regaining focus

My last post was in China. Since then, I’ve been running around like crazy – or at least I feel like that. It’s not intentional procrastination, but somehow, I’ve found it difficult to get myself together after getting back. It is in striking contrast to how focused I was when I was there. I had to focus there, we went into the office at 9 and left at 5 everyday. It was expected of us – and obviously, we wanted to make them happy – like they’d spent their money well by inviting us. There was a sort of energy and focus there that I found to be really motivating and helpful. The students were attentive during our presentations and asked lots of questions. I wanted to bring this energy back here, and go with it. Maybe it was just jetlag that kind of threw me off, I don’t know, but I’m getting that back. So where am I going with this – what does it have to do with this class. It has to do with the discrepancy in motivation between the Chinese students and the American ones. I could use to learn a lot from their focus and drive. I’m still not really sure how they get it. They are forced to sit for four 2 hour long classes a day in undergrad, but in high school, I had a long classes with few breaks. I still didn’t focus that well? I think the fear of failure is greater than what has been instilled in my generation – or my generation as an upper middle class suburban kid.

I had just met a Chinese woman who has her phd, when she asked me “why are you doing this, do you hate yourself?” While she was a friend of a friend, I still thought this was a brazen sort of question for someone you’d just met. Taken aback, I said “no, I just decided grad school was right for me because I still wanted to learn more formally.” Then, I asked her why she had gotten her phd. She replied because she felt like she had to. I was surprised. I didn’t know it was expected of her or anyone. I had figured it was encouraged and maybe pushed more, but definitely not required. Expectations are just different – and they’ve been instilled in them. When I was there, I got some of that instilled in me, and now it’s time to put it to work. Hopefully, my adviser is pleased that my work output speed increases.

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beijing or bust

So, right now, I’m in China with my colleague at a university – specifically, North China Electric Power University in Beijing. I’m surprised at both the similarities and differences to an American university. It’s full of students and professors just going about their day – like they would in any university anywhere in the world. I feel like I’ve been very overwhelmed by the number of people, but then I have to remember that I do feel the same way at VT sometimes if I forget to plan my traveling at times when classes are not changing. Sadly, we aren’t able (or rather, wouldn’t want) to attend classes because they are all in Chinese. The classes are 2 hours long though, just the normal classes for undergrads, not special later ones like PFP. That’s an awfully long time, but I think that they are just expected to pay attention.

For graduate students, we are expected to be in the office from 9-5. In the US, lots of graduate students are required to do this, but for me, my advisor doesn’t really ever know where I am – nor does he care. We meet weekly and he can always tell if I’ve gotten enough work done for the week. The fear of letting him down also motivates me. The respect and admiration I have for my advisor seems somewhat more unique in the US. Many students feel more indifferent (or don’t like) to their adviser, but I actively enjoy seeing mine. I get the impression that the students here also revere their advisers more in the way that I do. That being said, I don’t think they work as interactively with them as I do. I have seen small groups of grad students get together and discuss research which seems interesting and productive – I think it would benefit us to do something similar. We have larger lab meetings, but I don’t know that it as beneficial as smaller groups.

What is slightly different is that all of the students must live in the dorms. There are 3-6 people per dorm room – which is incredibly cramped. I guess that’s just expected though. There are dining halls and sports fields just like in the US – though for the quantity of students, the athletic areas seem small. Also, it’s worth noting that there is a security guard if you are trying to drive onto the campus area. You must present a badge on your car to pass through.

These are just some observations for now…I’m sure as I continue here over the next week, there will be more.

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All My Friends…

This is a throwback post to the days of AIM profiles. I put a lot of time into those things back in high school; they were the only thing you could personalize on the internet. You could make a blog or a livejournal, but it wasn’t as popular, and this was before MySpace was much of anything. Anyway, these are the lyrics to LCD Soundsystem’s All My Friends. It’s an awesome song, and it makes me happy, in the way that most of their music does. It also makes me miss all my friends a lot. Luckily, I’ll be seeing them soon!

That’s how it starts
We go back to your house
We check the charts
And start to figure it out

And if it’s crowded, all the better
Because we know we’re gonna be up late
But if you’re worried about the weather
Then you picked the wrong place to stay
That’s how it starts

And so it starts
You switch the engine on
We set controls for the heart of the sun
One of the ways we show our age

And if the sun comes up, if the sun comes up, if the sun comes up
And I still don’t wanna stagger home
Then it’s the memory of our betters
That are keeping us on our feet

You spent the first five years trying to get with the plan
And the next five years trying to be with your friends again

You’re talking 45 turns just as fast as you can
Yeah, I know it gets tired, but it’s better when we pretend

It comes apart
The way it does in bad films
Except in parts
When the moral kicks in

Though when we’re running out of the drugs
And the conversation’s winding away
I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision
For another five years of life

You drop the first ten years just as fast as you can
And the next ten people who are trying to be polite
When you’re blowing eighty-five days in the middle of France
Yeah, I know it gets tired only where are your friends tonight?

And to tell the truth
Oh, this could be the last time
So here we go
Like a sales force into the night

And if I made a fool, if I made a fool, if I made a fool
On the road, there’s always this
And if I’m sewn into submission
I can still come home to this

And with a face like a dad and a laughable stand
You can sleep on the plane or review what you said
When you’re drunk and the kids leave impossible tasks
You think over and over, “hey, I’m finally dead.”

Oh, if the trip and the plan come apart in your hand
You look contorted on yourself your ridiculous prop
You forgot what you meant when you read what you said
And you always knew you were tired, but then
Where are your friends tonight?

