Posted: August 23rd, 2010 | Author: tim.soo | Filed under: All, Thoughts | Tags: All, insomnia, sleep | No Comments »
I used to fear sleep.
It’s been so long that I had almost forgotten how I fell into these unusual habits in the first place.
As a kid, I constantly maintained the belief that our home would be broken into. At night, I lay awake listening for any sound, any clue that someone might be prying a window or sneaking past our front door. Sounds of my parents walking around or talking after my supposed bedtime were torturous to a young child who had little way of distinguishing those sounds from those of a more evil intent. I soon learned to stay up until every else had fallen asleep.
Even after my conscious self had grown up enough to know not to delve so deeply into those concerns night after night, my subconscious self still drew upon irrational fear. With age, the fears no longer simply embodied the robber-in-the-house scene. Rather, the realm of sleep became a location where all my irrational fears of the day were free to reign. Some were more of the impossible sort – end of the world, wilderness attacks, foreign capture, torture. Others were very possible – loss of loved ones, loss of connection, failure, rejection.
The recurrences of the nightmares were self-propagating. When I began to fear a scenario, my subconscious ensured that that would be the subject of that night’s dream. The more I did not want to dream of a particular topic, the more often it came. It was the never ending struggling of “trying to not think of something.” Anyone who has tried knows that this is an impossible feat. Thinking about not thinking was hardly a viable solution.
At first, this struggle panned out in less than healthy habits. I naturally began staying awake to the point of utter exhaustion — when you fall asleep before your head even hits the pillow. In these instances, there is little energy to even think before sleep. In addition, deeper sleep tends to avoid dreaming. With this approach, I was safe.
I always wonder how much that rationale played into my current aversion to regular sleep hours.
That solution, however, was temporary. The world did not operate on a clock that would allow for a 30-hour day (the number of hours required to employ the previous method).
By this time, I was in elementary school and was old enough to understand and attempt various of the classic methods of sleep.
- Counting sheep? — ha! — After reaching 3289 blasted sheep, I realized that such a method was fruitless; my mind simply did not stop running.
- Meditation. This method worked to some extent. Following a common method of self-meditation, I focused on a color (sky blue was my choice) as hard as I could. By focusing on the simple, I would drive out other thoughts, hopefully long enough for me to fall asleep. But that hope was poorly founded. The effort of focusing often kept me awake until my thoughts once again drifted back to the original issue.
- Music, of both the Disney and classic genres. I blame this strategy for two things: 1.) Disney lyrics, nowadays, are the only lyrics I remember. 2.) I never stay awake during classical concerts of any sort. True, I had learned to condition myself to attribute a soporific effect with these genres, but the tunes were never engaging enough. That is, the music did not distract sufficiently to avoid other thought. My mind would continue wandering, having turned the background music into white noise.
Around fifth grade (yes, all of these methods were attempted before the age of ten), I tried a more active approach — lucid dreaming. For those who are not familiar with the concept, lucid dreaming, in short, is knowing you are dreaming and better yet, learning to control it.
The first time I dreamt lucidly was purely by accident. In the dream, I had returned to the age of a toddler and was walking around in my first home on Ridgecrest road, a house we had moved from before I had turned five. (It’s amazing what the mind can recall with such clarity.) The dream was simple. My mother, standing near the railing, was vacuuming. I looked at my surroundings, then at myself, and suddenly realized my actual age. I wasn’t three. I was ten. Logically I reasoned I must be dreaming. Running over to my mother, I shared this fantastic revelation — I was dreaming and knew it! Of course, the dream version of my mom played along with my subconscious, ensuring toddler Tim that I was being silly and could not be dreaming. But no matter, I had lucidly dreamt.
From that moment on, lucid dreaming became one of my major attacks on insomnia. (I still tended to alternate approaches from night to night, as none were particularly effective.) If I could completely control the dream, then I could control the topic, the scenario. It would be my own personal matrix. Through trial and error, I developed a method for lucid dreaming, though it required considerable effort. Before sleep, I would incessantly repeat the thought to myself “You are about to dream.” When the body becomes lethargic enough, the subconscious becomes more available to the world. It is in these moments that one can actually communicate with your subconscious self (i.e. the whole concept behind hypnotism). My method was not 100%, but when it worked, it was a New World haven.
The scenario was always preset by my brain, out of my conscious control. But once in, I could steer the blissful 5 minutes of early REM in any direction that I pleased. At first, I created carnivals on the backs of trucks, made video games into reality, and attempted whatever randomnity my mind could produce that evening. Soon, though, the dreams became only of one topic: flying. — (aside) As I type these words, I am finding more and more of my current self seems to be molded by this battle against insomnia. — No matter what scene my brain placed me into, I looked up and began to fly. There was a clear method involved with flight, however. It was not a simple Superman approach (my mind, apparently, had decided that would be too easy). Rather, flying in my dreams required learning how to ride subtle currents in the air (though not necessarily currents of wind). Certain motions propelled upwards, others downward, and some movements installed speed into my motion. It’s funny, to this day, the method of flight still has not changed.
