Dear August,

Here it is: the final stretch before my third year of college. I’m sitting on my bedroom floor, surrounded by all the stuff I’m bringing to school; I’m taking a break from my furious packing to reflect on the sheer number of clothes I own, yet never seem to wear. In fact, I’m missing a good number of the clothes I wanted to bring to school, which makes sense, as they’re the only clothes I took or wore anywhere this summer.

I spent most of my summer packing and unpacking. That’s what happens when you accidentally end up splitting your time between two internships in two states and then your mom decides to whisk your family away to Taiwan for a month. I can’t tell you how many stupid pairs of earbuds I’ve lost–not because I can’t remember, but because it’s horribly embarrassing how incapable I am of keeping track of those things. They could be in my house, underneath the sprawl of things waiting to be U-Hauled away. They could be in the room I’ve been crashing in down in New Brunswick, or in my boss’s office up in New York City. They could be in someone’s car, or on a bus, or on the floor of a restaurant somewhere. They could literally be across the globe right now.

I’ve come to see it as a metaphor for my life, whether appropriate or not. I’m everywhere at once, but I’m never in a place long enough to make an impact. Are you a dancer? I’d love to go to a workshop with you! And I love writing; sign me up to be a blogger! Why don’t you take me to ice hockey practice while you’re at it, and yes, of course I’ll take pottery with you! My city internship involved stocks; my lab in New Brunswick focused on plant biology. If you look at the classes I’ve taken up till now, you’ll see that I don’t specialize in anything because I have a healthy interest in everything. My ‘why not’ mentality and hunger to try whatever comes my way has afforded me some of the best friends, decisions, and experiences of my life, but it’s time to settle down, if only for the sake of my sanity. Having two years left may sound like a long time, but the first half of college has already come and gone and, oops, now I’ve got two majors that need finishing.

So here we are, August, in the middle of this mess I’ve made. As much as I hate sounding like a bad Chinese fortune cookie, focus is necessary for progress to be made, and I refuse to be stagnant. I don’t regret anything I’ve done (except maybe losing a billion pairs of earbuds), but I know I have to ask myself what I want, set a goal, and work towards it. It’s a daunting prospect, having to think about something beyond deciding what to eat for lunch or choosing tomorrow’s outfit, especially when that’s something I already struggle with. But I’m ready, I’m willing, and I’m definitely able.

P.S. if anyone’s seen a pair of red-and-black HTC earbuds, let me know.

Summer Adventure Series: Books, books, and books!

Well, hello there! Summer sure seemed to fly by. With college starting in less than two weeks, this will sadly be the last, “Summer Adventure Series.” Anyways, this summer I am more than happy that I got a chance to fall in love with books all over again. Regardless of what other activities I got a chance to do this summer, reading was my favorite. I am a major bookworm. I am a sucker for historical mysteries. Nonetheless, here are some books I would definitely recommend to everyone one to read.

  1. The Thirtheenth Tale

Set in England, this is a fictional historical mystery that is definitely a page turner. It is about twins and the enigmatic interactions they have with each other. The main character’s name is Margaret Lea. She is a bibliophile, often spending time in her father’s quaint bookstore. Margaret is very allured by books of dead authors. She finds comfort and pleasure in uncovering the lives and emotions of authors through the words they have left behind. Margaret’s life turns around when she discovers a dark family secret that her parents have been keeping from her for years. To add on to the turn of events, Margaret is forthwith requested to meet with a high profile author named Vida Winter. Vida Winter is known for great storytelling, especially when it comes to interviewers asking her about her personal life; no one knows anything about Ms. Winter except that she is a coveted author. In order to prepare to meet with Winter, Margaret reads Winter’s novels. One of them titled, “The Thirteen Tales” is rather intriguing because only twelve tales are in the book; the thirteenth tale seems to be missing. With great anticipation of uncovering the missing tale and learning about Winter’s personal tale itself, Margaret agrees to meet the author.

