Acceptance

After three hours of procrastination I decided to check out a video mum linked me to. It was about a boy who was born blind, but is musically gifted, to put it simply. Musicians will recognise this as the extremely rare talent of being able to play back a melody upon hearing it once, which is what he appears to have. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xwCG0Ey2Mg

This reminded me of Nick Vujicic, a man born without arms and legs. The old video is still on Youtube, and it’s extremely heartwarming to read that he’s now married with a child. 

There’s the saying that “There’s always someone worse off than you.”, which I’ve struggled with for a long time. The first question was ‘Well…what about the person who is worst off out of everybody else in the whole world?’. The second question was whether it meant that my, or our (referring to us ‘normal’ people here) problems are ultimately trivial. 

Right before starting to write this post it hit me that it doesn’t mean that our problems are completely trivial – I’d always struggled to try and conclude whether it meant ‘fully trivialised’ or ‘not trivialised at all’. The way I see it now is that we can view problems on some kind of scale, sure there are the small problems which are trivial and some to the point of being extremely superficial (e.g. “MUM GOT ME THE WRONG COLOUR CAR FOR CHRISTMAS”), and then there are some deeper problems which, well, could be anything. So I’ll use myself as an example to give you guys some perspective.

My hearing impairment, well, it’s a hearing impairment. It’s still a thorn in my side, I have no doubts that it’ll pretty much be a lifetime thorn in my side until I acquire ‘normal’ hearing. The thing is, it doesn’t affect my day-to-day activities at University due to both an accepting community and technology/services that make my experience much more accessible (and dare I say it, ‘normal’).
I’ll be honest here, sometimes during my weak moments I still get frustrated. I’m sure everyone does. They’re the moments we don’t want anyone else to see (save for say, a trusted partner or such). They’re the moments where we lash out, we take out our anger, we wish we could pin the blame on someone or something, we wish we had full control of the situation, the list goes on. 

And you know what? That’s okay. That’s perfectly okay. For me, it reminds me that I’m human, and that I’m not perfect, despite my perfectionist tendencies. What’s not okay is letting these negative thoughts get the better of me, to the point that I lash out at other people.  

So what does it mean, acceptance? To be honest, I don’t know. I suppose for me ‘acceptance’ is just knowing that ‘it happens’, or ‘shit happens’, and the real battle is dealing with it. 
Honestly, I don’t like it too much, because the best way to stop a problem is to prevent it from happening in the first place. But there’s no way I can prevent circumstances that are outside of my control. So learning to deal with it is the next best, but unfortunately the harder step. 

It’s funny when I reflect on things growing up. Things just seemed really hard, and like every other person I gradually realised that there’s just a lot of incompetent people out there. Cynical? Yep. 
Now? I guess I’m better at dealing with it, and am familiar enough with these things that I’ve come to accept it as normal. After all, that’s how the world is, and I’m certainly not ambitious enough to want to try to change the world. What I can do though is try to make life better for the people around me.

Your brain is also human.

The title isn’t necessarily cryptic by any means. It’s basically similar to the sentiment “Well, they’re only human.”

It’s such a baffling concept to begin with, the idea that your brain isn’t perfect. The thoughts we have in our head always feel like they have some truth to them, because after all, we all each have our own personal experiences, thoughts, and basically the only stream of consciousness and awareness comes from, well, within itself, or our brain. 

Alright, so that last sentence was a little convoluted. Let me jump to examples.

Marathon runners. How do they do it. How do they run such a long distance when most of us are much more liable to give into our brain screaming ‘STOP! YOUR MUSCLES ARE SORE!’. This was a question I had for years until I came across a few accounts of people talking about how marathon (or long distance, to put it generally) running is also a mental battle. It’s also about resisting or ignoring thoughts in the brain that (eventually) pop up after an extended period of seclusion and consistent physical effort. 
I briefly remember one Olympics where the competition was obviously a long distance run or walk, and the footage zeroed onto a participant who broke down crying in the middle of the race. At first I didn’t understand – surely she had trained for this moment and was capable of it physically, so what the hell happened that would’ve made her break down and cry and therefore, forfeit the race?

It seems silly asking that question now, as an introvert, I also overthink a lot. Combined with my then social capabilities mirroring that of one who is autistic, it was hard for me to realise how hard mental battles could be.
I’ve told people that I suffer from depression. Now? Probably not. It’s hard to say whether or not what I suffered back then was depression or not, now that I’m a mentally healthier person and have managed to not give into my negative thoughts so much.
But let’s scale back a bit. I overthink, and like to spend time alone to think about things. When I’m in a perfect environment where I can get lost in my own thoughts, the resulting experience can be enjoyable – sometimes I figure out a little bit of mathematics or logic, other times I just let the thoughts fly by like passing clouds. 

