Posted in Review

Review – Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth (2016)

Finally! Here is my review of Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. There are a few spoilers here in this review, but I tried to limit myself with the points I specifically wanted to make this time around. It’s mostly from the early chapters, so the later chapters are relatively spoil-free, but two direct quotes from the conclusion chapter are near the end of the review, so beware!

There were two things that immediately caught my attention in the first chapter. First, “It was critically important – and not at all easy – to continue after failure.” Preach it, sister. Continuing after failure is one of the hardest things that I do in life, constantly. Each failure is a trial for me to overcome. Either I quit what I’m doing, or I’ll need to persevere. Reading Duckworth’s book reminded me of my choices, and it helped to bring out a commitment (as I read her book in the first place to self-improve and to have motivation) to something that I’m passionate about that I want to continue on doing with a purpose – reading and then having discussions with those here on my blog and my community, or at least somewhere to post it so I may go back later on and revisit this review should I ever reread Grit and see if I still feel the same way. All of this leads to the second point in the first chapter: “It’s a combination of passion and perseverance that made high achievers special – they had grit.” After having read this book, Grit is something that I want to implement in my life.

Growing up, and even now, I sometimes struggle with the Naturalness Bias, but I have been shown contrary to it by people I’ve been acquainted with through sports functions whenever I attended my siblings’ tournaments. “The Naturalness Bias is a hidden prejudice against those who’ve achieved what they have because they worked for it, and a hidden preference for those whom we think arrived at their place in life because they’re naturally talented.” I grew up in a culture that idolized those that successfully made it to the ‘top’. I watched people be pushed to their limits, and I watched them excel. And it’s because of that, that I saw all the arduous work and effort they put into the activity that pretty much dominated their life. They were talented, but they expanded their talent by putting in the effort, which culminated in great skill, and with more effort placed, I saw them achieve their victory. I hope I can get there too, one day, in my ultimate concern, but in the meantime, I can only do what I can do, and perhaps a little more. I need to keep putting in the effort to get there.

Duckworth develops a formula grit: “Talent x Effort = Skill —> Skill x Effort = Achievement.” She goes onto explaining how her formula functions: “Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort. Achievement is what happens when you take your acquired skills and use them…. When you consider individuals in identical circumstances, what each achieves depends on just two things – Talent and Effort. Talent – how fast we improve in skill – absolutely matters. But effort factors into the calculations twice, not once. Effort builds skill. At the same time, effort makes skills productive.” Her formula makes sense to me, personally, and I hope to utilize it to cultivate my ultimate concern of self-improvement for my loved ones and me. It does give me hope that as long as I keep at it, my talent and effort will result in skill, and my skill and further effort will hopefully result in achievement.

There are two ways to grow grit: on your own or with other’s help. Duckworth expands upon this in her conclusion: “On your own, you can grow grit ‘from the inside out!’: You can cultivate your interests. You can develop a habit of daily challenges – exceeding – skill practice. You can connect your work to a purpose beyond yourself. And you can learn to hope when all seems lost. You can also grow your grit ‘from the outside in!’ Parents, teachers, bosses, mentors, friends – developing your personal grit depends critically on other people.” I try my best to implement both, but I lean more toward a more solitary lifestyle that focuses on growing grit from the inside out.

One of the most important things that I thought essential that I took away from this book was: “So, finishing whatever you begin without exception is a good way to miss opportunities to start different, possibly better, things. Ideally, even if you’re discontinuing one activity and choosing different lower-order goals, you’re still holding fast to your ultimate concern.” I think it would be good to track what I’m doing at the very least on a day-to-day basis before capturing more nitty gritty details of how long I spent doing the activity, what exactly the activity was specifically, etc. I’m not quite sure exactly on the details, but it’s for sure that having read Grit, I am inspired to make a change for myself.

Overall, I think this book is great if you open yourself to its message and ultimately do what works for you. It was a wonderful read for me, and I highly recommend it. While working on your passion through perseverance, you’ll find if it’s genuine or not through the hard work that you put in. I’m blessed enough that I know I’ve found a genuine passion in reading and then sharing with others what I’ve learned. I give Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance a 5/5. You can also check out Angela Duckworth’s Ted Talk, where she talks about grit.

