Monday, July 28, 2014

This is the latest I've stayed up in a while

Which sounds kind of pathetic for a 17 year old, but whatever, It's true. And to avoid the things that are actually making me stay up this late, I am going to write about things that are completely unrelated because that's what I do. It's not actually a terrible way of dealing with it if there's no active way you can go about solving it. When a situation is out of your control, avoidance is sometimes the best way to learn to let go... but that's getting a bit too much into what I'm trying to not talk about. So I'm going to think about all the things I did today and find something.

I had a long list of things to do today. And I intended to do all of them and then some. But I didn't get around to it and part of it's my fault, but part of it's I needed a break. I started working a real job this week. Not a school-based time suck like robotics or a start-up created by a student that requires little-to-no commitment. A job, an escape. A place I can go and be expected to do good things and get paid $10/hour and fill my head with thoughts about customers and wiping down tables. It's nothing glamorous, but it's exactly what I needed. My morning commutes are time to wake up and put on last-minute make up, my 8-hour shift is a blur of coffee orders and salsas and 3 minute food breaks, and my commute home is a glorious 45 minute train ride during which I realize that nothing feels quite so good as earning your own money and being able to have a place where you can go and just forget about the "real problems" of the long term like college and robots and just focus on the present. So, I've started working. And it's been pretty great.

But work leaves me feeling kind of drained and I usually go straight home to just pass out for 3 hours and stay up doing essentially nothing for a few hours until I take a shower and repeat. Today was the first day of my weekend. I woke up on my couch at 8am and made a list of all the things I intended to do. I had done maybe 1.5 of them by noon, when I just stopped. But I did read about the importance of reading obituaries, genes and Schizophrenia, what products Americans are buying less of today (gum and soda are on the list), and how if the solar flare of 2012 had occurred a week earlier our lives could've been profoundly changed. I drowned myself in knowledge, and I found joy in reading again. In reading to read and to be informed and to feel powerful. I took a shelfie with my bookshelf in a contest to win a gift card for a used book store and put on make up for it. At some point later in the day I touched my eye and now have a mascara beauty mark under my right eye and now feel like a wannabe Marilyn Monroe even though the mark isn't in the right spot at all.

I thought about handwriting.

I'm one of those people that prefers a book to a Kindle, a pencil to a stylus, and a notebook to a laptop. I'm a techy, don't get me wrong, but I think there's something profound about the smell of the binding of an old book and the charm that comes with knowing pages 101-104 are ripped out and being aware of the exact way to hold it so they don't fly out. But that's an argument for another day. What I specifically thought about today was handwriting. I make to do lists almost every morning to plan and prioritize and just be able to visualize the moving pieces of my life. And I think my handwriting's pretty decent. Maybe not on a whiteboard in the middle of build season, but if I put even the slightest bit of effort, it's legible. And that's kind of profound. There are the people who are capable of looking at the world and translating it onto a piece of paper with shapes and lines, artists who sketch and shade and are capable of capturing a scene and a moment and sharing it with the world. Writers are the same way, we just use words.

There was a time when handwriting was considered a crucial skill for students. When kids would spend hours working in ensuring their I's were dotted correctly and their L's were never accidentally crossed. There was an art of being able to communicate ideas and feelings with those around you. When letter-writing was one of the only ways to stay in touch with people. On a trip to Mascota, Jalisco earlier this summer, I took the time to write 4 letters to people back in the States. I beat them back here, the postal system in Mexico may be worse than the one in Chicago, but it didn't matter. Storytelling is a lost art nowadays. Children get read bedtime stories from iPads and dream about Mickey Mouse and the latest Disney characters. I'm not about trying to go back to the way things were, I just don't think we should abandon our pens just yet. Being able to physically get something down on paper is still necessary, but only if it's legible. We may need to revert to these "old-fashioned" ways if another solar flare occurs, just saying.

That was my entirely random, incoherent regurgitation of a days worth of the thoughts that go through my head, but only the ones I could remember. For now, I think I should actually go to bed.

Sunday, July 13, 2014


So, I've spent a lot of time this week after returning from Mexico catching up on what I missed out on. I was up-to-date on the World Cup, but I had been oblivious to everything else that happened for the two weeks I was gone.

The first shock when I came back was the horrible 4th of July weekend Chicago had, during which 82 people were shot and 16 of those victims had died. The Twitterverse responded rather quickly, using the hashtag "FixingChicago" as a way of generating awareness and share ideas on how to change the city. The issues range from violence to education and are all tangled up together in a web of politics, racism, and money.