The last example is a strategy I use nowadays to control negative thinking. ‘Control’ isn’t necessarily the right word, it’s more that I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that my brain will spring up negative thoughts whether I like it or not. The important part is not letting them affect me, or acting upon them, and perhaps maybe finding alternate avenues of frustration.
For example, it’s not fair to lash out at others because I have unrequited feelings for someone. It sucks. A lot. But it would suck a lot more if I rashly acted upon these negative thoughts that spring up.

For what it’s worth, though, I find that generally being the nice witty guy that I like to be helps a lot in keeping the negative thoughts at bay. 

Apathy isn’t a bad thing.

The above statement may seem pretty obvious to some of you. It took me quite a while for it to sink in.

Funny story: There was a standardised English test back in primary school where on one question, we essentially had to match synonyms. ‘Apathy’ and ‘indifference’ were always the two words I never bothered to look up back then, but always knew they went together because I could match up all the other synonyms. But I digress.

In general, I like to think I’m a pretty apathetic person. It’s not that I’ve given up on life, it’s just that there’s so much stuff going on in the world that it’s just much easier to let the bulk of things flow by rather than expend any additional emotional energy. Don’t get me wrong, there are things I do care about.

Let’s look at it this way. You only have so much time in the world. You could try to be a good Samaritan for most of your waking hours, but it’s not possible to ‘save everybody’ on the combined effort of you and other people. 

And then, there’s your own life to think about. People at University study, people working full time do so because they need to put food on the table. 

So, where do you draw the line? More importantly, why am I writing about this? It’s because of people who position themselves at areas with high population flow and attempt to garner peoples’ support for, say, a 3rd world program or social/political issue that usually has very little attention. As much as I would like to speak ill of them, I do realise that they’re most likely trying to make the world a better place, despite their (unintended) obnoxiousness. 

Naturally some people volunteer a portion of their spare time, others contribute in the form of donations.

It’s not that I don’t care. It’s that i don’t care enough. It’s not high enough on my priority list for me to really give it any proper attention. I know one thing – I probably won’t feel any different. You get people saying how it’s really changed their perspective on life, or how they were initially skeptical, but the experience changed their minds. Me? Well you’re right in saying it’s probably silly of me to make this claim without having even gone through any type of these experiences. Does that make me selfish? Probably to some people, but to others, not so much. 

Honestly, a lot of things in life is like the clouds. Sometimes you just have to sit back and let them flow by.

Protests – I used to think they weren’t worth it.

I had never understood the point of protests. To me it just looked like people were wasting time trying to force change that won’t ever happen. 

There is a feeling of irony as I type this, since at times I do tend to be quite the non-conformist. These days, the attitude I maintain is probably a “Eh, I’m gonna do what I want.” The ‘Eh’ is important here, because for the most part I’ll be happy to conform to things given sufficient logical explanation, and that for the most part I don’t really care too much about a lot of things.

But I digress. A disclaimer: In all of the anecdotes in this post, I have never been aware of every single important detail. This is mainly due to the aforementioned apathy. Those with a better knowledge of the situations described are welcome to correct me at any point.

The first ‘major’ one I can remember in ‘recent’ times was when the University I’m studying at proposed a change to its degree system. It would scrap the old system, consisting of some 90+ different Bachelor’s degrees, and simply offering 6 Bachelor degrees in general areas: Arts, Music, Biomedicine, Science, Commerce, Environments. The general areas are pretty self explanatory with exception to the last one, which basically covers areas like architecture, urban planning, etc. (and most definitely not the type of degree prevalent with a population full of tree-huggers and hardcore vegans). I was the first of many to experience the new system first hand, and when reading about this during my final year of high school, my general thoughts were along the lines of “Well, this should be interesting.”
It was somewhat of an eye-opening experience to read about people against the system. Some of the more rational reasons were valid, and I could definitely see myself empathising with them. Ultimately, I realised that the University was looking at the ‘big picture’ and essentially, most of the protesters had very little power apart from their own voice. This was definitely one thing that was definitely going to go ahead whether people liked it or not. 

What I’m trying to get at here is the distinction of powers and bodies surrounding a particular issue. Most of the time, my apathy to protests were usually because the body/council behind the decisions were too far up there for the common population to make much of an impact. There’s also the possibility that the people protesting just happened to be in the minority, which is something I can’t really comment on, since I don’t have an idea of the big picture, so to speak.

