What Kissing Strangers Has Taught Me About Being Brave

Dear P,

A couple of weeks ago, you posted a video of complete strangers kissing. It inspired me to go up to random strangers and ask them if I could kiss them. This has led to loads of fun make-out sessions and a bad cold.

Just kidding. I haven’t been kissing strangers, just asking if I can take their pictures and ask a few questions, mainly about UT. I started a HONY-knockoff blog called “Seen on UT Campus”. For the last month, I have tried to post at least every day. I started this blog so that I could get better at speaking to strangers and to make people feel like individuals at this giant university.

I have to gather my courage for every one of these interviews. I get so nervous, I might as well be asking if I could put my mouth on their mouth. I’m not afraid of the possibility that the person I am interviewing will not want their photo taken. Every person I have asked so far has been flattered. What irks me about these interviews is that they are always awkward, at least for a couple seconds.

The price of human interaction is effort and awkwardness. It takes a certain amount of effort for me to make a space in my day to walk around campus with my camera. More than that, I very much dread the uncomfortable first few seconds of the interview, when the person asks, “Why do you want my picture?” and I have to respond, “I run a blog called ‘Seen On UT Campus.’”  This response always makes me feel stupid. It makes me feel stupid to admit that I care enough about something to go out and take pictures of strangers every day. I feel vulnerable, and I start interviewing my subject as soon as possible.

Brené Brown taught us that vulnerability is the key to having meaningful connection in our lives. I am going to go a step forward, and say that awkwardness is a key to having meaningful connections in our lives. You are supposed to feel uncomfortable sometimes. Yesterday, I read this article in Rookie. It is a roundtable discussion about money. The participants in the discussion came from all different backgrounds and they talked about how money and class affects their lives. The reader can tell that there are parts that made each of the writers uncomfortable, but they forged through this taboo topic because it helps them to understand each other more honestly. Another taboo in our society is tragedy. Last month, a member of our hometown community went through a grievous series of events. M and I were talking yesterday about how we keep trying to make letters, cards, and gifts for her, but they all seem trite. Our inability to give back to a person who has helped us so much makes us feel guilty, which feeds back into our lack of action. M and I made a pact yesterday that we would send in the things we had written, even if they seem lame to us. We decided it was more important to show our support than say the perfect thing.

The discomfort I feel every day for my “Seen on UT Campus” project helps me through conversations like this. I always admire how comfortable you feel talking about religion. Yesterday, Nick Offerman came to speak at UT. He started talking about his views on religion and you could feel the tension building. A lot of people left the event. Offerman talked about the need to have calm, open discussions about religion. I agree with this sentiment, even though I think these conversations can only happen if we have nothing to prove, if we accept that we disagree with other sentiments and they are still valid. Not long ago, Bill Nye the science guy had a debate with Ken Ham about evolution vs. creationism. Everyone I have talked to, including some of my professors, agree that this debate was a colossal waste of time. Creationists are aware the evidence for evolution, for the most part. They just choose not to believe it, which makes me uncomfortable, but it is their own business what they believe. To continue a positive discussion with a creationist, I would have to embrace my discomfort and listen carefully to what they have to say. You are very good at doing this, P.

I may not be kissing strangers, but as a human, I deal with uncomfortable situations every day. I try to put myself in as many uncomfortable situations as possible so that I can expand my comfort zone. You do the same, taking hard classes and putting on magnificent events that could go wrong. Yesterday I listened to James Altucher’s podcast with Dan Harris. Harris talked about a phrase his father used a lot: “Insecurity is the price of security.” The price of having solid, open relationships is effort and discomfort. Putting yourself in uncomfortable situations is the cost of striving to be better.

Love,

E

Ways to Get Educated

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Hi P!

You’re coming to my dorm in less than three hours. I’ve been living in sparkling anticipation and I have so many adventures planned for this weekend.

Yesterday, I was having lunch with our friend B and I mentioned MIT OpenCourseWare. To my surprise, he had never heard of it. There are so many ways to educate yourself using nothing more than a device with an internet connection that college is gradually becoming obsolete.

Here are a few:

MIT OpenCourseWare

If can’t find the course you want on MIT OCW, here’s some more. And yet more by iUniv, a Japanese start-up company. The University of Pittsburgh has free courses hereAlison is another great courseware database. So is UDAcity.

Khan Academy! Sal is the best math teacher I’ve ever had.

If you want to interact with other learners or real teachers, try P2PU, where volunteers act as free tutors, or OpenStudy, which has a similar goal.

If you want to learn a language for free, help me beat the Rosetta Stone monopoly and click here. Duolingo is one of my favorite websites.

Textbooks are expensive and cumbersome. Rather than buy an expensive art history textbook, use this. Thanks again, Khan Academy! CK-12 is a textbook site that provides books for kindergarten through 12th grade students. Flat World Knowledge textbooks are for the more collegiate. They are published under an open license, so they can be edited by professors. Connexions is a website with lots of learning modules, all for free!

These are just resources to find information. If you are looking to improve your study regime, I highly recommend Quizlet. You can share your flash cards with all your friends and test yourself on your phone with their cool app. Scott Young is my favorite learning-focused self-improvement blogger. He recently tried to take MIT’s entire computer science curriculum in twelve months.

Different ways of acquiring knowledge beg the question: Is college really worth it? I think so, mostly for the reasons Scott outline here. I am in the fortunate situation of being able to work in an important research lab over the summer, an opportunity I would not have if I were not in school. However, many people think college is a scam. Here are James Altrucher’s eight alternatives to college. I think we should all be able to justify our decision about whether to attend college as readily as we can justify our religious and philosophical beliefs.

