In Which I Avoid Homework by Way of Aristotle

Originally published in The Madeira School’s newspaper: The Spectator.

It’s late at night and you’re working on trigonometry homework. Trying to, at least. All your focus is on the vast expanse of space between this problem and the next.

You wonder if math problems ever get lonely. Imagine sitting on a sheet of paper for eternity; imagine your friends, all the other math problems, inches and inches away from you. A few inches is nothing for a human but for a tiny math problem that cannot move around freely, it is terrible.

You’re tired, you should start drawing sine graphs, and you’re drowning in exhaustion. Like those math problems, you’re lonely, especially at these late hours. Everyone on the floor is asleep and no one is online. You regret requesting a single room. This small space feels like the entire world, and you the only person in it. Well, you and a book by Aristotle. It has lived in the corner of your dorm room from the day you moved in, collecting dust and hair. You pick it up, give it a good shake, and flip through it; is this what people do when they’re sad—seek advice from deceased Greek men? Honestly, you just really want some sort of human company tonight and, at this point, a dead philosopher will do just fine.

Nicomachean Ethics. You wonder if there’s anything interesting in here. Rational choice? Boring. Virtue and vice? Too deep. Justice? Overrated. Hedonism? Story of your life. And then–Book VIII. Friendship. Perfect! Aristotle claims that friendship is an absolute necessity in life. You agree. Let’s begin.

The lowest level of friendship is when two people are useful to each other. You remember the friend back in elementary school who always had candy. You’d exploit her candy supply during recess. Candy for math homework answers. Fair trade. You wonder how your math skills deteriorated so much over the years.

The next level is when two people find pleasure in one another’s company. Like that girl you sat with at lunch the other day: you have a few classes with her but don’t know her all that well. She’s really nice and makes funny math puns. You don’t understand all of them but laugh anyway. Is this all there is to friendship?

At the highest level, two people hope for the true good of the other: this is true friendship. You grin. You wish the best for some people, and you know it’s mutual. You immediately think of the bestie in New Dorm—you’ve known her since freshman year and experienced all sorts of happy and hard times together. The only problem is that she’s asleep in another dorm while these math problems are insufferable.

Thinking about friends makes you smile; however, it’s weird to think about friends in levels. It feels a little too calculative. Either way, you feel less lonely. You neglect the math homework and get in bed. Trig, unlike friendship, is not an absolute necessity in life. If lonely math problems were of any importance, Aristotle would write about it, right? You chuck the worksheet next to your unfinished English essay. Maybe they’ll make friends with each other or something. After all, interdisciplinary is the new thing. Right now, sleep is mine.

In Which I Avoid Homework by Way of Aristotle

School, Dry Thunderstorms, and Book Reviews

Hello everybody, it’s Elsie again. I see that it has been 12 days since my last blog post, which is actually pretty good, at least for me, because I’m usually very lazy about updates. My life has been fine and I hope yours has been, too.

I have mixed feelings about going back to school. It’s the 19th of August today, which means I have exactly 13 days till my first day of school. That’s less than two weeks, which is kind of crazy. I’m also leaving Shanghai in 6 days. I’m excited to see all my friends again, read in the beautiful Huffington Library, take piano lessons, run cross country, learn new things… but at the same time I’m just not ready for the hustle and bustle of it all. I don’t want to be stressed and sleep deprived again, so soon.

Dry Thunderstorms
I keep seeing these weird flashes of light in the sky. They’re kind of like lightning, and I’m pretty sure I hear thunder too, but then there’s no rain. This has been happening a lot recently. Apparently they’re dry thunderstorms. I have no idea why dry thunderstorms are happening in Shanghai, since Wikipedia tells me that they usually occur in deserts or places with low atmospheric water vapour. Shanghai summers (including this one) are hot, humid, and rainy. We have dehumidifiers in every room at home. Dear weather, what the heck. Can you please be normal? Thanks.

Book Reviews
I’m thinking about doing book reviews on this blog, in the near future or something. Please don’t hold me accountable for this statement, though. I recently won a giveaway of two YA books so I might review those (might being the keyword). I haven’t read YA literature in such a long while. As for the philosophy stuff I read, I’m hesitant about expressing my views on any of them. I don’t consider myself well read at all, so I will not inflict my ignorance on you, my wonderful readers, as much as I can help it.

Other Stuff
We ran out of milk so I made a green tea latte without the milk. I guess it doesn’t qualify as a green tea latte anymore, but whatever. I added two spoonfuls of honey to make it less bitter but it’s still pretty bitter. 😦 On a separate note, I have developed a mild addiction to Reddit. Some of the subreddits are just pure gold. 🙂

Thank you for reading. Have a good night, everyone!

