Fearless

Today, I had one of the most incredible experiences since I've started medical school - the dissection of the human brain. We didn't learn neuroanatomy, didn't focus on minute details - just took it out of the cranial cavity and looked at the cranial nerves and sinuses. It was hardly a dissection, took less than two hours.

I've been looking forward to this dissection for weeks now, and it was just as amazing as I was expecting. Since last night when I watched the dissection video, I was blown away that I was going to have the opportunity to hold a human brain in my hands, the essence of a human being. It's what makes the person who they are - allows us to see our world, feel emotions, make decisions, develop personality, form memories and so much more that cannot even be described in words. In some unimaginably complex form, I was going to get to hold a person's entire life and experiences in my hands. The hour before dissection lab, I felt as though I was meeting someone famous - someone who I had studied for four years during my undergraduate degree and was finally getting the chance to meet. I'm sure this sounds like unbearably overdramatic emotion for an anatomy dissection, but I am in love with the brain. I love how it contains so much more than just cells and macromolecules in an incredibly intangible way. I must've stood there holding that brain forever, fascinated and in awe. I will never be able to fully describe the feeling. I have not been so excited and fulfilled and touched by an experience in a long time.

We are so blessed to have the opportunity to study the human body with cadavers, and I thank the donors and their families for that. This was without a doubt the best dissection experience to date and likely will not be surpassed. I never expected to love anatomy, but it has thus far been my favorite part of this first semester of medical school. 
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I realize that I have constantly, since college began, been trying to define myself with modifiers - dancer, artist, baker, study neuroscience, etc etc. In my head passions were the things that stuck and defined who you are. But a friend I recently met suggested to me that passions can be fluid; they can come and go and ebb and flow as life moves forward. It doesn't make it an any less important part of your life. I suppose it is almost how relationships in your life come and go, but the lessons you learn from them and the emotions that were once there don't become any less significant. My passions are not invalidated if my life moves on to something new. But it does mean I didn't give myself the time to excel at any of it, which is always the thing that throws me off and frustrates me. Life moves too fast sometimes and I can't keep up.

Medical school starts in exactly ONE day and I feel far from prepared. I had a wonderful but surreal month in Kunshan, made some amazing friends, met some very very interesting students (not always a positive thing), and here I am unsure of how to proceed next. I sometimes worry my priorities are not in place - like I'm here to study and learn and build this career, but all I'm thinking about is relationships. It's strange how when I'm surrounded by my pre-med friends from Duke and I look at everyone on my newsfeed who are getting their white coats right now, what I'm doing right now makes absolute sense. I'm starting on this life path that makes sense for me. Then I go to Duke TIP where the staff has such diverse backgrounds and life goals and all of a sudden I wish I had pursued my other passions more before ending up here. Maybe I could have lived in China for a year and worked on my Chinese language proficiency; maybe I should have gone to more dance workshops and joined a team. But then I'm back here and things will start to make sense again. I think this is the thing they say about being in a field where you're in school for so many more years but all your other friends are getting on with their lives. We have to remember this journey is going to be a ride in itself, so I'm going to try to take it day by day.

Until next time.
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When I arrived at the PVG Shanghai airport on Thursday, a wave of relief swept over me. Yes, I've been to Shanghai only twice before, but it's something about China. It makes me happy, fulfilled. It is comfortable. Memories of standing by the Wai Tan over the Shanghai skyline at night and drinking tea with my host mom in Zhuhai in the evenings and my group of students winning the Changshu scavenger hunt fill my mind whenever I breathe in the air.

Although I feel comfortable and nostalgic being in China, it also saddens me because so much of this language that I love is slipping away slowly from my mind. I think wistful is the perfect word to describe it. Waiting for our car after dinner tonight, standing on the side of the road as bright Chinese mall signs around us lit up a dark night sky, I was sad. I took deep breaths, taking in air that smelled familiar, the way that sandalwood does in India. Learning Chinese for me has meant being able to communicate with an additional 1 billion people in the world, and it strengths my global connections. It has meant priding myself in learning and having good pronunciation in a language that is one of the most difficult to learn in the world. It has meant being proficient in a language of which I love the musicality, expressiveness and the way it rolls off my tongue. It's difficult for me to explain the connection I feel toward China and the Chinese language. All I know is that if I lose this language as I make my way through medical school, I will have lost something that feels like a part of me. 

