Untitled designLast night I attended a book event for Disaster Capitalism by Antony Loewenstein, featuring the author himself and Jeremy Scahill in discussion about the content of the book and global issues. They covered topics including the Syrian refugee crisis, Greece’s economic situation, and the problems regarding disaster relief throughout North America.

It was an intellectually rigorous and engaging discussion that had me thinking about these issues in a new light. I am, and have been, aware of the Syrian refugee crisis, Greece’s economic situation, and the politicking that has surrounded disaster relief in North America, but Loewenstein and Scahill provided an extra jump that got me thinking about the role that capitalism plays and how it impacts the most vulnerable. It wasn’t just an info dump of facts I already knew, but a deft description and interpretation of events that put them in a larger context.

As I was listening to the discussion between these two journalists, and the Q and A with the audience after, I realized how much good journalism is like good science.

Both science and journalism must describe how the world is rather than how we would like it to be. Both science and journalism rely on facts and rigorous fact checking to ensure that the most accurate picture is portrayed. And both science and journalism are held to high standards, intellectually and ethically, when it comes to obtaining and conveying information.

And good journalists are like good scientists. They are both in pursuit of the truth, rely on facts to bolster a story, and are not (or rather, they should not be) so beholden to the status quo that they misinterpret data to obscure potentially revolutionary ideas.

This is where I find fault with traditional/mainstream news media. In the interest of maintaining our current broken system, news shows often feel scripted and devoid of critical thinking instead of being a meaningful discussion of ideas to arrive at a sound conclusion. While there is still some element of reporting accurate information (if you watch a news network that isn’t Fox News), there is very little critical thought that goes into shaping this information into stories. As a result, you get news networks claiming “neutrality” when they present two sides of an issue and consider them both with equal weight, even if one of these sides shouldn’t actually be taken into consideration (because of false premises, misguided interpretations, or another such aspect).

Maybe the news networks hold the belief that the viewers could draw the conclusions on their own using all of the data presented to them. But you wouldn’t present raw data from a scientific experiment to a non-specialist and expect them to know how to weed out the irrelevant information and correctly interpret the results. In both good journalism and in good science, one must address potential outliers and inconsistencies, but then explain why these outliers are potentially irrelevant to the issue at hand. This careful analysis of the results obtained from rigorous research is missing from mainstream news, and is why I turn to other news sources that do provide this extra nuance to an issue.

Many thanks to Housing Works Bookstore Cafe for hosting an incredible event! It was my first time attending an event like this (though I’ve been to Housing Works several times to browse and shop for books), and I look forward to attending more and supporting a great organization.

Untitled designThere was a time, just a few months ago, when I thought that all of my stories had dried up within me, and I lost whatever drive I had to create original fiction. I couldn’t make an idea stick, and if I worked hard on something, every re-read and edit filled me with dread and loathing at my words. I wasn’t satisfied, I couldn’t finish anything, and some part of me felt like screaming, demanding to know, “Why is it so important that I write?”

Writing became extremely daunting, and I became overly self-conscious. Every attempt to write a new story felt hollow, and I couldn’t bring myself to even try and start something new.

I took a break from writing fiction, and instead focused on other writing — blogs, assignments for online classes, journal entries and the like. I tried to focus on other things, and tried to tell myself that it wasn’t a big deal that I was letting this part of me stay dormant.

Fast forward to the present, to these past few weeks when I’ve revisited stories I saved on my external hard drive, looked at stories in old notebooks, and ended up making serious attempts at fiction for the first time in a while.

I still have the same problems: I can’t seem to make an idea stick, I can never really finish a story, and when I read and re-read, all I can see are the mistakes.

But I’m also creating a lot more than before, even if nine times out of ten I don’t finish the story. Some stories I find myself returning, intrigued by the idea I had set out. Some stories I end up walking myself into an ending that is satisfying, and I have a completed draft of something. Some stories I write phrases that I’m really proud of, and the rest can be filled in around them. Some stories, some combination of these events happens.

Of course, these stories all need heavy editing, but I have something to edit.