2. The Never List

If you love thrillers, then this is a perfect book for you. This novel is about two best friends, Jennifer and Sarah. After surviving a traumatic car crash, these two swear to do their best in avoiding the dangers of the world. They amass statistics of vehicle crashes, kidnappings, natural disasters, and every other possible misfortunes fathomable. Afterwards, Jennifer and Sarah create a, “Never List,” which lists the precarious situations that these two must, and I mean must, avoid in order not to fall prey to the cruelty in the world. Ironically, the most careful ones are often the ones who get stuck in the hands of danger. As you may have guessed, Jennifer and Sarah end up in pretty much that situation. It is their first year in college, and after being coaxed by Sarah, Jennifer agrees to attend a college party. What happens that night changes their lives forever. In fact, because of the events that occur that night, Sarah has to change her entire identity.

3.

This is a beautiful love story that is literally a timeless classic. It is about a girl named Clare who meets the love of her life, Henry, at only age six! What’s even more bizarre is that Henry is a time traveler. He has no control over this phenomenon. He time-travels numerous times to Clare’s childhood, which is why Clare has practically known Henry her whole life. Their love is put to the test of time many times. After Clare and Henry marry, things become even more complex. This story truly elucidates the power of love. It is a love story like no other. What is it like to love someone so dearly, and then wait for them to return from their intermittent disappearances? Clare and Henry fight time with their love. Unfortunately, sometimes love is not enough.

I hope you enjoy reading these books! Happy reading!🙂 Happy Summer!

Summer Storytelling

There’s a certain anxiety to speaking at a Moth StorySlam.

It’s similar to presenting in class about a project, but it’s more personal. Instead of speaking about a court case or an experiment or a book, you’re trying to convey the hilarious way your grandmother let out her frustration with your grandfather’s rehabilitation center, the feeling of isolation you felt because of a deformity, or the increasing panic you felt while lost in a foreign country. You’re attempting to share a piece of your life all in under five minutes.

This is why, in the two days preceding the Summer Session StorySlam held on July 21, two free two-hour workshops were offered to prepare students for this endeavor. The Moth, which ran both the workshops and the StorySlam, is a nonprofit organization that hosts events all over the country where anyone can come in and tell a true story from his or her life. They record the stories and later play them on their radio show and podcast. Amid the myriad of free activities available to Rutgers students staying on campus over the summer, this stood out to me as an opportunity to meet and share stories with people who aren’t in my lab.

That it was.

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On the first day of the workshop, the teachers gave us a demonstration of the Moth storytelling format. One of the teachers, Peter, a proud Rutgers dropout, spoke about the night on Easton he asked out his future wife on their first date. They then had us all discussing ideas for what we thought our stories would be. Some brave souls even got up and presented their first ideas: teacher’s first day working in a dangerous neighborhood, an immigrant’s struggle to get a work permit, and a stay at-home mother’s realization that she could be her true self without becoming her irresponsible, alcoholic mother.

The next day, we all worked in small groups, each of us telling our stories and critiquing one another. There were four of us in the group I was in–all girls–yet each of our stories was very different. One girl, who is from Greece and is working on a graduate degree in education, spoke about her struggles with TMJ. Another, who is currently working towards a degree in the performing arts, talked about her controlling father and her semester-long withdrawal from Rutgers. The third, after at first attempting to summarize her descent into heroin addiction and subsequent recovery in five minutes and not being able to do it justice, described the first time she hopped onto a moving freight train. When it was my turn, I managed to stumble through the story about a time I was humiliated at a dance performance.

All of our stories needed varying degrees of polishing, but all were interesting and, honestly, made me wish we had more than five minutes to hear everyone’s stories. Only two from our group, including myself, spoke the next night, but I’m still happy to have been able to hear those other stories as well.