Posted in Personal, Review

On Studying Books: The Basic Process

I do have somewhat of a process that I follow when it comes to reading books that I want to retain information about, and often will want to place in my Commonplace Binder, which is based on the Commonplace book. Perhaps it’s a nonfiction book about self-improvement or history, or even perhaps it’s a fictional classic. Regardless, I have relatively the same process of studying books whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.

1.       Read the book cover to cover and highlight quotes.

2.       Go back to those quotes, write down, often word for word, on pieces of filler paper (written in ink, on front and back of the pages) to be placed in my Common Place binder, to soak in the words.

3.       Then, I often will write a review (currently, the best example of how I do this would be how I did my Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard review where I used a lot of quotes and expanded until I hopefully finish the review for Angela Duckworth’s Grit – aiming for it to be out by Monday) while going through the notes I took to also get a more personal part of the process of what I liked, what spoke to me about the book, etc.

I like collecting a huge number of quotes from the book I’m studying as you can see from my notetaking of Duckworth’s Grit. The part of taking the time to write the information down physically and look over it every now and then is most important for me. Then, I tie it altogether into one review in one long process. When I want to intensely study a book, I do not skip any of these steps. I don’t do this for every book, but every now and then, I feel inspired from the author’s words and I want to write them down as is, take the time to mull on them, and then write down my thoughts. The third step is often the hardest for me sometimes.

I get a lot of ideas swirling in my head, but when I go for the paper, it’s like all the thoughts I had evaporated. Sometimes I manage to get it down; most times the ideas never make it to the paper. It’s a struggle that I’m trying to overcome. I’ve invested in a few A5 Muji notebooks so I could start taking these with me outside, and hopefully I’ll be more inclined to write things down. I like going outside with the intent to sit down somewhere and study. It’s something that’s stayed with me since college.

Posted in Review

Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

I managed to avoid most of the spoilers as I waited these past few weeks until my SO and I had the time to go on a date to watch Guardians. I entered the theatre hyped and came out satisfied. Guardians didn’t fail me. I didn’t know what to expect in this sequel, but it was a fun ride.

~ Spoilers ahead! ~

The family-like rapport between the characters is still one of the greatest thing about Guardians. One of the major themes of Guardians is the emphasis on the choice of family. You chose who your family is. This is exemplified multiple times throughout the movie.

Here, Peter Quill is pitted against his biological father who murdered his mother so he wouldn’t feel a need to go back to earth a fourth time. I could get behind the idea that Ego did love his River Lily, but it wasn’t enough. Ego loved himself the most that he was willing to kill his loved ones and his flesh and blood to do what he believed was his perceived mission. Peter’s little spat with Gamora before she stormed off about family emphasized the part that blood isn’t all there is to a family alongside Drax’s remarks on family as well. However, I think the shining moment on the choice of family was the relationship between Peter and Yondu, especially once Peter realized how much Yondu kept from him while believing that he only kept him around was because Peter could fit into smaller spaces and was a good thief.

Wow, Yondu. Yes, wow, Yondu. I didn’t expect to be rooting for him throughout the entire second movie. I cried when he died to save Peter, and I also cried when half of his crew first died. Especially when his second-in-command died. For those of you who noticed that was Chibs from Sons of Anarchy and how he did his best to remain loyal to Yondu till the end, I think it made the scene greater if you knew the reference since it also can infer just how awesome of a captain Yondu really was. Yondu had great scenes throughout the movie. Not only did he have a father role with Peter, he developed somewhat of a mentor role to Rocket as they bonded over their similarities. I’d say that Yondu made this film that much better because he was just as much of a driving force for helping the film along (which makes Groot and Rocket’s welcoming him to the Guardians of the Galaxy that much more bittersweet). The contrast between him and Ego as the father figure of Peter was well done. Yondu’s statement near the end of his life summed it up well: “Hey may have been your father, Quill, but he wasn’t your daddy.” Guess who was his daddy? That’s right, folks. Yondu was Peter’s daddy. Kraglin and Peter’s happiness at Yondu receiving a Ravager’s funeral was awesome too – it had the feeling of two sons celebrating the life of their fatherly figure by the figures that their father had respected and cared for. In addition, the Mary Poppins moment between Peter and Yondu was also sweet.

