Beyond The Sort

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A tall building on a warm evening. A slight breeze blowing in the northwestern direction picking up the heat emanating off the hot concrete from the earlier that sun-scarred day. It’s warm enough for sweat beads to form on the body but cool enough not to be bothersome.  The last lights of the sun have already dissipated leaving only the artificial lamps of the living to illuminate the blackened streets below. There on top of that building we stand alone on the precipice, waiting for the answer, will we float or sink. It is as if we are to walk along the edge and be judged. Judged by a force that does not know context or form will decide. Where then does our destiny lie, and will we ever know unless we open ourselves to falling. Will it decide right or left, one will lead to death and the other release.  There we walk, teetering on that edge, hoping it’s not already too late.

Almost every student looking to attend graduate school have to take a test. Its named  Graduate Record Examination or called more commonly as the GRE. This test is daunting to most because of its deceptively simple questions require students to brush up on skills and abilities that ultimately have nothing to do with the subject matter they are attempting to study. Of course, there are exceptions to this but ultimately this exam that is the great standardizer among students and although it may not get you into a program, it can certainly keep you out.  I bring up this exam, not for the exam,  I could devote pages to how much this test has cheated young scholars that I know out of opportunities, no today I want to highlight of because of the way this exam is scored.

You can refer to this test as a living test, it’s really amazing. You see, as you take the test, the difficulty of the test will adjust to you, you get one wrong, questions get easier, you get one right, the test gets harder.  What it’s doing is gauging your score by homing in on exactly where your proficiency level is.  The only problem with this is that the first couple questions ultimately become the most important ones.  These are the great sorting questions, get the first couple wrong and it is impossible to get a high score on the GRE.  First sort, top half or bottom, then exactly where in those halves you lie. The rest of the questions are there to accurately gauge your specific score and percentile.  This is done so that Math majors and English majors can take the same test and still get an accurate measurement of their ability when compared to everyone else in between.

Now while you take the test, you can bring your score up if those first couple questions just happened to be your weakness, but for some, the test is decided after a much shorter time. You might answer all the questions, but your score was determined only after the first few, your ability to fly cut short by the first few mistakes.  Of course exactly how your test is scored and exactly how long it took to score it is a company secret, you’ll never know how long it took for people to make those judgments. If you do bad, you have to start all over, pay out some more money and hope that next time will go better.

It’s really unfortunate not just because the test is terrible but a lot of the time this system mirrors the reality.  We are sorted in such a way where the first few mistakes ultimately set us back, mistakes that may have nothing to do with the path you are trying to follow control you. If you get the first couple answers wrong you get sorted, and sorted, and sorted until having to start over becomes the only option but at that point, you’ve put all your time and money to get there.  What does it take to bridge that gap, how do you become the one that rises to the top, the cream instead of the water? Do these barriers matter because at some point when we get mixed together you can’t really break cream from coffee.

I don’t argue that it’s a way to give those who show more potential more opportunity and the system works for some but it is also seeded in the belief that people don’t change and with that belief, great barriers arise to separate those cans from cannots.  This is not everywhere, there are great institutions whose message to the world is let us help you make a good life for yourself.  It is then I who has this problem, this desire of prestige reserved for the few who are sorted.  This inequality in my heart that calls to say that I am not worth the dirt on the ground if I can’t fly in the sky.  What are we then to this, the world tells us where the “important” people are and live. To the hill that rises live those who stand above us all who live below telling us only the few deserve the right to live there.

We stand on the precipice readying ourselves to be sorted by the force that knows not who were are or what we can do by a system built by those of who have just like us been sorted. We crawl upon each other hoping that we get high enough to reach and yet we crush all those below holding all the weight. We destroy and rid ourselves of anything weighing us down in hope fly but remove everything about ourselves that makes flying worthwhile. We are not then defined by this, we are defined by the actions and relations to our fellow man and I’d be damned if I will let this system built by the collective action of those who sort us to keep me changing the world.

Graduating Sweet

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May through June many eager students finish their credits and classes to finally break free the holds of a school and receive a diploma verifying their achievements and training that they spent years trying to obtain.  It’s a very happy time, though can be bittersweet because in it’s nature it represents an inevitable change in the world for a great many people.