I suppose part of the feeling is that I never thought I would be confident speaking a language I did not grow up with, unafraid of rejection even if I made mistakes. Chinese culture makes me comfortable, sometimes more than my own. I took Spanish for 5 years but still would never try to speak it in a Spanish speaking country because the tenses and conjugation were too much to think about to make it sounds right. Mandarin feels like it was meant to be on my lips. It begs for more vocabulary, more comprehension, more fluency that my mind cannot provide yet. It drives me absolutely insane that I don't have greater proficiency. I haven't had much of a chance to speak it here nor will I as I'm at an English speaking camp. It makes me miss living with a host family, which was one of the most wonderful things I have done during my time in China. 

My passion for the Chinese language reminds me a lot of the passion I have for dance. It is raw, and that saddens me. I have struggled with this my whole life - having several skills and talents, but none to the point of excellence. Now it is on a deeper level where it is my passions, things I feel such deep emotions for, that I seem to have not the time nor opportunity to develop to excellence. I talked about dance in my last post, about how I had not danced or choreographed very much throughout my entire gap year and was worried that this meant I was drawing away from having dance in my life. The same thing happened with Mandarin, and I'm afraid I don't see myself having a chance to study further once medical school begins. It feels like when you cook a meal, and if there are too many separate parts to prepare. When everything comes together in the end, it might be cold and taste mediocre compared to a dish that had few parts but stayed hot and delicious. Not a great simile, but sometimes it is how I feel - mediocre at all the things that I love to do. I strive for excellence, it's who I am, but in many ways, I never seem to get there. 

Especially after Japan, where I really struggled in many ways, it was wonderful to come to a place that felt familiar, even though I've never been to the Duke Kunshan campus before. Duke is familiar and China is familiar and that seemed to be enough for me. I hope for many more years in China after this one so perhaps one day I can live out a dream of fluency. 
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Clearly, I've neglected to write this year, and here I am again almost exactly 1 full year later hoping that writing will help quell my anxieties and help me make sense of the things that have happened this year. This is the last week I have at home before I more or less start with the next chapter of my life - medical school.

I spent my gap year on three things specifically: my clinical knowledge, my family and myself. It was refreshing to spend time doing things I loved, without the time limitations and weight of a project deadline or homework assignment due the next day or preparation for an exam. I traveled to see my friends and to see the world. I got closer to my mom this year, and now we're going to have trouble leaving each other. My job as a scribe in a Rheumatology clinic was truly valuable and I loved the diversity and comfort of the people whom I worked with. There, I saw an environment I knew that I could thrive in.

Even after a year in Rheumatology, I've seen how the knowledge of medicine will affect my life, in both good and bad ways. To see patients and realize how prevalent pain and medical problems are in the society around us is eye-opening. I feel that it has increased my awareness of others and self. Ideas I got from patients in the clinic helped me help my mom with her chronic costochondritis and I could not have wished for anything more. I felt helpful, and I knew I wanted to spend my whole life doing what the physician in the clinic did. It helps to know my resolve is strong to study medicine because once it starts it is a long, hard road.

The negative was that I was becoming too self-aware. I started worrying that every little thing that happened to me was part of a bigger problem. It does concern me that this will happen in medical school and that I will be empathetic to the point of making myself ill. It will take time and some desensitization, but I hope I'll be able to overcome it. It's best to leave one's own health to another doctor to solve and focus on the people on your table. I suppose the anxious, worried, empathetic type are the ones to become good doctors in the first place, so it'll just take some practice. Applying to medical school was grueling, but I'm finally sure it was the right decision.


The best thing I did this year was to focus on myself. I started to crochet and knit again. I cooked - all the time. I made macarons, croissants, soufflé, and had the time to teach myself endless other culinary techniques. I had a chance to read for leisure again. I had the time to have mindfulness sessions and drink tea in the evenings. I got to travel to Montreal, Vancouver, Shanghai, Singapore, and Tokyo. Best of all, I had the time to workout every single day with Cassey Ho and eat HEALTHY. 

