January 30, 2011

This Has Been

A lovely weekend, all told. Nyx came over on Friday, and we lolled about, chattered, and made origami. On Saturday, I went to SHP for the first time in ages. I was placed in cosmology along with Gopika, Rube, Sarah, and this random talkative girl who seems really familiar (there was also a girl from Rube's school who had heeled rainboots (no comprendo) who sat next to a different girl who looked really familiar (I think she was at Math Prize for Girls, and is one of those people who is all into math competition gossip, because that was the discussion while waiting in line for the bathroom)). I don't know if Rube signed up for cosmology because of me, or if he landed his second choice, but I'm not going to ask. I was kind of late (I wanted a latte more than I wanted to be on time), so I ended up between him and this adorable girl from New Jersey (not Gopika, actually). It should also be noted that I really wished the namesake for the Gopika I usually talk about was still around (she's two years older than me, sadly), because our instructor is quite cute. Based her comments to the 15-year-old me back in our neurobiology days, she's the sort to appreciate a good-looking teacher.

I've also been devoting much time to rereading Anathem, which is every bit as engrossing the second time around (I'm hoping to finish it up today, in keeping with the three days I managed it in last time...I also don't think I'm going to get any homework done until it's finished, so I ought to take advantage of this brief period of no-homeworkness).

After class on Saturday I took the 1 line really really far to meet Chao in Chinatown. Her family took me out for dim sum, which was just as yummy as I remembered, though she was on the whole very disappointed in my inability to identify or remember what I'd eaten in the past. I always figure I'm not allergic to anything, it smells halfway decent, I might as well eat it (we discovered, however, that chicken claws (or whatever those were) kind of weird me out). It was nice to meet her family, and the food was yummy. After that, we spent a few hours wandering through Chinese groceries. I saw fish (alive, dead and whole, dead and chopped up, dead and dried, dead and dried and chopped up...I could go on), and all sorts of unusual (to me) fruits and veggies, including something that looked like giant grapefruit. On the whole, though, it was mostly just nice to see Chao.

Since then, I've been at home. I messaged with Gaea a little bit last night, and I think I sent her some ramblings around midnight (though probably before...it was before I left bedcheck (where "bedcheck" refers to "discussing international politics with James in a forum visible to members of the RSI '10 community")) regarding my current internal debate, which is what I want to do with my life. For some reason, "SCIENCE" is insufficient. I have this urge to find a meaningful place in society. I could probably do this by having children, but I was sitting on the train last night and listening to a group of mothers discussing how they managed to get their children enrolled in public school gifted programs (because, as we all know, those are designed to assist whichever students had the most outside help...), and it struck me that I couldn't do that. I am not a person who will be capable of making her family into her life--I love family, I think I want to make my own someday, but that will never be enough for me. I need more--I need science.

But what sort of science? I love physics, but where in physics. Do I do something that has the potential to actually change the world--nuclear fusion, for example, the plasma physics Julie so adores--or do I follow the piece of my heart that wants me to leap off the deep end into the math-heavy world of something like particle physics. I'll probably end up in the former--I love math, and it's beautiful, but I put it under a header more like art, and while art is beautiful, I probably will never create a masterpiece, and I don't want to sit at the edge of my life and realize that for decades of work, I've created a few small pieces of a few small formulas that will be rendered obsolete by the tides of history. But who's to say I'd make a mark anywhere else--how do I know? Why am I so obsessed with creating something enduring when nothing truly endures in the first place?

I'm not sure where I'm going with this. I found out yesterday that I'm still in the running for the Thiel Fellowship. I think, if I land it, I'll take it, because it might be a chance to do something. But I'm also terrified that I don't have the expertise, that the funds won't be enough, or that living by myself would do me in, or that my ideas have no merit, I'll find that out within a month and then be stuck twiddling my thumbs for two years (realistically, I'm not the sort of person to do that, but I worry nonetheless). It would mean going to college while feeling like an adult--I'm not sure how well that would work--and also heading into one of the most rigorous undergraduate curriculums in the country while not having done any schoolwork in two years. But if I actually accomplished something meaningful, it would be worth it, I think.

But that argument is likely irrelevant, as it's highly probable I won't land the fellowship and it won't matter. I'll still be stuck under wondering how I want to change the world--I'm a bit worried my daydreams of academia have become another microcosm of the "what if I just gave up all of this ambition" question--but then, getting to a point where I'm doing research is ambitious.

I have a feeling when I'm older I'll look back at this and laugh, regardless of whether I'm doing theoretical work or telling a large group of engineers what to do.

January 28, 2011

Another Weekend

Midterms are over. I have no idea how they went, both because they haven't yet been graded and because I have a library accountability the size of a good-sized mountain (but not the size of those beautiful huge ones in my dream the night before last. Those were lovely.). I studied for chem instead of studying for physics, and I will probably be annoyed if I don't pull off an A in both--and I was definitely right in that physics would be more interesting if I didn't know what I was doing.