Where are your friends tonight?
Where are your friends tonight?

If I could see all my friends tonight
If I could see all my friends tonight
If I could see all my friends tonight
If I could see all my friends tonight

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best bed ever

i’m not super keen on kids, but if i ever have them, i will build this for them. if i don’t ever have kids, maybe i will just build it for myself.

AT-AT Loft bed!!

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more than anything, i hope this is true…

“Looking back over a lifetime, you see that love was the answer to everything.” – Bruce Dackler

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after class post…

So, I think I’m continuing this because I like having a chronological account of things that I think are important (or at least important at the time). Maurice Sendak recently died, and in looking up information on him, I came across this video. It is his account on life and death where he talks about what he would’ve missed out on if he’d never been born and the things he’s come to believe throughout his life. Where the Wild Things Are was a very big book in my childhood and the first time I saw the trailer for the movie (set to a very good Arcade Fire song),  I kind of teared up…not only that, but so did my brother.  This meant a lot to me, maybe just as much as the number of times I read that book as a child.

Anyway, now that is put down somewhere, I’m going to go listen to that whole cd…loudly.


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blogs leading to blogs

As I’ve mentioned before, prior to starting my own blog, I was apprehensive about the whole situation. Now that I have settled into it a little bit more, I’m kind of getting into other blogs. Though none of them are particularly scholarly, I am  at least exploring the world of blogdom. Several which I have become pretty frequent visitors include whatshouldwecallme – a tumblr full of funny gifs and jokes that I can relate to as a recent enough college graduate. Additionally, I’ve begun to follow thecoquette – a hilarious set of blogs written by a woman anonymously. The posts can be kind of crude, but they are interesting, well written, and make me appreciate how witty some people are. There are a few others, but those pop to mind as the ones I check most often.   I’m sure that there will be others, and I’ll probably post more that I have really enjoyed reading as I continue to find them.

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After watching some of Coachella that was streaming this weekend, I realized that I had to make Bonnaroo happen. I have some amazing people (including my brother) gathered up and ready to go. Tickets will be bought soon and this extravaganza will start, and I’m pumped. This will be my first music festival and I hope I’m ready for all it brings. Part of the final push to spend the money to do this was watching Bon Iver’s set. Even though I prefer live music to be more upbeat, it was really amazing. I figured I’d post a video of Holocene. Also, SBTRKT had an awesome set. I’ve gotten into them as of late and really enjoy it.

Of course, Phish headlining is a good deal for me – I’ve seen them twice and am excited to see them again. My bunnies that I posted earlier are actually named after the song Wilson and the song Suzy Greenberg…so I’d say I’m a pretty big fan. It has also inspired me to now only name my animals after songs. It’s fun to find new ones for future animals.



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So these are my bunnies; I love them. That is all.





Suzy (left), Wilson (right)

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i and thou, amazing TAs, and freire

What does I and thou mean? Well, according to Martin Buber’s book, I and Thou, it is a way of experiencing a relationship with a person. The I-It relationship is used in describing experiences within the world. Prior to an interaction between two people or a person and an object, there is an “I and Thou” relationship. When you are in the presence of others, even without thinking of them directly, there is an “I-Thou”relationship. It is between two subjects whole beings – it is a non-quantifiable, but mutual interaction. In the time that you are meeting someone, in that instant that you are placing yourself in a location, in the world experiencing another person, it becomes an “I-It” relationship. That your existence and their existence are now mutually relating to one another’s, but seperately in the “I-It” world — this is deep. My very incomplete and basic explanation of this may not indicate the extent to which this reformed thought process should make you think about every person you have ever met.

In undergrad, at UVA, I took a Religion and Modern Fiction class. It was an amazing course that required me to read “I and Thou” in conjunction with Eli Wiesel’s “Gates of the Forest” – a Calvin and Hobbes type story of a Jew escaping the Holocaust with a mysterious sort of partner who you never really understand.  During the discussion section for this class (2 lectures per wk + 1 small discussion session), we were discussing these books and their relation. In the last 2 minutes before discussion ended, I wanted to know what the point was? Why do we need to experience I-Thou relationships? Or why do we need to recognize that we have them? The TA, Howard, whose name I still remember he was that good, replied: “because that acknowledgement and relationship can prevent a holocaust.” — woah. what? Ultimately, Buber was trying to get close to the Judea-Christian God, who he considered the Eternal Thou – the ultimate abstract relationship. Additionally though, he was trying to explain the sanctity of our beings ability to interact without our consent, and then how it changes in realizing that we have. Howard’s comment has stuck with me for a long time now – along with a half-baked understanding of this book.

This has been a long winded way of saying that what Freire had to say in his book reminded me of this book. His emphasis on the relationship between the teacher and the student is similar to what Buber is explaining. When Freire discusses the dichotomy between people and the world – people just live in the world, not with it or with other people and thus, the teachers job is to determine how the student should have the world filtered into him. Without the acknowledgment of people within the world and their experiences within the world, teachers can’t relate to students – you can’t have the proper I relationship with them for the most optimal type of learning. What is interesting is the Buber doesn’t really address the “banking” type of relationship as a relationship. He doesn’t address a way of interacting with people that isn’t sacred and important, even if it is completely within the tangible world and not an I-Thou relationship.

Anyway, as a teacher, I realize that I should aspire to have an I-It relationship with my students – one that recognizes them as other beings with whom I can share and learn.


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