Happy learning!

E

Year In Review

We started out the year like this:

Enjoying second semester at the top of the food chain, college apps finished, and not a care in the world

Finished off our high school career with a bang:

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(Our 57-days-until-graduation cake)

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(Obligatory prom picture) Our dates cleaned up nicely.

P took our volleyball team to the playoffs for the first time ever! E, on the other hand, got a black eye on the fundraiser softball team.

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(M and P knighting their coach.)

We made some f*****g ugly pancakes.

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And had various other cooking mishaps/ got involved in tons of shenanigans.

And, finally, graduated. Finally.

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We conquered invasive plants in Scotland, made mosaics in Italy, and saw Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Boyce Avenue, and the musical Wicked in London.

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We climbed rocks and found amazing restaurants and oogled at hot businessmen in Bermondsey.

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(P’s fiance- like him?)

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We walked hundreds of miles in the rain and the sunshine, had tea in the great elephant cafe (where J.K. Rowling found inspiration) and filled our journals with tales of hostels and adventures and new and exciting people.

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We rode the tube, took pictures of olympic graffiti, and crossed many bridges. (literally and figuratively.) P learned how to cook (OMG GUYS) and E learned that its best to just ignore P while she thinks she’s cooking. 😉

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We rode boats and lounged in beaches (the literary kind and the vacation kind), we went dancing, we ate leek pies and haggis, and we learned to speak Italian.

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We ate delicious meals in Italy for hours on end, read fairytales, took espresso shots (after the coffee in Italy, P is never satisfied), and found little treasures in Venice.

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E’s mosaic she created herself: a snail ship hybrid. (so cool!)

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P’s mosaic-stolen from the great Banksy himself

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E started school at UT in July, but we were reunited for two weeks in August, which involved Cracker Barrel trips at 6 AM, lots of laughter and tears, some serious collaging, tie dye art, and “Gone with the Wind”.

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Then we started college- E in Austin, P in Boston at MIT.

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(E and her roommate on the first day of classes)

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P and her close friends S (on the left) and M (on the right)

And college was AMAZING. I (P), got to live in Boston, one of the most amazing cities in the world. I studied at one of the finest institutes in the world, learned so much, and made SO many amazing friends (that I miss dearly). I partied with the best of them, I joined the crew team, and I stayed up until the wee hours of the night studying bonding with these amazing people.

Between the two of us, we’ve seen all of these concerts this year:

    • Nicki Minaj
    • Boyce Avenue
    • Ben Howard
    • Tegan & Sara
    • Florence + the Machine
    • Rufus Wainwright
    • Andrew Bird
    • The Shins
    • Jack White (of the White Stripes)
    • Kimbra
    • Freelance Whales
    • Gary Clark Jr.
    • Policia
    • The Civil Wars
    • The Lumineers
    • The Avett Borthers
    • Red Hot Chili Peppers
    • Macklemore
    • Train
    • Andy Grammar
    • Gavin Degraw

Read these books:

  • Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer (E&P)
  • The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides (E)
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Steven Chbosky (E&P)
  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (E)
  • The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe (E)
  • Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond (E)
  • How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer (E)
  • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (E&P)
  • The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling (E)
  • The House of God by Samuel Shem (E)
  • Radioactive by Lauren Redniss (E)
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (E&P)
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami (E)
  • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino (E&P)
  • Proust was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer (E)
  • Quiet by Susan Cain (E)
  • A Little Book of Language by David Crystal (E)
  • God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (E)
  • Perfume by Patrick Suskind (E)
  • The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (E&P)
  • The Other Queen by Phillipa Gregory (E)
  • Born to Win by Zig Ziglar (E)
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (P)
  • The Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare(P)
  • Lying by Sam Harris (P)
  • All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (P)
  • Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang by Chelsea Handler (P)
  • Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (P)
  • The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (P)
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Hadron (P)
  • Pole Dancing to Gospel Rhythms by Andrea Gibson (P)
  • The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (P)
  • Hamlet by Shakespeare (P)
  • The Flinch by Julien Smith (P)
  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (P)
  • The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (P)
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’ Brien (P)
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan (E&P)
  • Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney (P)
  • Imagine by Jonah Lehrer (P)
  • The Madness Vase by Andrea Gibson (P)
  • Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (P)
  • Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (P)
  • I Wrote This For You by Iain Thomas (P)
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (E&P)

We also finished some very good shows and movies:

  • Sherlock
  • How to Train Your Dragon
  • The Iron Lady
  • Gone with the Wind
  • The Three Musketeers
  • Dirty Dancing
  • Clueless
  • Yes Man
  • Numbers
  • The Avengers
  • Gossip Girl
  • Grey’s Anatomy (In this year only, I’ve watched all 8 seasons and am now caught up to the 9th and final season. Perfect timing as uge.-P)

And possibly more that we have forgotten already. I guess they don’t really count.

We’ve made tons of new friends:

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(S doesn’t count because she’s an old friend… oh well.)

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2012 has been a truly great year, full of deep conversations, beauty, tragedy, goodies, joy, travels, change, and lots and lots of love. It’s been a year of happiness and crazy adventures. We are both smarter, deeper, and better people than we were on December 31, 2011. I (E) feel blessed that our friendship and this blog has been able to change as we have changed. And I (P) feel so lucky that E and I have such wonderful families and friends, both new and old. Like we said, this blog will always be the link between us, and I’m so happy it’s grown so much.

If you’ve been following us since January 1st, thanks for hanging out with us! If you’ve just started following, welcome! Get ready for the next year and for bigger, better, and badder adventures and stories from the two girls you know you love the most.

Best of luck in 2013!

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Love,

E&P