Unfortunately, this technique, too, was not foolproof. Often the excitement itself prevented sleep, or the constant effort of constant repetition in order to begin a lucid dream was too tiring to maintain. So once again, I was left to a combination of all these techniques with an aptitude for avoiding sleep. Exhaustion, it seemed, was still one of the best methods.
In high school, I was constantly exhausted. No problem falling asleep there. In addition, my life at that time contained endless change (extracurriculars, camps, courses, etc); the passive filtering of the steady stream was enough to distract my wandering mind. Of course, I would at times return to employing various methods of avoiding disastrous dreams when necessary, but for the most part, life was too fast to worry.
In college, I made a discovery. Most of my close friends now do not know me without the Friends theme song playing in the background. Yes, Friends the TV show. Today, I can quote most every episode with a frightening level of detail. What was the discovery? I figured out that speech, more specifically background dialogue, was the perfect balance of distraction. New shows, or rather episodes I had not seen, did not fit this category as my mind would strain to follow the plot. But episodes I had seen and were familiar with, these, I could allow to “wandering” portion of my brain to focus on, allowing a quick and easy sleep.
I soon learned that this approach also worked with the more menial tasks in studying and homework, although assignments that required actual thought demanded my full attention.
Which brings me to today, or last night — er, this morning — rather. I woke up and attempted to fall back asleep from a relatively awoken state without background distraction. My mind began to wander, back through those same paths of fear it had once taken when I was a child. It was that twang of familiarity that jolted me awake. I had nearly forgotten that long ago, before I learned how to distract my mind, that I used to fear sleep.
Posted: July 11th, 2010 | Author: tim.soo | Filed under: All, Thoughts | Tags: All | No Comments »
To my fellow Parkview graduates, four years have passed. What has changed? How much has changed? What about yourself is still true? What part of character are you glad has altered? Or what part of yourself is no longer true that you wish it were?
Four years later, I reread my own words and find that yes, I have changed, but the sentiment still rings true. Take each day with a smile.
I begin with a single statement that so many others have expressed before me: stated simply, I don’t know. I don’t know what I should say tonight. I don’t know what advice I could possibly give as we part ways to begin this new chapter, new phase, new part of our lives.
I’ve been told that “I am unique… just like everybody else.” A common pun, perhaps, but a true one at that. Within this field of white and blue, there are aspirations, goals, individual dreams that we will strive for, work for, and accomplish as we embark on our individual journeys. Each person has their own values, their own desires; no person in this crowd can even remotely be considered “normal”, because face it, we’re weird, we’re different. But we are still in many ways the same. So what advice could I possibly give, when I am just as inexperienced, just as clueless, about where I will end up in the remainder of my life. Five years from now, twenty years from now, a hundred years from now, each color of blue, each person of white in the field below, will still be forever branded a Parkview graduate. From here, our paths will diverge; they might even cross, but you’ll still always be Parkview panther. Remember that.
Amongst this uncertainty about what I should say, where we are going, and where we will end up, there stands a common goal: to succeed. And what is success? No words can adequately and explicitly sum up this ambiguous aspiration, but if these past four years have taught me something, it’s that on the road to success you must hold your head up high and approach life with a smile.
On a random day in a random spring month of my sophomore year, I distinctly recall sitting outside the tennis courts, flipping a coin over and over in my palm. Next to me was Lucas, which I’m sure many of you remember, but he, too, seemed similarly bored out of his mind. I looked over at Lucas, flipped the coin high in the air and asked “Heads or tails? Heads I win, Tails you lose.” Granted, the expression may have been slightly immature, but hey, like I said, we’re weird. Lucas turned his head, looked straight into my face, and just smiled. It’s the kind of smile that is unmistakably sincere and chock full with optimism. Answering the question he responded, “Well then, Tim Soo, I choose heads, because that way, I can share in your success.”
It took me a second to contemplate that there actually was a difference between me winning heads and him losing tails. Frankly, I thought I was just flipping a coin. But Lucas whipped back with such optimism and humility that I just laughed. Now, I’ve told this story many a time and often get a response that seems to almost jeer at such a brightness in such a simple response. Well, that may be so. But you know what? The fact is, I remembered it. I remembered his exact smile, his exact words, in that exact moment of my life. Thus, is the power of a smile.
My purpose here tonight is to challenge, to hope, and to ask each senior to go on through life remembering to smile wherever you may go, during whatever life may throw at you.
