How to Take the GRE in Taiwan


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I’ve been AWOL for a couple weeks now, but have no fear. The GRE did not in fact kill me. It came close, but all is now well.

One reason I may have needed several weeks of healing and decompressing is that my GRE experience was such a whirlwind. Here are a few tips to avoid having a similarly harried experience of your own if you find yourself needing to sign up for the GRE while living in Taiwan.

1. Plan ahead.

The GRE isn’t offered as frequently in Taiwan as it is in the US or even more international cities, like Hong Kong. (Speaking of which, Hong Kong is relatively nearby, so it’s a good fail-safe if there are no convenient test dates in Taiwan – but no one wants to have to pay for a plane ticket just to take some stupid test.) Find out as soon as possible when you’ll need your GRE scores, so you can figure out which of the FIVE or so Taiwan test dates in the calendar year you’ll need to sign up for. Really. There will only be a few options.

2. Take studying seriously.

Duh, I guess. This is true for anyone taking the GRE anywhere. But because Taiwan offers fewer test dates, you may have to take the test sooner than you expected. My application for a certification program is due on August 1st. When I checked the GRE website for test dates and locations a couple months ago, I was dismayed to realize I’d have to take it just two weeks later. That gave me two weeks to study. Now, I know people who study for the GRE for months.  I knew I wasn’t going to do that, but I was hoping for a solid month of study time. Because that wasn’t an option, I knew I had to buckle down and put other things on hold for a couple of weeks, giving new meaning to the word “cramming” – and hey, when in the land of the cram school… why not?

3. Go to your test center early.

Again, this is probably true for anyone taking the GRE anywhere. However, it’s important to remember that while this test is completely in English, primarily for schools and opportunities in the west – you’ll probably be taking it with a room full of Taiwanese uni students. The people who greet you upon arrival might not speak much English, and the explanations before the test begins will mostly be in Chinese. Because of this, it’s a good idea to give yourself extra time to check in and ask any questions you may have.

4. Pray to the test gods.

I’ve heard of people here reciting special Buddhist prayers and mantras for success around exam time. It must work for some of them (because I’m pretty sure the hours they log at buxibans are not the key to success). Nothing to lose from trying it out!

Other than this, it’s mostly common-sense test-taking strategies like manage your time wisely and first do easy questions. With just a few added inconveniences, you too can be on your way to an adequately average GRE score in just a matter of weeks, even while living in Taiwan. Good luck!


I don’t know as many words as I thought I did


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Well, the GRE is certainly kicking my posterior. In my Magoosh study app, I’ve been assiduous in studying vocab flashcards. One word, avarice, is a word I’ve read countless times before. But some of these multiple choice options are so close! Avarice: maliciousness or greed?, as in “Known for their avarice, the Spanish stole a lotta shit from the Incans.” (I’m paraphrasing.) I GOT IT WRONG, but I say greed is totally malicious! JUST ASK THE INCANS.

Boo. I’m not a greedy person; how would I know? I’m just an artless young woman! Irreproachable! Exemplary! What do I fathom of avarice?


Forget learning Chinese; this shit makin’ me feel like I don’t know English.



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I’m making decisions lately! It’s kind of stressful but kind of feels good.

I’m in the process of applying for a non-degree teacher certification program at TCNJ, The College of New Jersey – BUT – get this – at their location in Hsinchu, Taiwan.

I’ve been wondering for awhile how I’d manage to go back to school or further my career or if I wanted to further this career or if I should change careers and just be an instantly famous actress / comedian with boats of money (and BOATS!) after all.

I am about to give a little anti-follow-your-dreams spiel. If you’re, like, fourteen, you should probably stop reading now, because that’s a good age to still believe in your ability to be an instantly famous actress / comedian with boats of money and boats. However, f you are, say, a college undergrad, READ THIS RIGHT NOW. I wish I’d read something like it as a sophomore saying, “What could I possibly major in other than theatre?” (ANYTHING. LITERALLY ANYTHING.)

I think Americans are fed far too much of the, “YOU’RE SPECIAL AND YOU CAN DO ANYTHING” drivel. Maybe it’s the Asia in me, but THAT level of individualism is absurd. You’re not special. You’re special to some people, and that’s important – probably better. You can’t do anything, though, and that’s just a fact. Logically, it doesn’t make sense. But rather than focusing on how you might not be flexible enough to be a dancer or might not have the eye for painting, I think we should also focus on what we actually want to do.

Or rather, what we don’t want to do.

Basically, the “YOU CAN DO ANYTHING” bullshit is always paired with something fun and not in demand. At least, that’s what I’ve found over the years. There are thousands of cool jobs that never get a touch of the YOU CAN DO ANYTHING limelight. No one once said to me, “You’re smart! YOU CAN DO ANYTHING. Think about trying out ocean biology!” or, “I know math wasn’t your forte in school, but YOU CAN DO ANYTHING and wouldn’t it be so satisfying to come full circle and someday teach math-dumb kids like you in more creative ways than your teachers ever did?!” or, “Isn’t it great to make a difference in the world? YOU CAN DO ANYTHING; work for a nonprofit!”

Nope. We all want to be famous, so it’s, “YOU CAN DO ANYTHING; you go to Hollywood, girl!” “YOU CAN DO ANYTHING; I think your garage band is…. good.” “YOU CAN DO ANYTHING; once you buy a more expensive camera you’ll be making real money for your pictures!”

And at the same time, we give no indication to kids and young people that hobbies are great. It’s great to be a person who acts in regional or community theatres, because without those people, regional and community theatres would not put on shows. It’s great to have a garage band, maybe. And it’s great to go make an ass of yourself auditioning at Juilliard and then laugh it off and get yourself a big condolence ice cream (but that’s a story for a different day). It’s good to get out there and try things. It’s great. But we set everyone up to feel like a failure when they’re not famous at 22 – and that’s probably not what a lot of people even want.

This YOU CAN DO ANYTHING SO DO WHAT YOU LOVE has a sub-textual message that what you really want is something impractical and glamorous. “Sure it’d be smart to do this practical thing blah but you should do what you want [which is as different as possible from those practical things your loser square parents and teachers ended up doing].”

And I fell for this for awhile. I did the whole theatre and dance thing, and don’t get me wrong – I loved it and still do. I take dance classes when I can, and I do a little stand-up comedy to scratch that performance itch. But the same impatience and self-doubt I get teaching, (Is this what I love to do more than anything else in the world or should I be trying to act????), I honestly remember feeling in college, when I had to spend late nights rehearsing for this or that play, (Is this what I love to do more than anything else in the world or should I be doing something more important? This feels like such a waste of time).

Here’s my big secret: what I love to do more than anything in the world are things like watching a perfect Netflix show, playing board games with friends, listening to ocean waves, and getting wine-drunk. I have not found anyone to pay me for any combination of those things, and that’s okay, because life is more than work. That’s a lesson that the states and Asia probably has to learn. And not everyone is special and deserves to be famous (- that’s more a lesson just for the states).

I like teaching, and I think it’s important. In my mind, it’s a clear way to change the world – albeit without much instant gratification. Teaching children is a straightforward (if slow) way to turn those children into smarter, better people, and a strong education makes people more powerful. If there are more smart, good, powerful people in the world, the world will be better.

And so I’ve decided that, at least for this chapter of my life, I am and will be a teacher. And it’s not the one thing I love more than anything else in the world. But I don’t know any one thing I love more than everything else, and that’s okay. You don’t have to figure it out – but you also don’t have to be frozen in a state of fear and self-doubt because you can’t figure it out. You still get to choose to do things, to move forward.

And man, it feels good to have made a decision.

Gerble the Tumor


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As a white woman from small, relatively homogeneous Vermont, I don’t often use Chinese New Year to give context to my memories from years past, but I’ll always remember my Chinese New Year of 2015.

I had been living and teaching English in Taipei, Taiwan for about six months, and a fellow expat friend and I decided we’d use our Chinese New Year holiday, which was about two weeks long, to visit China (not to be confused with Taiwan – two different countries). As is common in sightseeing, we walked a lot. My abdomen and hips got sore and uncomfortable. Was I getting my period? Was the Chinese street food proving disastrous to my digestive tract? Was I not wearing supportive enough footwear? Was the air pollution so atrocious that it was immediately making my hardy New England body sick? (No, no, no, and no.)

When I got back to Taipei, I wasted no time in seeing a doctor. I handed my national health insurance card to a woman at the front desk of a local gynecologist’s office, paid about 6 USD, got an ultrasound, and was told that my right ovary was sporting a sizable growth. I had a tumor.

Per the doctor’s instructions, I took public transportation straight to a large hospital in the center of the city. I handed my national health insurance card to a woman at the ER counter, paid around 20 USD, and waited. 

I left the ER without much more information, but with an appointment to see a specialist a few days later. I was terrified and thought I might have cancer. I was only 23 years old, and I was in a foreign country. 

And looking back, I can’t believe how lucky I was to be away from home.

My closest Taiwanese friend, Sunny, went back to the hospital with me for my follow-up appointment to translate – though the doctor himself could speak English just fine. When he told me in no uncertain terms that the tumor was a benign teratoma, I could’ve cried with relief. (I was fascinated, too: teratomas grow hair – and sometimes even teeth or eyes!) I don’t like to take any chances, though, so I told him, and then told Sunny to tell him in Chinese, that he could take the whole damn ovary if that’d be best. I had two, after all, and medical procedures mean great sacrifice, right? If I had to lose an ovary and half my savings, no problem. That was healthcare. I just wanted to be sure I’d be alright.

He and Sunny both laughed at me and said absolutely not, I was young and needed both ovaries so I could have many healthy babies in the future. The doctor asked me when I wanted to have the tumor removed. I said as soon as possible.

A couple weeks later, I took two days off from work, went to the hospital, relied on a series of kind and generous souls (friends and even acquaintances) who came and helped me navigate the whole foreign-language aspect and distracted me from my nervousness.

A couple days later, I was able to go home and spend the weekend recuperating. I was in a lot of abdominal pain, I had three small scars from the laparoscopic procedure, forming a triangle on my lower abdomen, and, bizarrely, the skin around my neck felt crackly when I ran my fingers over it, like plastic or cellophane, because of all the gas that was trapped in my body from the surgery. I had a cocktail of pills to take for the following week or so – medications for pain, swelling, and even pills to help me fart and poop more easily.

The whole procedure, including medications and the hospital stay, only cost me about 150 USD. The rest was covered by my health insurance, which was provided by the Taiwanese government.

All that was left was a follow-up appointment with my surgeon a few weeks later. He checked in on me and showed me gruesome pictures from the surgery. I was a little disappointed by my tumor – it was a bit gross, sure, but much less monstrous than I was expecting. This teratoma, which I decided to affectionately dub “Gerble,” soft “g”, was not toothed or even very hairy. It was pink on the outside, and smooth. Fitting, I thought, as the whole experience had been so much smoother than I’d expected. I was so lucky. I was lucky I’d been here, in this strange, new, foreign place, away from my family and loved ones. That was a strange realization.

If I had been in America for this ordeal, I would probably still be in debt. Or I would still have a tumor, and I’d be having a grand old time lying around in bed all day. I don’t know what I would’ve done.
And right now, the United States House of Representatives is hard at work representing their benefactors (certainly not their constituents, who don’t like dying). They’ve just voted to overturn Obama’s ACA, which, while an improvement from FUCKING DYING, is honestly a mediocre health insurance system compared to single-payer systems, which many developed countries (or most? or all but the US?) offer their citizens.

Health insurance is important. It is a human right. It is good for countries to have healthy citizens, and it’s good for citizens to know they’ll be okay despite life’s difficult changes, hardships, and tumors. The US government has just voted to kill and inflict pain on Americans, albeit in a sterile, roundabout way. They can’t get away with it.

Call your representatives and senators, Americans.

A pat on the back and a punch in the environment


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Setting: A typically damp weekend morning at a riverside park in Taipei, Taiwan. An Earth Day clean-up event has been organized at the park by City Hall.

Other volunteers

Lisa and Eli arrive fashionably (or Americanly) late. 

A VOLUNTEER: 快點 ! 快點 ! Quickly!

The VOLUNTEER shoves supplies into Lisa’s and Eli’s hands: gloves, tongs, disposable plastic ponchos, baseball caps and selfie sticks.

ELI: Ahh… I don’t know if we need all this…

MARGARET: Lisa! Hiiiii!

