Category Archives: Me, Myself, and I

General updates about my life, what I am doing with it, if you fancy that sort of thing

Self Evaluation – June 9, 2010

Preface: I found this in my account on the desktop computer I used throughout high school. It is a self evaluation of an oral presentation I gave during my final days of AP English, possibly on Arthur C Clarke. I actually did submit this, verbatim, to my AP English teacher. (The file name is “AP English Arthur C Clarke thing on this computer..docx”. Yes there are actually two dots…don’t ask my why.) Reading it now I find it to be particularly amusing. The only manipulation I have done has to do with converting it from a word document to HTML; there have been no edits of grammar or content. This is one of those things that is better served raw. Please do enjoy.

Matt Beattie
AP English
Review of Oral Presentation

This project was actually somewhat enjoyable to do. Of all the projects that were given out during the last two weeks of school, I found this one to be the most enjoyable. I really liked the book I read, and researching the author I found to be interesting. Now my presentation itself, well, there is where it gets a little more interesting.

I would like to start off by saying that while I did come into class Tuesday June 1st ready to present something and hand in an outline, listening to the first people present did teach me what I had forgot to put in my presentation. I had lost the second sheet of the project guidelines, so I sort of just winged it, and left out vital pieces of information like themes and whatnot. So I was very glad that I did not have to get called on on the first day of presentations, because it would have been interesting. While I did not go all out on my preparation, I did have an outline and visual aid. I could have made note cards, but, I did not.

I would also like to say that the series of events leading up to my presentation were not the best. If I could compare my presentation to a flight, a decision made by me the pilot as to whether it was a “go” or a “no go” based upon human factors, it would have been a “no go” for sure. I was in pretty bad shape at that point. Unfortunately as far as presentations go that kind of decision cost like a billion points, or, maybe only ten or something, I don’t really remember the details, so I went.

The last bit of sleep that I had received before giving my presentation in class had been over 36 hours ago due to another end of the year project, this one much less cool, a 10 page research paper on the United States’ foreign policy. Woo. Anyway I was up all the previous night writing that paper and mentally bashing that teacher. This is what led me to almost fall asleep during Sam’s presentation due to basically pure exhaustion. So when I was called up next I was like, “oh drat, this is gunna be interesting.”

My presentation was very mediocre in the opinion of awake matt, and the tired exhausted matt who gave it thought that it was fairly decent. I realize that there are several things I could have done better, I personally felt that I was droning on and on, and my summary of the book was not very good at all. I feel like I could have definitely improved upon that part. I knew it was bad and considered saying something to that point, but decided to just go with, you should all just read the book. There were probably better ways to cover his books and awards rather than just reading off the samples I chose to read. At the end I was a little pressed for time, and ended up rushing through the last bit to get it in, because much of the last bit had been amended earlier in the previous week.

I feel that my performance on the oral presentation was, when viewed at by a person who has had no sleep for a while, was fairly decent. I was coherent through the whole presentation, I think, and got most of my points out there. I can say nothing as to whether or not they were received. Now when viewed through by the eyes of a normal person, it had a lot of room for improvement. But I tried to interject enough small humorous comments to make it interesting. I hope it worked. Thank you for reading. The end.

The Hunter – Part I

He wakes up early. All the hunters do this. He knows from off handed references in news clippings about hunting accidents and from watching episodes in sitcoms from the ’70s. He hits the switch on his coffee machine, because he has a slight caffein addiction, and doesn’t want to be handling a shotgun with a migrane. As the scalding hot liquid hits his bare toes, he realizes the coffee pot is still in the dishwasher. He’ll be handling firearms later, but that will be after the coffee. This is good.

