Sunday, January 02, 2005

Since this site is dedicated to my creative writing work, I consider it necessary to post my favorite piece from Spring 2004. This one's called Nonsense Essay. It was the most fun to write...

Spinning waft of branch triangle jumps towards hazy unhappy sky meadow. The rightly swift cotton dreams cold confined air bubbles falling up. Misty dirt and a snow would a night boat friend a lion trail. Limping vegetation grating to find an element. Lamp or unobtrusive pencil near shadow yell a dance and smile violet tree trunk. King of glass lava flies with pink insipid brick restfully. After breakfast closes day seeps intricate cloud to iron prone leaf, whistles left behind to run in fish cage. Bell hitting medicine bridge lets hungry grass eat air and punish lying picture frames. First sleep and a second sing trial mask sweet rain cliff and mock colorful acronym. Seated half apple brings diligent tune to broken clock warrior, coating merry waffle mix under lustful bottle cap. Lone cups of steam cry joy at rising moon beyond lazy music. All neat twirl squares race empty ponds to uncertain love interest when kiss angels hide from pebbles. Calming power chrysanthemums walk hill eels to water notes. Spontaneous poison grieves at losing crippled page. Envious harbor jigsaw soothes mysterious crinkle yarn, spotting shallow horsetail feathering ever masterful chocolate contest. Esoteric squirrel clamps unfriendly newspaper below age ring spilling trouble castle, unknown wealth giver seeking fictitious grace in lofted fiber trains and hazelnut twins. Elegant twine holder fitted into fruit bounty crashes leaping signal siren over sleeping mesh pillows. Delicate oar and overbearing symbol hand in hand through oval crease mix wine shutter and green bourbon fantasy, filtering dark serendipitous shining craft.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Critical Response to Christopher Edgar's At Port Royal

Each of the poems in Edgar’s At Port Royal is its own separate mystery. Though his poems are in English, it is as if he speaks in a code in which he uses unusual syntax and replaces expected verbs and adjectives with words that are simply puzzling.

There are traces of truth sprinkled throughout an otherwise bewildering maze of images. For example, in The Waning of the Play-Element the lines “Live in a desert long enough / And you will develop strange beliefs,” could a statement about how living in isolation, away from society’s standard messages, could very well affect a person’s belief system. He describes the universe as a “constantly unraveling tutu,” which, interestingly, may very well represent a scientific truth about the increase of disorder in the universe due to the second law of thermodynamics. Of course, he continues to talk about “enemies of Spring,” “the magneto and the conundrum,” and three “punch drunk… deranged… resplendent kings,” as usual touching on a variety of themes within a small number of lines.

In some parts his tone seems proverbial, even cynical, while in other parts it is more humorous. He catches the reader by surprise in Keep Gieseking, when he says of the ocean that “Urination is the next best thing to being there, for dogs.” This quirky line jumps out at us in the middle of an otherwise primarily serious poem.

Subtle religious allusions find their way into his poems, though his allusions often twist conventional history, mixing facts or usual expected references. For example, in Wing, “Magi bear birds by the Eastern Star,” rather than the North Star, and these beings apparently “Tempt Saint Anthony…” rather than Christ, “…in the desert.” His deviation from expected meanings and connotations thus applies not only to the way individual words and phrases go together, but to the way we remember what we have learned about religious history. He takes us out of our intellectual comfort zone, imposing new truths upon us, and using unexpected verbal means of doing so.

Some of his poems have an effect on me because they use strong language and seem to defy authority and convention, both in what he says and how he says it. I sometimes can sense he creates a scene or a story in his poems, but due to the mystical nature of his writing, I often have no idea where this scene takes place or what it is that the story truly represents. I feel as though I am reading another language that I don’t understand, and I don’t even know what language it is. In The Cloud of Unknowing, Edgar takes us on a poetic journey through Tripoli, Dover, Old Russia, and Mexico City. In other poems, I don’t have the context to tell me what year it is, what country I’m in, and who each character is. And as soon as a character, image, or object is introduced, it just as quickly has vanished from the poem, a fleeting particle within the ever moving stream of Edgar’s thoughts.

