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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

On 28 Things I've Learned at 28.

Autumn is often a time of change. Starting a new year at school, switching jobs, moving, coming home from that dream vacation.

My life's about to transition into something totally new and change is hard and stressful. Whenever I'm completely overwhelmed, I always tell myself that just changing one of the things causing me stress will make it all a lot better. I also usually turn to long lists of advice on places like Buzzfeed to give me comfort, so in honour of that, here's a rambling list of 28 things I've learned at 28 for anyone else feeling the changes approaching:

1. Call, don't email. You'll get the response you need without waiting days for an answer. Especially for job situations, calling makes personal contact and you'll be more recognisable. No one else likes calling either, so you'll be one of the few people that did. And in situations where you can ask face-to-face, muster the gusto and find out in person!

It's what Don would do.

2. Follow the instructions. Sadly, the rules apply to you, and taking shortcuts on things like submissions, applications, and job responsibilities are bad manners. Read things twice if you have to. Read things three times just to be safe.

Look how happy! Look how cute!

3. Ask questions. If you don't understand something, the likelihood is that the people around you don't either. The less you know about something, the more likely you are to make a mistake.

4. Offer your input. Most of the people around you spend a lot of time convincing themselves that what they think doesn't matter. Perhaps we're all just used to chipping in to comments on a Facebook rant, but in real life: make your voice heard. When you think of a constructive suggestion or have an informed response to a problem, say it! People will notice you in a positive way, and they'll respect you for being one of the few people who can talk in a lecture theatre. And trust me, when someone's standing alone in front of a group, they want you to contribute. There is nothing worse than public speaking to a dead audience. Imagine how you'd feel if you were in the same situation. Trust me: what you're thinking isn't useless.

Hermione had the skills to defeat Voldemort. 
And so can you has them.

5. You will have to get used to public speaking. Everyone has to do it at some point or other. Just remember that most people hate it. You are not alone. I prepare jokes to use during presentations. Even if they're bad ones, people usually laugh because everyone feels awkward during presentations and laughter makes me in turn feel less nervous. Pointing out your own awkwardness can also be useful!

Just think of a million naked John Malkovich's. 
That'll clear your nerves right up. 

6. No job is beneath you. If you've run out of things to do at work, find something more. Ask your supervisor if they need help with anything. Reorganise something. Clean. You will be known as the hard worker and in many cases duly rewarded for it. Don't ever be at your job looking bored, and never disrespect anyone else's job. Ever. We all need to make a living somehow.

7. Put your phone away. You will remember your friend telling that joke. You will not remember liking that photo on Instagram.

An appropriate time to respond to messages. 

8. Sometimes take the high road. Forgive. Even if it's probably not worth forgiving someone, you will feel better inside. Carrying around negativity is a cancer. Get rid of it.

9. Vent your emotions, talk about your feelings, share what you think. But stop complaining all the time, particularly when you're complaining about the same circumstances over and over. Complaining is not therapeutic or healing, it's negativity. And negativity never lifted anyone up. It's never feasible to change everything in your life at once, but find one thing you can change that will make you happier, even the smallest of things, and do it.

If it works for Taylor...

10. Save money when and if you can. These days, it's becoming harder and harder for anyone - especially people in their early twenties - to put cash aside. But when you're not sure if you really need those new shoes, that means don't buy them and try to put the money away for your future. Anytime you're not sure if you want to buy something, stick to that rule! You'll be grateful for the savings, and the shoes will probably end up staying in the closet. The earlier you start putting money to the side, the less you need to put away every month. If by any chance your part or full-time job has any stock or retirement options, use them!

11. But saying that...treat yourself every once in a while. Don't scrimp so much that you don't have fun or make yourself feel good when you can. If you know you want something, it's okay to splurge every now and again if you can manage it!

12. Your environment is your sanity. If you don't feel comfortable in your private spaces, you won't feel at home. Our home should be the space we can decompress from the day. Make effort to clean, decorate, and surround yourself with things that promote peace and fulfilment. The world is chaotic out there, but your space doesn't need to be. Buy some candles, or a pillow, or even a really comfy jumper to wear in the evening.

Like James Franco and his Japanese body pillow, Kimiko. 

13. Seek the random in life. Randomness offers new perspectives and ideas. It's rare that we are inspired by repeating the same recipe every day. Challenge yourself to be a bit abnormal, it will bring out sides of yourself you didn't know existed. Even if it's something small like seeing a foreign film on a Tuesday evening: embrace the random. Go for a walk in a place you haven't been. Read a book in a genre you normally don't read.

14. Never avoid things out of fear that they won't work out or that you don't know what you're doing. Despite what the adults make it seem, no one really knows what they're doing. They might know a bit more than you, but we're all just winging it. Seriously. The people who have their shit together are a rare breed, and when you meet them, respect their organisation and find out how they got there. And ask them about the areas in their life that they're still not sure about. We all have them, and it'll make you feel better.