After successfully brewing a pot, he stumbles up the stairs and prepares himself for the hunt. He has been prepared for this. Nobody told him that hunters get up early, but everything else he has been taught. In a classroom. Hunting school was a huge ordeal. There were classes on firearm training, how to conceal yourself from a beast so as to lure it in to your sights, how to go after the really big ones, how to use the smaller ones for practice. There were classes on structures to make in the wilderness, what kinds of nuts and berries to eat if you were stuck out overnight, how to navigate by a compass. There were classes on the different types of beasts, where they lived, how to prepare yourself specifically for each beast, how do research the beast and what it liked and didn’t like in the hunter. It was a long, grueling affair. The hunter had thought about leaving, or switching his major to english studies, but something kept him there. Now, standing in front of his mirror pulling on his camouflage, he has no idea what that was.

He has all the camouflage. This was one of the first classes he ever had to take at hunting school, so he had to search how to camouflage yourself for hunting on the internet. He has camo boots, camo baseball caps, camo winter caps, camo fishing caps, camo gloves, camo pants, camo shirts, camo sweaters, camo jackets, camo rain coats, camo long johns, camo short johns, camo baklavas, camo socks, camo bags, camo scarfs, camo belts, camo water bottles, camo folding chairs, camo coffee cups, camo backpacks, camo binoculars, camo sunglasses, camo turkey calls, camo deer calls, camo bison calls, and even a camo hunting rifle. And a camo hunting rifle bag, camo bullets, and a camo rifle strap. And, for good measure, a camo crossbow, camo crossbow case, camo bow, and a camo bow quiver. I can’t not catch one, he thinks. He dons all of his camo. He steps in front of the mirror. He looks cool.

He steps into the forest. He looks stupid. For one thing, he bought all the camo (which, by the way, cost a fortune) in orange. The website he found on the internet said something about the beasts being colorblind, so all that mattered was the pattern of the camo. What the hunter failed to notice was that this was a websight for art history majors. The beasts that he is seeking are not colorblind, and could see him coming from about three miles away. Also, he has his coat on backwards, and somehow one of his boots ended up on his hand. He only realized this when he was having a hard time opening up his camo rifle case, which incidentally had blended in amongst his camo crossbow case, camo folding chairs and camo backpacks.

The hunter doesn’t realize that he has the wrong type of camo. He realized the thing about the boot, because he’s not incompetent. Laden with all his bags, his rifle, and his chairs, he sets off. Walking through the woods, he takes out the turkey call. He uses it, and the sound he hears is identical to a large, juicy bird ready to be impaled with an arrow shot from a crossbow. The sound that is emitted from the call in his mouth is actually the sound of a hoarse duck attempting to yodel. All the beasts flee.

The hunter gets tired. He stops using the camo bird call. The beasts start emerging. Most of them, however, require 3 to 5 years of experience. This is bad, because this is the hunter’s first hunt. They said he would be able to bag someting easily. They said, at hunting school, that he would be prepared for this. He’s not. He hasn’t brought a camouflage cooler with camouflage sandwiches and drinks. He is hungry. After walking over a couple of hills, he sees down into a valley. There, are some smaller jobs. They are grazing peacefully in some tall grass. He sneaks down the valley, and approaches one from behind. He was taught about the small ones. They can be good, his teachers had told him. If you catch one, and stick with it as it grows, you can have a nice career. Which, they said, was good.

The hunter goes through the motions. He sneaks up, shining like a supernova in his bright orange camo everything. The problem is, instead of thinking about what he’s doing, he’s thinking about how he doesn’t really want a “nice career”. So he doesn’t see the quicksand. One of his orange camo boots is engulfed and he falters. In the scuffle, his orange camo hunting rifle discharges an orange camo bullet into his other orange camo boot. The small jobs flee at the crack of the rifle. The hunter is stuck in the quicksand, red blood spurting out of his orange camo boot. He has been hunting all day, and now the sun is setting. The temperature begins to fall, and the hunter wonders if he will make it through the night.

…to be continued.

