Sunday, April 15, 2018

Synthesis Essay!!

Synthesis Prompt: Write an essay that takes a position on whether it is better to trust logic or “follow your heart” when making decisions.

“Following your heart” has many names: faith, intuition, gut, and has even been called the “sixth sense”.  Intuition can come in the form of a subtle feeling or a powerful hunch, both urging us, against common sense, to listen to it. While logic does play an important role in decision-making, when a conflict arises between intuition and logic, intuition often holds wise advice that logic cannot see.
    Intuition often guides us to take risks that can lead to unexpected rewards.  The Magnolia Story, an autobiography by designer Joanna Gaines, discusses a life-altering moment when she chose to rebel against her practical, feet-on-the ground nature: “...I am still not sure what it was about Chip Gaines that made me give him a second chance--because, basically, our first date was over before it even started...If I would’ve ended up with that quiet guy or that stable guy or that safe one would have pushed me to these new places I discovered in myself’...If I hadn’t married Chip, I might not ever have bloomed” (The Magnolia Story).  Despite the fact that Chip was an hour late to their first date, Joanna let herself get caught up in his confident aura and an unfounded, out-of-the-blue feeling that Chip was “the man she would marry”. He was loud, impulsive, and embodied traits that would logically clash and collide with her own; but against the odds, their contrasting personalities puzzled together perfectly to tackle the challenges of entrepreneurship while raising a family.  Had Joanna ignored her intuition, she would never have had the courage to date and marry a man who would bring her into a spontaneous lifestyle beyond her comfort zone. Max Gunther, author of The Luck Factor, wrote about a stockbroker named Hazard who “took a long time to learn to trust my (Hazard’s) hunches”.  Then, one night in 1968 when the stock market was looking up, he felt an unexplained “sudden fear” and “nervous quality in the air” and sold virtually all of his stocks. Soon after, the markets began to fall, and “by mid-1970s, most of Hazard’s stocks were worth less than half of what he sold them for” (The Luck Factor). Had Hazard swept away his unexplained, unfounded, intuitive sense of fear, he would have lost over half of his investment money.  But because he listened to his gut on a day when logically, everything was normal, he is now “comfortably rich”. “Following your heart” can often seem unsafe and unwise, but many wild, famous success stories owe their happy endings to a chance taken on a whim.  Albert Einstein viewed the intuitive mind as a sacred gift. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, visited India in 1974 where he learned to trust his intuition over rationale, and he credits much of his success to this teaching. Both of these famous men proposed risky, cutting-edge ideas for their day, and both trusted and utilized their intuition.  
Not only can “following your heart” lead to journeys full of risk and reward, but scientists and psychologists have discovered that intuition isn’t wishy-washy “magic” - the “magic” of intuition is rooted in each person’s prior knowledge and experience.  A passage front a recent book on cognitive psychology describes how “We are not surprised when a two-year-old looks at a dog and says ‘doggie!’ because we are used to the miracle of children learning to recognize and name things. Simon’s point is that the miracles of expert intuition have the same character. Valid intuitions develop when experts have learned to recognize familiar elements in a new situation and to act in a manner that is appropriate to it”. The author decodes the mystery of intuition, and proves that we see this phenomenon all the time - such as when toddlers learn to talk - and just don’t know to associate it with the word intuition.  An article about psychologist Gary Klein talks about how “Dr. Gary Klein designed a model called the Recognition Primed Decision (RPD) explain that how our brains can make incredibly fast decisions without going through the process of comparing and contrasting options” and how “when placed in a situation where there is a time limit, heavy pressure and a changing environment — our brains use our bank of experience and collected knowledge to identify situations that you’ve faced before” (Luis R. Valadez).  This shows that intuition is founded in a scientific process of speed-thinking and split-second wisdom. When you see a person across the room and feel like you could someday become good friends with them, it may be due to the subtleties of how they stand or smile similarly to you. When you hang up the phone because you think the call is a scam, you may have recognized their wording, selling point, or tone of voice.  Intuition is not only wise because it has the potential to lead to amazing chances and rewards, but it is also wise because it is a secret cabinet with millions of data files on what a person has noticed, knows, and even forgets that he/she remembers.
    While it is very important to recognize logic, pros and cons, and common sense, recognizing intuition is a widely untapped wealth of possibility. History, science, psychology, and personal stories throughout time are all a testament to the power of taking a risk, using your unconscious mind, and “following your heart”. 