The night of the StorySlam, The Moth dressed up the auditorium in the Rutgers Student Center for the show. A camera was set to record the entire thing, and almost every seat was filled with Rutgers students and faculty. Those who wished to tell their stories signed a release form and put it in a bag to be pulled out at random. Only ten stories were told, but the variety amongst them was staggering: some had you laughing the entire time while others made you want to cry. Some were farcically mundane while others seemed fantastical in how far of they were from my own experiences. There was a story about getting married and a story about escaping an abusive husband. There was one about nearly getting deported while trying to get a driver’s license, and another about freezing on a see-through bridge above the Grand Canyon. They were all so engrossing and the audience was so accepting that I forgot to be nervous when it was my turn to go.

Everyone who spoke did an amazing job and the audience was very accepting of what everyone had to say.  If you truly want to see just a sample of the variety of students, from all walks of life that Rutgers has to offer, keep an eye on the Moth’s site. Maybe you’ll see some of their stories there soon.

Over in the Blink of an Eye

It is truly unbelievable how fast time has flown by. Before leaving for Australia, I was playing this game called Cow Evolution where the aim is to collect different cows and evolve them into other ones. You earn coins and gems as you continue to play. Eventually, you reach a point where you can no longer evolve the cows. When that happens, you have the opportunity to restart the game and try to unlock the different cows again. This time, you get to keep the coins and gems earned in the previous attempt. During the first few weeks in Brisbane, Australia at The University of Queensland, I felt like a freshman again. I attended a new student orientation where I didn’t know anyone, was placed in housing with strangers, and was doe-eyed and excited to begin the semester in a foreign place. But, unlike freshman year, I was starting this semester with all the skills and knowledge that I gained from the previous years at university, similar to the gems and coins that carry over in new rounds in Cow Evolution.

The St. Lucia Campus, where ibis and bush turkeys roam abundantly, is gorgeous, especially the Great Court, which is similar to a bigger version of Vorhees Mall on College Ave. Enclosed by grand, sandstone buildings, it is a great place to rest in between classes. The pockets of construction on campus made me feel like I was still at Rutgers–just a little bit.

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A view of the Great Court

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Every Wednesday, market stalls would pop up on campus and students could peruse through booths of handmade jewelry, clothes, and flowers. There was even an eyebrow threading booth!

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A view of the stalls on campus

A quick and easy lunch option was a sausage sizzle, which different clubs and organizations would have daily. This wonderfully simple sausage placed diagonally on a slice of white toast with optional grilled onions never failed to satiate my hunger.

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A sausage sizzle❤

Because UQ is a foreign university, I had to adjust to the different grading system and teaching methods. Most lectures, regardless of the subject, are recorded so students aren’t required to go to class. Recitations, or tutorials as they are called there, often aren’t required either. Whether attendance factors into your overall grade or not depends on the class.

In the first lectures of the semester, the teachers would pay respect to the aboriginal ancestors and to the land. Australian Aboriginals have a strong connection to the land and have this concept of turning a space–empty and foreign–into a place, which is familiar and full of meaning. Inhabiting an area and making memories in the environment is how to give it meaning and turn it into a place. Over the course of a semester, I’ve turned UQ, Brisbane, and even Australia, into a place, a home. It’s also what has happened at Rutgers: Australia was wonderful, but there is no place like home. And at the end of my six months, I was ready to come back to Jersey.

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A strange place that became my home

This experience will forever hold great importance in my life. Australia is rich in cultures and I have greatly enjoyed learning about them. The knowledge I have gained at UQ will undoubtedly stay with me into adulthood. The conversations I have had with other students at UQ and with travelers I have met on adventures have enriched my life and challenged how I view the world. I have come away from these five months with a different mindset, a strengthened sense of self, and a broader and more informed viewpoint on certain events occurring in the world. I feel different, a good different, and I know I have grown so much during this past semester.

I encourage you, if possible, to take that leap out of your comfort zone and study abroad. Or if that’s not possible, spend some time and live somewhere new for a little bit. It’s an experience you won’t regret.