Now, I've led a pretty good life on the North Side of the city, but I don't think that bars me from believing that something needs to change and having an opinion about maybe how we should go about doing that. It disgusts me how a city I love, at city in which I have spent most of my life, can be so broken. I'm not a first-hand witness to a lot of what goes on, but I'd love to try. I mean, at this point I think we're pretty desperate. 16 dead is 16 not alive and is 16 too many for the 21st century.

So there's a lot going on in Chicago all at once. But before we say "I spot a problem, let's do this and hope it'll go away," as we have done in the past, maybe we should look at how all these problems are related and find the most efficient way to go about solving everything. Yes, everything. I'm out to save the world, I think you should join me for the ride.

Now, hold on. Let's just make a nifty list of what these shifting problems, we'll call them variables so it's like math, are: gun violence, access to education, and public transportation are the biggies, at least that I see.

Now, let's dissect them, starting from the bottom:

Public transportation is a biggie because without it, a lot of people can't get around to school or work or wherever they need to go to be able to support themselves and prepare for their futures. It's a big deal. And when Ventra was launched, it was a hassle but ended up being pretty good to CPS kids, it's 75 cents a ride, with 15-cent transfers. Not terrible. But this summer, despite many kids being involved in school-related activities such as sports or summer classes, or having internships or jobs that'll have a great impact on their post-high school lives, the CTA bumped prices back up to full fare for students. But even when it is at a reduced price, the CTA doesn't go everywhere. There are areas of the city that are in desperate need of a bus service, but I haven't heard anything about that. So public transportation's a biggie that isn't being handled very well at the moment.

Education is a biggie for what I hope are obvious reasons, but let's look at how it's impacted by public transportation and how it impacts gun violence to really get a sense of what's going on. So, like mentioned earlier, CTA dropped the ball on fares for students this summer, and a lot of kids rely on public transit to get to school. Like, a lot a lot. So there's that. And also, it's been pretty much proven that when kids are in school (good, safe schools, specifically), they have less time to do other things like getting involved with the wrong people and the wrong things. But with all the recent school closings and budget cuts, students have been forced to travel farther (amplifying the dependence upon public transportation and the issues with it not being accessible by all students), which also means more time on trains and buses and less time studying. Education is powerful, we've learned it from Malala Yousafzai. It amazes me that people still don't understand this. If anything Chicago, a 131-year-old city, should know by now. So education's also a biggie.

Violence is a biggie because it's what's caused outsiders to call us "Chi-raq," what's made residents afraid, and what, most strikingly, has killed way too many mothers, sons, fathers and daughters. Now, it's also a biggie because it's what sparked the whole #FixingChicago movement a few short days ago. It riles people up, it provides hard data, and it needs to stop. And the thing is, I believe it can. With the new awareness this tragedy has generated, maybe it's time that people will start looking for a new, multi-faceted approach to truly fixing Chicago. The bandaid approach of patching up little issues here and there just isn't cutting it anymore. And in my opinion, starting from the bottom, with public transportation and education, it's possible to change the culture around here. So, I say, let's get kids to school in a fast, safe way, and then let's actually teach them some things with teachers who are well-qualified and want to be there, and then let's let them work out their own problems and make their own decisions. I feel like the numbers will drop.

So, that's my quirky kind-of-solution-but-more-like-an-explanation of what I think needs to happen and is currently going on in my city. These are my biggies, but there are many more issues, like medical care and food deserts, homelessness and minimum wage. So, forgive me, if I left out one of your biggies and you're upset. Maybe it's a good thing you're upset because maybe it'll inspire you to come up with your own kind-of-solution-but-more-like-an-explanation and share it with the world.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Dichos, ponderings & a few vultures (for good measure)

Today has been a wild day. I've gone through a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions, and I haven't actually physically done much at all. I guess I'll start from the beginning...

I woke up kind of late because my grandma had company over and I couldn't sleep. We talked for a bit and after they left at 11pm, I kept my grandma company while she cleaned the kitchen. It was almost midnight by the time we finally got to crawl into bed.

But I slept amazingly, the first time I didn't have any dreams in a long time. And aside from the occasional kick in the face from Liam, I wasn't disturbed. So I woke up at 9am. It would have been later but my grandma was making pancakes and I didn't want to miss them... and that's just me waking up.

After breakfast I wrote for a bit, watched some inspiring videos to put me in a good mood (the kind that I don't have time to watch in Chicago that give me all the feels), and also had my sister take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. She was something along the lines of an ENTJ, which described her pretty accurately.

