Saturday, April 5, 2014

Divergent

(Warning: There be spoilers here!)

A couple weeks ago I watched Divergent with a couple friends, and it was a really good movie. I want to write down my thoughts and opinions on the film because I found it really fun to watch and it touched on a really personal level.

The movie is set in a dystopic future where apparently there was some kind of huge, possibly global, war. A century after the war a system was set up where people were divided into five groups based on personality. You have the selfless Abegnation; the warrior Dauntless; the scientific Erudites; the brutally honest Candor; and the loving artistic Amity. They live in Chicago which looks run down but is actually quite lively. Surrounding the city is a huge lookout wall that Dauntless use to be on the lookout for war-affected mutated humans. There are also people that are factionless. They are sort of the homeless of the world, and are cared for by the Abegnation.

The main character is Beatrice, who later takes on the name Tris. She is from the Abegnation. During the scan which sees which faction she's best suited for, it's found she is a Divergent. These are people who don't think like normal people and thus don't neatly fit into the system which the humans founded a century back. I almost wondered if perhaps this equated to Asperger's or some such, but she was not portrayed as having any social or cognitive issues. On the day she is to choose what faction she will be in, Beatrice picks Dauntless, since she admired them.

Dauntless are nothing short of amazing, and honestly I feel her amazement at the faction. They routinely climb stuff and jump out of trains. The process by which they become inititated into the faction involves a lot of rigorous physical training and plenty of fighting. At first, Tris (the name she gives herself in Dauntless) is one of the weaker members. But she persists in her training and, while she doesn't become cream of the crop, she does mostly avoid being kicked out.

In her training there is a process where one faces their fears in a hallucination. It's an interesting experiment and something that touches personally to me. Over the course of the movie she finds that the Erudite want to take control of society away from the Abegnation. She also has to hide the fact she is a Divergent since such people are killed. One of her mentors, and later love interest, is also a secret Divergent. When the rest of the Dauntless are drugged into being a sort of mindless army, the two of them lead a mission to stop the Abegnation from being genocidally murdered by Erudite leadership. They do succeed, of course, but at the expense of essentially becoming outcasts from their society, since they had killed leaders and basically caused untold disruption to society.

There are a few things that stand out to me in this movie. First, it seems to be a monomyth aka Hero's Journey, film. But this time, the main character is a female. She isn't a terribly attractive person, but that gives the movie brownie points in my eyes. There are enough shows and films with hot actresses; let's give it a rest. She starts off as being a sweet Abegnation girl who doesn't have much in terms of physical strength or mental sharpness. Her dogged determination, as well as exposure to life-threatening situations, gradually turns her into a person who is strong in every way she was previously lacking. Seeing her go from her original state to warrior-like, able to handle the futuristic gun that is the Dauntless weapon of choice, as well as being very clever and brave, is really awesome. There was one scene where her mother is killed, and the stoicism she developed during the movie is temporarily lost; the actress is able to portray deeply seated sadness with facial expressions that are extremely accurate and touching.

One of the things I wish were different about myself were my physical and mental hardness. Physically, I'm not someone who is capable of much. I don't have outstanding strength, or speed, or really anything. My pain threshold is low enough that I would be useless in a fight. Being a guy, I have that sort of warrior drive to be able to protect, provide, and hold my own in situations where strength and ability to defend myself are important. Unfortunately I've never been one to have that ability. Mentally, I don't see myself as an exceptionally brave person. My religious beliefs are sometimes unpopular and people might think I'm "brave" for holding to them in the face of opposition, but that's not really the bravery I'd like. I'd like the bravery to stand up to someone even at the risk - especially at the risk - of a physical altercation. So seeing someone like me, a physically uncommanding and uncourageous person, go from this state to being bold and competent is appealing. I sort of lived vicariously through Trice's story, I guess.

