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Back to Basics

cherry
“Cherry” by Leon Chan

This week I’m taking a step back from all the self improvement and reflections. I’m going back to sharing reads and listens that I just plain find interesting. I had to dig quite a bit but was reminded of a great story when I did stumble on something.

What I’ve Read:

The Maraschino Mogul’s Secret Life | The New Yorker – This story starts off as a quirky mystery about red colored honey in the New York area. But as the details unfold, the features evolves into a profile of an eccentric and hard working cherry supplier. I liked the complexity of the story and its characters, how the main character isn’t just painted in black and white. This is a pretty hefty read at over 35,000 words but I found that the plot pulled me through and it felt a lot shorter than the word count.

What I’ve Heard:

‘The Office,’ S4E9: “Dinner Party | The Recappables – The Ringer just came out with their top 100 TV episodes of the century (so since the year 2000). To generate interest and additional content, they are recapping some of the episodes on their Recappables podcast. I just watched this episode of ‘The Office’ and have to agree this is definitely in the top five of all ‘The Office’ episodes. I love podcasts like this one because it feels like you are among a group of friends discussing your favorite thing.

Acoustic | Above & Beyond – I recently had a conversation about the Above & Beyond acoustic concert at the Waikiki Shell back in 2016. It’s always a little surprising to find out someone you know now was at the same place as you. That if somehow fate intervened a little earlier, you might have met each other earlier. Anyways, I remembered that I really like the A&B acoustic album and wanted to share as I listened to it again this past week.

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The Subtle Art

subtle art
“Subtle Art” by Leon Chan
¬†What I’ve Read:

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck | Mark Manson – I’ve heard about this book for a while now, it was published in September 2016, but have shrugged off reading it. I was judging the book by its cover, or rather it’s title. In my mind, the title suggested a shallow and cliche premise; that you shouldn’t care (or give a f*ck) about what others’ thought.

Despite my previous thoughts, I picked up the book on Amazon Prime Day. It was a relatively quick read at a little over 200 pages; I was able to finish the book in about 3 nights. After reading the book, I can say that I was completely wrong about its contents. The first chapter does go into detail about identifying your differences and being comfortable with them. But the rest of the book covers a whole lot more than that.

Basically this book describes Mr. Mason’s philosophy on life, which is closely tied to teachings of Zen Buddhism and Stoicism. The book is littered with clever examples and personal stories to illustrate his points. Most of these examples were familiar to me because of my extensive dive into his blog. However, the paragraphs between the examples are what make the book special. Without giving too much away, the book starts by explaining why values are important, then goes into Mr. Manson’s personal values.

One of the chapters that caused a shift in my thinking was the chapter titled Happiness is a Problem. I didn’t appreciate the double meaning of the chapter title until this reflection. Mr. Manson’s theory is wanting to be happy actually causes discomfort. What gives us joy is solving problems. So the way to a good life is to choose the problems you can live with. He gives an excellent example in physical fitness; if you want to have a great body, then you have to deal with the pain of putting in the hours at the gym, the day-after soreness, and sticking to a diet. There’s always going to be issues that come up in life but you get to choose which ones to give a f*ck about with your values.

Overall, I think this is a great “self-help” book that causes the reader to think about life differently. I got around the excessive use of expletives but replacing “giving a f*ck” with “caring” or “worrying”. But in the end, Mr. Manson is just following his advice and not giving a f*ck about the number of times f*ck is used in the book.

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NBA Breakups

broken basketball
“Broken Basketball” by Leon Chan

This past week, one of the weirdest NBA story lines came to a conclusion with the trade of two All-Star players. One of my favorite players, Kawhi Leonard, was traded for DeMar DeRozen. Kawhi only played 9 games this year due to injury. However, there were rumors of his discontent while he was on his former team, the San Antonio Spurs. After the season, he demanded a trade. He didn’t want to be in San Antonio anymore and preferred to play in his home state of California.