15. Trust your gut. We often spend a lot of time hemming and hawing over a decision we know we're going to make in a certain way. It's important to think about choices and consider options, but don't spend too much time stressing over getting what you want. If something feels right, then it's right, no matter what anyone else says, how risky it may seem, or whether or not it fits into other people's ideas about what your life should be. Gut instincts are with you from the moment you're born: listen to them. A lot of people will spend time making recommendations that don't fit your needs. There's no reason we have to say yes to them.

Even if it loses you some popularity...

16. Feeling bored is a sign you're not challenging yourself. The next time you feel bored, ask yourself why and how often you feel this way. If you feel bored on a regular basis, that's a good sign that something in your life needs to change, whether it's finding a new activity, changing a current relationship, or switching jobs. We are often confined by things like finances, mobility, family responsibilities, relationships, and I could go on...but find the freedom you do have and seek to fill it with something that captures your attention.

I love taxidermy and I don't care 
what anyone else thinks. 

17. Don't hold onto something, be it a routine, a relationship, a job, a location, just because you're afraid of what it'll be like to lose it. Change is scary, but life is change. I have lived much of my life trying to get to a point of being settled down, but this is a fallacy. We're always having to make new choices, find a new path, figure out our goals. Particularly when we grow used to something, we can spend a lot of time justifying its presence in our life because it's harder to imagine ourselves without it. The Catch-22 is that we often can't gain perspective on things until there's separation from them. This does not mean we have to be uprooting ourselves all the time, but remaining open to possibility and opportunity is important for growth. The things that are meant to stay in our lives will always be there. When things are meaningful, they never really leave us anyway.

18. Listen more.

This is what you should generally 
look like while listening.

19. Never disregard another person's pain. We all go through difficult times. Do not take mental stability for granted, and do not dismiss the immense struggle it can be for people to recover and cope with mental illness. Be understanding, always. We can't always be there for people in the ways that we want, but listening and understanding go a long way. Pay more attention to your own pain as well. It's as valid as anyone else's.

20. Saying that, someone else's pain should never be a reason for them to intentionally inflict pain on others. You will end up in situations and relationships that are hurtful toward you, unfair, and ultimately unhealthy. Don't dwell on the amount of time you spent in them, be proud of your efforts to make the best out of a dysfunctional situation, and do your best to get out as soon as you can.

21. Learn to love work. Find your passion, no matter what it is, and love building on it. It takes time to do things well and be successful at them. It can often feel frustrating and exhausting to do the things we love, but the perk of pursuing a passion is eventually you'll remember the reasons you're working so hard at it in the first place.

22. You can't always get what you want. Nothing is perfect. You may get an offer for a job you didn't want. You may find that your university programme isn't what you expected. Put effort into everything. There are always skills to obtain, people to meet, and perspectives to gain. If you don't put effort in, you'll never find out what something can provide. Every opportunity is an opportunity for something to change.

23. I still don't really get love. Who does? But I do know that real love is about finding happiness in the imperfections. It's not necessarily permanent, but love in a moment is worth a lot.

Kids describing love here

24. Accept help when you need it. Offer help when you can.

25. Read a lot. Try to read non-fiction some of the time. Make your default webpage a news website so you know what's going on in the world, even if you don't read any of the stories in full. If you don't like reading, try buying a large print version of a book. It makes you feel like a kid again. Read teen fiction, it's fun and awesome and often insightful. Get audiobooks.

Yes, even Twilight

26. Pay attention to your body and how it works. Everyone is different. Doctors will never know you like you know you. You have to live with yourself every second of the day. If you get gas after eating certain foods, if you get a headache when you drink too much caffeine, if you're really tired all the time, try to figure out why and what changes you can make in your diet, sleeping habits, and daily activities that make you feel better. Just because a certain way of life works for your friend doesn't mean it will work for you. Learn how your body works best.

27. Allow yourself one or two bad habits and get rid of the rest. But seriously, stop smoking. Walk more. Eat better. Not eating meat saves lots of money. Read the ingredients. Often things designed to help you lose weight are full of chemicals. Chemicals in your food are no good. The best way to be healthy is to eat with as much purity as possible. Vegetables and fruit and less processed food.

28. Get out of bed. Find routines that work for you. This applies to work, relationships, health, you name it. Too much routine can be boring, but having a structure in your life helps you deal with the stressful times when they inevitably arrive. Get out of bed. Seriously. On days when you feel like you can't get anything done, working for 5 minutes at 9am because you said you would is more affirming than skipping it all and putting things off until tomorrow. At least you did something. Something is always better than nothing. Get out of bed.

29. I'm still figuring that out...

Any bits of advice you'd like to add?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Dear Student.

Fill in the blanks, Rongdoers!

