Flexing the Mind

When I was younger, I picked up new skills on an almost constant basis–whether you consider only the standard repertoire of a suburban Asian child (ballet, tennis, piano + either flute, violin, or cello, Chinese school, volunteer work) or expand that to include the skills I was learning/not learning in school (how to dissect a fetal pig without gagging, how to conjugate French verbs, how to navigate social groups with grace). 

Recently, I’ve found that my need to pick up new skills is stagnating. I guess this is just a part of getting older–our minds become less flexible (woof) and we also have less need for creative, fast-paced, varied thinking. Gone are the days of cramming ten periods into one school day. I spend a third of my day thinking about standardized testing (hello, new job at the Princeton Review) and the other two thirds thinking and reading in a highly stylized, specialized “English major” mode. 


This summer will represent the first time I will face two major simultaneous undertakings alone. Well, not alone, in the sense that I will have the support of my family, the company of my friends, and the guidance of a faculty member or two. I suppose what I mean is two major simultaneous undertakings without structure. Without institutions behind them telling me, “You will study math for this fifty minute period of time. You will then be thrown into the pit that is the lunchroom. You will have no time for bathroom breaks.”

First, I will begin anew my attempts to learn and relearn Chinese. It is amazing how slippery language becomes once we grow older (a strong argument for the implementation of second-language classes in American public schools before junior high, but that’s another subject). I don’t expect to just crack open a textbook and skim through it, at least. Learning a language is hard. It is arduous, and more so because my future as an academic may ride on this skill. 

The second undertaking will be conducting research for my bachelor’s thesis. Filling fifty pages with words is hard. Fifty pages with words that actually make sense, are interesting to read, and present a new, coherent, striking thesis? Woof again.

But I’m also looking forward to these two challenges. If anything, they will sorely test my self-discipline–I will be entirely setting my own hours this summer, and if I fail, well then it’s no one’s fault but mine. That’s scary, in a way. But I guess it’s just part of growing up.

I’m also thinking of using that time to pick up some other skill, but I’m not sure what it should be. Self-defense classes? Knitting?


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