Putting in the Work
I get an email from the Poetry Foundation every day just past 7:30 pm, like clockwork. Every day, a gorgeous new poem to sink my teeth into, precisely at the time of day when life starts to feel unnecessary. And yet, today I read fifteen poems at a go. For the past fifteen days, I’ve been ignoring the Poetry Foundation notifications, letting poetry sit in my inbox. Yesterday, I found myself jokingly complaining to a friend about poems clogging up my email.
I subscribed to the Poetry Foundation. On days that feel empty and meaningless, a new poem invariably makes me feel better. These past couple weeks have been difficult, what with school starting up and my illness and daily meetings. This was the time that I needed my daily poem the most. And yet I decided to scroll on my phone instead, to do excessive and unnecessary homework, to rewatch ‘comfort’ movies that don’t help me anymore. When we treat ourselves like we’re doomed to just barely scrape by, we make it true. You can’t get excited if you’re not looking at things that are new.
We lock ourselves into our minds. Half the time, we decide that we’re going to go through a difficult time, and then we make it so. It’s easier to decide that the world is a cruel place, and resign yourself to feeling bad. It’s easier not to make an effort, not to take the blame. But is that how you want to live? Personally, I’m going to read my daily poem. Today’s recommendations are some of my favourites from the fifteen I should have been reading last week.
How to Be Perfect by Ron Padgett
Poet, editor, and translator Ron Padgett was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As a high-school student he founded the avant-garde literary journal The White Dove Review with his friends and fellow students Joe Brainard and Dick Gallup. Soliciting and publishing work from poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Robert Creeley, the magazine ran for five issues. In 2018, Padgett received the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America, presented for distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry. Voice Literary Supplement contributor Karen Volkman called Padgett’s 1995 New and Selected Poems “a fine sampling of a restless, hilarious, and haunting lyric intelligence, a ‘phony’ whose variable voices form a rare and raucous orchestration: the real thing.” (Poetry Foundation)
Summer by Chen Chen
Dr. Chen Chen is a poet and essayist interested in Asian American histories and futures, family (bio & found), queer friendship, multilingualism, hybrid texts, humor, and pop culture. Chen Chen’s second poetry collection, Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency, is forthcoming from BOA Editions in 2022. His first book of essays, In Cahoots with the Rabbit God, is forthcoming from Noemi Press in 2023. He teaches at Brandeis University. (chenchenwrites.com)
I want to drown in the past and call it the best decision of my life by Laura Marie Marciano
Laura Marie Marciano is the author of Mall Brat (CCM, 2016). Interested in the intersections of art, theory, and commerce, Marciano promotes intertextual poetry through her media collective gemstone readings and formally co-curated a multi-disciplined, experiential poetry exhibition series at Artbook at MoMA PS1. She teaches poetry courses online through her initiative soft lands poetry, and is currently a visiting assistant professor of writing at Lehigh University.
My dad always told me that every problem can be solved in five different ways. Every problem has five distinct solutions. And five here was the lower bound. Let’s take an example -
5x - 4y = 9
3x + 2y = 23
The above problem is a set of simultaneous equations. Quick side note - simultaneous equations now give me PTSD since they were central to the one question on my end of terms that I wasn’t able to solve and I will never be able to live that down. But, as you can see, I’m over that now.
Anyways, back to the math (whenever someone says this, it gives me goosebumps). The problem can be solved in a number of different ways. Firstly, there’s the good old algebraic way, where we could either substitute one variable into another equation or cancel it out from both equations altogether to get to an answer. This method is fairly simple and straightforward; something a majority of students would use, and rightfully so.
Another interesting way to solve the problem is using the Cartesian plane. The two equations each represent a line on the plane. Just punch the equations into renowned graphing calculator Desmos and find the intersection point, and lo and behold! There you have it, the answer with minimal effort from your side. I call this the lazy approach, but don’t get me wrong, I find myself using this method on more occasions than I’d like to admit.
A third method of solving the problem that I found out was quite an interesting one. It uses vectors and matrices. One can start off by taking the coefficients of the variables in the equation and substituting them into a 2x2 matrix. This matrix will then be multiplied with an unknown vector with the variables in it, while the output vector will simply be the constants on the other side of the equation. Solving that equation of vector algebra will give out the answer. I’ve got to say that this method took my primitive brain on a rollercoaster ride (that, by the way, I thoroughly enjoyed), since the idea of connecting simple simultaneous equations to complex vector algebra seemed unfathomable to me.
