Sunday, November 21, 2010

Peace in times of trial

I sang a solo in church today. I was incredibly nervous as soon as the meeting started, and I sang about 40 minutes into the hour-long meeting. I wasn't physically sick, but I kept wondering if I'd be able to coax the higher notes out of myself as I sang and had a bit of trouble concentrating. I prayed that I'd be able to sing well. I felt reassured that I'd do well enough to not send the Holy Spirit packing, but not that I'd hit the notes.

When I went up to sing, I was shaking (as is my habit - yes, I still get stage fright after more than ten years of public singing). During the entire song, I was shaking. It wasn't just my hands; I remember noticing that my knees were shaking and that my vibrato was different.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Walls within walls

I returned home in 2006 after living in Brazil for two years. I reveled in being able to shower without needing sandals, in the foods I missed, and in being around my family. But there were things I missed about Brazil. Perhaps most unsettling to me was how rude Americans are.

It’s not as if everyone got in my business or said nasty things to me. On the contrary, everyone was kind and left well enough alone, which was precisely the problem. There was far too much personal space. I’d felt lonely for two years because no one called me by my first name: everyone called me by the title Elder because I was a missionary. By the time I was heading home, I missed my first name and the familiarity that goes with it more than flirting, dancing, or ranch dressing. But when I got home, I was an island.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Social norms

As children grow, they learn to speak and understand the language or languages that surround them. In a very similar way, they learn a set of societal rules: when it’s okay to speak, what to wear, what is most important, etc., etc. Typically, people learn these rules by breaking them or following them in noticeable ways. When they do so, the responses of the people around them indicate whether their actions are acceptable or not. This reinforcement, negative or positive, informs future decisions.

The learning of such expectations usually peaks as preteens and teens begin to assert their independence by increasingly seeking approval from their peers and decreasingly from their parents. The need for peer approval raises the stakes considerably: a strange kid in elementary school is a little different, but it makes little difference; as the teenage years approach and commence, eccentricity becomes frighteningly dangerous to social standing and is shunned. To the social late bloomers, such a change is startling; after all, they have been wearing sweats for years. Why does it matter now?

After a few years, the social pressures seem to diminish.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The need for self-imposed morality

I spend a lot of time thinking about internet security, what with coursework that deals with it and my own nearly constant use of the internet for school, business, and recreation. Many of the nasty things that people do on the internet have exact analogs in the real world; for example, stealing someone’s credit card information and buying stuff with it isn’t too different from stealing someone’s wallet and buying stuff with the cards in it. Other things have analogs that are far more strained; for example, a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack is similar to a sit-in, but the absence of the human presence makes it more like a prank or vandalism and less like a significant political statement.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The unlikely role model

Author’s note: This post refers frequently to the Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon series. It may be difficult to appreciate without first becoming familiar with the series – in particular, with its characters. I have made no effort to avoid revealing what happens. When I say Avatar, think of the little, bald Airbender. At no point in this post will I refer to blue people with USB ports to their brains.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve watched half of the Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon series with my roommates. We’ve followed Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Toph in their adventures as they’ve met several other characters, including Zuko, Azula, and Iroh. It struck me recently that the characters are archetypal; probably, this was intended by the creators of the series. Aang is agile of body and mind and embodies gentleness. Katara is kind and determined and learns quickly. Toph is stubborn, direct, and a little boorish. Zuko is hot-headed and impulsive. Azula is calculating, precise, and completely unscrupulous. Iroh is ridiculous and lazy on the outside, but his actions reveal that he is compassionate and patient. Each one has a background that makes his or her personality plausible.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Picking fights without trying

A friend of mine said something recently that might be true, but that I thought unlikely. Since I could hardly disprove what he was saying and since our difference was merely one of opinion, I simply said that I disagreed. I didn't think anything of it, but my friend started to express his frustration with me: I disagree with things he says all the time. In particular, he disliked the fact that I disagree so frequently with his political statements because he studies political science. If he were to disagree with everything I said about computers, we'd get nowhere fast.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Everyone's special: another way of saying no one is

I’ve been going through the cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender with my roommates recently. It reminds me of all of the great adventure movies, books, and shows that I have enjoyed and that I still enjoy. There’s something fantastic about watching or reading about someone who uses fantastic ability (super or not) to accomplish great things. I get a huge rush out of vicariously saving the world, especially when it requires stupendous skill to do so. The more I think about it, though, the more I think that the rush comes from the illusory satisfaction of my colossal vanity.

I keep thinking of the conversation that Dash has with his mother in The Incredibles:

Dash: But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special.
Helen: Everyone's special, Dash.
Dash: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is.

Friday, November 5, 2010

That stupid Cheshire Cat won't leave me alone

I missed another homework deadline yesterday. As I typically do when I’m frustrated, I took a minute to think about what I’ve been doing, what I wish had happened, and what I could have done better. As I did a personal accounting of my time, I thought about what I’ve been doing during the day. I really have been pretty disciplined about working on homework or research. Even when I’m traveling, I do a decent job of thinking about the task at hand. As I thought about the research topics I’ve considered in an attempt to find something I really want to do, I kept thinking of what President Hinckley said: it was something to the effect of “I don’t care what you do as long as it’s honorable.”

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Filling in the gaps with feeling

I’m uncomfortable with uncertainty. Actually, I’m absolutely terrified of it. In a sense, I spend every minute of every day trying to eradicate the specter of uncertainty – and to ensure that the certainty is what’s desired. For example, I am virtually incapable of relaxing about a class’s coursework until it is mathematically impossible for me to receive a grade lower than what I’d like. I consider things carefully and reason thoroughly. It’s no wonder, then, that I’ve been told that I can seem cold or heartless or that I’ve had frustrated friends tell me that logic isn’t everything. Of course, I had as much trouble appreciating their point of view as they seem to have with mine.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Hyperopia, or trying to see the end from the beginning

As part of my continuing efforts to choose a field for research, I’ve considered more topics than I care to count. Over the course of the last year or two, particularly in the last six months, I’ve become excited about several different topics, only to have that interest diminish after a short time.