Summer Adventure Series: Coding

As I said many times so far, summer is an amazing time to try new things. Abiding by this adage, I decided to dip my feet into an area that I previously had actually disliked: computer science. Ever since I was in elementary school, I just thought what software engineers do was downright boring. You sit in front of a screen for hours, straining your eyes, and typing away till the sun sets. I used to think, “Why would anyone find enjoyment or wish to do this dull job?” This was, of course, before I tried it myself.

I searched on Google things to do over summer, and repeatedly on top-activities-to-do over-summer lists, learning to code was there. I told myself, “Oh, what the fiddlesticks, let me give it a shot.”

I had no intention of continuing to do it over the whole summer because I had a presumption that I would find it boring. I went on codecademy.com, and started my first lesson on how to make my own webpage. Let me just tell you: as someone who thoroughly disliked computers, I found coding quite exhilarating. It is riveting to see a hieroglyphic language transform into words, pictures, and endless creations. To think that creators of well-known webpages like Facebook and Pinterest used this very code to craft their websites from scratch is incredible.

For those of you who are curious to know what coding is all about, I highly suggest visiting  codecademy.com because the lessons are interactive with instant feedback, projects, and quizzes. Within the first lesson, I guarantee you that you will be well off on your path to becoming a potential web creator!

Here is a little bit about what I have learned and you will too in the first few lessons. Just as we humans speak languages, the computer too has its own languages. Firstly, there is HTML, which is Hyper Text Markup Language. You can say that this is usually used for laying the framework for the webpage. For example, it is used to write the actual text, add images, heading, title, lists, etc… If you want to style these HTML elements you could easily do so using another language called CSS, or Cascading Style Sheet. This is like your artist’s palette; you use multitudinous style properties to customize your text, images, titles etc… Some examples of the various style properties include “font-color,” font-family,” and “text-alignment.” CSS is also very helpful in formatting your HTML elements. To add animation, we would use Java and a collection of pre-written Javascript called jQuery to liven up your HTML elements by adding animations such as fade in and out, toggling menu boards, color changes at the click of a button, and much more! The possibilities of enhancing your web designer skills are endless. Not only do you learn to make your own webpage, but also you get the chance to share this creation with the world.

Currently, I am working on a webpage that gives you a list of the most majestic and marvelous libraries of the world. If you have any suggestions on what I should add or how I should design the site, feel free to comment below!

To get started on coding right now, login to codecademy, and to practice the lessons you learn, download Notepad ++ and start your own code for a webpage! Have fun!

 

 

Taking on New Challenges this Summer (Learning How to Surf!)

As my fellow blogger Aishwarya mentioned last week, summer is the perfect time to take up a new hobby or learn something new. The extra time that is usually spent cramming for exams and revising papers is now free for things such as reading new books, learning an instrument, or in my case—learning how to surf!

I’ve always thought learning how to surf would be enjoyable, but it’s never been at the top of my bucket list. The combination of a childhood spent in rural, land-locked Pennsylvania and a complete lack of confidence when it comes to swimming resulted in the idea of learning how to surf seeming like an unrealistic dream. However, I made that dream a reality at the end of my time in Spain.

I stayed in Europe for about three weeks after I finished my finals, and for ten of those days, I was on the Atlantic coast of Portugal at Surfivor Surf Camp in a little town called Esmoriz. I cannot say enough good things about Surfivor and the people that run it. Everyone who spent time around the camp, from the instructors to the woman who worked reception, were welcoming and kind. There were only six campers that week, which was extremely beneficial for me and the three others who had never surfed before. With three separate instructors coming to the beach with us everyday, we had significantly more one-on-one time than I expected going into it. By the end of the first day, all four of the beginner surfers were standing up, and some of us, including myself, were even beginning to work on turning with the direction of the wave.

The experience was physically and mentally challenging. Surfing, especially paddling out, caused me to use all sorts of muscles I’ve never used before. We surfed for five to six hours a day for six days straight. It had been years since I had done that much physical activity and I was exhausted because of it.