Though I search for concrete themes within his poetry, I am left often without a conclusion. If I can indeed find a focus in his poems, it is very, broad: I’ll conclude perhaps that he is making a statement about history, or religion, or utopia and its unattainable nature. This lack of a crystal clear understanding is due to his tendency to introduce not one, but many themes or foci in each poem. Like The Waning of the Play Element, poems such as Pint-Sized Lilliput introduce droplets of truth, as well as thought-provoking questions and emotions; he states that “No one wants to hurry,” and asks “What is the use of a book?” However, these statements seem to be digressions from the complex arrangement of images the rest of the poem presents. In The Folly of Love, he speaks of “narrow shade” and “pagan youth” in the same poem in which he talks about “crazy flames,” a “troop of words,” and “government.” What is more noteworthy than a precise, unified theme is the uniqueness of his style, the word combinations he chooses, and the fantastical rapidity with which he moves from setting to setting, leaving behind the reader who cannot keep up with his pace. Edgar seems to rearrange the English language and rules of grammar in a way that creates an alternate universe, where articles precede verbs instead of nouns, objects take on lives of their own, and human interactions are only a background to the amalgamation of images and beliefs he builds with truly perplexing creativity.

I would recommend Edgar’s poetry to those who wish for a challenge, who have the courage not to just search the depths of his poetry for meaning, but to explore a poetic world that often seems to be the polar opposite of our accepted realities and unconsciously realized truths.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Response to a Poetry Reading

Since I am responding to this poetry reading nearly a month after I attended it, I am primarily left not with a detailed memory of the lines and words of each poem, but rather the general impressions each poem left on me.

The poet read about five or six poems, each of which employed either unique syntax or unusual images. He spoke of ordinary objects such as Brita filters and roses, but created visions that were more than ordinary because of the way he personified the objects or juxtaposed phrases in unlikely ways.

His poem about a rose especially caught my attention, because I found myself comparing it to my own rose poem. I even wondered for a while if he was describing the same rose I had described, the rose in the still-life artwork in the Johnson Museum. I hung onto his every description, trying to find out if his poem also spoke of a single, lone rose leaning in a glass of water, set against a background of dark brown and grey. I listened to how he chose to form lines to capture the rose's presence and how it appeared through his eyes-- from a different perspective.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

"Write a historical sketch of the ten years prior to your own birth."

theme: jazz history

Since its development in America during the early 1900’s, jazz has remained an ever blossoming genre of indigenous American music. Between the birth of the legendary Louis Armstrong in 1900 and the beginning of the classic blues era in the 1920’s, jazz infiltrated several cultural hot spots such as New York City, Chicago, and of course New Orleans, where it originated.

Many developments in the decade before my peers and I were born have contributed to the rich fusion of blues, swing, ballad, and funk that make up this class of music.

The year of 1974 saw the release of saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s Native Dancer, an album with rhythms marked by hints of samba. In addition to samba, another growing style similar known as jazz-rock, funk, or fusion, which started in the late sixties, continued to flourish. Funk pianist Herbie Hancock, who recorded such hits as Chameleon and Watermelon Man in 1973, was a prominent influence in the performance of this uniquely rhythmic jazz derivative. In addition to Herbie Hancock’s legendary hits, in 1975, Sax player Art Pepper pursued classic bop while the Brecker Brothers collaborated with the Cobham band and guitarist John Scofield in the production of fusion album A Funky Side of Things.

Herbie Hancock’s funk band, V.S.O.P., began to perform with drummer Tony Williams in 1976. By this time, jazz-rock, popular though criticized due to its deviations from classic jazz, was not the only form of music emerging, as the growing disco craze hit full throttle in 1977. However, jazz continued to influence American culture; President Jimmy Carter coordinated a jazz concert party at the White House in 1978. Meanwhile, Hancock and other prominent jazz artists such as the young guitarist Pat Methany and trumpeter Woody Shaw contributed to the growing jazz collections of the 1970’s.

In 1979 trumpet legend Wynton Marsalis inspired a Hard Bop revival in New York, promoting in his performances a style that was popular in the 1950’s. This year also witnessed the emergence of Rap in its earliest stages. Wynton Marsalis captivated audiences through the early 1980’s, along with his brother Branford Marsalis at the Kool Jazz Festival of 1982.

When marketing of the CD took effect in 1983, the observance of jazz, among other forms of music, became more accessible to the general public. This allowed jazz to continue its journey from clubs in New York and Chicago to the living rooms of jazz enthusiasts throughout America for years to come.

My favorite type of creative writing has been the creation of images using unusual language. When logopoeia—the interaction and play of the expected connotations of words—joins hands with phanopoeia—the creation of images— I’m left with the potential to create visions described by unlikely juxtapositions. I find that this is the best way to avoid the cliché problem. Perhaps other writers have already said some of the same things I’ve said, but if I can find a different way to convey my ideas, I can mark those ideas with the uniqueness and personal meaning they hold for me.