P.S. I don’t trust everything Wikipedia tells me. I mean, there’s a reason why high school teachers hate that amazing site. I check the footnotes… so, no need to bash me about that.
School, Dry Thunderstorms, and Book Reviews

Courses I’m Looking Forward To (11th Grade)

I started this “Courses I’m Looking Forward To” thing last year. Just like last year, I will list one thing I am looking forward to in all my academic courses next year (11th grade). If you haven’t read the 10th grade version of this, the title of the blog post may be a little misleading. “Courses I’m Looking Forward To” is supposed to be about the two or three courses I am looking forward to the most. Instead, I will be writing excitedly about all my courses, because… long story short, I want to be that student who finds something interesting in everything. Imagine how awesome my school year would be if everything is interesting! Okay, this is too cheesy. Maybe the long story, back in my blog post last year, might actually be better. Please check that out, thanks! 🙂

Without further ado…

Co-Curriculum Internship (Citizenship): I’ll be working for a Senator on Capitol Hill for 5 weeks in Module 4! Getting exposure to American politics like that will be a unique opportunity, especially as an international student! I can’t wait to take notes in hearings, answer phone calls, and all that. I’ll blog all about it! I’m also excited about wearing some super formal attire, because I normally dress very casually. 🙂

AP US History: I’ve heard a lot of complaints about this course last year, mostly due to the heavy workload. But at the end of the year, most students agreed that they grew a lot as a reader and writer. I hope I do, too. Plus, I think I’ll enjoy studying all the court cases, because I find law fascinating.

English III (American Literature): I’ll be taking 3 blocks of American Lit—From Slavery to Civil Rights, American Gothic, and Native and Asian American Voices. I’m especially enthusiastic for American Gothic, because a student taking it last year had extremely positive things to say about it! Reading Edgar Allan Poe in class will be very cool.

Chemistry: I took Chemistry for a semester during freshman year, and I remember enjoying that a lot. Well, at least compared to Physics, which I took for the other semester. :p The course description says that the class “includes chemical investigation through experimentation,” and I love experiments. I get to pretend to be like Sherlock again! Sherlock is love, Sherlock is life.
(from Bing Images)
The fangirl in me goes like: Just look at how CUTE he is! AAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaa

Environmental Science: Environmental Science is a field that combines all sorts of knowledge together, which makes it interesting and important. Soon, I will learn all about ecology, climate change, alternative energy sources, and more! This course includes a lot of field studies, which is great, because I like having class outside.

Trigonometry: Yay! Triangles! I enjoyed Geometry freshman year, and learning about the Unit Circle at the end of Algebra II was pretty neat too. Through learning trigonometry, I hope I’ll get to think about and understand the world in different ways.

Precalculus: “Conic Functions” and “Definition of the Derivative” and other terms from the course description are totally new to me and I want to find out what they mean. Plus, I hope this course helps me achieve a not too terrible score on the math section of the SAT/ACT next year. :/

Latin II: Latin I was a good class last year, and I learned a lot. I hope Latin II is like that too. I’m eager to learn more Latin in general because there are so many original texts I’d like to read in Latin. Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy is on my to-read list this year (in English, of course)—imagine how cool it’d be to read it in Latin. Meditationes de Prima philosophia sounds fancy af.

And those are all my courses for junior year!

Two other things that I am looking forward to junior year are Cross Country and dorm life. Cross country, to quote my friend who did it last year, is “the best version of hell.” Sounds great, right? Dorm life—I’ll be living in West Dorm, which is a renovated dorm. I am very thankful for that. Plus, I am really happy about sharing a room with Amy! Amy was my neighbour in Main Dorm last year and we are good friends. 🙂 People usually say that junior year is the worst year in high school, but things aren’t looking bad at all.

Thank you for reading! I challenge you to make a list like this one, of anything and everything you’re looking forward to in all your courses, and share it with your friends!

Courses I’m Looking Forward To (11th Grade)

Flash Philosophy

At my summer camp, there were a bunch of optional activities that the RAs (Resident Assistants) organised. One activity was called Flash Philosophy, and I attended every single session of it. I enjoyed Flash Philosophy so much that I am compelled to share it with you today. So this is how it went:

The RA in charge prepared ahead of time 5 short passages (10-20 lines) written by various philosophers, and numbered them from 1 to 5. At the beginning of the session, he asked a camper to choose a number from a hat. “Three,” the camper would read out, or whatever number was on the slip of paper. The RA passed a copy of Passage Number 3 to everyone in the room.

