Illusive

From October 21st, 2015

I haven’t slept much lately. That seems to be the story with everyone these days. As the days turn to night, I finally start to wake. These nights are getting longer, with the passing of the sun. The moon shines brightly on me, a shadow of the sun that once touched my skin and gave me warmth. I live to worship the moon, awake for hours under its presence. I live my days by night. I cannot sleep.

I used to pull all-nighters only once a week, but that has quickly turned to two. I do not allow myself reprieve. But when I do give in to the demands of my body, it is not enough. I dedicate myself to the night and all the work that has yet to be done, all the work I am not doing, and all the work that is still to come.

I used to fight to stay awake in class. A battle between my conscience self and the self I wish I could be. I fight a losing battle. Pointless. When I am awake, I do not understand. The words taunt me, floating through the air and fluttering in dynamic patterns and fanciful forms. Lifting off of pages and out of professor’s mouths, forever eluding my grasp, my understanding. They remain foreign to me. I see, but I do no more than that. This battle I have lost.

People look at me and wonder how I do this. But only when I muster the strength to share these troubles. The troubles that are all-too-common among my peers. The relentless struggle of our undergraduate “education”. The feelings that rage inside. We cannot see past the surface, the façade. The mask I wear to hide my struggles cannot hold much longer. But I do not intend to give it up. It’s just my human nature to live in the moment, even if the next will crush my soul. When I see people, it is my duty to entertain. To fix problems. To ensure we are living life to the fullest, in that small fragment of time. To maintain that illusion for the time being. But we cannot see the truth in darkness. We are lost without the light of day.

It is sad to know that I cannot escape this reality. Wake up from this dream. Emerge from the darkness. And truly feel. Embracing the sadness would make me happy. But the happiness that I have is not meant to be kept. I give it all away, until there is none left. No hopes remain.

Inside that shell is nothing. An illusion. Empty.

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A Badger Tradition

Football is a long-standing tradition for any college campus. Historically, a college football stadium exists as a sanctuary for students to unite under a single common goal: to kick the other team’s ass. And as a Big 10 (14) Conference Member school, this tradition was all the more important to the growing body UW alumni, students, and Wisconsin-born citizens.  Saturday, October 17th, 2015 I entered the ranks of the Wisconsin Badger football student section alumni. I jumped around, ate chips and fondue, did the wave, and cheered for the UW Badgers (and I actually did have fun, surprisingly). So as far as I could tell, the tradition hasn’t changed much. I will try and recount to you some of the observational notes I made during this particular field study of Homecoming 2015: Purdue vs. Wisconsin.

First, I should describe what a standard game day can look like to anyone that hasn’t had the opportunity/ever wanted to come close to attending a Badger football home game.V__D97C(1)

Badger Football group picture! Check.

For those of you wondering, Badger Game-Day was not just one day. Sure, the game might have been on Saturday, but UW football did not claim only one day of the week. Preparations were needed for this most holy of days. Some would travel for miles, determined to stand in the bleachers and emphatically cheer their favorite team whilst simultaneously jeering the opponents. Others were up last night stockpiling brats and alcohol for tomorrow’s crowd of Badger crazed fans that would flood the streets of Madison. I would normally be sleeping at this time, because it was the weekend and the only time that I had the option to sleep. But not this weekend. I would sacrifice one day to have an authentic Wisconsin Experience.

Brats. Beer. And football games. That is all we cared about in Wisconsin. And it was evident on Game Day. As a precursor to the game, the innumerable masses of die-hard Badger fans would eat brats and drink beer like it was life support. Every bite brought them life. Every drink made them livelier.  And their spirits would soar, each fan ready to embrace their inner Badger. They would slowly meander (drunkenly stumble) out of the pre-game parties and tailgate picnics and towards Camp Randall stadium as the clock ticked closer to start time. Every minute, more and more students would gather ready to witness the spectacle they had been waiting for all week. They were gathered by the masses, clad in the symbolic Badger red and channeling their thoughts into the only conceivable outcome for that day: the bombshell defeat of the opposing team. The crowds would chant and cheer and scream and it wouldn’t make a difference what noise we made because it was lost in the roar of the crowd. It didn’t matter what we said because we were all saying it. We were all there for one reason. We would play hard. And we would win. There wasn’t any other option.

“Brats. Beer. And football games. That is all we cared about in Wisconsin. And it was evident on Game Day.”