And I decided to look more at my Type just to know more about myself. I'm an INFP and I identify pretty strongly with most of the traits that are typical of one. Now I've always known that people like me, sensitive and creative, like to go into careers such as writers or social workers, but I've kind of avoided the thought.

Because I want to be an engineer. I mean, I joined robotics sophomore year and decided that I wanted to build things that make people's lives better. People would ask me what I wanted to study, what I wanted to be, and I could answer confidently "an engineer of some type, I don't know exactly what kind just yet." And I was happy. And people were happy.

And taking bio this past year, I started leaning more towards biomedical or biomechanical engineering. Thinking, "This is it: the best of both worlds. Bio and engineering, creating and people..." If only I could convince myself to stop right at that.

The problem with having a lot of time alone is that you think. And you start to doubt. And the thing is, I've had a lot of that lately. I've gone through these phases before, where I doubt all that I have come to know about my future self. Ask my best friend. She's heard every "epiphany" I've had this past school year regarding what I want to do. From epigenetics to pharmaceuticals, neurology to even writing, I'm no stranger to this type of freak out.

But rarely were they much of a problem. Like I said, I'd settle down and after maybe half a day I'd always come back to some type of engineering, happy to return to normalcy. But sometimes it would blow up. Physics was all kinds of stressful and when I got particularly caught up in it, doubt on my ability to become a decent engineer would resurface.

This past February I had a huge meltdown. The kind of meltdown that you remember for your entire life because it changes who you are. Physics wasn't working. I knew the concepts and felt I had a good grasp on them, it just took me a long time and sometimes approaches to problems and applications of concepts that were intuitive to others weren't so obvious to me. So I started dropping the engineering act or facade or whatever I had, and really looked into what I wanted.

I started thinking about why I wanted to be an engineer. And I got to the point where I realized, with help from friends, that what I really wanted to do was help people. And engineering was an easy answer just because it combined two things I loved: technology and people. But I understood that I wouldn't be helping people if I wasn't a good engineer. They say you don't need to be good at physics or even like it to become an engineer, but you do need to at least be able to tolerate it and accept that you'll be using it.

And so I walked away that day thinking bio was probably my best bet. I didn't want to leave science and all the innovation that surrounds it, but engineering wasn't exactly meeting enough of my personal need to help people. And while I knew I had the potential to go into something more "fit" for my type, I didn't want to. As my friend said, "There needs to be more people going into science for the right reasons." And I think I have the right reasons. I mean, I want to solve problems and help people. I don't know how or what, Alzheimer's is always in the back of my mind, but I felt better about that.

But I couldn't keep my mind from wandering back to engineering. It was the inevitable ending I just kept coming back to.

Last night when my grandmother's friends came over, one of them told us a dicho, a saying, that her husband told their kids. Translated, it's "Never go to sleep without having accomplished something that day, and never get out of bed without a plan for what to do next."

That's the style of living over here. Living day-to-day, sometimes on a ranch, or maybe in a small shop, but it's... simpler. And while it may seem hard to relate that to the hustle-and-bustle life that I know back in the States, the idea's the same. Do stuff, and have a plan to do more stuff. But the truth is, I still find myself getting lost in this struggle of what my "stuff" is.

And reading those MBTI career paths, I came upon one INFP who was an engineer and decided to become a lawyer because their previous occupation didn't satisfy their need to help people as much as they thought it would. And I took it as a sign, that I need to start another mental breakdown, and try finding what I really wanted to do in life. So I had it. A long thought. And I just sat there after my pancakes, thinking. Until 2:20pm. I took a shower some time in that time, but I still don't know.

At 2:20pm I went on an adventure with my grandma's friend and my family. We spent time by the lake and ate cucumbers with lime and salt and chile pepper. There were vultures circling, a lot of them. After the lake we went back into town for a coffee and cake. It was a good escape, but I'm still kind of lost.

Trying to describe this feeling is hard. I mean, I identified as being an aspiring engineer for so long, it's just hard to let go of it. And maybe that's the problem I have. Letting go of that image of myself that I anchored my life around is... hard. Trying to find out what I want to and should do for the rest of my life is... hard. Life is... hard.

And maybe I just need to suck it up. Maybe I can never have the "best of both worlds." But one thing is for sure: I'm either too immature or naive or too something to stop trying to find it. I know more mental breakdowns are in my future, but I just need to kind of roll with life for now and let it play out. There are worse things in life than not knowing what to do in college. The vultures can keep circling.