Punctuality & The Professor

In high school, I had an infamously strict music teacher named Nez. Many people described him as “old school” and “scary”. If you made a mistake in class, he would humiliate you by having you perform in front of your peers until you corrected your mistake. He also directed the marching band, where attendance to home games was mandatory. “If you’re sick, bring a bucket,” he told us.

If something about your performance in class wasn’t up to his standards, you could expect to be called to his office, where he lectured you to tears. Some people quit because they couldn’t handle the emotional pressure of being in his class. This, I imagine, was exactly how Nez wanted things. The pressure he applied allowed him to have a tightly-knit band. His priority was music, rather than the feelings of his students.

In Nez’s class, I was terrified to ask if I could leave for the restroom. One time I had to go so badly, but opted to try to hold out for the whole class, just to appease my teacher. I began to sweat and felt nauseous as the class persisted. Finally when I couldn’t take it any more, I asked to be excused. Nez looked me in the eye and probably saw that I was chalk white and sweating. He excused me without question.

Even though Nez used fear as his governing principle, many of his students loved him. Under Nez’s instruction, I believed myself to be a serious musician. It is because of Nez that I am never late to any event. Nez treated tardiness as completely unacceptable, and I inherited this outlook. I looked up to Nez, and felt like I understood that in order to be great, you must have unshakable principles. You must  be consistent. Being liked was not necessary in order to be successful.

It is this relationship with timeliness that affects many of my friendships. I have great respect for those who arrive on time, and struggle with having sympathy for those who are late. Sometimes it feels like others do not understand the importance of punctuality. However, as I meet more and more people, I am coming to accept that punctuality is not culturally important in my circles of friendship. There simply aren’t enough incentives for people to arrive on time.

In “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua, the author states that Western parenting encourages laziness. Western parenting, as opposed to her own method of Eastern “Chinese Parenting”, coddles children instead of instilling any kind of work ethic. In the movie “Whiplash”, pressure is applied to students in order to help them achieve things they thought were impossible. The message in both cases is that high expectations yield exceptional results.

In college, my professors proposed a separate theory: happy students are high performing students. Students who have the materials available for focused play can achieve just as well, or even better than students who were put through an academic wringer. At Sarah Lawrence College, professors encouraged us to pursue our own interests, because that’s where “true learning” happens.

I agree. A relaxed, dynamic learning environment can aid a creative thinking process. However, there is also value of applying pressure to achieve results. All this said, there only seem to be benefits to being on time, except when no one thinks it is important.

Instead of using punctuality as a way to get things done, I now use it as a filter, perhaps in the same way Nez used it. Punctuality shows me that you are someone I can rely on, and someone that I am more likely to get along with. Being late doesn’t mean that you’re dumb, it probably just means that our thought processes are incongruous. I salute your Western parenting and relaxed learning methods. However, for my own sanity, I am on time in order to meet others who are the same, the people who grew up with similar pressures applied to them.

Late Night “Pomes”

It’s been going on for over a year now, and I think it’s best to provide a little explanation. One night, Bobby, Jonathan and I went out to the waterfront to recite verse written by dead poets. I had a photo somewhere but I can’t find it right now. It was iconic, so you’ll have to imagine: moonlight, the Willamette River, and three skinny art-boys reading from books written by old white dudes.

We performed around town, every once in a while, until we settled on Quality Bar, located across the street from Powell’s Books. 11pm on weekends, we’d meet, drink, write poems, and the perform them under the “Pod” structure across the street. However, we do not call it the “Pod”. The only reason I know it’s called the “Pod” is because I looked it up one night when I was trying to write about it. For all intents and purposes, we refer to the structure as the “Scrote”, due to its resemblance to a single, human testicle.

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Beneath the scrote, we read the poems that we wrote that night at Quality Bar. Another weird part of the event’s mythos is the spelling of “poems” as “pomes”. This is a stylistic choice, and makes us a little bit more difficult (or perhaps easier) to find online. And yes! There IS an online presence. We have an Instagram, maybe a Twitter, a Facebook page, a YouTube Channel, and an actual website.