We’d get time to read the passage. Or, this one time I suggested that we went around the room and have everyone read one sentence each. That was fun. Anyway, we read the passage without knowing who wrote it or in what context it was written. All we had were the words.

Once everyone was done reading, the RA would ask a question regarding the text. We pondered the question. The discussion began with someone either challenging the question, or attempting to answer it.

And the discussion would go on. Sometimes we fell into silence, but that was okay because most of us were comfortable with silences. Silences would provide us with time to think, and soon enough someone would get the talk going again. The discussion went in all sorts of directions, because this was not school. At school there’s a curriculum and learning objectives and outcomes and whatnot, but not in Flash Philosophy. The text was our guide and our starting point, and from there we asked all sorts of questions. We explored all sorts of topics. We entertained all sorts of possibilities. We were philosophers.

There were rules, and they were good. We all addressed each other as Mr. or Mrs. (insert last name). I was Ms. Jang. This was the tradition at the camp, and it put distance between the speaker and what the speaker was saying. No one took things too personally. Also, we were discouraged from bringing in outside sources. Or, revealing the text’s author if we knew who that was. We all genuinely wanted to understand the text. We weren’t there to show off the great extent our philosophical knowledge or whatever.

Flash Philosophy lasted an hour each time. The RA would somehow find a way to wrap the discussion up. He was good at that, but the discussion was never truly over. We’d talk about Nietzche’s ideas or Pascal’s assertions in many other settings. The dinner table, for instance.

At the very end, the RA would give all of us a chance to guess the author of the passage. Whoever got it got chocolate. I guessed correctly once, on a passage about friendship from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. I started reading the book recently, and it’s a very interesting read. Maybe I’ll write a blog post about it once I’ve finished it and gathered some thoughts together.

Flash Philosophy was something that made my time at camp meaningful. I was missing it already on the plane back to Shanghai. So, something I’ve been thinking about recently: What if I start a Flash Philosophy club at my high school?

I don’t know if anyone would join because I don’t know if any of my friends would like doing stuff like that, but hey, who knows? It’s not like I go up to people and talk about my love for philosophy, “I’m (insert name here) and I like to philosophise in my free time” isn’t a common way to introduce oneself.

A Flash Philosophy Club at Madeira. I’m going to try and make that happen. I’ll first have to read the procedures on forming a club, though. Honestly, it’d be so cool. I can’t wait to start living deep and sucking the marrow out of life again (Thoreau reference :p). Because life cannot be lived to the fullest without thinking, deliberating, and philosophising! 😉

To my fabulous readers: Feel free to make Flash Philosophy happen at your high school (or another community)! The idea isn’t mine and I’m pretty sure those RAs didn’t get a copyright for it or anything… :p

Have a great week, everyone!

Flash Philosophy

Insert Clickbaity Title Here!

I wonder what my personal blog is supposed to be about. Well, it’s obviously supposed to be about me because it’s called “the personal blog of Elsie Jang” for a reason. But I wonder why I’m publishing a portion of my life online. I write a lot, but I rarely share any of it. And I wonder if my life is interesting to anyone. We are all busy with our own lives and it’s hard to pay attention to other people’s lives. I wonder if there is anything worth sharing about my life. I don’t know if I’m being me and being real here on this blog. Heck, I don’t even know exactly who I am. It’s all so confusing. I feel like my blog is turning into a diary, a sob story, a dark corner of the Internet filled with an immature teenage girl’s emotional issues. I really don’t want this blog to be a diary, just without the “Dear Diary” part. The connotations associated with the word “diary” makes me cringe.

Moving on! I guess I’m posting another diary-like entry today. I have no good reason for doing this. Probably because I don’t have anything else to share with you at the moment. No wise words, no funny jokes, nothing particularly inspirational. Official warning: This blog contains some thoughts, some ranting, and nothing of particular importance. Please click here if you want to be redirected to Google.

What is a good life? How does one live a good life?

I thought my life would be picture perfect without Glee, Orchestra, and AP World History (commitments I made this year that have now ended). At the end of Module 6 (the last academic module containing the aforementioned commitments), I was so excited at the prospect of not living under an unnecessary amount of stress over things like: having to go to rehearsal when I could be finishing homework, memorising meaningless words and formulas, etc. I thought that in Module 7 I would do things I love every afternoon and overall just live a good life. Don’t get me wrong, life has been a lot better and I am always thankful for so many things in my life. It’s just that it isn’t quite everything I imagined it would be. It’s crazy how cluttered my life can be even with so little schoolwork.