Before knowing all this, I struggled to find a compelling reason as for why I should attend a Badger football game. It just didn’t appeal to me. Every Saturday I would walk out into a sea of red, swimming against the current with my dark black & blue wardrobe. Purposeful opposition to the inexplicable phenomena occurring around me. I was immune to the solidarity of student body around me. Nothing could have swayed my decision at that point. But something changed this year. I wanted to experience something different, something new, something that I could only do as a UW-Madison student. So I thought I might try it this once. I would give the football game a shot.

And I am glad I did. And I am glad we won (24 – 7). But even if we didn’t win, there was something about standing in that massive crowd, so large that I felt insignificant. It wasn’t a time to be special or be different or be anything. We were just supposed to watch our team, rally hard, and have fun. It was about being a part of something (even if I really actually wasn’t because crowd-standing is not that inclusive and anyone else could have been there). It was about continuing a tradition. Without the support of the students, the game would not mean anything. Something that can bring 80,000+ people together had to be special. There was no doubting that. And it helped that we were victorious that day! I am glad that my friend extended her hand outward and asked me to be a true Badger. I came along with her that day blind to the spirit of the Wisconsin tradition, but I emerged with a new perspective of UW sports and what it means to be a Badger.

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Jeez Louise! We look darn fine, don’t we?

Operation Free the Flamingos! (Part 2/2)

October 16th, 2015. The “Operation Free the Flamingos” launch date was quickly approaching and preparations were needed to ensure the success of this mission. I would not falter in the face of danger, I would not let the dreams of my loyal companions die, and I would not accept defeat. I called all the people that I thought could sway victory on my side. Only the chosen few – fleet-footed, natural instincts, and rebellious hearts – could ally themselves to the cause. The stakes were high, but the reward outweighed the risk. But not everyone could muster my overly enthusiastic fantasies of flamingo freedom. Opposition to my cause arose. And the damages from flamingo property loss were not the issue. The problem was that people didn’t want to steal from the Alumni Association. I hadn’t considered the fact that I was actually stealing from anyone. In my mind it was a harmless prank, embodying the ideals of the original prankster. The Father of the Flamingos. But I had to wonder… Would I really be honoring his legacy? I had to consider that if I was going to eradicate the flamingo population.

I continued to call people and think about the implications of my actions. And I had to accept the criticisms. Maybe stealing a flamingo was not as glorious as I thought it would be… The WFAA was doing this fundraiser for the university. And with the recent budget cuts, we have a large gap to fill if we want to continue to uphold our reputation for excellence. I could not rob from the organization that funds our school. The organization that funds my scholarship. I had a dilemma. Because I still needed a flamingo. But if I still needed a flamingo, I would have to try a new approach.

Over the past year, I built a rapport with the Alumni Association. And I would use that network to overtly plead for my primary objective. I was resolute in will, determined to ask even the smallest connection to help me with my outlandish request. The emails flew to and fro, scattering their information to computers all over the university and leaving my laptop as fast as my words per minute could bring them to life. And lo and behold! Tuesday evening I received a fortuitous email from my correspondent informing me that, due to my Red ShirtTM history and new found friends in high places, she could secure a “leftover” flamingo for me.

Wednesday morning, 8am at the Wisconsin Alumni Association building. There will be a package waiting for you at the front desk. (of course I am making this sound more like a drug deal than a personal favor, which is far more interesting)

With a flamingo held firmly in my grasp, I basked in the glory of victory, cast my hands out into the air thanking any otherworldly influence that could have even remotely contributed to the outcome of these events!! I didn’t need to lead a clan of battle-hardened college students in a raid on the home décor of Bascom Hill (though it would have been awesome). I just asked. And I received. It was as simple as that.

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Love can be found in the strangest of places.

But my story was not finished that day. Not yet. I was indebted to the WFAA. I had to make it up to them somehow. And I had the perfect solution: I would exchange my criminal past for a new future of security detail. As much as I had previously wanted to steal all the flamingos, the WFAA wanted to keep every last one of them. But something changed. Our once conflicting views now aligned. Everything came full circle, from thief to defender in the matter of minutes. That is how quickly life can change. And I would hold myself to the same standard that I held on the opposing side (but reverse, kinda like an enantiomer). Before I wanted to leave Bascom Hill barren from an attack by a ragtag strike squad of college lunatics, but now I would safeguard the livelihood of the flamingo residents in unison with the Alumni Secret Defense Forces (ASDF, just for kicks). Not a single flamingo would leave that hill. Not today. Not on my watch.

