Wednesday, May 18, 2011

paper tigers

I am not one of the Asian-American overachievers that Wesley Yang talks about in this article. Yes, I am Asian-American (nevermind the distinctly Danish appellation), and I am only half-sorry to say that I am a chronic underachiever.

While this article made me laugh at different points, almost cry in some, and shake my head at others (the parts pertaining to women and dating, particularly), there is a message here that rang true to me. I identified more with the author than the proposed hypothetical overachieving AA who suddenly hits the "bamboo ceiling" because brute-force hard work just doesn't cut it anymore in the real world.

For one, I never worked that hard. I don't think I know how to. I found myself unable to hunker down in the library during test season and I found study groups and overt scheming for exam point maximization a disgusting bastardization of the learning process. My own tiger mother's orders to "study hard" fell on deaf ears. Ironically, she has raised me most of my life to think that I was some kind of naturally talented genius, which in turn led to me being ridiculously cocky about my mental acuity when college rolled around. I never learned how to work hard. I just rolled around the self-pity and shame of not knowing all the answers and not getting A's anymore. How can I no longer be "the smart one"?

My intimate acquaintance with failure was not all for naught, however. At least I don't think so. But that is another story for another day.

This points out that the otherwise well-trained AA's are good workhorses, "followers" essentially, but through the cultural inculcation of modesty and timidity as virtues, they fail to make the transition to leadership positions due to an aversion for the assertiveness and aggressiveness needed for that role. I don't know how accurate this is now seeing as how leadership positions in various clubs and associations in my campus are basically stacked to the hilt with Asian-Americans. However, it's entirely likely that the paper tigers of today have now caught on to the necessity for "leadership skills" for "success" (you know, the kind that your mother can brag about to the other moms)  and are thus perfunctorily pursuing these just like everything else. At least that's how I see it. But then again, I've been lazy and refused to pursue these ready-made avenues for "leadership positions" and a new line on my resume. Perhaps I'm just misanthropic.  Or yes, just lazy. But ninety nine percent of the time, I'd really rather follow. Someone has to. I believe this overt prioritization on  "leadership" (as if it is some kind of quantifiable skill you can obtain and check off a box) is just encouraging the creation of a generation of entitled, bossy people full of themselves. Honestly, not everyone can be a leader. Not everyone has "good" ideas, and not everyone can corral a group of followers into a productive configuration with the least amount of friction. I'm the kind of person that has no objection to rising to the occasion if I have to, but if there is any other person within my vicinity who I know can do a better job "leading", I will pass the baton with no hesitation.

Perhaps I'm just old-fashioned then, but I still value modesty. Humilitas is, to me, the greatest of all virtues. My timid nature has been my foe at many junctures of my life, but I refuse to upsell and change myself into an unnatural, carefully manufactured "product". It's one thing to carefully cultivate yourself into a person that you want to be, and another to manufacture a personal brand palatable to the right set of people that will bring you "success" in life. I feel as if these two concepts of an "ideal self" are conflated in most people--of course, the person you want to be is a successful person. That is only perfectly normal. But at what cost?
"But like Mao, I wanted to be an individual. I had refused both cultures as an act of self- assertion. An education spent dutifully acquiring credentials through relentless drilling seemed to me an obscenity. So did adopting the manipulative cheeriness that seemed to secure the popularity of white Americans.
Instead, I set about contriving to live beyond both poles."
This stuck out to me the most. I have been subconsciously doing this my whole life and yet this is the first time I've seen it spelled out in words. But the keyword here is contriving. Personally, trying very hard to act neither "white" nor "Asian" was a very exhausting tight-rope to walk. To my mother, I'd defend my more "white" characteristics like a greater desire for independence from my nosy, hovering family intent on molding me into their personal trophy shelf. At the same time I fume when my white friends point out my shyness as some kind of "Asian" trait and deride my excessive (to their opinion) tolerance of my parents' meddling in my life. There was something about both cultural paradigms that put me off.

Yet I think, at least as of recent, I have started to grow out of this rather teenage contrivance. It's not individuality at all when you're defining yourself by your rejection of a particular paradigm. It's not conscious because it is merely a reflex. My whole life, so far, has been one big reflex to all the perceived injustices I've suffered. My own overbearing tiger mother. The academic torture and shaming I went through during my "faux-gifted" formative years in an Asian schooling system. The horrible curve-wrecking robots in my classes. It goes on. I could feel sorry for myself my whole life, but that would be a waste of a life.

