Letter from the Trapstealers

Dear P,

When I was in preschool, I used to play a game called “Trapstealers”. My friend J and I would roam around looking for the trapstealers, who were evil, terrifying beings that stole and trapped. Brave children that we were, we took it as our personal responsibility to track them down. The trapstealers were wily, but they left clues for us to follow. J led the expeditions, while my job was to find and interpret the evidence they left behind. Sometimes they would write on leaves or send messages in the patterns of pebbles in the sandbox.

A small part of me still wonders about the trapstealers. If I see notes on the ground, I will pick them up and look at them. Yesterday, I found this:

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If the trapstealers were trying to prepare me for a zany interview, they succeeded. Here are my answers to these questions:

“Are you more of a hunter or a gatherer?”

The trapstealer story proves that I’m more of a gatherer.

“If you were a pizza deliveryman, how would you benefit from scissors?”

I’ve never delivered pizza, so this one is hard for me. Maybe if I were a pizza deliveryman gridlocked on the Atlanta interstate on January 28, 2014, I could have helped that woman deliver her baby. I could have used my scissors to cut the umbilical cord.

“Give me a time you faced a difficult situation and how you responded.”

I hate this question. Usually I deal with difficult situations by calling my mom and eating a gross amount of chocolate. Next.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

In five years, I’ll be twenty-five. If I continue on my current goal trajectory, I will be reading 100+ books a year, travelling all over the world, and completing Ironman races. I will be doing activities I like with people I like. These are the things I can (kind of) control. I don’t know about any other specifics; the future is too uncertain.

“Tell me what you know about this company.”

I know that you leave mysterious interviews on the ground so that curious bystanders can learn your secrets.

“Why do you want to work for this company?”

The scissor question is interesting.

“What is your biggest strength?”

I keep trying.

“What is your biggest weakness?”

My shyness.

“Tell me about a suggestion you made that was implemented.”

My freshman year, I wanted to start a group for autistic college students at UT and students interested in being their friends. I was very excited about this group and wrote out a long proposal, which I gave to a professor. She never got back to me and I didn’t realize I should email her again or continue to pester her until she paid attention to me (see the weakness answer). Yesterday, I received an email inviting me to exactly the group I suggested. I am happy it was implemented after all, even if I didn’t get to do it.

“Explain why we should hire you.”

You shouldn’t. I’m a weirdie who picks paper off the sidewalk.

“Do you have any questions for me?”

Yes. Who are you? What company do you work for? What are you trying to do? Why did you leave this message for a stranger? What are you trapping? What are you stealing?

How would you answer these questions, P? I miss you loads. You look stunning in your fashion post.

Love,

E

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Vulnerability in Frozen and My Life

“Life is going to present to you a series of transformations. And the point of education should be to transform you. To teach you how to be transformed so you can ride the waves as they come. But today, the point of education is not education. It’s accreditation. The more accreditation you have, the more money you make. That’s the instrumental logic of neoliberalism. And this instrumental logic comes wrapped in an envelope of fear. And my Ivy League, my MIT students are the same. All I feel coming off of my students is fear. That if you slip up in school, if you get one bad grade, if you make one fucking mistake, the great train of wealth will leave you behind. And that’s the logic of accreditation. If you’re at Yale, you’re in the smartest 1% in the world. […] And the brightest students in the world are learning in fear. I feel it rolling off of you in waves. But you can’t learn when you’re afraid. You cannot be transformed when you are afraid.” Junot Díaz, speaking at Yale

Dear P,

I’m sorry about your computer troubles. I hope you can get everything up and running again soon. Also, I hope everyone reading this is safe and warm.

I spent May of 2013 at my aunt’s house in Georgia. I lived in the basement and spent a lot of time reading Murakami and Ian McEwan, listening to Joni Mitchell’s album “Blue” and hanging out with my two-and-four-year-old cousins.

That month I dealt with a lot of shame. I made awful grades my freshman year of college. I was in this program where I could have been pre-accepted to either of two Texas medical schools, but because of my grades neither let me in. I knew my GPA was below my honor program’s standards and wondered when I would get the email that I was kicked out. I had enormous opportunities offered to me and I wasted them. I felt like I had managed to mess up my entire future in my first semester of college and that the repercussions of my failures would soon set in.

