“They’re angry at you, all the time. After a while, it just grinds you down…
The applicants are angry because I can’t see how special they are. Their parents are angry because I let in some other kid with a lower SAT score. The alumni are angry because they got into Princeton, but their brilliant kid got denied. The faculty’s angry because we took the athlete, not the genius, but the football players know that its easier to get in if you throw the discus, and all the violinists and pianists are pretty sure you have an edge if you play something strange, like a tuba or the harpsichord. All the New Yorkers believe that everyone out there from South Dakota gets in automatically, but out there in South Dakota they think they don’t stand a chance at a place like Princeton. The working-class kids are convinced we’re selling admission to the highest bidder. Simone is angry at us because we’re elitist, but the elite know for sure that we’re giving their places away to every black or Hispanic kid who applies. Nonlegacy kids are pissed of because they read somewhere that legacy kids are twice as likely to be admitted. But I’ve watched my boss get up in front of a packed house at reunions and tell all those loyal alumni that two-thirds of their kids are going to be rejected. Let me tell you, they’re not thrilled about that. When I go out to visit schools, the kids are mad at me because they know I’m going to dangle this beautiful thing in front of them and encourage them to apply, and then reject their applications. The college counselors, the private ones who charge thousands of dollars, they’re furious at us, because we’re furious at them, and if we even smell them on an application it pisses us off, which makes it hard for them to sell their services to the parents, who are already angry at us and are now going to be angry at them, too.”

“Can i just say, as a mother of a prospective applicant…that it’s very frustrating. We’re all trying to figure out what you want. And it feels like every time we figure out the rules, you just change them. One year it’s ‘well-rounded students.’ The next it’s minorities who play the flute,’ then as if remembering that it wasn’t supposed to be about her, she rephrased her conclusion. “these kids want to be able to give you what you want.’

And therein, thought Portia…resided the problem…

‘We’re very much aware of that,’she told them. ‘we understand the frustration. And I don’t think there’s anyone in my field right now who isn’t worried about what this is doing to the kids. And I don’t just mean the competition, though that’s bad enough. I mean what the process is doing to them psychologically…We’ve got twenty-five percent of all college applications in this country going to one percent of the schools. And that one percent includes the only fifteen American colleges who accept less than twenty percent of their applicants. We know there are parents who are doing everything they can to game the system. They’re having their kids diagnosed ADHD or learning disabled so they can get extra time on the SAT. Now that ETS has stopped denoting which students have been given extra time, there’s no reason not to. But the message. To the kids. They’ve been tutored in everything, for years, whether they need it or not. So what they come to understand is: I’m not good enough to do it on my own. I need help to be successful…

And how can that not carry forward into their adult lives? I think it already impacts their experience as college students. We have students who freak out when they no longer have that support. They’re e-mailing their tutors and sending them their papers for review. They feel fraudulent…

I had a pretty scary conversation last year with one of my friend Rachel’s babysitters. She’s a senior at Princeton now. She told me a lot of her friends have a kind of disassociation. They’ve spent years assembling this perfect self to display to use — to people who are going to make these important decisions about htem. But sometimes they don’t feel they’re that person at all. They don’t feel smart or capable in the least, and of course when they get to Princeton they’re surrounded by their peers, who have done just as good a job of assembling this competent veneer, then they feel as if they’re the only fake in the bunch. This girl, Samantha was telling me there’s so much self-doubt. When I heard that, I suddenly felt as if I’ve been doing these kids a disservice.
They expect a lot from themselves.
Oh my God. So much. I honestly wonder if they’re not creating, or at least abetting, this surge of anxiety and depression in college-aged kids. And then there’s the other side of the coin. Which the babysitter also pointed out to me. Which is that some of them get to college and they just let all those balls they’ve been juggling for years fall out of their hands. They’ve worked themselves into the ground to get in. They feel like they missed out on slacking off. So now that they’re in, they’re going to have that lazy teenager thing they never had in high school. Seriously the whole system. I wonder about it sometimes. But this where we are. In a few years, it will probably look different.”