I have somewhat of a photographic memory-- I remember in images. I can still mentally walk through the hallways of houses or buildings I’ve visited only once, even if it was years ago. I remember what my cousins were wearing at a family Christmas party three years ago when I was a junior in high school. (Lauren, if you’re reading this, you wore black pants, a red tank top, and a black button down sweater over that. Marie, you wore khakis and a grey long sleeved shirt. I had dark green pants and a light blue Express long sleeved shirt. Remember?) If I don’t know street names, I can sometimes find my way around by relying on my memory of the settings around me. When I’m studying for a test, I often relocate a fact by recalling where on the page of the textbook it was located (that one is probably not so unusual). This way of thinking in images definitely influences my writing, except that in this case I create images of my own and use language to make sure they make a lasting impression within the piece.

However, I think that the concept of melopoeia—the musicality of language—has a significant impact on the art of writing that I may not always consciously realize as I am writing. When the collection of words are so compatible that they form a sense of rhythm, they resonate with a certain harmony that makes a piece more easy to read, if only by making it superficially more appealing. Despite what the content may be, a poem with proper iambic pentameter can intrigue a reader, if only because of the way it rings within the mind's ear. But I think melopoeia can influence any type of writing, be it poetic or analytical. When sentences in an essay boast meticulously arranged, descriptive, or unusual words that would flow as gracefully from the lips of the reader as they do from the writer’s mind, the piece becomes animated and more attractive, the argument more forceful and articulate. Like the combination of logopoeia and phanopoeia, use of melopoeia can add dimension and uniqueness to a piece of writing, distinguishing its meaning by enhancing the way it is presented.

"Meditate on the place you came from and describe its history"

After the former rancho of Don Mariano Castro was split, the south eventually became the city of Sunnyvale, and the north became Mountain View. The town began as a stage stop on the route between San Francisco and San Jose (corresponding to El Camino Real), close to present-day Grant Road. With the coming of the railroad, the center of town eventually moved to its current location at Castro Street.
--From nationmaster.com Encyclopedia

Today, the city of Mountain View is much more than a stage stop. It has grown into a richly diverse, thriving city with a mind of its own. Located in Silicon Valley, it is home to headquarters of successful high tech companies such as Netscape and Google. In fact, I learned to drive in the Netscape parking lots, which, when mostly empty on the weekends, were quite spacious and tranquil enough for a good driving lesson.

In addition to the city’s technological components, the downtown is a place where you can find Italian, Thai, Persian, or Chinese restaurants all within a few blocks. Bubble tea at the Verde Café is popular with college aged students and businessmen and women seeking breaks from the ordinary work schedule. Across the street, a used book store and its next door neighbor, Books Inc, provide enough literary resources and coffee to appeal to this crowd as well.

Mountain View’s schools claim students with talents from athletics to music. Saint Francis High is well known for its outstanding athletics while Mountain View High School has a demanding and respecting music program. And since this city is nestled between Santa Clara and Palo Alto, aspiring students can look as close as a 20 or 30 minute drive to prominent universities such as Santa Clara University and Stanford University.

A view from the hills of Los Altos provides a sweeping panoramic sight of the tree-lined neighborhoods of Mountain View as well as the tip of the San Francisco Bay, which can be seen running from the Dumbarton bridge of Palo Alto down toward the Shoreline Amphitheater, one of the best outdoor performance arenas in the U.S. Immersed in culture, diversity, and opportunity, Mountain View is a microcosm of the Bay Area.

"Write a detailed response to one of your classmate’s blog posts."

I liked what Jonathan had to say about melopoeia, phanopoeia, and logopoeia, particulary how in his writing, phanopoeia tends to dominate the plot. "I’ll often end up writing a few pages, set up a scene with relatively interesting characters, and then pretend it’s a story, convincing myself that something’s going on there so I can avoid actually weaving in a the plot." I can completely relate to this tendency, though for me its interesting words I get lost in, rather than images. Just as Jonathan hopes for his vivid collectoins of images to somehow converge into a plot of some sort, I sometimes like to see where the words in a poem take me. I think it actually helps with my poetry, to let the words flow from my mind onto the paper, and worry about meaning later. Because sometimes it allows what's lying in my creative thoughts to break through unrestrained. Then once the thoughts are out there, I can shape and connect them however I wish. Maybe the same is true for Jonathan-- maybe it's okay for his stories to develop from an initial collection of scenes. The background settings of a story, a person's life, or a family history, can very well influence the events that occur and relationships that grow, and are therefore just as vital and important as the plot itself. And if thinking in images helps bring a story out, then it's definitely a positive style in writing.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

....my latest poem......

beneath the petals

between peach haze and plum mystery
sundials pause for air

unlikely mix of hues,
traces of logic, imagination
ripening scarlet, subtle auburn
eager to nourish
shy fibrous lengths
vulnerable in patches of grass