Dear Student,

We regret to inform you that your recent essay on ---------- has been deemed ---------- by the department.

This is no way reflects poorly on your overall academic record. However, in future, when submitting assignments it is always best to ----------, to ensure not only clarity and brevity, but also in order to expand appropriately on the topic in question.

Your essay excelled in its coverage of ---------- and ----------, but could have used a clearer argument in support of your assumption that ---------- was never ----------.

Thank you for your understanding in this matter. Should you have any questions concerning this assignment or future assignments, please do not hesitate to inform the department.


The University Staff

Monday, August 17, 2015

On Other Names For the UK.

Unfortunate Knowledge.

Unlikely Kiwi.

Uniformly Kyaking.

Unsightly Knee.

Ubiquitous Kitten.

Got any of your own?

Friday, August 14, 2015

On Endings.

She knew she had done everything right.


Today I'm having a think about endings. 

Are we always working toward "The End" in life? And if we could see our "end" written out for us, would it really matter to know how it all ended up if we weren't actually at the end yet? 

A lot of people experience anxiety over what's going to happen to them, how things will work out, what's their purpose in life, and whether or not that hot dog vendor that keeps winking at them is really interested or if he's just blinking back the steam wafting from his vending cart. 

Where does all the emphasis on "the end" come in? Life can seem long as a Monopoly game where no matter what tactic you use you still can't collect Boardwalk or Park Place. 

But is the purpose of our existence to work toward a suitable ending, or is the idea of "the end" literally something in a fairy tale? 

Happy now.

And what's the point of reaching the end of something if that means it's over? Should we be in that much of a rush to figure out what the finish line looks like? 

As a writer, plotting a book is all about the end. It's a controlled way to plan a life without the risk of making too many mistakes -- and there's always the delete button if a scene doesn't work or a character needs axing. 

Here's looking at you, Nikki and Paulo!
(Lost reference, for those not in the know)

I'm wondering if stories are our downfall. Is the appeal of seeing a character through to the end all about our own desire to find out what happens to us? Perhaps we should start considering stories as a way to satisfy our need for a conclusion without transferring that need into our daily life where it often creates more anxiety than it's worth. 

What do you think? Are you a live-in-the-moment person, or does "the end" loom large in your daily life?     

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

On Hearing Voices.

You know those moments.

You're out in the street and swear you hear someone calling your name. At a party you convince yourself people in the next room are talking about you. You hear someone talking upstairs only to find no one's home.

How often have you said the phrase, "Oh well, I'm just hearing things"?

For people with disorders like schizophrenia, hearing voices is an often relentless symptom. Despite common belief, schizophrenic patients are much more likely to cause harm to themselves than others due to the disturbing and vicious self-oriented nature of their auditory hallucinations. For an audio presentation of what these hallucinations are like click here, but be cautioned that the content of the presentation is upsetting!

As noted above, hearing things is not limited to individuals diagnosed with a mental disorder. So what's really going on in our brain?

Brain bits.

The auditory cortex is that small pink bit within what's called your temporal lobe (the two side bits of your brain just behind your ears!), and despite its size it's where you do most of your hearing. Other areas of the brain are involved in auditory processing, however, including the speech center Broca's area, and the frontal lobe. 

The frontal lobe especially is involved in controlling your attention, so when you're really trying to ignore an annoying car alarm, it's your frontal lobe pulling your auditory focus to this awesome jam streaming from your Spotify instead. 

Some neuroimaging studies have found that patients experiencing auditory hallucinations show the same kind of brain activation compared to listening to actual external sounds. This leads to all sorts of questions about what constitutes hearing -

Just because something isn't necessarily "real", isn't it real enough if we hear it and experience associated feelings, memories, and act around it?

Several cross-cultural studies have attempted to estimate the prevalence of auditory hallucinations worldwide, but the data is mixed, some studies saying as high as 84% of the population have had auditory hallucinations at some point, and others saying less than 1%. Check out this overview here if you want to see the specific studies.

This recent study found across 18 countries that around 5% of the general population experienced auditory hallucinations.

As you'd probably agree though, it's definitely not uncommon for most people at least once to have heard something that wasn't there. The line between a healthy individual and someone suffering from psychosis is in how frequent the hallucination is, and how intrusive it is on their daily functioning and general well-being.

This overview by Johns (2014) about auditory hallucinations in healthy individuals is interesting if you want a more technical read. Overall it's important to bear in mind that we all exist on a spectrum, and what classifies as disorder varies individually.

Also worth thinking about is the difference between your thoughts and actually hearing something outside your head...and are they all that different? Do you sing in your head? Can you construct the sound of your friend's voice in your head as if they were speaking to you? What's the real difference between replaying audio in your head and thinking you hear someone talking about you in the street when they're not?

People report a range of hallucinations, some of which sound external (outside the head), or internal (inside our head), some quiet, some loud, some positive, some negative.

