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If/Then Finals

This week marks the second week of December, which college students around the country know affectionately as the week before they get to go home, or less affectionately as the dreaded finals week. My finals this semester have been both easy and impossibly difficult – I started finals before finals started, courtesy of a professor who decided to have his final during the last class period. (They think this is helpful, since we have fewer finals during the four days that is the legitimate finals period. Plus, they then can also go home earlier. But when you have a final, two problem sets, an essay, and a presentation in the last three days of classes, said professor appears to be a bit of an ass…)

Anyways, courtesy of that early final, I only had two tests during finals week (and a project and accompanying paper). Only two tests. In Chemistry and Physics. On the same day. THE SAME DAY. People, if you’ve never taken two or more math/science classes in one semester, you do not understand the struggle that it represents. Problem sets due? They’re probably on the same day. Chances are high you have a unit test in both during the same week. But two finals on the same day is horrendous. I strongly encourage everyone to never, ever, ever do that.

Sometimes, however, these circumstances cannot be helped. And so, here we go! Study for approximately three straight days without ever leaving the house, and you need something to keep you going. Some people love silence, but I need noise in the background to work effectively, but I don’t need the stress of being around other people freaking out. So I usually loop something on my computer. In the past years, I’ve had a constant stream of Gilmore Girls going (as a show I know so well that I don’t need to watch or even listen to more than 3 seconds every 10 minutes to know exactly what is going on). But this semester, for whatever reason, GG wasn’t appealing to me. So I started with my Pandora Wicked playlist, and then quickly decided I just wanted to listen to Idina Menzel forever and ever, which is difficult when the majority of her popularity on the internet is her singing “Let it Go” from Frozen. (You may also know her as Elphaba in Wicked or Maureen in RENT…) But then I found If/Then.

A musical currently on Broadway that I swear was written for her, If/Then has a beautiful score, and one that is perfect for studying to. It has enough variety in the music to not be boring, but enough consistency to not be distracting. I started with the Youtube channel that consists of the recordings; after three or four loops I broke down and bought the original cast album. And then proceeded to listen to it 27 times. 27 times. For reference, the soundtrack is 75 minutes long, so I listened to at least 33 hours of Idina Menzel over Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday… Needless to say, Idina Menzel’s wonderful, fabulous, phenomenal voice got me through these past few days. And will continue to be my motivating factor as I finish my project and paper before I go home on Monday!!

Anyway, I just wanted to share my most recent obsession and also make a public statement thanking Ms. Menzel for her amazing voice (and her parents for a. creating her and b. paying for all those voice lessons for all those years…).

In addition, you can’t deny that she is amazing just as she is. She starred on Broadway, won a Tony, took a decade for herself, got married and had a kid, and then went back to Broadway and is starring again. Plus, she’s funny (really funny!) and seems so down to earth and I would LOVE it if Idina Menzel became an idol for the current generation!

TBTW: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

I have to be honest – I’ve been reading more than I may have let on last week. Specifically, I’ve been reading novels written by Haruki Murakami. For a class. So they didn’t always feel like novels, because they didn’t always feel like fun.

We started at the beginning, with the very first novel(la) he published – Hear the Wind Sing. We then continued, with Pinball, 1973, A Wild Sheep Chase, Norwegian Wood, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, four stories from the collection The Elephant Vanishes, and finally The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. All told, I read 2,049 pages of Haruki Murakami this semester. And I never wrote a single review.

But we’re going to change that, right now with this review of Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I’m sure many a piece has been written on it, but I will do my best to both review this novel and explain my Murakami obsession.

think the first Murakami book I read was Kafka on the Shore, but I can’t be certain. Partly because it was so long ago, partly because I spent an entire summer basically on a Haruki Murakami binge, and partly because after a while, it seemed like all his books were melding into one. In some ways, this issue has become more pronounced, now that I’ve read about 50% of his published fiction. (For those who are curious, Murakami has thus far written 19 fiction novels and short story collections, translated dozens of books into Japanese, and written over 40 non-fiction works. Needless to say, I can read him forever and I’ll probably never catch up.) For those of you who have never read one of his books, they are typically collections of at least a handful of characters’ stories, interwoven sometimes through plot, sometimes through language, and sometimes not at all. They often converge but just as often stray even further apart. Whichever book you pick up, there will probably be at least one character of significance who remains nameless. There will probably be a second, parallel world accessed by only a handful of characters. This world will have significance, but that significance will be obscured. (It may seem strange, even absurd, to be able to summarize an author’s entire canon into a series of statements such as this, but I give you the rules I was taught in sixth grade to define all Shakespearean comedies: 1. mistaken identities/cross dressing, 2. a fool and his wordplay, 3. everything ends with a big, happy wedding.)

