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 is for Movies: make-believe that matters

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“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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Thoughts on 2016- The year I became a semi-adult

Much like the Trump Presidency, the reality of my adulthood hasn’t sunk in yet. I graduated earlier this year, just as the world got much darker. 2016 hasn’t exactly been kind to us all. Many end-of-the-year articles list the catastrophic events that happened this year, and the other half reassure people that the world isn’t as terrible as we think it is.

But good or bad, every year is a chance for self-reflection. So here are some dull but important things I learned this year about post-graduation adulthood.

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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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