Peter Quill: You look like Mary Poppins.

Yondu: Is he cool?

Peter Quill: Hell yeah, he’s cool.

Yondu: I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!

In the end, Peter realized that Yondu did give him the childhood that he wanted, just with different activities, but the feelings behind them were the same. The quick flashbacks that Peter has includes a brief glimpse of Peter as a boy being taught by Yondu to shoot an arrow, I believe it was. It was rather quick, but having caught a glimpse of it melted my heart. Yondu was definitely my favorite throughout this movie; Rocket and Groot were second and third, respectively.

Groot, as always, is one of the most adorable things in Guardians. I giggled at some of his temper tantrums. He truly is adorable. I was furious when those filthy things were torturing him. The casualness of Yondu, Rocket, and Groot getting out of their troubled situation once Yondu got his weapon was badass. The streak of Yondu’s red arrow shooting across the screen to kill the traitors emphasized that Yondu wasn’t weak; he just knew when to do the right thing. I did enjoy Yondu, Rocket, Groot, and Kraglin’s adventures while everyone else was on Ego’s planet.

The character development was on point this film. I’d argue that maybe a few jokes less would’ve made it greater, but I did laugh a lot while watching the movie inasmuch as I felt I could get away with without bothering people. I knew watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 would mean having a good time, and it certainly was. I cried a few times throughout the film; the film had a good balance of its comedic and tragic moments. Overall, I’d rate it a 90/100. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is a solid film that has its shining moments that brings great joy to its viewers.

Posted in Personal, Review

Reading and Studying: (Ch.1 – Ch.2) Thoughts on Angela Duckworth’s Grit

I decided this week to get back into my studying habits, which have been severely disrupted lately because of a multitude of things, and I couldn’t bring myself to power through until I decided to suck it up today and finally do it. Overdrive also finally had Angela Duckworth’s Grit available yesterday, so I snagged that for the next 21 days to read as one of the books that I’m reading and hoping to finish by the end of the month. The premise is in the subtitle of Grit: “The Power and Passion of Perseverance”. I’m only two chapters in, but it’s already making me think about my life, which is great. I already feel like I’m going to get a lot out of this book.

Duckworth’s quotes Charles Darwin writing in response to his cousin on achievement, whom essentially agrees with her that grit makes more of a difference than natural talent in succeeding: “Excepting fools, men did no differ much in intellect, only in zeal and hard work; and I still think this is an eminently important difference.” She clarifies Darwin’s quote a little further in: “It’s worth pausing to consider Darwin’s opinion on the determinants of achievement – that is, his belief that zeal and hard work are ultimately more important than intellectual ability.” It made me think about the things that I don’t want to do in my life, especially when I’m not feeling well to begin with. I was sickly as a child, even more so now that I’m an adult. I actually hated reading when I was an elementary school child and would always get my mom to read my school assignments to me. Eventually, when my medical problems grew too much, I threw myself into stories in hopes to escape reality. Fanfiction was my first escape, and it was like the Grinch discovered Christmas, and my heart grew several sizes bigger as I felt that I found something in me that I could see myself pursuing: reading. I grew into an awkward, bookworm with plenty of opinions, which was made possible by following my passion for reading and persevering to dedicate myself to spending a good amount of time doing what I love and am passionate about. The internet and various trips to the bookstore and library gave me a plethora of reading material. I read more, absorbed more, and critically thought more (and sometimes applied things to my life), which led me to eventual feelings of personal success as I found more joy in reading and feeling like I was reading my goal to read, and read some more. Reading fiction or non-fiction, just having completed it and sharing it with others is a joy, especially when people are willing to discuss the books that I’ve read with me. I won’t be able to read every book, or get close to reading millions of books, but the ones that I’ve read are often treasured because most of the time, I chose them or had them chosen or recommended to me of which sometimes surprised me with how much I liked it even if I wouldn’t have picked it without them.

