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Old essays and Beatles

There is a report on the Guardian that one of Paul McCartney’s old essays was found. In itself, this is just something a hardcore McCartney fan would bid on at eBay. When historians examine the handwriting, compare the B’s in his essay to the B’s in the band’s drum skin, and release the news to the media, the whole world notices and begins examining handwriting a little more carefully.

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English pronunciation

WordPress refused to publish my original post through the dashboard, I’m choosing between two of showering, dishes, and writing a post for the day, and I’m not feeling well today. In lieu of a real post, I challenge you to read this poem aloud. If your throat gets sore, reading it aloud in your head is an acceptable substitute, but you must finish the poem. It’s harder than you think. When you’re finished, bask in the complexity of the English language, which was the topic of my original post.

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Banned Books Week

This week is Banned Books Week in the US. I look over the list of frequently challenged books every year just to count how many of them I’ve read. While the answer is never as high as I’d like (I’m ashamed to say that I have read none of the ten most frequently challenged books of 2008), the lists are nevertheless interesting for the variety and the shock value. Seeing some of my childhood favorites on the list and remembering no major shock nor failed attempts from adults to “wait until you’re older” is a surprise every year.

This year the list of banned and challenged classics interests me. At least 42 of the Radcliffe Publishing Course’s 100 best novels of the 20th century have been challenged or banned. If these are in a particular order, then there appears to be a correlation between rank and challenge. If there were a way to obtain the number of challenges a given book has obtained, then one could see if there does exist a positive correlation. For now, though, all we can say is that it is possible.

My book of the week is The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, which didn’t make the top ten list of frequently challenged books until 2008, five years after its 2003 release. I don’t know if it was challenged before 2008, but my guess is that the release of the movie gave the book more attention. A review will come after finishing.

If you’re having problems deciding what frequently challenged book you should read this week, let Hunch, a decision-making website, decide for you with this handy questionnaire. My top three were Brave New World, Animal Farm, and To Kill a Mockingbird, all of which are already favorites.

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Review: The Big Bang Theory

I don’t watch TV. I don’t refuse to watch TV; in fact, some things, such as the National Spelling Bee finals, are television-only experiences unless you’re lucky enough to go to Washington, DC for the competition, a feat I never did achieve. I just don’t feel the need to let TV and my lack of recording devices control my schedule. The lack of television in my life is a well-known fact among my friends and acquaintances, for when they tell me about TV shows that they watch, I’m usually clueless except for what little I manage to glean from various fan communities.

Despite my lack of commitment to television, people still recommend programs for me to watch. First it was Numb3rs, an understandable choice because of my mathematical background. This recommendation came in droves. After watching half an episode online over a shaky connection, I gave up, resolving to try again when the opportunity presented itself.

Then my brother, who can’t do anything without the TV as background noise, recommended The Big Bang Theory, a show about two genius physicists, their nerdy friends, and their non-geek neighbor. “You’d like it,” he told me. “It’s about a bunch of nerds, and they’re all socially awkward, and there are a bunch of nerd jokes.” At first I wanted to say “So that’s how you see me?” I kept my mouth shut. He persisted. I reminded him of my lack of TV.

The recommendations continued to come, and they gave the same reasons as my brother (though concentrating more on the nerdy side than on the socially awkward side). This week I no longer had an excuse: I let slip to members of my alma mater’s physics club heard that I had never seen the show, and the club was hosting a marathon. Would I like to come? The game was up now.

Everyone was right, even Little Brother. I laughed straight through the twelve episodes we watched. The jokes were perfectly timed; the characters were well-developed, real, and quirky; and best of all, no one was kidding about the jokes being geeky. I wanted to strangle Sheldon from across the screen at least once an episode, but it was in a loving way. The only negative I found about the show was the laugh track. I found myself laughing in all the right spots and even in spots where the laugh track didn’t laugh. If a viewer doesn’t get the joke, they’ll likely wonder why it was so funny to start with or just write off the joke as dumb.

The verdict: I may be biased because I am a self-proclaimed geek. If you are too, give this show a try. You won’t be disappointed. The continuity-obsessed freak in me just needs to finish all the other episodes first.

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It happened

It has happened at last.

I made a B.

I can see your reactions. Some of you are sitting at your computer, staring at it, maybe complete with a shocked look on your face. A few more of you (possibly the majority) aren’t even looking at the screen anymore. You’re jumping up and down, rejoicing the fact that I have finally made a B, just like the parties that went on after Voldemort tried to kill Harry for the first time. I digress, though, so I’ll try to get to the point.