Graduation

Monday, it happened. I graduated. College. I am an alumnus. Actually, today it happened. Monday was just the day I dressed up in funny clothes and a stupid square hat and walked across a stage in front of a bunch of people, so I guess that’s the day that will go into the history books. Really though, it was today. My school has this thing about paperwork and bureaucracy rivaled only by the state DMV, so I had to wait a couple of days before the school could say I actually graduated. Which, is a whole other story. Back to Monday though, when I graduated. Four years (technically five, hello my Clarkson friends!), a bunch of work, enough math for eight lifetimes, and a little piece of paper. Here’s the thing though. I walked away from the whole thing feeling two things that were so opposite of each other that I’m still thinking about it.

I couldn’t help but feel a little bit…underwhelmed. I mean you do all this work, you jump through all these hoops, run around getting this form signed and that form signed, taking this exam and that exam, writing two research papers in one night, all the while tap dancing and juggling flaming marshmallows. Ok, so I am being a little dramatic. The marshmallows weren’t on fire. You do all of this, while trying to determine what you are going to do after you finish it all, and then, you sit in a room for a couple of hours with 700 of your closest friends and you go take a picture with a guy who you’ve never met before and then you’re done. I’m done. Someone talked about the usual graduation things. You went to a great school, here are some tips to succeed at life, shoot for the moon, but don’t miss because if you do you’ll end up trapped in orbit around the sun, which has actually happened, twice. I like to rail on my school. I was just doing it a little there. I do it for a whole bunch of reasons. All of those reasons are still true, and I will continue railing on them for it. This, though, this underwhelming feeling, was not my school’s fault. And, where we find the other side of my emotional state.

The ceremony was actually quite good. You can tell a college graduation apart from a high school graduation by looking at the details. They both have silly robes. They both have tassels that achieve nothing but excessive blinking and funny looks when you accidentally eat them (yet, cause a physiological response when you switch them from the right side to the left side, go figure). They both have speeches, and pomp and circumstance. The college graduation, though, has production. The band can actually play well, they take the extra step to have announcers who can pronounce the names correctly (which is challenging for an engineering school). The whole thing was broadcast in real time on the internet. My grandparents could watch from New York State. That is the future. The ceremony was nice. I like ceremony. I like the meanings behind the robes and all the regalia that the professors wear. I like that the colors mean different things. I like all of that. (But damn it I do hate those square hats.) It was all done well. Which is why I’m struggling to find the reason why I felt so unmoved by it all.

Part of it was just because I don’t work that way. I mean, I hardly ever realize the magnitude of events while they are occurring. I’ll sit down afterwards with me, myself, and I, and it’ll hit me. Which it did, the next day. I am proud to have graduated. I’m proud to have graduated from my school, and I will continue to have the feelings that I do about it. It’s bittersweet. Maybe it’s because I figured out that I am not passionate about aerospace engineering like some of my peers. So, I feel as though I’ve accomplished this great thing, but my heart isn’t really in it. That’s a part of it. Part of it is because I have no idea what I will be doing, now that I have this piece of paper that says I know something. My friends have jobs lined up, and all those good things. The people in my life whom I care about are growing up, getting jobs, getting married. I feel like a toddler who has just figured out he knows how to walk. I feel like everyone around me is running. I suppose that is just part of the game. So much to do, so little time. I feel two conflicting emotions so strongly, simultaneously, and so effortlessly. I feel them effortlessly. Which is good, because I need a lot of effort to understand it. Maybe it’s not meant to be understood. It’s one of those things, not in any one box. What’s so wrong with that?

I usually like to try and put a spin on my thoughts so that you, the reader, might gain something from reading them. The key word there is try. Tonight though, I get to be selfish. This one is just about me. Thanks for reading, goodnight.

Oh yeah, that orbiting the sun thing, it really did happen. Twice.

Reflection: Doing Anything

The inevitable approach of another new year can’t help but bring the best of us into a time of reflection. Reflection of ourselves, how we have met or fallen short of our goals in the past year, reflection of our reletionships with others, and even reflection of the other people in our lives whom we care about. It can be bittersweet, or sad, or joyous. I was asked by someone to reflect upon the question, when did you stop believing you could do anything?