When the trade finally happened, the reporters with ESPN, The Ringer, Bleach Report, and all the various blogs were ablaze with their “hot” takes. They talked about which team won the trade, how the players would fit into their new teams, and whether the teams got better. Some writers noted how weird this entire NBA season was for the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard. They made the comparison to a bad breakup. Kawhi didn’t want to be there but the Spurs didn’t want to just let him go. And who could blame them? How do you just let a top 3 talent walk away for nothing? But once they knew the relationship couldn’t be reconciled, the Spurs accepted their fate. They looked for a way to get something in return for their best player.

If the analogy to this whole situation is a breakup, then I care more about how the people in the relationship were dealing with it over how it affected their careers. So this week, I’m sharing articles with reactions from the coaches and fans of the Spurs.

What I’ve Read:

Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs coach, says with Kawhi Leonard traded it’s ‘time to move on’ | ESPN – Coach Popovich’s comments on the situation feel like they were pulled straight out of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. They ooze with the tenets of Stoicism, particularly the beliefs of control and perception. One of the main thoughts in Stoic philosophy is that we should only focus on what we can control and let go of the rest. Popovich can’t change the past, so he’s choosing to move on and focus on integrating the new players on his team. He also practices perspective by viewing basketball as a child’s game and acknowledging that there are much bigger issues in the world. His reactions to this unfortunate situation provides an example on how to act like a person with good character.

Farewell, Kawhi: A Spurs Fan Reflects on a Star’s Inevitable Departure | The RingerShea Serrano has quickly become one of my favorite writers. I admire his ability to pull in references from pop culture and apply it seamlessly to basketball. His use of The Beach and how it related to his feelings about Kawhi’s departure was a fantastic analogy. It gave me the inspiration to use the same event to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned. And the lesson from this article is that there’s relief in doing what needs to be done. So instead of “hanging around and pissing people off”, it’s better to just do the action.

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Reading about Writing

draft 4
“Draft 4” by Leon Chan

This week’s links are about the process of writing. I have always felt a little insecure about my writing, that I’m an impostor just playing with words. In light of last week’s update on mindsets, I decided to shift my thinking and dedicate some of my focus to the the craft of writing. Below are reads from some of the writers and poets that I admire.

What I’ve Read:

Draft No. 4 | The New Yorker – John McPhee is an amazing creative non-fiction writer and a journalism professor at Princeton University. I believe he is the only one that can make a long essay about copy editing seem exciting. I enjoy how he weaves personal examples to help explain the processes of writing. I really liked the idea of using a dictionary instead of a thesaurus. So much so, I tried the replacing words in boxes technique in one of my latest essays.

What I’ve Heard:

Mary Oliver | On Being – I’ve been expanding my reading to include more poetry. One of the poets that keeps being recommended is Mary Oliver. Her interview with Krista Tippett is enlightening in more ways than one. Mary Oliver says that the writer/poet has to make an appointment to write. This focus on process reminded me of Steven Pressfield’s philosophy in the The Wart of Art: the artist has to show up and “fate” will reward her with inspiration. I was also in awe of her poems and the stories behind them. My favorite poem of hers is the short one below titled Don’t Worry:

Things will take the time they take. Don’t
worry.
How many roads did Saint Augustine follow
before he became Saint Augustine?

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Mindsets

mindset
“Mindset” by Leon Chan

I recently came across a couple of blog posts that discuss the difference between the fixed and growth mindsets. These mindsets help describe how we see our personality traits. In the fixed mindset, the belief is you are what you are; your intelligence, character, and skills do not change over time.

On the other hand, those in the growth mindset believe that life is a process. They view every mistake as a lesson and opportunity to learn. Being bad at something is only temporary, with hard work and practice they feel like they can get better at any skill.

I was introduced to the idea of the growth and fixed mindsets during my time at Teach For America. The organization instilled in us that the growth mindset was critical to students’ development. We wanted the students to believe that being good at math isn’t because you were born with a big brain. It was because you put in the time to learn and practice the concepts of geometry and algebra.

Being exposed to this concept made me realized how much I was stuck in the fixed mindset. At Institute, our group of Corps Members would play volleyball during our off time. I was invited to play but would always decline as I viewed myself as a bad volleyball player. I couldn’t handle the embarrassment of sucking. I remember not trying a bunch of things because I was scared of being exposed. I needed to protect my frail ego from failing or being noticed failing.

