Category Archives: commentary

Thoughts on overachievement

I work hard. I don’t, compared to some people I’ve met; but I know my priorities, and with the exception of my procrastination habits, I stick to my priorities. And I do well. Is that a crime? Is that a bad thing to want?

Two very conflicting interactions in the past 24 hours:

  • Daniel called on his way home from a bar (I think?). There’s nothing wrong with a Thursday night in a bar, except maybe telling me that he finds the alcohol relaxing and also likes to get high before teaching his classes. “You sound like you’re working.” That’s because I was. “Stop working so hard!” A common opinion of his. His version of sound advice. “I didn’t do shit, and look where I am now!” More on that later.
  • Dana and I got our Advanced Molecular Biology take-home midterms back this morning. I did pretty well, but she did poorly by comparison, which I think is complete bullshit because she CLEARLY knows this material better than I do. I’m pretty sure I bother her for the same reason Daniel bothers me — because I don’t work nearly as hard as she does, but still do well.

The thing is I do get bad grades. Less than optimal ones, anyway. For someone who’s hoping to be an M.D./Ph.D. candidate, my GPA is abysmally low. Of course, Daniel thinks this begs the question, “Why the hell do you want to do an M.D./Ph.D. anyway?”

Gosh, I dunno. Maybe because it’s what I want to do? Because doing research and fixing people makes me happy? Don’t doubt my life plan because it sounds like a lot of work — ever think that maybe I don’t mind working this hard because it’s something I like to do? I can’t just stand by and rely on sheer intelligence and bullshitting skill to get by. Just because everything worked out for Daniel (in terms of graduating and getting into grad school) doesn’t mean I’ll be that lucky. I’ll have lived five lifetimes before I get that lucky.

So maybe I’m not as intense and messed up as other premeds, but maybe it’s because I actually really want this and I know what’s important to me. So sue me if you think I shouldn’t work hard for something I want. (And you know what? Killing myself so far this quarter has gotten me two awesome midterm scores and a short story draft that I’m really proud of. So leave me alone.)

Sorry for the bitterness…

Time, Writing, and Eldest

And so I find myself in the midst of July. I’ve always had the mentality that July is the middle of the summer, but I did a quick calculation in my head during the typing of the last few words, only to realize that July has never been the middle of my summer. It’s in the middle, but the exact middle fell somewhere in the last week of July (back when school ended in mid-June and started again at the end of August). And this summer, like last summer, July is nowhere remotely near the middle of the summer, because school doesn’t start until late September. Funny how this quarter-system school ends up like that.

In any case, time seems to be fleeing away in all directions, sucked up by the dull, day-to-day quality of having a full-time job. I haven’t done most of what I’ve wanted to do, partially because I was never entirely sure what I wanted to do, and partially because my brain has been thinking it’s the midpoint of summer already. I’ve been at work for almost three weeks, but I feel like I’m only just settling in… then again, I’ve been at work only three weeks and what the–I’m settling in already? Time keeps playing these tricks on me, see.

Part of it is the fact that I’m not the only one who’s busy this summer. For me, hanging out in high school was hard enough, when I saw the people I wanted to see on a regular basis and tried to make time for them away from school. Now I realize it would’ve been a piece of cake to get everyone (or at least some people) together, since now it’s a matter of rounding up people who work on the weekends, and trying to meet up with people who work weekends on weekdays. It’s a huge complicated affair.

In any case, this weekend is one of those crazy weekends where I try to get a bunch of immediate stuff done, but will probably end up feeling very incomplete by the end of it. The incompleteness will come from the panic-inducing realization that long-term projects are quickly becoming short-term as their deadlines (most of them self-imposed, but deadlines nonetheless) come sprinting over the horizon. I guess in any case, 48 hours from now it’ll just be another weekend come and gone.

My dad and I had a discussion today about my writing. It was a weird conversation to have, probably because I get jittery trying to summarize stories to other people when I’m not really sure what the story’s about yet, and I haven’t hammered out all the details yet, either. Eventually my dad picked up on that, though, and let me sort of wade my way through the ideas that have been floating around for the past couple months–years, even–until we got some sort of coherence out of the discussion. I guess in some ways I’m still a little kid, casting around for my dad’s approval.

After that discussion with my dad, I’m starting to see why I’ve been struggling with my writing in the past year or so. The more I study literature and philosophy, the more I want to put that into my writing–I’m not a high schooler anymore, and there are certain expectations that come with that. In some ways, what I wrote in high school strove to do that, but kind of let it take a backseat, and what I’m trying to do now is find some way of incorporating all the ideas I find interesting into a coherent story. The lack of coherence stalled pretty much everything, except Erica-Derek writings, since the episodic nature of their story lets me write short bits without worrying to much about the whole. But now that I’ve recognized this, I can work on plot and shoving everything together, taking my time before the actual writing. Overall, though, I still keep worrying about what makes what I’m writing interesting. Why should anyone else care what these characters from the depths of my imagination do? Half the time, these characters were created for my sake; how on Earth are they anchored in anyone else’s life? I guess I don’t have an answer.

Ironically enough after so much thinking about writing, when I stopped by Barnes and Noble after dinner, I saw a display advertising pre-orders for Christopher Paolini’s third book in his Inheritance series, Brisingr. Yes, I know how to spell it. I say with some pride mixed with disdain that I’ve read Paolini’s Eragon and Eldest. The online writing community has lashed out against him so strongly that I almost fell victim to their pompousness; the truth is, I don’t think half of those people who scorn Paolini’s books have even read them (just like a fair number of the Harry Potter haters haven’t read those either). I did decide to read the books, and here’s why I think what I think.

Paolini wrote Eragon when he was fifteen and sixteen years old. I was around that age, maybe a little older, when I read it. My Sutton-trained eye picked up on the inexperience in his style, but once I got over his weakness there, I found I liked the story he unfolded for me. I saw a shadow of my own stabs at writing The Gathering in his book, the mind for story structure and high fantasy that I hadn’t quite worked into my story yet. So I admired his work and his perseverance, but I didn’t see the book the way I see books written by adult authors. I think that was the first time I learned to be critical of a book I had enjoyed–I’d read it like a writer, and I saw room for improvement. But I liked it.

But Eldest enraged me. I loved that Paolini’s writing style had improved by leaps and bounds, and some of the scenes really made me think (I almost wrote an essay for a summer program using the book), but as a self-proclaimed writer, I felt betrayed by Paolini’s choice of plot point halfway through the book. To me, he had broken a major rule of character development: having his character’s physical/mental barrier magically disappear without any sort of revelation on the character’s part, which happened to be one of the main points of The Gathering. I’m trying not to give away too much here, just in case anyone ever wants to read it (which I would encourage with a spoonful of caution), but whenever I think of that book, I cringe a little inside.

I pride myself in having real, tangible criticism of Paolini, unlike the rest of the online writing community who just seems to hate him for doing what they’ve never accomplished–finished writing a book. I all truthfulness, I don’t hate him. I admire his storytelling and inventiveness, and I applaud his success. I just don’t agree with him.

Anyway, today (or by now, yesterday–goodness how the time flies…) has been quite a day for thinking about writing. And writing. I mean seriously, when’s the last time I wrote a blog entry this long?