When you grow up, there’s a point in time where you realize that you, your mind, your body, you, is sort of limitless. Not becaues of some little clear pill, but because when you put all of those things that are you to a thing, some cause, you just go acheive it. The question changes from, “what if I can’t”, to,” what if I don’t like it when I do”. This is slightly problematic for a person trying to decide what to do with the rest of their lives, at whatever young age this happens. Of course, this could happen at any point in your life, but for me, it happened a few years ago.

The question that was posed, when did you stop believing you could do anything, implies that I already did believe I could do anything. And, I did. Sort of. I believed that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. But I did not realize what that step, the setting my mind to it step, I did not realize what that actually entailed. I believed that I could, but I did not know how to. I hadn’t taken that step yet. So, since I really didn’t know what the achievement step meant, I can’t have truly believed it.

Then I started to. With this, came a lot of changes in the way I looked at myself, and thought about myself. I find it interesting in my own personal reflections, because I keep growing at an ever accerlerating rate. I surprise myself with the changes. I scare myself a little. Ultimately I am becoming more comfortable with who I am.

I am in the middle of my last year of my undergraduate studies, where I am studying aerospace engineering. Now, let me tell you, that is quite the thing. I’m not trying to priase myself with that. What I mean is, it’s not something you walk away from with any sense of dignity or pride if you don’t have intent. It’s not a degree program that you sleep through, and then become like, a high school phys ed teacher. The last year takes hours. Long hours. Long hours of doing nothing but staring at a computer screen at a bunch of lines of MATLAB code, wondering what it all means anyway. Or, staring at the textbook that contains the equations that are the meat of the lines of code in the MATLAB code, looking for a misplaced negative sign, or a missing parenthesis. This part, sucks. It is rather miserable. But, it taught me quite a bit about myself.

I wasn’t the one doing most of the staring. But, I was there, because we were a team doing a project. My main job was to take everything that was happening in the lines of code and the textbooks and the design desicions that were being made, and turn it all into a five page (not four, not six, not three) report that was to be handed in at the end of the semester, which would also account for 60% of the TEAM grade. The actual MATLAB code, because I know you want to know, was %10. Extra credit. But, we needed it in order to complete the deleverable requriements and all of that hubbub jargon stuff. So we did it. I can say we because I did help a little. But, most of my efforts were put towards the report.

Where I learned about myself, was by watching the people who were writing the MATLAB code. In doing this, I realized something. There are people out there who live for this sort of stuff. I happened to have the pirivilege of working pretty closely (anytime you spend two or more consecutive nights with someone past midnight in a computer lab, it’s close) with them throughout the semester. They’re great people. They’re smart. They accept you if you do your job. They don’t judge you if you’re job isn’t as technically challenging as their’s, as long as you’ve got your shit together. The truth was, they would much rather be mulling through lines of MATLAB code, than mulling through lines of the english language. And I would much rather be mulling through lines of the english language, than mulling through lines of MATLAB code.*  So, I did my part. And I did it pretty well. And, I learned, that that was okay. I was just as much a part of the team as everybody else. And I understood, partly by watching the process that was being done by my teammates, and partly by taking part in the discussions to figure out the things that I needed to communicate in the report.

This semester, I made a 4.0. Which is a big deal for me. I achieved this grade because I basically devoted myself to my classes. I really didn’t have much of a life. I didn’t really work on my relationships. I focused my energies, both mentally and physically, on makeing myself better academically. For a brief context, I hadn’t been doing so hot when it came down to the nitty gritty engineering classes. Because I hadn’t applied myself. Because I didn’t really have the passion that drives aerospace engineers. That passion is more than just a passion for aerospace vehicles. It is a passion for math, for materials science, for thermodynamics, for simulation algorithms. I love airplanes and spacecraft. But I don’t love engineering them. I know this, for a fact, because I had the semester that I did. I devoted myself to it, and I did well. I performed in the solo acts, and I had a valuable piece to add to the ensemble. I walked away from it knowing that it was not what I wanted to do.

