Q for queens: quintessential qualities of modern royalty

A crown you can buy on Amazon

“I was born to rule the Seven Kingdoms,” proclaimed Daenerys Targaryen in season 7 of Game of Thrones, “and I will.” Watching a petite young woman gain power, especially in a fantasy world full of traditional rules about European royalty, is a strange but exhilarating experience. Thankfully, the idea of women in positions of power has been increasingly popular in our modern media and culture.

Although traditional queens have mostly been replaced by presidents and prime ministers, our TV and media still reflect our fascination with old-fashioned royalty. The long-lived British queens Victoria and Elizabeth II have their stories told through shows like The Crown and Victoria. We also see stories about women scheming their way to power by winning the favor of the king, like The Other Boleyn Girl.

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P for Percussion: profession turned periphery passion

Graduating with a music major
Graduating with a music major

I started my music career by learning to play the piano like a perfect Asian child. Alas, my parents soon discovered that my first grade self didn’t have the patience to practice alone every day. They signed me up instead for U Music, a percussion ensemble program that promised to teach children life skills along with music skills.

I naturally gravitated towards mallet instruments like marimba, vibraphone, and xylophone that featured piano-like keyboards. I also learned how to play snare drum, bass drum, and concert toms, as well as small instruments like tambourine, shaker, and triangle. I learned how to be precise with my rhythms and musical with my melodies.

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O for Office: oppressive or optimistic?

Photo from the episode “New Slogan”

According to shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation, the office is where people stay for many years, fall in love, and find life-long friends. It’s not a silly idea, since most of us will spend much of our lives at our workplaces. They’re like homes, and for those who work remotely, literally home.

The stereotypical office is a corporate building with cubicle walls and an oppressive, grey atmosphere where people robotically tap at their computers. At least, I get that impression from watching Disney’s Pixar short Inner Workings. I also understand why people often feel trapped at work, since offices are confined spaces in which people must stay for a number of hours.Read More »

N for Nature: nurturing natural urban spaces

Picture by Karen Lin

When I attempt to meditate, I imagine myself standing in a sunny forest, my breath rising and falling like the nearby ocean tide. Nature is the forgotten friend that I turn to for comfort when I’m weary of suburban city life. In these moments, I think about how nature is missing from my daily life.

The best trip I ever took to the wild was a week-long backpacking trip in the New Mexican backcountry. With my crew, I woke at 6 am when the sun was rising, and slept at 10 pm when the sun went down. After returning home to suburbia, I returned to an unhealthy sleeping schedule. Despite having showers and sleeping in a clean bed, I felt depressed to be surrounded again by four walls after returning to civilization.

I wonder if the gap between the two lifestyles needs to be so different. What if we can make nature a daily part of our environment without withdrawing from human society?

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M for Movies: make-believe that matters

Image source

“I became an artist,” Viola Davis proclaimed during her award acceptance speech at the 2017 Oscars, “and thank God I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.” And though I never took a single drama class, her words resonated with me.

I forgot that I once wanted to be an artist myself- either a creative writer or musician. But the thought of choosing the arts as a “career” conjured up pictures of low wages and endless rejections, like what Emma Stone’s character experienced in La La Land. After all, only a select few of us become celebrities, while the rest get day jobs.

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L for Languages: my love for learning linguistics

Gorgeous language family tree by Minna Sundberg

Knowing multiple languages is like a superpower. You can decode other people and smash through language barriers. Ideally, I would collect as many languages as possible.

Unfortunately, learning and retaining a new language is a time-consuming task. Even with all the tech tools we have at our disposal, including DuoLingo, YouTube, and Google Translate, fluency is easiest to obtain when we’re immersed in a place where the language is constantly used and contextualized. Multilingualism is our reward for traveling to unfamiliar places.

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K for Knots: the ties and troubles we make

Knot on the rope
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Out of all the outdoorsy tricks I learned during my brief stint as a Venture Scout, my favorite is the knot. You only need a rope and some special knowledge to build shelter, secure objects, and save lives.

Knots are important symbols in our daily lives as well. The legendary Gordian knot that Alexander the Great sliced in half is a famous metaphor for a difficult, complex problem. “Tying the knot” refers to two people getting married. Knots in a stomach indicate nervousness- perhaps something important is about to happen.

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J for Judgment: “justice” in the digital jungle

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I don’t think people mean to judge each other. In dangerous times, it’s part of human nature to immediately determine if an unfamiliar person or thing is a “Friend!” or “Enemy!” But we’re usually encouraged to look beyond first impressions. For example, journalists have a responsibility to remain impartial and prevent their feelings from interfering with a story. Unfortunately, thoroughly fact-checked articles can be overshadowed by clickbait headlines that are aimed to incite a torrent of knee-jerk reactions.

Every Tweet thread, or article or YouTube comment section is now a courtroom with an out-of-control jury. The comments people make without considering the whole context are frightening. Instead of “Someone voted for this person. Why would they do that?” we can now anonymously write, “Someone voted for this person. They should be LIT ON FIRE and EJECTED INTO SPACE after being WATERBOARDED FOR THREE MONTHS!” Everyone thinks they’re an expert witness on every issue, and feels entitled to condemn others however they want.

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I for Imagination: inventing our ideal future

Many exciting words start with I, like “innovate,” “information,” and “invention.” As an introvert who lives mostly in my own head, I thrive off of all of these abstract ideas. But there’s something magical about the idea that drives them all: “imagination.”

Whenever I think of that word, I remember the hilarious clip of Spongebob Squarepants spreading his hands to form a rainbow. Spongebob’s eternal optimism and determination to create something out of nothing always impresses me.

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H for Horn: the most heavenly sound


When I casually stated the other day that the French horn was the most beautiful instrument ever, my friend argued, “No it’s the harp – you can put a mermaid on it.” Funny story, but I was actually talking about the horn’s sound.

Obviously, everyone has a different idea of what sounds beautiful. As a musician who grew up listening to and performing classical music, I’d like to call attention to the horn’s glorious power of expression.

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