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Johnson Museum Response

Heade's still-life of a rose in a glass of water

you stand with stubborn pride and weathered form
no matter that your humble heart’s been torn
a symbol of romance, you’ve grieved alone
as others passed you by, you hid your groan
you’ve traveled far, your land remote and quaint
without a choice, with memories now faint
detached, estranged, away from homeland soil
your looks suggest sweet grace, not curse and toil
yet leaning toward the ground, you stand robust
refuse to fall, lest shafts of age combust
you let no hardship break your will of gold
you radiate a sense not weak nor old
your power is your strength to carry on
in foreign water, nourished, somehow strong
while mystery enfolds like curtains drawn
around your shadowed spirit, subtle song
a melody that resonates with time
at first ignored, it captivates with rhyme
surprised outsiders, hoping but to pass
who pause, entranced by rare majestic mass
a striking glow detached from sullen grays
the finely crafted shape, on which to gaze
and soar above the mundane problems grown
to seek the same renewal you have shown


Above task: “Write a poem or story that responds to an artwork at the Johnson Museum without actually describing it.”
Current task: “Describe the artwork you encountered at the Johnson and discuss what you think it may have to teach you about writing.”

When I began the task to write a response to an artwork at the Johnson museum without actually describing it, I felt unprepared. So much of my reaction to Heade's artwork was due to the way this visual display formed a lasting pictorial imprint in my mind, and I wanted to describe it to others so they could form a picture of it in their own minds. Instead, since this violated the description rule, I had to skip right to the meaning of the artwork. Other people would only be able to hear my response without seeing the object for themselves. Is this good or bad in writing? Well, if my response has convinced others of the esoteric and mystical side of art I found in this still-life, then I have accomplished something. Perhaps my poetic response is just as mysterious as the rose itself, so in a way I may produce the same effect on my readers which the artwork had on me.

This experience reminds us that there are distinct dimensions in writing that need to be explored. There’s statement of fact, then up a dimension is descriptive writing, and then after that come metaphorical and allusive writing. This assignment didn’t allow description and statement of fact so much. I was unable to tell my readers how the rose was of a deep red hue, with alternating shades of darker maroon-red lining its petals, and that a bright green stem led up to the green leaves framing those petals. I couldn't tell them that one of those green leaves had fallen to the tabletop, and the rose flower leaned down toward it from the top of the glass in which it dwelled, as if looking at this fallen leaf, mourning the loss from a distance. Or how despite its confinement and solitude, the rose appeared healthy and vibrant, its petals curved proudly, its texture smooth and flawless despite the slightly timeworn, bent posture of the stem on which it relied for support. Instead of depicting what I saw, I had to first discover the rose’s world in my mind: where it came from, what its story was, why its new home was floor four of the Johnson Museum, and how this shaped its unique personal heritage. Then I recreated this personal heritage in the form of a poem, in which words took the place of the brush strokes that created the rose’s form in the artwork frame.

This exercise demanded creative authority. My readers must experience what I saw through my words alone, and thus rely on my interpretations and accuracy. I'm sure I even cheated a little, not being able to resist telling my readers that the rose did indeed look strong, and that its appearance was pleasing despite its imperfect posture. Perhaps I did not describe how exactly the rose appeared in space, but I definitely described the impressions it left on me. In the end, some descriptions found a way to sneak back into the poem, their role in the poem's significance ultimately undeniable and unforgettable. My writing ultimately revealed my most important goal -- not to hide descriptions in fulfillment of some arbitrary assignment, but to show how the rose remained a true aesthetic wonder, managing to captivate its observers despite its own losses, and how this made it a source of strength beyond the expectations normally assigned to such objects. I can only hope that in reading my response, my readers find even a shred of the power with which this artwork struck me.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

**note: I was just sitting in my room thinking about the way I write, and it inspired me to add one more paragraph to the March 8th entry about my major and its impact on the way I write. see last paragraph for more thoughts on the subject...**

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Response to The Boston Review

The Boston Review, a “Political and Literary Forum,” brings together a variety of politics, poetry, and fiction. Browsing through the online archives, I had an amazing number of articles and poems to choose from, each with seemingly independent, unique topics and styles.