But then I was stuck. I couldn’t find another method. I was capped at three. It was frustrating.
It was even more frustrating because there were more. I knew it. There had to be. There were always at least five.
Whenever you feel like you’re stuck, take a step back and evaluate your situation. Objectively. Whenever you feel like you don’t have anything to do other than the three options in front of you, which all seem bad, take a step back and look at the big picture. Where is it that you are and where is it that you have to be. And a straight-line path is the shortest distance from one point to another, but you might have that covered already in your three options. That doesn’t mean it’s the only path. There are many more.
Mostly, at least five. There will almost always be at least five.
And I found another.
There’s an old method that was developed by Aryabhatta back in the day called Kuttaka. It was a method used to find integral solutions to equations in two variables, which could apply in this case. After finding the set of solutions for one, the same process can be done with the other, and intersection of the solution sets will be the unique answer to the pair of simultaneous equations. The Kuttaka method is a little complicated, but people interested could check it out here - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ku%E1%B9%AD%E1%B9%ADaka.
I found another.
Notice how I never really told you what the answer to the question was. Because that’s where the metaphor ends. In most aspects of math, no matter what you hear from the plethora of motivational speakers, there’s usually one right answer. Which one of the five paths you take to the answer is almost immaterial to the answer itself; preference is the only differentiator. However, in life, which one of the five paths you take matters after all. Each path leads you to a different secret cave, the depths of whose darknesses can only be discovered by venturing down its path, committing to unraveling its mysteries.
But however many paths you think there are for you to choose from, there’s always another obscured one. So look out for that one. Who knows, that may be the one you want to traverse.
Anyways, I’m off to break my head over a fifth solution method for my problem. See you on the other side.
I am an Optimist
I will write this article.
I will write this article on time.
I will write this article on time and it will be amazing.
This article will not be something I hate when I look back at it a month later.
Some think that if you say something enough, you eventually start believing it and it has a high chance of actually happening. Our good old search engine, Google™, defines manifestation as “an event, action, or object that clearly shows or embodies something abstract or theoretical.” Well, thank you, Google, but I’m afraid the kids have a drastically different definition of the word. In the context I am referring to, manifestation is when we imagine that we will do a certain thing with the hopes of actually doing it. So, what I did in the 4 lines above is manifest that those statements will be true for me.
So, the question arises, does manifestation work?
Well, I think it does.
My mother always says that if I tell myself that I will do something, then I will actually end up doing it. “The first step to doing anything in life is telling yourself that you CAN!”, she says. And it has worked for me. Although I am not totally organised about deadlines and studies yet, I am slowly getting there, only because I believe I can. Manifestation is about convincing your subconscious that you can cross the finish line with such dedication that your subconscious starts believing you. It works extremely well because when you think you are capable of something, you feel more confident about doing it.
Of course, whether you have a good day or not, do well in exams or not, or sleep well or not is not only dependent on manifestation, but I think it is an important first step that sends us along the right path; sometimes, the seemingly small amount of trust we put in ourselves makes us feel better about things. It’s us wanting to succeed so much that we could actually make it happen. An effective example of this is the unexplainable but beautiful phenomenon that I call my subconscious alarm clock. I can wake up at any time if I convince my brain to, regardless of when I go to sleep, and it always works with near perfection. This has given me quite the reputation at sleepovers. Similarly, I’m sure everyone would have something that if they convince themselves enough, they can get done.
How does manifestation work? It requires a neat little concept called optimism.
Having recently listened to Finneas’s album “Optimist”, I would say I’m kind of an expert on the topic, so I'd like to take a swing at it. Optimism is not forgetting about everything bad going on about you and just blindly telling yourself that everything will be okay; it’s acknowledging the problem you have before hoping that it will disappear from your life. To manifest doing well in Exams™, it's not enough to tell yourself that everything is okay and you know everything already; that borders on dangerous. It’s important to prepare for the worst but also, to always, always hope for the best. I think that if we keep our expectations in line with our efforts, it provides a solid ground for manifesting that we reach even higher.
So, how do we begin manifesting?
A great way to start manifesting and being more optimistic in our lives is doing the 11:11 manifestation. It’s like a birthday wish but two times a day, everyday for the year; you can blow your metaphorical candles out and make a wish at 11:11 during the morning and night. Taking a little time out of our days at 11:11 to manifest, be optimistic, affirm our feelings, and think about how the next day will be better than the last, it does a lot to energise us mentally and give us a boost of happiness. It’s a cliche, sure, but it works.
Another great way to start is by looking at an instagram account that I’m sure a lot of you have interacted with, @afffirmations. These Afffirmations™ (the posts this account puts out) are a way to acknowledge how we feel, and even an opportunity to find humour in it can be kind of therapeutic.
Acknowledging what’s wrong is an important first step in manifesting the problem going away. Here, we may not think positively a lot, so we can connect to this post in an ironic way and work towards being more positive. When you see others posting their affirmations, you realise you aren’t alone, because no one ever is alone; and it makes you feel better as well. It induces optimism as we believe more than ever that we can fight our problems together.
Optimism is something that we always strive to achieve as humans and is something that we will never stop working towards. There is always room to be more optimistic. There is always room to think more positively and manifest good things for ourselves. We should start telling ourselves that everything will be okay, because everything WILL be okay if we believe it hard enough and we act on those beliefs. As for you readers, I am manifesting that all of you have a great day! I think I am going to leave you with an affirmation of my own making :)
Go check out @afffirmations, I think you will really love it! <3
One of my favourite things in my room is a butterfly-shaped rug that I got a year ago.
The rug reminds me of my childhood (normal thing for a seventeen year old to say) even though I’m scared of butterflies and the only rug I had when I was younger was a soft silvery-white one that I ruined by spilling ice cream on it. But its bright colours and whimsical shape remind me of a time when I was a lot more carefree.
I have never been able to feel things the “right” way. I swing between being overwhelmed and apathetic. I either feel ecstatic or devastated, there is no in-between. People have always told me to be more calm and grounded, and not let small things alter my mood to such a great extent. Not knowing exactly how to do this, I copied the main characters in every other coming-of-age movie and lay on the floor whenever I felt overwhelmed.
And, as crazy as it sounds, that technique helped. Lying on the floor, staring at the ceiling while I ran my fingers through the rug and thoughts ran through my head, did help me sort through what I was feeling. I don’t know if it was the feeling of cold tile below my back or the repetitive pattern of bricks on my ceiling, but I was somehow able to think more clearly when I was lying on the floor. My thoughts felt more organised.
Thinking about things that had happened, processing my emotions, and sorting out what I felt helped me feel less overwhelmed. I think it’s important to think about the things that happen to me while they’re going on. Not acknowledging the spilt butterscotch ice cream on a rug doesn’t make the situation better, it just attracts ants. And blocking thoughts out may feel good in the moment, but letting them just sit there only makes them fester.
Like certain sticky mats, the thoughts in the darkest corners of our brains need to be brought into the light and scrubbed with soap and common sense. Sorting through my thoughts doesn’t solve all my problems, but it does help me make better decisions in the future. Decisions that wouldn’t cause an ant infestation.
My head isn’t always the nicest place to be. (Neither was my room after the incident.) But it is the place where I spend the most time. I can either decide to make it a better place or suffer unnecessarily. But my thoughts aren’t going to become wonderful overnight, I have to put in the work and make them nicer.
Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I try to break things down as much as possible. What am I feeling right now? Rinse that corner of the rug. Is it more on the positive or negative side? Add a bit of soap and scrub. What can I do to get to a more neutral state of mind right now? Squeeze out the water. Is thinking about this going to make me feel better right now or should I distract myself for a little while? Carry the rug to the balcony and leave it in the sun to dry.
While I can’t change what I did to the beautiful silvery-white rug, I can change how I respond to situations now. I don’t always do the best thing, but I am getting better at not making things a bigger mess than they are.
So I am proud to say that while I have spilled mango juice, chocolate ganache, cream cheese frosting, sugar syrup, and mixed fruit jam on my new butterfly rug, the ant infestation this time is not my fault.
It was the smell that convinced me to stop at that street corner.
Not the hunched figure with a labouring breath, not the big duffle bag shifting slightly under them. It was definitely the scent.
I had never, ever, smelled so much nutmeg.
At first, I regretted leaving my car in the dead of the night for this distraction, trading in comfort for this chilling breeze that splintered my cheeks. And for what? An oddity during my nightly patrol? In a city that lives and breathes chaos, a little nutmeg was hardly cause for alarm. But then I heard a wheeze coming from the same direction. I stiffened.
Moving as quietly as I could, I crept up to the figure. But in a heartbeat, the shifting gravel gave away my presence.
It was too little, too late when I realised what nutmeg was used for. In that split-second, I remembered the names of the chemicals I’d studied all about, the ones that melted flesh right off the bone. How nutmeg could help you hide all of them.
Initially, I thought I’d benefit from the element of surprise. Life doesn’t always oblige. It had, however, presented me with a pleasant surprise. Planted an idea, like a venus flytrap into nitrogen rich soil. As the figure straightened, I smiled.
The duffle bag under them was large and unmoving - but the one in the back of my car was bigger.
COLLEGE IS LIKE ANOTHER DIMENSION
Several months ago, when my father first suggested that we should tour colleges in the US this summer, I was sceptical. How would walking around a bunch of college campuses help me decide whether or not I should apply there? I remember my father vaguely tried to convince me that it would be great (I later learned that he was just as sceptical as I was). But, I hadn’t set foot in an aeroplane in 2 years, and who was I to refuse a vacation? Thus, the planning started.
I was still apprehensive – every time my father tried to sit down with me to plan the trip, I somehow managed to wriggle my way out of it. Even I found my behaviour strange. Why wouldn’t I want to think about my fun summer vacation, or life after high school? Most of my friends can’t wait to graduate and are just jumping at the chance to go to college. I, however, was dreading it.
As a younger sibling, I should have a good idea of how college life is, but I really don’t. My brother seemed a whole world away in some fantasy land that I couldn’t relate to. College seemed like I would be leaving the comfort of my home, the care of my family and my amazing friends, and be forced to face a whole new world that was just so different and so foreign from the one I have always known. I thought about it this way: we’ve all been going to school ever since we can remember, and graduating and leaving the comfort of that bubble is scary. I would literally be leaving everything I have ever known and loved and be moving on, alone, to some dubious reality. And that’s something I’ve never ever done before – I don’t think most of us have.
But going on college tours completely changed my mind.
The first tour was on a dreary Tuesday morning in Baltimore. We were late to the admissions section: my father, a family friend, and I. As I settled into the cushioned seats, I immediately regretted not bringing a jacket to this heavily air-conditioned auditorium. We listened, asked questions, and then left for the tour, led by a shy rising sophomore. At first, there was silence. Then we reached our first stop. Our tour guide started to talk about the university and I was in awe. With each stop we made, with each beautiful building we walked through, and with each new factoid about the university that I learned, I was lured in deeper and deeper, like Jerry from Tom and Jerry following a trail of cheese.
By the end of the tour, I was practically in love. My father asked me, “So this is your ED?” “Definitely!”
Our next stop was Atlanta. Even though I walked for several hours in 40˚C heat in jeans(!), I was in love with this one as well. And in Houston, I was – drum roll please – head-over-heels madly in love with this one too (this time it was 35˚C and I was more appropriately dressed). By this time, I had no idea what my ED would be.
All my tour guides were incredibly charismatic and receptive, and just really nice people in general. They painted such a good picture of the respective colleges in such a way that I could really imagine myself living there for 4 whole years. They were definitely a huge part of why my attitude towards college has completely reversed. I learned so much about college life and academics from them that I’m now actually excited to be going to one in a year – however nervous I still am.
So to anyone who is still anxious like I was, or really just anyone who is planning on applying to the US, college there is truly amazing! They’re leagues above any hellhole of a board you’re doing now for sure.
Research as much as possible, attend admissions sessions, and find the place where you fit in the best and where you’ll be happiest rather than applying somewhere for namesake – because that’s what is the most important. It doesn’t matter where you end up as long as you’re happy with your decision and that you know you’ve put in the work to get there. I think the biggest lesson I learnt from this whole trip is that it’s alright to leap into the unknown sometimes. Because you may just be rewarded for it with state-of-the-art robots, free t-shirts year-round, or close-knit residential houses.