I felt the same way Elsa feels in the beginning of Frozen after she curses her sister. She feels the shame of hurting Anna and the fear of what will happen if Anna and the rest of the world find out about it. Elsa worries that something crazy-awful will happen to Anna’s brain if she learns her secret because the troll-magician told her Anna shouldn’t know about any sort of magic.

Back to my aunt’s house, where I was listening to Joni Mitchell and awaiting my impending doom, too scared to talk to anyone except my mom and eventually my aunt about my situation. The storm never came. It stunned me to realize that, though I had made bad grades, life continued. I had one beautiful day after another. Life didn’t suddenly lose all of its precious moments: I continued reading and playing and working on weird projects (I was trying to come up with the solution to Australia’s cane toad infestation). In other words, I didn’t lose E when I lost her impeccable GPA. I didn’t feel dumber and the word “failure” didn’t brand itself on my forehead. I will always be me, always be resourceful, even if it took me a little while to learn how to make A’s in college.

My shame was blocking me from doing better. During my freshman year, I was embarrassed to talk to professors and ashamed to ask my friends for advice. I felt like the grades gave me a shroud of stupidity that kept everyone from respecting me and my ideas.

My transformation from scared girl to fearless diva has taken a lot longer than Elsa’s. I still make decisions out of fear some days. Grades are powerful. They have bolstered us up for our entire sentient lives. What happens when they no longer back us up, whispering yes, this opportunity is yours, you earned it, you’re smart, you work hard, your ideas are valid?

Only you hold the answer to that question. Rip off the band-aid, pick off the scab, let as many people as possible know about it. It’s the only way people can help you and, more importantly, honesty is the only way to help yourself. Grades are not mysterious, undeniable measures of self-worth. You can easily improve them, and I have.

My mom asked me today if I knew who Brené Brown is and I said, “Yeah. She’s the anti-shame vulnerability lady.” It clicked to me that shame is what I have slowly been shedding since May, shame is what was holding me back, and shame is why I identified so deeply with Elsa. I no longer learn for the grades and I no longer write for the accolades, and because of that I am free from the fear of not reaching them and the shame of not having them.

Since I read your post about choosing one word to think about this year instead of resolutions, I’ve been considering what word I want to base my life around this year. I chose the word “brave” today. I want to move beyond the fear of failure, the fear of feeling like I’ve disappointed the people I love, and the fear of traveling to unknown places. I want to live my life so mindfully I have no mental room for fear. When I feel fear and shame I want to tell people so they can help me, love me, give me advice and know that I have failed.

Bad things happen and life usually turns out okay. Some of it doesn’t. My mom, after she asked me about Brené Brown, told me that her friend was taking a course based on Brown’s teachings. My mom’s friend has experienced a devastating amount of tragedy in her life. Such sadness put my problems in perspective and reminds me of a quote from Dear Sugar:

“Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.”

So unclench your shoulders. Take a deep breath. Say some prayers for people you love. Create something, like Elsa created her magnificent ice castle. You can fail miserably and still have a brilliant life. In fact, you can’t not fail miserably and have a brilliant life. Shed the fear and enjoy yourself. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.

Yours,

E

Office Hours

(Me at office hours with one of my heroes, Anis Mojgani)

Dear P,

You’ve been blogging up a storm! San Francisco sounds beautiful and your job sounds AMAZING. I love hearing about all the magic going on in your life. Including those boss leather pants. Mostly the boss leather pants, actually. But yeah, the beautiful view of the city from your apartment, your adorable roommate, and that you get to choose the clothes for fashion shows doesn’t sound so bad either.

The first day of school was perfect, but I wanted to talk to you about one of my goals for this semester: office hours. In this stage in our friendship, you are aware of my authority-induced-social-anxiety. I failed to give volunteer Santa a hot chocolate I got him because I was too shy. Last semester, before I went to my favorite professor’s office hours every week to ask questions about my favorite subject, I had to stand outside and count to sixty while taking deep breaths, and even then I had to promise myself I would get some chocolate afterwards.