This was how this year’s graduation felt, bittersweet. Never have I ever been so invested in the wellbeing of my upperclassmen as I have this past year.  I have been to a great many graduations, but this one was a send-off to many people who I have spoken to, connected to, and love. I sat there thinking about this as one after one, each of my friends got up to be honored for their great achievements of which they all should be extremely proud.  For a moment sitting there, I want them all to just stick around, for nothing to change, for next week just to be next week and not a path to something new.

I’m not an emotional person, I am extremely passionate but I am not one to tear up during these events. Why should I? I am so happy for these people to move forward with their lives, to find their new adventures and get on with their journeys. We still have our memories together right, they won’t forget these times together.  Yeah sure, a couple months or years from now they might get busy but it won’t change our relationship, regardless of how much longer it takes them to reply. They will all be meeting new people, learning new things, and being great in their own way and staying will only hold them back, and they need to fly in their own way because there so much for them in the skies ahead.

Maybe it hasn’t hit me yet, and if it hasn’t it won’t for a while. Probably not until after everything settles down and I recognize how much I have gotten used to their presence. Maybe after not being able to hear their laugh in the hall,  or being able to wander into the lab and talk about some far off idea, Maybe after starting to miss these strange conversations we would have, and missing the familiar faces I no longer see. I will miss them all in their own ways because they all mattered to me.

I am lucky, during graduation sat next to my friends who I have spent the last year with, working, growing, and laughing together. I will have them this next year as this stressful program continues to push us to the moment we are standing on stage graduating together. I am happy I still have them with me because if everyone left, I don’t know what I would do.

We will all see each other again, but my hope is when it comes time and I get up on that stage, that I am at least half as great as any of my friends I saw graduating today.

How To Cultivate A Thought Parasite

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It’s happened again, these crises of the mind and spirit.  I feel it in my bones, fear. What am I to do. The rising tide of anxiety washes over me, drowning me it’s dense waters. Leaving me gasping for air in the cold abyss of failure. Grasping for air, and hoping to get out.

This past week I was confronted by the smallest of the invasive thoughts that fed and grew in the back of my mind quickly.  It’s the lack of sleep I said, or perhaps the hunger.  I’ve just been pushing myself too hard, but that’s it’s breeding grounds.  When my mental defenses are lowered, it strikes at me, claiming more and more of my brain, consuming me and my thoughts.  There I am, battling against the creature who uses the voice in my head to try and convince me that I am no good. Trying to convince me to lay down again and begin to die.

It often follows those highs of experience, I know mine does. This one came after a let a small daydream free, and it became a nightmare.  The thoughts in my mind surging after this mental parasite to stop the spread but it was already too late, it implanted itself in my insecurities of the past, fertile ground for a thought so sweet. A feeling of grandeur turns to ash as my capability comes into question.  “You will never be good enough to get this far,” it says,  “Turn back, collapse, you know your just setting yourself up to fail.” I don’t know what to do, the foundation I build for myself feels more and more like a house of cards teetering on the precipice of collapse.  What is this, will it be good enough. My path once more becomes obscured and dark.  How far will I be able to go, and even if I give it my all, will that be enough?

I realize I’ve invested now, that was my mistake.  I am invested in a future I want so bad that my heart cries out to me as I speak it.  This is where I went wrong, didn’t your childhood teach you not to do this. Not to invest in one way or another because you will be let down again and again. I can’t help myself, I want it so bad that I am willing to give all away for a second in that world.  A passion that erupts and drives me forward, that want’s to turn into the crazed obsession of a madman with a purpose and a goal.

“You just are strong enough” it retorts, “You never have been, and you never will be.”  This thought, drawing back blow after blow to strike at me is right.  I feel like I’ve had so many chances and through these chances I have successfully squandered my dream in the pretense of comfort and mediocrity.  I just hope, time after time, hour after hour, that I will wash away these inadequacies and show the world that I am someone. I don’t know though, my guard is down, and my weakness is revealed, my self-esteem takes a blow. All I am is human, and maybe I am not enough.

Truth is I am weak.  I am weak and at times incapable.  I am an emotional creature who waxes and wanes on the mood of the day. At times unable because of the wall of inability that rises up ahead of me. I’m loud and think before I speak.  I sometimes say some funny things and do even weirder ones. My brain fills up sometimes, and I feel like an idiot because I don’t understand what is going on.  I know this, this is just what it’s like to be human. I know this limitation, and that’s okay because that’s all we all are. Being human, and together we can actually do some good and make life beautiful. As long as I know that, I will be okay. As as I know that, I can get rid of the parasitic thought in my brain.

