Day 59 - Outlooks

Sneaking up
June 6th, 2015

I’m running out of food. Shimou said she would make dinner today when I came for a haircut from her roommate, Lee. He’s been cutting hair for five years and has more clients than time. I’m lucky to get in - and for only $10! I desperately need it, as it’s gotten to be in the range of “fluffy dome” that it gets to be.

As planned, Mandarin lessons begin today and I learn the different ways of saying a word, and the 4 different meanings of the word “ma.” There are four pronunciations: 1st) flat, 2nd) upward, like a question, 3) down, then up, and 4) down. In most languages, there are 3: flat/statement, upward ending/question, and downward ending/command. I foresee asking questions to be difficult without accidentally changing the meaning of the last word. Anyway, for “ma” the meanings are as follows, respective of the order above: 1) mother, 2) a fabric, flax, 3) horse, and 4) the verb “to swear.” “You look great, mom” could become “you look great, horse” if you’re not careful.

Other work, editing, jobs, etc. then I walk to the train station and get ready for the overdue trim. Shimou was hoping I’d help cook dinner, but it ended up being finished by the time the barber was done his magnum opus.

We eat, while she quizzes me for the pronunciations and teaches me a couple common words, like “thanks” and “no problem,” both formal and informal. I can do this. Probably. In return, I teach her what a mnemonic is, and a couple of the basic systems that are very helpful in daily life. Seriously, they’re easy once you do the extremely basic work, but most people either think they’re not smart enough, or don’t want to put the time in. Yet another upward spiral that is often missed.

"Please don't hurt me!"
The more I look at different areas, the more I see the “rich get richer” phenomenon, which I more broadly refer to as the “upward spiral.” No, I’m not referencing Gurren Lagann. Again, these things are obvious when brought to your attention, but until they are, they may go entirely unnoticed or unlabelled. The way I explained it was that such ideas are like a mental mist, one that you kind of recognize the feel of, but can’t usefully apply. Having someone point it out is like condensing that mist down into a tool. In this case, I guess it would be about perceived intelligence. If you don’t see yourself smart enough, you won’t even try to attempt certain puzzles or endeavours, such as learning a mnemonic system. The irony being that mnemonic systems were built to make learning easier and more approachable for everyone. Or say physical prowess; only if you thought you had a chance of success would you try an obstacle course,which means the basic requirement isn’t necessarily the ability to complete it, but simply the idea that you might be capable enough.

This branches off to who we think we are - our very identities. I’ve given this analogy for a long time, but never put it in writing before. Say you go to kindergarten. First day of school, something happens that allows you to say a joke, resulting in raucous laughter from your classmates. This validation gives you the courage to try the next joke you see the opportunity for, and the next after that. Congratulations, you’re now the funny kid.

Let's tweak the situation: let’s say after the delivery of that original joke, a more clever kid took your joke and turned it back on you. They got the laugh, and you got laughed at. Now maybe you wouldn’t have the courage to actually try again, dramatically changing who you ended up being.

Cutesy Box
I put on my Facebook the quote “Change is scary, but the hope of being able to change is comforting and safe.” A lot of people seem to like it, leading me to expand here. It's actually not that positive or uplifting of a quote; most people don’t read past the first chapter of a book they buy. A company once mailed out several hundred of a DVD set that encouraged personal growth, and it wasn’t cheap. Only 2 weeks later did they start getting complaints from customers saying how 5 of the 7 DVDs were blank. Of roughly 1000 units moved, it took 2 weeks for anyone to even say anything! We like the promise of change, we like the idea of moving toward our goals, but that’s where it often stops.

Tying it together: Who you are is not who you were meant to be. Who you are is a combination of random events that happen to coincide, mostly without your conscious choice or effort. Not all, mind you, but the vast majority. We like to think of being a better person, but only in so far as we get a little validation for taking steps forward.

I’m challenging you to ask yourself who it is you want to be, who you currently are, and the steps it would take you to move toward that envisioned self. Contemplation isn't enough - start acting. Figure out the triggers to your own personal upward spiral and start building them into your life, one by one! As with all the advice I have said, it’s still a struggle for myself. Remember: I’m a self-described slothful coward, and I somehow made it to the other side of the planet.

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