My head is full of questions these days. My brain never shuts up. Sometimes I wish it would shut up for just a moment. Or slow down for just an hour. Sometimes I wish I could get through a day without asking “why” at least 2000 times and having existential crises of varying degrees. I just really want to lie down and think about nothing. Now that I don’t have to focus on school so much, the unanswerable (by this I mean there are so many answers but there is no “right” answer, I mean, that’s kind of the beauty of it, but whatever) question of the meaning of life. But if my brain really did shut up, I would be bored. There is something immensely pleasing in analysing and overanalysing everything. And connecting everything to everything. So, I guess I like that my brain is overflowing with questions. I only wish I had somebody I could talk to these things about. There are so many things I am interested in, but there seems to be no one who is genuinely interested in the things I am interested in.

Something that bothers me about high school is that every time something interesting of actual importance is brought up, somebody goes, “Aaaaaa we’re getting too deep!” And then almost everyone follows suit, laughter ensues, and the topic is dismissed. I don’t like shallow discussions. And I also don’t understand how some people are content with living life with just nice material goods, superficial relationships, and nothing much else. I mean, I like shopping and taking selfies and normal teenage stuff like that too, but I want to spend a bigger chunk of my life pondering the big questions. I don’t want to succumb to finding a nice husband, getting a nice house, and a nice car, and… just, living a life like that. That’s not even living, right? Gosh, I sound so arrogant. I don’t like it when I sound arrogant. I don’t want to sound arrogant. But it’s frustrating! Agh. I don’t even know anymore. I hope I didn’t offend anyone. Having a nice husband, house, and car is a good thing. But caring about nothing other than those things, is what I deem pathetic.

Anyway, I am getting off topic. What is a good life? How does one live a good life? I used to think that a good life was a happy one. I guess it’s still true, to an extent. I remember in middle school, a teacher once asked the class, “What do you guys thing the meaning of life is?” We came up with a bunch of one-word responses. For example, I said “happiness.” Someone else said “death.” “Charity.” “Nothing.” “Laughter.” My teacher had a response to each of these responses. For “happiness,” he asked me if eating doughnuts made me happy. I said yes. I like doughnuts. He then asked me if eating doughnuts for every moment of my life would make my life a good life. Of course it would not. But some happinesses are greater than others, at least according to Mill. If reading Shakespeare gives me happiness, should I read Shakespeare for the rest of my life? That could be very monotonous. And then there’s the concept of duality. Would I be able to feel happy without knowing the opposite of it—pain? I wonder if I could test these things out one day. For example, I’d place a newborn child into a stable environment where he/she wouldn’t be influenced by other human beings. And then I’ll create different circumstances to find out things about human nature and where languages come from and all these things I’m curious about. But nobody would give up their child for such an experiment. Plus, ethical issues.

I really don’t know. I’m kind of tired and I’d like to sleep. And although a happy life may not exactly be a good life, I think I’ve experienced happiness enough to know that it’s a good thing. But then I don’t exactly know what the definition of “good” is. Why do people seek pleasure so much? Are some sensations and emotions “better” than others? Why do I keep asking questions that I’ll never have the answers to? Anyway, since at this point in my life I quite like being happy (at least compared to being sad), I will end this very disorganised blog post with things make me happy. And things that I look forward to that will consequently make me happy, and which in the process of thinking about them is making me happy. I did this in my last post too.

Listening to the Pathetique Sonata (Beethoven, op. 13) makes me happy because it’s so delicate and pretty and sad and wonderful at the same time. I feel different in a good way when I listen to that piece. One day, I hope I can play it like Daniel Barenboim does.

My Current Event project for Biology class makes me happy. I look forward to presenting it in the near future. I’m doing something related to criminology and criminal minds because I’m interested in that kind of stuff. There’s this recent article about neurolaw that I will share with the class. I’m going to relate it to all sorts of things—biology (because it’s Biology class), the fundamental attribution error, existentialism and essentialism, things like that. I’m thinking about creating a presentation from scratch about it, with the images drawn by me and stuff. Brainstorming for the project makes me happy, and thinking about it gives me random jolts of excitement.

I’m also looking forward to tomorrow’s field trip to the Shakespeare Theatre Company in DC. At least I think it’s in DC. We’ll watch a modern recreation of Macbeth and we’ll be able to talk to the actors and actresses afterwards. I like being in the audience so that’ll be fun, and also, missing class. Missing class is nice and I wish I’d missed more classes back in elementary school when attendance didn’t really matter.

