Kilroy was here

I fluctuate between wanting to obsessively chronicle everything, and hating getting photos of myself taken + trying to “live in the moment.” In case it’s not super obvious by my recent blog posts, right now I’m in the former state, after maybe a few years in the latter.

I’ve realized that the desire to make an impact on the world can manifest in smaller ways than a choice of career path, like when I went on vacation and realized that the only/main way I could “leave a mark” on a place that felt meaningful and transformative to me was to take a bunch of photos. I don’t think that’s the main reason other people take photos in a place, but I also know that I’m not alone in wanting to touch the places and things and people that have touched me. (That’s why Kilroy existed! That’s probably also a big reason why this blog exists…)

Part of this shift is probably me getting older, and more than that, being on the precipice of another major shift in my life (college graduation). In 2014, the year I graduated from NCSSM and started my freshman year at Princeton, I set a goal to post a photo every day so I could remember what I thought would be an eventful year in my life. I don’t know if 2014 was particularly more eventful than the years following it, but I looked back on the photos recently and felt a huge wave of nostalgia. The gestalt of a photo album or subset of one can really capture the feeling of life at the time. And for someone who has a bad memory of her past self, reviewing the photos reminded me that I wasn’t as bad as I thought 🙂. This is all to say that one of my 2019 New Year’s resolutions has been to make a similar photo album (I found out yesterday that you can add videos as well!) as another time capsule that I can review later.

Everything is connected

(More stream of consciousness than my usual blog posts, inspired by some poetry I’ve been reading and life!!!)

Things that you do are not isolated. This is why small things can have big effects. Like parenting. And also proving things to yourself.

That’s why I like taking walks so much. Everything is a metaphor. The cliché of the journey is more important than the destination. That’s why I do weird things on my walks too, like turn around abruptly, walk backwards, skip, sing, etc.

I know this is true because I’ve seen the effects of standing up for myself in one area of my life manifest in others.

Julia’s tips and strategies for gift-giving

I love buying presents for other people and would consider myself pretty good at it too. Gift-giving is one of my love languages 😊. For some reason, my mom finds buying presents really difficult and is pretty bad at it, so I wanted to write this post to teach my mom and other people who aren’t good at gift-giving the heuristics that I use. This post is going to be a combination of theory, tips, and general strategies, rather than me listing specific gift ideas.

To begin, what is a present (i.e., what distinguishes it from something you would buy for another person in a normal context)? And what are you trying to accomplish by giving this person a present? I think it’s really important to think through these questions for yourself before starting the process of picking a present.

Here are my answers: I think a present is a combination of both the present itself (e.g., a physical object, a future experience) and the symbolic gesture that is your giving of the present. The symbolic gesture is a token of your understanding of the recipient and their needs. For me, that’s the most important part of a present—the feeling of being deeply considered for by someone else, which is embodied in the idiom “it’s the thought that counts.” For others (like me in middle school), the symbolic gesture isn’t as important, so they may be perfectly happy with receiving gift cards or straight up cash, for instance. A lot of other characteristics that I associate with good presents, like that they should be a surprise (i.e., not asking someone what specific thing you should buy for them) and that they should be special, come from this notion. One consequence of this is that I would rather receive a present that I don’t like that demonstrates thought and consideration (and that can be returned) than a present that I do like that I had to pick out myself. I’m not sure how many other people feel this way though!

With respect to the second question, I’m almost always trying to find a present that the recipient will use, and will be happy about receiving. The other positive outcome, that I’m sometimes fine with, is that they’re “not mad at” the present.      

Ok, so now that we’ve established a framework, we can move on to the actual tips and strategies. I would say that there are three general categories of presents:

  1. Things that person already needs – something that they already use or have, and need a new one of (e.g., skincare products, a replacement favorite pair of jeans or perfume, new pens or journals, gourmet food items). To figure out what these things are, just examine the “perishable” items that person regularly uses. For people you don’t know that well, this category could be difficult, especially since timing may be crucial.
  2. Things that person already wants – something that person is actively wanting but aren’t purchasing for themselves for some reason (e.g., an item that is out of their budget, something that they can’t justify purchasing, a new version/brand of something they already have). To figure out what these things are, you mostly will need to pay attention for repeated verbal/written cues. You could also examine their browsing behavior while shopping in person or online to see what items they want but aren’t purchasing for some reason. This category may also be difficult for people you don’t know well, but some people do post their wishlists online.
  3. Things that person would need/want – something that fills an existing or future need, and may be frivolous in some way (e.g., a portable power bank if their phone is always out of battery, a voucher for a new activity). To figure out what things in this category are, you should keep an eye out for signs of any needs that aren’t getting filled or filled adequately. This may come in the form of them complaining to you about a problem that they have (e.g., “Sorry I’m late, I can never find my car keys!”, “My neck has been really hurting recently”) or other things that you notice (e.g., this person is always complimenting this thing that I wear, this person likes to watch Popin’ Cookin’ videos on YouTube). From there, you can pick any item that can address that need or potential desire. I generally prefer to buy presents in this category, since it requires you to have a better (predictive) model of the person, and I feel like I can demonstrate the most care this way. Also it’s more fun for me! But I think this category is also the easiest to buy a “not bad” present for people you don’t know well.

These categories are just to guide your thinking, and I think they’re especially useful to consider in conjunction with your budget, because they can help you narrow your focus. For instance, if the person doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on themselves, buying them something that they already need is a nice way to guarantee that they’ll actually use the thing that you buy them. Alternatively, if they like to spend money on themselves, they probably don’t have that many things that they actively want that are in your budget, unless you’re a lot wealthier than they are.