Beyond that, everything is a hazy blur of blurriness. Today is Ginny's birthday, I remember that (HAPPY BIRTHDAY GINNY). I got a phone call from MIT this other night, during their callathon (I keep wanting to call it a telethon, but I believe those are on TV). I wish I'd had a bit more warning--I ended up dithering for a bit, then asking about what the individual speaking to me (yes, I didn't write "girl" because I was distracted by the inherent problem of using girl instead of woman) liked about MIT--she said the best part is that everyone gets her nerdy jokes.

Speaking of science (was I speaking of science? No, but as we all know, science is everywhere, so this transition is always applicable), I have lined up an internship at a genetics lab for the spring. I am so excited, and it is requiring a great effort to refrain from utilizing all-caps. I am going to do science! In a real lab! With real scientists! And real mammalian cells! And pipettes and plates and all that other awesome stuff!!!!!!

It appears I couldn't hold back on the exclamation points. Ah, well. Science is worth it.

January 19, 2011

Extended Weekend of Awesome Awesomeness

This can also be referred to "the time that Tea decided not to study for her midterms, and instead elected to enjoy her spontaneously week-long school vacation."

No, I am not kidding about the week bit. Wednesday was a snowday, Thursday had a delayed opening, Friday was staff development, Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and Tuesday was another snow day. Yes, this is a lot of no-school, so, of course, I did a lot with it.

Thursday afternoon--ran science bowl practice. I made a list of all this stuff to look up, then didn't look it up. In my defense, my teammates said they were unwilling to start learning it before midterms anyway. Drove Julie home from ScienceBowl Practice. Well, not quite home--I started the weekend off with a bang by getting into my first ever car crash. Yup. Good stuff. Julie was giving me directions while talking about her sexy boyfriend (not that I'd know if he was sexy because I STILL HAVEN'T MET HIM!!!), she broke off midsentence to say "you should have turned there." I then totally misjudged the truck's ability to break (I blame it on the fact that the entire bed was full of snow, but I didn't think of this until the next day, so it's not a very good excuse), turned anyways, and whipped straight into an oncoming car. The driver of that car was really, really really really pissed, but I stayed relatively calm, even after she (totally unnecessarily, I might add) called the police. Then I called my dad, who untangled the vehicles, both of which are still totally drivable. Cosmetic damages, people. I drove the truck home, explained everything to my mother, then panicked about how much money I was going to lose.

Friday: I discover that the deductible on the insurance is a mere $500, so I'm only down between 500 and 627 dollars (those gosh-darned police gave me a ticket for driving on the wrong side of the road, which I'm likely going to argue because I wasn't driving on the wrong side of the road, I swerved into the wrong side of the road due to an inability to judge the breaking ability of my father's pickup truck...but I digress). This was immensely comforting. I also rediscovered the buckyballs I got for Christmas and proceeded to spend most of the day attempting to build a 6x6x6 cube (for the record, I did eventually succeed). I also took my younger sisters shopping at Delias, where I bought a gray sweater, new boot-cut jeans (note that I've stopped referring to the clothing that now fits me as fat pants), and a $20 jacket that I am head over heels in love with. Shelby spend a lot of money in exchanges and gift cards and is still pretty excited about it. I'm just glad that I have pants that fit that I can wear with boots, because given the current snow situation, boots are a must.

Saturday: I spent all of the daylight hours milling around and feeling like I ought to be doing something. I probably started in on my final project for Mideast. I finished reading the entire archive of Ben Jones's blog at MIT, then read the entirety of Laura's. I went to a yoga class, where I failed miserably at giving off the appearance of having any idea what I was doing. The fact that my calves are so tight that I can't do a proper downward dog (apparently a very important portion of vinyasa), and my arms are so weak I can't do this weird lying down thingy we had to do a kazillion times, and the my blood pressure is still so low I felt like I was going to black out by the time we reached the 10,000th forward bend--where was I going with this?--oh, right, did nothing to diminish my enjoyment of the class. It was not quite as successful as the first class was--I spend a good three days after that one feeling sexy (no, I do not know why, but it probably was some sort of hormonal thing meant to reward me for finally getting my ass off my swivel chair)--but still nice. Then I came home, inhaled my dinner, and spent three hours ice skating. The ice skates made circular bruises around my ankles for reasons as-yet unknown. I felt so active on Saturday night, you have no idea.

Sunday I don't really remember, which means it was probably boring. I think I got the oil changed on the cars, but that might have been Thursday. Or Friday. I think it was Friday, actually, now that you mention it. And I've just remembered that Sunday wasn't boring! Kathrya came over, ostensibly to do homework (we didn't). We skyped with Bart! Saudi-Arabia-dwelling Bart! Kathrya was so excited I'm kind of surprised she didn't implode. I enjoyed the opportunity to actually put my computer's built-in webcam to use (also, talking to Bart was fun).

