.

I admit, I still came crawling back every once in a while.

A few times in the interim, I decided to produce a story that required me to have a reporter's notebook. To take notes on an event or to interview and write down my pre-meditated questions. Whenever I needed you, you were faithful to me, ready to be transferred to any bag or purse that I see fit, with your papers ravaged with illegible scribbles. And I thank you.

So I'm sorry that I abandoned you for such a long time, only providing you with occasional human contact whenever it was most convenient for me. You deserved better.

Which is why I am sure you were ecstatic when I opened you up this morning, threw you into my tote bag along with my laptop and my Disney Princess pencil case, to take you on a long trip into a suburb of Chicago where you would finally see the light of day once more. Instead of covering you with my hand while I wrote down whatever thoughts came to mind, I was letting you shine as the beacon of information gathering that you are.

Truly, I couldn't be happier to see you be put to your proper, God-given purpose once again.

And faithful to me, you remained.

When I picked you up today, I could tell that you were ready to provide me with the comfort of having a place to jot down the information I needed just as you had a year ago. Even if a voice recorder may be more efficient, the fact that you were there standing at the ready, needless of a battery charge, proved to me that you were once and for all the superior of all note-taking instruments. If your name didn't imply this already, then I might have been surprised, dear Notebook.

Still, I think you must have been happy when I chose to write in alternative voices between last and this year. Didn't you enjoy me flipping your pages not because I'd filled them up with quotes upon quotes, but because I had my own thoughts to throw in them? Maybe you even preferred to read my thoughts.

Today you reminded me that you can serve multiple purposes. Not only are you the friend with whom I can write down my most personal and random of musings, but you are the companion who always keeps me prepared to produce a great final writing product.

I've spent so much time feeling like I'd rather coop myself up in a room and write about my own thoughts than to learn about others' opinions and experiences and share those. But because you serve both of these purposes, you've given me new license to see these two paths in life as one in the same rather than mutually exclusive.

The act of writing, Reporter's Notebook, is something that not only puts our own individual personalities into a permanent form, but it allows us to connect with people in a similar way. Like we divulge our own secrets into our diaries, interviews allow us to peer into the minds of our subjects and let them divulge their own secrets from our pen onto your pages.

Though I've never felt quite comfortable in an interview-heavy setting, you gave me the confidence today - with your subliminal reminders and your literal physical presence - to explore the world as a reporter and not as a shy college sophomore.

For the rest of this quarter, and the rest of my life, I hope that the confidence that you gave me today will persist. It is such a wonderful feeling to do what you thought you couldn't, to be a journalist when you worry that your own social awkwardness might prevent you from ever adequately interacting with others. You alone, Reporter's Notebook, had the power to re-instill that wonderful feeling in me. And wipe away the fears too.

So again I just have to offer my thanks for your versatility and your loyalty. I can't wait to see what else you can do.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Le Subjonctif

Sometimes I find myself wishing that I could spend time with my college friends in a non-college setting. Unlike my friends at home, I always seem to be hanging out with all of the great people I know here with a little bit of my mind distracted by the thought of how much work I'm putting off. Simply by enjoying their company, I'm also destroying my own study time. It's a win-lose situation that is always bugging me.

This became especially relevant today as I had a Long Serious Talk with my friend Dana and then with my friend Denise about how fleeting our time at college is and how soon enough we'll be hoisted out into the real world, possibly without the assurance of jobs or a place to live or money. Oh goodness, money.

I've spent much of my time at college trying to avoid reminding myself that once I graduate I won't have the security of the future being the future. While I sit here in my dorm room, everything is all in le subjonctif (to be arrogant and French). That is to say that the condition of our lives is in flux, it is uncertain. I don't have to worry so much because final decisions are still a while away.

But in reality I'm already about halfway through my college experience - even more if I consider that I might be graduating early and leaving even earlier to go on my journalism residency. My time is limited and I'm already counting the weeks, the days, the hours. And it's not a pleasant countdown.

No matter what complaining I do about the sheer amount of work I have required of me here at school, I'm not even considering the great work that will have to be done once I leave school. Instead of getting up at 10 am, having a leisurely breakfast and going to class at noon, I will be waking up at 7 am and taking public transportation to work by 8 or 9 am. And that's if I even have work. Or money for the public transportation toll.

Right now all I have to complain about is the fact that when I'm hanging out with friends my mind is constantly elsewhere. I'm extended in so many ways. Yet I forget that I also have the comfort of pretty low expectations for myself.

All that I'm truly required to do is to get decent grades and uphold my responsibilities. There's no apartment rent that I have to keep up with, no grocery bill I have to pay, no house to keep clean, no dinner to cook. Most of what I have going on is figured out for me.

Is the problem that I'm just not grateful?

No, I don't think so.

Before the last few weeks, my real problem was that I didn't have enough foresight to think about the future in realistic terms. Because it all seemed like a far off fantasy to me, I didn't worry about the inevitable worries that accompany graduation.

Instead I didn't put things in perspective and I continually complained about the little things that hound me now.

I did the same thing back in middle school and high school. When I came home from class every day, the goal was always to get through assignments and homework quickly and efficiently. It was all towards a higher goal. No matter the stress, I would make it to college.

As the years went on, my conviction stuck, even increased. But if it did grow, then it did so in conjunction with my personal distress. I became so overloaded with work and stress that I became a homework-doing, reading-skipping machine. I organized my time around naps to prevent tension from building up, and any other time I spent reading 40 pages of Charles Dickens or ten pages (I couldn't go further than that) of my Biology textbook. But I was just inches away from losing my sanity.

In college I face a similar dilemma. With the constant terror of looming quizzes and tests and papers and reading assignments hovering overhead, I can't get rid of my own dissatisfaction with life, even in my own current, privileged station.

I forget that in the future, I won't have the comfort of less than 20 hours of class a week. Once I enter the job market, I will still have homework assignments in the form of articles to write. I will still have the responsibility to go to bed at a reasonable hour to be up and ready to go early in the morning. All of these trials will still be in place, but one luxury - the luxury of being hopeful and ambitious - will slowly fade away.

It makes me think to myself that for once in my life, I have absolutely no right to complain. Even when things don't go my way, I have such a wonderful life in college that I should never take a moment of it for granted.

I'm starting a new quarter today, both in school and in life. At university, I am beginning new classes with all new problems to face and obstacles to overcome. In my own personal matters, I am turning over a new leaf - one that survives on the notion that things now are truly better than they have ever been and ever will be. Even if there are improvements in the future, thinking in optimistic terms of the present is the only way to find real life happiness.

