Monday, July 25, 2022

Book Review: Spinning

It has been an eternity since my last post. I realized this when it took me a second to remember my own blog url. As a test to see if you are an official True Fan of my Cool Blog, answer the following without checking: does my url contain "notaprimadonna" or "notprimadonna"? (Also please answer: why haven't I chosen a new blog name yet?)

Anyway, thanks to the influence of my bookish friends, I have been reading quite a bit this summer! I currently have 29 books out on my 2 library cards (though most of them are graphic novels, which are quick reads). Not to brag, but I also have $0 in fines. After my family accidentally checked out our books for 3 years*, I'm sure that my libraries are relieved that I now check out self-returning e-books instead of hard copies.

* fear not, the books have all been returned safely to their shelves

One graphic novel I read recently was Spinning. It was quite thought-provoking, so I decided to discuss it in a review.

Cover courtesy of Goodreads

Goodreads summary: Poignant and captivating, Ignatz Award winner Tillie Walden's powerful graphic memoir, Spinning, captures what it's like to come of age, come out, and come to terms with leaving behind everything you used to know.

It was the same every morning. Wake up, grab the ice skates, and head to the rink while the world was still dark.

Weekends were spent in glitter and tights at competitions. Perform. Smile. And do it again.

She was good. She won. And she hated it.

For ten years, figure skating was Tillie Walden's life. She woke before dawn for morning lessons, went straight to group practice after school, and spent weekends competing at ice rinks across the state. It was a central piece of her identity, her safe haven from the stress of school, bullies, and family. But over time, as she switched schools, got into art, and fell in love with her first girlfriend, she began to question how the close-minded world of figure skating fit in with the rest of her life, and whether all the work was worth it given the reality: that she, and her friends on the figure skating team, were nowhere close to Olympic hopefuls. It all led to one question: What was the point? The more Tillie thought about it, the more Tillie realized she'd outgrown her passion--and she finally needed to find her own voice. 

Review: I try to avoid talking about myself while reviewing, but due to the nature of memoirs and a connection I felt with the story, I'd like to share a bit about myself.

This book spoke to me a lot because of my experiences with Taekwondo. I started Taekwondo around the end of third grade and continued for about 7-8 years. I don't remember the details of the beginning of my journey, but I do remember being really, really happy whenever I was at the dojang. Early on as a white/yellow belt, I gravitated toward poomsae, the precision-based form techniques, rather than sparring. After I joined our demonstration and competition teams, I pressured myself to succeed, and I gained a heightened awareness of every mistake I made. I sought perfection, practicing each block and stroke in front of the mirror over and over again. Poomsae is scored via deductionsevery mistake subtracts 0.1 (minor deduction) or 0.3 (major deduction) pointsso I eagerly strengthened my attention to detail. Once I got busier in middle and high school, I didn't have the time to go to classes as often (though I attended more classes than I give myself credit for). Also, after I hit a basic understanding of the techniques (sometime after getting my black belt), improvement became slower. I couldn't reach my (unrealistic) goals anymore. I felt worse and worse about my performances as time went on. Eventually, my confidence started wavering outside of the dojang as well. I doubted myself in school and in other extracurriculars, always striving for the perfection that I (for some reason) saw in others, until I eventually left my favorite sport. Even afterward, the impact (primarily a tendency for self-doubt) was lasting. I acquired a lot of good habits from taekwondo, but there were many struggles as well.

I never realized how similar the natures of taekwondo poomsae and skating are: rehearsing routine movements until they're flawless, working with a team and individually sometimes, practicing at a central location (dojang/rink), observing levels of parental involvement/absence, traveling around tournament schedules, focusing on grace and appearance (yes, hair is important in taekwondo), etc. 

Never have I felt my struggles reflected in a book other than Spinning. Walden highlights the need to win and be perfect until she begins to perform just for the sake of it. Her work illustrates how easy it is for a sport to fall apart in your eyes without you knowing why and when. She discusses the confusion of understanding when to quit, and I relate to this because quitting taekwondo was near-impossible when I wasn't even sure why I wanted to give up. Ultimately, Spinning focuses a lot on Walden's frustrations, which I found extremely relatable and realistic. I don't think these frustrations are necessarily common to every athlete, but if you do start to undergo these experiences, it's helpful to read books like Spinning and realize that others have felt this way.

To add a few other comments, the memoir's ending was quite open, emphasizing the end of a chapter in her life rather than a perfect ending or "goodbye". The art style was quiet, calm, and graceful (the purple was gorgeous). Technical details about ice skating were enjoyable, even without my background in/knowledge of the sport. The author's note discusses how Walden focuses on other aspects of her life, such as her relationship, music lessons, and school bullies, in the context of her figure skating journey. The note was beautifully-written and furthered my understanding of Walden's writing intentions, tying her piece together. 