Synthesis Sources:
Source A (The Magnolia Story, by Joanna Gaines)
Source B (The Luck Factor, by Max Gunther) 
Source C (The intuition passage we read in class that goes with an AP MC practice)
Source D ("The Truth and Science Behind the Amazing Intuition of Humans", by Luis R. Valdez)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Argument Prompt

Write an essay in which you develop a position on to what extent people must compromise their ideals in order to achieve their goals. 

For centuries, people have debated whether the ends justify the means.  Men and women have lied to protect their loved ones, broken laws to free the oppressed, and committed crimes in the name of the greater good.  In the convoluted blur of choices that every person is faced with, people have come to realize that no action is simple. Often times, people must temporarily sacrifice their ideals in order to achieve a goal that is true to their ideals.  
    The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, by C. W. Gortner, offers a fiction version of the legend of one of history’s most notorious queens.  Catherine de Medici was the last legitimate descendent of her bloodline and reigned during an era of religious turmoil between the Protestants and the Catholics. As queen of France, Catherine’s goals were to protect the survival of her dynasty and harmony within her realm.  Catherine issued many edicts in order to end the French civil war and strengthen relations with Spain. When Catherine discovered that admiral Coligny was plotting to drive French Catholics into a war against the Spanish, she sent her confident Guise to kill the admiral. However, this inadvertently led to the infamous Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day, which led to over 10,000 deaths and permanently tainted Catherine’s reputation. Despite the bloodshed that resulted from the massacre, after the incident most of France converted to Catholicism. Although Catherine’s actions temporarily went against her value of harmony and caused a resurgence of civil war, C. W. Gortner illustrates how this resulting religious unity led into an ideal era of Catholic harmony under Catherine’s hand-chosen successor, the largely beloved Bourbon Henry IV (who would also fulfill Catherine’s goal of continuing her dynasty). Catherine’s actions briefly led to what she feared most - war - but they ultimately led to a future closer to Catherine’s utopian vision of harmony under her dynasty.  
    Like Catherine de Medici, Nelson Mandela was a powerful political leader; however, rather than being born into a royal bloodline, he was born into a time of severe apartheid in South Africa. He is renowned for valuing peace and negotiation in his campaigns to end discrimination.  Peace was an ideal so close to his heart and so evident in his efforts that he was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. However, after a massacre of unarmed colored people by a police force at Sharpeville, Mandela decided that he would also need more forceful methods to truly achieve his goal, and launched the MK branch of the African National Congress. This unit would resort to sabotage, guerilla war tactics, and would become one of the deadliest organizations of the time.  Despite its violence, this group would earn the critical support of other African countries and the Soviet bloc to aid its activities and cause.  Because Mandela was willing to temporarily surrender his ideal of peaceful change, he accumulated enough international pressure to force the apartheid government to negotiate with the ANC, and lead South Africa into a promising future of increased political and social peace between different races.  Despite Mandela’s temporary, expedient use of violence, thousands of people were inspired by the fact that peace, words, and negotiation were always the methods that Mandela attempted first. He went down in history as a peacemaker because ultimately, he achieved a united and inclusive political order and brought South Africa closer to his ideal image of a cooperative, just place.
    Unlike Mandela, Jonas Salk was not a political leader; he was an American medical researcher of the 20th century.  He lived during a time when Polio was one of the most rampant and feared diseases in industrialized countries, and he yearned to suppress the disease. The desire to cure and heal people was his leading inborn value.  However, after inventing a Polio vaccine, in order to convince the public of its validity, he tested his medicine on his wife and three young children, risking the paralysis and death of his entire family.  His children were too young to understand what was happening or give consent.  Intentionally injecting his loved ones with a disease goes against the code of ethics that a healthcare workers is trained to follow. But because Salk was willing to temporarily betray his love of seeing people healthy, because he was willing to watch his family undergo tests and pain, he was able to prove and popularize a vaccine that would heal millions of people around the globe and largely curb the Polio epidemic. He sacrificed his ideals temporarily so that he could heal people and save lives on a much larger scale than he otherwise could have.  Like Mandela, Salk’s actions ultimately brought the world closer to his personal image of utopia: a world eradicated of illness.
    Often times, people must make risky choices and take bold, unexpected pathways to achieving their goals. Activists, researchers, and leaders must often be willing to temporarily explore and deviant from their principles in order to successfully turn their visions and ideals into tangible change and improvement. 