The next ‘protest’ that stands fairly clear in my mind was my University’s cuts to funding of the music department (the details are a little more involved). Since this occurred whilst I was studying music, this obviously had a much more personal impact.
What I realised soon after that was that the University gets a significant amount of funding from the Government, so basically the cuts to the music department was a result of Government funding being cut. The question then became: Was that really the University’s fault? Obviously the Government has more power here.
The other thing to bear in mind is the priority of each area/department over others. When we’re looking at the big picture, it’s much harder to justify putting money into the arts and music to people not firmly entrenched in the area. ‘Science’ can contribute to research that benefits the human population on a much more noticeable scale than music/arts. Why would you want to pull funding out of, say, research in medicine to support music/arts?

So it’s pretty clear why I’ve generally been apathetic. So what happened?

A short backstory: The nursing home my father resides in is ‘in danger’ of being sold off to a private buyer. The council who made this decision gave very little notice to the residents and concerned parties, and over time it was exposed that their dealing ended up being extremely shady.
As usual I’ve been keeping my distance, helping out occasionally if I could spare a little time. As long as I didn’t get involved in the details, I was just happy to help out with menial stuff, since my mother was starting to play a huge part in the support group. They still currently have weekly meetings and have ran protests during the council meetings. 
What happened was that they were lucky enough to get a 8 minute segment on A Current Affair, which basically made the mayor look like an idiot. The interviewer kept asking questions that she was unable to respond, and their marketing and increasing pressure made it pretty clear that if the councilors didn’t listen, then they would be voted out. 
The effect of campaigning and holding these protests is obviously more effective since the community is much more local and concentrated in a single area, but it was enough for me to sit up and go ‘Wow, I guess what they’re doing is pretty effective.’

Flipping the cynic switch back on, why it probably worked was that:
– The local council is actually pretty incompetent, which made exposing them very easy. For one they didn’t anticipate to get this kind of reaction at all.
– A portion of people within the support group went extremely heavy on the political campaigning and advertising, even to the point where a video was made. The support group also had a website run by my mother, which is also actually pretty much a big deal.
– They were lucky. They garnered the attention of a relatively famous radio broadcaster (Neil Mitchell) since he also had a mother in a similar situation. The segment with A Current Affair really managed to drive whole thing home.

Of course, in the end, the council may just go ahead with the decision to sell the nursing home at the cost of their positions. That’s why I’m still a skeptic by nature. Even though people may try, efforts may go to waste.  

Honestly doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. After all, free speech and all. It never hurts to try if and only if you have the time.

Teaching is actually really really hard.

For those who don’t know, this semester I’ve taken up a couple of teaching ‘gigs’ so to speak.

  • Tutoring @ Uni. Teaching two tutorials in the subject Discrete Maths/Operations Research. Pretty much the ‘basics’ in my general area of study
  • New cello student

It’s the latter that I’m probably most worried about as to whether I’m actually doing things ‘right’ or not. He’s 10 years old and is starting out on cello, that’s pretty cool. Except for his parents, but that’s not the main source of my concern.

He obviously practises. Every week he comes in, and has shown improvement since the past week. And all I can say is ‘Good job!’ and other positive words of encouragement.

It’s very easy to just compliment people without thinking, but I’ve known for a while that maybe compliments aren’t the things i should be giving them. I should be giving my student a sense of self-worth and pride in his own achievements.

But let me backtrack a bit. It feels like in this kid’s head, he forms this association of “If I practise, my teacher will compliment me on my improvement”. That said, he apparently enjoys playing the cello despite his mother telling me she ‘makes’ him practise 30 minutes everyday.

The other major motivator, I suppose, is that I plan to perform with him for his parents every now and then. When he ‘finished’ his first piece, we performed it for his mother, and her reaction afterwards was to ask me when I think he’d be able to start sitting AMEB examinations. Never mind that her son obviously was excited about performing and showing off what he’s been able to achieve.
The looming problem I’m foreseeing is that he may end up playing/practising just for those moments, performing and receiving praise, instead of enjoying music as it is. When we started out I was giving him CDs to listen to every week, with very minimal success – my plan was to hopefully find something that he’ll get ‘hooked’ onto, so I can eventually steer him towards similar repertoire. 

So something I’ll be thinking about this week is what I can do to let him take notice of his own self-prowess. It feels really difficult, because another student I have (who I teach music theory/composition/analysis) is obviously old enough to recognise his own efforts, and honestly doesn’t need me to encourage/compliment him. He’s got all the motivation he needs.

Really makes me wish I could remember how I saw things as a child. I’ve always had trouble empathising because I keep my emotions unattached, and it’s a similar problem here – I’ve been so detached that I have no clue how a child thinks, other than ‘simply’. 

Thoughts on Game of Thrones Season 1

Given that it’s now the University winter break I’ve started catching up on my dose of pop culture, and it would be hard to imagine a better option than to start with Game of Thrones.