Admission, Jean Hanff Korelitz

Late post with some quotes from Admission (pulpy novel the Tina Fey movie is based on) which I read earlier this summer while studying for the GREs. Illuminating a little of the complex many in my generation share. How did I get here? Why did I get here as opposed to someone else? How do I make the best of it? Not hugely different from other generations post-adolescent quandaries except in the magnitude of inequality.

To the White Girls Who Didn’t Get Into the College of their Dreams
It’s different for grad school but my 2 cents is that I want to be somewhere that wants to have me, not someplace where I’m the last person they pick off the wait-list.

Works in Progress I: So I Had this Idea for a Show

I’m toying with the idea of creating a podcast. As an avid podcast listener the idea of putting my hat in the ring is daunting but also exciting. My idea is to talk about music. I know that getting the format right is important and updating on a schedule is key. My ambitious* idea is to have one song (or piece) a week: once a month the song would be recent (a term I’ll define later) and once a month the song would be ‘classical music’ (again, something I’ll define later). I would feature guests to talk about certain pieces, including people I know in musicology departments, musicians and I know, as well as other family and friends. We would use the music to talk about other things, for example:
the Star Trek Soundtrack
-theramin history and usage
-autism and race
Amadou and Miriam
-World music/African music market
Beck – Song Reader
-“slow music movement” (like slow food for music)
-history of parlor music
-Beck and Scientology, does it matter?

I have no idea how long such a conversation might last, I’m thinking maybe 10-30 mns. This is my example script/notes for a Star Trek Soundtrack show.

Guest (I have a certain UCLA musicologist in mind for this some)
Some questions:
Are you a Star Trek Fan? How did you first come across the franchise? Which is your favorite series?

What was your impression of the soundtrack?

The original Star Trek theme is known for being an early use of the theremin (though according to Wikipedia it wasn’t). The theremin is an early electronic instrument named for its inventor Leon Theremin. It is recognizable for its use in sci-fi soundtracks.

Star Trek the original series is also known for its progressive treatment of race (the first interracial kiss on TV!). The crew featured all the major ethnicities, Sulu representing Asians, Uhura for Africa, Chekhov Eastern European, Scotty, Western European, Kirk, America (I guess). What struck me watching the movie now was how short-sighted this view multicultural view was. In the future all races will work together, in equality, but they won’t reproduce with each other? There were no mixed-race characters. Weirdly, Khan seems to represent a multi-racial Asian, dissecting his full name Khan Noonian Singh you might get, Khan: Central Asian, Noonian: Middle Eastern, and Singh: South Asian (YES I realize this is total racist speculation, that’s how Roddenbery seems to Roll). The Khan as terrorist Osama Bin Laden analogy seems too easy so we won’t talk about that.

In addition to the diversity on earth, the original series featured a representative of an extraterrestrial race with Spock the Vulcan. It was interesting to me how Vulcan tendancies were very in line with the autistic spectrum. Autism is having a moment in America, according to the PSAs, 1 in 50 children will develop autism. Some possible causes I’ve heard are: assertive mating, high income, computer culture, and vaccines, etc.

In conclusion, don’t see Star Trek for the music, it’s not that great. And frankly, the movie’s not that great either, but I was entertained throughout. I hope you were just as entertained by this conversation.
This has been — podcast, with our special guest —– —–
Shouout to — (probably my mom, who will be my one listener)
you can find more information at the website (which I’ll create) etc.

Let me know if you have ideas for titles, sponsors, words of wisdom/warning, etc.

*I know this schedule is extremely ambitious, especially since I haven’t been able to maintain a schedule for this blog lately, (and I’ve been unemployed!) but I think once I get started it will easier to maintain.


“They were all four of them providing a service for the rest of the people in the café, simply by being here. They were the “local vibrancy” to which the estate agents referred. For this reason, too, they needn’t concern themselves too much with politics. They simply were political facts, in their very persons.”

Zadie Smith, NW

My new place is a lovely treehouse in the hills surrounded by paths and trails and wilderness. It reminds me of a friend who grew up around here, when she moved to a more urban area said she missed running the trails in the evenings. One of my roommates this semester said she missed swimming in the pristine ocean, saying ‘not having the ocean is like not having carrots.’ I felt these people were being unappreciative, just because you grew up in a particular way doesn’t mean that it’s better or worse than another place, you can take a bus to the ocean or take a walk to some trails. When you grow up in nature, you gain a lot, but you miss out on a lot to, it’s often harder to access culture, but most importantly to me, you miss out on diversity.