Over my two years of teaching, I would fail… a lot. My students didn’t pass the standardized tests in the percentages required by the state. I would spend hours creating lessons with intricate props that would bomb within the first ten minutes. I couldn’t control my classroom of twelve students, it was as if I was ran over by eleven year olds. I felt like I wasn’t making a difference and was just playing teacher. But I wouldn’t change anything about that experience.

The funny thing is I probably learned more about myself than the students did about math, which meant I really failed at teaching. I began to embrace the growth mindset and my failures as much as I hoped my students would. I admitted to not knowing how to bike and was taught by my roommate. I also went surfing for the first time and actually stood up on a surfboard. I got in front of a classroom of students and commanded attention even though I generally don’t like being the center of attention. I leaned into my shortcomings and worked to gain new skills.

However, this doesn’t mean that I’m totally immune to the fixed mindset. At karaoke, I find myself being embarrassed to sing after someone belts out a perfect ballad. I’m still not confident in riding a bike and failed miserably about a year ago. I shy away from social events because I don’t think I’m outgoing enough.

These articles and my experience in Teach For America remind me that those things can change. I can go on Youtube to watch video lessons on singing and vocal chords. I can ask my friends if they would give me bike lessons and practice until I become competent. I can keep going to these events and work on just saying hi to one new person. I wouldn’t want any of my former students to believe that they can’t change for the better, so why would I limit myself to that belief?

What I’ve Read:

Fixed mindset vs Growth mindset | Derek Sivers – Short post that summarizes the differences between the fixed and growth mindset. Great to read if you don’t have time and just want to get the gist of it.

Fixed vs. Growth: Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives | Brain Pickings – Awesome longer post that weaves Maria Popova’s thoughts into the subject.

Mindset by Carol Dweck | Derek Sivers – This is Derek Siver’s notes on the book that inspired the two blog posts shared above. I like reading his notes because it’s like getting the cliff notes on nonfiction books. The most meaningful notes for me occur towards the bottom of the page. These notes deal with how the growth and fixed mindset affect relationships.

What I’ve Heard:

Tritonia 220 | Tritonal – This is a random nugget thrown into about 800 words about mindsets. Last weekend, I went to a Tritonal concert and had a blast. That might also be the reason why this update was late. For the last month or so, I’ve been listening to their radio show Tritionia in anticipation of the show.

P.S.

I’ve been thinking about my TFA experience more after this update. I think I’ll use this as a draft to a longer piece about my entire time teaching. Plus, it’ll be nice to have something written that I can refer to when my memory starts fading.

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Year of Yes

year of yes
“Year of Yes” by Leon Chan

I was catching up with an old friend and mentioned that during the past couple of years, I found myself saying ‘no’ more often than not. I would say ‘no’ to going out to concerts, work related events, and hanging out with my friends. I didn’t have better plans but just felt more comfortable at home. I believe it was one of reasons that led to the end of my relationship. So to turn things around, I decided that I was going to say ‘yes’ to almost anything within reason. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and experience new things. It didn’t make sense that I love to learn but was doing it mostly through reading, podcasts, and writing instead of doing things.

My friend said my story reminded her of Shonda Rhimes’ memoir, Year of Yes. Shonda Rhimes is the creator of some of the TV’s most iconic dramas: Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder. During Thanksgiving, Shonda’s sister calls her out for always saying ‘no’ to incredible opportunities. This led to her saying ‘yes’ to everything that scares her over the course of the next year or so. I’m sure the book is much more nuanced than that short description but I’ll have to read it to find out.

I’ve put the book in my to read list. But to give myself some inspiration, I found an NPR interview and Shonda Rhimes’ TED talk about the subject.

What I’ve Watched:

Shonda Rhimes: My year of saying yes to everything | TED Talk – After watching this video, I remembered seeing this TED Talk before. I didn’t take away much from this talk the first time around. I thought the lesson was very cliche, don’t spend all your time at work. This time around, the video had a more profound impact. It reminded me that my time away from work is for leisure. I don’t have to be using all my time away from work pursuing writing, reading, or whatever my current obsession is. I should spend some of that time having fun with friends and family.