Monday I did stuff. What did I do? Again, I'm rambling because I don't remember. Stuff probably happened, most likely. I slept pretty late. I went to Borders and exchanged one book my parents got me for Christmas for a host of other books, including 2 Eloisa James romance novels (I read one, but the second one isn't really working for me, since the protagonist is like 20, very much unrelatable, and is pretty definitely going to end up with a 43 year old. Laaaame). I also got Ned Vizzini's autobiographical essays written at age 19. I am in love with teenage Ned Vizzini. It is unfortunate, but it is true. If he was my age, he'd probably have a blog. I should probably find blogs of random teenage guys to read, so that I develop weird writing crushes on people my own age, instead of the historical version of older people. I'll work on it later--for now: Hot Guys Reading Books!

Tuesday I set my alarm for 6:10, called the snow line with my eyes closed, then slept for another three hours. I read books. I played the piano. I hid in my room while my sisters cooked both dessert and dinner (I'm really going to need to get over my irrational fear of cooking). I played with buckyballs some more. I ignored messages from Rube and Bart while I was reading, didn't manage to respond to Bart until he wasn't there anymore, never responded to Rube, talked briefly to Greg before he had to go to lab (but not before Olive stole his computer and started typing to me). Then I started reading Yan's blog over on MIT admissions, got about halfway through her freshman year posts, then saw that she got a UROP at Sadoway Group. Then I had an absurd jealous breakdown, followed by a decision to actually read some of the papers by the group to make certain that my minor obsession was founded on fact and not some imaginary "OH MY GOSH FLOW BATTERIES" thing, since they work on other stuff (that said OH MY GOSH FLOW BATTERIES AND HE WAS REFERENCED IN THE CANON THE DAY AFTER I WENT BY HIS LAB AND MET WITH RANDOM GRAD STUDENTS OH EM GEEEEE. Plus he teaches intro chem and is apparently really awesome. And the lab appears to be doing cool stuff). Pardon the all-caps, but I have limited self control. I started reading one of the papers (well, I saw that layer-by-layer is abbreviated LbL, giggled madly, then went to the living room to collect my laundry). I decided to write this post instead of reading the paper, took note of my current more-intellectual reading (it's about the fact that gender bias and subconscious-driven gender discrimination is damaging our nation's school children, and it's particularly awesome in that it's addressing the fact that gender bias is harmful to both girls and boys (something that a lot of boys with high feminist-potentials seem turned off by is the whole "only girls are being damaged" thing)), then came back to my room, where I proceeded to while away the hours until I was tired enough to go to sleep.

January 18, 2011

Chrome vs. Safari

I have made the switch to Google Chrome, and I do not regret it one bit. I am a Safari-user no more. For some reason, Safari got slower (I don't know if it was some update, or if my computer is getting old, or something unrelated), and began doing this awful thing referred to as 'crashing' when I opened up too many windows and tabs (an unfortunately frequent occurrence).

I love Chrome because the tabs operate separately, so when one crashes, I don't lose all the others in that window. I love chrome because I can drag and drop the tabs all over the place (I may have been able to do this with Safari, but I'm not sure). I love that I can 'go incognito' and have a spy dude with dark spectacles, a trenchcoat, and a hat keeping watch for me--I especially love that opening an incognito window displays a message warning me that incognito browsing does not protect against "people standing behind you." I found this entertaining enough that I used incognito browsing totally unnecessarily until I realized how dependent I am on being able to search my history.

Aside from that--Chrome is fast. It is faster than firefox on my machine, though both are faster than Safari. I will admit that I have not tried Opera, and that Chrome probably just provides another way for Google to stalk me, but I get so excited when I type one or two letters in the top bar, press enter, and arrive at my frequently visited sites that I honestly don't care.

January 16, 2011

Promiscuity vs. Abstinence; Science vs. Religion: Two Issues, One Fight

I'd had a few requests for my paper, so I'm going to post it. I plan on following it with a discussion on what I actually agree with from it. It should also be noted that I'm not sure why I'm doing this, as the paper was not, overall, that readable, and while I'm glad I've finished writing it, I'm still not sure I actually like it.


Modern technology has rendered virgin brides obsolete. It used to be that abstaining from sex until marriage prevented spread of sexually transmitted diseases, but this is not so in a world where condoms are commonplace. It used to be that a virginal bride was the only guarantee that a man’s child was his own, but this is not so in a time where technology can evaluate parentage. It is no longer even true the virginity is identifiable; if one wishes to practice deceit, surgeries can restore the hymen to all of its former glory. For hundreds of years, if not more, there has existed a paradigm in which women are expected to remain chaste until marriage. This “is a tenet of nearly all religions” (Stephey), but this particular sort of ideology had an altogether practical purpose: keeping bloodlines clean, preventing disease, and insuring that children had two parents. Technological development, though, has virtually eliminated these issues. In modern-day America, virginity is unnecessary.

