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An Update, In Time

26 October 2013 Leave a comment

Time for a rare present-referencing update (i.e. one that is neither backdated nor otherwise delocalized)!

Many of the past weeks have been grey ones. In my first weeks here, especially, I think I struggled with how everything else going on seemed brighter and louder, somehow, than I was used to. At the time I put it down to orientation fatigue – I had, after all, come straight in to orientations and New Student Week here, after our own marathon FOP.

But while I wasn’t totally wrong about the loudness and general effusive socializing being New Student Week things, that wasn’t quite all of it. The fatigue was more general, and fatigue wasn’t (I found) all.

Life has shifted in the most recent weeks. I think I have an idea about when it started, and I hope to finish writing about that soon. I’ve noticed the shift in the quality of the little things I do and respond to every day. I had one of those times yesterday, when I was reading the final stretch of Embassytown by China Miéville. This was actually my second time reading the same chapters, the first time being in my first week here (I’d started on the novel on the journey). Unlike the first time, however, I found myself feeling powerfully moved almost throughout the entire stretch. It was agonizing, or excruciating (and I can’t find a word that doesn’t connote badness). I don’t think I was completely oblivious to the poignancy the first time, but I think the difference was that my knowing it was there didn’t mean I had the heart to be there.

The first read-through was in no way a waste – I loved the ideas, and those ideas have been deliciously pertinent to what I’ve been doing in class (linguistics and philosophy). It also seemed as good a story as any to leave home with; themes like alien-ness and home and voyaging were there, although it wasn’t until the second time that some things resonated.

Which brings me back to the resonant present, in which words come a bit more freely, music animates slightly more, and the heart has more room for impressions – these being what follows when the marks of pressure have faded some, and the deformations from past constrictions have had time to fill out: not reversed, but (perhaps this might be the way to think of it) newly formed. That’s most of the update. The last bit is that I’ve been thinking properly about those great big ideas again (I’ve missed those), and maybe Econ/EL might be the way to go.

I’m not going to be able to do proper justice right here to the remembering that’s taken place over the past five weeks, the crucible that was my final few months in Singapore, or my life in USP and with USC in the past year or so. I know it all sounds terribly heavy and depressing; it often kind of was. In addition to the fatigue I mentioned, there was also disappointment, and grief. The grief I will remember here in time.

As for the disappointment, it has little to do with any notions of legacy. I cannot claim that I am immune to such thoughts, but I can claim that I’ve largely been spared the kind of dull, carping anxiety that attends to such thoughts, especially recently. It’s helped that I honestly feel glad about much more than I thought I would at first, and that disentangling, in my mind, those whom I care for from those for whom I could care less has largely been the opposite of disappointing.

There were other kinds of disappointment, but they’ve attenuated. I don’t feel let down as much, now that I’m not suffering; it’s not that the feeling attended the suffering, just that it’s easier to feel let down when you’re having a hard time. It’s also helped to have acknowledged and then let go of resentment. I’ve had time to do that.

I know it all sounds terrible, which is not quite what I intended three paragraphs ago. What I meant to stress was that through it all I knew much good, gained much, and am grateful to many. And I feel I should add that I am more convinced than ever that blessedness of this sort does not preclude the recognition of the bad stuff. It’s true also that some of the bad stuff persists, but it is another blessedness that contempt need not persist.

For a time, it regularly seemed that it was as much as I could do to resist resignation. For a time after that, it seemed good enough to have endured, and avoided resignation. In the present time, I walk into something better than even that, and I remember a time from before when I believed it would be so.

Categories: Reflection Tags: , ,

Speech

11 March 2013 Leave a comment

This was the 5-minute speech I gave at the 2012 USC MC elections’ Q&A – it was on a Friday night at the Angsana auditorium. Supernova was happening at Town Green at the same time, and the turnout was small; but the memory of the speech in my mind is very special, because many of the people I addressed in it were exactly the ones who turned out. I was glad for that.

One of the questions I’ve had the hardest of times answering over the past few days is why I’m running for President – I think it’s a deceptively simple question, if only because it is impossible to condense every thought and feeling I’ve had about this place, this experience and you people into a suitable verbal answer: but yet nothing except the sum and totality of that experience would be an honest answer.