Within this variety, I was particularly interested in the literary pieces with topics other than pure politics. Many short stories were listed, each of which depicted a vivid world to be explored. Robin Bradford’s “Wishes of River,” for example, was a story about a woman trying to regain confidence in her abilities as a swimmer after a long, mysteriously depicted break from the sport(we do not know why she took a break). Dara’s story is set upon the backdrop of a blossoming relationship with her current significant other, Nat, who has provided the emotional support she has craved since a sudden breakup with a charismatic yet uncommitted man years ago. The storyline is ordinary in many senses; it is the smaller bits of detail this story provides which give it its edge. For example, as Dara grows ever more able as an athlete, she also explores her interests in geology. It is the commentary on this field of study that provokes thought from the reader. Her reflections upon geology introduce ideas that may very well be foreign or previously unexplored by the reader. Her thoughts speak rather poetically of the shifting of the earth’s tectonic plates, using personification: “It is a fitful, restless energy, dissatisfied with the way things are, that causes the earth's surface to move the way it does. People construct houses and bridges, believing that the land and water will stay put. But the earth is still deciding what it wants to be.” In addition to these traces of new topics which are selectively peppered throughout the piece, the author uses the sense of touch as a strong means of describing the relationship between Dara and Nat. Throughout the entire story, there is no dialogue, yet the reader senses the intimacy between them through descriptions such as: “Nat took her into his arms without even opening his eyes,” or “He drew her shoulder to his mouth and kissed her with his teeth.” For this type of piece, it is more the subtleties of language and style that give it its power, rather than the plot itself, which, without the embellishment of the stylistic peculiarities and tangential topics, would not have as strongly stood alone.

There were also literary pieces with connections not necessarily to specific political issues, but to broader social or cultural issues. For example, Elizabeth Alexander’s poem, “Race,” described a black man who was assumed to be white by people who had not met him simply because he was a forester from Oregon in 1930. “What a strange thing is ‘race,’ and family,” Alexander emphasizes. Her piece is not so much an angry recollection of the days of institutionalized racism as it is a mockery or subtle criticism from the voice of someone who seems to be detached from it all. She does not display an appalled tone but rather points out the peculiarities of how racial differences play a role in forming people’s perceptions of other individuals. Pieces of poetry like Alexander’s are effective ways of commenting on the social inequalities that have tainted America’s history, without being completely factual or technical. They call attention to such issues without simply stating fact, but instead by giving it a twist with poetic creativity.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Who decides the truth for me? After two years of college and the often dreaded task of making decisions, I still don't know the answer to that 100%. The truth... what does this include? The truth about how to achieve happiness and inner peace, perhaps.. or true feelings toward an event, a setting, or a person.

One of my most frustrating flaws (at least, I see it as a flaw), is my tendency to doubt myself and my choices. There's that saying, "Hindsight is 20/20," but in addition to being a rather dismal outlook on decision-making, I don't think it is true for me anyway. I so often second-guess my decisions that I think no matter what I do, I'll end up with those horrible nagging "what if's" running through my head, even if I really did make the right decision. Take for example my crisis at the beginning of this semester with choosing between two engineering electives. Both seemed interesting and useful, in very different ways, but I couldn't take both because I'd have too many credits. It took three weeks of deliberation to reach a final conclusion, after several instances of thinking I'd make a decision only to regret it and switch back. I kept oscillating back and forth, all the while asking friends and family for advice, doing the problem sets for both classes, and attending both lectures. I think this only made me more indecisive, and eventually, I chose one over the other due to a segment of the syllabus that I favored, and to be safe, deliberately neglected turning in a problem set for the other so that I could not return to that class without making up that score of zero out of 25. So is hindsight really 20/20? No... after making the decision, I felt the same- I knew I would miss something either way but the important thing is that I would also gain something either way. I still felt regretful about dropping the one class, but I mostly likely would have felt the same way about dropping the other one, so ultimately I just had to make a decision and commit to it, and dedicate my time to getting the most out of that class.

So where am I going with this little anecdote? Well, after the trauma of dreading making the wrong decision, and then still doubting myself after making the decision, I had to scold myself a little bit. I made the "right decision" a mystery by putting so much pressure on myself to choose one or the other, thinking only the one choice would lead me to happiness. If that were really the case, I'd be a really weak person because I wouldn't be able to make the best of both equally valuable opportunities. What WAS the hidden truth in this scenario? I overlooked it at first... but in reflection I think that the true decision was whether or not I would seize opportunity and become a smarter person- not how I achieved it through a specific class.

I am a person who believes there IS a certain reason for some events to occur, and that there is some ideal path of events I am seeking. I don't think the choices I make are random and meaningless, even though at the time I make them I may not see their ultimate consequences. I think there is an ideal path of life I am striving to achieve, and I hope that my decisions lead me to being the person I want to become. And even if I make decisions I regret, I think there is a reason for these decisions and a drive within me to make the best of them and continue down that path with new wisdom and confidence gained from such experiences. If I can't do that, I have learned nothing.