The Dauntless have this axiom, "never give up." This is seen in a situation where one of the characters hangs on to a railing for dear life, as she was over a deadly drop. She held on until she couldn't anymore, and then at the last moment the mentor let her fellow newcomers to Dauntless rescue her. The lesson was to not give up no matter the costs. I find that exceptionally admirable and I'm almost envious of the ability to have that sort of tenacity. I'm not someone who is good at keeping it up when everything seems impossible, much less fatal.

Visually the movie was very fun to watch. I'm a sucker for eye candy and the movie delivered on that.

I was fascinated by the idea of a society divided by personality type. I'm interested by the idea that people have personality types which can be neatly divided into groups. Which is why I like things such as MBTI, Kiersey temperaments, enneagrams, and so on. I wondered to myself what faction I would likely belong to. All things considered I'm most likely a mix of Candor and Edrudite. I can sort of see MBTI parallels in the factions: Erudite screams of NT, Dauntless is SP, Amity is probably NF. Abegnation seems more SFJ, while the lawyer-like nature of Candor gives an STJ vibe.

One of the things I don't like is the eventual inclusion of a romance storyline. Tris eventually falls for Four, one of her mentors. If you ask me it just comes out of nowhere. They have a moment alone with each other, a few words are exchanged... and bam, they're kissing. Oh and there was quite likely implied sex... because when doesn't that happen in a modern young adult film. I don't like love plots anywhere. But given the nature of the rest of the film, I guess it was a bit of a necessary evil to drive the story further. Now, Four has a tattoo on his back of the logos of all five factions. This was a glaringly obvious hint that he was also a Divergent. I got the feeling he was a Divergent earlier in the film by the way he interacted with Tris. Had he not been one, he would have reported the girl as soon as he found out.

The ending was also kind of weak. It ends with Tris narrating how now they had nowhere to go, and were on a train to wherever they would hide out. It sounded all hopeful and stuff. But to me it was just sort of bleh. There surely had to be better, stronger ways to finish off the movie. If nothing else, it leave a large opening for a sequel.

Kind of cliche, but the girl's father is a major figure in the city's government. I guess some sort of relevance needed to be established for her.

Overall, it was a very pleasant thing to watch. It's actually an adaptation of a book, which is in trilogy form. I've been wanting to get back into reading books. And I've always been a lover of sci fi. This seems like a really good trilogy to pick up on. I would like to find a paper copy of the book instead of an ebook or PDF. But it's for sure something I would like to read. The movie is inspirational for me, in a way. It's like how fairy tales we tell kids can move and motivate them. I connected with the main character strongly. It motivates me to press on and go hard in what I want to do, because if I have the dogged determination for it, I can accomplish a lot. The movie also sparked sort of my testosterone-led, warrior side. I would really like to find a way to explore that side of me more.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Living Life

I don't know what sparked it in me. Maybe it was the lack of anything to do in my hometown. Maybe it was the usually quiet atmosphere of my home. The desire to do something big with my life, in a setting where nothing big ever really happens. But over the last year, and especially the past six months, I've had a yearning like nothing else to finish learning how to survive in this world, leave the family home for a residence of my own, and start living life.

These days I have what feels like an insatiable urge in me. There'd been a nagging desire in me to start moving from the padded, structured, and limited path that school and family had led me through. Moving from that to the adventure that is life outside of college and the parents' house. A life where I create the means to pursue my desires and go where God takes me. Over the past Thanksgiving break, it all really struck me in one emotional moment. I thought to myself, "this isn't home anymore. My home is out there, in the world."

I want to start living life. This might seem strange. I'm breathing, doing vaguely interesting things (though I perceive myself as having a really boring life), occasionally talking to people, etc. But I can't help but feel like I'm not actually living. Living to me, is things like this: finishing college; getting a stable job; moving into an apartment by myself or with other guys; finding someone to love; working with my church to hold Bible studies; buying my own groceries; deciding things for myself; and so on. Not a lot of these are really feasible while I'm at college, or at home with my parents in a 10,000 population town. I feel like I'm currently in waiting. Sure I'm at college, but still it feels like I'm not really doing anything here. I want to apply what I know. I want to blaze my path. Sometimes it emotionally hurts because I feel so ready to get going but I'm held back like this.

