Words of Wisdom: Perseverance

quoteQuote for today: “Forget all the reasons why it won’t work and believe the one reason why it will.”  I saw this quote regarding perseverance and liked its simplicity as well as how it has applied to the things I have done against popular belief and how I continue to do those things.  It’s easy to let people tell you why you can’t succeed.  Sometimes they say this out of statistical evidence, personal opinion, or even jealousy towards your visions.  I’ve always been one who thrives from doing things I’m told can’t be done.  I find being told it can’t happen makes me absolutely determined to do it.  Maybe this is why my athlete director sat me down once and said, “Kid, I really like you.  You’ve got… spunk.  And a lot of it.”  It was that spunk that pulled me through creating a hockey club at my school so that I could finally play the sport I wanted to play for an official team.  We lost all but one game the first season, then went to the championship the next year for the state medal.  My perseverance and persistence to raise $3000 in two days and train enough players to make a team landed me with an enormous scholarship from Case Western Reserve University.

The same time of perseverance is what got me a summer traveling abroad this year, to pursue a double major that the faculty thought was impossible to achieve.  Against all odds, I have completed enough credits for a major in Environmental/Civil Engineering and French while also being an active member in a co-ed service fraternity, archery club, collegiate and extracurricular roller and ice hockey, NCAA XC, NCAA T&F, Premiere Scottish Highland Dance, and several instrument groups.  I’ve managed to travel to a couple dozen countries in the last year to compete in research and pursue my dream of traveling and understanding cultures.  I obtained three internships during the course of a year when I was told none exist.  This lead me to compete in research with AISES in Alaska, a trip which was completely free thanks to funding I managed to find last minute from my school and the ASCE group in Cleveland.  But determination doesn’t have to be so elaborate.  It’s also the reason why I eat healthy food and work out regularly .  It’s why I pushed myself to bike around the Finger Lakes in 2009, hike the Calanques of Cassis and Marseille on my own this summer, and finish a 130km journey by CityBike from Arles to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse and back (the latter two are described on my blog, kfdevault.wordpress.com).

Let’s not be mistaken; this isn’t an entry about the things I’ve managed to do.  This is an entry about the things I’ve tried to do against popular belief as an inspiration of why you can do any of the simplest – or most complex – things you wish to do without hesitation.  If you want it, just get it.  I’m a firm believer in “If there’s a will, there’s a way”.  Maybe I’ve just been lucky enough for my life to follow suit as such, or maybe there really was something in my perseverance that landed me with a great job after years of struggle against the current of likelihood.  All I can say is, whether it’s a new job, new hobby, or new diet, you just have to convince yourself it’s what you want and you’d be surprised how thrilling the journey to success will actually be.

Happy Monday!

 

The Future: Where Are We Headed?

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As an environmental engineer, I can’t help but think about the future and what is becoming of our planet.  I study charts and statistics about how the world is environmentally spinning out of control and analyze the correlations of this erraticism to the evolutions of technology over the last several centuries.  I have concluded that the sharing of information has become both the most and least progressive movements of the human age.  How is that so?  And where does that take us now?

I doubt many people can argue that the ability to communicate ever more efficiently has accelerated the progression of man.  From our days in caves when language first developed, to spreading word of warfare or the discovery of new land, we have constantly been moving and changing our actions according to word of mouth.  Both verbal and physical language alter how we perceive others and situations and are the primary ways in which we communicate both intentionally and unintentionally.  First we developed oral language, then we developed messengers and means to communicate outside of our direct linguistic groups.  This turned into a written language with mail carriers.  With the rise of the Industrial Revolution, we were suddenly sending information via Pony Express, telegraph, radio, telephone, Internet… but where are we heading now?

Communication with such ease is both a blessing and a curse.  Although we can share important information to help accelerate a situation (how loved ones are doing, what someone has discovered in a laboratory, that a tornado is coming), this communication also affects us negatively in two ways.   Firstly, think of our history of bad choices, such as slavery.  We communicated the idea that slavery is a good choice, then we chose to select certain peoples as victims and exploit certain regions which were communicated to one another over the years and distances.  The second way that communication has negatively impacted society is that, although curing disease and preventing disasters are desirable to a person, they are not necessarily beneficial to humanity as a whole.  No one wants to hear it, but overpopulation is a rapidly growing concern and communicating ideas and warnings that prevent nature from taking its course instead facilitates the spread of problems and population booms that would otherwise not exist.

As a dorky engineer, I like to model the growth of human technology, population, and communication as a conglomerate graph: y = ex. What does that mean?  Well, x simply notes the rate at which any of those categories exponentially grows.  It doesn’t take a very impressive number to accelerate y at a nauseating speed up the graph.  In fact, a horizontal asymptote can be readily achieved without moving very far down the x-axis.  In other words, infinity is achieved with ease.  But what does infinity mean in the real world?  What will happen when we reach this point of infinity?  When technology has multiplied with the spread of knowledge and grown so rapidly that it has now reached that asymptote line at the brink of infinity?