MARGARET holds up her selfie stick and snaps a picture of the two of them.

LISA: Hi, Margaret! Sorry we’re late!

MARGARET: Hurry; you’ll miss the pictures! Come, come! Quickly!

LISA and ELI follow MARGARET into the group at large. LISA tries to put on her poncho and periodically has to freeze mid-process and throw up a peace-sign photo pose for the cameras. 

MARGARET: So excited to be out here for Mother Earth!

LISA: Yeah, me too!

The group starts to move. Everyone is wearing their disposable ponchos and baseball caps. Everyone has their own elephantine trash bag. 

ELI: Pretty big bags; there must be a lot of trash to clean up! I’m excited!

LISA: Oh, man, look! Here’s a lot already!

LISA and ELI spot patches of garbage along the path. They’re still in an area quite close to the road and park entrance. 

LISA: Yeesh, we could stay right in this spot all morning and still not finish.

A VOLUNTEER: 來 , 來 , 來 ! Come! Later, later!

ELI: Um… well, okay. They really want us to stay in a group, I guess.

ELI and LISA fall back in line with the rest of the large, plastic-clad group. One volunteer uses her selfie-stick to take a photo of her next to some garbage. She flashes a thumbs-down and pouty face at the camera and moves along.

THE GROUP eventually stops next to some NIKE MARATHON 2017 banners at the far end of the park and walk around in pairs or small groups, looking for trash or chatting. There isn’t any trash to speak of.

MARGARET: Um, is it just me or is there absolutely no trash to clean up?

LISA: Yeah… there doesn’t seem to be much. Ugh! It’s hard to hold the trash bag and the selfie stick at the same time.

MARGARET: What are we supposed to DO if there’s no trash to clean up?

ANOTHER VOLUNTEER: Where is all the trash?

MARGARET: We were JUST talking about that.

VOLUNTEER: I didn’t come out here for nothing. We better find some trash.

ELI: Ah!

MARGARET: What’s wrong?

ELI: Oh, nothing, this poncho’s just a little tangled on my backpack.

VOLUNTEER: I just want a little trash to clean up! Is that too much to ask? I’m not the kind of person who does nothing on Earth Day.

MARGARET: Totally agree. Let’s go talk to someone in charge about why there’s no trash to clean up. It’s a serious problem.

ELI and LISA carry on. They find a bit of trash once they sneak away from the group cleaning the NIKE-MARATHON-2017-bannered pathways. Closer to the river, most of the waste they find is dead fish and rats.

LISA: Oh god, that smells.

ELI: Do we put that in the trash bags?

LISA: I’m not sure…. Man, fish die pretty quick, huh? We’ve seen like thirty in the last half hour.

ELI: Yeah, weird.

LISA: Well, anyway.

After awhile, they notice that no one from the Earth Day cleanup group is near them any longer. 

ELI: Hey, we should go.

LISA: But… my bag isn’t full yet.

ELI: I know, but we don’t want to get stuck with the trash we have found.

They go back to the trash-covered area in which the group started, where they hand in their trashbags and try to give back the baseball caps they know they’ll never wear again.

ANOTHER VOLUNTEER: No, it’s a present. For you!

The volunteer proceeds to give them packets of paper towels, post-it notes, and cartoony cell phone cases.

LISA: Oh… I don’t even have an iPhone, so I can’t use this.

VOLUNTEER: Present, for you!

ELI: Let’s just take them and go before they give us more stuff we can’t use.

ELI and LISA begin to sneak away. On the way, they see MARGARET talking to one of the event organizers. She is still carrying her trash bag, which is empty. 

MARGARET: I actually have experience event-planning, and there was definitely room for improvement in this event…. 

A volunteer starts chasing after ELI and LISA. 

VOLUNTEER: For you! For you!

ELI: What the hell is…

VOLUNTEER gives them boxes of sweets and baked goods. 

LISA: Oh, I can’t actually eat most of…


LISA (sighing): Okay, okay. Thank you. 謝謝


Inspired by a real story & embellished

Happy belated Earth Day, everybody!

Manic Pixie Dream Girl Sighting


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I’m at a bar. I half-know some people there. I know one person, but he knows some other girl in a biblical sense, so he’s a little distracted and I’m left to flounder around in shark territory.