That said. To some degree I am beginning to experience these things. And I'm not entirely sure I'm doing it very well. I have a job. I have responsibilities due to class. Heck, I have bills. Lack of motivation too easy stops me from getting things done. The temptation to veg out in front of the computer is there, and it's easy to fall for until the last minute. I realize that making my way into the post-college world is going to have its share of challenges. But I'm not even experiencing half the problems that I'll have in a few years' time, and already I feel overwhelmed and unable to meet the challenges. Maybe I'll just get more mature over time, after I've made a few mistakes and had to deal with their consequences.

It's instinctual for me to try and do everything alone. For some reason beyond me, I just don't like doing things with other people. I want to work alone. Maybe it's a matter of being independent, or having total control over what's happening.  That's something I really, really need to work on. Life isn't meant to be done independently. I mean for Pete's sake, I hope to be married someday. That kind of requires team work! The knowledge and experience of others is immensely beneficial to everyone. Asking people smarter than me for help could be so useful. If only I could overcome the natural tendencies to do the opposite.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

TNG Episodes Aired around My Birthday

I thought this was interesting and worth posting. My birthday is in August. I recently came across the original air dates for episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which happens to be my favorite TV series.

The episode that aired closest to my birthday was the cliffhanger finale of season four, "Redemption, Part I." It was the 100th episode of the series and the beginning of an excellent storyline that would continue into part 2, at the start of the series's fifth season. So about the time I was born, the storyline of the Klingon civil war and Picard's involvement was unfolding.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Opening Up

A month or so ago I posted about trying to be more sociable with those around me. At the time I didn't have the habits needed to really open communication with anyone. The result was me generally being fairly alone.

That post was made during my college's winter break. Back home there aren't many opportunities for me to socialize. Not much to do, and there aren't very many people in my demographic there. The campus itself is where most of the work has happened. And have things happened.

My methods have been pretty simple. Say hello to people I know as I pass them if situation permits. I don't greet everyone, all the time, though. Part of me doesn't see the need for that - it'd be kind of unnatural, I feel - and another part is simple anxiety. I also use stock questions appropriate to the setting to break the ice. Normally it doesn't lead to much conversation. That's OK, I don't think it normally does.

Instead of going into a lot of detail or theory, I'll just mention a few things that stick out in my mind as successes in my attempts to be a little more, you know, human.


  • Classes require me to be up at 7 AM. One morning I was at breakfast around 7:30 and a floormate who also had an early class ended up sitting next to me. In a fairly empty dining hall, no less. Normally that would have become an awkward situation - at least for me. I decided to try what I've been attempting to learn. In my mind, the most obvious thing to note and ask about was the early time of the day. I asked her what had her up so early. The floormate answered, and a few minutes later asked why I was up at that time as well. It was only a few sentences, but it was more sentences than I would have said and heard a semester ago.
  • At my campus ministry there's a part where people are encouraged to meet someone they don't know. Usually we're given a game to play or a question to ask the person. Typically I don't get involved in this, as I'm not really one for meeting new people. This time around, though, I went to give it a shot. I was going to look for someone on the other side of the room, but a guy sitting a couple chairs away from me approached me. The ice breaker question we were given didn't lead to much conversation. So I improvised and started asking stuff you hear a lot on campus - hometown, major, school year, and religious background since it's a Christian ministry. I unexpectedly made a comment that made us both crack up. In the end, the conversation would have gone longer than the time we had to chit chat - and I was the one leading the conversation!
  • To get to the college I had to stop at a friend's place so I could ride with him to the campus. On that particular day several of his family members were over for lunch. Normally I would keep to myself and not really talk unless someone asked me something. I won't say I was a charismatic charmer, but I was a little more out of my shell than usual with it.
  • Generally I'm learning how to say hi to people more. That's a pretty useful way of opening communications.
In addition to the stuff that's progressing now, there are a couple things I also want to focus on. Something I've observed with the people on my floor is how there are these sort of cliques. Groups of people who seem to hang out with each other all day, every day. As it stands, I don't really have a clique. That's how I've always been. Instead I tend to float between groups, forming friendships with one or two members, but otherwise just going off on my own most of the time. What I would like to do is find a clique of my own to hang to. One which has both genders. Usually I'm surrounded only by guys, or only by girls. This is nice, but I don't think it's optimal.