However, in this same country, the abstinence movement is growing in strength. This group advocates for a complete lack of sex—and often sexual activity—prior to marriage. Members of the movement preach that a woman who has consensual premarital sex is a “broken victim” (Valenti 44) whose sexuality has become a metaphorical “poorly wrapped, saliva-fouled sucker” (41). Never mind that this woman is likely left with few physical marks—her chastity has been destroyed, and she now lacks her nascent goodness. By proclaiming that “sexual purity” is a “substitute … for real morality” (39), the virginity movement perpetuates the idea that a virgin bride is a necessity; no man should wish to marry an immoral woman, and, in the eyes of the movement, sex is all that it takes. Modern members of the virginity movement also fight for abstinence-only sex education, which avoids any teaching of contraceptives, and often include false scientific information. These programs typically “have a background in or connection to Christian organizations” (Kanabus). This exclusion of science in a religion-based discussion of sexuality is indicative of the degree to which modern Christianity pushes back against science. The abstinence movement has become not just a moral issue, but a microcosm of the constant battle between religious rule and scientific progress.

This fight is one that is believed to have begun “when Christianity began to obtain political power,” and it exists with “the expansive force of human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other” (Draper). This struggle manifests itself in many ways, but it had a particularly strong presence during the 16th century, when the Catholic Church “was under considerable threat … [from] the Protestant Reformation” (Jordan). Fearful of allowing anything to subvert their power, church leaders executed Giordano Bruno, burning him at the stake for attempting to popularize the Copernican model of the universe, which placed the sun, rather than Earth, at the center of our solar system—a theory “contrary to Holy Scripture” (de Santillana 313). Galileo, the man who found proof for this idea, was eventually forced to swear to “abandon the false opinion that the Sun is the center of the world and is immovable” (312). Religion, in an attempt to maintain political control, stood directly against the cause of science. The philosophy of Young Earth Creationism has followed a similar—albeit somewhat less dramatic—path, with the belief that God created earth some 6000 years ago in conflict with confirmed scientific findings (“Biblical”). The pattern occurs with relatively high frequency; something from scripture is questioned and there is a split as to what is believed. Invariably, the religious take up arms against the science just as the science gathers enough strength to discount some portion of traditional theology.

It seems somewhat illogical, though, that this is the same issue at the root of the abstinence movement. The members of the movement, however, seem to have no difficulty accepting this idea. There is a considerable Christian history of lashing out against technological developments perceived as creating a benefit to sexual activity. It was the push against premarital sex that gave Gardasil, a vaccine against the sexually transmitted Human Papilloma Virus, the nickname the Promiscuity Vaccine, as it was believed by many that young women “may see [the vaccine] as a license to engage in premarital sex” (Gibbs). This fear has been versed again and again, about “introducing anesthesia during childbirth, or using penicillin to treat syphilis” (Gibbs). It was the belief of staunch Christians that sinners ought to suffer for their sins—regardless of the fact that the definition of fornication as a sin may have originated because of the associated health benefits in a pre-technology society. This makes it quite clear that, from the side of the Abstinence Movement, modern technology is a threat.

This is likely because the original practical purposes of abstinence have been buried beneath a sea of religious doctrine as a result of attempts to make people actually abstain. From the time that Christianity was first codified into the Bible, the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians has been included (Pitre). This book contains direct statements against premarital sex, warning the faithful to “[f]lee fornication” (6:18), as “fornicators”—those who engage in premarital sex—are among those who “shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (6:9). These words and others, after a considerable quantity of time had passed, governed life in Puritan America. This is the setting of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, and purity from sin is a state that most of the novel's characters try and fail to reach. Closely related as purity and virginity frequently are, virginity is only explicitly discussed once, in reference to the young virgins who flock to the minister. These women are “victims of a passion so imbued with religious sentiment that they imagin[e] it to be all religion, and br[ing] it openly, in their white bosoms, as their most acceptable sacrifice before the alter” (118-9). There is the “white” of purity linked with the more sexual “bosoms,” but, more importantly, there is the conflation of religion and sexuality; “passion” applies equally well to religious fervor and sexual acts. For virgins, Christianity is this passion, because religion, like virginity, is good. It is unclear whether Hawthorne considers this the truth of the matter—the passion is “imagined … to be all religion” rather than simply being so, but it does proclaim that passion is something to be “sacrifice[d] before the alter”—to succeed religiously, sexuality must be surrendered, and, prior to marriage, virginity is the way to assure this. Religion promulgates the desire for abstinence, replacing the initial practicality of abstinence with something much less earthly, lacking the more rational reasoning that may have driven the creation of the original laws.

Just how important virginity became can be seen in Tess of the D'ubervilles. Tess, the heroine of the novel, is raped by a nobleman and eventually gives birth to a sickly child who soon dies. She keeps the identity of the father a secret, as well as her own unwillingness, so it is difficult to determine if the magnitude of the villagers' opprobrium would have differed had they known the truth. Tess eventually marries Angel, who is the son of a minister but elected not to enter the clergy. When Angel speaks with his father about what the woman he marries ought to be like, it exemplifies the link between goodness and chastity and shows that these views were present in the late Victorian era. Angel's father suggests “a pure and saintly woman,” and Angel agrees with the parallel “good and devout” (200), clearly connecting purity with both “goodness” and, in general, any “truly Christian woman” (199). When Angel goes on to reject Tess because of her previous defilement, his name adds a quantity of religious sanctity to his actions—a religious stamp on the idea that the loss of virginity is all that it takes to become undesirable, even is this loss is the result of rape. Angel's behavior is indicative of the oversimplification of women's morality that Valenti points out in modern America: virgins are good and sexually active unmarried women the opposite. The book also demonstrates that the ideal of pureness had somewhat overtaken its religious basis; although Angel was willing to forgive Tess' lack of intellectual knowledge of religion, it took many years for him to forgive a sin that she did not bring down upon herself. It should be noted, again, that it was neither the child nor any particular risk of disease that bothered Angel; it was the fact that his Tess was not the “pure” Christian woman he believed her to be.