I feel like we often hear from athletes who make it to the top (and that's certainly reasonable), but I enjoyed this piece's refreshing idea that any athlete with talent, dedication, and expertise can still share so much about their journey. To me, this book used figure skating to reveal everyday struggles behind perfection and performance. It is a book that requires reflection, because it may not be immediately relatable to most. Yet I hope that if you read it, there's something to take away. I rate it 5 stars.

Thanks for checking out this review :). Have you read Spinning? Do you have any other graphic novel recommendations? Let me know!

Friday, September 17, 2021

Tips for Making Friends in College

It's been quite a long time since my last post, but it turns out that I'm still here :P.  A lot has been going on! For one, I've moved into college (and will probably draft up a reflection about the experience). But today's post is a satirical one inspired my college transition (and styled a little bit like The Onion due to my obsession with the faux news outlet)I'll be sharing 10 tips to make new friends in college (again, not to be taken seriously since this is all in good fun). Enjoy :).


College is all about change: moving into an entirely new room, starting difficult classes, acclimating yourself to interesting weather conditions, and adjusting to a new diet are only the tip of the iceberg. Friends can alleviate your stress—if only the process of meeting people wasn't so stressful! Fear not, the following tips will get you popular in no time.

1. "Accidentally" drop your pencil in front of someone. If they pick it up for you, introduce yourself to such a kind soul. If they don't pick it up, pick it up, jab them for being mean, and then introduce yourself.

2. Follow someone around campus and say things like "wow we have a lot of classes in common" until they ask to see your schedule and realize you're not even supposed to be in half their classes.

3. Ask the TA so many questions during office hours that they become your best friend since they're the only person you spend with.

4. Sit in front of people's dorm rooms doing homework until they ask you to move, and then coerce them to join you. As an alternate solution, do your homework in the lounge area and yell at people to join you. No one will refuse because everyone has homework to do and you seem like such a likable person. 

5. Adopt a Komodo dragon. When someone comes to kick you out for violating dorm room pet policies, you can talk to them! Pro tip: if a Komodo dragon is inaccessible, narwhals, pythons, and elephants work too.

6. When you're in the shower and realize that people can hear you through the linked vents, play music with a speaker and try to convince people that you actually sound just like the singer in the video you're playing. They'll be very impressed.

7. Pose like one of the statues around campus and stand still for a few hours. Wait until someone comes up and tries to take a picture with you because you're so lifelike. 

8. If you tell a joke and people don't laugh, make sure they don't leave until you get a laugh out of them.

9. Brush your hair and maintain basic hygiene. Apparently, people like it when you smell with your nose rather than like a nose. 

10. Just immerse yourself within the never-ending deadlines and problem sets. Who needs friends? Only the weak crave a work-life balance.

How many of these have you tried?

Friday, January 29, 2021

Reinforcement Schedules & College Friendships

 Hey everyone! I'm back :)).

Today I started thinking about how I could maintain some of my high school friendships while my friends and I transition to college. Somehow, I ended up also thinking about the concept of reinforcement schedules from my psychology class, and that's when I realized that friendships and psychology are actually interconnected. Interested? Read on!

--The Psychology of Reinforcement Schedules--

At the very basic level, if we want to change an animal's behavior, we can reward them for performing the desired behavior until the start drawing associations between performing the behavior and being rewarded. This training model is called operant conditioning. In a simple case, let's assume we want to train a pigeon to peck a button and that we reward them with some birdseed if they do so successfully. 

The reinforcement schedule refers to how often we choose to administer this award. There are 4 main reinforcement schedules, namely:

  • Continuous reinforcement: this actually isn't even a reinforcement schedule because this just means that you reward the pigeon ever single time it clicks the button (eg. feeding it seed whenever it clicks the button)
  • Fixed ratio reinforcement: rewarding the pigeon after it clicks the button a certain number of times (ex. feeding the pigeon seed every time it clicks the button 10 times)
  • Fixed interval reinforcement: rewarding the pigeon after it performs a behavior for a certain time interval (ex. feeding the pigeon seed every time it clicks the button for 2 minutes)
  • Variable ratio reinforcement: rewarding the pigeon after it clicks the button for a random number of times (ex. feeding seed to the the pigeon after it clicks the button 10 times, then feeding it after it clicks the button 5 times, then feeding it after it clicks the button 8 times, etc.)
  • Variable interval reinforcement: rewarding the pigeon after it clicks the button for a random period of time (ex. feeding the pigeon seed after it clicks the button for 2 minutes, then feeding it after it clicks the button for 1 minute, then feeding it for clicking the button after 4 minutes, etc.).
Either of these reinforcement schedules should teach the pigeon to click the button. Continuous reinforcement schedules are pretty hard to achieve, and quite honestly, pretty unhealthy for the poor pigeon who will gain a lot of weight. 

Fixed reinforcement schedules generally lead to more consistency than variable reinforcement schedules. The pigeon would consistently click the button since they're regularly being rewarded under a fixed schedule. 

Now, let's say you don't want to reward the pigeon anymore. The pigeon will still click the button, anticipating some seed. However, they'll gradually start clicking the button less once they realize that they're not getting anything out of it. The interesting thing to observe is how the pigeon's behavior is extinguished over time based on the reinforcement schedule that you used to train them.

Take a look at the "extinction" graph (credit)

Basically, the above graph is showing that responses trained from a variably-reinforced response won't be extinguished that easily compared to responses evoked from fixed reinforcement schedules. This makes sense intuitively; variable reinforcement schedules keep pigeons on their toes, clicking just in case for the next random treat. And, as you can probably guess even though it's not on the graph, responses from continuous reinforcement are extinguished very quickly. As soon as the pigeon notices it's not getting treats, it gives up clicking.

--The Connection to Friendships--

When you go off to college, you'll be seeing your friends a lot less often. The behavior you want to encourage in each other is scheduling video calls, and you want to make sure that the desire to do so does not get extinguished over time. When you administer a reward to each other (i.e. when you agree to meet up with each other), everyone's desire to achieve that reward again (i.e. everyone's desire to schedule another meeting) should remain high. The question is this: before you leave, how can you reinforce this behavior within each other so that your desires will be the least prone to extinction once you all head off to college?

If you guessed using variable reinforcement schedules, bingo! That's right. Let's say you used a continuous reinforcement schedule instead. When they ask you to meet up (behavior), you pretty much agree right away (reinforcement). Now let's say you've graduated, headed to college, and aren't that free to schedule video calls anymore. Now, when your friend asks you to meet up, you realize you're going to have to say no more often. Because you had used a continuous schedule to reinforce them sending meeting invites, when you start rejecting them, they'll stop asking a lot more quickly. Their desire to schedule meetings with you will quickly die out. Now, using a fixed reinforcement schedule isn't really feasible in the real world (who goes around accepting every third meeting invite?!). However, using a variable schedule is possible: accept meeting invites infrequently and randomly throughout high school so that when you need to say no in college, your friends' desires to ask you to meet again will not be extinguished that quickly.

Now, I think the above ideas are a little narcissistic and manipulative (who are you to accept invites randomly when your friends are nice enough to ask you to meet up? And I would be pretty sad if my friends started rejecting my invites). I suggest, instead, adopting the idea of fixed or variable rewarding. Meeting every week at a fixed time in high school when you know you won't be able to meet up like that in college is likely to quickly extinguish the desire for everyone to meet up later. You won't be able to keep up with the heavy meeting schedule, will stop asking each other to meet up, and will gradually fade apart. However, if you meet up randomly and spontaneously for video calls throughout high school, your desire to meet is less likely to die out once you head to college. You don't need to reject meeting invites if you get them, but you can try to meet up randomly and spontaneously.


Thanks for reading! This post probably has some technical inaccuracies and is oversimplifying the process of operant conditioning, but I hope it was generally informative and interesting :). Let me know what you think below, and see you next time (after a variable interval of time ;)).

P.S. If you enjoyed reading about operant conditioning and are interested in seeing classical conditioning (another similar psychology topic) in action, I highly recommend the below comedy clip from Big Bang Theory. 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

6 Year Blogoversary + Winter Break Recap

Well, well, it turns out that I'm getting pretty old: the 31st marks my 6 year blogoversary! I'm writing this post at midnight on the 30th, so I expected to create a *late night deeply existential and reflective* post, but I'm blanking on what to write about. So instead of posting a reflection (I think I will post this later into the year), I think I'll write a recap for my break.

Me thinking of blog post topics (and just stress-thinking in general) (Credit).

11 Activities I Did Over Winter Break:

- I did this 500-word jigsaw puzzle from the Audubon society.  I received this puzzle as a gift and completed it back in elementary (middle?) school. I decided to give it another try recently! Not going to lie, even the second time around it was a lot harder than I thought, but it was really rewarding - hopefully I'll buy more puzzles to continue this activity throughout the school year!

