A Thought on Reading

A few months ago, I had an interesting conversation about how people read.

Until this moment, I was under the impression that reading was the same for everyone. It isn’t. When I read a book, I see it play out in my head like a movie. Sometimes, I can even hear the sounds of nature or war or peoples’ voices…

My older brother, our mother, and I read the same way.

My little brother’s imagination is more like concept art – rough sketches, as opposed to box office hits.

My littler little brother doesn’t see anything in his head. Reading is one thing, imagination another.

I wonder why something as universal and straightforward (or so I thought) as reading is a different experience for each person. I wonder if anyone perceives books the same way – for example, I love classic books like “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and “The Great Gatsby.” But do other fans of these novels love it in the same way I do? Do we notice the same things? Do the characters look the same? Most of all, I wonder if the way I imagine the book in my head is the same way the author imagined it? Is the story I envision the one they pictured as they wrote?

What does reading look like for you?

An “I’m-Stressed-Out” Post

I have this wonderful talent for being able to write in my mind. When I think, I think in complete sentences. As a kid, my imagination played in my head like dramatic fiction novels.

Unfortunately, when it comes to actual writing, my mind goes blank. There are many times, when writing for this blog, and writing for college assignments, where I’ve started for hours at a blank page with a curser blinking at me. The more I stare, the more uneasy I become. Whose brilliant idea was it for the cursor to keep blinking, anyway?

This disease becomes even worse when there is something serious on my mind that I can’t think clearly about. The past few weeks have brought quite a few of those things.

The first was how happy being self-quarantined made me. This is disturbing, because it would appear that I enjoy being without my friends more than I enjoy being with them. It should have been slightly less disturbing when one of these friends expressed feeling the same way. It wasn’t.

The second was the idea that I should start a home-based business. This plan was first suggested by my parents, and encouraged by “Called to Create,” a book that blew my mind about entrepreneurship. After much deliberating, I settled on jewelry making – something I’d started doing since before I can remember. The third was ordering the tools for the aforementioned business. That should’ve been easy and fun. Instead, it was extremely stressful. It kept on being stressful until the products arrived.

The fourth was trying to learn improvisation in less than a month while reading books on entrepreneurship, taking classes on jewelry making, practicing my piano (which I seemed to be making no progress on recently), and having the sudden and petrifying realization that I’d forgotten how to play my two favorite pieces.

All of these lovely events culminated in my migraines making a reappearance. I don’t know when they started or why, but it would seem that they missed me terribly. The phrase “back with a vengeance” comes to mind. It’s like my worst fears decided to team up and do the can-can with my overthinking mind backing it all up with background music. Literal dancing would be an interesting explanation for the brain pain.

I kept thinking about how to write about these things. How can I write about things that stress me out so much that I can’t even talk about it with myself? (The answer to this question, of course, is the semi-journal-esque post you’ve just read, written after a staring contest with the blinking cursor).

/Excuse me, dear reader, while I go de-stress by washing some dishes and possibly baking some bread.

In case you were wondering, yes, I really did wash dishes and left some bread dough to rise (time will tell if it’s actually edible or not).

Actually, this makes me wonder…how do you deal with stress? I would love to hear about your favorite stress-busting activities 🙂

Weird Words

I think the way people process information is interesting. You’d think that in order for our thoughts to make sense, we have to communicate in complete sentences. But that really isn’t the case, is it? *

*(which I think is a good thing since I don’t know anyone who talks in complete sentences all the time)

Take for example, a couple of days ago when I was talking to someone who said “speeder and speeder.” Or when I’m learning a piece, and my teacher tosses out adjectives that technically do not make sense, but actually help me understand and play it better – words like “glassy” or “shimmering” or “calm” or “nightmarish.” I now think of a certain kind of staccato as “plucking staccato,” and a certain kind of pedaling as “glossy.” I even heard a YouTuber use the word “bubblegummy” when commenting on a certain song.

Normally I would get the urge to correct these people, but the more I learn about the English language and communication, I think, why can’t we use words like that? After all, the point of language is communication, and while almost none of the above examples are technically “correct,” and some of them aren’t even real words, they did a pretty awesome job communicating the speaker’s thoughts.

I think this is exemplified in some music performance directions. Some of them are pretty straightforward and normal, like “played with expressiveness” or “gravely.” But there are also some weird ones like Cage’s “ASLSP” (as slow as possible) or “Imbibet” (drunken) in Satie’s “Limp Preludes (for a dog).” Satie, in the first movement of “Embryons desséchés” even wrote, “Comme un rossignol qui aurait mal aux dents” which means “Like a nightingale with a toothache.” Unlike the earlier expressions, this marking doesn’t seem helpful as much as it does hilarious (Satie had quite a few jokes in his pieces).

Words are weird. Language is weird.

Who Am I?

I talked with a friend recently. It was the first time we’d spoken to each other in 7 months.

