It’s New Year’s, and that means it’s time for an omnibus blog post about the year that was.
2007 is almost gone, and oddly enough, I didn’t stop to think about it until this moment, when the world is already cradling baby 2008. Well, I could just say I’ve been busy, but that’s an incredibly vague term, especially at a place like Duke where it’s the defining emotional characteristic of more than half the student body. I’m not literally booked every hour of the day (I know too much news and sports to get away with that lie), but I can’t just be a college student anymore; I have to live with one eye on the future. So, I’ve had trouble taking satisfaction in many of the things I do: either I beat myself up over mistakes I made, or I’ve already moved on to the next case. I can’t be carefree, but I can’t continue living with this sickness, either.
My vocation was my biggest source of anxiety. It boils down to this: I would like to (1) write novels, (2) have a family, and (3) have financial security (defined as enough money to send my kids to college – is it crazy to worry about this when you’re 21? Or is it appealing?). Addressing all three of these at once would be impossible, so by the time I’m thirty, I need to either break through as a writer or make enough money so that I won’t have to worry about it anymore. I haven’t written much material, but that’s because I’ve subjected myself to the Duke system in order to become a thinking machine. I now have a logical, systems-type brain, and that can make some money.
At first I looked at law, and I got so serious about it (or more accurately, my parents goaded me so much I couldn’t stand it anymore) that I took the LSAT. I even skipped Rockbridge, a retreat I’d been anticipating for two years, for the classes. This killed me – I had the feeling something great was going to happen there, and now I have to get along with out it – but my parents forbade me to go, and for better or worse I honored their wishes. My score on the test was good enough to make a top-tier school but not well enough to convince myself I’d be the best lawyer in the world. The only school that interested me, though, was Columbia. My pre-med friends will go to any med school as long as they get in because they want to be doctors. Perhaps I just wanted to go to Columbia because it was in New York City. Furthermore, law school would require three years, plus another year to study for the bar. There was no way to make it shorter. After graduating, I’d probably have to work as a paralegal for a couple years before the money truly started to roll in. So really, law was not a path to easy money at all. I may have the brains for it, but I don’t have the burning desire some of my friends do, so at the moment, it doesn’t make sense.
How about investment banking and consulting? These jobs are hot among Duke students, and they’re the only ones our Career Center is good at recommending. Applying for these jobs simply didn’t occur to me until after recruiting ended, but I’m not kicking myself over it. Yes, the pay would have been good, but the hours are through the roof (70-80 for consulting, 100+ for banking), and I’m not committed to destroying my health for some silver. Last week, however, I met a friend of my father’s who trades stock options for a living. His work seems like an interesting, flexible, and systematic way to make money, so I’m going to research it for a while. Perhaps this is my path to independence.
The long term is still unresolved, but I’ve found something to satisfy me in the short term: I applied to JET, or Japanese Exchange & Teaching. Under the auspices of the Japanese government, I would teach junior high or high school English, and in return I’d receive a stipend, see a new part of the world, learn the language, and have time to write. How many chances will I have to do this? I’m excited about the opportunity, but I don’t find out if I’m accepted until April, so I’ll have to pursue more opportunities in the meantime. The Career Center hasn’t been helpful, so I’ll ask around myself. I’d prefer not to return to my father’s law firm, where I did database work this summer. It was a decent job, but it has little else to teach me, and wills and trusts don’t excite me as much as they excite my father. I am sure about this, at least.
This does not mean my year was miserable. Owing to my temperament, my ability to meditate has suffered, but I have embraced a God of small things: Christmas cards, letters, enthusiastic smiles and hellos. I also found joy and peace through playing worship and pop songs on my guitar. Coordinating the Awakening Retreat with Jessica Palacios was an experience I’ll never regret. I helped bring the Holy Spirit to more than a hundred students, and I also proved to myself that I can organize and lead huge and complicated endeavors. Reuniting with my best friends at Duke was wonderful, and I’ve met some interesting new people as well. Does anyone in the world have friends as good as mine?
My sophomore year, I decided to pursue a Philosophy major with Math and Spanish minors. Since then, I’ve been filling in the blanks in my matrix and the back ends of my pre-reqs. I wonder from time to time if I should have taken an English major, like all other aspiring writers, but for now, I am satisfied. I would have loved to increase my reading background, but I learned the rules of criticism in my excellent high school classes; English as a sole major doesn’t look spectacular on a resume; and Philosophy has drilled into me a systematic approach to arguments which is helpful in all fields. So my conclusion is that if I make up for lost time in the next ten years, I won’t feel badly about skipping my reading here at the university.
