We’re in a new year. A “new” year. What does that even mean? The clocks have ticked over, a new cycle of seasons has begun (according to what we have deemed a start and end), and I don’t feel much different today than I did last night.
Instead, I think the “new” is rather a description of who we are as in comparison to where we were a year ago. Not that we are necessarily “new” or different people than we were at the start of 2011, but that we have “new” potential and perspective having endured and enjoyed these past 365 days.
But even as I write this, and people around the world are writing resolutions about things they want to change in their lives, what kind of change are we looking for? The stereotypical “new year’s resolutions” are all about how people want to change and redirect their lives, making short term goals and hoping for long term results. A better plan is to look at how we have grown, encourage a mindset that maintains or strengthens that growth, and reduce a mindset that harbors fear.
That alone I think would be enough. How much better off and successful and loving and self-encouraging we would be if we looked at what we did that we are proud of, and aimed to continue that path, instead of heading off in a “new” direction that is likely a mirage?
And then there are those that resist change. I generally count myself in that group. I become anxious when things and people change. I lose my grasp of how to understand and relate to them. But in this past year, and even past twenty four hours, I have found new perspective. I still struggle with change, but I am better able to accept it.
For when it comes to things, change is the natural order; nothing is static, except perhaps the energy in the universe, and even that is up for debate. I can’t hold back the tide, and the wind will go where it may; all I can do is watch and breathe it in. And when it comes to people, change is inevitable, but not unexpected, and not permanent. People are going to change. And that change is hardest to deal with when it’s the people we are closest to.
But we should remember that their past has not changed. They are still the same person we knew, the same person we loved. That apparent change is a new application of perspective and experience. They are moving forward, possibly to a new place, but still from the same old one. And none of our paths are straight. Our direction may change now, and again in twenty minutes; the person has not changed.
I see that hand in the back, and I hear you saying, “Wait a minute, Professor Know-it-all. There are plenty of people who change, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worst. How can you say that people don’t change?” And you’re right, as part of the natural world, we are ever changing. But our history is written; we do not relate to each other on our futures, but rather on our pasts. And so we should never mourn the new direction life takes; instead, we should gaze forward and see what new opportunities now present themselves.
One year ago, I was a fifth year mechanical engineering student, hardly able to look past his shoes at the chaos of the world post graduation. Today, I am a first year explorer of 2012; and the beauty is, it’s only a one year journey. But my love for photography and Star Wars and Tolkien and family and music and food and friends and learning and art and Tumblr and Dr. Pepper has not changed. The greatest change is not in me, but in how I can express me.
So moving forward, I make no promises or claims on what my future will hold, nor goals to change the person I am. Because one year from now, I will still be me. I will still be drinking tea and listening to the rain, shooting photos and writing letters (yes, I am so far behind on those), playing rook with my family and tackling the tower of books that grows faster than I can read it. And as I have grown in this past year, I expect I will continue to be a soda snob (pure cane sugar +1), continue building robots and computers and Iron Man suits, and continue pursuing and growing friendships - something I still struggle to understand.
But it will be a fun journey, and I can’t wait to see you on it.
Every Thursday night, weather permitting, a farmers’ market is held in downtown San Luis Obispo. I try to go as often as I have the opportunity, and just as often as I don’t. There is something about the character of this small town that shines through the assembled crowd congregated on five blocks of Higuera Street. Even on this cold November night, there is a warmth radiating between family, friends, and fellow members of this tight knit community. There is also a lively chaos as growers, merchants, artists, community activists, and tradesmen barter, sell, and trade among each other. It’s electric.
I carry my camera in an attempt to capture the collective energy. And yet, it is as futile as holding fireflies in a jar. The containment suffocates the life out of the photographs. Instead, tonight, I left the camera at my side. My eye I let wander, and basked in the humanity. As I looked deeply into the faces of the people I passed, I reflected. They were all uniquely and unequivocally human. All different, and all the same; two eyes, a nose, two ears, and a smile.
Farmers’ Market drawing to an end, I found myself escaping the noise and the masses, ducking into a tiny cafe. Again, I feel the glow of joy filled hearts, and am washed by the sounds of lively instruments and laughter. In from the cold, I can warm my chilled hands with a steaming cup of chai, and thaw a body once numb to social levity. The musicians in the back room, with a dancing tune flowing from their dancing hands, are a collection of friends known only to each other by the sounds of their instruments.
"Like a mandola is compared to a mandolin, and a viola to a violin, so everything works on the theory of relativity." Not simply musicians, these people are philosophers. "While only a moment, a hand placed on a hot stove seems to burn for significantly longer; and a lengthy passionate kiss passes in the blink of an eye." I sip my chai, wishing it had boba in it, but thoroughly content.