The mental challenges I faced while learning how to surf were even more difficult to overcome. On the third morning of camp, I can truly say I wanted to quit more than I’ve ever wanted to quit anything in my life. We went to a different beach that day, where the waves were larger and more powerful. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get to the outside—the area past where the waves break. Some days, depending on the tides and currents, it is essential for surfers to “get outside” in order to catch decent waves. I quickly learned that getting out past the break is one of the most difficult aspects of surfing. My sore arms couldn’t paddle with anywhere near enough power to make it out, and as each wave came crashing down, I was continuously pushed off my board, tumbling under the water over and over again. It was exhausting and frustrating. However, I’m so grateful that I willingly got back in the water later in the day because I ended up having an almost perfect afternoon on the board.

I had such a great experience when I was learning to surf that I am strongly considering purchasing a used surfboard to practice on at the Jersey Shore. I’ve also followed a few surfers on social media to pick up some tips from some of the pros. I hope I am able to enjoy surfing for the rest of my life.

Summer is the perfect time to challenge yourself and try something new, and it definitely doesn’t have to be as extreme as learning how to surf!

(Thanks so much to everyone at the Surfivor Camp!! I can’t imagine a more supportive and friendly group of people to spend the week with!)

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Summer Adventure Series: Learning a New Language

                      

Summer is a great way to do the things you’ve always thought of doing but never really got a chance to pursue because of all the exams, assignments, clubs, and other college activities that seem to constantly come in the way. Whether they are learning to bake a cake, knitting a sweater, exercising to get abs, or writing a book, summer definitely gives you the time to try new things and explore new realms.

This is exactly what I did and am currently doing during my summer. One day, I was just sitting in my oh-so-comfy black chair, and thinking of things I can do because for the first few days of summer I was merely lazing around; I kept on planning a hundred things I could do, but never actually did. I needed to put an end to these velleities. Then, out of the blue, and I am being serious when I say this, I said to myself, “Why not learn sign language?” I was always fascinated by the signers at public events. Learning sign language would definitely be unique; it’s not the same as learning French or Spanish. Thus, I gave it a go.

First, I got Barron’s American Sign Language: The Easy Way from the library. It was way too wordy, and besides, I am more of  a visual learner; I needed to see how to sign, not read about it. Therefore, I decided to see if there were any videos I could watch online and learn from them. Sure enough, I discovered an amazing website called “Sign Language 101” that has 20-minute lesson videos filled with learning material, language tips, facts about deaf culture, and even a quiz! It is all very organized, and each video is brimming with enlightening content. More importantly, you will never feel deluged with the material. In addition, the professor is very vivacious and his teaching method is impeccable.

After taking a few lessons, I know how to sign the alphabet, numbers until twenty, colors, and common phrases and gestures. I absolutely cannot wait to learn more! Besides actually learning how to sign, I also discovered the many misconceptions that people have regarding signing and deaf culture. For instance, many people misconstrue that signing is all about the hands. It is not. In fact, your body language and facial expressions are equally important. Sign language is like dancing: it requires the entire body to be in graceful rhythm to illustrate each word. Furthermore, not all deaf people know how to lip read. Lip reading is actually the hardest way a deaf person can learn and understand a spoken language. The most important thing I realized from all of this was that signing is not just a set of hand movements; it is a language that is used by a culture.

It is your turn! See the diagrams below for some quick signs. For fun, choose a phrase below and try to learn how to sign it to a family member, friend, or even just your mirror reflection. If you want to keep going, then be sure to visit Sign Language 101.

Special Trip (Part 2)

Leaving where I left off, I now head back to Pune for a very worthwhile experience at Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital, one of the best in patient care in all of Western India. According to sources, it was where the first Indian milk bank for humans was established. The hospital is named after actor and classical vocalist, Deenanath Mangeshkar, and for those of you who are fans of old classic Bollywood, Deenanath Mangeshkar was the father of famous singer Lata Mangeshkar.

