Coming of Age

I took a class this semester called The Female Bildungsroman that I really loved and that mapped out pretty nicely with this course.  We have been reading women’s coming of age stories, and so I have been thinking a lot this semester about what it really means to “come of age”.  The bildungsroman is essentially a genre that is defined by a protagonist’s moral and psychological growth, but is more commonly just referred to as a coming-of-age novel.   I have been really surprised as to how each new book we read challenges what I, and many theorists we read, thought a coming-of-age story looked like.  This was especially present in my mind after our conversation about queering time on Monday. There is a certain timeline that is expected of us all, be it enforced subconsciously or not.  Halberstam defined this societal timeline that queer individuals didn’t map onto as “birth, marriage, reproduction and death” (2). We read many coming of age novels in which protagonists did not meet the traditional structure of the bildungsroman that we learned from theorists at the beginning of the semester.  The timeline or structure of the traditional bildungsroman involves an individual learning to negotiate one’s individuality within the rules of their society’s reality and then excising pieces of one’s personhood in order to reach social integration, which is the supposed goal of coming of age.  But, just like how Halberstamexplored the different ways that queer individuals did not fit into the traditional timeline, many individuals’ coming of age can’t be mapped out nicely on the above structure/timeline.  

The traditional female coming of age novel is Jane Eyre.  Jane starts as a young girl with a fiery spirit, troubled by her familial and economic situation.  When we leave her, she has matured into the role of educator and wife.  Jane maps out pretty nicely onto the traditional theory of the bildungsroman.  Next, we read Sula by Toni Morrison.  Sula didn’t fit into the traditional timeline of coming of age because she never accomplishes social integration because the women of her community despise her rejection of monogamy, her promiscuity and her lack of regard for what others think of her.  We then read Woman Warriorby Maxine Hong Kingston. Kingston’s coming of age defied the traditional definition in that she experienced her identity of being a first-generation immigrant as causing her to have a different relationship with time, between her present and her family’s past.  The last novel we read that expanded upon our original conception of the bildungsroman was Redefining Realness by Janet Mock. As a trans woman, Janet wrote about how her coming of age dealt heavily with coming into her gender identity. 

I think in the same way that we had difficulty agreeing on what a timeline for a “normal” life looks like, it’s difficult to define what it means or looks like for someone to come of age.  One individual’s coming of age seems inherently bound to their specific circumstances, and thus a catch-all definition is sure to leave some people behind.  Also, it’s interesting to think about the value systems that are behind the expected timelines of our coming of age and entire life, more fully.   Not only might one’s coming of age be about something entirely different than the acceptance of reality and social integration, but also the placing of people within strict temporal boxes can be limiting for trying to understand diverse perspectives on what it means to come of age. 

Source: Halberstam, Judith. In a Queer Time and Place.

Meditation lasts longer

https://neurosciencenews.com/psychology-time-perception-meditation-250/

I feel the need to include my major source for refutability purposes. I don’t believe there’s a scientific consensus on the effects of meditation, but I believe I have felt some of the benefits. Mindfulness meditation was introduced into my life when I was going through a rough patch. A couple of hip injuries had sidelined me from a sport I’d been recruited to Fordham to play, and I was heading into a summer full of surgeries and recovery. Thankfully, I was able to get a job at a financial technology startup which was willing to accommodate my time off for surgeries.

Just before lunch on my first day of work, my boss explained that the Research & Development team would meditate together daily and asked if I’d like to join them. Completely unaware of what meditation entailed, I was given a few pointers and we dove into 20 minutes of silence. After what I can only assume to have been 2 minutes, it was difficult to sustain proper posture and absolutely impossible to clear my mind. The rest of that 20 minutes was filled with adjusting the way I was sitting, slightly opening my eyes to see what my coworkers doing, trying to mimic them, and wondering if our 20-minute alarm had been set in the first place. Meditation felt LONG. As time as passed, I’ve gotten more comfortable with the way time passes during and after meditation—but would still describe it as slowed. So far as my surgery recoveries, I was shocked that my pain would seem to disappear when deep in meditation.

Dr. Robin Kramer and his research team at Kent’s School of Psychology hypothesized my exact feeling—that mindfulness meditation would make periods of time feel like they last longer. Dr Kramer tested this by sectioning off two groups of participants who would either listen to 10 minutes of audiobook, or do a 10 minute meditation exercise. His team found that meditation led participants to overestimate the length of periods of time.

Dr. Kramer then argues that our perception of time is likely altered because of changes in where attention is focused during and after meditation.

When did we choose?