What I’ve Heard:

For a year, Shonda Rhimes Said ‘Yes’ To All The Things That Scared Her | NPR – I recommend listening to the extended interview that’s about halfway down the page. This interview provides a wider scope of the book than the TED Talk. I felt the TED Talk was focused on how saying ‘yes’ reignited Shonda Rhimes’ love of writing. While this interview, and I’m assuming the book, explores how that year transformed more than just her work life.

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Wall-E & the Seahawks

wall-e
“Wall-E & Seahawks” by Leon Chan

I’m sharing all reads this week and, surprise, surprise, none of them are on romantic relationships! Sorry, I wasn’t creative enough to come up with a theme for this week. But as always, these reads are fantastic, especially Mina Kimes’ piece for Slate. Mina Kimes first started as an investigative reporter for business and finance publications in 2007. She got picked up by ESPN in 2015 after they discovered a version of the essay shared below.

What I’ve Read:

Me, My Father, and Russell Wilson | Slate – I first heard about Mina Kimes when my friend sent me a clip of her on ESPN’s Highly Questionable. I was intrigued and followed her on Twitter ever since. On father’s day, she re-posted the above essay. It was an absolute joy to read. As I’ve written in past updates, my favorite articles comment on the intersection of popular culture and professional sports. This essay goes a step beyond that and dives into how professional sports can shape personal relationships.

Every Pixar Movie, Ranked | The Ringer – I brought up this ranking of all 19 Pixar movies at a dinner party last week. There was a general agreement among my friends until we got to the top 3. One of my friends did not think that Wall-E deserved a top 5 spot, much less be placed over Finding Nemo. I wholeheartedly disagreed with her and believe Wall-E earned its place at second. This led to a lively debate between the two of us. To make sure I wasn’t totally biased, I watched Wall-E again over the weekend. I feel completely justified in my defense of the movie; it’s such a great film. The warnings about screen addition, consumerism, and human waste were way ahead of its time. I love Finding Nemo but Wall-E is an absolute gem.

How to do what you love and make good money | Derek Sivers – Derek Sivers’ blog offers book notes and advice in the fewest words as possible. He pares down his sentences to just the core message. And the central theme of the post above is to separate what you do for money and what you do for love. This is an interesting counterpoint to all the advice about finding a job that you are passionate about. It made me pause and rethink my career plan. I’m unsure about what I want in the long term but for now I’m going to stick with my 6 month plan while I figure it out.

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Postscript

postscript
“Postscript” by Leon Chan

This week’s theme on the update is postscripts. Postscripts are written, usually as P.S., at the end of a letter to provide further information or append something forgotten in the body of the letter. All the things shared this week either contain an actual postscript or are adding to an idea brought up in previous updates. The Feynman letter has a pretty witty postscript, the C.S. Lewis quote adds to my collection of desktop wallpapers, and the Youtube video would have gone perfectly in the update disclosing my break up.

What I’ve Read:

Love After Life: Nobel-Winning Physicist Richard Feynman’s Extraordinary Letter to His Departed Wife | Brain Pickings – I recently returned to Brain Pickings because I needed inspiration in writing and in life. While clicking though the site, I stumbled across this essay about the physicist, Richard Feynman’s letter to his wife. If you just want to get to the point, scroll to the bottom and just read the letter itself. It tugged at my heartstrings and brought me joy; Feynman captured the concept of unconditional love and honoring past memories perfectly. I also enjoyed the P.S. at the end of the letter, it forced out a small chuckle from me. I recommend reading the whole piece if you have the time because Maria Popopva, Brain Picking’s author, does an excellent job building up the story and offering background to their relationship.

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” – C.S. Lewis | Quotefancy – I recently finished two nonfiction books and decided to update my notecard library. This was sorely needed as I started the system last year but haven’t touched it since. As I was going through my old notes, I pulled up the card containing the quote above from C.S. Lewis (I know the Quotefancy wallpapers misquoted him). I found myself stopping and staring at the quote for a good minute. I can’t predict the future but it’s nice to believe there are far better things ahead because, after some reflection, there were some pretty awesome things left behind.