Mathematically speaking, we can’t even verbalize the concept of infinity.  Honestly, though, I argue that infinity is exactly what will happen.  We describe infinity with as much difficulty as we define “zero”, although “zero” is a concept we can visualize.  Infinity and the numbers approaching it are truly exponentially more difficult to visualize as they grow, which makes sense.  But it’s not enough for me.  Why can’t we visualize infinity?  Why can’t we predict where we are going?  Why can’t we see an end and a solution that are agreeable to this exponential growth?

Enter: Kayla’s slightly superstitious or perhaps extraterrestrial opinions.

I am wholeheartedly convinced that the human mind only has a certain capacity to imagine, invent, and comprehend.  Much like we cannot imagine a dimension beyond the third (unless we consider the addition of time an addition of dimension), I don’t believe our minds are suited to comprehend beyond a certain limit.  I believe the acceleration of an exponential graph – when the derivative becomes too steep – is the exact moment that we stop comprehending.  We’d like to say it’s “mind overload” or that our minds will “explode” trying to comprehend so much.  And although that might be a figurative explanation, isn’t it a bit naïve to blame our lack of comprehension on something that we can’t prove?  Isn’t that the same as assuming religion as the explanation for all things for which we have no better theory?  Like when the first peoples explained lighting as the power of a repulsed god?  Saying that suffrage was “meant to be” and is “his choice” because we need something to believe in?

Thus I define the asymptote of our growth and y as x approaches said asymptote to be the point at which our currently evolved brains have reached overcapacity.  In other words, progression stops at this point.  We are not equipped to compute, comprehend, and invent beyond this predefined limitation of our intelligence.  There is a way, however, to get around this barricade: that is to evolve.  But how can we evolve when we have converted from nomadic, warring lives to lives of comfort, luxury, and tight-knit societies?  How can we expect to evolve under such security blankets when we nurture the suffering, coddle the inept, and put bandages on every slight provocation?  We can’t.  And no one wants to hear those words, but the truth is we try too hard to play Mother Nature – or god if you so choose.  We cannot expect to progress as a race until we have overcome our crutches, namely our unprecedented compassion for helping, protecting, and saving all that would not otherwise survive.

So, in conclusion, the future, communication, and where we are headed all sums into the following: Communication has accelerated us exponentially in all good and bad aspects of our history as humans.  This acceleration will halt when we have reached the limit of our intelligence.  Our intelligence will not improve or progress because we have decided to protect and preserve all the flaws and populations “not meant to be” in our society.  But, all in all, we do not control the universe and Mother Nature will prevail.  Natural selection has been the law strongest against the test of time.  I do not see our intelligence progressing any further before we either kill each other or we screw up the environment enough for nature to kill us.  So I don’t think this entry has been particularly enlightening or relieving, but maybe it’s something to ponder on?  Or maybe it’s just something to which we ascent and proceed to accept our fate.  Maybe there is no way out.  Then, again, maybe that’s what nature intended?  C’est la vie.

Cleveland and Its Unentitled Midwest Pride

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Google Image: See?  Pittsburgh got its act together, but Cleveland is right there with Detroit…at the bottom.  (Oh, and it’s “Erie”, by the way.)

I’ve lived in Cleveland for several years now during my time at Case Western Reserve University.  Originally from the countryside of the Pittsburgh Seam in southern Pennsylvania, I’m quite familiar with my East Coast/Appalachia wanna-be-the-deep-south-but-we-aren’t origins.  However, I can’t help but see signs about Cleveland and its belonging to the “Midwest” or hear people rave about their “Midwest lives”.  I actually had to google “midwest” before I was convinced that Cleveland is geographically considered in fact “midwest”.  I’d even lived in Dalton, Ohio for a couple years as a child and not one ever considered northeastern Ohio to be midwestern in any sense.  Yet this “Midwest Pride” is clearly endorsed…but I refute that it’s a manifest claim.

When I think “midwest”, I think plains, cornfields, and a truly “country” feeling.  Cincinnati and Indianapolis are the closest to me geographically and they fly to the top of the list.  Even Chicago has a much more “midwest” feel to me, despite it being such an enormous city.  But, after all of the summer I’ve spent in Chicago for hockey and southern Illinois for the Grand American Trapshoot, I find it hard to justify claiming Cleveland as “midwest”.  For that matter, I rule out Detroit as well.  Both cities, in my opinion, are crumbling remains of industrial towns that have been left to rot and which continue to collapse inward to survive and restart.  To me, these are strictly Rust Belt cities.  I’m not from the Rust Belt, but I know Pittsburgh is and it’s revitalized and beautiful.  Lafayette, Indiana is on this list as well in terms of revitalized Rust Belt cities.  Coming from a rural coal region, I cannot place Cleveland any closer to the “midwest” than by associating it to Pittsburgh and Detroit as part of the Rust Belt.  Furthermore, I separate it from the cities like Pittsburgh and Minneapolis by realizing it is in fact in the Great Lakes region.

