Thoughts from Budapest

20 Oct 2016

Ciao amici!

Hungary for more? I might have a story or two for you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the book running in parallel with the one that I’m writing right now, the book about that Owen character who ends up staying at Tufts for the fall semester. I’m curious about the new friendships he may have formed, the experiences he could have been a part of, but most of all I’ve been thinking about the supporting characters, each at the same time living out their own books, filling page after page with wonder all by themselves. That’s you guys. I can’t thank you all enough for being continual sources of inspiration and happiness. I miss Tufts, and I miss my home, because of the people there, because of all of you to whom I’m writing.

However, our books will soon merge. Until then, I’ll read you some of mine.

In the chapters since I’ve last written to you all, the slow creep of schoolwork and job applications has begun to slowly dominate my life. For the first month or so of living in Budapest, I was able to coast through my schoolwork with relative ease, giving me plenty of time for exploration and nighttime shenanigans with my friends. However, midterm season rolls around as inevitably in Budapest as it does in Medford, and I’m now feeling that same kind of computer science-y swamped: all nighters working out code bugs and endless algorithmic optimisation, the bleak sense of not knowing what’s going on until a series of consecutive eureka moments… my CS majors in the house know what’s up. Essentially, the courses here are as challenging as ever, they just needed a bit of time to kick into high gear.

To add to the workload, I’ve simultaneously been trying to expand on different interests and pieces of myself. A couple of weeks ago my friend Simon introduced me to a fun and interesting development environment called Processing, which allows you to build and view graphics simulations of physical phenomena in real time. I became obsessed fairly quickly, and built myself a double-rod pendulum simulator, something I’m fascinated with because of the underlying chaos theory involved with its movement. This has let me generate some pretty incredible images, which is an art process called “Generative Art” (see here) for some cool examples!). Essentially, the gist of generative art is that you create the initial conditions for a deterministically random system, then let the physics run its course. It’s kind of amazing, in my eyes. Each new image that I churn out baffles me with its unique beauty, and I’m playing with all different kinds of colors and shapes and pendulum lengths and things to see where this chaotic, dancing system takes me. I also built, with the help of my friend Ben Machlin, a cool system that generates images that look to me like water drainage systems, similar to canyons. Canyon art

Pretty nifty.

ANYWAYS. That’s all just stuff that’s been happening on da compooter. In the great and powerful real world, some crayyy shit has been happening. First of all, Hungary had a referendum to see if they could keep refugees out of the country because Hungarians are hella racist?! Almost every single vote was in favor of banning the poor migrants and building a wall, but get this: not enough people showed up to vote! Only 48% of the country cast a vote, so even though 48% of the country is hateful, the rather large abstain by the rest of the country prevented the racist referendum from passing, so Hungary still must abide by EU rules and regulations on the refugee front. They hate it, and it might change, but it’s a temporary win. As somebody who has a big interest in and some past experience with the refugee crisis I was following this news intensely, and may have participated in a little bit of raucous celebration when the news broke (oops @Tufts I didn’t take part in a local party/riot in the street I swear). This resonates really strongly with me, however. Given a certain presidential candidate’s rhetoric towards building a wall (dammit, alec baldwin!), this sort of fear and discrimination is not invisible in the States as well. It’s a humbling sensation to recognise my privilege to travel and experience a place like Budapest without fear of deportation or persecution, simply because of my nationality. I have done far less in my life to deserve this peace of mind, and yet, the very government issuing me my residence permit is slapping thousands of immigrants hard across the face with the other hand. At the same time, Budapest historically was the one of the first cities to really be the bridge between the Soviet bloc and Western Europe, and was progressively at the forefront of bringing about incredible amounts of positive change in a different time. How am I supposed to feel? Humbled, intrigued, and confused is my answer. plz come visit so you can feel these things too. and so I can hug your face.

It’s time for another ~musical interlude~. Break out the harmonium and washboard, baratok, because have I got some songs for you. I went to see Emancipator last Sunday, and his show was on a boat, and this song of his is pretty dope plus when it was live everyone did this weirdly cool dance to it during the pauses. This song has been carrying me around recently and I’m really into horns in general. A couple others: here - so much better than the also good rapped version and here - more horns and here - just hot shit . Respond with jams! or not if you’re more of a nutella kinda kid

okay musical interlude over

I also took a solo trip up the Danube, visiting a bunch of really old towns and this cool place called the Danube Bend, where the river makes a dramatic southward turn and there is all kindsa pretty foliage and old crypts and buildings and things. I ended up in a town called Esztergom, right next to the Slovakian border, where I stumbled across a rather large music and wine festival that was happening right at the foot of the largest cathedral in the country. This is a large cathedral I drank a lot of wine, almost enough to miss the last bus back, and danced to a band called FISH! which I was sure was a joke but ended up being just a cool Hungarian lady and her mates playing electric guitar and singing soulful nonsense. This little town was one of the coolest places I’ve been, with tons of hidden back alleyways and old church pathways where I could get lost, and I enjoyed traveling on my own like that: I think I really thrive in the traveling mindset, feeling like anything can happen but feeling prepared and excited to face the next adventure. When I’m settled, I stagnate; but when I get to move around without answering to anyone or justifying my decisions, I feel like I really thrive and end up pursuing some pretty cool things.

With that I come to the section of the email that I like to call “omg owen shut up already just let us study and play frisbee and snuggle our friends”. This week’s edition is about how I’m feeling pretty bummed about the job hunt, and goes out to all those who are on that same grind. Applying to jobs is rough. It’s the first time since applying to school where I’ve had to make definitive decisions on what I want, and that’s a challenge. There are so many strings pulling me in all directions. I can never decide if I want to pursue computer science further, or bail and find my way into the national park service. I can never reconcile my desire for a quiet, peaceful life with the potential thrill of earning a lot of money. In short, the job search is asking me, and each one of you, to fight off all of our insecurities and be confident in a choice. This is challenging. This is terrifying. The options never cease to amaze me. However, the most important thing to consider is we have time. A happy and completely fulfilling job does not have to arrive at our doorsteps immediately. The path to satisfaction and happiness often weaves through unexpected thickets of challenges or takes us to new locations that we could never even fathom. A property of our own lives mirrors that of my pendulums: we are nothing more than uniquely interesting initial conditions driving ever forwards through a deterministically random world. As long as you continue to put your best foot forward, one that you feel confident in, one that you believe includes what will make you happy right now, the dreams will eventually become realities. This is our function. Instead of a series of angular accelerations, time derivatives, and velocity calculations, we are the product of an infinitely more complex set of equations ceaselessly calculating to produce ourselves. And we have TIME. At the end, we will be able to look back on the path we have walked and perhaps find some kind of meaning. Perhaps you’ll think it looks like a compass, only for someone else to come along and tell you that there’s no way that looks like a compass. Who cares. The path you lived will be meaningful in the way you want it to be no matter what that path becomes. Keep living, keep laughing, keep breathing, and above all, pleasekeepbeingmyfriendsbecauseIloveyouallalotandeventhoughthepeopleherearegreatyouareallthebestpeople keep loving.

Cheers, Owen