Broken Promises

It’s strange how things seem to never go as planned. At the beginning of the year, I made several resolutions about this blog. None of them were accomplished. For the first seven months of this year, I did not write a single post. As the months started to pass, it became increasingly difficult to write. It became more and more difficult to make a post that would “make up” for my absence. Of course no one really holds such expectations, and if they did, would postponing blogging make the situation any better? No. It’s clear now that I was the only person holding me back.

But why is this the case? Why is it so difficult to do this, especially since I want to? Perhaps that’s the problem. Whenever I resolve to do something and to do it well, something I want to do, it becomes that much harder to do it. I want to do research. I want to prepare my lectures. I want to write blog posts. Yet, each resolution, each striving gives way to inaction, inability. Why?

Is it perfectionism? The gap between achievement and potential always exists. It’s easier to imagine the perfect solution, the perfect lecture, the perfect blog post. Actually doing it, by construction, is impossible. “Brain crack“,  a phrase termed by Ze Frank, illustrates this problem perfectly. What my mind imagines outweighs what reality will ever produce. Nothing ever produced is without flaw. Each lecture will have awkward phrases and unexplained concepts. Best that all my thoughts stay in my mind, where they can persist unchallenged. Best that my effort remain minimal, lest I realize the limits of my ability. Best be captivated by my own imaginings of success than be let down by the reality of actual action.

And then at the same time, am I afraid of success? If this blog attracts attention, then I will have readers with expectations to meet. Nothing is more challenging to the status quo than an escalation of quality. If I give a good lecture one day, a drop in quality will be all the more noticeable. If I prove a result, people might think I actually know something. If you show people what you’re capable of, then people will expect that much of you. Despite how the movies go, life isn’t made up of a climax. There’s no big showdown at the end to showcase your best. No big game at the end. It doesn’t end. After the talk, there will be another. And another. What if I tire? What if I succeed only to eventually fail?

I don’t have the answers. I never do. But nonetheless, when I don’t find myself thinking about doing things, I go out and do them. Not because I will never fail. Or because my imagination matches reality. But because what I want to do is worth being done.


Chairs Keeping Breaking on Me

Today during class, a chair broke underneath me. The cushion was loose and I fell on my rear. Incidentally this reminded me that this has happened at least twice before. Once in elementary school, a bench broke while some friends and I were sitting on it. Then in my first year of undergraduate study, when I was getting to Spanish class, my seat broke in what I thought was going to be a rather embarrassing moment. It turns out the seat was already broken and propped up to look like it was normal. One of my colleagues jokingly called out the teacher for letting me sit there. Is this a normal phenomenon? Are chairs more fragile than I assumed? At this point, it would be a bit characteristic of me to some navel-gazing and suggest an analogy of how chairs breaking is sort of like the insecurity of our foundational assumptions, or something.

In a bit more serious news, Qiaochu Yuan, the original inspiration for me to do MaBloWriMo is calling the November project quits. Of course, his actually mathematical blog requires much more work than my ramblings about chairs, so his decision is perfectly reasonable. My much less ambitious project of writing posts of this quality has me exhausted and tapped. So when I read that he called it in, I felt tempted to do the same. Of course the difference in quality alone makes me feel like I’m just being a whiny baby. But there is something to be said of not posting poor quality posts for the sake of posting every day. But I will continue, because I’ve used “quality” as an excuse not to update this blog for nearly a year. So I’m afraid the internet will have to tolerate a bit more of my rambling for at least half a month more.

Academia and Me

Every since I can remember I’ve liked school. And not in the way that normal people like school, I didn’t much like recess or sports or lunch breaks. I liked classes. I liked learning. Some part of this is nostalgia speaking, I probably didn’t particularly like school as much as I am claiming now and I certainly didn’t like homework as much as I claim. But it is true that I enjoyed school and schoolwork. Lectures suit my personality, reading is one of my favorite things to do, and the pursuit of knowledge feels like the primary purpose of my life. When I was a child, I said I (once) that I wanted to be a teacher, because I thought it would be the closest thing to what I wanted to do. Then I realized what I really wanted was to be a professor, teaching and researching. Academia isn’t some higher calling. Academia is like my home. So I have a visceral reaction when people criticize it.

That’s not to say that academia doesn’t deserve criticism. There’s a lot wrong with the system right now, and there’s exciting movement to change things for the better: both in researching and in teaching. I never really criticized academia when I was a student, but when the roles were switched, it became apparent how many things are done haphazardly. Yet knowing this, I still have this gut reaction whenever someone says schools or teachers are corrupt, greedy, or obsolete. It sends shivers down my back when someone says the entire school model will be going down in a matter of decades.

Their point, often is that schools don’t function to educate, especially not in matters nor manners of reality nor to act creatively. If we were shift paradigms, then the new education that would form would be better for everyone; people would learn willingly and properly. I would gladly join them, too. More than the bureaucracy or the buildings, what academia represents is the enterprise of learning new ideas and finding creative, deep thoughts.

But if I let go of what I have in the academia now, will the new one catch me as I fall?

raindrop in the ocean

So over the past week, I attended the Canadian Operator Symposium in the University of Victoria. It was my first time at this sort of event, and I enjoyed myself. The experience was exciting and invigorating. I felt inspired to hear from experienced mathematicians and to learn about what’s currently happening in this part of mathematics. Everything seemed to come alive and become fresh and new.

Before, I felt frustrated. I had done so little and the work I’m suppose to be doing seems aimless. I don’t have a good grasp of what’s going on and have no idea how I’m suppose to figure it out. Both mathematically and logistically.

I have no clearer idea of that now, but perhaps the best thing that I got out of the experience is that I’m part of something beyond myself. The things that I am doing, or rather, should be doing, are of interest and importance to a community of people. It might not be of enormous interest and others might be able to do what I’m suppose to do with far more ease, but I’m to do what I can and this makes me part of that community.