For students at Fordham, Philosophy of Human Nature is a required class. One of many topics explored through the class is the concept of free will. After thoroughly discussing and writing essays on the thoughts of multiple philosophers on free will, we looked at a similar argument from the perspective of a neuroscientist.

In a Nature Neuroscience study, researchers claim to have used brain scanners to predict people’s decisions before they were made. The test was simple, where the participant had to decide whether they were going to push a button with their left hand or right.  The image I’ve included above is meant to display that a person’s decision could be predicted roughly 7 seconds before they are aware of making it.

This decision may not be able to represent brain function when navigating a more difficult decision, but it raises the question about if we genuinely have free will or not. And if we do have free will, where is the limit? If our subconscious brain makes a decision for us, as is the case in this study, did we still freely make that decision?

I constantly shift my perspective on the topic, and haven’t been able to push it entirely out of my mind since taking Philosophy of Human Nature 3 years ago. When does a decision have to be made in order for it to be considered free?

For students at Fordham, Philosophy of Human Nature is a required class. One of many topics explored through the class is the concept of free will. After thoroughly discussing and writing essays on the thoughts of multiple philosophers on free will, we looked at a similar argument from the perspective of a neuroscientist.

In a Nature Neuroscience study, researchers claim to have used brain scanners to predict people’s decisions before they were made. The test was simple, where the participant had to decide whether they were going to push a button with their left hand or right.  The image I’ve included above is meant to display that a person’s decision could be predicted roughly 7 seconds before they are aware of making it.

This decision may not be able to represent brain function when navigating a more difficult decision, but it raises the question about if we genuinely have free will or not. And if we do have free will, where is the limit? If our subconscious brain makes a decision for us, as is the case in this study, did we still freely make that decision?

I constantly shift my perspective on the topic, and haven’t been able to push it entirely out of my mind since taking Philosophy of Human Nature 3 years ago. When does a decision have to be made in order for it to be considered free?

The Fastest Attention

Having a strong interest in digital marketing and social media platforms, being able to ‘go viral’ is considered the highest form of success. We’ve seen products like the fidget spinner which spread like wildfire. Memes that “broke the internet,” and a large chunk of the world seemed to discover within days. Instagram and YouTube stars who amassed millions of followers seemingly overnight.

A general definition for going viral is to have had your content spread very quickly and very widely. If I were to post a YouTube video and have it gain 200,000 views in a 4 year span it would not be considered viral, but if I posted a YouTube video which gained  100,000 views in 2 hours it would probably be called viral.

No matter how much I research, there doesn’t seem to be a widely agreed upon definition for ‘going viral.’ To an individual with 50 followers, receiving 1,000 views would feel like they went viral. To an individual with 50,000 followers, however, this content would have performed poorly. It’s phenomenal that individuals can amass so much attention in such a short time, especially if they are creating stellar content.

Going viral is a concept that feels related to time because it can put somebody’s talent in the spotlight overnight, and is a medium that is still new.

When there’s no leap day

My birthday is in late February, so the idea of leap day has always fascinated me. Leap years are years which are divisible by 4, so being born in 1997 made it impossible for myself to be born on leap day. As a kid, birthdays were measured by the number of BIRTH DAYS you had looped back around to on the calendar. I always wondered if people with leap day birthdays would call themselves a younger age, or what day they would choose to celebrate their birthday in non-leap years, or if they existed at all… because I hadn’t met any to ask.

While my childhood curiosities have not been satisfied in conversation with someone whose birthday is on leap day, researching the topic further taught me something interesting about how the Gregorian Calendar functions.

I knew that there was a leap year every 4 years which would grant February a 29th day. I knew this was because the duration of a year isn’t exactly 365 days, so we had to adjust. What I didn’t know until reading further for this class is that leap days don’t help us adjust perfectly. Every four centuries, we accumulate close to three extra days when using the Gregorian calendar. In order to account for this, if a leap year is an exact multiple of 100 but not an exact multiple of 400 then it will be skipped. So leap year is skipped in 1900 and 2100, but it was no skipped in 2000.

I feel like this is a lesser known fact about how our calendar operates, and may be because we only have the year 2000 to reference.

Compress Time: Audiobooks

The only book I read start to finish coming in to college was Ender’s Game. And that was a problem. I’ve always blamed it on my ADHD, “I can’t sit down and read, I get too distracted!”

My father had a great idea to solve this problem, and gave me the login information to his Audible account. Audible is an audiobook platform by Amazon, and he had amassed quite the library over the years. My father made me a deal, instead of easy spending money coming my way during college—he’d pay me $15 an hour to listen to audiobooks.

I’d spent hundreds, maybe even thousands of hours listening to music each year and it wasn’t very difficult to switch to an audiobook instead of listening to the same Foo Fighters album for the 100th time. After a couple of months, I was addicted to audiobooks. My favorites times of day would be walking between classes, sitting on the subway, or even doing laundry because there was constantly a voice whispering interesting facts into my ear. There were a couple of months where I neared 100 hours, and I am thousands of hours smarter now than I would have been if it weren’t for audiobooks.

Audiobooks, as opposed to reading a physical book, gave me the ability to compress time and more effectively multitask. I understand that retention of the content in each book is likely lower than it would have been had I read the physical books, but that never would have happened.

I quickly realized that Audible included a function to augment the speed of each book. The two increments which interested me were 1.25x speed and 1.5x speed. I wish there were a way to track if it’s worth it to listen as a faster speed, or if information retention drops off significantly once the speed is increased too much. I’m sticking with 1.25x for now.

Social Media Posts Last…

Throughout this course, we have discussed how social media platforms alter our attention spans and perception of the world around us. Each of us has a feed in each platform we use, and the time content remains relevant on that feed is unique to each. I will do my best to dive into the differences between how each platform displays content without diving into the complexities of algorithms involved in keeping stellar content on the feed for longer.

Facebook posts, for example, have been studied to receive 75% of their impressions within 2.5 hours of posting (the feed is non-chronological, but this is still true as an average).

On Instagram, this 75% impression lifespan is increased to 48 hours. I find it interesting that Instagram posts receive roughly 50% of Instagram post impressions are received within 6 hours… so it’s more difficult to get absolutely buried.

Twitter has the shortest lifespan of the major social media platforms, and 75% of engagement of the average tweet comes within 18 minutes of posting. This lifespan is nearly doubled if a ‘retweet’ from an average account comes around the 18 minute mark of posting.

This is a direct result of the volume of posts from the average account. Instagram has the lowers posts per week per user, Facebook is in the middle, and Twitter has significantly more posts. Attention gained is relative to time spent on platforms, and how many others are trying to gain the same attention. There are many tricks to augment the time your posts spend on the news feed, which is even more interesting to me because digital marketers have strategies to hijack your time and attention.

The 5-minute Barrier

A roughly 5-minute battle fought primarily in the competitor’s mind. It’s you vs. the voice in your head that begs you to stop.

In high school, I was a long-distance swimmer. My best event was the longest offered in high school competition, the 500 freestyle. 20 lengths of the pool.

As a freshman, I was practicing with the varsity distance squad not because I was great at the event, but because I was one of few who was willing.

The first 500 I swam in competition was the worst 5 minutes and 32 seconds of my life. I’ll remember that race until my last day because it was the first time I felt completely embarrassed in competition. After keeping up for the first 8 lengths of the pool in roughly 1 minute 50 seconds, my body began shut down.

I’d raced the 8 length, 200 freestyle for years without issue. 1 minute 50 seconds would have been a disappointing time… I was pacing myself with teammates I could keep up with in practice… I swam the next 3 minutes 40 seconds with a pain many swimmers know well, calve cramps, and came into the wall dead last to my coach laughing hysterically.

He knew this would happen, and explained that a lot of young swimmers have this issue when first transitioning to longer events in competition. Then followed with “You’ll break 5 minutes this year.” He was wrong.

The next season though, it was easy.

This was such a strong example to me of a timer feeling to be placed on my physical body. From the first 500 to the last of my freshman season, I was haunted by the 5-minute barrier all varsity swimmers in my area were expected to beat. No matter how hard I trained, how well I schemed to pace with or draft off of teammates, or how many times I’d near the 5 minute barrier in practice—my body could not complete 20 lengths of a pool in under 5 minutes in competition.

Final ‘Time Journal’ Post

While reading through the assignment sheet for our “Final ‘Time Journal’ Blog Post,” it is impossible to not flashback to the early minutes of our first class and a question that stumped us all. What is time? I remember my first thought: ‘how the HECK did I never learn the definition of time?!’ Before spending a semester discussing and thinking critically about time, it seemed like a relatively simple construct. I came into the semester thinking I understood well how time functioned in society, especially after a couple of late nights stressing over the different ways it could be measured. One of my earliest existential thoughts was to matchup time and distance. Starting this course, I had only thought critically about time as distance in the sense that the Earth travels roughly 93 million miles to complete an orbit, and this 93 million miles is what we would call roughly 365 days. I remember feeling so intelligent the first time I was able to properly articulate that 1 day is the same thing as 263,000 miles. How naïve of me.

Upon registering for this course, I did not realize it was a THEO class. For whatever reason, my life to that point did not lead me to believe that time-keeping was a majorly religious practice. I’d never thought about it deeply enough, but of course institutions with power were the first to be able to keep time. And of course, once powerful institutions began operating on a unified time, the people had to follow. I will never forget our discussion on the advances Jesuits made to time-keeping technology, and how well they bartered with said technology. Being in an 18th century setting where China was not open to outside religious groups settling within it’s borders, the Jesuits had to provide incredible value in order to be accepted. The Jesuits were technologically capable of building complex, decorative clocks unlike anything seen in China. Time was viewed as a way for us to be connected with God and creation while here on Earth, so the gifts were graciously accepted.  These multiple-century-old clocks did not run forever, nor did they remain without error through long periods of time—so tune-ups were necessary. Being made from European technology, this was the perfect way for Jesuits to settle in China and repair the expensive clocks which now sat with many of the country’s most powerful individuals. I wrote in my thought notebook that day… “Smartest free trial EVER.”

But why was this such a genius free trial?

 I’m an economics major, and my favorite variable is that which represents Labor Augmenting Technology. In simplest terms, labor augmenting technology means less labor and less capital are needed to produce the same output. So not only did the Jesuits fulfill a religious necessity of their Chinese counterparts, they also filled a necessity for their fiscal structure. My major takeaway from this story is the realization that: once a society begins to operate on structured time, there is no turning back… even if you must ask your opponent for aid.

Speaking further on this class being offered as a THEO course, I’d like to take a short time to discuss a dialogue I wrote earlier this year between Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. Darwin and Einstein’s theories were breakthrough concepts in each of their respective time periods. It’s interesting to me that this is a theology course where we learned about Darwin and Einstein, because the two are known to have battled with their religious faith throughout their lives. It seems as though their theories of time acknowledge a creation point, a point where the natural world can no longer explain ‘what happened before this?’ 

I someone were to ask me ‘what is time,’ I think my response would change based on the person and setting. I would likely add that, for me, time functions similarly to religion. My thoughts on time are ever-changing, sometimes I think it’s real and sometimes I don’t, but that’s the great mystery no man knows the answer to.

One-and-Twenty

When I Was One-and-Twenty

BY A. E. HOUSMAN

When I was one-and-twenty

       I heard a wise man say,

“Give crowns and pounds and guineas

       But not your heart away;

Give pearls away and rubies

       But keep your fancy free.”

But I was one-and-twenty,

       No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty

       I heard him say again,

“The heart out of the bosom

       Was never given in vain;

’Tis paid with sighs a plenty

       And sold for endless rue.”

And I am two-and-twenty,

       And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.

             “When I was One-and-Twenty” by A. E. Housman begins with a wise man’s warning. The man cautions the narrator (aged twenty-one) by telling him the protect his heart from the pitfalls of love, saying that his heart is worth more than gold. However, the narrator fails to head the wise man’s words and, as the poem suggests, experiences heartbreak. By the end of the poem, the narrator (now twenty-two) sees the truth in the wise man’s words.

             A. E. Housman affectively uses time and age to represent the narrator’s mindset. He suggests that at age twenty-one the narrator is unable to understand or believe the wise man’s words, making him a fool. However, in just a year’s time (although what’s suggested as a year could be anything under twelve months’ time) the narrator grasps the wise man’s warning. When reading this poem, one must grapple with the problem of whether the narrator simply gained wisdom at the age of twenty-two or if hindsight and retrospect (the ability to recall time) allow him to interpret the warning.

             As illustrated by “When I was One-and- Twenty,” perception of time and it’s affects on people is subjective. What seems like a long time for one person may seem like a short time for another. Additionally, the time in New York differs from that in California or Texas; there is no universal experience of time. For example, there are four time zones in the continental United States, but there is a singular time zone for the entire country of China. Americans, therefore, have relatively similar experiences with time and daylight. However, Chinese men and women on the eastern border of China experience time and daylight unlike those on the western border.

             Time, which is hard to define other than as a distinct progression or collection of moments, influences behavior and attitudes. Considering those who feel constrained by time (example: those who are incarcerated or struggling with mental illness), time is not always enjoyed. A person’s relationship to time, like those who have anxiety centered around scheduling, can also negatively (or positively) affect mood. Months ago, when asked the question, “What is time?,” I would have given the hour. However, now I see that time is a complex concept that not only unites the world, but also separates us based on our individual experiences with it and relationships to it.