The short answer to the question is that it’s been a valuable experience and that it’s something that I want to see as many people as will be students here enjoying. But what is this USP and USP experience? Another hard question.

I remember my first class of my freshman year – 10 a.m. on a Monday, Nationalism and the Arts, in SR1. It was my first class as a proper student in years, and I think there were two main questions on my mind, the first being, ‘What are my classmates going to be like?’ – coz it was USP – and the second being, ‘Is the class going to be good?’ And I had a fantastic class.

There were other things that led to me standing here today. One was my peer mentor, who, faced with a somewhat awkward and over-serious freshman, could so easily have been condescending or remote – but instead she was sincere, and taught me something about graciousness along the way.

Another thing that led me here was potato salad in West Coast Park prepared by a purple OGL for a surprise picnic. This was my experience at my O-Week, something I remembered as being very good and very thoughtful, and something that made me decide to commit to being the Operations Manager of the latest FOP.

And as much as FOP was something I had to treat as work, I nevertheless got to know people whom I love and respect. I also got to see a side of the community that I wasn’t counting on – the generosity of people who saw the needs, came alongside and, freely, gave their help.

This is the second part of the answer to why I decided to run for President – this was not a decision I could have made if I didn’t believe in the people who form this community. I think it is a no-brainer that it was the most dynamic element in the system – the people – who swung my decision.

I think the second question I will need to answer is about my agenda as President. Certainly I have an agenda – a working agenda – and I’ve put what I consider to be the most urgent things at the top of it. I will share my perspective on this, but tonight and in future, I will hear from you because it cannot be just my agenda.

Right at the top is the quality of the residential experience and the things we are doing to improve it. One reason it is at the top is that it is a new thing. The house system is the main thing I have in mind, and I think the best scope and justification for it is the mission of student welfare. That includes residential welfare – and this is something I think RAs and RFs are willing to advise us on and join us in working on – but it also includes a social component, because there will always be people who are excluded from the life of the community – things like language barriers or heavy responsibilities outside of school are real barriers.

But at the same time I believe that there are people who will sincerely want to reach out to them – and it is only this sincerity which makes such a vision of an inclusive house or inclusive community possible without being condescending.

As far as I have considered it, there is no clearer purpose for houses in USP than the welfare of students.

But USP students have come together, and continue to come together, for other reasons – I think of these as the interests of the community, or community interests.

I think ‘engage’ has been one of the key words of the past three days of campaigning, but really I think USP students are already engaged and willingly engaged – why would they not be, seeing as they bring so much energy and such a wide range of skills and interests to the community?  But because of that I think it is vitally important that our events and our communication about them are managed efficiently and well, and that people feel that they can communicate about them to the community – otherwise we lose the engagement.

These are the top two items I currently see as being most urgent.

I would like to end off with where I see USP now: we have in the past managed two identities, that of being an academic programme and faculty, as well as being an active community of common interests. Last year we had to begin imagining ourselves as a third thing, a ‘residential college’. Can they all be a part of our identity? How can we be all those things to every member of the community – people who don’t live here, people who’ve lived in halls and have come to live here, people who leave Kent Ridge campus for classes every weekday? I think these are some of the questions we will face this year, and I invite you to join me in generating and actualizing good theses.

(Friday, 31 August 2012.)

I’ve been proven wrong on some points, failed in others, but, for all that, I am not yet lost.

Categories: Events Tags:

Long Runs and the Long Run

15 February 2013 Leave a comment

I spent much of yesterday talking about a bunch of things related to the community that’s been my prime concern with those I feel most closely committed to. I was also quite consistently high on caffeine and consistently ingesting sugar the whole day. Perhaps that, combined with the guilt from consuming many cookies over the holiday, was what prompted me to go on a long run last night. I started off without a clear route in mind, but I think the eventual programme reflects what the day was like.

Presenting: the USP Partner Faculty Run!
(Sorry Law students, my endurance will need to improve before I’m able to do the complete version of this.)