I also walked away from this knowing that where I apply myself, I succeed. When I give my all, all of my mental and physical energy to some cause, I do pretty well. Even when the passion isn’t there. I know I didn’t have the passion for at least some of the work I did this semester, yet I still did well.

So, what does this mean?

It means that the answer to the question, is that I never stopped believing I could do anything. Because I’ve never really believed it at all. I’ve never really believed it, because I’ve never known what it meant. Until now. If anything, I have become closer to this belief in the past few months, not farther from it. I have started to realize what it means. I have started to believe in myself.

This is a process that takes a lifetime, and your relationship with yourself is constantly changing, in part, because you are constantly changing. There was a quote from doctor of some sort who dealt with Alzheimer’s patients and their relatives which was brought up in dinner conversation the other night, which captures this. Paraphrasing, you are always traveling between who you were yesterday, and who you’ll be tomorrow. Who you are today is just a mix of the two. This constant personal evolution means that your belief in yourself, and the realization that you can do everything must also constantly change.

What has happened to me this semester, is that I have realized the tip of the iceberg of what it means to believe in yourself. I have started down the path. I have also realized that I am at a pinnacle in my life. Several potential pathways await my boots. I now know some of the things that I can achieve when I apply myself. I also know what it is like to not enjoy those things. I know that whatever I apply myself to next, I want to enjoy. Which is where the problem lies. Because that question — what do you enjoy doing? — is still as big and as looming as it was four years ago. It’s just that 4 years ago, there was a large bank of clouds in the way, and I didn’t know just how big and looming the question really was.

I will concede one point here. The blank statement, “I believe I can do anything,” is very arrogant, and even ignorant. I think a more appropriate, and more true version is: There is nothing that I have come across that I have not been able to achieve. This leads to a self confidence that vastly improves your chances when you round the next bend in the trail. I do not think that I am invincible, but I would bet on myself.

Ultimately, it comes down to this. I am a 22-year-old man, who is 5 feet and 9 3/4 inches tall, weighs 218 pounds, is pretty smart, and has a plethera of opportunity ahead. I am not in the best physical shape I could be in, but at the end of the day, I am a healthy person. I have learned a lot about myself, and others, and I know that there is more information that I don’t know than information that I do know. (Come back in a few years for the blog post about how I actually came to know that for what it actaully is.) I am very well off in the world. Where I will be in five and 10 and 20 years from now will be something that other less forunate people will envy. It will be things that I might not even know exist now. It could be anything. But the one things it won’t be is younger. With this, I go forward, into the last months of my undergraduate career, and into the great unknown that lies beyond.

This is not entirely true. I have nothing against code. I like code. More specifically, I like code that is doing something that I am really interested in. But I found that it was the internal thermoanalysis of an afterburning turbojet engine that I didn’t really find as all engrossing as my teammates did. It’s cool, that an afterburning turbojet does what it does, but I don’t live to know what the tempuratures of each stage are.

Mountaintops

There I was, a year later, standing on top of a mountain somewhere on the coast of Maine. I had wanted to reflect on the past year while I was here; I had wanted this to springboard me into the coming year, but instead one single thought occupied my mind. Cold. As a word, as a feeling, as a state of being, cold ran through the synapses in my brain as fast as the wind that was freezing various articles of clothing to my head. Anyone who decides to be a part of the small greeting party that the sun is treated to when he peaks his head over the atlantic ocean for the first time in the new year, is crazy. Anyone who decides to go back and do it again, should probably see a therapist. Here’s how it all started.

In the few months before January 1st, 2013, it seemed like a grand idea. Let’s climb to the top of Cadillac Mountain on January 1st. Sure! Cadillac Mountain is the first piece of the United States that is touched by sunlight in a day, and on the first day of the new year, a year. The first sunlight of the new year. I’ll be the first to admit it has a romantic ring to it. With a 6 mile hike up a mountain in the pre-dawn hours, and tempuratures that are seldom in the double digits, it’s not something that everyone will want to do. It’s not something that everyone will be able to do. But the view and the symbolism of greeting the dawn are actually pretty incredible things. So, two days before 2013 began, some friends and I started making our way northward towards Acadia National Park, in Maine.