This semester, our class was guided through Murakami’s works from the beginning – I watched his language mature and his characters deepen; I watched as the worlds he created became more realistic and simultaneously more abstract. With each book, I became more and more absorbed, until we got to the books that have made him famous. Interestingly, one of his best selling novels internationally was Norwegian Wood, his only “normal” love story and a book which he has gone on record saying was his worst. Now, when I think about the seven books I’ve read this semester, as well as the others I’d read before (Kafka on the Shore1Q84, and South of the Border, West of the Sun), I realize I kinda want to read them all again. And for that, I blame this book:

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The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. The last book of the semester, the last assignment of the semester, and one thing that will probably stick with me forever. It was originally published in Japanese as three volumes, and was significantly edited to become the single, 607 page novel it is in English. I have mixed feelings about this book. I enjoyed it, although it oftentimes simultaneously fascinated and terrified me. I appreciate it as both a standalone work and as a part of the larger Murakami world. But I also know that I didn’t understand it. In some way, I can feel that the novel has connections that I haven’t made, that certain aspects of the plot and individual details have significance I didn’t catch. More than perhaps any book I’ve ever read, I feel like Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a book that would reveal more and more of itself to me each time I read it. And in some strange way, even though I’ve got millions of things to do this week and at least a dozen unread books on my shelf just waiting for me, I had the nearly incontrollable urge to flip immediately back to page 1 and start the book all over again. I don’t know what precisely was different about this ending, but it certainly hit me differently and I consequently think I want to read more of Murakami’s newest works, even though I honestly expected to be sick and tired of Murakami forever (or at least a few months) by the end of this class.

On the surface, this is a book about a man. His cat disappears, his wife’s brother introduces them to a medium who says the cat won’t ever come back. His wife disappears, and he climbs into a well at another medium’s suggestion to think about his life. He meets a woman named Nutmeg, and her son, Cinnamon. He receives mysterious phone calls from another woman – his wife? – and eventually thinks he meets her at the bottom of the well. Throughout the novel, other characters tell us stories, usually in the form of letters or interviews, about living through the end of WWII in Manchukuo (Manchuria). A few people die, at least one is born, and two characters (are they the same person?) lose their voice. Under the surface, this is a very, very confusing book. Maybe that is why I want to go read it again?

One thing that really struck me about The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was the insertion of details of importance from other novels. Really, it was that details from other novels became important here. As I’ve been reading Murakami’s works throughout the semester, I’ve noticed this more and more: Murakami intentionally puts details of significance in other works. It is a little bit like the hints Pixar gives us in the movies, except for that sometimes the hints are finally brought to light three, four, even five books later. Ever since I first started reading Murakami, I’ve suspected all his books somehow connect to each other, and I kind of feel that this book solidified that assumption for me. Even though I don’t have any certain indication that these books all happen in a single reality (yet – The Strange Library seems like it might be the book that pulls all the books together), the connections seem too similar to not be connected. As we’ve been told, coincidences are rarely mere coincidences.

Believe in coincidences if you want, for doing so will probably help you understand this book. Or don’t believe in them, and be prepared to ask lots (lots!) of questions. Either way, this is a book filled with eloquent prose that effortlessly brings you from the depths of a dark, muddy well to the bright sunlight of the Chinese desert and then to the despair of a Siberian mine before taking you back again to the swirling dust of a cat-less living room. The story rises and falls, forcing you to stay in your chair for a hundred pages at a time while the short chapters also permit quick escapes. For anyone with who truly enjoys fantasy novels (although this might be more fantastical, less fantasy), I would recommend it. But I would also warn that it is a big book. It is long and it can be heavy, even frightening. It is not the Murakami novel I would suggest to a friend who had never read him before.

If you are looking for a first Murakami novel, I’d recommend Kafka on the Shore. (Note, however, that this one is also not for the faint of heart. Or for those with a strong cat affection.) If you want a Murakami to say you’ve read something of his, but don’t necessarily want the crazy worlds, try Norwegian Wood. But my strongest recommendation for a first-time Murakami connoisseur would be his short story collection – The Elephant Vanishes. Short stories always make for good exposure, and these are fully fleshed out (some of them…). They certainly give a taste of the fantasy and multiple worlds Murakami has become so well known for, while doing so in bite-sized pieces.