The idea that abstinence is driven primarily by religion and associated religious morality is one that exists strongly in modern America, centuries after Tess' story took place and an ocean away. Organizations within the abstinence movement make no secret of the fact that their commitment to religion comes before all else. True Love Waits, for example, is an abstinence organization that, as of 2004, had received 400,000 pledge cards. Signing a pledge on the internet or in person involves making five commitments, to “god,” “yourself,” “family,” “friends,” and “future mate and children.” Each commitment is explained using a quote from the Bible, because even after all these years, Christian doctrine is still considered the primary motivator for premarital abstinence. Religious educators do their best to get the ideas across early—Souther Baptist churches teach youth that “[s]ex is dirty” from before they even know what sex is (Baines). At the same time, scientific progress is denied and misinformation is spread in the name of sexual education (Connolly). Organizations fighting HIV must regularly struggle with the fact that, because “according to church teaching … sex before marriage is wrong” (Rochman), many people—including Pope Benedict XVI (Butt)—do not support providing condoms to stop the spread of HIV, as this would be tacit acceptance of premarital sex.

Science, however, marches on. The development of the internet makes it harder for abstinence education programs to spread misinformation. Contraceptives are being developed for the opposite gender (Schieszer), and Pope Benedict actually changed his mind on the role of condoms in disease prevention (Randall). At the same time, however, the ever more present media has enabled sexualization of younger individuals (Durham); it seems that there is more to protecting youth than merely preserving their virginity. By shutting abstinence so thoroughly out of the purview of secular logic, it has become that much more difficult for those creating new developments to insure that people are protecting themselves and their partners. As it stands now, the only true way to escape the stigma that is attached to sexuality—a stigma that is only the echo of that in Puritan America and Victorian England—is to follow in the path of Virginia Woolf's Orlando. Orlando becomes sexually involved with a number of individuals, and lives by the motto “Life! A Lover!” (244), finding each within the other. Orlando is able to be relatively promiscuous without being scorned because of her complete disregard for gender norms—this is a character who literally changes characters halfway through the text—and her immortality, which allows her to exist as someone somewhat separate from the cultural rules of her era. In today's actual America, however, the battle continues; the religious man the battlements in defense of ideology that is has lost its purpose when under the fire of development.

Works Cited
Baines, Steven. “Sex and the Church --- Teaching Abstinence in a World Awash with Sex.” General Board of Church & Society of The United Methodist Church. 19 Dec. 2010. Web. 6 Jan. 2011.

The Bible. King James Vers. Project Gutenberg. Literary Archive Foundation, 1 Aug. 1989. Web. 6 Jan. 2011.

“Biblical Young Earth Creationism.” Northwest Creation Network. Web. 7 Jan. 2011.

Connolly, Ceci. “Some Abstinence Programs Mislead Teens, Report Says.” Washington Post 2 Dec. 2004: A01. Web. 7 Jan. 2011.

Draper, John William. Preface. History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science. By Draper. Comp. Charles Keller and David Widger. Project Gutenberg. Literary Archive Foundation, 21 Aug. 2008. Web. 6 Jan. 2011.

Durham, M. Gigi. The Lolita Effect. Woodstock & New York: The Overlook Press, 2008. Print.

Gibbs, Nancy. “Defusing the War Over the 'Promiscuity' Vaccine.” Time 21 Jun. 2006. Web. 5 Dec. 2010.

Hardy, Thomas. Tess of the D'ubervilles. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2009. Print.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2009. Print.

Jordan, Robin. “Galileo Galilei vs the Church: Incompatibility of Science and Religion.” Florida Atlantic University, Fort Lauderdale. FAU Science Courses. Web. 6 Jan. 2011.

Kanabus, Annabel, et al. “Abstinence and Sex Education.” Avert. 2011. Web. 6 Jan. 2011.

Pitre, Brant. Outline. “The Origin of the Bible.” Catholic Productions. Web. 6 Jan. 2011.

Randall, David and Roberts, Genevieve. “Pope Signals Historic Leap in Fight Against Aids.” The Independent 21 Nov. 2010. Web. 7 Jan. 2011.

Rochman, Sue. “Sex, Abstinence, and the Church.” HIVPlus Mag Feb. 2004: Web. 6 Jan. 2011.
de Santillana, Giorgio. The Crime of Galileo. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976, pp. 312-313.