I've found increasingly that while I may need guidance and support from friends or family, too many pieces of advice from too many people can definitely have adverse effects. If all I do is gather opinions from others every time I need to make a major decision, I'll only get confused and lose sight of what I truly want, in an effort to tie together everyone's differing views into some kind of unified solution. It just doesn't happen that way. I've realized that I need to trust my instincts to discover what it truly is I believe, and allow those I trust to guide me when I need them. Constantly asking others for the "answer" can just hide the truth even more. It can just create more factors and more variables to add to the increasingly complex equation of my quest for a solution.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

I enjoy writing in my dorm room, particularly when the hall is quiet and I can free my mind of any distractions. My room is on the first floor of my dorm, all the way at the end of one of the three hallways. Next to my bed, my desk faces the window that covers most of the back wall. If I open my curtains I can see the brick exterior of the frat house neighboring the class of '26 hall. During the early fall and spring, the house is coated in ivy and the view is surprisingly pleasant, the architecture reminiscent of the university's earlier eras. In the winter, the snow that forms a glistening blanket upon ground also creates a thick layer that looks like a huge white cake on top of the wooden picnic table by the walkway. If I'm writing at night, the lights coming from inside the house are mellow enough to fade into the background of my thoughts, and they create an unintrusive illumination of the scene. They are not too bright, as I can still see at least a few stars if it is a clear night. Inside the room, the lights hanging from my roommate's lofted bed create the feel of a porch lit by dim lanterns.

Monday, March 08, 2004

I'm currently majoring in bioengineering, but a year ago, I did not know this would be the case. I lived my freshman year as a chemE (chemical engineering), and with this major also came a way of life. Constantly surrounded by ChemE classmates taking the same core classes, I experienced both a sense of belonging and a sense of constraint. My closest friends and family know that second semester of freshman year was the worst semester of my life academically. Though my body was punished with fewer than 6 hours of sleep per night due to long hours spent attempting to decipher problem sets and staring blankly at computer screens, all of the suffering did not pay off grade-wise. The heart of the problem was that I did not enjoy these classes, and I did not see a rewarding, fulfilling path of life ahead of me. Though I wished to learn a great deal from this rigorous major and apply chemical engineering to environmental and medical problems, as I flipped through the upper level course listings for the major, all I could say to myself was, "BORING!!" After half a semester and numerous visits with the academic counselors, I decided couldn't, and wouldn't, take it anymore. I missed biology. I missed writing. foreign languages, and literature. And most of all, I missed feeling like I was good at something.

My decision to switch was a truly passionate and rightly motivated decision that I have not second-guessed for one moment. This is a great accomplisment for me, someone who is teasingly (but accurately) called "Lady Indecisive" by friends. Bioengineering is a major I should have been in from the start. I get to learn about biomedical topics such as pharmaceuticals and biomechanics, as well as environmental engineering topics such as bioremediation and air pollution control. And, in this major I have much more time to explore my interests in the humanities, because the schedule is slightly more flexible, and since I am better at biology than at chemistry, I spend much less time trying to figure out homework problems. I can say confidently that I am happy with my new major, though it too has its ups and downs. I still burn the midnight oil on tough weeknights before prelims, and I still devote a good portion of my afternoons to studying in the library. But now I feel like I'm doing it for a reason, and I don't mind spending time reading through a biology book because the material actually interests me! Perhaps it was not so huge of a transition, leaving ChemE for BEE-- I still see chemE-esque mass balances and differential equations in my BEE problem sets. Yet the path that lies ahead of me is so much clearer now.

I can't say I always have the same direction when I am writing. I feel though, that sometimes writing a poem or paper for me is like a miniature version of my switch from chemical engineering to bioengineering. I explored a little, and even became burdened by the wrong idea for a while, until the spark within me forced me to leave this way of life behind. Similarly, I've found that I'll start a poem with no idea what I want to accomplish by it, and until I encounter that spark of inspiration, I'll dwell on seemingly inconsequential ideas and meaningless, stagnant phrases that lack the thematic cohesion I desire. I think the true ideas I wish to express are sometimes hiding, and it takes that grace period of exploration to find them and bring them out.