Thinking about summer makes me happy. I can’t wait to see my friends and family back in Shanghai. I’m excited for the two sessions I’m attending at the two campuses of St. John’s College. I look forward to getting better at Danish with a tutor. Plus, other things. Free time. Ice cream. Things.

I’m currently quite happy from writing about happy things. I wonder what this blog post was supposed to be about, though. Well, it was obviously supposed to be about nothing in particular because the title “Insert Clickbaity Title Here” doesn’t mean much, and I sort of remember putting a warning about it somewhere. I also remember asking what a good life is. I wonder if I’ve covered that at all. I also remember writing about the things that make me happy. I wonder if any of that was, in any way, relevant. I know that you’re still reading this, if you’re reading this. That makes no sense. And I wonder why you are reading this jumbled mess. I wonder if my life is interesting to you. I wonder if you felt like you were reading some random teenage girl’s pathetic diary. I wonder if I will read this blog post again someday, roll my eyes at my weird and arrogant self, and cringe.

Good night.

Insert Clickbaity Title Here!

Module 7 Update :)

Hello! I’m back. And in this post I’ll be talking about Module 7 and my life at the moment.

I’m done with my AP World History exam! I’m not sure if I’m allowed to talk about it yet, so I’ll be safe and not talk about it. All I’ll say is that I really didn’t have to worry about it. I have to stop worrying about things. Worrying is honestly just suffering twice. Worrying doesn’t do anything.

Now that my only AP exam of the year is out of the way, life feels a lot less… packed. Like, packed with stuff to do. Chamber Orchestra and Madeira Glee is also done for the year. For school, I only have to care about my three classes and Yoga, which is so nice.
My three classes are Biology, Algebra, and Latin. Biology is an easy course that I don’t have to pay much attention to. We spent almost half of Friday’s class just watching videos of animals because Dr. Wallace loves animals. Something I really like about Biology class is the textbook. We’re only covering a few sections of it in class, but everything in there is so interesting. I usually don’t turn to textbooks for pleasure reading, but reading my biology textbook has sort of become a favourite pastime.
Algebra, however, is not as relaxing as Biology. I understand logarithms but once I’m asked to do stuff with them, I get so confused. But then I’m also learning how to use my graphing calculator to its full extent, which is cool. I have a love-hate relationship with math. Math is such a fascinating discipline and I love how mathematicians explain the world. I’ve been watching Vi Hart’s videos on Youtube—she’s amazing. But then math class is a whole another thing, you know? Agh.
And, Latin is another relaxing subject like Biology. I love the people in my class and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a great way to end my day.

Since I have more free time than I did any other module this year, I’ve been doing things that make me happy. Doing things that make me happy lets me realise just how many things there are in the world that make me happy. Below are just three examples.

Spending time with friends makes me happy. Yesterday I went to the mall with my friend Casey and we read books together at Barnes and Noble. Today I went to Georgetown with my roommate Alexandra and had a really nice dinner. And not just these formal outings—I feel like my connections and conversations with my friends every day have become more cheerful and meaningful because I’m not constantly stressed.

Being in the Huffington Library makes me happy. There are so many interesting books in my school’s library. These days I’m doing research on the pursuit of pleasure. We seek pleasure, but pleasure is only respectable in moderation. And only certain types of pleasure are respected in our society. I’m reading some books about mind-altering substances, and they’re fascinating. So much learning happens outside of school.

Learning Danish makes me happy. Duolingo is such a didactic and addictive tool for learning languages. I am also speaking to a Danish friend of mine who lives in Nyborg. Another hobby that I adopted recently is writing poems in Danish. Oh! And also, I am reading this amazing article on eksistentialisme (you can probably guess what that means) and enjoying it a lot. It’s an informative article, but it’s so poetic and beautifully phrased at the same time.

So, yeah. Life’s good. For now. Like I’ve said, my life is roller coaster full of ups and downs. I’m pretty high up in the air right now, and I hope I stay there for a long time. Thank you for reading, and have a good night.

Module 7 Update :)

Ups and Downs

I feel too strongly, although I try not to show it on the outside.

When I’m happy, I’m as happy as a person can be. It’s like I’m sky high on cocaine (not that I’ve tried it before).

But when I’m sad, I’m the worst mixture of all the ugly emotions. And it’s at these low points that I think: maybe I do not want to exist any longer.

Ups and Downs