Ever since I nearly made that fateful first B [it was in eighth grade], I had been thinking of how I would actually react when the deed really did happen. Because of my reaction to the thought of making a B, I thought the reaction to really making a B would be like the episode of Hey Arnold! in which Helga changes one of Olga’s usual straight A’s to a B+ just to watch the reaction. I thought it would go something like this:

“No! This can’t be happening to me! People won’t be able to call me ‘smart’ anymore without my sobbing into their faces and my telling them that I can’t be smart with that smudge of a B on my record, and because of this B, my GPA will drop even lower than it already has, which would mean that my class rank would drop. Then I won’t even be able to get into college because what kind of college would take someone like me, anyway? Then I won’t get into graduate school, should I decide to go because the B will demotivate me, and I’ll continue to make B’s, and I’ll forever be trapped into the ‘I’ll never be good enough again’ trap, and I’ll be a failure in life! A failure, I tell you! Then my family will disown me because they only appreciated me for my achievements anyway, and I wouldn’t be able to get into school and I’ll wind up cleaning toilets for the rest of my life because I’ll be lonely and friendless because what kind of person would befriend a toilet-cleaning failure who once made a B?”

Yes, that’s what I thought making a B would be like. I thought I wouldn’t be able to show my face in public for weeks, that my family and friends [what few I would supposedly have left] would have to bribe me out of the house in order to get me to reveal myself to the public. I actually once considered intentionally making a B, but as you can tell, I didn’t. Now, for a sense of comparison, here’s what really happened.

I logged onto the school’s website in order to find out my grades. After clicking a few random links, my heart began to pound inside my chest, and I thought about how I was forcing my heart to work harder than it should have been. Then, there it was. The moment of truth smacked itself in front of me.

I had made a B in calculus. There it was, sandwiched in between three A’s [English, Spanish, and world civ]. I stared at the grade and tried to take it in. I even clicked back and forth on the website, thinking that if I went back to it again, it would be gone. But no, the B remained there. I even considered printing it out because I always consider things to feel more final on paper. Then I thought that it would feel like solid evidence that indeed, I had checked out my grades, so I didn’t print the grades.

I thought back to all my tests, back to all the dumb mistakes that hindered me from making an A on the particular test, but I particularly thought back to the test on which I made a D. Unless I seriously messed up on the final exam [I still don’t know what I made on it], that test prevented me from making an A in the class. I had no idea what I was doing on that test. I made mistakes I didn’t know I could make; I skipped three problems [three!] altogether; I even started one problem and somehow forgot to finish it. I made up for it later, but not with high enough grades to make an A in the class, as evidenced, even though I did make an A on the last real test!

Underneath all this guilt and shame, I actually felt a sense of relief. I couldn’t believe that feeling. I had been working myself to death for all these years, and for what? I hadn’t even been living a real life because of my attempts to be at the top. That had been in the spotlight, even when I took a break to focus on my writing. That push to go to the top had always been there, but was it worth it? Was I even going to the top of the academic ladder for myself, or was I doing it for someone else? All my life, I remembered hearing other kids getting rewards for getting straight A’s, or A’s and B’s, or whatever. I never got any of that. I even remember hearing “You need to bring that up” when my grade was a low A, or even an average A. I clearly wasn’t doing it for myself at first, but it eventually became a part of me. I enjoy motivation, but it has to be toward the right things, toward things that I enjoy. Striving for the top of the academic ladder wasn’t something I particularly enjoyed;
I enjoyed the learning process and actually taking in information, not manipulating it for the mere purpose of making it to the top of a ladder that’s not going to matter by the time I graduate from college.

I don’t have to worry anymore. I am stronger than the grades that I receive. Besides, grades are just numbers or letters. Who cares about those? Now maybe, just maybe, I can relearn the meaning of “human relations”. I think I’ve forgotten that meaning over the years.

In the meantime, though, I have a few letters to write. No, neither is a hate letter. They’re actually very nice letters. The first is to Dr. Nimmons, who actually gave me the B. The second is to Miss Kay, who once told me, “I wish someone would give you a B so you can get over it.” Well, now I have, but totally getting over it might take awhile.

P.S. I know it’ll be a little late by the time most of you read this, but Happy Boxing Day!

To Do:

1. Write those letters

2. Plan for Wriye the First

3. I need a better senior project idea!

4. Shopping time!


19 August 2007: I remember thinking that this would be the end of the world. Now I’m a better person because of it.