During school, we often feel so busy that there's just no time to do anything but study, socialize a little and sleep. It is difficult to prioritize what is important to us because there are so many things that need to be prioritized. For me, exercising was never that high of a priority but that's probably also the cause of the 30 pound weight gain I had during college. That and the fact that it is so difficult to eat well in college. I started POP Pilates and changed my eating habits last summer because I knew that getting back to the weight I was before college began was one of my primary goals for the gap year. It was a process, but I felt and saw change. Losing weight and gaining muscle tone is such a difficult thing to keep up, but seeing that change is incredibly motivating. I started loving my workouts after and I saw and felt the changes in my body. POP Pilates has made exercise a priority for me because I love how strong and fulfilled it makes me feel.

On top of that, having the time to cook healthy recipes (with the occasional indulgent butter croissant or lemon pound cake) has also been a way for me to destress and also help my mom out at home. She's going to miss the deliciousness without lifting a finger when she gets home from work for sure! What is most fulfilling about cooking is having others enjoy what I've made. I certainly have a more sophisticated palate than I once did and that's also a plus, but I love sharing my food with others. The number of times I've personally asked my mom to host her friends for a dinner party (because I have no friends to cook for here) is countless. I'm sure that if I wasn't going into medicine, I certainly would have considered a career in the culinary arts.


Starting to complete tasks for starting medical school has been so exciting because it feels like another new beginning. It's the same way I felt when I started Duke, where no one knows you and you can be whomever you want. I think I'm now someone who is more confident and better at communication than I once was. After a lot of time to introspect, I'm comfortable with who I am now. The biggest thing I've struggled with is a seriously impeding social anticipatory anxiety. So many times this year I've wanted to go to these events and classes around Austin but as the day arrived, I usually could not bring myself to go because of crippling anxiety. I start constantly thinking about arriving and being by myself in a room full of strangers. The funny thing is, I don't think I would feel nearly as bad if there were even one other person to come with me - a friend. I read this book recently called Quiet by Susan Cain, the woman who did a TED talk on introversion (I recommend this book highly for anyone interested in human psychology). She talks about the ins and outs of the qualities and strengths and life of introverts in a world that lives by an extrovert ideal. It validated me, surely, that what I was feeling was not wrong, but simply an object of my personality. But it did suggest that I could make changes, which is what I'm hoping to do during my trip abroad alone and once I get to school. The book has helped me understand the dynamics of my parents, my sister and the people around me. I love better understanding the world around me, and I feel that human psychology is one of the best ways to do that.

Ironically, I think it has also become so difficult for me this year to be alone. Whether it's just my sister in her room upstairs or my mom watching television in the next room, I've felt that I need a presence of another to feel safe and comfortable. I've been very alone outside of my family, and maybe that culture shock from having friends around constantly in college to having only family was part of this new feeling. Of course, it is not feasible to have company constantly, especially since I'm going abroad in a few days - alone. Everyone says it will be a wonderful, introspective, freeing experience and while I believe them, I worry about lacking social communication. Ironic, isn't it? That I have such difficulty with initiating social interactions yet I also am uncomfortable being alone with my thoughts and feelings. I've even started leaving episodes of Friends on while I fall asleep for the sound. How can this be? I understand it like this: what I want is the comfort of those close to me around, but not the effort that needs to be exerted to make new social connections. It's basically the introvert manifesto. Not to worry, I will continue to work to find my balance. 

I am upset that I didn't dance more this year, again partly due to my social anxiety. I missed classes and workshops because I didn't want to go alone or didn't want to drive that far. My own sensitivity and fear of not being good enough drive me up the wall. How can you overcome something like that, especially on your own? My insecurities about my dance ability were something I struggled with immensely last summer during the camp in China where I taught a dance workshop and maybe they lingered and hindered. I didn't make time to dance without a team behind me, does that mean I don't love it? Does that mean I'm not as committed or as passionate as the others? Constantly questioning myself has exhausted me. Maybe I was meant for something different, and dance is just a hobby. Maybe I shouldn't try so hard to force it. Should I try to accept that? But those few classes I did go to had my adrenaline racing and my smile glowing so why didn't I keep dancing? So many times this year I went to the studio and put on music, intent to choreograph a piece and show myself that I could but left uninspired and disappointed in myself. Still insecure, still upset with myself and not sure that I should be. No conclusion here.