In terms of style, the more I've thought about it, the more I've realized I can confidently say I DO write like an engineer. This is a little hidden mystery of mine-- I was originally hesitant to say it, because all of my friends know that English was one of my favorite subjects in high school, and everyone *knows* engineers hate to write! Or at least, that's how we're labelled. Since elementary school though, I have always been the kid writing those crazy 10 pages stories when the assignment was 2 pages, and in freshman writing seminar, when we had to write 5 to 7 page essays, mine were always 7 pages. But the fact that I like to write and have fun with language doesn't cancel out the undeniable fact that I like to analyze and explain... I readily admit that creative writing is an entirely new experience to me, because besides my occasional freely written journal entries, I don't have much of a background with poetry and short stories. I like to argue a point, to find significance hidden within the pages of a book and convince my reader that there is no other certainty than the one I lay out with data and warrants, structured within an essay. I like the structure of an essay, and how the placement of thoughts at their designated point in the essay has a crucial effect on how well the essay convinces the reader. I like to "optimize" while I'm writing by using only the most effective quotes. However, I never can seem to pour out too much analysis. That is one thing my essays will never lack. I don't think I fit the stereotype of the engineer who writes only technically and finds other types of writing a dreadful task. But I know where my greatest interests are and can say there are some types of writing I definitely prefer over others. While I highly favor analytical writing, I'm creative in my own way within that branch of writing-- there are still countless options of how I wish to design my sentences and how I can state my thesis in the most eloquent and profound way possible. There are always challenges and ways I can improve my writing. And just as I wish to use bioengineering to create better prescription drugs, improve efficiencies of metabolic pathways, and engineer more environmentally friendly processes, I strive always to bring more power and resonance to the words I write in analytical papers.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

I live in the heart of Silicon Valley, but it's in the center of much more than just a thriving technological society. What I mean is there is so much variety surrounding me - ocean, mountains, farmlands, lakes, big cities, small cities—all within relatively close distance. Part of the bay reaches my city, but an hour's drive will take me to the open ocean.

It’s hilly and yet flat in places… It rains a fair amount, but if I want to see snow I can drive a few hours to Tahoe during the winter. During the summer it’ll get up to the 90’s if we have a heat wave… otherwise it’s pretty mild and gravitates toward the 80’s on hot days. The skies aren’t as clear as they are at CU, due to all the lights from the various cities scattered across the valley. But I can usually at least see the dippers and Orion’s belt.

I go running in the hills of a nature preserve outside my city back home. As I’m driving up the winding road that leads me there, I can catch a glimpse of the foothills that frame the highway and eventually lead up to the ocean. Then the road turns and I face the hills I’ll run in. I feel like I could find a hiding place within the canopies of oak and elm trees. During the summer the trails are dry and hot, but in the spring and winter, the greenness is overwhelmingly inviting and perfect for a run. I go there to train because I can focus in a setting free of material distractions- on those trails, I'm in my own world trying to beat my last mile time.

The economy is visibly influenced by the high-tech industry. I live a matter of miles from various biotech and computer companies. These industries contribute to the area's distinct feel of scientific exploration. Yet the bay area holds a natural charm that can be captured even in the simple San Francisco postcard that decorates my dorm room wall. The terrain at Cornell is pretty unique- but though I can’t say I see waterfalls and gorges everywhere I look back home, things in California like the Golden Gate Bridge, the hilly bay islands and the tree-lined downtowns create the equally unique feel of the bay area.

Friday, February 20, 2004

There’s this frat house on west campus, that, when I walked in and looked around last weekend, took me by surprise and even kind of made me upset in a way. Before I even entered, I already admired the place. As I walked up the hill with my hallmates and I saw the grey, stone building perched boastfully on the hill’s crest, its impressive windows and sprawling driveway caught my eye. But when I entered the foyer, I forgot about the outside as I strained my eyes to see where the ceiling ended. It got worse. That entrance room, despite its spacious interior, was quite plain. Except for the enthusiastic, half-drunk partygoers streaming in through the wooden double doors, the room itself was devoid of any decoration. A simple table manned by frat brothers collecting fees graced its wooden floor, and the second set of double doors kept visitors moving to the next destination. The next scene was incredible, or should I say incredibly unfair? The first thing I saw when I walked in was the gorgeous, elegant, Victorian carpet spanning the entire floor; but as my eyes moved up and around, I had to stop walking in order to not run into anyone as I craned my neck to see if I recognized any of the people looking down at me from the interior balcony that traced the hallways of the second floor. But what a bizarre mix of elegance and crazy, intoxicated merriment. While my eyes were indeed being treated to the aesthetically pleasing dark wood walls and classy framed artworks, all I could hear was the din of giddy laughter and the occasional thump of a distant subwoofer enhancing the bass of hip-hop tunes that I often enjoy in my ’95 Cirrus when cruising along the California highways. Little cliques of sorority sisters and frat party regulars were clustered in circles in the first main room, and recently arriving partiers drifted either towards these circles or to the next room where alcohol seemed to be available. I placed my coat to the side, in a nook by two adjacent bay windows, and continued to the next room where a game of beer pong was the main attraction. Unfortunately,I realized that this was the closest thing to entertainment at the party after I ventured down a winding staircase into the bustling basement, where a crowd too large for its narrow walls sought beverages and people stood idly, ignoring the inviting music that shook the floor and walls. It was too bad I had to leave early out of boredom... too bad the most fun I had there was looking around at the hanging lights and sophisticated furniture that created the luxurious, even decadent feel of this visually amazing, socially frenetic place.