Shortly before closing, a man walks in to join the dwindling audience. He taps his foot and cane in time with the music, and does not appear to have a care in the world. And yet, as I look in his face, I have difficulty seeing the world through his eyes; for this man is blind. His name is Peter; and while he cannot read their music, he apparently joins them regularly. From the piano, he would jam with chords known best by an experienced ear. They welcome him with open arms - they don’t need to understand him, for through his contributions, they know him.
To me, this is San Luis. We are a community that does not exclude people for their limitations; rather, whether it be produce, balloon animals, tri tip steaks, or an electric cello, we embrace those who offer their best.
Whether you’re writing 50000 words, trying to grow an epic beard, or want to start shaping up before seeing the in-laws for the holidays, November seems to be about making things happen. Perhaps it is the looming end of the year that spurs people on, realizing what left they have to do to meet their year’s goals.
This year, I’m going for a No-Shave November. This will be the first year that I actually have something to not shave. Last year, all I had was the funny chin thing below; Tom said it makes me look like Shaggy from Scooby Doo. But this time, I should have a little more.
However, in losing those short chin whiskers, I’ve also lost a good 4-5 years in my apparent age. Normally, people wouldn’t mind looking 4-5 years younger; but when I’m trying to situation myself in the working sector, it doesn’t pay (literally) to look like I am still a freshman.
Also, my hair is about to the point where I’d start thinking about cutting it. And yet, if my plan is to grow it out a little more, cutting it would be the wrong approach in this situation. Oh the dilemmas.
Last night, I made a Pumpkin Spice Latte from scratch. It’s that time of year, and they are quite tasty. I used some leftover pumpkin that we had from making a pie from scratch, but it was the wrong kind of pumpkin (the carving kind, instead of the cooking kind). It was a little more fibrous, but still delicious. I’ll need to work on the recipe a bit and get a proper pumpkin this next weekend.
However, my hot chocolate tonight was perfect. And this wasn’t a heat-milk-in-microwave-add-powder-packet cup of cocoa; this was a cook-over-the-stove-with-dutch-dark-cocoa-and-all-the-fixins, and don’t you dare put marshmallows in it. I don’t measure anything out when I’m making this hot chocolate, but I work with some tried and true principles.
Around 2 cups of 2% milk - any less, and you’ll want more, but any more, and you probably won’t finish it because it’s so rich; 2% hits the right spot in balance between richness and “yes, you’re deciding how much fat/calories you want in your drink;” life is short, make sure your hot chocolate doesn’t suffer
Dutch dark cocoa - I use the Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder, and there’s many varieties, about 2Tbs; a square of Baker’s chocolate will do the trick too
Corn starch - dissolve about a tablespoon in cold water before adding to the milk; acts as a thickener
Sugar - Maybe a couple tablespoons? Not too sweet, but the sugar helps bring out the other flavors
*SECRET INGREDIENTS* - cinnamon, cayenne pepper, coffee, vanilla; with these, less is more - there’s no way for me to try to approximate how much I put in, I just know it by sight
Heat it all slowly! - I use a gas stove on medium-low heat, stirring constantly and making sure it doesn’t boil; the longer it sits just below the boiling point, the more water is released as steam, and the richer the hot chocolate; I usually cook it for 15-20 minutes for 2c
When it’s all said and done, I have about two cups of hot rich chocolate that warms my throat, leaves that satisfying coat of chocolate on the back of my tongue, and has a flavor that keeps me from setting my mug down.
And that’s life. Too much of anything, even the good stuff, and it is becomes a weight and burden inside of us; but too little, and we crave for more, resulting in dissatisfaction of the people and things around us. There’s no recipe that can tell us in what measure we should expect in this life - but often, less is more. A pinch of music, a dash of defiance, a splash of love, and a heaping scoop of grace - and it will be different for everyone. But most importantly, we have to give it time. Nothing in life happens quickly. We may want change now, to wake up tomorrow and have the world be different, but life doesn’t work like that. The faster you try to make things happen, the more likely you are to get burned. Take it slow, budget your time and resources, and learn to enjoy the feeling of anticipation. The whole time I am at the stove, I want to take the pan off and start drinking the hot chocolate right away - and I have to remind myself, the longer I let the water/steam escape, the better it will taste. The long road is always worth it.
Keep your chin up.