Responsibility (spring), Philosophy of Law (fall): Now I know why Bob Dylan hasn’t made a significant album in thirty years. Golding is an accomplished professor and an entertaining lecturer, but he is an old man. He returned to the same ideas, the same questions, even the same self-deprecating jokes, week after week.
Latin American Literature: I forgot a lot of the Spanish words that don’t have Latin roots, but I’m still fluent. I appreciated the introductions to Borges, Márquez, Neruda, and so forth. My spring professor was an interesting person: a young, bald Basque who was so frustrated with his thesis advisor that he was considering quitting in order to become an ambulance driver. My professor in the fall really mailed it in: he was an interesting person who could have taught us more but didn’t exert the time or effort. Anyway, my Spanish minor is now complete. ¡Olé!
Probability (spring), Logic (fall): Math has been my most difficult subject since tenth grade, but here I am, one class from a minor. It gives weight to my diploma and works out the systems part of my brain. As usual, it was slow going at first, but I mastered the material in time for the final.
Chinese 1: With Spanish on the outs, I had time to pick up another language. I’ll write a piece about this later because the class has been high comedy so far. I’ve done a much better job with this language than I did with Spanish; it’s like study abroad reorganized my brain.
Social and Latin Dance: I had a crush on a dancer and attended a couple great dance performances in the spring, so I signed up for fall classes in order to learn some moves. It’s certainly been worthwhile. Dancing isn’t necessary for any job, but it’s bound to introduce itself in important situations. I’d like to thank high school band for giving me the rhythm necessary to hold my own on the floor.
Chem 83: Three cheers for science! This class felt like a half-credit, but I learned a decent amount in it.
LSAT: Yes, you have enough time after LDOC to study for the June test, even if you have a full-time job. However, the curve is a little more difficult in that month: it pulled my score down three points from the raw value.
My eclectic tastes will come together some day. Hopefully.
My production was better than usual this year but still not enough. On top of my sporadic blog production, I wrote in my personal journal every day. I finally finished a collaborative story I started with my friends Jericho and Aaron ten years ago, and we feel great about the conclusion. I visited the writing Career Counselor in September. She gave me a list of websites and suggested I try to get published (helpful, huh?). I ended up making a play for the undergraduate publications, which lead to:
“Spain, Standing Still,” in Passport, the international magazine. I jumped into this group the day of the publication deadline. I wrote a piece in a couple hours, sent it in, then did a major rewrite a couple weeks later which made this one of the most legit pieces I’ve written.
“Rurouni Kenshin: Finding the Word in Unexpected Places” in Religio, the religious magazine. The theme of the issue was “Christ in Fiction and Film,” so I wrote a piece about this Japanese series’ implicit rejection of bushido in favor of a Christian ethic of forgiveness and nonviolence.
“I Almost Survived Thai Torture” in Carpe Noctem, the comedy magazine. I attempted to eat twelve large, hot, super-spicy wings in thirty minutes. Hilarity ensued. I published this piece here a few months ago.
“Tsuki,” about the challenges our changing society have caused for male identity. I submitted this to Voices, the gender publication, and haven’t heard back from them. I’m also waiting for a response from them to the stimulating discussion we all had about gender and the Ben Stiller classic “Night at the Museum.”
In June, I wrote an eight page short story called “Noche de San Juan.” This night, which falls on the summer solstice, is a celebration of magic, witches, romance, and so on in Spain. We don’t have a holiday like this in America; Halloween is more a costume party than anything, sadly. I figured one big reason is that we now spend so much time inside, caught up in work, that the mystery of the outdoors is lost to us. So I wrote about an investment banker going into Central Park that night and encountering all sorts of adventures, even fighting a dragon at the end. It was a fun write, and when The Archive, the literary publication, hit its deadline, I sent them the story. I’d read past issues, and the submissions were so morose that I figured they could use a change of pace.
Then, at the recommendation of my friend Aileen, I started attending Archive board meetings and going over the submissions. As usual, sex and death were the order of the day. One of the pitfalls of young writers, in my opinion, is the attitude that to write something significant, one must write about the most significant topics. Unfortunately, that perspective glosses over 90% of life. The joylessness of the submissions was also significant. Everyone’s a critic now, even the creators. There’s a huge opening out there for artists who writers who have love in their hearts. Sure, a lot of artists pay lip service to compassion, but it comes out sounding stilted and plastic, like “All You Need is Love.” We need to reach deeper.
My story was the last prose piece to be cut. The biggest problem is that it was too long: it would have used at least ten pages of a 48-page publication. This was bound to happen, but may it be a lesson for you all: a two-page tale is much better for publication because it doesn’t require as much of a commitment from the editors. Save the ten- and twenty-pages for your anthology.
Since submissions are anonymous, I got to hear what people thought of it. Half the board loved it; another quarter were indifferent, and another quarter hated it. The former thought it was a great and funny change of pace. The other half thought it wandered, that it didn’t have a message, and that it was ludicrous for Puck to speak Spanish. I would have responded (1) everything’s there for a reason, just read more carefully; (2) I spelled it out on the last page; (3) Puck is an international fictional character, not a creation of William Shakespeare, so that is ludicrous. But I thought it would be unethical for a member of the board to defend his own work, so I stayed in my chair and listened to lines like this: “I’d like to call this guy and ask what kind of drugs he was on. I think he’s a crackhead.” “Honestly, I think this was submitted to us as a joke. If the writer were here, listening to us seriously discussing publishing this, he’d be laughing at us.” It would be petty to plot revenge against The Archive, so instead I’ll say I hope I can write something shorter in time for the spring deadline.
This was my best running year since high school. When I returned home in May, I got onto a four-days-a-week schedule, and I stuck with it even after school started. Every other day is enough to stay in shape but not enough to burn out or to justify skipping days. Consequently, my weight and cholesterol (which were feeling the pain after all that chorizo I ate in Spain) dropped to high school levels as well. I must say, aversion to fattiness is a big motivator for me.
The Colts won the Super Bowl! After twenty years of suffering for Indiana sports, somebody came through, and it feels wonderful. Any time I get down, I can remember that victory over the Patriots; the trick is remembering it. Now that I think about it, it’s a lot like my attitude toward the resurrection of Christ: when I remember that event, I forget all the pressure and sin in the world and feel only joy. But it slips my mind all the time. That’s a great reason to have holidays, I’d say. And this is getting pretty theological for the sports section of the paper.
I finally got into Bill Simmons’s column on ESPN.com, giving me something in common with millions of other Americans. Well, make that millions of other collegiate and working-class male Americans. ESPN is also the best location for live soccer scores, and I used it often during Real Madrid’s surprise run to the Spanish championship. My five favorite sportswriters were Spanish soccer writer Phil Ball, SI standard Paul Zimmerman, economist Dan Berri at Wages of Wins, insurance adjuster Ken Tremendous at Fire Joe Morgan, and whoever handles sports for The Onion.
Finally, thank you to Joseph Addai, Maurice Jones-Drew, Kellen Winslow, Santonio Holmes, Greg Jennings, Marques Colston, Anquan Boldin, Calvin Johnson, Donovan McNabb, Jay Cutler, John Kitna, Najeh Davenport, Adrian Peterson (Bears version), Rob Bironas, and the Pittsburgh and Seattle defenses for making this a special year for my fantasy football team. I won that league and finished 2nd in our NCAA basketball pool. Let’s not talk about my fantasy baseball team. Or the Orioles, Pacers, Duke football, and Josh McRoberts, for that matter.
This was the year I gave up on George Bush. I’ve been unhappy with him since late 2005, but now I just don’t care anymore. He’s just the guy who lives in the White House. The much-needed change of strategy in Iraq and the abject failure of his immigration bill did me in. The latter was especially unbelievable. Millions of class-A candidates all over the world play the lottery every year to get into the country, most of them without ever succeeding, and it takes several years to even get a marriage visa, and we’re supposed to believe INS could process the papers of 8 million illegal immigrants in a matter of months? Wow.
The current Republican field has me in better spirits. Where were all these guys in 2000? My first choice is Mitt Romney and my second is Rudy Giuliani. Both are extremely competent executives, and with the executive branch as big as it is now, that’s a requirement. Indiana doesn’t vote until May, though, so I’m left to following the horse race.