Friday, February 13, 2004

"...I am very like to swoon
With the weight of this brocade..."

-- Amy Lowell, Patterns

Thursday, February 12, 2004

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

--Langston Hughes

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

A memorable occasion of rhetoric

Senior year of high school, my English teacher read our class a poem written by the author whose works of fiction we were currently studying. I now do not even remember the name of the author, but the images formed in my mind while listening to his poem remain intact.

The poem began with a mockery of the superficiality often associated with the show business industry. He described a room full of particularly vain supermodels auditioning for a coveted role; in this scene, the dialogue trivialized the importance of the actual show and instead focused on aesthetic status. Instead of being purely critical, however, the poet exaggerated the various statements taking place within this dialogue, so that the supermodels’ obsessions with appearance became downright comical. For the first ten lines, my classmates and I were able to laugh out loud at the poem’s satirical messages.

About halfway through the poem, however, the tone suddenly changed as he began to describe his ambitions to teach literature at a university and write poetic masterpieces. All of a sudden, guided by his metaphors, I began to visualize a secluded haven with warm fireplaces, glowing yellow streetlights, and tall, mahogany bookcases filled with well-loved classics—perhaps this image was the home of someone whose collections of prose and poetry took a lifetime to accumulate. Or perhaps it was a student library at this university he dreamed of. Whatever it was, it was a drastic departure from the earlier allusions.

I think this author was trying to show that he wished to be taken seriously, despite the artificiality that threatens to take over the arts of performance and literature, and that mass productions, Hollywood glamour, and clichés cannot replace the rich world of literature he values. The first half of his poem caught our attention and entertained us, drawing us in so that we cared what he had to say. Then, instead of leaving us in content approval of his satirical words, he pushed us further, showing us his plans for the future and his intent to take the proverbial road less traveled. It was a really unique effect, because the end of the poem left us not giggling at the absurdity of pompous fashion shows but rather envisioning his ambitions.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Math is like English sometimes.

In middle school, we learned about the order of operations in pre-algebra. My sixth grade teacher called it "pemdas," which stands for "parentheses, exponent, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction." According to the "pemdas" law, in a given mathematical procedure, one must first carry out the operations inside parenthesis, and then proceed to exponentiate, multiply or divide, and add or subtract. By adhering to this law, I learned to derive the proper meaning from a given arrangement of numerical characters and operators. This early exposure to the elegance of mathematical order formed the foundation of skill for my future scientific studies, in which it would be necessary to carry out complex operations. However, since I began learning this rule shortly after I had become familiar with grammatical rules, it has subtly accompanied my view of the English language, and remained in the background as I have developed my writing skills. This was the beginning of structure not only in a mathematical language, but in spoken and written language as well.

While the "pemdas" rule has proven essential for complex arithmetic, I have also gradually seen its relevance to spoken language, in which a sentence may hold several meanings depending on specific placement of clauses and the appropriate inclusion of commas. For example, the sentence, "The outcome of the company's annual evaluation hinged on the advertisement's quality, which was ultimately a complete disappointment" does not convey the exact meaning of the following sentence: "The outcome of the company's annual evaluation, which was ultimately a complete disappointment, hinged on the advertisement's quality." In the first sentence, the advertisement's quality is what was a complete disappointment, while in the second sentence, the company's evaluation was the complete disappointment. In this case, the location of the clause "which was a complete disappointment" is essential to the precise meaning of the sentence. Likewise, a mathematical sentence such as 6-5*4 would not yield the same result as 6*5-4. The first sentence equals -14 while the second equals 26, because the multiplicative operation is carried out before the subtractive operation. In these operations, the same numbers are being used, but in each case the 5, which could be the equivalent of the "disappointment" clause in the above English statements, is being multiplied by different "words" in each case, just as the "disappointment" clause is analogously attached to different phrases in each case.

These types of situations occur daily in spoken language, though by this point our placement of clauses is often unconscious, as our years of practice have allowed us to rapidly form meaningful sentences without much deliberation. However, as a science student with constant exposure to math, though it may not be as obvious, I think there is sometimes an ideal, optimum structure in the way we present our thoughts that is similar to the structure of math. I have increasingly found that a background in the sciences is not unrelated, but rather complementary to the field of writing. We can learn something from the inflexible nature of math, while still remaining free to craft exquisitely diverse sentences from the rich bank of the English language. The order and structure that are integral to the success of mathematical operations are also important in conveying the deepest meaning possible through writing.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Welcome to my newly established realm of creative thoughts and exciting updates...

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