I’m bad at unstructured social gatherings. Can’t we get someone to lead us in a game or a song-and-dance number? SOMEONE TAKE CONTROL! I blame too much summer camp as a child. (It gives you the misleading impression that all you need to do to make a friend is sing some old Simon and Garfunkel song while sitting together on short benches made of logs. [Maybe this is why karaoke is still my favorite thing to do socially, and I always bring logs to Partyworld KTV.])

There have been a lot of internet thought pieces, though, floating around the internet like the too-many trash bags floating around in our oceans, filling us with garbage about what a romantic thing it is to be an introvert. Oh, how special; you’re an introvertFive things only introverts will understand. If these apply to you, you might be an introvert. Six drawings to show what it’s like in an introvert’s mind. 27 signs you’re actually an introvert. 30 things for introverts to read because they need SOMETHING entertaining because they’re too scared to get off the internet and interact with fellow humans. 

For fuck’s sake, y’all just bad at talking to people. It’s okay; I am too. (For the record, I’m an even split between introvert and extrovert, last I checked.) But it’s not “cool.” Can we all remember that? It’s not sexy or mysterious or coy to be fucking antisocial and awkward. It’s also not life-ruining to be antisocial and awkward; I just think we need to look at things realistically. I for one am not going to glorify these inconvenient parts of my personality, because that might make them stronger. DON’T FEED THE ANTISOCIAL TROLL INSIDE OF YOU WITH INTERNET THINK PIECES. JUST TRY AND GET BETTER AT TALKING TO PEOPLE.

So, in an attempt to do just that, I start talking to people. There’s a guy I half-know who’s sitting nearby, and we start chatting a bit. He’s next to a girl he knows, whom I zero-know. She’s smiley, has a purple streak in her hair, and is quirky in that yes-I-took-my-shoes-off-in-this-bar-and-am-resting-them-on-a-chair kind of way. She clearly speaks fluent English and doesn’t have an accent (or seems to have the same accent as me, anyway; everyone has an accent), and we’re in a room with mostly foreigners. I assume that she too is a foreigner (which is not to say that Taiwanese people can’t hang out with foreigners and have flawless English and take their shoes off in bars and dye streaks of their hair purple – anyone can – I’ve just found that to be less likely). I ask her if she is also American – “also” because the guy we’re talking to is American. She says something non-committal, like, “Not really.” Fair enough; I understand being non-committal to America right now, whether you’re American or not. So I just ask it: “Where are you from?”

Side note: the image of a white girl asking an Asian girl, “Where are you from??” can be an ugly scene, because it’s frequently set in the context of western society, in places where white people pretend they’ve always been, and where more recent (or not even) transplants are seen as outsiders, even if they’re not. But, given the circumstances, (1. We’re in Taiwan, 2. She sounds American, 3. Most in the venue appear to be foreigners, 4. We don’t know each other and that’s one of the things you ask people you don’t know, right? What do you do? Where are you from? When can I leave and watch TV?)

Anyway, this girl (I’ll call her Garden State Natalie) looks at me pityingly, with a small smile on her face, and says, “Well, I usually just say I’m from the world,” and gives a soft little laugh, purple streak of hair swinging over her shoulder.






She thinks I’m confused about her planet of origin. What am I supposed to say to that?

“Ohh, I knew your accent was from one of the first three planets.”
“Really? I could’ve sworn you were a Martian!!”
“Ah! I’ve never been; what’s it like?”
“I’ve heard it’s lovely in the spring.”
“How long since you left?”

You’re not that ethereal, sweetheart, much as quotidian things like “places” and “shoes” don’t apply to you. It’s like asking, “What do you want to eat?” “Well, I usually just say I want to eat food.” (Ohhh, okay; my first thought was that you might have been one of those paper-eaters, but that clears it up, thanks. We’ll have two orders of the ‘food.’) “What do you like to read?” “Well, I usually just say I like to read books.” (Ohhh, okay; you never know if people prefer books or tea leaves, so I always like to ask.) 

So that conversation… essentially ends there.

Oh, Garden State Natalie, you are ridiculous. Say hi to the world for me when you go home for one of those Earth holidays.

I’m baaaaaaaack!


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Jesus Lord almighty (am I meant to also capitalize “almighty”? Does the Lord and Saviour get his adjectives capitalized?)