In addition, I feel like some of this can even be applied to things such as chores. Starting is harder than doing when I know it’s a task that I can do, but there’s negative feelings attached to it so I don’t want to do it, but I do what needs to be done if it truly needs to be done. If it’s something that I know I can either dedicate myself to it or decide it could just be a passing fancy, there’s less pressure to start, do, and finish whatever project I’m starting. Chores like doing the dishes, washing the laundry, and sweeping the floor are things that need to be done although I take no joy in doing the activities themselves as compared to taking joy in having a much cleaner home.

Grit is something that I would like to think about more, and it seems like something that I would like to try to apply to my life more.

Posted in Personal, Review

Some Thoughts of Living with Chronic Pain + Andrew Lang’s Myth, Ritual, and Religion

How do you live and cope with chronic pain and illness?

I haven’t quite figured it out myself yet what that question exactly means to me and exactly how I do it beyond taking things one day, one thing at a time because who knows how I’d be feeling later in the day compared to how I feel in the morning. Some days I can walk fine at one point of the day and then be unable to walk at another part of the day. Sometimes the weather affects my illnesses and makes them worse. Coping well is hard for me at times because there are many times that I want to give up. I end up praying a lot, if only to find time to ease my mind which tends to happen as it gives me something else else to focus so in the meantime I calm down enough to look at the situation after a little more time has passed and go back to resolve it if it means that much to me.

Being constantly ill as a child to now as an adult in my 20s, life has been wild in regards to how much I feel like I’m lacking compared to everyone else. Chronic pain has stolen a large swathe of my life and will continue to do so. Most days I’m lying in bed. Rarely do I leave my home; I leave once on average, or twice if I’m feeling really good, per week. I don’t have the energy nor the tolerance to be somewhere not comfortable while my body goes through enough pain that I want to go hide in a corner and bawl my eyes out. Most of my attention throughout the day is focused on my pain, focused on making me comfortable with the limited movements that I can do that won’t send pain ramming into me. I’ll be going in for another review of myself at the doctor’s next month, so at least there’s that.

In the meantime, I try my best to focus on my hobbies and doing household chores that I’m able to do on my own. I’m so blessed to have him in my life – someone who loves and supports me despite my general craziness and how ill I can get. Through thick and thin, I know I can trust him. For my hobbies, I feel like I need to create a more structured environment, but I find it incredibly difficult to do things when I feel unwell – pressured or not. I do have many moments where I can suddenly study with deep concentration for a few hours (and by few, I mean 2-3) on end, but that’s only a few times a week, and I’d like to extend that to at least four to five times a week on top of doing my chores.

I’m not quite sure how I feel about Andrew Lang’s Myth, Ritual, and Religion. A good portion that I read so far (I’m 25% into the first volume) strikes me as “meh”. I’d rate it at a 2/5 so far. Lang goes on to making sure the reader understands what a civilized person believes in regards to myth as compared to a savage. The terms civil and savage doesn’t work for me, personally, but Lang is explicit so that makes it easy to understand what he means by those terms. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding or looking too much into it, but Lang seems to just radiate white superiority when he writes about savages sometimes, or at the very least, he uses examples of such stereotypes as to show white superiority while just about what seemed to me dissing of every other culture because people saw just as much value in other things as humans, which was one of the reasons of what made a person savage. Like I said, perhaps it’s just me misunderstanding the him and he didn’t mean to come across like that, but he does to me. The book has turned into a bit of a slog for me, but I feel that I should try to finish the first volume at the very least.

Posted in Review

Review: Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (2005)

I was first recommended this book by my SO, and I realized that I had even talked to him about things found in Freakonomics before I even read the book. There are some new things that I learned such as opening my mind up to looking at data for things that interest me more thoroughly.