On Saturday I leave for a 1.5 month trip to San Francisco to see friends, Tokyo to explore a new place, and then China to staff at the Duke TIP program at the DKU campus. Until two weeks ago, I was uncertain if I was even going to go due to some health issues I was having. In the span of that time, I felt what it was truly like to have constant anxiety and panic attacks. I was constantly worried about if the GI and dizziness symptoms I was having would come back and what would happen to me if I had a panic attack abroad, and this made everything all the worse. I've gotten things under control, I think primarily from removing dairy from my diet, and I've felt great the last two weeks. I've been able to get back to my daily POP Pilates routines and feel wonderful. I missed exercise every day for the 1 month I was struggling with these health issues and it felt like a part of my day was missing. I feel that in every stage of my life I've picked up and dropped ways to destress and relax. In high school I played tennis, in college I danced, and this year I've used pilates and yoga and cooking. But how can I find consistency? Of these many skills that are still unpolished and raw, why is it so difficult to find one to take all the way?

Who knows what is to come, but I'm trying to take it day by day with a positive outlook. Until next time.

Here are some things that I did -- click for more food pics yas

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Today I want to write about something that is a bit more personal than most things I write. It's something I think about almost every night when I slip into bed and often fall asleep with these thoughts in my head. Relationships.

I remember how it felt in high school: having a year long crush on the same guy and wanting to be in a relationship - mostly for the sake of being in a relationship. Things felt like they would be so much better and happier if someone cared for me romantically. My self-worth was so defined by the way that others saw me, particularly boys. If boys didn't "like like" me, it meant something was wrong with me. Yes, in retrospect, it sounds horrible, but let's be honest with ourselves, a lot of the time that is how we felt. I hated feeling that way, I knew it was wrong, but I craved attention from a guy. I wanted to feel wanted in that way. Yes, raging hormones and the whole adolescence ordeal was happening too, but I never really thought much about the physicality of a relationship - how incredible it felt to be held in someone's arms, to hold someone in yours, and feel intimacy that was unlike any friendship. Wanting something I had never had before was difficult because I didn't know what exactly I wanted, but also easy, because without it I wasn't missing anything.

And now here I am - out of an almost 3 year long relationship, laying in my bed every night, and craving what I once had. This is both difficult and easy too but for the opposite reasons - easier because I know what I want from a relationship now, but difficult because I miss having it. It's not like high school anymore, thank goodness, because men will never again create my definition of myself. But it feels like a more mature of everything I felt in high school. I especially miss the intimacy, which I suppose makes sense since my top love languages are physical touch and quality time. It's strange - I crave it, but I don't ache for "love" like before because I can live off of the emotions and feelings in my memories. Memories are truly a powerful thing; they make you yearn, fill you with nostalgia, but their emotions are satisfying. Or at least, satisfying enough for now. I'll be patient, really, but I still worry about finding someone who will live up to these standards in my head. Ironically, even though being in a relationship taught me to stop being so idealistic in my standards for guys, learning from things that went wrong also raised my standards in other ways. I guess these standards are more mature and realistic. They're about communication styles, love languages, and lifestyle habits. It's really most important just to be honest with yourself about whether those things are there or not.

Anyway, I guess I'm just feeling lonely more than anything because I don't have friends around right now or a job to keep my mind busy. It's weird remembering what it feels like to have so much free time... I don't like it. Give me productivity or give me death. Just kidding. 
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This title is relevant in so many different ways right now.

I'm sitting around at home, job searching, watching TV, wasting time. You know the feeling we have during college when you wake up on a Monday morning and you know your week will be productive in one way or another because you have classes to go to and extracurricular meetings to attend? You wish that you had some time just to sit back and relax. Well, I'm relaxing now and it is driving me CRAZY! It's not like I'm a workaholic who needs to be doing something all the time, but after a week or so of watching nonstop TV, I feel like I need to be filling my time with something else. I've started drawing again, started reading books, going to the gym, but what I really want is 1) a job acceptance, 2) medical school acceptances, 3) friends in Austin, and 4) somewhere to go. I have my sister, yes, but I miss having friends - college life. Maybe this is withdrawal I'm feeling - the urge to download Tinder just to have someone around here to talk to. I don't think I can go without friends here much longer. Being stuck in the middle of college and a job/medical school is surprisingly draining and mind-numbing. I've gotten mad at my mom the past two days for super dumb reasons, and I feel like some sort of intense restlessness is developing inside of me. It's frustration with myself for feeling like I should have a job by now and not knowing if my personal statement was good enough and not putting myself out there enough - it's reflecting off of everyone else. Ironic right? Graduate from Duke, and then feel inadequacy. It's hard to tease apart my confidence and my inadequacy. Stuck in the middle. Ugh.