At first, I was only planning to shadow an uncle of mine who was a neurosurgeon there. However, when I asked him, he told me that the hospital doesn’t allow neurosurgeons to be observed, and that their system was different in that instead of scheduling one department for a few days, each observer/shadow has to rotate between departments each day, which meant that I got to choose which specialty I could follow each day I was there!

When I first walked into the hospital, I expected massive hordes of people and doctors walking around and big families sitting in the waiting area eagerly awaiting news of their loved ones. What I did not expect, however, was the level of cleanliness in the air around the hallways and even in the immediate outside parking area. After all, Pune is a highly urban city with hundreds of people who visit the hospital each day. The atmosphere of the hospital was a stark contrast to the streets I had witnessed and the air I breathed when my family and I were going to stores, banks, and anywhere else really. Logically, it would make sense that the cleanliness standard in the hospital should be higher than that of the streets, but still, compared to the hospitals here in America, I could hardly tell the difference!

My first day as observer began in reception. Although it wasn’t initially where I expected to be, I knew in my mind that it would give me a basic idea of how the various departments and staff were organized throughout the hospital. As I walked up to the front desk wearing my new tag around my neck (I felt so special!), even with my consistent optimism and curiosity, I was a bit nervous, anxious even. I realized that this was actually the first time in all of my trips to India that I had planned an activity that was only meant for me, which meant spending each day in a new setting, at a six-acre, 500 bed hospital, all by myself for over seven hours.

While initially nervous, I started watching people come in and ask where certain departments were, where their relatives were relocated, or where to pick up their medication. As time went on, I began to converse with the receptionists (in my first language Marathi as many people there spoke little English) and found out more about the hospital and its policies. Every patient is registered to OPD, the Outpatient Department, which handles the follow up of each new patient admitted, especially since there was no separate clinic in the hospital. The area I’d been in for the first half of that day was the New Building, which consisted of Super Specialties such as urology, endoscopy, and neurosurgery. The next half of the day  I spent in the Old Building, the area of General Specialties (psychiatry, pediatrics, etc.). The Old Building has an IPD, Inpatient Department, which deals with follow up and clinical information on patients who currently were admitted to the hospital.

While the nearly flawless organization and communication between doctors and departments was fascinating to learn about, what interested me more was the type of patients that came in and what areas the hospital focused on more than others. It turns out that very recently, the areas of psychiatry and neurology started becoming more important to patients and their families, as mental health, for a long time, wasn’t something that was registered in the minds of the people as something worth treating. If someone had an illness that wasn’t life-threatening, a visit to the hospital was out of the question, and any medication that had a chance of relieving symptoms and curing the disease was the first choice pick. Even in a mostly middle-class trustee hospital like Deenanath Mangeshkar, most of the patients were those who’d tried to help themselves and only then decided to come if their condition didn’t improve over time.

The hospital being the last resort for many patients was more evident my second day there, when I initially decided to follow the emergency room staff. The relatives of patients whose conditions were life-threatening were acting completely out of hand, insisting immediate treatment and causing chaos for the staff there as they tried to diffuse the situation, but it did little to solve the problem. The patients were still in the ER, the relatives were not willing to calm themselves down, and the staff were realizing they were running out of options. Although I was about to insist that I could handle it when I first walked into the area, when I was faced with the terrifying reality before me, I knew there was nothing more I could do as only an observer.

Instead, I asked to be sent to follow another specialty that was of personal interest to me: cardiology. Compared to reception, it was a lot busier there. I was surprised, considering heart problems are more of a problem for people here in the US than they were there, but heart problems do also tend to occur with age, as was the case with most of those patients, more so than dietary habits. Just like here in America, they perform stress tests and pacemaker implants when necessary, and there is a Catheterization lab, or CathLab, that handles cardiographs, sonographs, and angioplasties, with the sonography of the heart being called 2d Eco. Cardiology also has its own OPD, with morning being adult patients and afternoon pediatrics, but there is always a backup 24-hour emergency service effective for both adults and children should problems arise at any time outside of the OPD timings.