Perhaps the most important theme from Freakonomics to me was the ability to look at data from a different point of view than a conventional outlook. I also liked the parts of Freakonomics attempting to justify their view of believing that conventional wisdom is often wrong – I agree with them for the most part. Furthermore, I liked the part about how incentives matter. It’s another overall grand theme about human condition as to why we do some of the things we do. Incentives play a large part in our daily lives and in the world as a whole. If we’re more incentivized to get married and have children because the government rewards those who are married with children as compared to single individuals, it doesn’t make rational sense to not get the most benefit out of the situation if you could. So especially if you want children, you’re incentivized to do so alongside incentivized to get married considering in the US, you not only get a huge tax break from personal exemptions and married filing jointly, but for every child you have, you can claim a tax credit for $1000 per year (assuming you meet the qualifications for it as there is a fade out period for those above a certain threshold). When the government became more stringent about the rules, claims for dependents dropped.

In other cases, the evidence is massive. Consider what happened one spring evening at midnight in 1987: seven million American children suddenly disappeared. The worst kidnapping wave in history? Hardly. It was the night of April 15, and the Internal Revenue Service had just changed a rule. Instead of merely listing each dependent child, tax filers were now required to provide a Social Security number for each child. Suddenly, seven million children — children who had existed only as phantom exemptions on the previous year’s 1040 forms — vanished, representing about one in ten of all dependent children in the United States.

People will do things when they are incentivized to do so. When they are decentivized, such as the IRS changing the rules, many stop whatever they were doing. Until they are stopped, they are willing to keep going if they’re incentivized to do so – if it’s better to do so than not to, more than likely you’re going to do so. I’ve experienced and realized that there are moments that I’ve done things purely because I am being incentivized to do so, and I’ve seen it happen to others. Incentives are a way to give human’s drive to do things that they don’t particularly want to do.

The topics Levitt and Dubner chose to write on were interesting. It did certainly seemed all over the place with topics covering crime, abortion, sumo wrestling, and Ku Klux Klan among other things, but I think that goes to show you how vast your thinking expands by thinking more like an economist. Thinking like an economist has you seeing things on a macro and micro level. I found Freakonomics convincing to me on a level that I tried to broaden my mind into thinking more creatively using hard data to come up with a conclusion. It was relatively easy to get into for me; it took me less than a week to finish it. Overall, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to others especially layman wanting to start somewhere in reading economics but don’t know where to start.

If you want to give it a try, here is the link to its Amazon.

Posted in Classics 2017 Challenge, Review

Review: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard (1967)

I read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard years ago in my senior year of high school in my AP English class, which was also the first time that I also read Hamlet. I didn’t understand the plays at all then, Stoppard’s one more than Shakespeare. When I first started rereading Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, it seemed almost as if I never read it before! There was a lot I forgot, and most of what I remember came from what I remember of the movie. Ultimately, this lead to me enjoying Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead this second time around. Moreover, having read up slightly on existentialism, it helped to enhance my enjoyment of this fictional work.

Guildenstern is more abstract/ideological type of character compared to Rosencrantz’s more pragmatic type, but the two fit together with Guildenstern leading the way and Rosencrantz supporting him although with not entirely original ideas (as Guildenstern complains). Guildenstern often rambles on to fully formulate his thought compared to Rosencrantz. Rosencrantz is the more concise of the two to observe or question surrounding behavior; although, overall, it is still two ramblings of men who have no idea and go along asking questions due to their way of thinking and then not care in the end about their fate because everyone dies. Rosencrantz does makes astute judgments about Hamlet through his observation. “ROS: A compulsion towards philosophical introspection is his chief characteristic, if I may put it like that. It does not mean he is mad. It does not mean he isn’t. Very often, it does not mean anything at all. Which may or may not be a kind of madness” (116). Furthermore, earlier in the play, Rosencrantz states, “Half of what he said meant something else, and the other half didn’t mean anything at all.” (57) which enhances an earlier quote from Guildenstern: “Words, words. They’re all we have to go on.” (41) so the only thing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern can observe is Hamlet’s words even if he might mean something other than what he’s saying. Rosencrantz does indeed embody as a “support” to Guildenstern.

That’s not to say that Guildenstern doesn’t gets into interesting conversations with other characters. Guildenstern has thought on the matter of fate multiple times throughout the play such as the following example from the play in a moment between the Player and Guildenstern.

PLAYER: It could hardly be one without the other. [Talking of chance and faith]

GUIL: Fate then.

PLAYER: Oh yes. We have no control (25).