Having finished the first season yesterday, I’ve been thinking about what makes the series so good, and distinct from other series I’ve watched. At this point I should take the opportunity to warn anyone who’s not seen the series at all, that I will undoubtedly mention ‘spoilers’, although that shouldn’t really be a concern for most reading this, I’d imagine.

The lack of plot armour is one of the major factors that really makes this series for me. Plot armour is a rather overused cliche that basically ‘protects’ the characters or story for the sake of the story itself – for example, at the end of Episode 9 where Eddard Stark was awaiting his execution, I was anticipating that someone miraculously saves him at the start of Episode 10 since Episode 9 had so conveniently ended with a typical cliffhanger. Why? Well, it would’ve been nice. Someone rescues Eddard, and he lives to fight for another day. But nope. He’s beheaded, and the story really drives that fact into the viewer later when Joffrey forces Sansa (and the rest of us) to observe her father’s head on a pike.

Which brings me to my second point. They don’t appear to be afraid of its audience’s opinions. Of course, I say this without having read the books, but given that they seem to be completely uninhibited in displaying nudity and gore the environment is much more believable and draws its readers into the unadulterated reality of what times back then must have seemed like.
I have no immediate knowledge of what its maturity ratings would be, but given Australia’s ‘nanny state’ mentality it would most likely fall into R+ or unclassified. It’s definitely not a show for children, and it certainly perpetuates habits which society today is now attempting to battle (I mainly refer to the objectification of women here), in which bearing in mind that it’s ‘just a TV show’ would be a distinction difficult to make for a younger viewership. 

The last main point is that it is a continuous story, which basically means that missing an episode would certainly hinder one’s understanding of the story. It’s essentially in the same vein as Breaking Bad, and given its content viewers are naturally compelled to keep watching. What’s going to happen next? Will <character> live? And so on.

One thing that really hit me hard was the character of Joffrey. Even before watching Game of Thrones I knew he was certainly a character to be despised, but early-to-mid Season 1 only hinted at what seemed like childish and selfish tendencies. Once he became King his true nature came out in full force and I was just left thinking ‘Holy……crap. Could…could a character like him even be that heartless?!’ I suppose in today’s society he would be regarded as a sociopath? Or something along those lines. It’s probably better to just label him as a dick (who obviously has let the power go to his head) and hope he gets killed off rather than attempt to psychoanalyze his character. But seriously. How did he even become this way to begin with?

The other main question on my mind is how Daenerys knew how to hatch the dragons. But I’m hoping that will be revealed in time.

Anyway, I’m excited for Season 2, having already finished the first episode. Naturally I’d appreciate the lack of spoilers should anyone feel the need to leave a comment.

Why Candy Crush Saga is addictive

Disclaimer: I am no game designer by any means, but as someone who games as a hobby, naturally my thoughts have drifted towards why I enjoy particular games, whilst others collect dust in my Steam library.

My foray into casual gaming on my mobile started with Angry Birds, and since then I’ve bought a Humble Bundle Android pack (gone through half the games already) and checked out a fair number of others. 

At the time of writing this post, Candy Crush Saga is #1 on the Free Games list on Google Play at the moment, and having played it to a significant extent (up to around Level 90 at the moment), I’ve often found myself picking up my mobile a lot more often just to kill a couple more minutes playing it.

It really isn’t recommended to the casual gamer because it’s that addictive. Although peoples’ opinions will vary depending on what they want out of a game, really. If you do decide to download it, don’t connect your Facebook account with it because apparently it’s been spamming invites to other people (never mind the constant stream of messages on my Facebook ticker).

But enough blabbering, let’s get straight to the list.

1. Each individual game within Candy Crush Saga is fairly short
Each level has a limited number of moves, which makes for each game lasting less than 5 minutes unless you’re an over-analyzer. This is great for occupying your attention during your toilet break, or on your daily train commute, or even just to kill 5 minutes anytime, anywhere. Extremely convenient? I think so.

2. The gameplay is simple
Because seriously, all you do is interchange the position of two candies each move. You don’t have to think much, nor have to do much in terms of physical movement, but the gratification one gets from completing a level or combining candy combos is extremely significant. The game essentially gives you a lot of gratification for a small amount of effort.

3. It’s colourful and flashy
Not much to say there. Visual appeal. Speaks for itself. Especially when you finish a level with moves left over – yay, extra animations!

4. After every section, they introduce a new block (or in general, ‘game mechanic’)
Keeps the variety going, avoid stagnation. Also the fact that they combine these mechanics later in further levels and so on just adds to the enjoyment (or frustration).

And yeah, I think I’ll leave it at that. Off to play more Candy Crush!