Schieszer, John. “Male Birth Control Pill Soon a Reality.” MSNBC 1 Oct. 2010. Web. 7 Jan 2011.

Stephey, M. J. “A Brief History of: Abstinence.” Time 19 Feb. 2009: Web. 6 Jan. 2011.

“True Love Waits.” Lifeway. 2007. Web. 5 Dec. 2010

Valenti, Jessica. The Purity Myth. Berkeley: Seal Press, 2009. Print.

Woolf, Virginia. Orlando. Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 1973. Print.

January 14, 2011

Impostor Syndrome

I'm writing this post because I felt the urge to talk about a little feminine problem, and I'm hoping that this will also teach me to spell "impostor" properly.

Impostor syndrome is, according to wikipedia, "a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments . . . Regardless of what level of success they may have achieved in their chosen field of work or study or what external proof they may have of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced internally they do not deserve the success they have achieved and are actually frauds. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they were more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be."

I feel like there's some issues with plural/singular nouns and pronouns in there, but it does get the point across. And though I called it a feminine problem, wiki also states that it's present in both women and men. I just hear about it much more in women, partly because of the whole affirmative action thing (I wonder if there's any difference across races), and likely for some other reasons.

I know I've felt it. There were plenty of times this past summer when I was certain that my work was vastly inferior to everyone else's, and that it was only a matter of time before that program higher-ups figured me out (this is, legitimately, the main reason that I have this paranoia of not getting the counselor gig). When Gretchen and I spent two hours during Moody's running manual congressional seat allocations, I truly believed that I shouldn't have been there, that the team really deserved someone who actually knew what he or she was doing (i.e. knew how to program...though I do legitimately think that having someone who knew how to program would have been a boon. This reminds me of the fact that I should really do some more practice on the python front). If I end up in electrical engineering, you can bet your ass I'll spend a considerable amount of time worrying that my lack of experience can never be made up for (is this influencing my current decision to focus on physics? Who knows.). Even if I end up in physics, or math, or whatever else, I'm going to sit around and worry, like I did this summer, that I'm not capable of accomplishing anything in the field, that I got this far by some sort of trickery and that, when I'm actually working, I will be unable to find new material, and I'll end up waiting tables at some tiny restaurant in the midwest.

Do I know, intellectually, that I wouldn't have reached this point if I wasn't capable? Yes. But that doesn't mean that I truly believe it. I'd say that I'm better about it than I've been in the past--I've developed a level of confidence in my abilities that I really hadn't had before--but the problem still exists. It's one that I hear out of Julie, too (hopefully she doesn't mind my sharing); she's not good enough, she doesn't deserve this, she wouldn't have gotten in if it weren't for x, etc. (Jules? You deserve every bit of it, and when you go to college and kick the metaphorical butt of your selected institution, perhaps you'll come to agree with me).

I'm still not sure what I'm trying to say with this. I guess it's a reminder to myself to be more certain of my accomplishments. I noticed at RSI that a huge number of people--including some of the very best (Gopika, I'm looking at you)--seemed convinced that they were the one person who shouldn't have gotten in, that they would be the one person who didn't get into xis college of choice. It's like how someone--I think it was Carlisle, but I honestly don't remember--had a bit of a breakdown to someone else--I think it was Kaylee--about the fact that he'd only published two papers, and everyone was so far ahead of him and what on earth was he doing here?

It doesn't get us anywhere, the worrying. I force myself not to, I guess because I realize that it won't get me anywhere. But what is it, culturally, that pushes us into this feeling that we don't deserve what we have? Why are we all so convinced that we aren't good enough? It could be that RSI is built up so much that no one, except perhaps Patrick, thinks themselves good enough, but then why does it exist in other places?

I'm going to find some books on the subject, read them, and then do a lot of thinking before not actually deciding. Hopefully the books both exist and are nice to read.

January 9, 2011


I should probably sign something announcing that I will never again call something "Part 1" unless I have already written "Part 2." Because my languishing party post is unlikely to ever get finished, and it's a bit rude of the title to suggest that it would.

I've recently realized that "rude" is the worst insult in my arsenal. I realize that this sounds patently ridiculous, but after some careful analysis (that I haven't performed yet but will perform right now), I've decided that this is true. I'm also debating whether using cuss-words in a vaguely academic context is allowable, and I think that it is, so be forewarned, rude language awaits ye who read onwards (see what I did there? Geddit?). Rude isn't ridiculous enough that it doesn't get taken seriously (or is overused by rappers...wait, there's that Rihanna song, isn't there? Shoot.) For example, I do not call someone a ho-bag really mean it. I don't like slut because I think it's a fundamentally sexist piece of the English language, and because I consider people's sex lives their own business, and I think it's rude of others to insult someone for something that's really a matter of personal preference.

