Your Smile

I look at him in the mirror, and wonder, if I could really like people.

Eric ZhangSeptember 13, 2023

will I ever be able to smile at someone, the way your eyes smiled at me?

I like you, I say to myself, yearning.

[a word collage]

Today I tried to take a picture of me. I wanted to see something beautiful I could appreciate and understand. A person. It’s hard to take pictures of people you don’t know. Perhaps if I knew myself, I could see something when I take a picture of myself, like I do when I look at others.

It turns out that I don’t know myself.

If I can’t like myself, how can I truly achieve my goal of liking others unconditionally as people? Can I even claim that to be a value, or is it just an excuse?

Systems and user interface co-design is my schtick. Human behavior informs systems design, and vice versa. By understanding both, you can do things otherwise impossible. Both are key components and mindsets toward making great software.

After all, isn’t that what I’m here to do? Make great software. I don’t know a lot about the world, but perhaps this is one thing I know a bit more about. Along with, making classical music, living in a Texas suburb, doing physics problems, and writing humanities papers?

Pursuits come and go. Feels like more have gone than come recently.

i ironed my clothes, you could really tell which ones needed it! tossed my Facebook Hacker Cup Top 200 T-shirt since the lettering was starting to peel

it’s the end of a memory. so much intiative and energy, lost to time. history.

how lucky I was to have been there in that moment, gone now. in 50 years, if I’m still around, will I be full of obscure memories like this?

somehow in In the Heights, the sound of this actor singing “I couldn’t get my mind off you all day… please believe that when you find your way again, you are gonna change the world” makes me feel so warm. a voice of unconditional support. i can’t remember the last time someone said something of that nature to me.

i wish i could be that for someone

i used to think i wasn’t kind enough or good enough for others (e.g., my ex-girlfriend from college would say this about me a lot). now i think i am enough. and everyone is enough. but it’s unclear if deep down, i actually feel that way

a year ago now, some random stranger told me i was cute, when i was taking a gov’t ID photo. this was probably not very appropriate of them. but idk I never really felt like that before

maybe it’s only natural though, that i would want to be the friend i never had, for so long. we should be kinder to people and respect their time. i, for one, enjoy spending time with you. people are good, and we should treat them that way because the world has come too far for people to still be sad, friendless, and struggling with life

i love you, eric

Someday I’ll be less lonely than I am now, and maybe that means I’ll be less compelled to write down my feelings. But experiences last forever. Just like plastic in the ocean will always be plastic in the ocean, I’ll always want to be someone who small Eric would’ve wanted to have in his life.

I try to embody both intellectual rigor and kindness in my initiatives. Be incredibly good at what you do, but also welcome everyone actively. There’s no acceptable reason to say you’re better than someone, or too good for them.

People are good; systems may not be. Today, the ultimate problematic system is the capitalist one that says, if you’re sad, lonely, or poor — it’s your fault for not being good enough, being born into money, advocating yourself smartly, choosing the right career, working hard enough…

Sure, rewards are nominally in support of group flourishing. Incentivize people to be good. But I’ve met far too many good people who aren’t happy for the system to be working.

Mainstays of technology, as envisioned by Business, certainly aren’t helping. With thoroughly embodied capitalism, UI / UX designers model people as a bundle of needs and behaviors to be studied. It’s no wonder that we have apps like Facebook and Tinder, so heavily optimized to the “average human,” maximizing numbers above all else. You can’t just check some boxes and say that life has become better for people; it’s solved! That’s not how humans work.

In my first year of college, I did an internship with Boston Children’s Hospital. I was given 300 GiB of medical records. Quality of life has risen over the past eight decades, and almost all categories of diseases affecting young people are in decline. Except for a few: in mental health.

Even when life is better, it’s still so hard for people, who simply use their newfound, hard-earned time to work harder. Can’t we spend a tiny bit of that time doing nice things for each other?

i cooked dinner.

between all of the Twitter messages, work, and so on, i feel like i haven’t had any time to stop, rest, and think about myself.

what the hell am I really doing? can I grow as a individual, heck, even an engineer / designer / researcher, if i’m constantly busy? too busy for side projects and personal writing? something feels wrong about not journaling more.

who am i trying to meet? i know that i’m missing something that i’m going to get on my current trajectory, the only question is what i do about that

but i’m an adult. i should have lots of time to make something i love, and to learn anything, or do anything. don’t forget my goals, ambitions, untrodden creative directions. today is soon. it’s so soon! but never too soon to learn and create.

i see now that my life is more set in stone, down paths more predetermined, unless I work hard to break them.

transitioning from school to adult life is hard for boring external reasons like money, roommates, job, routines. it’s also hard for internal reasons. i’m scared of not being enough, growing creatively, learning, becoming better, meeting that person i trust more than anyone, finding personal peace

still, most of the cool and inspiring work in the world is done outside of universities and big institutions. most friends are by chance as well.

a police siren mumbles in the background, from 20th St. it duly fades away

i think i can take a self-portrait now