TBTW: The End of Night by Paul Bogard

It’s been a very (very!) long time since I wrote anything here. If it is any indication of what I’ve been doing, I’ve seriously considered writing TBTW posts multiple times this semester about my textbooks. My textbooks! I could write reviews of McQuarrie’s Physical Chemistry textbook or the Williams version of Nuclear Physics. Or… I could not. I chose not, and the result was a lack of TBTW posts. And the incredible quantities of work that make me want to run away from my computer screen screaming means that not a single post has been written this semester. Not that I haven’t been having fun and doing things worth writing about. Maybe I’ll be better next semester.

51PtYrpL1sL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_But I’ve been working all semester to read a few pages of one book or another every night, and I’ve finally had the opportunity over Thanksgiving to finally finish one. Often, for me, the amount of time I take to read a book is inversely proportional to how interesting I find it. But this isn’t the case for this book. The End of Night is a truly fascinating book which put into words my constant frustration with the lack of stars. I love the stars, as I believe I’ve mentioned. I stare up at them in San Mateo whenever I get out of my car at home. I stare up at them in Somerville whenever I walk home after dark. Sometimes, I even lay out in the street (the almost-never driven on ones, I promise!) to stare up at the stars the clouds let me see. Every time, I am frustrated by the lack of stars I can actually see.

So is Paul Bogard. He was so frustrated by it that he decided to research the locations in the world where he could see – really, truly see – the stars. The places we can travel to where we can see the Milky Way Galaxy the way our ancestors did. The empty spaces where the starlight is enough to travel by, where moonlight is enough to read by, and where electric light is totally and entirely unnecessary. He collected his stories of travel into a non-fiction book filled with facts about light and light pollution, with suggestions of places to travel, with ideas of what we can do to keep the night sky shining and flickering for our children and their children and all the generations after that.

I’ve always found the winter sky more star-filled than the summer sky, perhaps because the world is dark earlier, so more stars have a chance to come out when we’re still awake. And with winter also comes the opportunities to cuddle up with a blanket, a cup of hot chocolate, and a book. I’d recommend Paul Bogard’s The End of Night for anyone on your gift list with an interest in science, but also for anyone who likes the stars.

Oh, and for those of us in the West, Bogard says the best spot to see the stars in the continental US is either Great Basin National Park or Natural Bridges National Monument.

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Halloween

Halloween is the epic holiday in the United States – the opportunity for people to dress up, go crazy, and not worry about it the day after (minus the hangover, of course). In college, we like to call it “Halloweekend,” although the holiday fell on Friday this year, which puts a bit of a damper in the plans of those who want to use Halloween as an excuse to party for three straight days. Fortunately, that isn’t my reason for celebrating Halloween. I like carving pumpkins and roasting pumpkin seeds, using the holiday and dressing up as an excuse to make myself a costume, hang out with friends, and generally have a good time.

Tufts has an amazing tradition, in which the Great Pumpkin Master places pumpkins all over campus. This year, he/she/they did some good work and got pumpkins all over – including the top of Carmichael Hall and the tusks of the elephant on Dowling per usual.

We carved some pumpkins, courtesy of Tufts’ Rez Life and their “alternate halloween celebrations.” What, pray tell, is “alternate” about carving pumpkins? Aren’t Jack-o-lanterns kinda the point of this orange holiday?

I swear, Claire is normal. I swear!!

After we carved the pumpkins, we brought home a lot of people’s pumpkin seeds, and then I roasted them! We have a lot of pumpkin seeds… combine them with the jelly beans still left over from the Harry Potter party and the Halloween candy we bought on a post-Halloween sale, and you’ve got a lot of less-than-healthy snacking going on in our house.

In terms of costumes, I went as Rainbowfish, complete with the colored scales all over my dress and aluminum ones to share with all my friends, as well as beautiful makeup courtesy of Amelia!

And then, of course, there’s the absolute beauty of autumn that Halloween encompasses:

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Acadia

Over a month ago – really, almost two months ago at this point – I took a weekend trip to Acadia National Park up in Maine. It was the last weekend before school started, the last weekend free of homework and commitments and general stress. It was the last weekend to not feel bad about reading a book just to read a book (as opposed to for some sort of homework) and the last weekend to go camping. (I proved that wrong though, didn’t I?)

Regardless, the trip to Acadia was wonderful and beautiful and actually one of the more gorgeous places I’ve ever been. And it all started with StumbleUpon; it was here that Liz and Elizabeth and I found the “26 Best Places to Camp in the US” and we (jokingly) decided to hit one spot a year. One year, one spot. Aaaaannnnndddd…. it just so happens that Acadia was #1 on the list. Is it alphabetical? Maybe…but no.