Well that got deep fast. Another thing that I've realized since I've been back home is how I've become stuck between these adult and kid roles. I just got out of being a kid, but I still remember exactly what it's like. In trying to solve the problems between my parents and my sister, I'm forced to pick sides, but how can you pick a side when you relate to both of them? Let me give you an example: my sister wants to wake up at 1 pm every day because it is her summer vacation and that's what all of her friends do. My parents think that is ridiculous because you're wasting the entire morning sleeping. Don't get me wrong, I slept until 1 pm many days in the past 4 years, but I agree that there are so many things that can get done in the morning if you don't sleep until the afternoon. I remember wanting to wake up late on weekends and summers in high school, but my parents waking me up with loud music and vacuum cleaners at 9 am. How do you appease everyone? You don't. You get stuck in the middle and everyone hates you. Just kidding, but really, being the oldest child has its own challenges, especially with the 6 year age gap I have with my sister. My sister who just wants to text her friends all the time, wants to Skype in the middle of the night, doesn't want to practice her instrument, doesn't want to do the dishes. It's difficult to oppose my now "adult" instincts and remind myself that I wanted all the things she did when she was her age, but I turned out fine. Well, mostly.

In other news, I started watching The Flash. The guy is really cute. Story is not bad. It's a bit unsettling how many guys I follow on Instagram just because they're attractive - Ryan Reynolds, Grant Gustin, Wesley Chan, Grayson Allen, Colin O'Donoghue, Justin Baldoni (but he doesn't REALLY count because he's basically the most incredible person in the world). See, they're not just attractive, they have so many other talents going for them. Sigh, y'all just think I'm shallow now, don't you?

Peace out.
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Not even going to pretend like I too busy to write for four months; I really just started watching too much television...

So welcome to summer y'all, hope it's going really well for you so far. I've honestly been putting off writing about graduation and things ending because I know I'm going to get nostalgic and cry if I think about it too much. I didn't really say a true goodbye to anyone because it doesn't feel like this is the last time we will see each other. This country is big, for sure, but we find ways to get around to see the people we care about. Plus, technology is so developed now that you can always feel connected to your friends in some way or another. When I graduated as a senior in high school, I cried whenever I heard "Friends Forever" by Vitamin C. The difference between then and now is that I really think I'll be staying connected with people in college, whereas most of my high school friends have lost touch. College is where you change, and sometimes the friendships you thought once made sense don't seem to once you've fully grown into your own skin. That's certainly how I felt. I think my emotional college song has got to be "See You Again" by Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa. I cry every time. 

After our final performance in Zhuhai last summer, I posted a blog post with these words at the end:

"People often don’t realize how much work and effort goes into making a performance happen, not just a task list, but also emotional investment. When you put the label “final” on the performance, signaling that something wonderful was coming to an end, it adds a whole new layer of emotions like longing and despair and sadness. I want to remember this final performance not only for all of the confidence and talent it showcased from the students, but also for this bittersweet feeling that makes me want to cry, but also smile. I don’t think this performance is an end, but rather a means for our students to be motivated to push themselves more out of their comfort zones. There is so much about this program that is not “final” in the most literal sense."

I have to say that it's a parallel to how graduation felt. I can't wait to see what incredible things my friends have in their futures, but it's easier to think about it as a new beginning rather than an ending. We are constantly preparing for the next performance in our lives whether it be medical school or a job interview or getting married. Every performance has emotional investment; it isn't a frozen pizza you throw in the oven, but the culmination of delicate knife cuts, careful seasoning, and a beautiful presentation. Every new step should be something we are proud of. I'm proud of learning everything I did at Duke and graduating a month ago. But sometimes it is frustrating, because we just want a break from preparing! You think a gap year means you get to take a little break before applying to medical school, but in fact you're busy at work on a personal statement the week right after you graduate...