Talking of this chance and faith hardly being one without the other, as such as them having no control – Guildenstern and the Player declare it to be fate. Whatever is out of our control is fate or chance. Furthermore, “GUIL: We can move, of course, change direction, rattle about, but our movement is contained within a larger one that carries us along as inexorably as the wind and current…. There must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said – no. But somehow we missed it.” (122, 125). Guildenstern believes in fate in that he also believes that there must have been a chance to say no, but they didn’t, and thus they are where they are. People move along in the world as if by an invisible hand that causes them to choose one way or another.

The Player as an actor chooses to talk of his experiences as someone who plays a role repeatedly even if by the end of the play, the character has died but the actor has not so he’s allowed to play the role again and die again if he so wishes. Throughout the play, the Player has some insights in human behavior on trust and belief that he shares with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. First, “PLAYER: Everything has to be taken on trust; truth is only that which is taken to be true. It’s the currency of living. There may be nothing behind it, but it doesn’t make any difference so long as it is honoured. One acts on assumptions.” (67). If there is no trust, how can we believe what we are hearing or reading from secondary sources? People act on what they believe is happening because they either trust or do not trust what is going on. Everything you observe is in your own perspective; you know no other mind than your own. Second, “PLAYER: Audiences know what to expect, and that is all that they are prepared to believe in.” (84). This goes back to the previous quote in terms of human behavior. “One acts on assumptions” leads to people having made a judgment to assume to know what to expect and that’s all that they’re going to expect. As the Player says: “that is all that they are prepared to believe in.” Third, “PLAYER: Life is a gamble, at terrible odds – if it was a bet you wouldn’t take it.” (115). Life is truly a gamble; you don’t know what you’re going to get. I don’t think many people would take the bet either considering that we often don’t know where we’ll be many years down the road from where we are currently.

Rosencrantz had the best lines in the play when speaking with Guildenstern in meaning of how much it spoke to me on an existentialist level. “ROS: I don’t pretend to have understood. Frankly, I’m not very interested. If they won’t tell us, that’s their affair.” (92). He also later questions to Guildenstern how do you know if you are who you are. In the play, the two men are often interchangeable to the other characters in the play. They have even mixed up themselves before. So when they have taken the time to question who they are and how do they know, and still are confused, existentialism is rearing its head here to be heard.

ROS: Is that you?

GUIL: Yes.

ROS: How do you know? (97)

Another moment that Rosencrantz was in a discussion with Guildenstern showed that Rosencrantz is aware of the absurdity of things that he and Guildenstern speak about.

GUIL: Allowed, yes. We are not restricted. No boundaries have been defined, no inhibitions imposed…We can do what we like and say what we like to whomever we like, without restriction.

ROS: Within limits, of course.

GUIL: Certainly within limits. (116).

Guildenstern says one thing, but when Rosencrantz makes sure to remind him that there are still limits in the world, and Guildenstern agrees although right before he was just saying that they can do or say whatever they want without restriction. Alas, there are restrictions, of course. In America, we have freedom of speech, but if you go to an airport and shout out terroristic threats, your freedom of speech is shot. You’re going to be taken as a threat and are going to be in trouble. There are limits to freedom of speech as in the case in Germany where holocaust denial is a crime.

ROS (he means): Is he dead?

PLAYER: Who knows?

GUIL (rattled): He’s not coming back?

PLAYER: Hardly.

ROS: He’s dead then. He’s dead as far as we’re concerned. (121)

As far as they are concerned, Hamlet is dead to them. Since they do not know what has happened to Hamlet and the missing barrel, Rosencrantz has decided that he might as well think Hamlet is dead because he could be for all that they know, so as far as they are concern, Hamlet should be treated as if he were already dead. What great lines!

Overall, Tom Stoppard’s play deserves to be one of the classics about one of the greatest classics there ever were. With its existentialist theme on choice and existence, and the constant questioning of life, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard is a marvelous play and I highly recommend it for those who are interested in reading some existentialist fiction. I had a lot of fun reading the play especially since I am typically a fan of reading Shakespeare, so reading something like a fanfiction using Shakespeare’s characters and canon combined with existentialist themes to a unique piece of work lead to a great time for me.