While many of my professors at UT have been nothing but kind and supportive, even in response to my high-pitched and rushed questions, there are many who would much rather be doing research or other work than spending time talking to nervous undergraduates. Which, I mean, I understand. My first semester of college, I went to talk to my psychology professor about the advantages and disadvantages of getting a psychology degree over a neurobiology/neuroscience degree. She had just gotten some bad news. Her blatant unhappiness coupled with my nervousness meant that I was completely unintelligible and nearly in tears by the end of the consultation. I have since thought in depth about how to improve my demeanor in office hours or in other situations where I feel intimidated.

Make sure you know what your professors do. Many of the professors at UT have summaries of their research online, and a quick google search never hurt anyone. This way, you have something to talk about other than yourself. Make sure you have a quality introduction planned, especially if you’re in a big class and there’s a chance that the professor has no idea who you are. For example: “Hi, I am E. I am a sophomore getting my degree in neurobiology and writing with a psychology minor. I am interning in the writing center and taking an EMT course in addition to my regular studies.” There are any number of things from that introduction that may resonate with a professor. Building rapport is the key here. I have found it helpful to bring professors some small, casual gift, like a hot chocolate. This makes them smile and keeps you from feeling like a sponge of their time. Look, you have something to offer them! I am going to meet with one of my old TAs (the great Joe Hanson of It’s Okay to Be Smart) so I can pick his brain about how he got to write for Wired magazine (one of my personal ambitions), whether or not graduate school is worth the time and money, and just generally how I can be more like him. Professors are obligated to at least be there to see you because you are paying them, but Joe has agreed to hang out with me out of the goodness of his heart. I have been scouring his videos to make sure I have plenty of conversation topics planned out, and during my research I came across a beautiful speech about special snowflake syndrome at the end of this video. I’m going to make a blank notebook or poster out of the speech somehow. It’s going to be awesome.

Remember, even though it might make you feel better to bring a small gift, most people want to help you. Especially professors. Their research may keep them busy, but building relationships with students is at least in their top three priorities (or they wouldn’t have become professors). Some rare asshats may dislike you right off the bat, but if you start off the conversation with hot chocolate and asking them about their research, you may even overcome a bad first impression. If you can’t, it’s in your best interest to switch classes. College is an investment of time and money, and there is no way you are getting the most out of your investment if you are not taking advantage of being in the vicinity of some of the best minds out there. Work to get the professor talking and make yourself feel as much at ease as possible. They’re just people, and all people like to talk about themselves.

You can ask many people for advice, not just your professors. I send regular fanmail to my favorite authors and bloggers, and sometimes they write me back (see Joe Hanson). Many of my heroes have made appearances at BookPeople, the local bookstore. I follow them on twitter so I can keep up-to-date. That’s how I got to talk to Anis Mojgani.

You probably think I’m ridiculous, P, because talking to people has always been your forte, but it’s a struggle for me and I have to continue to improve. If anyone has any advice for me, I would be happy to receive it (unless it’s “don’t be so neurotic” because I’ve tried that). In the meantime, I will continue practicing.

Love love love,

E

Falling

Dear E,

As you probably know, today was the first day of fall. I think now that I’m living in Boston, fall is one of my favorite seasons. This is what Boston looks like in the fall.

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All of the trees have starting changing colors, the air feels crisp and clean, and there’s nothing better than biking across the bridge feeling my hair whipping behind me. Pumpkin pie flavors are popping up in all aspects of life (froyo, ice cream, coffee, etc), ideas for Halloween are already floating in the air, and slowly but surely people are beginning to unpack all their scarves and boots.

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There’s something about fall that I really love. For some reason it’s like all of last year’s troubles and mistakes have been wiped away by a carefree summer and we’re starting anew. As a new school year begins, people collect new textbooks and notebooks and sharpen their pencils and minds and set out to achieve new things, to meet new people, and reach new goals.