Notice that I just used rude again. It's so multi-purpose. It's rude for people to call people names when they shouldn't be call names. It's rude to use bad manners when eating. It's rude to play really loud music while others are trying to do homework (speaking of which, I just went and yelled at Shelby to shut up. She called Genie and I "poops." It was very creative of her, but not really that bad of a word--for instance, it was actually enough to make Angry Genie start laughing). It's rude to steal, it's rude to do a lot of things--but, to me, it encompasses any action performed without thought to the effect it will have on others. I'm not sure how I gave it that broad of a definition--I'm fairly certain it's a lot broader than it should be--but, in my book, to be rude is as bad as it can get.

January 7, 2011

Some Highlights of my RSI Notebook

We will ignore the fact that I may have already done this, then forgotten.

On the first day, we learned about The Odyssey. "Odysseus ~ Hephaustus (skill, craftmanship). He knows the value of disguise and restraint, except when he's hungry." In bio, nothing funny happened. In chemistry, I was confused: on June 21st's chem sheet: "Look up: ELECTRONEGATIVITY". On the side--"what is this electronegativity?" Oh, how naive I was. We also talked about the oil spill, and I legitimately contributed to the discussion by suggesting that we nuke the source. Our professor also produced this gem: "Before petroleum, the world was a much darker place . . . literally." The solutions we examined included "hair"--using the stickiness of hair to absorb the oil--not kidding--and "petroleum eating microbes"--though an associated flaw is "NEW ORGANISM AAAHHHH" and "SCOTT WESTERFIELD = EVIL." I'm not really sure where I was going with that one.

The next day, we learned about The Odyssey again. I drew a lot of pictures. In bio, I noticed that the teacher did that thing where she pronounced Ws with an h in front, like hwere, and hwat. Also, mitochondrial issues can be described as when the "mitochondria go rogue," which I have to say sounds really cool. In chem we learned about birth control. At first, emmenin was extracted "from the urine of pregnant women (yum.....)", but premarin came from a "less squishy source" (thank you, prof. Michael)--horse piss. An interesting bullet on this page is "-chem stuff that supposedly makes sense."

Day three involved a lot more pretty pictures during English and a couple of very coherent quotes a la "life sucks after you die." In chem, we learned about why mountain dew isn't transparent. Day 4, I finally stopped taking notes during English. In Chem, we made a nice chemistry vs. biology comparison chart. Bio left, chem right.

body temperature/whatever you want
1 atm+/whatever you want
1mM to 1 micromolar/ .1M -1M
sequential transitions/one step at a time
Water of pH 7/non-polar
thermoneutral and reversible/exothermic
very specific/general

I then have notes on the one grid study meeting I went to (where notes is defined loosely as "a titled page with a lot of doodles"). Weirdly, I have "what is a parallelepiped" in my notes from the first few days in the Nuclear Sciences department; I distinctly recall getting to math this year and not knowing what they are." From here on...it's my research notebook. The only interesting things are the song lyrics scribbled in Teaish in the margins, which looks to be a lot of "You! Me! Dancing!" The only remotely interesting thing remaining is the doodletastic page shown below.

January 3, 2011

Unattached Musings

This is, *ahem*, a serious post. Somewhat unusual for me, I suppose, but I've been feeling rather moody all day (whether this is due to the comment we're about to discuss or to the fact that I'm back at school after a phenomenally luxurious break is currently undetermined) so this post gets to bear the brunt of it.

What set it off was a conversation with a certain Nyx regarding a certain Warburton (I'm currently trying to ignore the fact that it's entirely possible that Warburton will read this and recognize the description of himself...I'm still adjusting to the fact that people legitimately read this thing). Warburton is one of the many individuals who have emailed me in search of RSI assistance (my last count is 26 total); his email was one of the more memorable, though, as it was about four pages of sleep-deprived babbling, followed by an offer to play scrabble. I spent a couple of days pointing and laughing at the email, the read it closely enough to work out what he was asking and try to respond to that. After we had worked out that he was not, as I originally suspected, completely batshit crazy, I gave him Nyx's email because she wanted a scrabble buddy. She reportedly stayed up way too late talking and playing scrabble with him, and they reportedly had a bit of a nerd cred contest.

Nyx defines nerd cred as indie cred for nerds. Indie cred does have a wikipedia entry, so I suppose this is legit. I define nerd cred as "that thing I am always trying to get more of. Bryant probably defines nerd cred as "that thing I have so much of that I don't bother trying anymore." Bryant has an amount of nerd cred comparable to the level of indie cred held by a band that only its members have heard of. Warburton's nerd cred, from what I can tell, is more along the lines of the band that doesn't exist yet--so, basically, dude is a completely, ridiculously smart. I'm exaggerating a bit, but for the sake of the analogy, it is at least somewhat funny.

As I was saying, Nyx and I had a conversation on the way to school (it should be noted just how terrible I am at sticking to a serious topic). She said Warburton has more nerd cred than me. I agreed, saying that he should get into RSI as a result, but one never knows. She agreed with me, and I said that I wonder sometimes how I got into RSI when there are all of these awesome people out there. She gave me the look that said that I was missing some important point.

"You're a girl," she said, as if that was all the reason that was needed.