There is a part of me that thinks I’m just getting lucky. But luck favors those with more chances at success, and with something like writing stories, I can make my own chances. I just need to keep writing.

And that, I think, is the only real piece of advice that works when it comes to the myriad problems that writers face, whether that’s writer’s block or extreme dissatisfaction with work, or procrastination.

Make your own chances. Get lucky. Write.

Week 1: Orientation Week! on Backseat Freshman

Last week, Aaron posted a video all about Maura’s move-in day, and this week Maura has posted a video all about welcome week and what’s she has planned for the quarter. Go ahead and check out the video! Chicago is beautiful in the fall!

“Like Real People Do” by Hozier, Barn on the Farm sessions

I’ve been listening to Hozier nonstop for the past month or so, and this is my favorite live performance of his so far. The scenery combined with the simplicity of just voice and guitar make for a relaxing combo.

Phantom Regiment 2008 closer

This popped into my head the other day, and I was reminded of the absolutely amazing closing movements of Phantom Regiment shows. I was a big drum corps/marching band geek in high school, and this one still sends chills down my spine, even seven years later.

“It All Makes Sense at the End” by Hank Green

This is the best Hank Green song, in my opinion. I’ve been a long-time Nerdfighter, but I’ve recently been making the effort to go through all of the vlogbrother videos. This is one of my favorites.

My Favorite Feelings on charlieissocoollike

Charlieissocoollike is probably one of the first YouTubers I started watching with any regularity, and I enjoy every video he puts out there, no matter how much time has passed since the last one. This video, his latest so far, makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside because it’s all about feelings. And it’s nice to talk about good feelings.

Fahrenheit 451A few weeks ago I ordered a copy of Fahrenheit 451 from Better World Books on a whim. I’m on a bit of a sci-fi and speculative fiction kick; I’ve been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and I’ve now re-read the MaddAddam trilogy by Margaret Atwood three times.

But I haven’t read Fahrenheit 451 since middle school, and I am immensely glad that I decided to pick it up; I ended up reading it in one afternoon with minimal nap breaks. It’s a terrifically concise novel with enough literary device to leave people picking it apart and learning their lessons from it for decades, centuries to come.

The lesson I learned from this time reading it through is that there is more than one way to create meaning. There are books, of course, and they’re a wonderful tool for stimulating the imagination and making us understand the answers to questions we wouldn’t deign to ask. But then there is also the way in which we live our lives with others, the way in which we care for and interact with people.

The exchange of ideas, the meaningful interactions with others, are what help us grow. These moments can, of course, come from reading.

But it’s not the only way.

For college freshmen, soon-to-be college freshmen, and anyone interested in taking a peek into life as a college student, take a look at Backseat Freshman! It’s a collaborative vlog project between Aaron, a recent college grad, and his younger sister Maura, who’s starting up at the University of Chicago this year. They’ll be vlogging back and forth about their experiences, so check it out!

Go, go, go subscribe to their channel, Backseat Freshman, and take a look at their first video!


My mint plant is teaching me so many things, aside from teaching me how to properly care fore and keep plant life.

As I’ve been watching my mint plants these past few weeks, on the whole there are a number of healthy stems that are still plump and green (and some sections look like they’re slowly turning more brown and woody). New leaves are coming in, and the leaves that have been around are growing bigger.

There are a few stems, however, that shriveled these past few days, dying and drying.

Still, in some of the empty spaces, there are very tiny sprouts. And they seem to be getting bigger every time I look at them. They’ve popped up in places where I didn’t plant the mint before, showing that the roots below are still healthy, still hanging on and growing.

This past month of September, I’ve been working consistently, though a little lethargically. I keep thinking — maybe I’m not exactly where I wanted to be in September 2015 when I was laying out my five-year plan at the end of last year. Am I making progress? Am I getting better? Do I even remember what “getting better” really means?

Sometimes growth is hard to measure. Sometimes it happens so fast that you expect it to always go at that same rate. And sometimes you notice only the ways in which you have failed, notice the things that have faded with time.