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The more and more I live in Boston the more I fall in love with it. On Saturday morning two of my friends and I woke up early in the morning to go run the Harvard Stadium. We biked over to Harvard, but then it turns out it was closed so we ended up biking over to Summit Ave to run up and down hills. It was awesome. We biked through all these cool areas like streets filled with tiny shops and cute restaurants and coffeeshops and we saw so many people up and about. I think the best part of that morning was once we were finished running the hills we biked down this GIANT hill. I felt like I was flying E. It was perfect. I was going soooooo fast, and the leaves were are swirling around me and I was laughing for no reason. I want to go back to that hill and sled down it when it gets cold.

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Every time I bike or walk across the river in the perfect weather I like to think about how lucky I am that I live in the best city in the world and go to an awesome school and have awesome friends like you and all the people here. It gets really intense here and we have to study a lot, but somehow we still manage to have loads of adventures and amazing times.

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S took this picture of us during a study break where we had an impromptu dance party in a random BU study area and then piled on top of each other.

Campus (and all of Boston pretty much) is filled with freshman and newbs to the college scene, old friends have been reunited, and we’ve really plunged into school. I’m already feeling the workload, but I also feel like it’s going to be a great year, filled with awesome new memories and unforgettable times.

Anyway, I love the fall in Boston. Everything is perfect for now.

Miss ya tons.

P

 

Flashin’ Fashion

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Button-down: Rugby by Ralph Lauren

Shoes: I want to say DSW but I can’t really remember

Khakis: F21

Bracelet: Tory Burch

Watch: Michael Kors

Dear E,

Hope your summer has been great so far! I love all of the cute snapchats of Grant and Blake. They are SO adorable!!!! I’m busy studying for finals. Four days and it will be summer. Hopefully my brain won’t melt into a big puddle of mush before then.

Love you loads,

P

Oh Hey Nemo

Dear E,

As you probably know, it’s been blizzarding up here. Blizzard Nemo has hit Boston with full force. Here’s what I’ve been up to!

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On the first day it was snowing constantly but the blizzard hadn’t fully hit yet! So of course we went outside and took a bunch of pics and ran around. It was super fun!

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Aren’t my friends adorable?

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Then we had a onesie party. We drank hot chocolate and watched Tangled. It was pretty glorious.

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The sexiness is pretty overwhelming.

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When I woke up this morning there was literally 3 feet of snow outside. The snow would sometime come up to my waist!!!!

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I’m decked out in my snow gear. I actually wasn’t cold at all.

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There was a HUGE campus wide snowball fight which was pretty much a free for all. I got tackled into the snow a minimum of like ten times. Ahhhh, it was so awesome though!

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Here we’re being thugs.

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More friends!

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So on Friday night we were having a dance party….and then we decided to straight up go streaking in the blizzard. Basically it was one of the craziest nights of my life, and one I will NEVER forget. My roommate K and I decided that these are nights you live for.

It was freaking cold because we actually laid down in the snow and made snow angels but it was SUCH an adrenaline rush. We did it at 11 am, 12 am, and 1 am. It was CRAY.

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Anyway, now all the snow is turning slushy (rain and snow do NOT mix well in case you were wondering.) and we’re back to school. Miss you loads and I really enjoyed our long chat on the phone! ❤

-P

How to Cram for Finals

Dear P,

I have temporarily surfaced from the library in order to bring you these tips.

 

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1. Exploit all of your resources. Such as:

  • The Internet- MIT Open Courseware, Khan Academy, Sparknotes, and even fun tumblers like http://crammingbiology.tumblr.com are invaluable
  • Your friends
  • Your teachers
  • Your TAs
  • Your grandma
  • Anyone! Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People love showing you how smart they are.

2. Draw loads of pictures. Notes scribbled during class are usually not very interesting to read. For more effective memory adhesion, turn them into pictures. Make charts, diagrams, and flow charts. Use lots of colors. Drawing pictures with information in them uses both hemispheres of your brain, so it is easier to concentrate and you will remember the information better.

3. Remember to eat, sleep, and exercise. Without these essentials, your study effectiveness decreases quickly. Eat healthy snacks, drink plenty of water, and get up and do jumping jacks every hour or so.

Back to studying now. I can’t wait to see you!

E