- I watched Pride & Prejudice (2005) and created a polymer clay version of Elizabeth Bennet. Her dress could've been longer, but I am proud of how the neck turned out (after a lot of work, I found a way to seamlessly integrate it with the rest of her body).

My clay model of Elizabeth Bennet (modeled after this image)

- I baked chocolate-fudge-flavored cake (from the mix, obviously, since I can't bake from scratch). 10/10 would recommend. This is probably the first dish in a while that I did not burn, overcook, or otherwise mess up.

- I created my own Instagram/Facebook filter. My friend did the artwork and I created a face tattoo version of it with confetti sprinkling over the individual using the filter. SO thankful to have discovered the software for creating filters this earlier this year! 

- I watched Arthur's Perfect Christmas. It wouldn't be Christmas without my family favorite! We actually had to purchase this film online because it's not on Youtube anymore. For some reason, most Arthur episodes have been taken down there?? I am sorely disappointed. I didn't get around to watching A Charlie Brown Christmas, which I typically enjoy annually as well, but maybe next year I'll revisit this one :).

- I got my portrait professionally taken. Technically, I did this before break, but I reviewed the proofs and am narrowing down which ones to order during break.

- My sister made snickerdoodle cupcakes - we poured the cookie dough into cupcake molds and baked them! 

- I participated in Secret Santa events. My friends mailed over gifts to each other and we had virtual reveal parties over video call. This was a great way to connect with others while staying socially distanced! So far, I received a mini rice cooker and F.R.I.E.N.D.S. laptop stickers (both greatly appreciated!).

- I watched "Excuse Me, I Love You" (the documentary about Ariana Grande's "Sweetener" tour). To be honest, I wasn't a huge fan because this was mainly a compilation of performances. However, if you adore her music, this could totally work for you!

- I watched skimmed through Gilmore Girls. I like the concept of the show and the witty banter but, as my friend and I discussed, the plot is pretty slow. I literally skimmed through four episodes within 1 hour (each episode is 40 minutes), so clearly I need a faster pace XD.

- I ordered new toys for my pet parakeets (not the parakeet below).

- I found Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark on Amazon. It just wouldn't be Christmas without this chocolate.

Overall, despite spending an unusual amount of time at home, I had a lot of fun! I usually spend break studying for future exams (my school administers final exams after break), but I'm glad I took a couple of weeks off for myself. 

I hope you've had a good holiday break! Feel free to share some highlights in the comments. Here's to a fun 2021 :).

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Your Heart After Dark Book Tour


I am so, so excited to announce that I just received my first ARC and am participating in my first book tour! Thank you so much to Hear Our Voices Book Tours for the ARC and this opportunity!

Today I'll be sharing a review of Your Heart After Dark, 15 thoughts I had while reading, a look book, and a quiz for you to participate in! Let's get this party started 🥳.


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Synopsis: Maria Chaudhry’s personal demons trap her in a downward spiral, but the beast lurking in Ehmet’s blood can do a lot worse than that. After a year of living in a prissy suburb, Maria Chaudhry is back downtown. Back to what she never wanted to leave. But she can’t really enjoy it since neither the living nor the dead will leave her in peace. JC’s death still keeps her up at night and Ehmet’s sudden ambivalence isn’t helping. Maybe she had read his signals wrong and Ehmet was never in love with her like she thought. Or maybe his love is tangled with secrets too dark to speak aloud, secrets about JC’s death and the unpredictable beast in Ehmet’s blood. When an upcoming hiking trip is canceled, there’s no pretty path left towards the truth. A growing spiral of deceit threatens to tear Maria and Ehmet apart forever, but the beast lurking within Ehmet can do a lot worse than that. Mahtab Rohan’s debut YA novel delivers a paranormal tale of crumbling friendships, malevolent secrets, and the struggle to have hope in the face of uncertainty. 

My review: Initially I was so nervous that this book was categorized as paranormal since I don’t really read that genre. However, I was pleasantly surprised! The presence of shape-shifting werewolves felt more like mystical fantasy rather than horror, and this has definitely opened me up to reading more paranormal stories!

The suspense kept me on my toes through the entire three-hour period (I read this in one sitting until midnight...oops!). The author doesn't give up much information in the beginning, and reveals secrets slowly over time. I definitely couldn’t guess what had happened between Ehmet and JC until the very end!