  1. Cinnamon College
  2. EduSports Hub
  3. Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music
  4. Faculty of Engineering T-Lab
  5. NUSSU sign outside Yusof Ishak House
  6. Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences/Central Library
  7. NUSS Kent Ridge Guild House
  8. Bus Stop at School of Computing/School of Business
  9. Yusof Ishak House
  10. University Hall
  11. Faculty of Science S6 (Science Library block)
  12. SRC Car Park
  13. UTown Residences
  14. Cinnamon College

Warm down at USP amphitheatre.

Categories: Vagaries Tags:

A Year to Recover From

17 January 2013 Leave a comment

(Reposted from my Facebook note.)

As the title suggests, this has been as taxing a year as I’ve ever had. I’ve duly spent a long and rather tenuous period of recovery from it. I did not dare to hope that I’d be feeling as recovered as I am today, but somehow I did, and therefore this note.

What I’ve mainly recovered is a bit of faith (though apparently the bit – Matt 17:20 – that makes all the difference). I’ve shed off a bit more of disappointment, having submitted to the suffering of some of it. What ensues is – can only be – better. It is for all this that I give thanks.

There is an anonymous person, who may or may not ever read this, who helped wash the dozen or so stale coffee mugs in the lobby that I was resigned to having to do myself, at some point in time I hated to think about. Finding them washed meant a lot, at that point – I think it is beautiful that the worth of that act is best reckoned as simply as possible.

There are others persons, non-anonymous, but whom I may not name, to whom I am, or have been, grateful.

I have always been grateful for those who have held up their end of a shared hope or responsibility. I have been especially grateful to those who stood with me during hard situations. I hope I never forget those who rallied this summer. There were many more rallies in the season following – autumn brought with it a whole series of battlefronts. The great blessing I had was not having to fight them alone – there were leaders and counsellors and allies, and, grace upon grace, those who were all of these and, at the same time, friends. These are my heroes.

As I approached the end of the year, I found that I’d most come to appreciate something less like the strength I’ve earlier mentioned. During the most taxing periods, I often found I had close to nothing to offer, sometimes nothing beyond my stresses or disillusionments – to those to whom I did not have to summon up anything for, I am profoundly grateful.

In my recent memory, the summer and everything that followed have loomed the largest. I still do not remember as much of the time before, though I remember that the beginning of the spring was marked by the second of two deaths, and I was deeply grateful to those whose sympathies I had without my having to appeal.

That I have had a partner in all of this is true grace. This I have from a God I call mine.

Categories: Reflection Tags:

Week 13/Week 10

16 November 2012 Leave a comment

I am so drained of motive energy.

Categories: Exclamations Tags:

The Impulse to Chatter

31 October 2012 Leave a comment

At the beginning of my summer, this passage provided the spark for a paper on spaces in Cinnamon College:

The socialization of space is a predominant factor in how people remember and forget certain physical spaces. Socialization is defined as “a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position” (“socialization”). Applied to physical space, this concept refers to space as a location that has assembled a cultural identity based on individual and community values, norms, and behavior in that location. Physical space, as an agent of people’s principles and ideals, acts as a material of distributed cognition by which people’s memories are attached and dispersed. Similar to how one remembers a birthday party or a wedding, individuals remember a place for the events that occurred there and the people that remain significant to its daily, continuing construction. (Source)

Even though summer’s been over for a while, I never did more than begin that paper. It is a pity. Although I’ve been on quite a ride since then.

I think it may be because I have not written a reflective piece in a long time that I’ve missed just how much this paragraph of academic definitions may have contributed to that ride. In retrospect I am beginning to appreciate how dangerous it was for me not to have thought about it – just how far did it get into my head? – when I consider how things like ‘space’ and ‘community’ and ‘social life’ and ‘culture’ have become what they are to me. (Apologies for my convoluted grammar; in a way, I am trying to wrap my treacherous brain around and in on itself. I imagine folding the grey folds.)

At the time I read it, I could not get over how uncannily descriptive it was of our Chatterbox – though it must be said that my use of ‘our’ here is stretching it, given that I only ever visited it a handful of times during Rag 2011. I was surer of what I had in mind when I said ‘Chatterbox’, though; I was specifically trying to imagine the one we (‘we’) had left behind. As I wrote in early June in that fragment of a beginning,

What continues to be a central motivation for this proposal is what I think of as the Chatterbox problem. I have come to see this as a three-fold problem.