Sorry I’ve been gone for TWO YEARS. It took about that long to sign into WordPress again. (SERIOUSLY. Is it my computer? It can’t be this dope, superfast Asian Wi-Fi. Is it WordPress itself? [Who am I kidding; I’m too lazy to set up a new blog elsewhere.])


Anywho. Rather than doing that thing where I talk about how I should write more and how it’s been ages – which is probably the content of roughly 40% of all blog posts on the internet – let’s get right to it.


How to summarize my last two years? Well, I’m still in Taiwan, which I did not think would be the case. I’m teaching older kids so I have fewer adorable stories. Although here’s one, here’s one:




Grade 4 classroom. Most students speak fairly good English, but one girl (I’ll call her Joy) does not. Joy is only a little bit bigger than the stray cat who yeowls outside my new apartment, and she speaks about 10% more English than said cat.


Somehow the topic of cancer comes up. (I don’t know how; I forget. I’m a fun teacher; we talk about light-hearted things.) Some kids know what cancer is, and appropriately solemn looks cross their faces as they say things like, “Oh no! Cancer is so BOOO.” (#booforcancer)


Joy, ever the eager participant who doesn’t know what she’s even saying, bursts out, “Some people likes cancer!…Maybe.”


Well, we got a good laugh from that. Cancer: two sides to every story! (I can see the CNN panel now: a la climate science discussions, they’ll present it as an equal 50/50 argument. CANCER: so BOOO or not so BOOO?)


Anyway. What else? I’ve started meditating, and I’ve come to the conclusion there are two types of people who meditate. There’s the person who organizes “full moon goddess peace gatherings” and washes her hair with kale and won’t eat honey because she’s just that vegan and sounds as relaxed as if she’s getting a massage in a bubble bath when she has her most heated, tense conversations. And when you find out that person meditates, you’re like, “Well, of course; that makes sense.” And then there are a different sort of meditators (not a word; let’s make it a word): when you find out these people meditate, you think to yourself, “Yeaaaahhhh…. you definitely should meditate.”


I’ve realized I’m fully in the second camp of meditators.






I’m a potato. I’m a stressed out, anxious potato who drinks too much coffee.


Which is actually why I’m writing again (thanks, coffee!). I’ve decided to “temptation bundle” (which I learned about from a Freakonomics episode – the only thing keeping all my neuroses and fears company up in this brain are the hours and hours of podcasts I listen to) my coffee consumption. I’m going to go to a cafe twice a week – Tuesdays and Fridays – and write. If I do this, I can have coffee. That’s the rule.


What I’m saying is, I’m a fun, loose, spontaneous kind ‘o potato who goes with the flow and takes each day as it comes.


In travel updates, I have visited Malaysian Borneo, Osaka, Hong Kong (twice!), Shanghai, and the Philippines since I last wrote. They were all great experiences, and Manila is potentially the worst city on this planet. (I lost my passport there, so I’m biased.) I’m going back to Malaysian Borneo this summer, because I was only there for five days last time – I’m going for a month with….


Oh, yes. That brings me to my love life. I’m dating a gorgeous, wonderful, kind, hilarious boy who brings me immense joy and frequent laughter. I’m not going to say too much about it right now, because I’ve actually been making a mess of things with him lately. I don’t want to think about that too much. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, what’s wrong with people, that when we finally get what we want – what we’ve been dreaming of! – we get used to it, we get whiny, and we make a mess. But we’ve been dating for over a year, so I guess it’s at least a longish-term relationship at this point. (My longest. His, too.) So hopefully this is just one of the down swings in a series of changing circumstances that we can get through.


Anyway, the plan is that we’re going to Borneo together.


I think I’m going to get a teaching certification finally, because I am not getting any more sure of what I want to do with my life, and I keep teaching anyway, and I seem to like it well enough. And how stupid is it to paralyze yourself with thoughts of, “What do I like best in the world what do I like best in the world what makes me feel passionate and productive more than anything what is my calling,” so much so that you don’t like anything in the world and have no sense of self left. Decisions can be good.


I’m reaching the blog-post-length that ensures no one will read through to the end, so I think I’ll end there. I’ll be back on Friday, void! Good talk.