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Freeze! Put the flamingo down on the ground and no one gets hurt #flamingosecurity

So I didn’t catch anyone that day. It probably because no one wanted to steal a flamingo while I was on guard. They knew their chances would exponentially increase once I left. And I applaud them for that. I wouldn’t want to steal a flamingo if the original bad-ass was now guarding the treasure. But that wasn’t the point. I didn’t need chase anyone down the hill for miles on end, screaming at the top of my lungs and unleashing a battle cry that would stop men in their tracks. Or tackle perpetrators to the ground and rub dirt in their faces alongside the failure as I pinned them to the ground and dashed their dreams of owning an authentic Bascom Hill rarity (though this all would be MATHMATICAL!). I just wanted a flamingo.

One more item was crossed off my bucket list that day. And one more person could enjoy the sentiment of the UW-Madison flamingo. I was living my dreams and I would continue to do so.

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Me and muh PIC enjoying a mission success. ‘nuf said

Operation Free the Flamingos! (Part 1/2)

When you hear the word “flamingo”, what is the first thought that comes to mind? Some people think of their local zoo, flashing back to memories of their first-grade field trip and broccoli they threw in the animal pens. Others vaguely access factoids regarding the strange, yet amusing, coloration of their feathers and why flamingos are so flamboyantly pink. But on the University of Wisconsin – Madison campus, only one thought comes to mind:

The honorary city bird that resides on Bascom Hill.

The pink flamingo has become iconic throughout Madison and beyond. It is the symbol of the Annual Fill the Hill campaign, each feathered friend representing a donor that contributed to the fund. The established tradition of the UW flamingos on Bascom Hill is beyond popular, standing 2nd only to the prank involving our very own UW Statue of Liberty in Lake Mendota. Both of these pranks, and many others throughout the history of Madison, can be traced back to the legend-(wait for it)-dary man Leon Varjian.

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The #UWFlamingos gonna get #snatched

And after the successful takeover of flamingos on Bascom, his indomitable spirit of prank-dom continued to live on. And it would manifest itself… in me. I, too, wanted to live by his political slogan and embrace the legacy that he left behind. And I thought of the most brilliant way to live up to my predecessor’s image:

Leon filled Bascom Hill with infamous pink lawn ornaments. I would take them all away.

“Honesty, integrity, responsibility … Pail and Shovel doesn’t believe in any of them!” – Varjian’s Slogan

The idea of taking a flamingo was enticing. But taking 1,008 of them? The thought overwhelmed me. I couldn’t even imagine what that many flamingos would look like, let alone where I would store them all. But I would think about that later. I just needed to get them all first… somehow. Bold stories of stolen flamingos constantly circulated around campus. There had to be other students that would join me in my mission. In fact, I already had a partner-in-crime that I knew would help me. And whether it was to have a new piece of furniture to complement their curbside sofa or they needed a makeshift drinking apparatus to store their alcohol, other students would steal the flamingos every year. And this year, I would lead them all.

This is what I would yell as I led the charge onto the battlefield

I wanted a flamingo before I read about Varjian (the bucket list!), but I did not have any real, compelling reasons. I wanted a flamingo simply for the fact of wanting a flamingo. But my partner-in-crime who wanted to do this had other intentions driving his flamingo fervor. This mission had sentimental value attached to it for him, in contrast to my primary motivation being a longtime childish rebellion against authoritative figures and social norms. This flamingo had the power to reunite distant connections and trigger memories of what once was. To some, it meant nothing more than just an improvised beer bong. To my friend, it meant honor. To me, this meant that I would get a flamingo at any cost. “Operation Free the Flamingos” just got personal.

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A taste of what is to come…

Part 1/2 complete

Caffeination Trepidation

Cartography and Geographic Information Systems requires attention to detail, patience, diligence, and forethought. We must dedicate ourselves to the minutia of label placing, the visual hierarchy of map elements, and the psychological theories of color linked with emotions. We do this in order to convey a message to the reader. To establish a sense of place. To tell a story worth hearing. This is what is required from me. And I have neither the time nor energy to dedicate to these practices.

It is 4am and I am far from being finished with what I came here to do. I have stumbled upon the world of online TV shows and I cannot escape. There was so much I did not know that I did not know. I felt like I had to explore everything that was out there. And even though I haven’t accomplished much in terms of academic projects, there is one thing I have learned:

Caffeine + American Horror Story = Disaster.

Every mysterious creek, inexplicable draft, coincidental door shaking, and even the racket of the faulty pipeline system running throughout this building… they all are converging upon me, successfully robbing me of my sanity. If this building is even remotely haunted, then American Horror Story has only served to confirm the irrational fears that I initially had of Science Hall. Violent plot lines, brutal murders, and malicious intentions demand my attention and capture my soul. I start to put myself inside this story, blurring my sense of reality and fiction. I live vicariously through the adventures of my television heroes and heroines, each horror they experience amplified by the caffeine that pumps through my veins. I thought I would be dreaming peacefully in my bed tonight, but I just now realized that I am living a nightmare.