Being an individual means confidence in your life choices.

I really should try listening to myself sometimes.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

ridiculously extraterrestrial

Like a great deal of moderately self-aware people who suffered from the hipster prick affliction at some point in their lives (it's an epidemic now, isn't it?), I at one point--let's call that point "high school"--cared deeply about what my musical taste said about me. It mattered so much that my first relationship was based entirely on the fact that Fake Plastic Trees both made us cry.

Enter college. My lost years, which I'm sure I'll whine about plenty in later posts. I ceased to care about keeping up with the latest hip ear candy and glutted myself in top 40 trash, half due to laziness and the other half due to some Gaga-esque retaliation to the smug self-satisfaction that comes with an obscure musical palate. Mostly laziness, though. I've developed a very high tolerance for the ridiculous when it comes to pop, but Katy Perry's E.T. takes the cake.

I heard it first on the way to an impromptu trip to Vegas. It takes a little more than ten hours to make the drive from the SF Bay Area to Sin City, and yet I'm sure I heard this song 25 if not more times. Twenty five times too many. I'm meh when it comes to having any actual opinion on Miss Perry and her music--I finally nailed this cumbersome figure skating move while the rink blasted Firework, and California Girls  is saved from my scorn by virtue of Johnny Weir in leather jeggings. To be fair to Katy Perry, however, the most offensive (in all senses of the word) portion of this song actually belongs to Kanye West. Surprise, surprise. I continue to fail to see his purported genius, and this really does not help:
I know a bar out in Mars
Where they driving spaceships instead of cars
Cop a Prada spacesuit about the stars
Getting stupid ass straight out the jar
Pockets on Shrek, Rockets on deck
Tell me what’s next, alien sex
I’ma disrobe you, than I’mma probe you
See I abducted you, so I tell ya what to do
I tell ya what to do, what to do, what to do
Newsflash to KWest: No amount of Prada is going to make the idea of alien probing even remotely sexy. Add to that the less-than-subtle whiff of rape imagery and Shrek. Katy Perry's parts, while not as blatantly distasteful and/or inane, still reeks of srsly?! lulz. I honestly wonder whether this is her attempt at aping Lady Gaga-type whatthefuckery. Whatever your opinion of Gaga is, her over-the-top nonsensicality "worked" for her because it was novel and intentional. We do not need multiple Poker Face copycats on the airwaves. Everything already sounds the same as it is.

But who am I to talk about music? I happily embrace every catchy top 40 song there until the next heavily auto-tuned masterpiece comes along. The only musical constant in my life is Fake Plastic Trees.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

virkelig snakker

I found a letter I wrote to myself a couple of months ago while packing up my room. Harsh. It was titled, hilariously enough, "Real Talk".
"Here we are again, prostrate on the feet of Failure, victim of our own self-destructive attempts at self-preservation. We shall accept, without irony, without self-pity, without ulterior longing for outside sympathy, this fact--everything is our own fault. It is not the fault of our "robot" peers that we underperform, underachieve, and sabotage ourselves. Their trajectories, however deplorable or plebeian, are none of our concern, and they have no bearing on our limited successes and multiple failures. To live, as yourself, means to divorce yourself from these comparisons, to think and do as you see fit. 
Take your fury, young person, and turn it on yourself. Do not mistake meekness for modesty and humility--if you think yourself small, invisible, and infinitesimal, then that is all you will ever be. Accept with graceful humility the fact that you are merely a tiny speck in this universe of universes, a splinter in the flesh of the world, but like all the tiny specks and splinters that dare to breathe in this very second, you have the the right to pursue personal happiness."
Did I get my act together then? No. I didn't sincerely believe what wrote, and sought to punish myself with harsh words that fell on deaf ears. I continued my willful self-sabotage until the last minute. Perhaps I felt like I couldn't "reboot" myself until I reached some arbitrary boundary in my life where I can freely start over. Like now, for instance.

Will I actually get my sh*t together? Or will this be another flop?

Stay tuned.