A question I don't ask much, and would like to start asking more, is "How are you?" or some variant thereof. It seems to be a pretty common thing, and I think it would work well as a topic starter.

Then there's the ol' awkward elevator silence. I don't know if that's worth fixing or not. Elevators are usually quiet, kinda awkward anyway. It's not like I'm messing something up.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

[TOU] Concerned about College

This is the third post in a little post series I've come up with called "The Overworked Undergrad."

In a few days I'll be heading back to college for my fourth semester at K-State. I'm excited to be heading back, to learn more and meet up with friends I made there. But I'm also kinda freaked out about what lies ahead. A lot of it isn't exactly ideal.

Burn Out

Last semester was a a fluke academically. My grades were mostly C's. This coming from a person who typically got A's and B's in prior classes. The problem was that I simply burned out. A couple of the classes were hard for me and it took its toll emotionally. I got help for it during the last month or so of classes and learned a lot of valuable things.

I've recovered from the burnout, but I've not forgotten it. I'm worried that I'll go through it again. College is tough. Tougher than anything I've ever gone through before. I do have a bit of a plan, but I don't know if it's enough. My preparation might not be sufficient. I might still get halfway through the semester and start screwing up because of the pressure.

Ideas:

  • More thoroughly plan things out, and stick to that. I was doing well in this regard last semester until I underestimated the size of some projects. Those really messed me up for the rest of the semester.
  • Build a support system. I'll go more into detail about this later. I think it's possibly the biggest need I have right now.
  • Reward myself! When I finish a big job or do well on an assignment, treat myself to something.
  • Have "me" things to do. Stuff that can be done recreationally.
Early Bird

Due to some scheduling mishaps, I'm gonna have three 7:30 AM classes a week. This is a big source of concern for me. Yes I'm a morning person. Still, this is too early for me. My first semester at K-State there was a 7:30 lab I had to be in. That royally and unequivocally sucked. I did enjoy the feeling of being up when it finished at 9:20 AM.

This time around it's a one hour lecture, and not a two hour lab. So in that regard I might not be as fatigued by it. The class is located about ten minutes away from my dorm. To handle this early class I might just wake up at 7:00 AM, get my stuff ready, and head out. If there are any floormates or friends that are taking the class as well, I could walk there with them. Having someone to share the fatigue of an early morning helps.

 Now Hiring

Finances are a bit tight again this semester. Last semester I didn't understand how the payment system worked. I narrowly avoided getting into some serious issues. I don't want to make that mistake again. To remedy this situation, I need a job.

This is a source of possible stress for me. For one I have no guarantee I will be hired by anyone, anywhere. There are multiple job openings, without a doubt, but am I qualified for any of them? Can I fit any of them into my schedule? I want to be quick and decisive in choosing where I want to work.

There are three choices I have right now. First is as a web developer for the website. I applied to that a couple times but thus far have not been hired. Second is at an on-campus convenience store. There are (I think) three locations on campus that I could apply for. I don't mind working late nights at the branch next to my dorm. But if I end up working for one further away, I wouldn't really feel safe walking alone at 1 AM. I would also be very tired. My third option, again, is Varsity Donuts. A bit of a walk, probably wouldn't want to work nights. But it's also a relaxed vintage environment. Just the thing for me.

Hi There!

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, another thing I'm working on is being more sociable. I did a good job at making very few friends last semester. It's bit me in the butt severely. This semester I know I can and will do better. Because I've already talk about this, I won't dig any deeper into the topic.