As for payment and billing, the first priority of the hospital is equitable and affordable patient care for all. However, most of the non-medical care costs are paid in advance by the patients and their families, with only about 30-40% insurance coverage coming from Mediclaim, the equivalent of Medicare and Medicaid here.

For my last few hours on the second day, I had the privilege of speaking directly to one of the physicians, who spoke English a lot better than the staff I worked with. We talked about how the processes of becoming a doctor are different in India and the US, as the education system in India doesn’t have the four-year bachelor’s degree. Their equivalent of the bachelor’s degree only lasts two  years after high school (ten plus two), and then they study in medical college for five-and-a-half years to get the MBBS degree, with students starting rounds right in their second year! To get an MD degree or that of any other specialty, students would have to take more exams and study for 3 or more years, depending on specifically which degree they want to pursue. We also talked about how medicine today is mostly driven by business-oriented mindsets and processes. As a result, most of the work done at hospitals deals with management and finances more than on the actual administering of care for the patients. I was glad to know, then, that the healthcare in Deenanath Mangeshkar hospital is less focused on gains and profits and more on giving quality affordable patient care. Even though finances are important, the hospital’s priority should always be improving lives through patient care.

Looking back, I feel that this was one of the best clinical experiences I’ve had so far, considering it was done in a foreign country. In my future experiences here in the US, I will undoubtedly contemplate what I learned in India through my shadowing experience at this beautiful healthcare institution. This had truly been an adventure for furthering my education and understanding of the steps needed to become a doctor, which is the lifelong career path I choose to embark upon.

It was a shame that my experience lasted only two days…

Ready, Set, Novel!

If you’re anything like me, you’ve recently found yourself with a truly incomprehensible amount of free time. After spending a couple weeks reading novel after novel on my “Books I Should Probably Get Around to Reading at Some Point” list and staring up at my ceiling light, I had an idea.

National Novel Writing Month (often shortened to NaNoWriMo), which currently takes place during November, is an event which challenges participants to write a 50,000 word (or longer) novel over the course of one month. To put that number into some kind of context, The Great Gatsby is 47,094 words, The Fault in Our Stars is 67,203 words, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is 106,821 words.

NaNoWriMo began in July of 1999 with a group of 21 people because, and I’m quoting from the website, “[they] didn’t have anything better to do” and, eventually, because “the writing process had been really, really fun.”

Since then it has expanded to 431,626 participants (as of 2015) and additional NaNoWriMo challenges currently take place April and July, called “Camp NaNoWriMo,” which I’ve decided to participate in. 

Of course, as with anything that exists, NaNoWriMo has been criticized for producing more terrible manuscripts than publishers previously thought possible and for somehow being an insult to the creative process by trying to force it into some cramped, arbitrary amount of time.

Here’s what I have to say:

Writing a novel has always been one of those vague dreams I have that have an equal chance of happening and not happening. I could write a novel one day. I could also decide to quit my job and travel the world, or go skydiving, or suddenly realize that my life’s true ambition is to run away to the circus. Who knows? Life is strange. But unlike world traveling, skydiving, or circus performing, I already have everything I need to attempt to write a novel–something to write about and something to write with.

Of course, as anyone may tell you, that’s not everything you need. The critics of NaNoWriMo may say that the missing ingredient in my recipe for novel writing is “talent.” From what I, and others I know, have experienced, that missing ingredient is a little push.

Everyone’s a little bit of a perfectionist, but I’ve found that writers are perfectionists like this:  you want every world to be gold. You want every word to be poetry. You want every word to be the right word and you want those words to be the kind of words that are tattooed on hipsters and misattributed to Albert Einstein or Mahatma Gandhi.  

Those are not the first words you are going to write. Realizing that fact is disheartening to say the least. To say the most, realizing that fact  is like driving down a long road when a large, concrete wall falls out of the sky in front of you. Spray-painted on the surface of this wall are the words,”THIS IS A DUMB DREAM AND YOUR (sic) DUMB FOR HAVING IT.”