And I started thinking about how strange it was that even without any communication for over half a year, our friendship stayed pretty much the same. If you’ve been reading my blog, you might have noticed that I’m a person who believes in change – I expect myself to improve, to grow, learn new things, explore and experiment, and…just…be a better person. Well, I thought about how much my friend seemed to be the same and I wondered if he thought the same of me. Did I change at all these past few months? Was I being…nice? Did the consistency I’ve been trying to develop show? Had my piano playing improved at all? Was I being productive, or was I just wasting my time, and could people tell?

Now, I, like any other person, have learned not to equate my self-worth with others’ opinions of me. But I still wonder what people think of me. Am I making a good impression? Am I good influence on my friends? Do I seem trustworthy? And if people do have good opinions of me, is it because they really know me or is it just because I have my “acquaintance façade” (for lack of a better term…maybe I could call it my “people face”) on?

I know that people are…complicated. We’ve all got different pieces of ourselves – there’s the person we are when we’re with our friends, the person we are to our family, the person we are with strangers, with our significant other…the list goes on and on. Isn’t it interesting that no one except ourselves has all of those pieces? Only we know ourselves completely…and sometimes, even our perception of ourselves is a little bit skewed.

Then I think about times when another person noticed things about myself that I didn’t. Like how my mom noticed that I slouch when I’m stressed, or that cooking/baking relaxes me. And suddenly I wonder if I know myself at all – clearly, people notice things about me, things I never noticed about myself. There are times when I feel like my mom knows me better than anyone, including myself. And then there are times when I feel like no one understands me except for me.

Being human is weird. And I’m not sure I’ll ever know the answer to questions like, “Who am I?” or “Am I a good person?” But maybe the reason I don’t know the answers to those questions is because, I am changing, even if I don’t realize it?

Cultivating Discipline

One of my New Year’s goals was to cultivate discipline.

Easier said than done, right? Discipline is so…hard. Even thinking about it raises unpleasant thoughts. Often, I think of discipline as military-like order, following strict, unwavering timetables or doing extremely difficult things, like running a marathon or…cutting sugar out from one’s diet (which, as sweet tooth, I can confirm is the most difficult thing ever). I picture vague and scary things like studying or doing tedious work for hours on end.

But as I started planning and preparing to become a more disciplined person, I realized that my perception was a wee bit skewed. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defined “discipline” like this: control gained by enforcing obedience or order; orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior; self-control.

But what does that look like in real life? Well, for me, it resulted in creating a routine. “The rhythm on which one lives one’s life…one’s ‘groove,’” as one of my favorite cartoons, the Emperor’s New Groove, described it. I started by making sure there are at least three things that I do consistently, every single day. For me this is studying my Bible, having my evening coffee, and playing my piano. I’ve never been the kind of person who could follow a timetable, and I always thought that meant I wasn’t disciplined, but I’ve come to realize that discipline looks a little different for everyone. Maybe the timetable thing works for some people; I’m not one of them…I’d go mad having every day robotically similar.

My “groove” is the big picture. The really hard part comes when I try to apply discipline in the little areas of my life. See, I’ve come to realize that discipline isn’t just about achieving one’s goals. It’s more of a characteristic than a thing to be checked off my to-do list. And the areas I need it most are often where it is hardest to apply. An example of this would be cooking. You see, cooking is one of the chores I hate most in the world. I can stand washing dishes – it gives me time to listen to my favorite albums. I can stand cleaning – I feel rather accomplished after viewing spotless floors. But cooking is just…it’s messy, and you have to do it again almost every day, and…well, I just hate it; I don’t have a perfectly logical reason to (most things I dislike don’t have perfectly logical reasons). I need discipline here, not just to help me complete this task, but to help me not constantly whine about it.

Which leads me to the most important area of my life that requires discipline: my thoughts. Do you ever think about what goes on in your head? I do. A lot. My head is a never-ending discussion/debate/moral conundrum. I guess that’s part of why I love music so much – that amount of time I spend, just enjoying a song, is the only time my mind’s not overworking itself into a hazy, chaotic, state. I recently listened to a song by NF called “The Search.” There’s this one line in it that goes:

 “Every day when you get up and think you’ll never be great
You’ll never be great—not because you’re not, but the hate
Will always find a way to cut you up and murder your faith…”

NF, “The Search,” track 1 on The Search, NF Real Music, 2019, iTunes audio

And he’s right. Thoughts are powerful, and they can determine what you think about yourself, what you do, who you are…the list goes on and on. And more often than not, my mind is the juncture where negativity intersects with anxiety; my thoughts range from mild sarcasm to self-sabotaging malice, and more often than not, my train of thought feels more like a train wreck. Not surprising, then, that I have a lot of days where I’m moody and unproductive.

My main consolation on days like that is knowing that I get to keep trying.

Cookies

This week I got a little nostalgic.

My parents brought home cookies from a local bakery, and eating them transported me back to my childhood…and I had no idea why. I had a “Proustian moment” –  my brain was recalling a memory that I didn’t even know existed. After a little thought, I remembered that the cookies were just like the ones I used to eat as a kid…I even remembered picking them out when going to the bakery – vanilla topped with colorful sprinkles.