If I go missing tomorrow, let this update be a testament to my last moments. Let them know that my shouts were true and my paranoia was even truer. Let them know that I tried to follow the model of the “successful student”, but fell short of the unrealistic standard set before me. Let them know that I gave it my all. Or at least the little that I had left to give.

“UW Student Missing: Science Hall Strikes Again”

There’s one for the headlines.

The Senior Bucket List

Senior year has arrived, and with it has come a most deplorable fate. The secret that has been hidden in plain sight. What we have chosen to ignore. Refused to even acknowledge its existence. It was easier that way… But now the time has come. No longer can our blissful ignorance protect us. Nor can we hide from the inevitable. The truth must come to light. Our eyes must be opened.
A cold, hard dose of reality slaps you in the face, beats you down to the ground, and leaves you just conscious enough to realize what is happening to you. We are seniors. We will be dragged – kicking and screaming against our wills – into what is known as “the real world”. Whispered rumors become full fledged realities. We have seen others succumb to this most harrowing fate, but it was never us. The day that we would be standing in the place of fabled seniors that were once our closest allies are now forgotten in the depths of what is called “undergraduate lyfe”.
Being buried under a pile of assignments doesn’t look so bad compared to the dirt that would be sprinkled over our metaphorical graves if we left. The death of our youth. And the birth of our adulthood. (which explains why there is so much kicking and screaming involved…)

While some seniors may turn their head in denial away from the impending doom of the future (myself included), others are taking preemptive measures to ensure they do join the ranks of the fallen. These seniors are spending their time studying for admissions tests, securing letters of recommendation, and finalizing their plans for the next step beyond the illusory experience of the undergraduate stage. But I cannot bring myself to do that. Not with so many unknown variables left to solve in my equation. This is what we have been trained for… so why do I feel immensely unprepared?

This is why I choose to invest my time into the present, hoping that it will pave a road for my future. It will be my “first time” for the last time this year. I won’t have the opportunity to be in an environment that facilitates the idiosyncratic nature of my being. College forces us to discover so I have to make use of that while I can.

I have clearly taken the “bucket-half-full” perspective on this one, so with no further ado I introduce THE ONE, THE ONLY

SENIOR BUCKET LIST

  • Walk Across a Frozen Lake Mendota – possibly singing songs from the “Frozen” soundtrack
  • Ice Skate in Teeney Park
  • Go to a Drag Show
  • Release a Red Heart-Shaped Balloon in the Capital building
  • Take a Picture with Bucky
  • Take a Walk in the Tunnel System
  • Olbrich Garden – Thai Pagoda
  • Attend a Muslim mosque, St. Paul’s church, Jewish synagogue, Buddhist temple
  • Obtain a pink flamingo
  • Open Mic “Take On Me” at a student org
  • Shake hands with Chancellor Blank
  • Ride Merry-Go-Round at Ella’s Deli
  • Go Inside the Clock Tower
  • Sit on Abe’s Lap
  • Love and be loved in return
  • Participate in the Battle on Bascom
  • Steal a lunch tray and sled down Bascom
  • Go out to lunch with my friend Ty Tau
  • Sneak into Camp Randall at night
  • Freakfest!
  • Eat at L’Etoile
  • Badger football game?!?
  • Essen Haus Boot Challenge
  • Steal a Memorial Union chair
  • Go somewhere I have never been before
  • Eat the Plaza Burger
  • 5K! Color Run?
  • Go to Holi, Diwali, Chinese New Year… SOMETHING!!!
  • Drink at The Library
  • Orchestra Recital!
  • Positively impact a random stranger’s life
  • Leave my mark on the UW-Madison campus
  • Nothing Left Unsaid – ongoing life perspective

That, my friends, concludes my list of unexplored mischief for my final year on campus. But by no means is it exhaustive! I just wanted to open a dialogue to generate ideas about what I should and want to be doing before I leave for good. One final rally that would make all my dreams come true – whether I knew what those dreams were or not. I want to look back on these moments and reminisce over all the crazy things that I have thought, and said, and done (it usually happens in that order). But as I ponder of the wonders of my life that are yet to be had, I have come to realize that I can’t plan everything. That is the nature of the future. It is unknown. And there is just too much adventure to be had!!! So until then I’ll take life one slice at a time and make sure that my mischief gets managed.