By Jonathan Lam on 06/25/18

Tagged: reflection brain-dump studio-ghibli

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In my last post, I wrote about a little of my history. The Homework Life was a blog I'd written in 2015. I looked back on that hosting account for the first time in over a year, to find two older sites: A Tech Life and Programath. The former was something I created as the culminating project for the year-long LENS project in the Western Civilizations class earlier in 2015; the latter the culminating project for my eighth grade PLTW class.

When I'm asked to write about my programming interests, I always remember that PLTW project. It was a series of three programming mini-projects: a four-function calculator, a graphing calculator, and a simple equation solver. That was about the time I learned about JavaScript (before that, I managed all my scripting in PHP) and it was all very exciting to me to translate mathematical functions into JS code, even if I was only separating the equations into mathematical symbols and then performing basic operators on them. (I told myself not to use the eval() function to parse the inputted equations, and it took me all of two days to figure out how to recursively parse nested parentheses.) And when that was all done, I wrote up a detailed explanation and presented it to the class. I'm not sure if it was a requirement or not, but I also made a twenty-minute video I posted in two parts on YouTube because of the fifteen-minute video restriction. It was the first time I ever presented something I had coded by myself to the class, and I wasn't great at presenting.

It was the precursor to all the nerdy rambles I gave in high school. Most recently, there were my final projects in calculus and physics and statistics, when I received a lot of blank stares explaining the Rubik's cube (twice: once in terms of Group Theory, and another time in terms of 21 different statistical tests) and statistical mechanics.

Is it nostalgia when I search "Introducing" on THL and find all these old projects, some of which I haven't even remembered for years?

Is it nostalgia when I try to find any traces of my earliest websites, those before I began saving my work to GitHub, such as Tode or ProjectX2 or Lister?

Is it nostalgia when I think back to all those hours spent wondering, how the heck do I bypass this CORS error, or why would anyone need OOP interfaces?

I've been wanting to write about these emotions for about a year, and graduation time seemed the best. I just watched the Studio Ghibli movie, Only Yesterday, and (as the name implies), it makes me want to reflect. I'm a seventeen year-old boy with a well-off lifestyle, good grades, pretty normal social standing, and a pretty strong interest in something. Unlike the movie, I don't have a ten year-old self to drag around, a ten year-old self with regrets about boy-girl problems and puberty and vanity. And yet I feel two things:

  • Some pull towards a future of success. Probably in the city. There's some urgency about it too, but I have no idea how I'm going to get there in time.
  • Some pull towards the things I've done. All those projects — if only I could've done them better. If I could be a step ahead. But I'm still proud of them.

I think my greatest fault is that I can't understand, or even begin to comprehend, other people's feelings. What has worked for me so far is pushing myself, working harder than everyone around me. It's a bit of a competition, in such a way that I think of friends as competition. But it's a fair competition. There's never any cheating or maligning on my part to get ahead. Just thinking later into the darkness of the night, struggling to stay awake in class, forcing myself to grind through long, tedious documentation to finish the program at hand.

I said it's worked for me in the past. Our town isn't particularly known for anything. It's the sleepy town, with many doctors and lawyers moving into the large, expensive houses, but the children aren't really expected to do anything. Live off their parents' legacies: don't become poor. The school promotes everyone working at the same level, helping more the falling-behind than the springing-ahead. But being in the city is going to be a completely different story. There, thousands (or perhaps even millions) of people will always be working just as hard as you or harder. Being in a competition against everyone is a way to burn a person out.

I'm assuming that a person just has to do what he or she loves, and be content about it. You can't go about living well any other way.

That's what I'm worried about when living in the city. For a long time, or perhaps for the rest of my life, I won't be content. How do I find the ending point? Why can't I push myself harder, force myself to be smarter, perpetually? Why must there be a human limit?

I think back to my earliest projects and every step in between, and every step is wonderful in hindsight. The amount of time spent is trivial to the amount learned.

In Only Yesterday, Taeko spends a vacation realizing her countryside dream after a mediocre city existence. She learns from her trip that all her life, she was worried about herself and the relationships with those around her. She felt happy at times, but it was really knowing that other people cared for her that gave her closure. I hope I reach that closure.

On an ending note, I wanted to make a more general remark about Studio Ghibli and about graduation. The same themes apply. While in the more fantastical and famous Ghibli films, such as Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, or Howl's Moving Castle, the dream-like setting itself throws my mind in wonder for days, it's really movies like Only Yesterday, The Wind Rises, or Grave of the Fireflies that reveal what's really going on. In the latter group, the more modern setting strips off the symbolism of monsters and machinery. I wish I could describe it more vividly, but the feel is very distinct. It's that of a simpler lifestyle, where respect is the guiding principle and love is the appreciation for the same things in life. It feels crude to try to reduce these movies down, but it's necessary if you want to learn from it.

Princess Mononoke has always struck me the most. And only now am I starting to see past the theme of nature versus man, of the simple human love that is far more beautiful and human than the physical, crude representation many other cultures like to show.

Much of my thoughts on celebration and the recent high school graduation have been influenced by the Ghibli films. It's why I'm confused and almost revolted to hear the things other people say about the school, about celebrities, about the drugs and parties they're going to do now that it's all over. The cigars at graduation. The senior skip days to the beach. The flasks smuggled onto the class trip. There's so much more, and I hope I'm not deceiving myself when I believe that I'm better than those activities. This isn't the time to create the younger self we will hate.


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Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.

G. K. Chesterton