I am so lucky to be who, where and when I am. Even if the subjonctif is gone, at least I have le présent de l'indicatif (the present tense). That's enough for now, even if I may not know what l'avenir (the future) holds.

My Larry Davidian Adventure

Larry David. Photo via HBO.
I'm in my room, and all of my friends are downstairs watching Curb Your Enthusiasm to celebrate our return to college for spring quarter. It's funny, the idea of celebrating the beginning of a new period of stress and intellectual turmoil. Starting a new quarter at school is as daunting as it exciting. We start new classes with high expectations, but also a lot of hesitation.

So I guess it makes sense that, of all the choices of things to watch, they've selected Curb Your Enthusiasm. The show is constantly hilarious and outrageous and incredible (providing high expectations), but it's characters - or perhaps character is a better term, referring to the amazing Larry David - can also be so terrifically awful and at times irritating (causing hesitation).

I would like to be down there, watching the show with them. But instead I'm taking a bit of time to myself to relax and reflect. To think about my own life and how perhaps I spend a bit too much of it in my own personal Curb Your Enthusiasm world.

For those who don't know the show, Larry is a bit of a (lovable) egotistical complainer. The character is based off the real life person who portrays him, Larry David, who co-created the series Seinfeld and who based the character of George Costanza after himself. He seems to find fault with everything, to put himself into terrible situations even when they could be avoided and to alienate people through his inability to filter his own internal monologue of jokes and quips.

This spring break I spent quite a bit of my time catching up on the last eight seasons of Curb. Prior to this year I'd seen less than a dozen episodes, occasionally deigning to watch one should it show up on TV, or should my friend Dana or my dad suggest we pop in one of the DVDs. But I never watched it actively.

Now that I have sat down and watched at least two dozen more episodes, I'm sad that it took me so long to get into this show that is entirely a reflection of the neuroses that often characterize my own existence. Larry is so real, so dumb at times, that I just can't help but feel a kinship with him. And this became especially evident to me today when I experienced my own Larry Davidian adventure.

When I got to the airport, I went through the security line as quickly as I could. It is my usual routine to wear easily removed shoes and have my laptop, liquids and other items beginning with "L" readily accessible so that I can breeze through the process seamlessly despite my bag being 5,000 pounds heavier than it's supposed to be.

Usually my vigilance works. Today it did not. I went through the checkpoint as nonchalantly as possible, feigning innocence if anyone should ask me whether or not my just-within-regulation-size bag had been weighed at the check-in counter. But instead of letting me through like a nice TSA, they had to go and find the one metal object in my bag and assume I was carrying some dangerous weapon.

"Did you bring a can opener?"

I had no idea what they were talking about. After putting my bag through the x-ray machine once more and finally deciding to do a manual check during which they removed my dorm room keys (Really? A can opener?), I was sent on my merry way. Through it all I somehow managed to keep my inner-Larry in check. No complaints. Just pleasantries and "thank yous" for allowing my enormous luggage through security and only suspecting me of trying to bring a lethal can opener onto the plane.

At the gate I was met with another trial of Larry David-ness when an older woman sat in the seat next to me talking to her friend about how wonderful her daughter was. "She was sent a letter from the University of Chicago because of her wonderful PSAT scores." I wanted to butt in. "I got a letter from Harvard because of my PSAT scores. They ended up rejecting me. Good luck to your daughter." Instead, I kept my inner-Larry from surfacing.

And unlike Mr. David who seems to face increasingly terrible problems due to his own inability to let bygones be bygones, I found myself reaping the benefits of keeping my cool.

Karma would have it that once I got on the plane, I would have a seat in the second row of the cabin with 20 feet of leg room (mild exaggeration) and about 30 TV channels (not an exaggeration). Granted, I'd paid for the better seat. But I like to think that it was some sort of cosmic thank-you for not blowing up in the face of Curb Your Enthusiasm-esque trauma.

About 30 minutes later, as they were closing the cockpit door, I realized that I had yet another gift from the Curb Gods. I had no one sitting next to me. For the remainder of the flight, I got to stretch out even more, leaving my bag sitting on the seat next to me and using both of my arm rests.

Though, when I arrived, I was faced with another Curb-y situation as my plane began taxiing just ten minutes before my bus left (leaving me to wait for an extra hour for the next bus to arrive), I left my flight feeling thankful that for once I had been rewarded for not being Larry.

Much of the time, especially with my dad who tends to complain a lot about little things like waiting in line, driving slowly, standing on an escalator or other inane things, I feel like my own patience for stupid situations leaves me in need of a catharsis.

Without complaining about the little things, I build up negative emotions about life - how "nothing ever goes my way" as they say - which makes things worse. But today was a reminder that by thinking about those times when your patience was rewarded - however inexplicably - by a happier circumstance, it is possible to feel better and not end up falling into the Larry David hole.

Much as I love Curb Your Enthusiasm on my television, I don't want it to seep into my life. Instead, I'd like to think I can keep myself from being so dissatisfied with the world that I end up complaining about it and putting myself into worse situations. In an ideal world, I'm more of a pacifist and a compromiser.

I start a new quarter tomorrow, and instead of going in with the high expectations (ready to be dashed) and the hesitation (expecting to be met), I'm going to start it off right: feeling like I am strong enough to will things to go my way.

Even if it's based on real life, what's good on television isn't always right for reality. As funny as my life might be as an episode of Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm, I'm happier with a less outrageous form of existence.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Before you know it...

I've been pretending for the past few days that I'm not going back to school. I've left my bag unpacked and my room relatively uncleaned, subconsciously believing that I would not have to go if I could put on this charade of staying in California forever.

It's one of the worst feelings to have to prepare to go back to a ton of work. I've spent so much of my life avoiding it, after all. When I was in elementary school, if I had even the faintest stomach ache, I used to go to the office complaining that I was irreparably ill. The only comfort that could ever fix such terrible sickness would be the warmth and laziness of home. That's not exactly how I put it to the nurse, but I managed to make such convincing arguments that I was sent home nearly every time.

So my dad would pick me up from school a few hours early. I planned it so strategically that I would always be home by lunch, the perfect time to have my dad cook me up a pot of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

This went on for a couple of years.

After each "sick day," I would go back to school feeling happy and healthy (disregarding my disgusting and processed food choices), with relatively little make-up work to do. But going back to school now is a different matter. It's not that after this break I will have a ton of catch-up work to do. Instead I will have be starting over from scratch with an all new set of inescapable assignments to encounter.

I don't want that. Who would want that?

Sometimes, when I'm not in my right mind, I wonder why I even chose to go to college. If I could have finished it all up with my senior year of high school and gone on to work at some fast food restaurant or retail store, why would I want to subject myself to the same stress that I had for 12 years of my life prior to this? It seems illogical.