It’s 3 AM; you’ve only slept eight hours in the past week and still find you have two more essays to write. You’ve run twenty laps and Senor Brennen just smiles as he tells you to run 5 more. Life has treated you harshly, and it seems its only going to get worse. Smile during these times, in the face of adversity, and even if that smile may be forced, I guarantee a forced smile makes a genuine happiness come much faster.
Your mom drew a happy face with mayo on your sandwich. A teacher stayed with you for that extra hour after the 2:10 bell. I remind you to smile when you love. Remember to show gratitude to all those who have helped you along the way and brought you to where you are now. Whether that means giving them an extra hug or just writing a letter of thanks, let those you care about, know how much and how deeply you care.
A smile can be a smart-aleck smirk; it can be a forced smile of awkwardness when you meet someone for the first time. But among the thousands of smiling expressions, none are negative. All will bring your spirits higher.
So what is success?
“I think success is getting to a point where you have achieved the goals you set for yourself.”
“I think success is determined in terms of your own standards and no one else’s. Remember your success could be someone else’s failure.”
“I think success is getting to the top or near to top in life, in an activity, or whatnot.”
“It’s the feeling when you can’t help but smile no matter how hard you try.”
“It’s when you use your talents to better the world and fulfill your dreams.”
“It’s growing mentally and emotionally in the skills, patience, and perseverance you gained in Pre-Calculus even though you may only have a B to show for it.”
“Do what you love. If you’re able to do what you love in life, you’re successful.”
“This road to success will be curved with speed bumps, red lights, flat tires, and loops, but as long as you have a spare of determination, optimism and hope, you will reach this place of success.”
Following my Chinese heritage, I wish I could call these quotes my own giant fortune cookie? But, I guarantee you I’m not nearly creative enough nor philosophical enough to come up with these on my own. These are the definitions of success as provided by members of our own esteemed senior class, and notice no two are alike. Yet each definition has a similar trait—in each quote success depends on how you feel, how you think you did, how you evaluate your life. Thus is why there exists “success in smiles.” A smile gives a brighter outlook on life, a happier mood in each day. These are the beliefs we will live by and cherish as we travel away from our Parkview years. So, if you are happier about yourself, happier about the path you have chosen, you will have succeeded.
At last as we take our leave, we cannot forget to thank. To all of my classmates, it was you who kept me going; it was you who challenged me to shoot for the stars; and it was you who unmistakably soaked me with water guns as I walked down the halls. We’ve grown together, cried together, and basically been with each other to the extent where we should be downright sick of each other; yet, I cringe at the thought of leaving, at the thought of moving away from this class bond we have formed since our innocent beginnings in freshman year. We’ve grown from the sweet first years, holding maps to find our way to class, all the way to our senior year, when we told those same map-holding freshman that their classes were indeed on the second floor of the main building. To those I was privileged enough to know and love as friends, thank you for the unforgettable memories, thank you for being a friend. Thank you to Matt and Brian, my best friends for seven years strong, a tradition I plan to continue. To my teachers, in addition to teaching me how to integrate a function and analyze world trends, thank you for teaching me the values, the life lessons, and morals I will take with me throughout life. Graduates, look behind you. This is our fan club, our supporters. These are the people who will love you, and undoubtedly annoy you. But the greatest thanks of all, goes to family. Thank you to my own twin sister Tiffany who has been subjected to my lame jokes since our birth, my older sister Cindy who has never failed to offer a quick word of advice, to my loving Momma and Papa who truly have made me who I am today. Mom, thank you for putting up with all my crazy escapades and downright stubbornness and Dad thank you for always being reasonable and levelheaded. All those lectures finally paid off. Thanks to all my extended family here today. As my grandpa said, “I should get some credit, because if I were never here, you wouldn’t be here either.” And although I’ll only be a drive away, Family I’ll miss you dearly and love you very much.
Now if I’ve counted correctly I’ve gotten a hundred and seventeen requests from my fellow classmates to keep this speech as brief as possible. So graduates, we’ve reached the end (both of our high school years and this address), and my challenge to everyone here is to just try and smile more often, smile wider, and live with your head up high. Don’t forget to smile for love, for gratitude, for any and all emotions you will feel throughout your life. Your optimism is your weapon, one that no one can take away. Keep your confidence high and your morals higher—never forget to smile.
The time has come to go forward, to move on. And twenty years from now, when you find yourself having reoccurring nightmares about Brookwood Broncos, when you can’t shake the Parkview fight song out of your head, and when you form a distinct image of Mr. Moon “raising the roof” dressed as a female Bedrock character, remember you are and must be an integral part of the Parkview Panther Class of 2006.
Thank you and let’s graduate.
