Over the Years, Checkpoint No. 1

It’s a wondrous feeling, that tickles you a little bit, when your own, personal calendar actually reminds you of something you’d long forgotten about, as opposed to it simply being a planning too. Just about a week ago, my phone sang a matter-of-fact alert tone as it reminded of something I’d left in a state of oblivion – “Over the Years Checkpoint, No. 1”, November 10. Upon reading the monochromatic text, the time and memories that have passed, ever since the day I’d typed that into the phone’s calendar, suddenly came rushing back.

I would suppose that it all started about a year ago, maybe a little before November 10. It was at a friend’s party, which she was hosting at her lakeside home, complete with a big-screen television playing MTV music videos and an air hockey machine shouting out the score, where the rationale behind the checkpoint was born. Her dad owned an arcade machine he’d powered on for the occasion – “Time Pilot”. As I sat down to give it a go, as I gazed upon the almost blinding vibrancy of colors jutting out of the machine’s monitor, I thought about something so obvious, yet, at the time, so amazing. Each arcade machine ever made – easily a six or seven hundred dollar piece – can only play one game. That’s not without its merits – each apparatus is a wonderfully constructed piece of artwork, with a custom marquee and cabinet design for each game. But I had a more lucrative idea –  putting together my knowledge about arcade emulation on PC (which is possible and growing as more and more games become supported) with the “unigame” nature of arcade machines, I conjured up the idea of making a multi-game – nay, multi-system arcade machine.

From this episode of discovery, was born Daphne VGS (Video Game System). I’d decided that my arcade machine would not only play arcade games, but also all the console games ever created. Well, at least the ones that I would get. It would play NES games, Super Nintendo games, Playstation games, Genesis games. As far as apperance, it would be a regular computer encased in a vintage-style custom computer case (complete with a wood finish and a metal plate proclaiming, in Galaga-style font, “Daphne VGS”) instead of a full-on arcade cabinet, as there’s not exactly too much space in my room; as far as control, it would use a Sony PS2 controller, whose design would fit the multiple control schemes the system would have for each console; and as far as extras, it would not only play games but would also browse the internet, play music and videos … I was excited.

Then I realized, wow – that’s a lot of games. I even had the possibility of downloading entire game libraries at once! So, to make the adventure worthwhile, I decided to simply go game-by-game (or small library by small library), putting each library of games for a given console on a DVD or set of DVDs. Eahc DVD or DVD set would go in a binder full of CD sheets, separated by dividers indicating which game console each CD sheet held the games for. This would become the “Over the Years” collection which, over the years, would grow and eventually include all, if not most, games possible to emulate on a PC.

I gave myself a date – November 10, 2010, one that seemed so, so, so far away. I’d be a junior by then, taking AP Language and Composition, AP American History, AP Biology, Pre-Calc .. I’d have attended UM’s summer journalism workshop; I’d have spent the entirety o f summer 2010. There’s no way this date will come anytime soon, I told myself. Heck, by then, I’ll probably have this collection complete!

But the date came, and passed. As I stopped and read the notification on my phone; smiling, happy, nostalgic … I thought to myself – what things have changed since that day I put the event on my phone’s calendar. Besides the obvious passage of time, what other things are different now; what things are new?

So many things. It’s no wonder that teenagers change tremendously – at least they feel this way – from school year to school year. The guy building Daphne VGS now isn’t the same guy building Daphne VGS a year ago. I look back upon my sophomore year of high school, and grow as happily nostalgic as I do slightly ticked when I think about all the things I said and did, scrutinizing each as an act of immaturity. That’s it! Immaturity – it’s what I feel dropping every school year. I look back upon the things I said and did and realize how much of an idiot I was with respect to certain things said and done. Perhaps that’s the healthiest form of change – self-assessable. It’s certianly pleasurable, though at the same time scary, to regard the things you thought were the right things to do as being immutably not the right things to do, and – for fear of being ambiguous – that could go for anything. From the daily routine one chose afterschool throughout an entire school year, to the way one handled a given situation. It’s crazy.

A few days after the Checkpoint, I found some excellent videos on Sparknotes which narrate the plot, through narrations and very professionally done custom artwork, of several top books including The Scarlet Letter, 1984, The Great Gatsby … as I saw the books from 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th grade come alive on my widescreen LCD, I felt the memories from those years coming back. The past I left behind came alive in the images I saw of the characters from the books I used to read – the most emotionally affecting encounter I’ve ever had with anything on my computer monitor.

I’m filming Band now. I know so much more about documentary film-making, from the basic six questions of “who? what? when? where? why? how?” to not knowing what to do when you see someone exempt from practice, with their head buried in their hands, sitting diagonal from the marching field on the basketball court, Indian-style on the warm granite floor, and you’re not sure whether to film the person or not…


Fondness of Memory

Just coming back from Winter Break, my first day in school for the 2011 year was as run-of-the-mill as it could be. Mind you, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t enjoyable – it was a fun day where we did lots of new stuff in each class. However, as I was riding on the bus, looking out through the tinted window to the student parking lot in the back of the school, I had an epiphany that I kept developing in the spare thinking time I had throughout the rest of the day.