I can't find it on the website (so maybe it's not true) but I recall being informed, multiple times, that for those selecting an RSI class, affirmative action is not used. This is how we end up with 1.5 minority students and only 1/3 girls (I just checked flipped through my summerbook at counted the American students--30%. I cannot imagine it would be that low if affirmative action was used). The website does say that students are selected "solely on the basis of their accomplishments and intellectual potential," but this was in reference to costs rather than gender/race/what have you, and I'm not the sort of person who will seriously quote out of context.

Regardless, it hurts. It hurt when Dino said the only reason I was selected for SHP at the end of freshman year, when he was not, is that I was a girl. Because obviously my test scores are lower, or the same--I couldn't possibly have a greater level of scientific knowledge beyond the biology that I will freely admit he is better at. It hurts that when I am sitting at the top of my AP physics class (well, I'm not certain my grade is actually the highest, but that's because I'm being lazy and not working as hard as I should), class that has 25 boys and 2 girls (though I grant you the vast majority of these guys are jocks who probably should not be in the class), and people continue to think that I got into college because I'm a girl, that I had this opportunity and that opportunity because I'm female and not because I am a very intelligent person who has spent years working my ass off.

But I'm a secure individual. I know that shouldn't bother me, because satisfaction rests within the self. I believe that I am both capable and deserving, so it shouldn't matter what others think. The only reason that it should bother me is the same reason that the previous sentence says "believe" instead of "know." I am not as certain as I think I am. Nyx's words troubled me because she is among my closest friends, and is one of those I've known the longest and know the best. It makes me wonder: if my best friend doesn't believe in me, who will? And if she doesn't it, is my belief in myself unwarranted?

This is the insecurity that gnaws at me. It continues to live partly because most of the things that people regularly dispute can be attributed to affirmative action, so I can't quite tell myself that they aren't true--but I can't totally blame an outside source. Much of it is a case of "imposter syndrome", the feeling that, no matter what I've achieved, I've cheated somehow, and one of these days, someone is going to notice that I don't deserve my current position. It's common, from what I can tell, among women in the sciences, and I'll discuss it later, but I went on a huge tangent below, and I think that a discussion of that idea deserves its own post.

The insecure feeling is similar to that which troubled me when Kathrya assumed I wouldn't land something because I'd be competing against international students, and they'd all be better--though in that case, it bothered me less, because I'm well aware that the best of the rest of the world is substantially better than me. I'm well aware that a lot of students in this country are better than me--but in what I've dedicated myself to, the number is damn small. There are probably tens of thousands with my grades, but if you throw in research and everything else--there are a number that do better, but from what I can tell, there are a few hundred of us that are about on par with each other (maybe closer to 1000 or so, I'm not entirely sure), maybe a bit more or less--though I'm getting stuck on this one, because while it's easy to make sweeping judgements, I don't know what everyone else is capable of, and I still don't know precisely where I stand.

However, any of these people would be qualified, overall, for RSI. These are the people that will do research at Caltech, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Stanford (though a smaller number of them will end up at other schools). I don't really know what separates those who got into RSI from those who didn't--RSI is literally too small of a program to accept all of the qualified applicants, particularly if we take to heart MIT's constant statement that it, too, cannot accept all who are qualified--but regardless, there are more people sitting at the level of "totally awesome" than there are people at RSI. And at this point, I no longer remember what the purpose of this discussion was--something along the lines of being the best here, but not the best everywhere, which doesn't totally make sense. My 1000 estimate of people who are really into research--well, that's not a very conservative estimate. I would probably be better off with a few times that. And if "the best" includes that many people, what really qualifies me to say that I or anyone else is the best? If we make our definition broad, we pick up people who are good at many things. If we make it narrow, we discount the most intelligent.

I think I just made a point, but it has no relation to anything else I've talked about. I wanted to say something about affirmative action, I think. About how horrifically bitter Gretchen is because, from what she can tell, being an asian female puts her at a disadvantage in the college process. About how worried I feel that I've been receiving things I haven't deserved, even as I am fuming over the fact that others don't believe I deserve them. So where does it help?

It helps the statistics. It makes schools have the right numbers. And as I said before, with the huge numbers of the best, you could quite possible fill an MIT class with asian females and have the whole class be amazing. You could probably do the same with white Europeans. I don't know enough about the numbers to say if one could do the same with blacks, or with hispanics--I have a feeling that there aren't enough total people in research positions already. You could probably fill a class with people capable of succeeding, but it's quite likely that they wouldn't have had the same training. Just like I wouldn't have had the same training if I hadn't been accepted to the programs I was accepted to--because that's what enabled me to be one of these best people.

I feel like my reasoning is going in circles. The problem is that any equality in receiving an opportunity can go two ways--you can try to equalize people based on what they've had access to, and accept based off of that. Or you can actually take the people who have done the most, sum total, to be the most qualified. It's confusing, and I don't totally get it, and I'm tired, and I have a feeling that I'm going to offend people, and I'm a bit annoyed about the fact that I'm no longer anonymous, so I'm probably going to offend real people.

*insert curse word here*