These past few weeks, I have been reminded that growth doesn’t always happen in the way I expect it to happen. Sometimes it happens quickly, and it feels invigorating and exciting to keep going in that same direction. Sometimes, instead, what you’ve been working on ceases to become a priority, your enthusiasm withers, and new opportunities sprout up in different places.

Either way, growth still happens. And it’s important to remember to keep on feeding whatever is at the heart of everything you do.

Keep growing.


What I’ve been reading: Galileo’s Middle Finger by Alice Dreger

My boyfriend and I received Galileo’s Middle Finger from a friend of ours, and I just finished reading it this past week. I won’t get into an in-depth review of what I thought of the book, but I’m glad that I took the time to read through it. Overall, I think the book makes an excellent point about the importance of facts and evidence in activism, and how it’s very easy to obscure information that can complicate a generally accepted narrative. However, I find myself hesitant to be enthusiastic about this book, and it’s difficult to describe exactly why. Overall, though, it’s a thought-provoking read and it passes by surprisingly quickly.

Here’s a link to Amazon to read more reviews and buy the book, if you’re so inclined.

What else I’ve been reading: The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

The second book I’ve been reading these past few weeks is The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord. I’ve been reading this chapter by chapter in the Barnes and Noble near my office, and it satisfied the sci-fi itch that I’ve been feeling ever since I started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation a few weeks ago. Although the novel had some strange pacing (though I’m willing to admit that it’s probably because of my fragmented reading of it), I loved the characters and their interactions, and the novel created a complex world that hinted at issues present in our world. All in all, I would love to re-read this, in full and in one sitting, and read more of Karen Lord’s work.

Here’s a link to Amazon to read more reviews and buy the book, if you’re so inclined.

All of the possible GRE essay prompts. All of them.

I’ve been thinking about grad school lately, and as a result I’ve been thinking about the GRE. Something that has made my studying easier is the fact that all of the essay prompts that you could possibly get for the 2015 GRE are available online. Here are the Issue essay prompts, and here are the Argument essay prompts.

Some things to think about, from Oliver Sacks

A few weeks ago, Oliver Sacks (a professor at NYU I’ve unfortunately never had the pleasure to meet) died of cancer at the age of 82. Although I had never heard of him before his passing, I read many of his Op-Eds from The New York Times, and found myself captivated by his wisdom and knowledge. (Only to be expected after 82 years of living.) This one in particular has stuck with me, and I think about it a lot as I move through my 20’s and think about the rest of my life.

Food for thought for college freshmenThe new academic year has started, and all the NYU-related social media profiles I follow (and there are a lot of them) are getting into the full swing of “Back-to-school” tips and tricks.

Me, I’ve been thinking about graduate school lately. And as I’m thinking about graduate school, and all the challenges associated with it, I am reminded of the aspects of college I should have understood better when I entered my undergraduate years. While I don’t regret anything that I did (or didn’t) do as an undergrad, I know that understanding certain aspects would have helped, at least to alleviate some of the stress I put myself through.

Hopefully by writing about some of my pitfalls, I can help some other college freshmen just starting out.

College is not fancy job training.

While it is true that some programs have a specific career outcome (pre-med, finance, engineering, etc.), college is not fancy job training. Don’t approach the undergraduate experience as simply a way to make yourself more “employable.”

College is meant to broaden your perspective, to make you think critically about the world, and to allow you the time and space to learn things broadly and deeply. “Job skills” will come naturally if you apply yourself seriously to the intellectual and academic aspects of your college education.

Sure, go for that internship, or register for that co-op program. Some practical working experience doesn’t hurt. But remember that, at first, you’re supposed to experience some uncertainty as you consider what it is you want to do with the life that you have. Don’t reduce the answer to the question of “What do I want to do with my life?” to simply wanting a job as the outcome.

By the way, it’s okay if you don’t know your exact career path at the end of four years.

Completing any program and putting your best efforts into your college years shows that you are capable, competent, and open to learning new things. So even if you don’t find your true purpose in life at the end of your undergraduate years, you’ve set yourself up for living thoughtfully, which will get you places.