MLA Citation:
Gortner, C. W. The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, volume 1, Ballantine books, May 13 2010.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Story of Love and Loss

          Since the last blog post, I have come to read and love a book called The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. Last time my class updated our reading wrap-up, I had read 121 pages (in 120 minutes, 20 of them outside of class), and since then I have read another 40 pages. Time-wise, this is a unique book to read because there are many flashbacks, and in just one sitting I can experience some of both the narrator’s past and present life.
What I love most about The Handmaid's Tale is the hidden breakthroughs of emotion along the way.  The narrator is a young woman full of memories, thrust into a world where suppression is survival.  Her “real” name and appearance are  never revealed (although, for this blog, I’ll call her by her “fake” name, Offred). Her tone, as shaped by her circumstances, is often matter-of-fact.  She accepts that “...there’s no escaping it. Time’s a trap, I’m caught in it” (152). Her use of short sentences is reflective of her self-discipline and ability to keep herself from dilly-dallying on anything beyond her control.  Although she often thinks about the past, she is very grounded when trying to cope with the present. She rarely cries, never complains, and she is constantly on watch for small moments of freedom and possibility.  One such example is her routine of smuggling her dinner butter into the toe of her shoe and using it later as lotion, under the hope that “as long as we (the women of society) do this...we can believe that we will someday get out, that we will be touched again, in love or desire” (105).  Although this is a quiet, discreet action, it is still solid rebellion.  Although Offred is calm in this routine, my heart races on her behalf; as a reader, it is a breakthrough to see this character, so talented at dealing with and accepting difficulty, show defiance. Her tone has shifted from matter-of-fact to slightly more wistful and hopeful.  However, above all, one of the most emotional moments of the book was when Offred sees a photograph of her daughter, whom she has been separated from since infancy, and she realizes that her daughter does not even remember her. She describes herself as “nothing more than a woman of sand, left by a care-less child too near the water...I can’t bear it, to have been erased like that” (242).  In this moment, Offred has entirely shed her matter-of-fact, collected demeanor, and she allows emotion to wash her over.  She is no longer using short sentences, and she describes herself in an open manner, using long analogies and touching phrases.
    The reason that countless women, such as Offred, are forced into prostitution in The Handmaid’s Tale is a frightening drop in fertility rates.  Although there are many developing countries where overpopulation is a demanding problem, there are also many developed countries where the opposite is true.  According to The World Factbook, Singapore currently has the world’s lowest total fertility rate at .83.  Higher than Singapore, but still below the replacement fertility rate of 2.1, the United States has a fertility rate of 1.87.  Given these numbers, it is possible that in some countries in the future, decreasing population size will become just as urgent a problem as it is in this dystopian novel.  Unlike in this novel, prostitution may never become the primary solution, but governments may still be tasked with finding solutions and strongly encouraging women to childbear may still become part of the future culture.  
    This book was particularly special because it not only highlights timeless emotional struggles about loss, nostalgia, and hope, but also depicts a young woman living in a world that has chosen a difficult solution to a population problem that our world may one day face.