The decision to start our list with Acadia was primarily a result of the fact that Acadia is near Boston but not near Boston. And by that, I mean that it is driving distance but not easy driving distance; it takes about five hours to get there, and thus needs more than a normal weekend to see it right. So Liz and I drove up for Labor Day – three days, three nights. Two tents, one hike, and a partridge in a pear tree.

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No partridges, but we did see a wide variety of beautiful flora and fauna. I couldn’t catch most of it, but I brought my camera up and got a few awesome shots. It’s amazing how much more observant you can be with a camera around your neck. It was a determination to look for things that allowed me to find these little buggers:

But you don’t have to be that observant to find some other fabulous animals:

And we easily spotted a beautiful heron, about a million snails (here’s one!), and these ducks in the sunset:

Anywayyyyys… the fauna was beautiful. So was the flora. The trees were amazing. The flowers were amazing. The sunsets were amazing. The sunrises were amazing. And the rocks were amazing.

One thing I love about camping is the way it resets your clock. The way you have no excuse to stay up late – especially without a campfire – and no excuse to sleep in late. The way you can see the sunrise and the sunset every day, and it doesn’t even feel that early. I love getting a full night’s sleep and getting back to the ancient understanding with night. We used to go to bed with the sun and get up with the sun, and when we woke up in the middle of the night, we just enjoyed the night – thinking and talking and admiring the stars. I love the stars. Especially when you can actually see them.

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I particularly enjoyed the company with this crazy cray:

And we somehow managed a few selfies, even with my giant camera (and its self-timer.)

We hiked up to the top of Cadillac Mountain, and were two of the first people in the country to see the sunrise.

And then we wandered around the island, saw some of the beautiful sights to be seen from around the park.

And ended the evening with dinner on the rocks overlooking the sunset.

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Leaf Peeping

Peak Weekend! It’s a thing! Technically, it’s a thing where TMC gets members to the top of all 48 4000+ peaks in New Hampshire in one weekend. I participated freshman year (Moosilauke) and went again just a week ago for take #2. It’s been over two years since I last went to the Loj, but this weekend’s trip was absolutely worth the wait. The Loj, for anyone who hasn’t been there, or who hasn’t heard of it, is the Tufts Mountain Club’s home away from home. It’s the embodiment of every stereotype regarding mountain lodges. It’s wooden and homey and has a wood burning stove and is filled with comfy couches and lots of people reading books.

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Peak Weekend is particularly fabulous because it happens at that perfect time between green leaves and red leaves, between leaves on trees and leaves on the ground. When literally every way you turn, you see these colors:

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Last weekend, I was lucky enough to peak both Lincoln and Lafayette, which are 5089′ and 5260′ respectively. Unluckily, both peaks were literally in the clouds, with the temperature hitting a grand old 24°, with 15-30 mph winds creating a wind chill of 15°. Needless to say, the hike was long (8.8 miles and almost 4000′ of elevation gain), and cold.

But every so often, the clouds separated a bit, the sun peeked out, and it was so beautiful that everything was absolutely worth it.

 

The World is Falling Apart, and We’re Ignoring It.

Tons of stuff is happening in the world and the truth of human attention spans is that we just don’t have the capacity to pay attention. But every so often, it frightens me that the media is just as bad at noticing ongoing trends that are important and ignored as the rest of the population. (I know, the population only knows what to think about because of what the media discusses. I guess I’m just saying that the media needs to get on it. Or we should find alternative news sources. Like, ASAP.)

These are the 3 things on my mind that the American media seems to be ignoring:

1. Enterovirus & Measles

Yes, Ebola made it to Texas. The world is exploding! Side note: the number of stupid tweets about Ebola is absurd (it isn’t a musical group or a politician, people.) But the reality is that Ebola in the United States is and will remain about as dangerous as the common cold. Less dangerous, actually. If you want to be worried about Ebola, keep your worries centered in the African nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Gambia, where the total infected is 7470 (as of Sept. 30). Where the growth remains exponential, and the totals are likely severely underreported.

But here’s the thing: there are other diseases WAY more frightening. In the United States. Infecting children and the elderly and people that haven’t been to West Africa recently.

Like Enterovirus-D68.

It has similar symptoms to the first stages of Ebola – fever, weakness, muscle pain. Enterovirus is a respiratory disease, but also causes polio-like symptoms of limb numbness and paralysis. (Polio itself is another form of an enterovirus; enterovirus-D68 is one of the “non-polio enteroviruses”) Thus far this summer, 594 people in 43 states have been infected, and last week marked the fifth death in the US – a 4 year old boy in NJ.