Support Network

This is probably the biggest thing I need to work on. I have spent all of my life generally doing things solo. While I can do a lot of things alone, I can't do them all by myself. That's not a healthy expectation to put on myself. Having people to help me out is very necessary to get by in college and life. I don't think acting as a lone ranger is normally how people succeed in life.

The main purposes of a support network are having people who can help me solve problems, and hold me accountable to do what I need. Oftentimes there's fact finding that needs to be done, but I don't have the time or knowledge to find it. Instead of being left in the dust I can turn to people more knowledgeable than me. This might be something as simple as asking a friend for help with schoolwork, or seeking a tutor. I did these a little more toward the end of last semester. It's not something I totally like, but it's much better than the frustration coming with the alternative. Or it could be people I can feel comfortable talking to when under stress or worry.

Having people to hold me accountable is important. I don't like making big or uncomfortable decisions. I procrastinate on them. I tend to hope they'll work themselves out. But they don't always do. I've realized sometimes I just need a swift kick in the butt to get into action. That kick is having a group of people who I can tell, "Remind me to do X" or "Make sure I get Y done by such-and-such a time." Again, it's a bit uncomfortable to put myself in this kind of position. I think I can adjust to it, though, and ultimately it'll make life easier for me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tactical Socialization

This semester hasn't been the most successful for me. Part way through I experienced some heavy burnout that really set me back academically. Even now I'm still feeling the consequences of it. One of my biggest failures, I think, has been socially. I've done a really good job at keeping people at arm's length or further, and I'm starting to rethink whether it actually was so good an idea.

Gah, People!

I've always been a loner. My circle of friends has never really been that big. People tended to go in and out of it as life circumstances demanded. I never really preferred team projects, but if I did find myself in one I usually took the leadership position. It did the job.

Although I didn't know about the word until my teen years, I'd easily be classified as an introvert. There's a difference between intoversion and shyness. Introverts don't talk much because it expends energy. Shy people don't talk much because of fear, anxiety, or something else. I have the double whammy of being shy and introverted.

One of the main things I've noticed about how I socialize is how I dislike small talk. It occurred to me a few years back how useless it seems to be. How often do you hear a conversation go "Hi!" "Hi!" "How are you?" "Good." "That's good." What's the point of that? That little exchange goes nowhere, does nothing. I would rather get to the meat of the conversation. If you have anything important or meaningful to say, go ahead and say it. I don't see such social niceties as worthwhile.

I've also taken issue with the "stock questions" you hear around a college campus at the start of a new school year, or at other significant times of the year. You probably know what I'm talking about:

  • Where's your hometown?
  • What's your major?
  • What year are you?
  • How many final exams do you have?
  • What are your plans for break?
  • How was your break?
It bugs me to use and be asked these because I find them cliche. They're outright predictable. They're asked so often, and I repeat myself every time.

Basically, I abstained from these things. If people asked me them, I would answer as appropriate.

Not So Empty Chatter

I did not expect to have such big problems with this approach to socialization as I've gotten. Of the 100-odd students living on my floor in this dorm, only 20 were present last year. The rest are completely new faces. While people were trying to get to know each other early in the year, I basically stayed out of sight. Some of them I've become acquainted with. The rest only know me as the quiet, somewhat goofy, kinda grumpy dude that lives at the end of the hall. I feel like, by and large, I've missed out on a lot of important interaction with my peers. I don't even have a baseline acquaintance relationship with many, if not most, of them. 

Why do I think these non-existent relationships are important to have? Because I'm a social creature, just like anyone else is. If I don't have anyone physically present I can go to, then I'm in a lot of trouble because the social needs I have can't be met. These are needs everyone has. We fulfill them by talking with others, hanging out, and otherwise being physically present with fellow humans.