You still have the rest of your life ahead of you at 22, 23, or whenever you graduate. So don’t rush through choosing a major, or be dissuaded from changing your major, simply because you may end up taking longer than everyone else to find a job you’ll stick with after graduating. This isn’t a race to become the most well-established Adult among your peers.

It’s not the end of the world if you take more than four years to finish.

If your mental health is taking a hit due to the stress and anxiety of college classes, don’t be afraid to cut back on the class load, or take a semester off. Just make sure you have the support systems in place to help you commit to returning, though, if that’s what you want.

Overall, make sure you’re taking care of yourself.

On top of that, don’t let the spectre of student debt distract you from doing well.

Of course finances are a huge factor when it comes to living and education, and of course college is a huge investment. But once you’ve signed your loans and put yourself in that debt, don’t let yourself get distracted by worrying about how those loans are going to get paid off. You have until you graduate to think about that, so focus on doing your best.

Speaking from personal experience, there were so many times when my academic performance took a hit because I was worried about the massive amount of debt I was getting myself into. I got part-time jobs that, while I’m grateful to have had, did take up a lot of study time that I needed. Now that I’m working full time, and now that I know that paying taxes and bills and providing for myself isn’t really scary, I wish I could tell my past self to just calm down and know that it will all work out in the end if I just focus on my damn school work.

Really think about what you want out of these four or so years.

Do you want to study abroad? Do you want to graduate with honors? Do you want to study subjects that were previously forbidden to you?

This isn’t a list of what you want out of life, but it’s a list of what you want to do that only college specifically can provide. You have a lot of freedom as a student, and more and more services are being offered to you as part of the tuition that you pay. Do your research and take advantage of as many of these things as possible.

Good luck to everyone starting college this fall! I hope that your undergraduate experience ends up being everything you wished for and more.

I am always suddenly reminded that I live in New York City whenever September 11 rolls around. As a recent resident of New York, it can be easy to forget, in this diverse and sprawling city, that I have been to the site where the attacks happened, that I weekly walk around an area that was completely destroyed 14 years ago.

Many of the people I know in New York are recent transplants like me, mostly students who came to attend NYU starting in 2010. But I often meet people who lived in Manhattan in 2001, who remember seeing the planes crashing too close to where they were at the time. And the thought is jarring.

Last year, when I graduated from NYU, the Alumni Distinguished Service Award was presented to Khalid Latif, NYU College of Arts and Sciences ’04. His speech is what goes through my mind today, as I reflect on where I was when the attacks happened, what has happened since, and where the world should go from here.

When the opportunity comes to go out and do work, don’t put conditions on who your allies and partners could be.

The video of his speech is below. This link from Upworthy also has the full transcript and the video. Share it with your friends.

I had plans to start a little herb garden from seed this past summer, but 1) I procrastinated too much on this project that I missed the ideal window to sow the seeds, and 2) I decided that I really needed to take baby steps since I have never taken care of a plant on my own.

So I decided to propagate some mint I received from a coworker.

A little over a month ago, I placed some mint in a small container filled with water, and kept the water fresh as the mint started establishing some healthy roots. I went a bit crazy with taking pictures; since I’ve never taken care of a plant before, I’ve never really seen a plant’s life from start to finish, and the rooting fascinated me.

A friend of mine saw on Instagram that I was experimenting with propagating some mint, so she mailed me some from her garden. They arrived the same day I decided to transfer the mint I already had going to some potting soil, and since the roots were intact and kept in some moistened paper towels, I decided to plant those too.

I made a lot of mistakes throughout this process (not getting enough soil at first, not getting proper pots for them from the start but instead using some old jam jars we had in the apartment, etc.). But for my first time taking care of plants, I think I did okay. At least now I know what to avoid for next year.

Even though my expectations didn’t exactly match my reality, I’m glad that I decided to at least try, even this late in the season. Growing plants (specifically food plants) in the apartment is something that I’ve been meaning to do ever since we moved in, and it feels good to finally have gotten it off the ground. (Or rather, in the ground.) The smallest step in the right direction has made me so happy; every morning I take a look at my plants and I’m filled with so much excitement at how much the plants have changed, even in 24 hours!

Happy growing!


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