This thought always seems to come to mind at the end of breaks. After a week or two of not doing work, of lounging around in my pajamas and baking cookies, I can't even fathom how I handled three months of work and work and more work.

That's where I stand now.

At the dawn of a new quarter, all I can think of is "how the heck am I going to do it this time?" Then I remember how many times I've stunned myself in the past - starting off on a pessimistic note and ending up feeling pretty satisfied with how I handled my time at school. It's been this way as long as I can remember.

It's really scary to stand at the precipice and look down at what the next few months will hold. Some people face their fears and inhibitions head on, but I've always been one to cower back in the face of unwelcome circumstances. So it amazes me that I've gotten this far as a successful college student.

But somehow my system works. I've always finished my work, gotten reliably good grades, never faltered under pressure. And for the first time while writing this blog, I really have no explanation for it. Sometimes things just fall into place and make sense. Over-analyzing might actually make them less clear. I should just accept that the reason I have continued this far in my education is because I'm pretty okay at doing work, and my motivation for doing so is that I'm talented enough to succeed in it.

Yet, I'm still very sad to see my time at home come to a close - to watch my days, which I'd promised to dedicate to bettering myself (i.e. watching movies and eating baked goods), dwindle down to a measly several hours. 

If I were feeling particularly distraught, I might say the following:

Before I knew it, my spring break was ending. Two weeks passed in the blink of an eye (as they say) and I wish I could just keep my eyes open Clockwork Orange-style to prevent this from ever happening again.

Instead, though, I'm going to leave my spring break with a positive message:

Sad as it is to watch the simple and pleasant times of our lives be exchanged for difficult and effort-filled times, we should always keep in mind that no matter how weak we feel, we can conquer anything. It's not just an aphorism. If you try to prove it, you'll probably find yourself successful.

As will I this quarter in college.

So come at me, spring quarter. I'm ready. Somehow, some way things will work out just fine.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The early morning zip

Tonight, I'm going to go to sleep. Tonight, I'm going to go to sleep early.

When I was in high school I had this tendency to take post-dinner, pre-homework naps. I would finish off my meal pretty late in the evening after doing a portion of my homework, watch a bit of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and fall asleep. A peaceful end to the day, no?

Not at all.

A few hours into my sleep, I'd wake up feeling flustered and angry, annoyed that I still had work to do and even more tired than I was when I first sat back to watch Comedy Central. There was still so much to do, and I would have to do it after a couple hours of napping and with only a few more hours leftover in my evening.

To this day I struggle with the question of whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous naps, or to take arms against a sea of work and by opposing end them, permitting me to sleep. Despite the To Be or Not to Be rhetoric, this isn't a hard question to answer at all. Mortality may be difficult to face, but our nightly sleep is not something we should trouble ourselves about.

Which is why I came up with a solution. But not until some time had passed during which I practically ruined myself trying to stay up into the wee hours of the morning to do work.

Once I arrived in college, I tried really hard to break the habit of sleeping in between meals and homework. The lethargic pleasure of having finished a meal made this endeavor even more difficult. I would often do frivolous activities like watching a movie or surfing the internet prior to doing homework, only further encouraging myself to fall into an overfed stupor, where carbs turn directly into a crash rather than from energy into a crash.

I combated the problem for a while by getting my homework done earlier in the day. But as my extracurriculars grew more prevalent, my homework more voluminous, my willingness to do anything productive more strained, I had to find another alternative.

So what else is there besides doing your homework far in advance and doing it when you're half asleep?

I discovered the early morning zip.

The term "early morning zip" is a phrase I coined two seconds ago which refers to those few hours in the early to mid-morning that are more productive than any other span of time in any 24-hour period. Roughly from 7 am - 11 am, if I manage to wake up and devote myself to work for this four hour space in time, I can get about as much done as I would staying up an entire night.

And it's due to one very important factor: wakefulness.

I've always been a midday nap kind of kid. When I've driven back with my family from trips to Las Vegas or to San Francisco, I was always the loser who called shotgun but never kept the driver company. Instead, I would fall asleep about half way through the trip and then wake up as we were nearing home. The only sound in the car was my heavy sleepy breathing (I used to wheeze as a child, how lovely) competing with the radio. In the battle with FM and AM, I was always the victor.

This is why doing homework in the afternoon has never worked for me. Even in tenth grade when I took Chemistry after lunch, try as I might to remain coherent I would fall asleep half way through every lecture. Much to my own disadvantage, I always chose to sat in the center of the classroom. Luckily my teacher still liked me despite my apparent drowsiness.

Nighttime, as well, has never been a good time for me to perform productive tasks. As a child, my entire personality would change once 9 pm struck. I was no longer happy and peppy. No matter what the day was like, by early evening I was acting like everyone in the world was my enemy. Crankiness did not begin to cover it.

And I still have a problem with feeling both extra loopy and extra displeased in the evening when I know I'm not going to have the luxury of going to sleep at my leisure.

In sophomore year of college (this year), I decided to take the natural approach following these two guidelines. Step one of the approach suggested that I should not do homework in the afternoons (particularly after classes) when I am feeling more nap-friendly than staring-at-a-paper-friendly. Step two kept me from staying up late to complete homework due to my tendency to become an evil sleep-deprived monster come 9 pm (maybe it's more like midnight nowadays).

Credit: Denise Lu, Photoshop Extraordinaire
Thus, the early morning zip was born. The happy compromise came to me one day when I woke up for morning cartoons and realized how absolutely awake and productive I felt. It was 7:15 am and I set my alarm assuming I'd turn it off and reset it for 8:30. But, defying expectations, I forced myself to awaken and drag myself to the bathroom to splash cold water on my face.

And alas, there in front of the communal bathroom mirror stood a girl who was no longer subject to the seductive comfort of her warm extra long twin bed. This girl was awake and ready to do anything from watching The Magic School Bus to writing a ten-page paper on the economic status and policies of the United Kingdom.

In time, I learned that what might be four hours of work after lunch could turn into a two-hour project in the morning. Somehow, I became Wonder Woman at sunrise, whereas at night I reverted back to being the terrible complaining damsel in distress.

We should all be so lucky to find a portion of our lives during which we can devote our attention to the tasks at hand without making ourselves go crazy. I've heard of and known so many people who stretch themselves thin at the worst times, leaving them feeling like zombies the next morning.

Last year in my dorm suite I remember walking out into the hallway to use the restroom at around midnight. I saw a girl working on her laptop, staring intently at the dimly lit screen.

At 7 am I woke up to start my day and walked into the hallway again. She was still out in the suite, still staring at her screen, still presumably working on some journalism flash or Photoshop project. I couldn't help but pity her for never finding the morning strength that I have found.

I hated the feeling of being tired while I worked. I hated the feeling of being cranky while I studied. So I found a compromise. And though waking up early sometimes feels worse than poking yourself repeatedly in the eye (and sometimes it feels awfully similar, e.g. when I'm putting in my contacts), it's a better feeling once you're awake to be refreshed and finishing off important work, than putting it off until late in the evening when you're more interested in bed than in good grades.

The moral of the story is that morning is superior to all. The end.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Expectations v. Reality

I'm back from a full day at Disneyland and I'm tired. Because I am tired, I am not going to come up with very meaningful or interesting thoughts. But I'd like to share with you quite quickly how sometimes reality doesn't meet expectations at all. And how sometimes that can be a good thing.

I think I over-watched the "Expectations vs. Reality" scene from (500) Days of Summer where Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) goes to Summer's (Zooey Deschanel) party to find out she's engaged when he had thought it would be an opportunity to have another chance with her. Since then I've always gone into new situations assuming the worst will occur. And no matter how many times I'm reminded that pessimism isn't always a purveyor of truth, seldom do I believe what's right in front of me.

So when I got up and readied myself to make some new acquaintances on my way to Disneyland for the morning, afternoon and evening - I expected all but happiness. I guess subconsciously I wanted to be sure I wouldn't be disappointed. I did this by getting myself in a negative mindset early. If I didn't have the expectations, then maybe the frames would be flipped.

And leave it to my logic to actually come through for once because I had an absolutely lovely time.

It wasn't exactly that I went in thinking that the people I would meet would be horrible or that I wouldn't enjoy their company. But often, when I am meeting new people who have known each other for a very long time, I feel left out of conversations and am overall alienated from the group. It's made me absolutely cling to the groups of friends that I have already established - weary to allow newcomers in and even more weary to try and meet new people.

But today reminded me that it can be really beneficial to take the plunge and meet new people. Because even if you can't anticipate how you will interact with them, if you go in with an open mind you might actually come out having had a good time.

And maybe the negative preconceptions were a part of that. As bad as it can be to visualize the worst - because it might lower your self-esteem or make you bitter prematurely - it can also be a way to convince yourself that nothing could ever compare to your own Murphy's Law pessimism.

When you run negative images over and over in your head, you start to realize how sensationalized they are. As a result, you start to debunk them in your mind. In my case, I found them unravel even more once I encountered the situation in real life.

A lot of psychologists say to boost confidence you need to develop your own line of confidence, maybe even create a mantra that keeps you feeling positive about life and your choices. But I've never been able to fool myself with that junk.

Being a logical (difficult to convince and difficult to reason with) person, I've always had trouble with the positive reinforcement and heavy breathing exercise methodology. Instead, I've felt myself improving due to feeling less at ease in the beginning, while seeing a growth in confidence as the experience goes on.

When I audition for performing groups or interview with potential employers, I've always liked to do the least intimidating and least influential things first. Because I know that my nervousness and lack of comfort tends to waiver with practice, I enjoy those later experiences once I've gathered up enough confidence that I can function normally in a pressured setting.

Today, I went in to meeting my best friend Diana's friends Nick and Brenna, while reacquainting myself with her friend Marissa (notice how I just threw everyone's name in there - no anonymous mentions for ya'll). I didn't work myself up over it too much prior to getting in the car and really starting to get to know them. But I would be lying if I said I went in feeling totally normal.

Instead, I decided to start with hesitation. I began with limited confidence, an escape plan by early evening should I feel trapped and a fully-charged phone in case I needed a refuge. If they had been inaccessible, unfriendly individuals, perhaps some or all of these preparations would have come into play. But in the end none of them did. I felt comfortable and happy - and willing to spend an entire day with people I'd even call friends.

It really hurts to go into a situation expecting you're going to get every wish you could ever desire out of it and then finding yourself completely in the wrong. When you have fanciful expectations for something out of your control, most of the time you're gearing yourself up for disappointment.

But when you go in weary - psychologically damaging as that may sound - you more than often come out a winner. Even disappointment minimizes itself in the face of lowered expectations.

While that doesn't mean you should meet new people and automatically put up a front, assuming that you will never find a good rapport with them, it does mean that when you meet people you shouldn't automatically expect them to accept you. If you're lucky enough to be placed in the right situation, everything will work itself out. And if not...well at least you didn't think much of it to begin with.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Disneyland (Pt. III): My feet are killing me

In case I don't get a chance to write tomorrow, I want to warn you now. And I want to write a post that works for tomorrow as much as it works for today: Disneyland, Pt. III.

You saw another addition to the series coming. And I fulfilled your expectations. You're welcome.

Tomorrow I will be going to Disneyland with my friend Diana and a few of her buddies from college who have come down to southern California to visit her and the Happiest Place on Earth. Since I have never met them before, this will be an adventure for many reasons.

One, I'll have to learn a few new names (and I'm the worst with names). Two, I'll have to go on whatever rides that my new acquaintances want to go on because they are infrequent visitors to the park (unlike myself). Three, I'll be spending a whole day at Disneyland - which is a terror in itself.

Disneyland for a few hours can be exhausting, simply because it is a big outdoor venue where a lot of walking is involved. But Disneyland for a whole day is absolutely insane. It takes a lot of stamina and preparation. Here are my personal tips (which I'm reminding myself of tonight) for getting through a full day at Disneyland:

1. Research and prepare.

A day at Disneyland is not like a morning or an evening at Disneyland - which is what I'm most used to. A day involves starting off at one point (morning) and ending at a completely different point (evening) with a little bit of awful thrown in half-way through (afternoon).

When you are getting ready to spend more than a few hours at the parks with only a bag on your shoulder and a few dollars in your pockets, be sure to know what your situation will be ahead of time. For one, are you bringing food with you? I can't count how many times I've not thought this one out and then ended up eating two full-sized meals while my friends snacked on Cheez-Its and peanut butter sandwiches. It makes me want to apologize profusely to my wallet.

Along the research and prepare route is the weather check. Is it going to be raining? Wear boots and a coat. Is it going to be windy? Wear boots and a coat. Is it going to be sunny? Wear boots and a coat if you're an idiot (on that note, many SoCal residents choose to wear Uggs in 80 degree weather - this confounds me).

Pack all the necessities in your bag - and be sure to charge everything the day before. Inevitably, your phone will die right before you need to call home to have someone pick you up. Your only hope is to charge it and pray for the best.

Voila! Poncho people. Poncho people everywhere.
2. Dress appropriately.

I mentioned it before. Boots and coats, right? No.

When I go to Disneyland, unless it is pouring rain outside and I know I will be encountering hoards of "Poncho People," I try to stick with the tried and true perfect outfit:

A dress and comfortable flats.

This outfit is fool-proof for someone like me. While it is obviously not gender neutral and a lot of people don't like wearing skirts at all, it really is the perfect outfit for a day at Disneyland during which you may encounter: heat that causes you to be so sweaty that your jeans stick to your butt and legs, intermittent rain that is so heavy that it keeps your pants wet and grungy for the rest of the day, or wind that makes you feel like Marilyn Monroe in her white dress.

Imagine all of these scenarios with a skirt on. Infinitely better, right? I think so.

For those who aren't inclined to wear a dress, the jeans and a t-shirt concept is a fine alternative. I personally don't go for it very often. But more power to you if you do.

3. Take care of yourself the day before.

It's really easy to get tired half way through a day at Disneyland. Even if you love the feeling of Bengay on your legs when you arrive home in the evening, that does not mean you should aim to tire your body into submission.

The day before a full day at Disneyland should be spent doing one thing and one thing only: relaxing. Whether that means napping for an extra three hours during the afternoon or eating a tub of popcorn and watching TV (my alternative) for the 24 hours beforehand, you should be doing something low-stress and especially kind to your legs.

If you ever choose to go to a theme park with less than fully rested limbs, you will not be happy by the time late afternoon kicks in. You may not even be happy around lunch time. Regardless of when, just know that you will not be happy at some point. And you always want to be happy, don't you?

4. Do everything the night before.

A great deal of the fun of going to Disneyland for an entire day is getting there right when or just as the park is opening. You get to hear Walt's voice over the loudspeakers and music playing as a bunch of people stampede their way to the most coveted rides, you get to go on the attractions before the lines get insanely long and even better, you get about five minutes to get ready in the morning.

Some of us aren't late sleepers. When I'm in the Midwest I'm one of these people. But in California, I refuse to wake up early (this goes against logic since California is in a later time zone, but hey). If I want to make it to Disneyland by 8 am, I have to be up by at least 6:30 or 7 am so I can eat a full breakfast and apply make-up with only one eye open at a time (because I can't physically open both of them). And this can be a problem.

So, dear readers, if you want to be like me and not get into a crazy, sweaty tizzy when you wake up for an early trip to Disneyland, be sure to get everything done the night before. And go to sleep early.

Make your lunch, pack your bag, take a shower, do your hair, pick out your clothes. Whatever needs to be done. Do it beforehand. You will thank me at 7 am when you finally wake up after hitting the snooze at 6:30 and inadvertently disabling your alarm for 30 minutes.

5. Have an escape plan.

Despite my over-the-top precautions, I'm being honest when I say I love spending a full day at Disneyland. It's an event in my life that hasn't happened often since I was very little, so when I get the opportunity now I seize it with all the energy and enthusiasm I can muster.

But sometimes that energy and enthusiasm just doesn't last through the entire day. Once you've been at Disneyland for ten hours, you're so spent that you just can't move one leg in front of the other anymore. And you know that your make-up has melted off your face to the point that you will look even more ghastly in your Space Mountain pictures than you already do when you're fully rested and made-up.

This is when you call in reinforcements. Reinforcements in the form of alternative transportation.

Tonight I will be informing my dad that once he arrives home from work tomorrow, he will be on call to drive me home from Disneyland should I be dying and my companions be dying to see Fantasmic! (making them unwilling to leave).

For those of us who do not have a parent who can pick us up at our whim, this is a more difficult problem to face. And to all of you, I must apologize and I salute you for your valiant goal of going to Disneyland for an insanely long period of time with no hope of relief. You are brave.

To wrap things up, I just want to reiterate how absolutely amazing an opportunity it is to get to go to Disneyland for an entire day. When I write about it, it may seem like an ordeal and a bit of a stupid undertaking, but when you're there you often lose sight of all of the worse aspects.

Even when you're sweating your brains out and your legs are stuck to the vinyl seat below you as you watch people walk by fanning themselves with park maps and eating melting frozen lemonade from a cup, there's still this overwhelming sensation that you're in a place where happiness always exist no matter what the situation.

Disneyland really is the Happiest Place on Earth. And perhaps it takes a full day of walking around the parks with the balls of your feet in unfathomable pain to fully realize that. As a seasoned Disney veteran I can say that's absolutely 100 percent true. Just come prepared.

Happy almost half-birthday to me

Today is a happy day. It is a happy day because it is my last day of being less than halfway to entering my twenties. You know what that means - or maybe you don't because that wording was awkward. Either way, I'll tell you now:

Tomorrow is my half-birthday. The beginning of the end, friends. I am now almost an old maid, a spinster, a loser, no longer a teen.

Which is why I've decided to make a list - based on some observations today and just some general hopes - of goals to complete before my teenage life ends. I have six more months to improve and it's time to start.

1. Become a better cook.

When I made dinner for my dad tonight I felt a really intense sense of accomplishment and happiness that I'd never felt before. I've cooked in the past, but tonight was one night out of a relative few that I've thrown laziness to the wind and tried to do well by my hard-working papa and make him a really nice dinner.

Though he ended up taking the reigns a bit in part of the preparation of his own meal, I got most of it done before he came home and realized that the feeling of doing something nice for someone else, especially after they've had a long day at work, is one of the best feelings in the world.

There are probably a lot of ways of going about doing a nice thing for someone, but I've decided that a fun and rewarding way of doing so is through cooking. So even though I don't have all that much experience with it, after tonight I feel it's finally time to start devoting more of my heart to the art of cuisine.

Before I turn 20, I will learn more recipes and become a more skilled cook.

2. Be more discerning about what I need and what I don't.

Earlier today I spent quite a bit of time with my grandmother, some of which took place in her garage as we looked through boxes of countless junk items and also beautiful mementos. As we cycled through the "want it?" "yes/no" pattern, we finally ended up with a big pile of things that didn't matter and a pile of things that did.

And I realized while we were doing so that I spend a lot of my time latching onto things without really taking a second look at them. I have so much "stuff" and a lot of it is truly expendable. I just become so complacent with the way things are that I don't actively sort through what I need and what I don't.

My grandma is teaching me that it's okay to hold onto the past and maintain memories through physical objects. But she's also teaching me that it's important to decide what's necessary and what isn't. What constitutes a memento and what is just cluttering up my room.

Before I turn 20, I will take a long hard look at what is mine, and decide which things I truly care about.

3. Take control of the things that aren't necessarily the most luxurious.

Before sorting through a bunch of boxes with my grandma, I was out and about with her at lunch and a few shopping locales. The first place we went to was a store called Daiso, which is a Japanese hyaku-yen mart (100 yen is roughly $1.20). At Daiso in California, the cost was raised to $1.50, but for what the store had it was not the worst deal. In fact, it was a pretty awesome bargain.

I ended up indulging myself in a few things: a new headband, some Hi-Chews and Pocky. But I also took the opportunity to remind myself that I am no longer a little kid. Therefore, it is both my responsibility and my prerogative to create a life more suitable to my desires. And alongisde my purchase of fun items like candy, I also bought cleaning and cooking supplies that my house does not already have readily on hand.

Not only did I feel better prepared to tackle daily issues at home, but I felt more mature at having chosen to equip myself with the necessities of daily life rather than $1.50 luxuries.

Before I turn 20, I will learn to make purchases that are both pleasurable and functional.

4. Enjoy as much time with family as humanly possible.

I'm not sure how many times I've stressed this on my blog, but I really appreciate the relationships I have with my immediate family. I'm very lucky to have a wonderful father, a doting grandmother, a loving sister, an adorable niece, etc. etc. The truth is that I'm surrounded by a ton of people who are absolutely amazing and I really don't devote half as much time to them as I should.

When I'm not busy with schoolwork, I call my dad fairly frequently. But my relationships with the rest of my family often fall by the wayside because I get distracted by needing to wind down and be by myself.

Then when I arrive home after a few months at school, I realize how much I've missed out on and also how much I've missed them. In an ideal world I'd be able to balance familial relationships with all my other responsibilities and never feel like I've shortchanged anyone or anything. I know that's not possible and I mourn that fact. But I know that I have it in me to be constantly improving, and that's my goal.

Before I turn 20, I will have cultivated closer relationships with my family.

5. Seize the moment.

On top of every other goal (all of which are fairly broad and noncommittal anyway), I have one that really stands head and shoulders over the rest: I really need to step back and enjoy what's right in front of me.

None of us are teens for very long. We don't even get a decade of the zit-filled, hormone-driven, awkwardness-dominated years. And by the time we're done with them, we come face to face with the reality of life after childhood.

Some people think childhood ends when you're finally out of your preteen years. You turn the big 1-3 and you're suddenly no longer a kid. Others think childhood ends when you're legally an adult. You're 18 years old and you can finally smoke legally, gamble in some states, order things by telephone. You've hit the big time. No longer a kid now.

I don't believe any of these things. I've lived the past few years comfortable in the fact that I am still a child because I still have the "teen" suffix at the end of my age. But as 19 comes to a close and 20 slowly approaches, I'm beginning to refuse to let the word "teen" be the definition of my status in life.

When I turn 20, I'm not going to stop going to Disney movies in theaters. I'm not going to stop watching Nickelodeon. I'm not going to stop wearing butterfly clips in my hair. I will not look in the mirror on September 21, 2012 and suddenly see some old post-childhood hag.

Yet even so, I feel this ever-growing significance of being a young youth, still in my teenage years. And thus, I want to hold onto it as long as I can - for six months. By watching kiddie films in theaters, by going back and re-viewing every episode of Blue's Clues, by visiting Disneyland as much as I can. For some reason I feel like I need to do as many of these things as I can before my first 20-year-old wrinkle strikes (that happens, right? Maybe not).

Before I turn 20, I will feel like I'm ready to leave teenagehood and create my own form of adulthood.

Most of my goals are driven by one sole purpose: the need to mature in my own way. I've constantly feared growing older. I hold onto pieces of my past, trinkets and media and memories, and I have a hard time thinking that the childhood I've known all my life is coming to a close.

But 20 is just a number. And it doesn't mean that I have to grow up - and it doesn't mean that I haven't grown up already. It's just two stupid little digits emblazoned on my metaphorical forehead. And in reality, it's your birthdate that shows up on official documents, not your age in numbers. So there's no reason to cower away from it.

I've made this list not only to help me become a better person for the next six months, but also to remind myself that just because it feels like I'm making a big step in my life, doesn't mean I actually am. In fact, if anything, this is just as normal a year as any other.

With enough faith I might actually believe that.

Monday, March 19, 2012

With Mr. Clean by my side, I can defeat any dirty foe

Why is it that it's so difficult to find joy in taking the time to make our lives more clean and happy? It's on days like today that I ask this question - when I've finished a big load of laundry and cleaned up my room and my life just a bit. I just can't wrap my head around why I refuse to do these things more often.

I'm very very very lazy. It's a terrible trait that I will blame on genetics because I come from a pretty lazy family (with a few notable exceptions). None of us are hyperclean or OCD about keeping our affairs in order. Instead we are pretty relaxed and wait until the moment strikes us to featherdust or rearrange our sock drawer.

When I'm at school I have this problem fairly regularly. My room becomes a mess with books strewn all across the floor and knick knacks piled on my desk as if it's a decorative table rather than a place designated for working.

And to be honest, I don't really care. I put cleaning off because I place it at a low priority. When I'm deciding whether I'd rather watch a movie and enjoy myself now or clean my room and enjoy the spaciousness of my cleared floor later, I will usually settle on the former. But why? Why can't I appreciate the results of a freshly vacuumed and organized living space?

Actually, it's not that I don't enjoy having a room that is spick and span, or a room where I could run my hand across my wardrobe and not come up with an allergy-filled palm of dust. What it boils down to is the fact that, for me, cleaning just isn't fun.

So lately I've been trying to find ways to make it more fun. In my quest I have settled on one solution: Cleaning has to be a competition - with myself.

Let me preface this by saying that I am not an incredibly competitive person. I avoid confrontation, I try not to overextend myself and despite some obvious sore-loserhood as a child, I now accept defeat pretty well. But when it comes to cleaning, I must play a game where winning is the only option. The game's objective is as follows: I must destroy all the dirt and grossness in sight.

The rules are simple: Do everything you can possibly think of in as short an amount of time as you can possible handle, and have no remorse.

Because I am not a natural keep-cleaner (like a "do-gooder," but more anal-retentive), I tend to struggle with finding the motivation to even begin cleaning. But once I do, I know that this motivation is not to be wasted. If I've begun reorganizing my desk drawers, I must have the entire thing reordered and prettified by the end of the night. If this is not complete by the end of the night, then I lose. Stamp a big "L" on my forehead, I must forfeit my prize and there's no way to get rid of the stain of failure.

Even if I don't care too much about being labeled a loser in games like Monopoly or Battleship or in arguments (if the title is rightfully earned), when it comes to my own personal achievements - loss is not an option. In other words - once I've set a goal for myself, I must achieve said goal - even if it means becoming obsessive and crazy along the way.

This becomes especially prevalent during times in my life when I am most in need of distraction. Roughly from mid-September to early June, these months are characterized with over-work in other areas of life such as: academics, extracurricular activities, socialization and sleep.

This is why the dorm room cleanliness issue becomes such a huge and groundbreaking game. If I can avoid thinking about my other responsibilities and devote my mind solely to the effort of cleaning my room, then I feel even more accomplished than if I'd, perhaps, done that ten-page paper that is due next week. Priorities are clearly my strong suit.

But the situation I faced today was at home, without other responsibilities. And instead of requiring something to keep my mind off of more pressing matters, I had to overcome an even greater obstacle: my aforementioned laziness.

While trying to balance room cleanliness and schoolwork is a challenge, trying to motivate oneself to devote any time to cleanliness when the only other concerns are eating and watching television is another matter. The game becomes an even bigger monster with higher stakes and higher gains because, let's face it, the opportunity cost of doing a ton of housework is the time you would have had to bask in mindless pleasure. Who wants that trade off?

So when the spirit of clean (he's like Mr. Clean, but with more hair) finally slaps me across the face and reminds me that the benefits of keeping a happy, crisply folded life are worth the tension and effort put in, I have to take his advice and not look back - not even for a second.

I didn't get a whole lot done today - it wasn't like in the past when I managed to clean out my entire closet and set up orderly containers in my room to separate all my random belongings, yet I felt a certain kind of accomplishment that only winning the game of cleaning can do.

Smelling the scent of my fabric-softened clothing and seeing how much counter space I had in my bathroom, I started to feel the joy that accompanies defeating the evil dirt monster (in my head he looks a lot like Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas). For even when the effort put in when getting my life in order can be more of an ordeal than a pleasure, winning the fight against my own couch potato-ness is a victory in itself.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Disneyland (Pt. II): Hidden gems

The happiest place to use a restroom.
Let me warn you now that the title of this post is absolutely misleading. My dad and I were talking earlier today about what I would write about were I to have a whole column devoted to Disneyland and as a joke his response was "You could write about your favorite bathrooms."

Of course, I brushed off the suggestion, aware that he was lampooning my desire to write about the Happiest Place on Earth whenever I could. But just to show him that I can turn any random topic into a worthwhile blog entry, I'm going to tell you all about one of my favorite hidden gems of the Disney parks: the restrooms.

When I first started going to Disneyland with my high school friends several years ago, I remember holding arguments with my friend Kristin about whether or not either of us had been to every single bathroom at the Disney parks. "Well what about that one in front of California Adventure?" Kristin asked. "There isn't one there," I responded. These fights would go on for much longer than they should have, with little development and even less purpose.

Once we started going to the parks regularly together, we really did try out all the facilities. And we figured out which ones were our favorites, which ones we needn't frequent quite so much and which ones we could hoard to ourselves while other park guests waited in lines outside the smaller, more visible restrooms.

At Disneyland, there are three types of bathroom to which you may choose to go.

The first type is the highly visible, very cramped type.

A good example of this is the restroom you encounter when you arrive in Adventureland, right past the Enchanted Tiki Room. Straddling Frontierland and Adventureland, there is literally no way you can miss this place.

It has become such a staple of bathroom-going at Disneyland that you will be hard-pressed to find a time from opening until closing during which people are not sitting outside waiting for their loved ones to hurry up and go on having a merry day at the parks. It's practically an institution of restrooming and in being such, draws a huge line despite its fairly large size.

I hate waiting in lines for something that is not a luxury. I'm fine queuing for rides or artery-clogging popcorn and soft pretzels, but why should I have to wait to use a toilet? The answer is simply that I shouldn't. Which is why I avoid the first type of bathroom - the ones that push people together like sardines just to use the facilities.

Other locations with this problem include: The Pinocchio restroom between Fantasyland and Frontierland, The New Orleans Square restroom between Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion and the Space Mountain restroom that greets you as you exit the ride.

The second type is the themed restroom, a step-up from the disgusting overcrowded rooms mentioned above.

My favorite bathroom in all of the Disneyland Resort falls under this category.

The Alice in Wonderland restroom features rooms for "Kings" and "Queens" with stall doors that are decorated like playing cards. Once you walk outside you meet some adorable lantern lights with glass cut-outs shaped like hearts. It's one of the best bathroom ambiances I have ever experienced and still my favorite restroom in Disneyland despite it not being the most accessible.

The value of a themed restroom is truly the joy of being at Disneyland overall. Half the fun of going to the parks is getting to experience fantasy life wherever you turn, and even the most mundane thing like going to the bathroom can be turned into an event if the stall doors are decorated like cards in a deck.

I don't always appreciate what a great thing I have available to me in Disneyland - it's a safe, happy place where I can go fairly regularly (like my peers might go to a park or a mall), and enjoy the presence of friends or family through wholesome entertainment. But sometimes the best moments to recall that wholesomeness are when you are pretending to be a queen entering her royal wastechamber, with lovely thematic elements that make life feel just a bit more cartoony and infinitely more fun.

Other thematic bathrooms include: The Bugs Land restroom in California Adventure which is made to look like a tissue box and the Princess Fantasy Faire bathroom near It's a Small World and Toontown which is dedicated exclusively to Princes and Princesses.

But the best type of restroom I have saved for last and it is (drumroll, please) the secret hideaway bathroom!

Be aware that in this next section I will be giving you insider information that only the most seasoned Disney attendees know. You should be thanking me. Please note that I do accept gifts.

When you go to Disneyland as often as I do, you're bound to figure out the secrets of the park. Or at least your own secrets of the park.

I have little stories about going to Disneyland from as young as toddlerhood (when I would sing showtunes in front of my dad at a little stage near Thunder Mountain) to teenagehood (when one of my best friends supposedly lost her phone in the Rivers of America when we were paddling a canoe). And I also have a compendium of knowledge about the most special secret of Disneyland: the hideaway bathrooms.

As I mentioned before, it is very frustrating to have to wait in line for a bathroom (at least for me it is). After spending so much of the day queuing for rides and attractions and food, being denied access to a necessity like a toilet is not something I appreciate.

So over the years I've developed my go-to bathrooms that are just so out of the way that they are never quite as populated as their cousins.

One of the best of this kind is the Hungry Bear restroom. The Hungry Bear is situated next to the Winnie the Pooh dark ride and across the way from Splash Mountain. It is an outdoor dining facility with two levels of seating and one of the most strategically hidden bathrooms I have ever seen.