I recently read Zadie Smith’s new book, NW and it reminded me of the a lot of racial issues around geography and urbanity. One thing I appreciate about Zadie Smith is her insight into middle-class black life. I don’t envy my mother’s cohort of educated black (often single) mothers who had to chose between raising a child who grew up in the comfort of an urban area around black people (knowing her roots), and the extreme discomfort of being the inkspot in a richer, whiter neighborhood. My mother chose to make our home in a middle-class neighborhood that was very mixed racially, and send us to schools where my brother and I were often the only people of color in our class. I think it worked out great for us, but I don’t envy people who have to make such difficult decisions.

People who grow up in urban centers, projects like the ones described in NW, have to deal with the realities of poverty, criminality, lack of access to education, and all that this entails. But people who grow up as the token brown person have to deal with the realities of not being represented in the culture that surrounds them and the pressure of representing their entire race and class, a pressure I’ve been feeling a lot in my job lately. The weight of that burden is difficult to describe for someone who has never experienced it. I know it’s not my responsibility to teach everyone what black people are like, but when I’m the only brown woman on my team, there is added pressure to perform. I carry this burden on behalf of my generation (people think millenials are lazy), for my locale (people think Californians are lazy), for my race (people think black people are lazy), for my sex (people think women aren’t smart, and can’t do science), for my family and for myself. A friend of mine was telling me how fun it is to act crazy sometimes, frankly I don’t think I have to luxury of lunacy.

I listened to the Slate Audio Book Club on NW. On the podcast they discussed the character Keisha, a black woman who grew up in the projects and became a successful lawyer. She was my favorite character in the book and the one I related to the most. The people on the podcast seemed to believe that the character could never really be successful. That she was bound to fall from grace in a way. I don’t think she had a dramatic fall from grace, but I also don’t think such a fall is so inevitable. In any case, I liked the book, and the discussion and I’d highly recommend both.

Growing up where I did I was surrounded by a diverse group culturally, socio-economically, and ethnically. I’ve written a little about this before but as I’ve lived and moved to other places I have found that this is very important to me (and that such a mix is pretty much unique to Oakland). But it brings up the question, what are we entitled to in a home? Is what your parents had good enough? Is what you had good enough? are you entitled to the same experiences as your peers? do you need wilderness to breathe free? do you need to live with both a mother and a father? do you deserve your own room? How much culture are you entitled to and what?

NOTE: I have started a new job (see resume) and don’t have much time to blog. It’s probably gonna be more like once a month from now on.

Talkin’ Bout my Generalizations

My mom and her husband keep talking about generalizations. When is it okay to generalize? Is it okay to make generalizations about people who come from a certain area (jingoism), wear certain clothes (classism usually) or have a certain shade of skin (racism)? What about people born on a certain day (astrology) or people of a certain personality type (enneagram, type a-b, love type etc.)? Can something be racist and also true? Do we learn more when we make generalizations or when we don’t?

I took an academic writing class where they talked about how there are only two academic theses: the first type says that things are simpler than they look, to generalize and say that everything fits into easy boxes, the second type of thesis says that things are more complex than they look and a previous author was missing some crucial piece of information when they made their generalization. My thesis was sort of the 1st type, in retrospect I think it should have been the 2nd. As humans I think we make generalizations on our own, generalizations are easy; what’s hard is dealing with a more complicated situation.

I think it’s important as a friend to keep others from oversimplifying [our friend], to continue to complicate how they’re perceived by others. It’s our job as friends to pay attention to detail, because we remember details of the things we care about, and by definition we care about our friends. I regret the times I told simplistic narratives for a complex friend. I felt hurt when my friends oversimplified me. You know the expression K.I.S.S.- Keep it simple, stupid? I say keep it complex, yes, convoluted ideas are hard to follow, and it takes a huge amount of skill to edit them down to their essence, but simple if simple is hard, complex is harder. Complexity makes us grow.