This research by Hugdahl showed how the frontal lobe is important in helping us differentiate the internal noises from the external. For instance, when we're replaying that favorite tune in our head but the phone rings, it's our frontal lobe that points our attention to the "real" external sound requiring our attention.

What Hugdahl's research revealed was that schizophrenic patients struggle to differentiate between the two, and therefore cannot inhibit their auditory hallucinations in order to process sounds from physical sources in their vicinity.

This is from Hugdahl's study: a view of the brain from above. 

On either side of the brain you have the auditory cortex area. The top set of photos shows auditory processing in healthy individuals for "actual" external sounds, whereas the bottom shows very little processing for these same sounds in schizophrenic patients while they are also experiencing auditory hallucinations. This shows that the patients are unable to draw their attention to the sound in the room.

Hugdahl believes that improving patient's ability to control their auditory attention would alleviate a lot of their suffering, and is currently working on a mobile phone app to help them do this! You can read more about the app here, but it's basic function is for patients to control hearing recordings in one ear over the other in order to improve their auditory control function. This is a rehabilitative method called biofeedback that's used in circumstances to train patients of any kind to gain more control over their body's natural functioning.  

A lot of people suffer from unwanted negative thoughts, and in a lot of cases we can convince ourselves that those voices in our head are real. Our brain's relatively well-equipped to help us sort through what's just our thinking and what's outside our mind, but the border between these things in real life is still pretty hazy. 

Research like Hugdahl's is important for reminding us that control is really important, and even though we know something's not "real", we can believe it is and this can also lead to a lot of suffering. Take some time today to think about voices, internal or external, that you've been listening to, and hopefully with a bit of control we can all focus on listening more to the positive!   

Friday, August 7, 2015

On the Awkward Celebrity Interview.

There have been a spate of awkward celebrity interviews lately.

Cara Delevinge of the new film Paper Towns was misnamed and accused of being lazy in this Good Day Sacramento interview, and the cast of the re-franchise Fantastic Four endured some pushy questions about race in this radio interview.

Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg did a spoof on awkward interview questions geared toward female celebrities, which is an awkward spoof about being's a whole lot of awkwardness.

To add to said awkwardness, I've interviewed myself awkwardly. And it was awkward. Like, I can't even be in the same room with myself anymore. But here goes:

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

On Life As a Television Show.

The last young adult book franchises to really hit it big on the big screen were Divergent and The Maze Runner, though even these series still haven't reached the numbers of The Hunger Games trilogy.

With box office flops like The Mortal Instruments and Lemony Snicket both being resurrected as television series, it got me wondering...

Is the era of Hollywood teen franchises over?

Let's reminisce.

Remember these days?

The Harry Potter series lasted eight films over a period of ten years and finished strong. 

And then there was Twilight...

Seven years after the premiere of Harry Potter #1 came the "indie" fave Twilight, subsequently coined as The Twilight Saga. Four years later they also finished at the top of the office box.

The Hunger Games premiered in the same year as the last Twilight, and has done well in its next two installments, with one more film to finish out. But is this the last of it? 

In between, there came franchise failures such as Eragon...

The Golden Compass...

Beautiful Creatures...

City of Ember...

Vampire Academy...

And I could go on...

With Divergent and The Maze Runner serving as weak runners-up in the franchise fanfare, will another teen series reach the heights of Potter, vampire, and Hunger again - or were the success of the teen wizards and teen vampires and teen gladiators a fluke? 

Or was it even a teen thing in the first place?

My first thought is that all of the well-performing franchises feature a trio at their centre. Are these teen zeitgeists a function of three? Maybe for material featuring teenagers, having options is the way to go: Edward, Jacob, Gale, or Peeta... but you can't really say that Harry was in a love triangle between Ron and Hermione (though I'm sure there's fanfiction somewhere...). 

Lemony Snicket breaks that rule with the three Baudelaire orphans as the main characters (though arguably the film was marketed as a Jim Carrey character piece, much to its detriment):

Would Lemony Snicket have performed better if its main focus had been on the kids? 

This series and The Mortal Instruments should fare better on television because they'll have stretching room. Both have an incredible amount of characters and feature alternating viewpoints that proved difficult to condense into a screenplay. Harry Potter's main difference is that the entire series sticks with Harry's story, and it was the films that deviated occasionally to other side stories. The Hunger Games has done the same by featuring scenes with President Snow. Even Twilight left Bella behind every so often...though she took it really badly: 

Untried series include Artemis Fowl and Leviathan, but these too fail to feature three. 

However, if it's not a three thing, then what is it? The Maze Runner and Divergent are both dystopian, and perhaps feeding off of the current climate of economic slump and government suspicion. Will there be another teen series to really send the super-fans into a super-frenzy?

Comment below with your thoughts!