Posted: July 3rd, 2010 | Author: tim.soo | Filed under: All, Personal History, Thoughts | Tags: All | No Comments »
A disclaimer: As much of my writing often seems to do, I do not write this to evoke sadness or sympathy in any way. I write as a medium to help me understand my own thoughts better, as forcing the expression of an otherwise abstract idea is in a way, teaching yourself. I share this information to the world with the continuing goal that spreading ideas is for the betterment of our society as a whole.
A couple of my past posts quoting Orson Scott Card’s Xenocide have dealt with intelligence. Or in a broader sense, knowledge.
Thinking too much, as I generally do, I have begun to understand my own motivations for creating a personal history. Over the past ten plus years, I have collected trinkets (almost as if it were second nature) from significant events in my life — homecoming flowers, movie stubs, business cards. Now in a time of interim, I find myself struggling to piece my past back together and write about it while I still remember.
The point of this post will come in somewhat of a lengthy roundabout path. Bear with me.
I once heard a perspective that described our existence to be fleeting on a day-to-day basis. Some part of the potato that I eat tomorrow will replace pieces of my body as I constantly shed and excrete older versions. Twenty years from now, how much of my brain and body will still contain the same atoms that it does today?
It’s a constant upload and download, somewhat like one interpretation of teleportation. You would not actually be transfered from one place to another, but rather you would be destroyed in one place and recreated in another. Or even the idea of “downloading” your brain into a computer. Why are these ideas so strange when that is essentially what our body already does, just in a slower manner? We eat, slough off waste, rebuild, and continue living. Even our bones are constantly breaking down and rebuilding.
Now when we store information into our brains, we forge new neuronal pathways and/or strength existing ones. Our brain cells must constantly undergo maintenance, so technically the biological/physical component of our ‘thoughts’ are also constantly being deconstructed and reconstructed as required by the dynamic characteristic of the human body.
All of this to say, our knowledge is so very temporary. Our memories, too.
Once, I was given the statistic that our brain can hold a million unique things at one time. When the capacity is full, it starts erasing to make room for the new. Most people hit capacity around adulthood.
We tend to define ourselves and find identity by what we believe, what we know, and what we have experienced. Then assuming all of the above maintains some kernel of truth, how could we ever hope to know who we are? Even now as I go through my trinkets of memory lane, I can no longer recall why I saved them or what they were. That thought is terrifying.
There are certain moments in my life that I tell myself, I cannot forget this. And ultimately, those are the few memories that I do not lose as easily. But as I learn more and absorb more, even those snippets into my past will begin to fade.
My memory fades quicker than most. I struggle to retain short term events and thus I grasp tightly onto the few events I do remember. Maybe that is why I take offense when accused of remembering something wrong. I will admit it if I cannot recall, but I exert so much effort in trying to retain the few that I can… that it hurts to be told that my efforts were all in vain, that I remembered it wrong.
I laugh when people call me smart; no, I’m not smart. I just have a knack for faking intelligence. There is a reason I am a ‘jack of all trades, master of none.’ Yes, part of it I can attribute to simple lack of sustained interest in one topic. But, part of it just has to do with the fact that a prolonged dedication to one subject often becomes disheartening. Allow any short break in my studies and I completely forget.
What did I learn in college? I could tell you the major life lessons and the more humbling events that occurred. But there is extremely little I could tell you about what I was tested on.
I highly highly respect those who have proficient memories. I can sense exactly when my brain must fill in the blanks and insert false confidence in what I say in the hopes that what I say will be considered truth — all because I could not remember.
Teaching has always come easier to me partly because I empathize with those who are struggling to understand a concept or an idea. It took me ages to finally commit at least that facet of what I learned to memory; this gives me patience when dealing with my students — I know their pain.
I began this project of ‘personal history’ (to document as best I can my life’s events until now) because I do not want to lose my sense of self. I do not want to be a jaded adult twenty years from now unable to truly remember who I was years before with only the slight overly-romanticized semblance of who I once was. When I tell my kids who I am and who I was, they should know the whole truth, not the parts my subconscious chose to remember.
Why is it that kids often disregard the “Well, when I was young…” stories of the past? Because even as a child we can recognize the lack of factuality and objectivity in these stories. And in most cases there is little hope for viewing those stories from a different angle, from a different source.
It frightens me that a book can seem new and fresh when I know I have read the story years before. The Harry Potter series has passed through my eyes seven times, and each time I find it new and exciting.
What is the point of reading if it will only be forgotten? Is its purpose really just to gain reading comprehension skills or open the mind to new viewpoints that may only be forgotten years later? What goal is there in learning when ultimately what we learn may be sacrificed for some thought that our brain deemed more important or more necessary in that current moment?
As I said, knowledge scares me. It’s fleeting, and yet we have little choice but to depend on it.