I love that food can do that – take you back down memory lane, reminding you of things you don’t normally think about. Isn’t it amazing that an ordinary sugar cookie could make me feel like a kid again (although one could argue that I am and always will be a kid)?

After doing a little reading, I found that food is often associated with memories. There are a few explanations for why this is the case – one is that eating food uses all five senses; another is that the part of the brain which forms long-term memories, the hippocampus, also has connections with emotion, smell, and the digestive system. Still another reason is “conditioned taste aversion” which is a survival tactic that makes you averse to restaurants or other places which served food that made you sick. “Conditioned taste aversion” shows that the memories we equate with food can be very strong.

Food is powerful. I guess that’s why food is such a big part of celebrations and special events (like chocolate for Valentine’s Day, or cake on birthdays, or gingerbread during Christmas) …and why it gives some people (such as myself) comfort when they’re feeling low. So grab that grub and make some memories 🙂

References:

Harvard University Press. “Food and Memory.” HarvardPress.TypePad.com. https://harvardpress.typepad.com/hup_publicity/2012/05/food-and-memory-john-allen.html#:~:text=Upon%20eating%20a%20highly%20appealing,in%20many%20other%20brain%20functions.&text=This%20alone%20could%20make%20eating%20them%20a%20memorable%20experience  (accessed Feb 11, 2021).

Thomson, Julie R. “Psychologists Explain Why Food Memories Can Feel So Powerful.” HuffPost.com. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/power-of-food-memories_n_5908b1d7e4b02655f8413610 (accessed Feb 11, 2021).

Zarasky, Susanna. “Why food memories are so powerful.” BBC.com. http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20190826-why-food-memories-are-so-powerful (accessed Feb 11, 2021).

How To Compose Justice (or at least, how I did)

One of my college courses was Composition. No, not English Composition…but composing…as in writing a piece of music. Being 110% idiot, I decided to write a piece of music to compose a super abstract philosophical concept – “Eudaemonia”. “Eudaemonia”, or “flourishing/happiness/living well”, is attained by being a person of virtue – and one of those virtues is justice.

But the thing was, I didn’t really know how to make music that sounded…justice-y. And everyone in my family seemed to have a different opinion on what justice sounded like. According to my mom, it was supposed to sound happy, because we’re getting justice; who doesn’t like that? But my dad said that justice should sound neutral, because of the whole “justice is blind” thing. And there was me. I thought justice should sound heavy and somber, because justice often comes with punishment. Then by older brother came along and, boy, did we have an interesting discussion.

I ended up learning a lot about justice. We identified three types:

  1. The Law – the 10 Commandments, the government
  2. Vigilante Justice (justice outside the law) – Batman, Robin Hood
  3. Vengeance/Revenge (usually involves bloodshed/punishment) – The Arrow

In the end, I decided that vigilantism and vengeance weren’t really justice (even though I think both those types of justice are awesome). Justice was the law…assuming the law was just (because it’s possible for judges, lawyers, and everyone else in the justice system to be corrupt. It’s possible that the justice system in itself is flawed…but I think that’s a controversial topic we’ll have to tackle another time).

Which kind of justice do your favorite superheroes/characters dole out?

What I Learned About “Eudaemonia” (in Stoicism)

Eudaemonia, or Eudaimonia, has no proper definition in the English language. Most philosophers agree that it is defined as living a flourishing life, although it is often used synonymously with happiness. There are many Eudaemonistic philosophies, including Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, in which Eudaemonia is thought of as the “highest human good” and Stoicism, which defines Eudaemonia in much the same way, but differs on how to achieve it (we shall explore Stoicism shortly).

Because the Stoics defined Eudaemonia as “living a good life/being virtuous”, they believed that Eudaemonia could be achieved solely by virtue. Virtue, or Aretê, in Stoicism, refers to moral excellence. Things like wealth, and beauty, Stoicism pronounces as “indifferents”, things that might be nice to have, but don’t really matter in the pursuit of Eudaemonia.

And so the Stoics believed that one could achieve Eudaemonia by pursuing the following “cardinal virtues”: prhonesis (wisdom), sophrosyne (temperance), andreia (courage), and dikaiosyne (justice). These virtues were tied to one primary virtue, according to Zeno, a Stoic philosopher. That virtue was wisdom, which he defined as knowledge between right and wrong. He defined the other three virtues like this: Temperance was the acquisition of wisdom; Courage was its endurance, and Justice, its distribution.

…And that’s a summary of what I learned about Eudaemonia and Stoicism.

References:

F. H. Sandbach, The Stoics, 2nd Edition. London: Bristol Classical Press, an imprint of Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd., 1989.

Reddit. “Do the stoics and Aristotle use the word “Eudaimonia” in the same way?” Reddit.com. https://www.reddit.com/r/Stoicism/comments/4ik3df/do_the_stoics_and_aristotle_use_the_word/. (accessed June 29, 2020).

Whiting, Jennifer. “Eudaimonia, External Results, and Choosing Virtuous Actions for Themselves.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 65, no. 2 (2002): 270-90. www.jstor.org/stable/3070992. (accessed February 25, 2020).

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