Ben Zhang
lowering your blogging standards


It’s been a year since I started working full time. During 5 years of school, I never stayed in one place too long, moving from city to city every four months. Thanks Waterloo. As a result of staying in one place for a full year, this past year felt like the fastest year in my life so far, despite day-to-day life in NYC being more exciting than my life in school.

Today, I listened to Kanye West’s Ghost Town (or rather, this fan-made remix) and it instantly reminded me of my time in Seattle in the summer of 2018. It’s incredible how many old memories hearing this song can bring back, and how vividly I can remember it all: riding the ORCA in the morning from Capitol Hill to 2nd St., riding the skeletal elevator up Smith tower, walking to a coffee shop around downtown Seattle for team coffee every afternoon.

I went through a few other albums that trigger my nostalgia to a specific set of experiences. Frank Ocean’s Blonde is the next biggest example, which came out in summer of 2016. When I lived in the Mission that fall, I would put this album on from the start as I left the house towards the 24th Street BART station. Nikes, the first song of the album, can make me remember exactly what stores I passed by on that route.

Trying to find albums for some other internships, I realized that while music might not give strong associations, I can vividly remember the audiobooks I listened to, and somtimes, where I was as I listened to particular chapters. When I was at Citadel in 2017, the two audiobooks I really remember are Misbehaving, and Thinking Fast and Slow. Misbehaving reminds me of the few late nights at the office where I listened to it while I worked, especially the chapters about Loss Aversion. When I put on the first chapters of Thinking Fast and Slow, I immediately remember being on the treadmill at my apartment as I tried out the book, and can even trace my thoughts about how my System 2 can’t keep up with the book when I try to jog at a 6.

I’m kind of happy that my brain is capable of this. It’s nice to relive the past, albeit selectively, through these audio triggers.

Here’s a map of a few of these examples:

  • Forest Hills Drive -> 2015 First year Waterloo
  • Blond -> Yelp 2016
  • Pablo -> Yelp 2016
  • Running in the 90’s -> Facebook 2017
  • Thinking Fast and Slow (Audiobook) -> Citadel 2018
  • Misbehaving (Audiobook) -> Citadel 2018
  • Ye -> MemSQL 2018
  • Shoe Dog (Audiobook) -> Hiking in Seattle 2018
  • Path to Power (Audiobook) -> Walking to class in Waterloo 2020.
  • Most audiobooks actually map to something. Probably because they’re unique?

At first, I couldn’t find anything for Facebook 2017. As I tried to hunt for examples, I remembered that I created a playlist on Spotify during this internship, that I played at work often, called Gotta Code Faster. The moment it started, and Running in the 90’s hit, I remembered the few days before the midterm review when I was catching up on weeks of work on Caffe2.

I suspect the 4-month internship template is a huge contributing factor for this association. I usually spam albums for 1-2 months, and so large chunk of this unique 4-month experience is correlated with these albums, that I usually won’t play much after my obsessions with them are done. Kanye’s Graduation (specifically Homecoming), is a song that I played all the time in Chicago. But I don’t have as strong feelings about it now, perhaps because I was in Chicago in two different internships, over a year apart? Or maybe I’m just overthinking it.

I hope one day I’ll associate a particular album to this last year of my life. But I doubt it. Maybe life is just going to be a blur from now on: being in one place for a long time, falling into a routine that outlives any album or audiobook, until eventually years just get compressed into one “state”. It would really suck if in the future, I start associating music to years at a time, instead of 4 months chunks.

Anyway, it’s 4AM. I shouldn’t have coffee at night.