Hot Chocolate (approximate) 2c 2% milk 2Tb dutch dark chocolate 2Tb sugar 1Tb corn starch dissolved in 1Tb cold water 1/8ts cinnamon 1/16ts cayenne pepper 1/4ts instant coffee crystals (or half shot espresso) 1/2ts vanilla Heat over low/medium-low, do not boil, stirring constantly; should thicken and coat the back of a wooden spoon; 15-20 minutes Drink and enjoy!
Writing, on a Wednesday, for writingwednesday?! Crazy.
I love maps. Any kind. Diagrams, figures, graphs, topographical, population density, geographic, two dimensional, three dimensional, five-dimensional!, anything. A well crafted map speaks both to my analytical and aesthetic tendencies. And so it’s no surprise to me that I Think in terms of maps. An idea is a path from A to B; there is often more than one way to get from A to B, but there has to be an A and there has to be a B - a beginning and an end.
To me, it is obviously clear that everything has a cause and effect. The farther apart the two are, the more difficult it is to see the “events” that connect them, or the gradual elevation change (if it was a topo map); but it’s impossible to reach a B without having an A to start with (if anything, everyone alive was at one point, born) and likewise it is impossible to go from an A to a B without crossing other “events” along the way. It is possible to start at A and then continue without ever reaching a B, but that’s foolish (and a good explanation of our national debt crisis).
Everything is relational. Something has significance only because of how it relates to the significance of something else. I could a topo map again (since it’s my favorite), but let’s look at a pie chart (because I love making pies). Is it possible to have a pie chart with a piece missing? I don’t mean in the graphic design sense, where they pull a slice out to offset it, but in the sense of leaving an entire chunk out. It’s not done, because it doesn’t make sense. Every slice’s size is dependent on the size of the other slices, and together, they must fill the entire pie. If they don’t, that means you’re missing information. If they fill more than the pie can hold (no, you can’t eat it), then there has been an error in evaluating the information and must be rechecked.
I could go on all night comparing maps to the way I see life. I’m a very visual person. I can learn things audibly and by touching them (the other two forms of learning besides visually), but I do it by storing the information in a list….or rather, a sequential map of events. Spelling? F leads to r which leads to i and then e and n and finally d. I have to start at f, and I have to end at d. See? Ok, most don’t.
Maps. They’re awesome. You know what else are awesome? Compasses….
I don’t mean in the “cheap, everything/everyone is turning into plastic” kind of way, even if it’s true.
Have you ever lost a pair of sunglasses? You might have a pair or two, for different occasions, different moods, different looks - but there’s always that one pair that’s special. They may not be the fanciest, the most expensive, or even the one that you grab the most - but when you do, it just works.
And then one day, you lose them. Maybe you set them down and neglected them, maybe you dropped them accidentally and they broke, or you lent them to a friend and never saw them again. You could try to find another pair, but it won’t be the same - nor should it. If every pair of sunglasses were the same, even if they were all perfect, there wouldn’t be that one with special qualities - different than all the others.
That’s why life is like a pair of sunglasses. Nothing is ever perfect, nor do they last. If the sun never set, there would be no tomorrow; and a day without a tomorrow would be a sad day indeed.
So the next time you lose a pair of sunglasses, it’s ok to be sad for a little while - but remember that life still goes on. If you happen to find them again, they may fit as perfectly as before, or you may realize that they are no longer the ideal sunglasses you once wore - until that day comes, neither matters. Look at the pictures of you with your sunglasses, and smile, remembering the times that you had them for a while.
It’s a game of sorts, or maybe more like a psychology test. You might have heard of the ones where you imagine you’re in a forest or a cave, and you find a chest, what’s in the chest?, and it’s supposed to be your hidden desires, etc.
So, you’re in a desert. Picture yourself in this desert. You need to try to cram as much detail about this desert into your mental image as you can. Ok, you got it? Now, there’s a cube in your desert. Picture the cube, where it is, how it relates to you and the desert, what it’s made from, etc. Got it? There’s also a ladder in the desert. Where is the ladder? How big is it? Why is it there? How does it relate to the cube and the desert? You also have a horse. Can you describe the horse? How does the horse relate? Lastly, is there any vegetation? What vegetation is in your desert? Ok, think really hard about all of this. Think about the setting, what’s going on, even shape, size, and color are important. Once you have it all, you can read the description of my desert, and then the explanation of what it all means after the jump.
I like to try to mess with these kinds of games, by picking implausible interpretations of what they’re asking me. And yet, it never brakes the explanations. Why? Because there’s still some truth in my answers; and this way, I’m not purposefully trying to “fix” the results.