The characters are also very 3-dimensional, and the novel takes time to focus on Maria and Ehmet while also providing some details on the rest of their friend circle. I feel like one problem in YA books is that they end up being so romance-focused that the actual characters’ personalities don’t end up shining through, but this definitely wasn’t the case! It was easy to notice that Maria is a very perceptive, analytical person. Her care for her mother is also very sweet; despite all of her frustration at the losses in her life, Maria channels her energy into becoming a considerate and kind individual, which I found really inspiring. Ehmet’s storyline is more focused around him being a werewolf, but he still had fears and dreams that were fleshed out and contributed to his personality.

Maria also expressed her pain at people focusing so much on her headscarf and culture that they never cared about who she was. This was a super heartbreaking point to read, but I’m glad the author brought this up because I feel like it is very applicable. It’s easy to associate someone with their religious identity, or even any other quality (maybe they’re a musician or a painter), but people are always multidimensional.

One thing I will say is that sometimes I felt like the endings to different sections seemed like they were trying too hard to be deep/philosophical when they could’ve just been natural conclusions. Some sections didn’t flow and connect the story well. 

Overall, Your Heart After Dark is one of my favorite reads of 2020. I rate it 4 stars, and I highly recommend it, even to people who don’t typically read paranormal stories!


15 Thoughts While Reading

I’ll provide a quote (these are all from the ARC and may be different in the final version!) and my thoughts on it.

  1. First thought (no quote): I loved, loved, loved the Indian, Muslim, and Uyghur diversity! I remember reading online that the author said one thing differentiating this book from other YA books was “Muslim werewolves”. Definitely saw that here and it was wonderful to experience so much infused culture. 

  2. One character says, “He thinks he’s still got super immunity from India.” 

    1. This was SO FUNNY because I actually remember buying water bottles and heating up all my milk in India due to different microbes there. My stomach is super weak and I have 0 immunity living in the US.

  3. “It was tempting to tell her that her ideas were wrong, that the rest of the world wasn’t some magical wonder. It was full of oppression and suffering.” 

    1. This was heartbreaking to read!

  4. “She [mom] always talks in Urdu and I always reply in English.”

    1. So relatable! This is how I talk with my parents, too XD.

  5. “He [the dog] barks his head off whenever someone walks by, salivating like he’s rabid, but he’s great with people who know him.” 

    1. Aw, this is so sweet! 

  6. “My mom closes her eyes. She doesn’t wanna cry in front of me even though she’s done it a thousand times before.”

    1. We age ten years when someone who isn’t supposed to cry (family or friend) breaks down in front of us. 

  7. (No quote): The author used the word low key! Not sure if we’ll still be using this word in thirty years and if people will understand the reference, haha.

  8. “But the truth is that it’s always harder for the student to part from the teacher, for the kid to lose the idol. Ms. Mara will see hundreds of kids like me, but I won’t find hundreds of teachers who can see past the cloth on my head.”

    1. Leaving a teacher behind can be so hard, especially considering that Maria was an outcast from her peers! I remember being especially devastated at the end of year in elementary school since I spent the whole year learning from one instructor.

  9. Ehmet: “the truth is that I don't know where I end and the beast begins”

    1. Yup this pretty much sums up Ehmet in one sentence! He faces a lot of internal conflict in this novel and has to come to terms with who he is and how to use his powers.

  10. "'Your hair is beautiful,’ Nani said as she massaged coconut oil into my scalp… ‘Really?’ I asked. ‘ Kids say I have witch hair. It’s so fluffy.’”

    1. HAHA my friends and I are always discussing whose hair is the puffiest! 

  11. (No quote) She mentioned Shah Rukh Khan! and Aishwarya Rai! These actors/actresses are a little stereotypical to mention, to be honest (they get a lot of attention in the media but there are also many other actors/actresses in Bollywood!), but I love the rep anyway :).
  12. “And what is wrong with your forehead? That spot is still bruised so bad.’... I drape my scarf back over my head. ‘Well, maybe I’ll get a new scar to balance the one on the other side.’”

    1. This line was so deep! 

  13. “This place used to feel like magic. The air was full of excitement and I fed off the energy, getting about as drunk as a person can get without booze. I went on every ride, tried every ice cream, attempted every game of chance... But now it’s not magic. It’s not even exciting. It’s just... an easy distraction from Nani's illness. It’s just some river, just some carnival.”

  1. So if you can’t already tell, this book is really sad. I definitely look back on some moments in my life and revisit places that seemed so magical and huge, but in reality aren’t so great after all. 

Other thoughts I can’t reveal in too much detail without a spoiler:

14. Gee Adrian, way to deceive your friends!



Look Book

Because the book was paranormal and revolved around werewolves, I've chosen designs with darker hues and animal prints.