I began by thinking about how I’d spent my Winter Break. I hung out with a record number of friends, I went on several crazy bike riding adventures (so crazy that I now have to go pick up my bike from my friend’s house the soonest I get a chance), I played my favorite video games, I made progress on several video projects, I read, I did my homework (although writer’s block ended up forcing me to work on it on Sunday night, before school), I spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve with my awesome family, and I also … grew fond of a certain kind of freedom. As you can well imagine, the first thought I had as I walked out of school the Friday afternoon when Winter Break began, was, “Now the fun starts.” That fun didn’t necessarily encompass schoolwork, but it did encompass intellectual projects of my own, in addition to the usual plans for debauchery that accompany anyone’s mind at the beginning of any form of recess, from work or school.

And that’s exactly what I’m getting at. We spend, give or take, 8 hours in school; listening to lectures, working, talking … yet, intellectual pursuits, at least for me, don’t end there. This is especially true for people like me who are taking Advanced Placement courses that involve long hours of studying and reviewing (usually in the form of reading) because of the massive amount of material the curriculum dictates. Now, each class at my school lasts two hours, and we have three classes a day. In those two hours, somehow, an entire chapter of material can be covered, a class discussion on the issue of gay marriage can be led, a lecture on factoring polynomials can be given. What would two hours of math be like at home? Obviously, you can’t discuss, and you can’t listen to a lecture by a teacher in the flesh, but you can read and do practice exercises, and to some extent (if not completely), teach yourself the material! This is especially true of my American History class, where the meat of the class is found in reading assignments encompassing 30-page narrative chapters about American history.

My point is, all school is is a set of three 2-hour batches, with an extremely short 30-minute lunch break sandwiched somewhere in there. Somehow, however, school forms the core of many teenagers, whether educationally or emotionally speaking. This is the place where we get an education and form relationships (business or otherwise) with memorable human beings we call “friends”. It’s not like it’s absolutely, 100% necessary – as illustrated by even rigorous courses like the ones I’m taking, self-teaching and individual scholarship is wholly possible, and it’s likely not reserved solely for the intellect-seekers. So, why is it that we go to school? Is it because of the friends? Because of the frenzy?

Certainly, this is the subject of much debate amongst my friends, at least, one of which recently posted a Facebook status update complaining how she found little to no reason to go to school after Winter Break. She’s a senior, so her lethargy is comprehensible. Yet she’s also an Advanced Placement student. So what is it about school that can be emulated at the home, and why do we need to travel elsewhere to do it?

What may be a plea for independent scholarship actually has its roots in emotional and spiritual phenomena. Over Winter Break, I discovered a sense of freedom and excitement that accompanies only the riskiest of debauchery – only this time, there was some scholarship and studying involved. For example – I’ve taken up the project of formulating a journalism course for the incoming freshmen next year, and so I spent lots of my time during Winter Break thinking about how it would work out, watching journalism movies and reading journalism texts. I’d usually do this in the morning, interrupt my studies with a bike ride to my friend’s house or even the local grocery store (usually when my mom needed me to do the grocery shopping) and finish off the night with a little bit of reading or chatting with family members. It sounds so peaceful, so lax, right? Yet, in these two weeks, I’ve never felt a greater love for the pursuit of knowledge, thereby demonstrating how the institutionaliztion found in school isn’t necessarily the most effective way of spurring interest for intellect in students.

I’ll continue this analysis tomorrow or past. Good night, all!

Not Enough Time? Yeah, Right.

Coming off of my previous blurb about “The Fundamental Paradox of Secondary Education”, I’ve realized that there’s enough time in the world for all we want to do. Yet, it’s worrying about all the different things we should, could, and have to do that minimizes the time available to do them.

Everytime the bell strikes 2:20 at my school, it’s dismissal time. Quickly, relentlessly, thoughts of the homework I have to do, and the time I’ll need to complete it, come rushing in. I always think I have too little time. Yet that’s not quite the case. As I likely mentioned – implicitly or definitely – in my previous post, the school day provides a rigorously structured work schedule that says, “OK, for 2 hours you work full on on this; for 2 hours after that, full on on this, etc.” But the second that bell rings at 2:20, that stratification is long gone and dearly missed by bedtime.

Reason I worry about not having time isn’t because I won’t have time. If I could match the same work ethic I have at school at home; why, I could finish the homework for 2 days ahead in one night. But what keeps me, and a lot of us, from doing that? For some of us, it might be too many extracurriculars; for others, obtrusive work hours; for yet others, stipulations that don’t let you get home until 8 o’ clock at night. Yet we can all adapt to our individual situations. The soccer player who stays at school practicing until five o’ clock will find a way to budget his time if he truly desires, as will the person whose parents can’t get him home until 8 o’ clock; as will the struggling adolescent working to make ends meet.

Yet what I – and hopefully at least some of “we” – can’t adapt to, is the workings of our ever-active minds. I’m always reevaluating what I’ve done, what I’m doing, and what I have to do; finding justifications for everything that’s on my little planner/calendar thing. Homework is easily justifiable, but what about hour-long talks with friends on the phone? What about 30 mins. of hanging out with friends afterschool? Are they all justifiable?

Well, by some reasons yes, and surely by others not – my math teacher would probably tell me to hurry home and study logarithms or something. But, once I get home, I start thinking about all I maybe should do, all I obviously haven’t done. The thoughts overtake me so much that I lose valuable time on my work – time that wouldn’t be lost if I had a forced, worry-free schedule like school imposes. Independent work; I can do, and as successful as it usually ends up being for me, it doesn’t escape my qualms about how I spend my time.

Yet that’s the biggest paradox. The main deterrent to my productivity isn’t an overabundance of things I take on, neither is it an injurious dearth of time to do those things in. It’s worrying about either of them. That’s what never fails. Not too little time, not too many tasks. Only too much thought.