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Lo! A screenshot of latenightpomes.com (3/1/17)

We’ve been at this since the fall of 2015, and have boxes and boxes of scraps of paper with our barstool “pomes” scribbled on them. We hope to make a book one day of all the pomes, and such a book is rumored to be in the works.

I share this with you because it’s something I’m excited about, and I think you should be excited too. Or even, if you are so inclined, drop by to write & perform with us. The night is hard to predict, and having you along for the ride would be beautiful.

Meeting Bernie Sanders

Yesterday, December 1st, 2016, I bought a $27 ticket to meet Bernie Sanders, which included a copy of his book “Our Revolution” at Powell’s City of Books. I waited in line for 20 minutes for a moment to shake his hand and have my picture taken with him.

The cynic in me saw this as a gross, egotistical move. Did I pay $27 just to get hundreds of likes on Facebook and Instagram?

Though I spent perhaps a total of ten seconds interacting with Sen. Sanders, I found the ten seconds to be important. I shook hands with someone I believed in. I follow Sen. Sanders on Twitter and find myself called to action every day. His tweets strike a chord in me, and I see him to be a man dedicated to making my life better.

I uploaded the photo of me and Sen. Sanders and thought about what this meant. There is now a record of me shaking hands with a man who embodies hope for many of my friends and family. I took this as a symbolic moment, the moment I decided that I no longer could be a passive observer of politics.

Every day I find myself enraged by fake news, our president-elect, and the lack of truth in my social media feed. In the morning I sit, fuming, wondering what on Earth I can do to fight the waves of misinformation from the New York Times to Twitter. The only way I can find news, it seems, is through a select few reporters who stick to their journalistic integrity. Even this method is never perfect.

If I am going to help my neighbors and my peers, I want to make sure that they have easy access to the truth. Sen. Sanders woke in me a sense of duty to push for a change (in his words, a revolution) in the country I live in. In my own, small little way, I want to capture and share as much true and real journalism as possible. If I’m lucky, I may even write my own articles of journalistic merit.

250 people have liked the photo of me and Sen. Sanders on Facebook, which undeniably feels good. However, it feels even better to know that the photo means something more, something that cannot be accessed, commented on, or reacted to. This moment has been woven into my life-narrative. It sealed a core value in my heart, the value of journalistic truth, which I will protect and pledge allegiance to for as long as I live.

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Getting Coffee with “A”

I recently got coffee with a friend (“A”). He’s in his early twenties, wears a backwards baseball cap and a button up shirt. He sits down and we immediately discuss the election. “I keep reading that we’re living in a post-truth era,” he says. “Is that true? Are we?” he narrows his eyes. “What is truth?”

We talk for a good hour, sussing each other out. A is from Indiana, raised conservatively with self-described “racist, misogynist, and false” ideas about how the world worked. For example, one of the doctrines he learned at a young age was that colored people were descended from a race of people that God cursed for homosexuality.

“I’ve been having a series of epiphanies in the past years,” he says. “Ever since a kid, from reading everything, I started learning that many of the things my parents were teaching me didn’t make sense. And now I feel like I’m learning a bunch of new stuff and trying to contextualize it.”

“Some of my thoughts are just the beginning of thoughts,” he tells me as we both stare off into space, thinking about aliens, politics, philosophy, and people. A couple weeks before I asked him what he was interested in, what his passion was, and he told me “right now, I’m interested in the big ‘why?'”

We arrive at very few conclusions after our long and expansive talk about the world we can expect in the future: genetic modification, libraries, economics. Both of us agree that we need time to crunch on our thoughts.

What inspires me about A is his fearlessness to discuss things he does not know. I’ve always tried to make sure that I was always right, and it never worked. I find myself gravitating to people who gracefully explore the limits of their beliefs, and push themselves to the edge of thought where ideas become muddy and dark.

“Do you ever find yourself wondering if you’re incredibly smart or incredibly stupid?” asks A. I tell him yes. He continues, “I discussed with my girlfriend how we sometimes become proud of of humble we are, and then we notice the pride and become humble again, but then become proud again for doing so. And it’s just this continuous, recurring thing.”

This oscillation, I think, is something that I can relate to. Perhaps this constant questioning, and this cycle of challenging what is true, is one of the only solid things I can grasp.