Other tips and strategies:

  1. Think about general categories (things that person likes, hobbies they partake in, stereotypes about that person or their relationship to you). Sometimes it can be helpful to look up lists online to get your juices flowing. For instance, I don’t know much about middle-schoolers these days, but Googling “presents for middle school girl” can help me get a sense of potential ideas.
  2. Don’t feel like you have to buy them something in a specific domain, especially if you’re not familiar with that domain yourself. People like receiving all sorts of things, and you should be able to find a domain that you know something about that they would enjoy receiving a present in; it could even be something tangential. For instance, I don’t know anything about video games, but I do know about ergonomics.
  3. If you can’t afford to buy a present, or would prefer to give one that’s more “thoughtful,” then making something by hand is a really nice gesture. For instance, you could write a heartfelt letter or make a video of you sharing some of your favorite memories with that person. This could be accompanied by something small (e.g., flowers, candy, mini-sized products) if you want the present to seem more substantial.
  4. If you’ve given them presents in the past, it may be helpful to take a look at how those presents were received, and whether or not they were used. This can help you update on what categories of presents they prefer, and what areas they may be too difficult to shop for. For instance, if you buy them something you thought they would want but they end up not using it, it may be a sign that they’re very discerning about items in that category, and it would be easier to buy them a different kind of thing.
  5. The more time you have to think about what to get them, the better! This not only allows you to do more in depth investigations, but you can also be more discerning about the specific product you want to buy, and also potentially when and where to buy it. Who doesn’t love a good deal? You can either save money or buy the recipient more things for the same amount that you would have spent otherwise.
  6. If you can’t think of something specific, a subscription box for whatever they’re interested in is a present that they probably wouldn’t be mad about receiving. There are all sorts of subscription boxes nowadays, like ones for food, lifestyle, books, etc., and they’re available at many price points.

I’ve never really formalized my intuitions about gift-giving before, so there are a bunch of other considerations that I make that I am probably omitting. But I hope this helps some of you, and I may make an updated post (maybe with case studies) at a later date.

The feeling of anxiety at Princeton

To give some context on why I’m writing this post: I have selective memory repression/loss and a form of aphantasia where I can’t relive past emotions (I briefly talked about this in my last video), and I’ve been feeling a lot of pre-nostalgia about my time at Princeton, so I want to record as much as I can while I’m still living it.

The level of anxiety I feel about my work at Princeton is insane and probably extremely unhealthy, despite me taking countermeasures like taking regular walks and making task lists. When I’m in an anxious time (midterms, weeks where I have a lot due—usually right before breaks) it’s difficult for me to sleep well, which is rarely a problem for me at other times. I can’t fall asleep because I’m thinking and maybe feeling guilty about all the work that I need to do/could be doing, and my sleep is restless because I wake up periodically in the night because (I think) my subconscious knows I have a lot of work to get done. I feel like I need to be a machine that just cranks out work. When I’m hanging out with people or doing anything other than work, I’m constantly aware of the trade off I’m making. Everything “extraneous” (including self-care) feels like a luxury that I will probably end up feeling guilty about. Even this morning when I submitted an assignment, I barely felt relief because I have a problem set I need to submit tonight, and even after that, I think it’ll take a few days before I can get out of this mental state and stop worrying about the 4 final papers (and project) I have due after break. There are things that I like about having final papers/exams after winter break, but that doesn’t undermine the very real emotional burden that results from it!

It’s a bit difficult to communicate this, since it’s not entirely logical, but one difficult thing is the awareness that it’s not entirely the “system” that’s creating the factors that make me feel so anxious, it’s also just me. For instance, if I “chose” not to have an existential crisis/emotional breakdown two weeks ago I wouldn’t have gotten behind on my work. Or if I just prioritized work more or less (either one works) then I would either have finished everything already or just give fewer shits about quality/deadlines.

I think the worst part of my anxiety is that it makes it difficult for me to feel anything else or even be present for extended periods of time. I predict that after I graduate, a majority of the most stressful moments in my life will be past me. I’m grateful in a way, though, to have had these experiences, since it gives me perspective in and on the other times. And of course I’m proud to be able to do everything that I’m able to do.


How do we know who we are?

Something I’ve been thinking about recently is the question of how much of what we think/”know” about ourselves is a consequence of what others have said about us, and how much of it is from first principles. I was surprised when two of my classes this week touched on this question.

In my Attitudes and Persuasion seminar, we were discussing the difference between explicit and implicit attitudes, and which one is one’s “real” attitude. There is actually no consensus in the field about whether or not explicit and implicit attitudes are even internally represented separately. Explicit attitudes are ones that can be measured using surveys, like Likert scales, and are known to us. Implicit attitudes are commonly measured using the implicit association test, and use responses that are automatic/out of our control in some way (like muscle activity in the face, heart rate, etc.). There was one study on racial attitudes that examined body language as well as implicit and explicit attitudes to see if there was a correlation. A question that was brought up in class was how reliable body language was—should we trust what a person’s body says or what they say more?

In my World Drama class, a similar question came up (but of course in a different context!) while we were discussing The Camp, which is an Argentinian play that deals with fascism and the questions of who is a victim? and how does one become a victim?, among many other things. We were talking about a particular character and to what extent we should view him as a victim, since his actions and his words present different sides of him. In this class, we’ve talked about the question of credibility a lot—you can’t take everything that is said in a play at face value, so is there a character whose perspective we’re supposed to trust? And if there is, what aspects should we trust?

No conclusions were made in either case, but since I had both of these in-class experiences, it made me reflect more on this question of how we can know who we are, since there might not even be one thing that is who we are, even in a small way (like your attitude towards a particular object). All in all, I feel pretty stuck on this question for the moment, and I also wonder, after visiting the VIS open studios yesterday, if the best way to work through this question is by making art.