I’ve spent quite a lot of time in western New York for hockey, cycling tours around the Finger Lakes, and visiting a boyfriend I dated during the last five or so years. Cleveland absolutely fits into this category: the Great Lakes region.  They have the lakefront, the (in my opinion disgusting, sorry!) accent, and the lack of farms that would give it a genuine “midwest” feel.  When I was shocked by all of the “midwest” paraphernalia that I was reading and decided to throw together this short piece, I was relieved to find a number of resources that agree with my ramblings and opinions.

American Pride or Unconstitutional Selfishness?

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Every year that the 4th of July rolls around, I become more and more disgusted by this country. Here are my biggest concerns with this holiday:
1. It’s all about the barbecues.
2. It’s the only day we give a sh*t.
3. We desecrate the American flag.

1. What does this holiday stand for anyway? It should represent freedom, remember those who fought for us, and remember those who still do fight. It should remind us of our strength and why we work towards a better tomorrow every day. What’s sad is that we are forced to remember a day that meant victory for the European immigrants, but which marked the beginning of the end for a lot of native cultures. Something is lost in translation when we root for “America” and I’m not sure what the real answer is. All I know is that, more and more, we see advertisements for picnics and food and events, not for moments of silence or any of those things that really matter. What has become of this country?

2. Just because it’s the 4th of July doesn’t mean we aren’t patriotic on the 3rd, the 5th, or three months later. What is it with national disasters and national holidays that spark pride for a moment and die when the excitement becomes passé? Are we really that easily bored or distracted? Do we not know how to be patriotic when we are continually spoon-fed by the government and each other? When we can sue anyone who mildly offends us? Every action should be done with an intention of bettering the community, the country, and the planet.

3. Patriotic colors are wonderful and hanging the flag is even better. But what in the world ever happened to RESPECTING the flag?? Do you even know how to hang a flag properly? How to fold it so it doesn’t touch the ground? How to burn it if it falls? Did you know it is unconstitutional to wear the flag in any way? To DESECRATE it?? I see all of these girls bubbling over pins of American-flag skimpy tops and bathings suits on Pinterest and I just want to GAG. What has become of this nation? When these girls are our elderly, we might as well sell our souls to the Middle East and live in Oz. There’s no hope for this future if we don’t pull our act together, respect our country, grow up, and realize we don’t live in a bubble that will keep us safe and protected from all of the bad things in this meanie of a planet.

And that is my rant that I rant every year come the 4th of July. Thanks for your time.

Montreal is Très Real

(Article from my satire column.)

My first time studying abroad was in fact to take a break from engineering and study French in Montreal. I thought it sounded like an excellent idea, going to Canada in March to learn my French. Little did I realize how waterproof my boots weren’t after walking hours in knee-high snow or how much the French in Montreal isn’t really French. It’s “Quebecois”. If you’ve spent your whole life learning Parisian French, studying in Quebec is about the equivalent of a Londoner living in the backwoods coal towns of West Virginia. It has a rather “what the hell language was that?” effect. Living in the old section of town, Vieux Montreal, was definitely the perk of the trip. Seeing how real the mountain was also justified calling the city “Mont Real”. But I still couldn’t get over this “Quebecois” thing.

During my time in Montreal, I spent a couple hours of every day volunteering in places like women’s shelters and soup kitchens. These places provided me with the opportunity of speaking French with the locals. Sadly, most of those conversations were curt and included phrases such as, “No, you can only have three pieces of cheese” or “You have a yellow ticket, not a green one, so you can only take one bottle of water”. My friends and I made every effort to become a part of the youth around us by socializing at our hostel and at local bars, but most of the kids staying with us were Anglophones and the noise in the bars prevented us from hearing each other let alone anyone speaking French. I stuck to guzzling down my Labatt Bleus (instead of Labatt Blues) and pretending like I knew what was going on around me. I ended up socializing the most on my daily walks through the town. Most days included pushing five cars out of a snow pile before having walked a single block. I became quite skilled at getting large vehicles out of deep, snowy trenches. One day, as I dragged my soaking feet through more and more snowfall, my friend and I joined several citizens of Montreal in pushing an enormous pickup truck out of an icy ditch. Exhausted, she and I stopped to get some local food. This is the moment when I made a mistake that I will always remember – and regret – for probably eternity.

We were taught in school that several things in Quebecois are different words than in French. While the French use American words like “un hot-dog”, the Canadians choose to make up their own word that sounds like “sausage” instead. The cuisine is also faux-French. For example, the classic dish in Eastern Canada is called “poutine” and consists of French fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. I had this word committed to memory – “Poo-teen, poo-teen, poo-teen” – until one fateful day when my teacher thought it was a good idea to advise us not to pronounce the word like “poo-tan”. It had never occurred to me before to say it that way. Alas, the incorrect pronunciation was forever instilled in my brain. When my friend and I walked into the food shop that cold, cold day, I fell into the age-old trap and asked, “Avez-vous… “poo-tan”? The man laughed at me and said that, No, he doesn’t have any whores, or poutine for that matter.

Oh, Montreal, the embarrassment is real. I took my cravings elsewhere and forever remembered my experience with Montreal and the poutine…