Nestled underneath the main level of the Hungry Bear is this restroom which few know about. Perhaps it's because the Hungry Bear was closed for many moons only to reopen a few years ago. Or perhaps it's because people relieve themselves on Splash Mountain and feel no need to find a restroom after going on the ride (you're welcome for that mental image).

Either way, I have always prided myself in knowing the location of this hidden gem.

Other hidden bathrooms include: The handicapped toilet at the California Golden Vine Winery and the restroom between Autopia and Innoventions in Tomorrowland.

I know a lot of things about Disneyland. Through going to the park for nearly two decades, I have absorbed a ton of random knowledge on the resort that, in my opinion, gives me license to call myself a junior tour guide.

But one of the greatest assets to my Disneyland expertise is my awareness of the most fundamental offerings of the park: the facilities. Back when I was in high school, I thought I knew where all the bathrooms were. I thought I'd used them all.

A few years later - I realized I was right. While it may not take a rocket scientist to figure out where all the bathrooms are at a theme park, it does take a pretty well-versed visitor to be able to compartmentalize them into preferred categories.

So while my dad may mock, I pride myself in this ridiculous piece of knowledge that I hold over anyone else who goes to the Disney parks with me - I know the bathrooms.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

First impressions set aside

I couldn't begin to count the number of reasons that being home is superior to being at school. Though there are arguments on either side, I'd have to say that the pleasure of coming back to California after a few months away is one of the most gratifying feelings in the world. And there are many reasons for that.

But the greatest of all those reasons, I've come to realize, is the loveliness that is getting to see family regularly. And with the newest (and youngest) addition to the group, it has become an even greater treat.

I love this little ticklish kid.
My niece, Sydney, is one of the coolest people in the world, and no mistake. She may only be a toddler, but she already has the personality of a full-fledged kid. She laughs and coos and speaks (a little), she watches TV like it's going out of style (something we have in common) and she has more emotions that some people twenty times her age. But she's also still a baby - still growing. And the more I look at her, the more I start to see just that.

I used to love being the youngest. I was the baby of my family for quite a few years. Before my younger cousins were born - and even when they came to be - I always basked in whatever bit of babyhood I had in me. I loved getting the pampered niece treatment from my aunt and getting to sing a Broadway tune in front of a crowd of amused relatives.

Yet as I grew up I stopped caring so much about being the littlest member of my clan - instead I began to despise it for reasons that were just beginning to surface. While being young may have afforded me toys and playmates in my older cousins (who loved me as a toddler and lost interest as I grew older), being the family munchkin left me with a lot of prejudices to combat. Some that I still face to this day.

It's fun to be fawned over, but the trade-off for me started pretty early on when my family stopped thinking of me as the cute one and more as the annoying one. Since I turned about ten, my adorable Dorothy-dressed and ruby-slippered cuteness subsided and it was replaced by an assumption that I was a spoiled little kid who was more of a terrible brat than a cute little angel.

And the curse followed me throughout my young adult life. Sometimes I still fear interacting with my extended family because in my heart I know they will continue to treat me the way they did when I was a preteen. In their eyes I never grew past being a kid, and therefore I still need to be brought down to earth by their realism and cynicism.

It's fine to be the grandkid that grows out of the youngest kid persona. When your family no longer thinks of you as the little girl who cried because your second cousin was using your brand new bathing suit, then you don't have to fear that they will still treat you as if that antiquated image still applies. But when I am interacting with some members of my family, I can't seem to shake the picture they've pigeonholed me into. In their minds I'm still little and I still cry about stolen bathing suits.

So when I came home to visit my lovely baby niece who is turning one in less than a week, I couldn't help but think that I never want to pin her into the corner of being the same little baby that I know her as now. I never want her to have the same problems I've had.

Every time I hear about her progress as an infant, and especially every time I visit her while on vacation from school, I try to see her as a new - totally unique and revamped - kid. The information I've stored in my mind about her soon becomes obsolete and instead of holding onto vestiges of the past, I think about how I can conform my opinions to fit who she is now.

When I first began babysitting my niece, she still wasn't ticklish. She didn't get excited very much. She didn't play very actively. She was more of an adorable little lump of a baby who I could wield complete control over rather than the very self-aware being that she is now. And I loved her like that. I loved getting to play at her rather than with her. It was fun to choose her activities and figure out ways to make her fall asleep or make her stop crying. At the time it was a pleasure to be so powerful.

Then I came back for spring break after a year of knowing her off-and-on (over several breaks with college in-between), and I started seeing my little baby SySy becoming a real-life person. She was not the little roly poly I knew several months ago who I could put on her back and leave there if I had to run to the kitchen to grab something. If I left her alone, she'd be halfway across the living room by the time I got back.

The changes are crazy, but so exciting.

As the months have gone on, I've tried to not hold onto what I thought of my niece in the past. If I knew ways to quiet her down, or ways to make her smile, I brought them to California with me in my back pocket, but I never forced them onto her as if they were still current and useful. It's because even after very short breaks from seeing the little one, I am well aware that she can change into something completely different from my initial perceptions.

It's a perspective I hope to carry with me through the rest of her childhood (and adult) development. Because unlike me, I hope my niece can be raised without false pretenses of remaining a static personality that doesn't change through time.

Even if I started off think of her as a little pooping monster who cried and wouldn't let me put her to bed, I can see now that Sydney has become more compliant and easy-going (albeit, with an all new set of obstacles). And I know that a few months down the road, the way she is now will have probably taken a 180 degree turn, making her an entirely new baby that is worlds away from the SySy I know at this moment.

I've struggled through most of my life being the victim of first impressions and prejudices within my family. If I was emotionally vulnerable as a preteen, then it's assumed that I'm still the kid that I was back then - still unable to handle myself in company and still taking advantage of my overactive tear ducts to make everyone feel badly for me (for the record, I don't cry on cue and I've never done so to elicit a response from anyone).

But unlike those who have made me feel inferior throughout my life, I never want to see the little baby who am watching grow up before my eyes put in the same position I was. Because no one deserves to be labeled in some way before they have the chance to prove it wrong. We all have the right to be who we are and be judged accordingly. But not until we become who we are.

I cannot wait to see my niece become who she is. And in the interim, I'm enjoying every moment of watching her on the path to growing into the awesome girl that she is already showing herself to be.

So I write today to my family, to my new niece and to everyone else to say that first impressions may be telling, but they can also change. As do we all. So keep them in your back pocket, but also realize that sometimes it's better to leave them there.