MLA Citation:
“Country Comparison: Total Fertility Rate.” The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency, 2017.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Timeless Voice

Maya Angelou is the first name that I ever associated with activism. I was seven, trying to convince my mother that Shakespeare is pointless, and she countered by describing the many people that he inspired.  She told me stories of a young girl (Maya Angelou) who rediscovered her own voice with the help of his, and the great things that she went on to do. I was enthralled by the prospect of this woman, who was inspired by language and later used language as a powerful tool. 
When I picked up I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings a couple of weeks ago, the book had a cloud of fantasies and expectations to live up to.  For no founded reason, I imagined a girl playing in a garden, watching birds fly, and reading endlessly. I expected a reflective, observant tone. I did not imagine that the book would open with a four-year-old and a three-year-old alone on a train to Arkansas.  As soon as I realized the level of hardship that Maya endured, I set aside the book. I tried a light-hearted young adult novel that evolved into a version of Twilight, the first few pages of Jane Austen’s Emma, and then circled back to my original book.  I began reading for scarce minutes outside of school, in order to make up for the time spent experimenting with other books.  In the future, I hope to find more time to read outside of school, and also to have a longer to-read list that I can pull from at any given point in time.
Many moments in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings highlight the culture of the South during the 1900s.  In one instance, for an outburst of giggling during church, Maya and her brother “received the whipping of our lives” while “Uncle Willie ordered us between licks to stop crying” (52 Angelou).  The strict whipping punishment illustrated in this scene is characteristic of the time and is no longer a common punishment today. In another instance, Maya is enjoying a slow, ordinary summer day, and says, “I often sat under the chinaberry tree in his yard, surrounded by the bitter aroma of its fruit and lulled by the drone of flies that fed on the berries” (29 Angelou). This demonstrates how children in this time frame had free time and spent it noticing the climate and nature around them.  Overall throughout her childhood, Maya noted that “the segregation was so complete that most Black children didn’t really absolutely know what whites looked like” (33 Angelou). This observation about segregation defined the separated culture in the South less than one century ago, in comparison to the multicultural communities that we live in today.
Although set in the 1900s, this book also addresses timeless issues, such as the ongoing issue of women not viewing themselves as beautiful.  Maya Angelou viewed her character as tainted and her physical appearance as unpleasant. A few days after she testified to the fact that her abuser (Mr. Freeman) hurt her, he escaped from jail and was found dead.  Maya believes that this never would have happened if she had not used her voice and therefore comes to view herself in a negative light.  Physically, she views herself as “a too-big Negro girl, with nappy black hair, broad feet and space between her front teeth that would hold a number-two pencil”.  Maya Angelou’s experience of not viewing herself as beautiful, both inside and out, mirrors that of many women today.  An article by Psychology Today discusses the phenomenon of women appearing less good-looking to themselves than they do to others.  It describes the fact that because each woman knows herself so well, she has the tendency to criticize herself and create a negative self image.  
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is a classic tale because it educates readers on many historical issues along with highlighting timeless issues which still exist today.

"Why You Don't Think You're Beautiful." Psychology Today, 2 June 2016,'t-think-you-re-beautiful.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Tone of the Future

The Circle, by Dave Eggers, is a book so beloved by Emma Watson that the young actress starred as Mae Holland (the protagonist) in the film adaptation.  As a forever faithful fan of Emma, I read the techno-thriller, researched it, and then hit Studio Movie Grill on the premiere night of April 28th.  The first page of the novel unleashes dignified fountains, glass buildings, and Californian hills - a typical image of modernism.  However, beyond the opening, this book depicts the future in a very realistic, almost rustic fashion.

Unlike many dystopian settings (which appear perfect to the naked eye), Eggers shows some tarnish of his fictional world from the beginning.  For instance, Mae was raised in Longfield, "...a small town between Fresno and Tranquillity, incorporated and named by a literal-minded farmer in 1866. One hundred and fifty years later, its population had peaked at just under two thousand souls, most of them working in Fresno, twenty miles away. Longfield was a cheap place to live, and the parents of Mae's friends were security guards, teachers, truckers who liked to hunt" (22). 
Eggers likely located Mae's hometown between Tranquility and Fresno (both in California) because the word Tranquility draws attention to the slow pace of Longfield and Fresno is characterized by a semi-arid climate (which is suitable for farming).  The mention of 1866 (which predates the start of World War 1) paints the image that Longfield is frozen in antiquity.  The total census of almost two thousand is lower than the student population of many contemporary high schools, and the continued need for ordinary professions and hobbies (such as security guards, truckers, hunting) makes the future seem more relatable to the present.