Chasing A Dream, Where Ever It May Go

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“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I know recently, I have been complaining a lot about the fact the I’ve been tired, but I want to take a moment to reflect on the reason I am exhausted in the first place.

I’ve been busy, busy with various new experiences life as seen to throw my way.  Mostly work, to be honest, but its weird, this is never the type of working experience that I have ever had.  It’s this thing where I almost crave it.  I work and act as if all myself want and needs to.  I’ve had a lot of jobs and been through a lot of schooling, and this is the first time I’ve really felt this way about all the things sitting in front of me. It’s like a high mountain to climb, and I’m mountain climber trying to traverse it.

My days have been filled with staying at school for more than 12 hours at a time.  I check each day what my home door to door time is and each day I realize its extending.  At these points, I would find that I would be tired of going, tired of continually having to push myself more to get done everything I want to do. Each opportunity feels as if it is a whetstone, sharpening my the tools I will use to push forward in my life.  It feels as if this moment, my body feels live so that it wants to keep pushing farther and further than I ever had before.

Maybe its perspective, the two years away from school has definitely changed how I approach education.  Though I always knew I would continue down this path, I feel more passionate about my choice to do so.  Unrestricted, more sure-footed about where I want to go and what I want to do.   It keeps me vigilant about my opportunities, keeps me actively striving for more, until I find myself staying up late, working long hours to complete something.

My body needs rest as it starts to ache all over.  My eyes begin to burn from all the monitors and from being awake so long during the day.  My mind sits in a fog by the time I get home, just trying to digest everything that just happened. I have no time, and yet I keep going in the hopes that I will catch up in the long run.  My belly runs empty, and I have to remind myself to eat enough for the amount I expend. And yet, I love these moments, because it feels like I am finally pushing myself to do something great.

There a danger to it, with the new feeling comes cautionary tales of both burn out and breaking.  If I push too hard too fast, I can break down my body and my health to the point where my body refuses me, and I have to stop the obsession. The second is set this fire for much for too long runs the risk of turning the subject I have fallen in love with into a bastion of resentment.  Begining to internalize the little things and grow tired of the subject and the place I am to work.  As always, it’s about the balance of these things, to keep my mind healthy and my ridiculous actions in check.

I want to push myself so I can grow strong under the opportunities that I have been presented. By the end of this short two years, I want to have the strength to tackle the next five and the knowledge of how to get stronger for the next 60 and beyond. Every day is a new challenged and all I want to do is live up to it.

A Community of Musketeers

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I’ve recently join now a collective referred to as a cohort which is something I have been working towards for a while. What it is, is a simple name for a group of graduate students which come into a department or program the same year you do. In essence, these people are people with whom you’ll be traveling with on the part of your journey to the ultimate goal of the degree.

I have, as always, been thinking a lot about that means.  One of the functions of higher learning is to find a place you both you fit, and that fits you. Though in doing masters, it’s the process is a bit simplified because of the supposed two-year time clock that is ticking away until the end.  Either way, the people I came in with will still be people who I share this experience with one way or another.

This is not to downplay everyone’s personal intentions for coming to this particular program, but it does beg the question. How do we want our relationship with each other to be and how will that shape the future of our time together? I feel this is extremely important because there are so few of us, that the decision we make individually will affect the group collectively.

My dearest hope is that in some way or another we ban together. As reminiscent of the title I chose, the musketeers,  it would be nice to form some sort of bond in which we can really help each other out in our times of need. All for one, and one for all.  I know this sounds a bit idealistic, but I think that’s the spirit needed to actually accomplish something great.  I’m not saying that we have to hang out with each other all the time or even really become close. What I am saying is that in our times of need or weakness someone is there to help and lend a hand.  We will act as both colleagues and rivals. We can set the obstacles and help people overcome them so when the actual danger comes, we will be ready.  Even though we go to the end on our own merit and alone, it doesn’t mean that our strength has to only come from within, you are always much stronger with others are helping you.

I think it all comes down to wanting to leave this place a lot better than where I found it.  The act of giving is one few things we can do where we end up with more than what we started out with.  I honestly believe that if we want this experience to be the most successful, it can be then we must give and not just take. We must utilize what we can and blaze a path for our future. This doesn’t have to be the worst experience of our lives, and even with the difficulties that come with grad school, we will be able to look back and remember something great. It is the beginning of our future.