What I’ve Watched:

We Broke Up | David Dobrik – Two popular YouTube stars shared this video announcing their break up. The video was recorded about six months after the relationship ended. They explain their break up with humor and a genuine respect for each other. I thought this was going to be hard to watch given my current situation but found myself smiling throughout the entire video. I know every person and relationship is different but I wonder if I’ll have this kind of openness and humor about the past in about four months.

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Myers Briggs

logistician
“Logistician” by Leon Chan

I got a comment from one my readers (which is like 50% of my audience) asking if I’ve done more tests since Love Languages. As a matter of fact, I did recently take another self survey. This week, I continue my self exploration with the Myers Briggs personality test. This update is longer than usual as I take a deeper dive into my results and whether or not I agree with it and why.

What I tried:

Free Personality Test | 16Personalities

Jung Typology Test | Humanmetrics

The Myers-Briggs personality test is one of the most well known tests of its kind. According to the 16Personalities homepage, over 130 million users have taken the test. It’s most famous for spitting out a four letter indicator that describes your personality type. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is based off of Carl Jung’s research and basically states that our personality falls between a pair of opposite traits, such as introversion and extroversion. Each letter in the indicator describes a personality pair. The four pairs describe how we interact with stimuli, process information, and make decisions. I briefly describe the types below but more information can be found on this website.

Introverted/Extroverted: This pair deals with more than just how you handle social situations, it also describes how you get your energy. Introverts remind me of librarians, they prefer quieter situations and like to live inside their heads. Extroverts are more like a stereotypical frat bro who loves being around others and enjoy engaging in a wide range of activities.

Intuition/Sensing: This grouping describe how you process information. Intuitive types bring to mind a scientist, they like to tease out the pattern behind information. People with this personality type also tend to look for the meaning behind what is seen and heard. While Sensing types are like lawyers, they like to stick to the facts and what actually happened. They deal with what’s real and in front of you, focusing on the actual experience.

Thinking/Feeling: These two details how you prefer to make decisions. The thinking types remind of engineers, they like to use analytical processes and logically go through the problem. It’s all about the most efficient or effective way to do things. The feeling types are more like Buddhist monks, they rely on their compassion and feelings towards others when making decisions. They also value harmony and sparing people’s feelings over the hard truth.

Judging/Perception: This combination breaks down how you like to structure your lifestyle. Judging types like to have things planned out. They make lists and tend to focus their attention on achieving their goals. Perceiving types like to approach things with an open mindset. They appreciate flexibility and work in bursts of energy.

I remember taking a Myers Briggs survey back in my early 20’s and getting INTJ: introverted, intuitive, thinking, judging. At the time, it made sense to me. I kept or less to myself and my small group of friends. I also liked solving problems by logically going through the steps. Due to school, most of my days were planned out with the goal of getting through the semester and eventually graduating.

16Personalities MBTI
16Personalities MBTI
humanmetrics MBTI
humanmetrics MBTI

However, the results I got from my two recent tests differ from my past result. My type indicator for both tests is ISTJ. At first glance, it shows that I’m still introverted, thinking, and judging. However, after taking a closer look at the numbers, I have a slight or no preference for Sensing and Thinking and a moderate lean towards Introverted and Judging.

Let’s break down the traits with stronger preferences first, starting with Introverted. I generally agree with this assessment. I don’t like being the center of attention and tend to stay away from huge crowds. I also enjoy having a few nights a week at home to read a book, write these updates, and learn about whatever I’m most interested in at the moment. However, I feel I’m less introverted than the 25% and 50% lean that the tests assessed me at. Although I like to cuddle up with a book, I still feel a need to go out and see my friends at least a few times a week.

I also agree with being labelled with the Judgement profile. Generally, I like to have things planned out. I like to have a sense of what I’m during the next day by the time I go to bed. I understand that life happens and I won’t always get to follow my plans exactly. And those can be pleasant surprises like an unexpected phone call from an old friend or an impromptu dinner party. But sometimes it takes me a little while to shake loose my previously planned activities and go with the flow.

I have a about a 10% lean towards Sensing if I averaged out the metrics. I would have thought I would lean more towards intuition. Part of my job as an engineer is to make sense of the information given. It’s also why I write these updates; I try to create meaning of out the things I read, heard, or seen.