Steps We Took In Response To Trump’s Election

My girlfriend L and I were shocked when Trump was elected. For a full week I watched Facebook & Twitter, looking for answers. I devoured newspapers. I was angry at how Trump had managed to harness the power of social media to his advantage. Even more so, I feared for the future of our country. We have elected a dictator, who rallies unhappy constituents against a common enemy: non-white, non-conforming Americans.

While many people took to the streets to protests, L and I sat at home and thought about what this meant for us. L felt afraid and angry that this new power oppresses her and her loved ones. In response to reports of hate crimes against non-whites, I called my mother and ask her to let me know if anyone attacked her, verbally or physically. L and I felt unsafe. So, we looked at our alternatives.

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Through my dim social-media lens, I hear a call for Americans to stay in the United States to join together against our elected dictator. I agree, however this does not mean that we should be complacent with our homes in the United States. If our government gets out of hand, we should know what our options are. L and I settled on about 5 countries that we could move to if we needed to (based on lists like this). We decided on a secret word we could tell each other if either of us were in danger but were afraid that someone was listening. We researched secure, encrypted messaging systems, and investigated what kind of privacy and security measures we could take while online (https://www.eff.org/).

My fear is that with a hot-headed, bigoted leader (& staff), if there was ever an attack on American soil, we could expect to see a complete totalitarian takeover of our free country. Americans, fearing for their safety, would readily let the government read their e-mails and texts if it meant making them safer. This power could easily be abused by our government to find and silence voices that challenge the establishment.

It’s the world that Edward Snowden feared. It’s the world that George Orwell predicted. It’s an idea explored in books like Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. I have reason to believe that, under the right conditions, our current freedoms could be stripped in a similar fashion. Before, I thought that there was no way that Trump could be elected. I have lost this “no-way-it-could-happen” mindset. Now, I quietly prepare for the worst.

Recent Setbacks

I bought a $80 Arduino MKR1000 starter kit and have failed to make the micro-controller do the basic function of blinking an LED. I’ve spent a lot of time on this, and watching YouTube tutorials is frustrating because this is supposed to take 10 minutes and for me it’s taking 2 weeks. I’m abandoning ship on this project for my own mental health, and I am a little bummed that this mistake cost me $80.

In other news, National Novel Writing Month is is two days. I’m worried about time management, but I’ve made it work before so I’ll just make it work again. I have a plot idea, characters, and a mini-playlist of inspirational writing music. Google Docs is far from the best novel-writing software, but it is free and the one most readily available to me. I have a Facebook group of friends that are all participating in NaNoWriMo, and we will be meeting up weekly (or something close) to write.

Zac and I are working on entrepreneurial projects that are stalling in the idea-phase. Perhaps soon we’ll have a profitable experiment out soon, but for the time being we are just geeking out over books on productivity and life achievements. We are trying to turn our interests into a business, but our interests are all over the place. The struggle (it seems) is trying to narrow our focus on the most important thing, our Minimal Viable Product. This product may or may not be a journal. We are still brainstorming.

Successes include creating my first-ever TwitterBot, which you can find at @PercyWishkiller. The bot recycles the words of 5 or so Drake songs and uses the lyrics to generate tweets. It’s simple, required almost no programming experience, and yields entertaining results.

The Information Diet

We are all drowning in news and content. Tim Ferriss argues that we should try to reduce the amount of time we spend consuming news. In his book The Four Hour Workweek, Ferriss suggests asking someone on the bus what the news is for the day instead of sitting down to read it yourself. In a similar vein, many of us rely on blogs in order to get gift ideas, book recommendations, and music news. Blogs do the research for us so that we ultimately have to think less and to do less research.

One such website that follows this trend of consolidating web content is http://fuckinghomepage.com/. FuckingHomepage takes news, trivia, recipes, photos, and presents it in a digestible fashion with added profanity. More websites like this need to exist. In response to news-content-overwhelm, I’ve taken to following my favorite reporters directly on Twitter, along with picking out the select magazines and subjects that I care about.

Curating and carefully handpicking the way you consume your news will free up your day and help you get closer to what’s important. When you walk into a bookstore or scroll through Netflix, we sometimes end up not picking anything at all because we are stunned by all the choices. We need more blogs, and more people who share their own curated content in a more approachable way.