The process to protect yourself from enterovirus is basically the same as protecting yourself from any other airborne flu/common cold, namely wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Drink out of your own cup. (All the things kids forget to do… hence they get infected more often and more easily.) And, with a mere 594 infections (0.00018% of the US population) and 5 deaths (a 0.8% death rate) we really shouldn’t be worried about enterovirus. But the math says we should be more worried about it than we are about Ebola.

And Measles.

If we want to listen to math, though, we should really be freaking out about the measles pockets popping up around the country.

I have no qualms with blaming this one on Jenny McCarthy and her anti-immunization following. Science is not an ideology. It creates advances that benefit your life, my life, and that infant’s life over there. When we ignore truths and encourage rampant speculation and falsehoods, we encourage things like local measles outbreaks that are completely preventable.

2. 60 Days of Air Strikes Against ISIS

This one might freak me out the most. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 was passed by Congress during the drawdown of the Vietnam War in an attempt to return the power to declare war to the Congress, where it originally sat. As time has progressed, however, presidents have slowly but surely degraded the WPR, until we have what happened today: President Obama’s 60 days are up, and he is ignoring that fact.

A lot of procedures have been employed by presidents in the past to get around the letter of the law. This time, the White House is submitting new declarations of strikes for each strike – arguing that each strike is, in effect, an individual act of war, completed the day it is undertaken and thus not subject to the 60 day limit. Back in September, Republican Representatives began the process of pushing through legislation declaring war against ISIS; Obama’s White House didn’t want it. Perhaps they didn’t want the specific restrictions that would be implicit in a declaration of war? Perhaps he doesn’t want to call it “war”? (Technically, the United States hasn’t officially declared war since WWII, although both the Iraq and Afghanistan “Wars” have Congressional authorization for the use of military force. In this manner, we’re currently involved in the neighborhood of 150 military engagements.)  There is also the argument, made by others in government, but outside of the White House, that the strikes against ISIS in Iraq are still theoretically approved under the resolutions that created the approval for the Iraq War. Note that this war was/is not technically war. Not to be confusing or anything. But this rationale, using outdated and tabled language, wouldn’t cover our airstrikes in Syria. Even some of Obama’s closest allies are deserting him on this, and urging him to request formal Congressional approval or begin the reduction of troops required to be completed within another 30 days.

The bipartisan effort in 2011 to replace the War Powers Resolution with something stronger died a quiet death. Nothing is going to happen now, because we’re getting close to election time, and we can’t let governing get in the way of our democracy, now can we? It scares me that not a peep has been heard out of Congress and, with the exception of Fox News, not a peep has been heard from the larger news outlets. More and more, I’m realizing that we live in a nation of controlled media just like China, but our media operates under the assumption that it is free. But that’s a conversation for another day.

3. Hazing

Sexual assault is getting a lot of attention around the country these days, and I totally support that. It is an important issue, especially on college campuses, but it isn’t the only thing on campus that needs attention. Hazing continues to be an omnipresent experience on campuses, students aren’t given proper methods to evade, escape, or otherwise deal with hazing, and it isn’t covered in the media until and unless someone tragically dies in a hazing event.

It isn’t just a college thing. It isn’t just an American thing. This is a photo a family friend took last week in Belgium:

Young men, on their knees in the street. Other men cheering. Outside a bar. It isn’t like these guys are getting arrested or anything. This is something they are “choosing” to do, but what we know is that it isn’t really a choice. In a world where there are so many issues students and youth deal with, where we are focusing incredibly societal energy on confronting online bullying, why don’t we address the very real issue of bullying under the guise of creating community?

Hazing in the military is a very real issue. It creates the opposite of what it is supposed to create – instead of fostering community, hazing in the South Korean military has caused at least 7 deaths, at least 4 of them suicides, in the last 3 months. Hazing in fraternities is a very real issue. Recent calls at Stanford to get rid of fraternity and sorority houses on campus make the argument that hazing is more easily performed when the frat has a house. Hazing in sororities is a real issue. I’ve seen pledging friends here at Tufts undergoing unnecessary stress for days, trying to impress all their future sisters, in order to join a band of sisterhood that could easily exist without the rituals.

Like the fundamental changes needed to change the American government’s approach to declarations of war, or the American public’s opinions on deadly diseases, perhaps hazing needs to be eliminated by instigating an about face in the way we view community and acceptance.

The media is, happily, covering the Nobel Prize, and I have a lot of things to say about the prizes thus far awarded. Basically, I think they’re awesome. But what are the other things you’re regularly thinking about that the media seems to be ignoring entirely?

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