We started up the mountian for the first time at around 4 a.m., and we were treated to a full moon glistening off the snow that covered everything. Initiallly, everything was going well, until we realized that somehow or another, we had ended up taking a wrong turn and we’re in fact several miles from where we were supposed to be. With the celestial deadline fast approaching, we found a spot on the side of the mountain, settled in, and were the first people in the history of the world to ever watch the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain from that particular spot, probably. And that was going to be good enough. It really should have been good enough. It WAS after all, a beautiful sunrise. But, the fact that we missed the summit, nagged and nagged, and a year later, two days before the new year, we once again were headed north.

The second time we started up the mountain, it was 3:30 a.m. It was dark; the moon was new this year. There was just enough light to make out the whiter section of abyss in front of you that was the snow covered road, used on this morning as a foot trail. And it was about 5 degrees fairenheight. Which is cold. Not too cold. But still, really cold. We soon discovered just how far off course we had ended up the past year. 3 hours later, we rounded the final turn, and made our way out onto the lookout point frequented by tourists in the summer months, now frozen solid. As walked out onto the cliff, the first thing to strike my mind was the beauty of the place we had just arrived at. There was something about it, the frozen trees, frozen information signs, the snow, the dawn light beginning to illuminate everything, it brought my mind to the next thought that I thought up on the summit of Cadillac Mountain in the middle of winter. Why would anyone ever intentionally come here?

The next 30 or so minutes were, in fact, the coldest 30 or so minutes of my life. Anyone who’s either been cold or taken biology knows that, even when you are cold, you can usually muster up some heat to send to your fingers and toes from your chest. Your chest is where you keep all your important bits, like your heart, and lungs, and breasts, and other things that are generally considered nice to have when you’re alive. The first time you ever get REALLY cold, it’s weird because you mentally focus on your chest to create the illusion of warmth in your head, and there’s none there. And you think to yourself, oh so this is what hypothermia must be like, ah, how interesting. Standing there with nothing to do but pray that the earth turns faster, all my mind wanted to do was think about cold. I forced myself into focusing on little mundane tasks I created for myself, like moving my fingers at all, and just waited. And froze, and waited.

There’s something about mountain tops that draws a very low order, human, primal, even spiritual interest among people. The summit is not a place you get without sacrifice. It is an achievement that is made up of determination, physical strenght, mental will, and sometimes just shear stubborness against failure. Whether it’s a real mountain, or a metaphorical one, the same things are required. The thing about mountain tops that is sort of left out when we romanticise them, which we do a lot, is that climbing mountains is hard. Mountains suck. They’re big and daunting and tall and windy and cold and places where humans should just not exist, and, somehow, we do. Even at the top of a mountain the reward might be 30 or so minutes standing in minus 45 degree wind chill and not being able to feel your outer extremedies. But then, there’s always something, there’s always that one thing that makes the pain, or the no feeling at all, worth it. The sun comes up, there’s a breathtaking sunrise, and for a moment you no longer realize it’s cold. Or your body stops pumping blood to your hands and you just don’t feel anything. Either way, it’s nicer.

When the sun came up on January 1st, 2014, standing up on Cadillac Mountain, there were tears in my eyes. The tears were because the 30 mile-an-hour, minus 45 degree wind was trying to freeze them shut, but there were tears none the less. Moutains are hard. Climbing them is frustrating. It’s challenging, and demanding, and cold, and windy, and did I mention cold? Whatever your mountain is, and however cold you are, just rememeber that there will be a beautiful sunrise at the top. The next mountain may look even bigger, and scarier, and colder, and there is a sunrise at the top of that one too. And if you push, if you freeze, if you take another step when you don’t know how your moving, you’ll get back down and feel the wind burn on your face, smile the smile known by those who’ve accomplished something, and start thinking about what the next mountain will be. Happy new year, good luck with all your mountains. Thanks for reading.