Mine: My “desert” I decided was a small island. A very small island, like the ones you’d see in a Far Side comic with one palm tree and enough “beach” for one person to sit. The ocean was calm, the sun was warm and there was a slight breeze, picturesque clouds in the sky. My cube was a stone bolder, 3 feet to a side, carved with perfectly square corners, half in the sand, half in the surrounding ocean, with the surf crashing around it. I decided to sit on the cube. My ladder was leaning up against the cube to help me get on top; it had two rungs, made of wood, and was painted red. My horse was a painted mustang; think of Hildalgo. I should watch that movie again. I’m not sure how the horse got to such a small island…but just go with it. And I already saw my vegetation, that palm tree. I thought about moss growing up the sides of the bolder, but I realized that I was just trying to add a fun texture to everything, and that it didn’t make sense for my “desert” (or does it? dun dun dun. ok, i really don’t know.).
Try again. And then, try, try, try try, try, try, tea, try, try, draw, try, sleep, try, do something else, try, try, try not trying, try, try, and if all else fails, try again.
For the past two weeks, I have been working on programming one robot to do one little thing; it’s the simplest task, to send a command to set a position on a servo motor. For two weeks, I would start work by powering up the robot, and hoping that it somehow fixed itself while I was gone; when it didn’t, I would dig into the code, trying to find bugs, typos, and errors. Every day, I felt like I was getting nothing done. I would look back and see very little progress.
It wouldn’t be till the next morning, when I went to power up the robot first thing, that I would remember everything that I did the day before, all that I had accomplished. It gave me hope. And that was enough to carry me through the rest of the day, through all the head-banging-on-the-keyboard frustration.
It has been an interesting metaphor for my life. I struggle through the ins and outs of the daily grind, the weeks that never end, the months that weigh me down, and the years that make me feel like I’m going backward instead of pressing on. And yet, I am continually reminded how fortunate I am, how blessed am I with the family and friends around me. I live in a land of opportunity; I’m young (young at heart? i sometimes don’t feel young anymore) and have nearly unlimited potential. There is just about zero chance of me becoming an astronaut, but that shouldn’t stop me from reaching for the stars (oh the cliches!!!).
Today, I started up the robot. No joy. Checked the wiring again with a voltmeter, and everything was green. The code worked, the power was on, the wiring was good - why didn’t it work? Around 3pm, after another day of picking through code and cleaning out mostly unrelated bugs, I was tired. That hope of success was wearing thin. With no better ideas, I pulled out the three-wire plug and stuck it into the four wire slot. All the data sheets, manuals, code, and even common sense said that was the wrong thing to do, that it might even damage the robot. I didn’t care.
It worked. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to cry, scream, laugh, sing, do a jig, or just go home early. I worked for another few hours, getting other components working that depended on this servo. And then the batteries died on the robot, so that was as good a place to stop as any.
Lesson learned from today: never quit, never stop trying, even if that means that you should try something completely different, something out of left field, something ridiculous. It might just work.
And so I leave you with some words of wisdom, sung by my favorite band, Relient K.
CARTER: What about you, sir, any ideas? I mean, sometimes you have a way of seeing things at their simplest. O’NEILL: Thank you. O’NEILL: I’m going to go eat some cake. CARTER: I think I’ll join you. (Stargate SG-1, Season 6:Episode1, Redemption Part 1)
I’ve got nothin.
It’s not that I have nothing to say, but no drive or motivation to say it. So often, we have ideas, thoughts, and feelings that we would share, but don’t. Why not?
I can’t speak for everyone. For me…well, even now it’s difficult.
Last week, I pinned down why I find it challenging to speak up in groups. If I am not the one leading the conversation, I feel that it is not my place to interrupt the flow, or worse, seem like I am trying to usurp the leadership position. I don’t mind leading, and I’m even somewhat decent at it; but I will not undermine their authority unless I feel they are incompetent, irresponsible, or simply not up to the task. And yet, it’s not easy for me to give compliments to the people who are good leaders, partly because I find it difficult to accept the same compliments when I’m just doing my job.
Hmm. Tangent. It’s also rare for me to speak up in social situations, especially around people I don’t know. Small talk is a struggle. In my eyes, it seems like a waste of my time and theirs, discussing topics that have no bearing on the situation and no consequence on tomorrow.
But times are changing. I am starting to learn that I need to speak up in groups, as the leader needs to have as much information as they can to be able to effectively lead; withholding information for whatever reason leads to greater problems. I am beginning to appreciate compliments as ways of showing respect and affirmation of a good job. In the last year, I have put considerable energies into learning how to be sociable. It has been like returning to preschool and kindergarten, rediscovering how to make friends. The small talk is a struggle, but a worthy one to find common ground, shared purpose, and camaraderie.