The drafting and revision process, however, is endlessly useful in getting closer to the golden words, but, of course, it is impossible to have a second, third, or fourteenth draft when the the first draft is stuck behind a concrete wall.

NaNoWriMo provides that push. It provides a tangible deadline and a tangible word-count goal in order to get people to write the novel that they have always been too afraid to write. You stop thinking about the golden words and start thinking about what you are trying to say. The golden words can come after you’ve written the pyrite words.

And of course, not everyone can write golden words. Not everyone is going to be Shakespeare or J.K. Rowling or whichever writer had taken hold of your heart and refused to let go.

But who knows? You may surprise yourself. A lot of great, published novels started out as NaNoWriMo novels and ended up becoming (after plenty of revision and multiple drafts, I’m sure) like Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, or Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

But you’ll never know unless you try, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying.

“Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.”–NaNoWriMo website

Berries: Exposed!

It’s 10 PM. Do you know who your berries are?

For my first ever blog post, I was going to write about some of my favorite berries because it’s berry season! (Yay for early summer, the otherwise most irritating season due to heat waves and forced interaction with people I don’t really know at outdoor events). However, as I was looking up specific times for when specific berries are in season, I saw that there are a lot of fruits pretending to be berries, and there are a lot of fruits who you wouldn’t think are berries but totally are. So, this post is now going to be dedicated to getting definitions of fruits sorted out.

I’m sure everyone knows by now that a tomato is actually a fruit. Tomatoes are actually the initial inspiration for this article because I had some really nice tomatoes recently. Literally the sweetest things, good tomatoes can be so amazing. Anyway, yes, people know tomatoes are fruits, but why is that? Again, relatively common knowledge, a tomato has seeds in it, so it is a fruit. The difference between a fruit and a vegetable is that a fruit is a structure that holds the seeds (developed from the ovary of the flowering plant) while a vegetable is basically everything else, such as the root, stem, or leaf of the plant. So, tomatoes by this definition are clearly fruits. But did you know that a tomato is more accurately a berry?

A true berry is a fruit that comes from one flower with one ovary. That’s what specifically makes a tomato a berry. Guess what else are berries by this definition? Watermelons, pumpkins, grapes, and bananas. That’s right, bananas. My sister was so mad at me when I told her this, and she still refuses to accept this newfound knowledge. I, however, am easily persuaded because I am not a botanist, so I will accept this information willingly. So, now that you know a banana is a berry, want to know what isn’t a berry? Blackberries and strawberries. Yup.

A blackberry can’t be a berry because it’s made of a bunch of ovaries, each surrounding one seed, all bunched together. The definition of a berry says it’s gotta be one ovary, so that’s ruled out. I’ve seen blackberries and raspberries called aggregate fruits, or druplets for short hand, because that’s what they look like. They’re called little druplets instead of one whole fruit. A strawberry has always been my favorite thing to explain to people. D0 you know about all the seeds on the outside of a strawberry? Those aren’t really seeds,  but little inactivated fruits. The deliciously tangy and sweet red part of a strawberry is actually a stem growing around all these little fruits. They also don’t grow from the flower of their plant. So, people call a strawberry an accessory fruit, not a berry.

Figuring out what an avocado was was annoying. I initially thought an avocado was a drupe because a drupe is basically a berry but with one stony endocarp surrounding the seed, like a peach, mango, or coconut. So here I was, all content with the idea that avocados were probably drupes until I looked it up and BAM, they’re true berries. So I guess the difference is botanists are saying that the rind, or exocarp, is fleshy enough and the endocarp is soft enough to be counted as a berry and not a drupe. This is fair, I guess, because the actual avocado seed is that big pit in the center, so it is surrounded by the fleshy stuff you actually eat. This is as opposed to a peach, which has that stone in the center covering the actual seed.

So, there it is. Strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries: all lies. You can go spoil all your family and friends’ excitement over summer berries this fine summer season. You want a REAL berry? Hit up an avocado or a tomato, they’ll show you REAL berries.