Having said all that, I can see why I might be more Sensing than I thought. Over the past few years, I have started to practice meditation and mindfulness. One of the core beliefs in meditation is to stay in the present. This is taught by reminding the yogi to focus on their breath and notice what is being felt by the different senses. The purported benefit of this practice is to snap you out of stressing about the pass or worrying about the future. So in a way, it’s forcing me actually experience the event instead of analyzing the meaning behind it.

I have a very small preference, close to 5%, towards Thinking. This one is a bit of a surprise to me. Without these tests and descriptions, I would have classify myself as moderately or strongly learning towards thinking over feeling. I like to believe that I am pretty rational and don’t let my emotions affect my decisions. But this personality distinction isn’t about emotions. As summarized above, the feeling type takes into account other people’s feelings and is more closely related to compassion.

Looking at it from that perspective makes more sense to me. I noticed that I tend to prioritize harmony and avoid confrontation. But lately, I think I have become more grateful and in tune with others. Within the past month or two, I have been answering the prompts from the 5 minute journal every day to practice gratitude. One of the prompts in the journal, is to list three things you are grateful for. A tip I picked up from Tim Ferriss is to make one of those three things a person. So almost every morning, I think about one person I am grateful to have known or to have in my life. I think this affects my feelings of compassion and has helped me be more considerate of other people’s feelings.

I’m not sure if I truly believe I’m in the middle of Intuition/Sensing and Thinking/Feeling, but it’s nice to think that I get the best of both worlds. I am equally adept at finding the meaning behind something as well as experiencing the real event. I also balance using cold hard logic as well compassion to make decisions. However, it could also mean I don’t do any of those things and that’s why I have a slight or no preference.

Even if this is all bullshit, I still feel this was a good exercise to go through. As you can tell from my thoughts above, I got to shift my perspective on what I thought was my personality. I also got to apply critical thinking and ask myself if I agree or disagree with the assessments and why. Additionally, I got to see or create narratives on how some of my daily routines have changed my life (hopefully) for the better.

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Modern Romance

modern romance
“Modern Romance” by Leon Chan

This week’s read is sort of like a book recommendation. Most of the update was done before my hiatus from writing but I couldn’t find a good way to conclude it. As you might have noticed, the latest updates have been focused on my most recent relationship. As a result, I thought about how that relationship fit into the scope of “modern romance.” It provided a way for me to connect to the book and offer a conclusion to the update.

What I Read:

Modern Romance | Aziz Ansari – As mentioned in the introduction, I didn’t pick up this book because of my recent break up. I read this book in the beginning of the year, about the time when allegations against Aziz Ansari came out. My first reaction was to take a break from the book and read a couple of short stories. I eventually decided to continue reading the book to completion.

The title of this book explains its premise pretty well. This book is about dating and relationships in the current environment. From my friends’ summaries of the book, I thought this book would mostly focus on online dating and the current slew of dating apps. I was pleasantly surprised to find out the book covers more than that. It gives a bit of historical context on romance. It also goes beyond just dating and looks at how technology has transformed long-term relationships and marriage.

Since it’s been over two years since the book has come out, I was already familiar with some of the material. I feel like a few of the episodes in Ansari’s show, Master of None, pulls its theme straight out of the book. I can understand why Aziz wanted to do the television series. He could get his message out to more people by presenting it in another medium.

I could relate to the book in many ways because my last relationship was heavily influenced by current technology. I wouldn’t have gotten my former girlfriend’s number if it wasn’t for Facebook. And I’m positive the long distance part of our relationship would have been much harder without FaceTime and Snapchat. These services helped shrink the distance and made me feel more connected to her.

However, I’m also currently experiencing the downside of being so easily connected. I dread logging onto social media and seeing her pictures pop up. However, this may be an unfounded fear because I haven’t seen too many posts about her. Additionally, I hate to admit it but I have gone through Instagram to see if she deleted our pictures together or, even worse, blocked me from her feed. These are inconveniences that past generations didn’t have to face but they also didn’t have the benefits I described earlier. I haven’t decided if it’s better or worst, it’s just different and what I have to deal with now.