Eggers' world is unique in that its modernism has one single hub - The Circle - and this modernism only reaches the general population through technology (tracking and camera products). This is similar to the present day, where companies such as Apple and Google (which also have headquarters in California) reach the general population through products such as iPhones, Google Maps, etc.  The author accounts for the fact that in the future, our world will still need farms, teachers, and humility (in contrast to science fiction movies that show whole world covered in skyscrapers with service-performing robots).  Egger's use of this rustic and realistic setting, reminiscent of our actual world, makes the story more relatable and believable.  

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Analytics of a Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream, advertised by the New York City Ballet as "awash with magic at every turn", is a work of art that is too classic to be ignored and too quixotic to fade with time.  This tale has inspired a variance, all the way from a short Disney film (starring Mickey Mouse) to the names of three moons around Uranus (Titania, Oberon, and Puck). The one aspect of this book that is infamous for inspiring moans and groans (the Shakespearean dialect) is one of the reasons that this piece continues to stand out in the genre of romantic comedy.

Early in the play, as two lovers (Hermia and Lysander) confess their escape plans to a friend, Lysander says,
"Helen, to you our minds we will unfold.
Tomorrow night when Phoebe doth behold
Her silver visage in the watery glass,
Decking with liquid pearl the bladed grass
(A time that lovers' flights doth still conceal),
Through Athens' gates have we devised to steal" (1.1.208-213).

The use of the phrase "our minds we will unfold" (as opposed to a modern phrase, such as "we will tell you our plan") heightens the idea that the lovers are very open with Helen and that they trust her with everything that is on their minds. In short, it brings forward the magnitude of trust.  The description of the moon, "Phoebe doth behold", personifies the night and makes it seem alive, and the words "silver visage" (as opposed to the simple word "moonlight") paint a mental image of the lustrous moonlight in contrast with the dark night.  The description "liquid pearl the bladed grass" makes the setting feel whimsical, since magic often comes in the form of liquid potions.  When Lysander tops off his dialogue with the words "devised to steal" (rather than a modern phrase like "run away"), it ensures that each reader feels his clandestine (and slightly daring) determination.

The wording in the passage above makes the reader feel as though he/she is in on a secret.  The Shakespearean use of adjectives makes the reader feel as though he/she is in another, more fantastical world.  While modern English is quicker to read, the descriptive nature of the Elizabethan dialect of Shakespeare shines a light on details of the story that may otherwise have gone unnoticed.

Monday, April 3, 2017

My Passion for the Pages

Sometimes, I feel like Belle, from Beauty and the Beast: a girl caught in a fearless embrace with her imagination, with fingers that love leather covers, and with a heart that falls for romance.
Other times, I feel like Rebecca Bloomwood, from Confessions of a Shopaholic: a young lady who is restless and courted by the glamour of the moment, but who secretly appreciates the unhurried lyricality of words.

I equally adore the balmy after-scent of rain and the eccentric smell of my mother's childhood Narnia edition.  Most of my books have torn covers from traveling around the world with me.  My copy of Harry Potter has been to King's Cross Station in London, and my copy of Anne Frank's diary has been in Anne Frank's very bedroom in Amsterdam.  As a reader, my books are companions.  I read one at a time, I read the words out loud whenever those around me are willing to listen, and I even lend my loyalty to learning half the words by heart.  It is in my nature to fan-girl about great stories. 

 If I set a goal to read more pages per day, I would eventually wind up with a glaring stack of unfinished homework assignments.  Instead, I aspire to boost my reading speed from 300 words per minute to 500 words per minute.  This new speed would carry me faster through books by authors that I already enjoy, and therefore free me with extra minutes to try books that are currently just a peripheral priority.  Increasing my reading rate would also propel me to finish books that I would otherwise abandon, due to the hope of getting through them faster!  I would also like to find a few fresh titles to read (that are more sophisticated than I am familiar with) even if that means reading books that don't have a sequel.  Right now, for my required AP title, I am beginning William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and it has already opened my eyes to literary allusions that I never before understood (regarding characters such as Puck and King Oberon).

Synthesis Essay!!

Synthesis Prompt: Write an essay that takes a position on whether it is better to trust logic or “follow your heart” when making decisions....