My main sources for news and opinion are National Review Online, the Wall Street Journal, the Drudge Report, and Rush Limbaugh’s website, in that order. The Corner at NRO has exceptional political coverage, but its frequent philosophical and historical discussions are the real draw. The WSJ is far superior to other newspapers because it actually pays attention to the business world, and since most people spend their lives at work, what happens there is just as worthy of our attention as the game of thrones which is played in Washington and Whitehall.
There are so many entertainment options out there that the writers’ strike means nothing to me. Here are some notes on pieces I experienced this year, some of which were produced earlier than 2007:
Tres sombreros de copa (Three Top Hats) by Miguel Mihura: an affecting coming-of-age story. The chaotic last scene is especially poignant.
Morbo by Phil Ball: a superb and entertaining introduction to Spanish football, whose local politics make it one of the most fascinating sports leagues in the world.
J-Pop: I wrote several months ago about the vast amount of international music that’s easily available on YouTube. I liked blues artist Masayoshi Yamazaki enough to order his greatest hits collection from Japan. Another song I liked was “Just When I Needed You Most,” a Chinese tune by Wilber Pan. The lyrics sound great, and they flow in a way that isn’t possible in English. Rationalists of the early 20th century, like George Bernard Shaw, hoped there would some day be one language for the whole world. If that came to pass, however, we’d lose all our poetic richness.
John Legend: A great musician. I’m happy that someone with his tone color can still make it in pop music given the moribund tastes of today’s major label execs.
Otis Redding: Everyone knows him for “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” but the rest of his catalogue is strong, as well. Soul music is still exciting, my friends.
Yo-Yo Ma: His richly varied music suggests there is a beautiful spirit underneath.
Ella Fitzgerald: How did I go so long without knowing her voice? How did she sound young and clear for so long? “Pure Ella,” a one-disc collection, was the best album I bought this year. In addition to featuring her perfect voice, it introduced me to several iconic jazz numbers.
Kodomo no Omocha: Mentioned this series in my post about art for young people. It treats issues that are important to its target audience (teenagers) in an intelligent and entertaining matter. The protagonist even inspired me to start running at night.
No Country for Old Men: Subdued pieces have been popular with the Academy lately, so I expect this film to win Best Picture. I’d be satisfied with that choice.
Shaolin Soccer: In American movies, when the man tells the woman about all the things he’s going to buy for her one day, it usually doesn’t have the desired effect, because one of the top ten rules of our films is that money isn’t important. In “Shaolin Soccer,” on the other hand, the scene was touching, and the movie didn’t cast any aspersions on the monks for placing such importance on the tournament’s prize money. Perhaps the poor, Stephen Chow’s audience, cannot dismiss money the way Americans do.
The Namesake: Like all Indian movies, it has a lot of music, and it’s a little long, but no matter! It was an intelligent picture, and it especially affected my mother, a second-generation Hispanic who had much the same experiences as Kal Penn.
The Blues Brothers: The ending sequence is incredible, but the film’s love of African-American community and culture impressed me more. It feels ahead of its time and ahead of our time, as well. It meanders, but I don’t mind because this leads us to some great songs.
Spider-Man 3: The cheesiest movie of all time.
Joel Apatow Films: They exemplify the classical idea of comedy: bawdiness and ridiculousness drive the humor, but the story ultimately reaffirms the community and its values.
Leon Fleischer (pianist): He visited Duke in November, and his performances were exceptional. Aging and pain have calmed his playing. I would like to write a short story about him and the young girl who was turning pages for him.
My New Haircut: The YouTube video of the year.
24: I watched seasons 1-3 (excellent) and 6 (forgettable) this year, but I’m letting my parents do Season 4 without me because the show’s philosophy is now clear to me. I’ll explain later; in the meantime, I’m happy this show exists.
Lost: I skipped this season. I hate it when writers waste my time.
The Office: Each year, I miss a comedy that is so popular, I end up hearing all the jokes from friends and acquaintances, anyway. I absorb everything through the prisms of their personalities, so when I finally get around to the original, I end up learning about my friends instead. I’ve seen a couple episodes of The Office, but to me, Dwight is Robert Won, and the screwball jokes are my sister’s, and I’m perfectly happy with that.
I will clear the Quixote before I die.
Finally, this was the year the power of Wikipedia became terrifying. Writers may never have to return to the library for general background research.
All right. Now I can turn the calendar. Happy New Year, and may the blessings of heaven be upon you.