It dawned on me that small talk, which I long thought of as purposeless, is actually kinda useful. Those stock questions I avoided asking have a role. Split-second greetings while you pass someone in the hall does indeed do something. They open channels to making some kind of relationship with that person - be it friendship, simple acquaintances, business partners, co-workers, romantic partners, and so on.

The thing is, while those small exchanges themselves don't contribute much, they open the opportunity to lead to more communication. This is a really good thing for somebody like me who often finds himself feeling lonely.

Tactical Socialization

I call it tactical because the way I see it, there's a plan and a mission to it. There's things I need to do, want to accomplish, and there's a way to get them done.

What I'm looking to do is have a healthy social life, considering my naturally introverted nature. Despite being the "quiet guy," I can still have those baseline acquaintances with people around me. I've spent enough time going the opposite route, of generally avoiding talking to people, to know what's better for me. I do think the key, for now anyway, is getting used to making small talk with people. I've had more than enough instances of sitting awkwardly in silence by someone, because I didn't know what to say, or could not muster up the courage to speak.

I feel like I have what might be called a "social duty." Calling it a duty isn't really the right word, because nobody's requiring me to do it, but it's the best I can come up with. What I mean is that it's proper and beneficial to open those lines of communication with people around me, wherever I may find myself. I have that duty, that role, to carry out. I do it by saying hello as we pass each other in the hallway, or by using those stock questions during the right time of the semester. You engage the person, it creates that connection which helps a lot.

That's what I want to do. I want to try and say hello as I pass people in the dorm hall, in between classes, as I sit to eat and there's really not anyone else around, etc. I'd like to ask them what their plans for break are, how they feel about the exams they've had. Or just that vague old "How are you?" which can be used to start a chit chat or dismissed as a formality. I don't desire to push people to speak to me, or force a conversation. Starting conversations is hard for me; but once I'm in it, continuing and ending at the right time are more or less natural to me. That's what I'm going to aim to do more often.

I'm not really looking to become close friends with everybody I meet. First off, that's not in my nature. Even if I say hello to everyone, I'm still an introvert. I prefer to stick to a few close friends, rather than try to befriend everyone. I do want healthy social interaction, though. And who knows? Some, or even many, of those interactions can lead to friendships. I'm OK with that. Second, I know not everybody will want to be friends with me. I'm the calm, cool, collected, religious type. I tend not to get very emotional or rambunctious. A lot of people will find that off-putting. That's alright. If they don't desire friendship from me, it's their choice and I won't hold it against them.

On a religious note, this has evangelical benefits as well. The campus ministry I attend has an icebreaker event most nights before the message. I've usually kept out of those, but part of developing a better social life would include engaging in them. The Gospel is not spread by silence. It's spread by going up to a person and showing your godly character, speaking about Jesus where the opportunity arises. Once a person is a believer, having a community to go is vital for maintaining your faith. It helps to not feel alone, and eventually you could find someone to go to about spiritual problems and successes.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Exercise!

Here's a quick update on my weight loss mission. I don't know what my weight is, as I don't know where I would find a scale. However I have still been taking measures to cut back. I'm trying to eat less, though it's questionable how well that's working. One of the main steps I've been taking is exercising more.

In the fitness room of my dorm building there's a device which I've just found is called an elliptical trainer. Basically it simulates walking up a flight of stairs. For the first week I was just doing normal walking on it, but I've started going more intense. The device has several settings for more intensive workouts. So here's my routine right now:


  • About a minute of stretching arms and legs.
  • 20 sit-ups
  • 20 push-ups
  • 20 jumping jacks
  • Using the elliptical trainer for 10-20 minutes.
  • 30 repetitions of arm exercises with 15 pound weights.
The elliptical trainer as an aerobic setting which has a 20-minute workout of increasing and decreasing intensity. I've used this twice, and I've not yet been able to last the full 20 minutes. Perhaps next time I will be able to do better.

I don't know how much exercise is going to be enough, honestly. I shoot for a half hour, twice a week. Soon I hope to get some professional advice about this stuff. But just know I haven't given up yet!