Sometimes the preparation and journey is just as enjoyable as the end result. In the case of cooking, which I have been doing a lot of recently, this is certainly the case. I've only recently started letting myself experiment with recipes and new foods, and it has been incredibly therapeutic, the preparation even more than the eating itself. I even decided to start a food blog to log my foodventures. Cooking is really an art, and I've always loved the creativity and personality that the arts let us shine through. But I feel about cooking how I feel about dancing: I honestly love it, but I don't think I've had enough guidance to have the finesse that I want. I don't mind the working hard at it bit, but finesse is quite expensive and time-consuming. If I'm going to medical school, I don't know if I'm going to have the cash or time to pursue these hobbies further. 

Which brings the question, do I feel this way about medicine/why do I want to be a doctor? Yes, I just wrote my personal statement on it, and it is both of the things I just mentioned (expensive and time-consuming). I made a metaphor between dance and medicine in my statement - how there are tasks to get done, but they are incomplete without compassion and heart. Yes, I want to go to medical school to find finesse in a career that will help make people's lives better, hopefully. But if you ask me for the moment I knew, or for one distinct answer, I really just don't know. I just know it feels right. How do you put that in a 5000 character statement? I don't want my career to be about me; I've never wanted anything to be just about me. It's about sharing any talent I might have with others, and that's how it has always been. I cook to feed others more than myself, because the fulfillment comes from big smiles and the "mmm" sound of satisfaction. That's what I want from medicine. Fingers crossed that someone wants me back.

So back to where I've strayed so, SO far from: graduation. Commencement itself wasn't very heart-wrenching because a group of 2500 of us were just namelessly sitting in the morning sun in Wallace Wade. The neuroscience graduation was more personal; I was prouder to be leaving as a neuroscience major with distinction. All of graduation weekend, I only cried once - when I was leaving my roommate Yolanda for the last time. Usually if I think about something sad or emotional hard enough, I can get myself to tear up, but this was real, pouring down my face, tears. I wasn't thinking about the memories we had together, I just knew I was going to miss living with her the way we had for the past four years. Four years! Some people can't even make it through a year with the same roommate. I was lucky enough to have four years with her. Now if that's not a lifelong friendship in the making, I don't know what is. 

Whenever I look back over a period of time like college or high school, I most regret not taking better advantage of the opportunities I was given. It's like I made lemonade out of the lemons, but I could've made an even more delicious lemon meringue if I worked a little harder. I could've done this extra volunteering or shadowing or extracurricular. But like they say, in the end it doesn't matter and I'm sure things will be okay moving forward. If I think about about every semester of Duke on its own, the negatives seem to be the first thing that come to mind. Sophomore fall I fell into a sophomore social slump. Junior fall was an emotional roller-coaster because of my first time planning the Dhoom Awaaz performance. Junior spring scandal after scandal disconnected me from a positive Duke environment. But when I think about my time here overall, I think it was pretty incredible. We won a goddamn national championship. I went to China. I LEARNED stuff. I'm more qualified to do stuff now, and that's pretty incredible. The "satisfaction of competence" is pretty wonderful. Atul Gawande, Being Mortal. 

I don't regret anything in my social life nor my relationship, because they made my Duke experience incredibly valuable. Friends that offer to bring you chicken soup when you're sick (lookin at you Yolo hehe) and stay up until 4 am listening to you rant and support you through everything. I was blessed. I'm going to miss my dance team -- there's rarely the opportunity outside of undergrad to be part of that kind of team, especially when you're off to medical school. We never had drama, only love and fun and laughs. Some tears, yes, but ones that we wiped away for each other. Those freshmen and sophomores especially - Raj, Emily, Wendy, Wenfei, Deeksha, Cheenu - have grown such an incredible amount in the short amount of time I've known them, as dancers, as leaders, and as people. I will never stop thinking of you guys as my little brother and sisters. You have such greatness within you - make sure Dhoom gets some of it! Also please add me to the new Groupme...

There's a lot more I can reflect on, but for now I'm going to head to sleep. I watched a lot of TV today, and I really need a job soon. What's new?




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