There is, firstly, a historical problem. As a USP student who has recently completed his first year in AY 2011/2012 and whose experience of the USP is centered on life in Cinnamon College, the frequently made references to a historical Chatterbox in Block ADM presents a persistent problem of meaning. The problem is a lack of knowledge of the historical context. […]

The second problem is the sociological problem. Understanding why Chatterbox was socially significant in an earlier time and place goes some way towards addressing this problem, but the current situation has its own social context. The new social context is defined by networks of acquaintanceships and relationships from both before USP’s move to the RC and after. These social connections form the fabric of the social life of the community. The sociological problem involves understanding how social forces come to define ‘common’ spaces and imbue them with significance. What makes a Chatterbox, and what would its place be in the current social situation?

The third problem is the practical problem of planning for, designing and maintaining a Chatter-like space. I think of the third problem as an economic problem because it can be analyzed in terms of utilization, efficient allocation and management of common resources. How are available spaces being used? What are these spaces, and who uses them? What sorts of constraints are presented by the architecture and administrative decisions?

I have mixed feelings, looking at this fragment and the bunch of unrealized theses in the questions, about my seeming: did the answers really seem that close to me at the time, or have I merely been presumptuous so far?

What I’d started on was the task of imagining what made Chatterbox, Chatterbox. Right now, though, I’m mainly lost and sad, and tired. It will soon be 5 a.m.

Categories: Reflection Tags:

Work Log, T-1

30 June 2012 1 comment

Today was kind of the climax of a week of chasing down leads, contacts, information and people.

Today I set up a sound system I had only envisioned in theory from materials I had only seen once before and never had hands-on experience with. I transported the components, cleared the area and set up the stage in one hour. Once the components were at the destination, I did the rigging in another hour. I did the testing and calibration for a coupla hours after that.

I had a lot of help with this – here I remember that when I indulge my anger at some people, the result is that I forget those who did help me, and who did more than was necessary, did more than well and who were, in all this, kind, appreciative and respectful.

Nevertheless, I have to record that I am very, very angry at those who fail to be, at the minimum, kind, appreciative, respectful – or even responsible. To be fair, the kind of ‘responsibility’ I have in mind here is the above-and-beyond sort; to clarify: –

I think there are two types of responsibility. The first type is obligatory. Its basis is contractual. It goes along the lines of having charge of something and being liable for the damages that may arise from failing to safe-keep the thing. The second sort is intentional. It implies the active commitment of an agent. In a way, this kind of ‘responsibility’ has a wider application than the first, in that it is more readily applicable to people and human aspirations (goals, missions, visions) than the first type, which mostly only works in the context of property. I may suffer the loss of property, but it would not be entirely appropriate to speak of disappointment and the pain of failure if that was the only loss. Those feelings tend to go with the second type.

I am aware that the expectation that anyone should feel the second type of responsibility is a high one, and one that opens the door to the pain and disappointment I mentioned. I can even accept that people may not have had as many advantages as I’ve had (to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald’s narrator) and that they are in the process of learning. What makes me furious is their total obliviousness to the reality that they are working with people, people who owe nothing to them and who, nevertheless, do more than they are obliged on the basis of some kind of aspiration, whether it is the imagination of fellowship of a sort, or the hope of some kind of good to be achieved. In this obliviousness lies an implicit disavowal of any sort of responsibility even as many others take it on.

What makes me even more furious is when these detestable characters proceed to construct a fantasy of their sacrifice and competence. This is a fantasy that, in the situation I am commenting on, has been maintained at length and under the most challenging circumstances. The mechanism for this involves both self-delusion (in the form of self-aggrandizement) and social and political manoeuvring (bitching and tale-telling). This playground behaviour is, nevertheless for the recognition of its childishness, demoralizing, draining and malign.

Frustration is a big part of the anger I feel. These people’s resistance to reality renders them almost useless – or nett negative contributors – to the working of magic. But mana is limited, I am running out of pots, and the respawn timers are getting longer.

Categories: Vagaries Tags: