Let the summarizing begin!

Hello everyone,

Long time no see! I think last time I mentioned that I was rethinking use of this blog, and I did rethink use of this blog (it was going to be awesome, I have visions, it’s going to be great) and then I was so overcome by the awesomeness of these visions that I didn’t decide to write anything :). So there I was, stalled out for a while, feeling guilty about taking the time to blog because work, you know, you can never do enough work… and then I felt the feeling that has been motivating me to return to this blog for the past few years, which is: “There is way too much in my head right now, oh goodness I need to write.”

I’ve been successfully ignoring that feeling for a while now. (Because work, you know.) (And also I’d have to feel feelings, which I’m admittedly doing anyway, but I’d be all by myself with my feelings if I did it on paper! …which admittedly I’m also doing anyway since I’m usually introspecting alone in my head). However, I’ve been noticing that I’ve been procrastinating more in the past few days than I think makes sense. And when that happens, if I have the time, I’ve been trying to make sure I’m hitting all the desires I’ve been ignoring. Usually this means napping (I’m really not a fan of sleeping, meaning it’s quite a process, requiring willpower, to convince myself that I actually need to go to sleep. Enforced sleeping like naps help compensate for this.), and taking the time to think (I usually ignore that I need to process emotions because I think I have better things to do. One of my friends has cancer and at least that one I only ignored for about a day in a half before I was like: okay, you know what, we actually need to sort through this ignoring it is making me feel kind of uncomfortable-antsy.) Writing’s another mechanism that I’ve been ignoring, but I am making time for it today! See, part of myself that makes me procrastinate? I’m listening to you now, please be proud. And hopefully decrease with the procrastination or at least let me know what’s up with you, because I’m a helpful listening person now, see?

(I’ve also been trying to pay more attention to the parts of myself that are nonverbal but nevertheless try to tell me things. This has been an ongoing movement, of course, but I think I’m slowly getting better at it. I kind of like it as a strategy—try to get all of the needs met, instead of applying willpower all over the place while listening to one dominant part. I strongly suspect other people are much better at listening to their various parts than me, and also think that the “apply willpower everywhere” is a strong adaptive strategy that’s served me well in many instances.)

All right! So what am I talking about today… in typical rambling form, I think I’ll just pull notes up from my blog document and see what feels salient. Or check in with myself and ramble about what seems salient. Oh, first thing: apparently I want to talk about what I’ve been up to the past few months, since I sort of went on a baby hiatus :).

What Monica’s been up to: in non-introspective world, I’ve been studying for my Qualification Exams, which I passed on April 25th! Quals are a standby of the PhD system—they’re big exams people usually take them at the end of their first or second year, and if you fail you get dropped from the program, with rates of failing / content of the quals exams differing by school and department. In our department, it’s almost unheard of to fail, and we have a 3-part, 3-hour oral exam testing 1) our research proposal for the next few years, 2) knowledge of foundational neuroscience questions, and 3) understanding of “related research areas” questions. For our department, this is the last big evaluative procedure before we write our dissertations as 5th and 6th years. (…Yep, the PhD is long.)

I feel massive relief for passing, there, though I didn’t pass fully with flying colors :). There was a section where I needed to derive the Maximum Entropy Inverse Reinforcement Learning algorithm, which the important people informed me that yes, I do need to be able to derive in my sleep, and I fumbled it a fair amount. I’ve literally implemented this algorithm twice in projects, so I see where they’re coming from :). My reaction to it has been interesting, in that some parts of myself really don’t actually feel much guilt or shame about messing this up, and I notice that I’m not taking drastic actions to correct the lack of knowledge, though I do still have plans in place to slowly decrease the knowledge gap. I was telling this story to my friends and being embarrassed about it (because I am ashamed and embarrassed, I just don’t seem to be ashamed/embarrassed enough to stride boldly forth into getting great at deriving these sorts of equations) and it occurred to me, amusingly, than people with other jobs probably don’t have this feeling of “I’m not good enough because I don’t know enough” that college students and younger grad students perpetually have. This seems to be an academia thing: like, if I were in a programming job and doing things, I suspect I may feel guilty about not working enough, but not about not knowing enough, at least if I were a few years in. I’m a pretty long way into the educational process (…I just finished 19th grade, you know? High school and college and a Masters degree and two years into a PhD program. It’s a lot of education), and I know there are other jobs like this too, but the “feeling guilty about not knowing enough” seems like it’s more unique to the academic environment than I ever acknowledged, and probably most people with jobs don’t worry about this bit :). Then again, they probably have to worry about people relations, and thank god I’m in a local environment where I very rarely have to do that.

(I was complaining to someone about quals recently outside academia, and they told me I was very lucky to get to learn all the time. Which, true, that’s one of the reasons I really like my job. That response didn’t address the emotional need there, though, which is that learning is also hard. People sometimes forget that e.g. college is actually really hard if you’re trying to learn things in all subjects, including ones you’re doing because you need to know them, not necessarily because you’re intrinsically drawn to them. *shrug* A lot of the time I feel like people outside academia give too much respect for grad students though because of the amount of thinking work that goes into it, though, so I don’t generally feel like complaining about feeling that my effort isn’t recognized, and occasionally go into flustered hand-waving territory :).)

Anyhow, I passed quals (the rest of the sections I think I did pretty well in. So many flashcards about neuroscience questions, it took forever… I can now report what a morphogen is and provide details, though, so come at me!) The other thing I was doing that was taking up my time was teaching. Teaching is awesome, okay. When I was in high school (storytime), I decided as a senior that I was going to enroll in a class that was basically “make your own class related to your future career” that would involve me interviewing nine female professors at the local university, which in my case happened to be a very good and large university, the University of Minnesota Twin-Cities. (…Sometimes I look back at my past choices and am like: you know what, I really haven’t changed that much. Apparently I was into feminism before I went to Wellesley College, and apparently I was into professors before I even went to college. And apparently I was into ten-year plans before I remember being into ten-year plans. I’m an absurd person, is what I am. Oh, hey, no one has said I have potential in forever! (That’s something I remember people saying about me in high school and college, I just remembered.) Whooo, I’m going to say that either means I’ve fulfilled my potential or I’m enough of a person to decide what I want to do now and do it, and it’s not this kind of hopeful vague thing in the future. Cool.)) Anyhow, that’s when I learned about this whole “being a professor is mostly about research, and not about teaching, contrary to what you might except given that you know what a high school teacher is and depiction in movies.” But I was into the whole teaching idea way back then. And I was still into the teaching idea in college, even though I didn’t do anything like teach a class, which I would totally do now if I had the chance. (At the time, I was too busy studying. I was too busy studying to do almost anything else in college, which is actually kind of cool. I worked really hard in undergrad.)

Which all goes to say that when I was teaching my last section this semester (I taught two sections of 25 students each, which meant that I reviewed material with them once a week for an hour), I got to truthfully tell them that I’d been thinking about teaching a class like this since high school, and that it was actually as good as I thought it’d be. My expectations have been tempered over the years, of course, because as you go through life you lose some of the idealism, but it’s still astonishing to me that teaching was pretty much as good as I’d envisioned it. It’s a ton of work, don’t get me wrong, but I like the various parts of it. I like designing the lesson plan, and giving it, and answering questions, and talking with the students, and dealing with emails, and dealing with administration, and doing the problem sets, and holding office hours, and trying to shove information down people’s throats in ways that make sense, and even grading to a degree because you can see where the misunderstandings are. And it’s a lot like being a graduate student in that you have a ton of sub-jobs that are actually pretty unrelated to each other, and I like some more than others, but I like the whole conglomeration a lot. (I’m not a big fan of the tech support, though. That’s something that’s shared as an instructor and a grad student, trying to be my own tech support when I don’t know enough about a system to know what’s going on :)).

I’d like to teach a class, like for real teach one as the main lecturer, in addition to the experience of being a “graduate student instructor (GSI)”, which I was for this class. It was great teaching this class though—Computational Models of Cognition—because it’s a good class, related to my research, big (300 students), and I had a team of people helping me (there was the professor who was lecturing, and then we officially had 6 GSIs and one “Reader” who was basically another GSI). I was the only person who hadn’t GSI-ed before, so people were able to give me advice, though mostly I was just thrown off the deep end because they really do not do as much training as I’d expect people who are teaching undergraduates should be doing. (Read: I had a one-day training with all of the other graduate students who had never taught before. I thought we’d practice or something :)). In short, being a GSI seemed like a pretty similar amount of interesting to being a graduate student, though I just need to accept, next time, that I’m going to have a hard time doing both at the same time because teaching’s really a full-time job :).

(That was an interesting conclusion to reach, that teaching and being a graduate student are as good as each other. Right now I’m just really enjoying being a graduate student again though—now that I have the time to actually just do research—which is… wow, pretty cool that I’m enjoying it this much. I think some of the main things that influence my experience are 1) whether there’s an encroaching deadline, 2) whether I feel overwhelmed by a task (…including TECH SUPPORT TASKS OH MY GOD, also when I don’t know how to implement/derive things that I really should probably know how to implement/derive by this point, which isn’t uncommon for me), and 3) whether I feel pressure to complete more things that I can handle at a given moment.

Given that in this current week I don’t feel any of the above (…but don’t talk to me about T-minus 3 weeks before quals, that was a bad week, wayyyyy too much anxiety because all three were happening at the same time), I’m a pretty happy graduate student, plugging away at my little web app that I’m developing and trying to make experiments work. (…My Javascript is so bad. That’s okay, no one’s judging me on my web app besides the participants who will be doing this online experiment). Oh man, I didn’t realize how happy I was with my job right now, that’s really awesome!

(Sometimes I’m not happy with my job for the above reasons, so it’s really cool to acknowledge that I’m really pleased with everything right now. I did notice yesterday that I was excited to go to work, not because of guilty feelings, but because I wanted to do the thing, and that was pretty special. Not that I normally dislike my work on the whole, but the week before this one I just wanted a break when I didn’t work at all, and the months before that I was freaking out about the CogSci conference deadline Feb 1st, and then the daily stresses of studying for quals and teaching until the end of April. This is probably the least stressed I’ve felt in months. I knew I’d get here, though, and I knew going into this semester that it was going to be rough. All of the people in my cohort knew—“just get through quals” has been our mantra for ages, though none of them were ingenious enough to try to also teach during the spring :).)

(Another thing that’s been making my job better is that I know more things now. You would not imagine how useful this is. (Okay, fine, you can probably imagine how useful this is.) It just transforms panic about projects into “ooh, cool problem, I can do this” which just the right level of challenge to make me want to work on it, instead of “FLAIL I can’t ask for help because this is too basic a question and I have to learn how to do this but I have no idea what I’m doing but I have to figure it out what if I’m wasting my time with this approach there’s no way to tell AHHH apply WILLPOWER willpower NOW WE CAN DO THIS GODDAMNIT.”

(Perils of being a grad student: if you’re stuck, you’re pretty much responsible for getting yourself unstuck. You can ask for advice, certainly, but it’s going to come in the form of “oh yeah, just do this (process you’ve never heard of, which you can hopefully look up online) and read this paper (which is implementing the thing instead of explaining the thing, but at least there are equations) and rely on (jargon for concept that’s quite in depth and you could probably take a course on).” Which is certainly helpful, but doesn’t really reduce panic until you’ve gotten used to the fact that this is the way things go. This self-learning thing is awesome and overwhelming in turns, mainly based on the amount of time pressure I’m facing and just how lost I am. Note that the reason I often feel so lost is because my artificial intelligence / machine learning / computational skills aren’t as developed as they could be, and I put myself / [was wonderfully and I’m so grateful for being accepted into] a computational lab, so it’s the catch-up game, as per usual :).)

But this gets better, and I did notice the transformation of “starting to know stuff” happening from the beginning to the end of undergrad. It’s nice that it’s taking hold in grad school too!)

Yep, that was 2500 words on my job. Ha. I’m amused at myself because I haven’t even touched on the introspective things which make up a lot of my subjective experience. Then again, what’s going on externally does seem important to my life :). …I also notice I’m hungry and want dinner. I’m gonna do that first, I think, be right back!

(Ooh. Thing I’m noticing during dinner. I have a very strong “not wanting to look dumb by displaying the depth to which I don’t understand” inclination. I can usually get away with this, because I pick up things implicitly as I go along and eventually I do usually understand, and I also ask clarifying questions when I’m spaces where it’s welcomed to do so. But I was trying to figure out where inclination was coming from, and part of it is maintaining social status (especially in the eyes of my advisors, who I want to trust me and give me good things to work on), but surprisingly, it seems like a good portion is coming from “if they know that I don’t really understand it they’ll tell me I’ll need to fully understand it and then I’ll have to learn it but I don’t actually want to learn it” which is amusing to me. It seems like I’ve discovered that there are some concepts which are hard work to learn, and don’t stick super well with me, and that I can learn them on a case-by-case basis rather than just studying the full picture from the get-go, and this has the results of me not knowing as much as I should but also me not knowing things I that I don’t want to learn that I don’t need to learn. It also has the advantage that there are many hard things I “should” know, but that list is huge and I’m not sure exactly what I’m supposed to learn though I have some good guesses (…and it’s still overwhelmingly huge, I basically just need to be an AI grad student in my mind), but learning things as I need to learn them really narrows down the list of things that I feel like I should learn. There might be more to this, I’m always so amused when my implicit reluctance to do things that I think should obviously be done is based on real life desires / smart interests :))

Ooh cool. I’m done with dinner now, but feeling that nice growth feeling of realizing something surprising. I’ve been having lots of cool realizations recently, but most of them I get to by sorting through feelings I don’t usually feel like looking at all that hard (because they’re squirmy and uncomfortable) so it’s nice to have one that I feel like I’m doing a pretty light touch on, and that doesn’t really hurt at all because I’m just tapping it.

Oh, other things that have happened recently:

I did egg donation (whoo! A process, that).

I dyed streaks in my hair and bought shoes outside my normal look and am wearing different earrings and am going to get cartilage piercings next week. I had been thinking a lot about gender and sexuality/romanticism through March and April, and new comfort with those topics seem to have led to a very small look change. It’s very subtle, though, so most people probably won’t notice, but it’s cool that I feel like I have the freedom to make changes if I want to.

I went to another CFAR workshop. CFAR workshops are like my favorite gatherings of nerd-hippie-woo-ANALYSIS-of-FEELINGS events ever. I enjoy them a lot, and this is my third. At CFAR I talked a lot about gender and loneliness, which later turned into the sexuality/romanticism topic, since they’re related through my thoughts on relationships. I was talking to a friend who is outside of all of this feelings stuff (he’s a fellow grad student) and he was like: “Now you don’t feel like you want a relationship. So… are you back to where you started?” And I was like: …well, in terms of current actions, yes, but my opinions on it are WILDLY DIFFERENT LOL. My feelings on relationships are also much more nuanced and complex than they used to be, by obvious effect of me having experienced more and having to think about it more :). (It looks like I’m going to go down this track in more detail, consider the list structure above complete, here we go.)

A teaser on the sexuality/romance thing: I’m really into the idea of relationships, and I can get jealous of real-life ones due to insecurity, but when I think about me actually having a real-life one my face does this scrunched up thing and I get this stalled feeling and it’s like: “uh… uhhhhh… well…. I mean, no? Kind of no, sorry— but actually no— that seems like a bit much and, uh, kind of unnecessary, sorry. But you can be my friend, if I feel like it? No promises I’ll feel like it though :P.” I’m so rude this days :P. This whole “checking in with what I want” and then acting on it is super strange for me, and I haven’t fully adjusted to how it’s changed how I respond to people. Also I didn’t realize that a thing that I currently want—the absence of certain pressures, many of which I associate with relationships—is so against what a bunch of other people want, and that that’s actually okay. I got a lecture on the naturalness of getting married and having children and how it’s a core part of life the other day, you know? And I’ve been dismissive about the idea that “people need to have children” for years, so that’s easy to shrug off, but the idea that “people need to get married” is pretty ingrained in me. (Despite evidence to the contrary, I may state. I know people who are perfectly happy living their lives without partners (…they usually have much more money and have lots of cool hobbies). It’s still something that made/makes me uncomfortable to think about.)  So I’ve been thinking about that, and I’m not fully okay with it, but I’m more okay with it than I was. Not having relationships, that is. No promises for the future, of course (because I change, and the people around me change, and a lot of the relationships business seems like it’s about the specific people you’re interacting with… plus I as a person do change a fair amount in some ways that I think others don’t).

But it seems like… I’m really interested in ideas, more than people. And one of the ideas I’m super interested in is figuring out how people work, so that means I’m really interested in people, but, like, I don’t think this is the same way that other people are interested in people? Even though they say similar things like “it’s great getting to know someone deeply”.

  • And I’m like: “Yeah, it’s great getting to know someone deeply, especially quickly, because then you get ALL THIS INFORMATION about how people work and what drives them and what motivates them and how all of this internal stuff plays out in observable action.”
  • There’s also a part of me that’s like “yeah, it’s great getting to know someone deeply, and that should be done slowly, because it feels nice to be known, and to be able to predict what other people are feeling and saying and stuff, and know all of this nice backstory about their lives and how it’s made them who they are. And just being comfortable with someone gives me this strong sense of warmth and comfort and safety, and it’s fun to be around them, and it’s easy and nice.”

And my simulation of other people is that they’ve got more of the latter thing, except I think maybe… subtract some of the stuff about the satisfaction of prediction and maybe some about how stories work. And if the occasion is right, add in sexual attraction, and romantic attraction, and the soothingness of physical affection. For both mine and theirs, add in this thing about it being satisfying to be in a relationship (except mine’s more about narrative structure and fitting in, and I think theirs is too but also I think the thing itself is more satisfying for the reasons I’m listing). And then like, add in this thing (I’m squinting at the screen here, I’m so confused about this) about, I DON’T KNOW, like this magic thing that’s about being there to grow with someone together where you’re there to help them and they help you but you’re both independent people who will be together over years and years and move through life together and that brings joy and a deep sense of commitment and trust and eternalness and connection and forever-and-for-always love-hope-dream-greater than you? Or something. I don’t really know, but there’s some magicness about relationships that people are really into, like they think this is the most important thing, and they kind of get offended if you too don’t think this is the most important thing, and I’m like “??? What are you talking about, am I close?”

I’m probably missing a few things that I’m lumping under “magicness”, and I’m also probably not sorting these components optimally, but give me a break, people are really bad at explaining the appeal of this stuff when asked. It’s taken as a default that everyone knows what everyone else is talking about, and people are resistant to digging around it the magic of it, which makes sense to me, because I’m also very resistant sometimes to digging around magic things because otherwise they wouldn’t be magic, and good magic is very beautiful and to be loved. My above description of magic also makes sense to me because I find the idea of people who love each other (including platonically) working as teammates really incredible and beautiful, and I find the idea of “forever” and connecting to something much larger than oneself really appealing and beautiful, and devotion between two people is really, really nice as a concept for me, like one of the best. But then people seem like they’re trying to take these ideas out of the dream world and imagination and stories and execute them in real life in these things called “romantic relationships” and I look at these things and I’m like: but what the fuck are you doing, real people are hella messy and confusing, this is NOT GOING TO BE THE IDEAL THING you’re like gonna break up in two seconds, plus that’s your time, are you aware that that’s your time and energy, like for REAL this is going to have opportunity costs this isn’t just dreaming where you can get all the good energy without any of the costs, why are you trying to merge this two worlds, the dream and the real, are you actually insane? And then some of these relationships actually end up working, and I stare at them in actual amazement and point and say “wow, look that’s actually visible love, just like the stories, this is so bizarre.” And then I go right back to being just frankly astonished and puzzled that all of these people are trying these so-called relationship things and devoting a lot of time and energy into them and caring really deeply about … about whatever they’re doing, chasing the dream or whatever in real life when this shit really shouldn’t work at all because things are messy out here, and then they tell me I should do this thing, and I’m like WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU. (And then I say: okay fine you’re going to reject me and I’m going to be missing something and you know me more than I do so I will try desperately to figure out what you’re talking about and try to do the thing you say, but I am so, so confused.)

On the other hand, I’ve got no problem with all of this magicness happening in friendships. And it makes sense to me how that magic would come about, and casual devotion and kindness and love, and teammates forever and always, and all of the rightness and warmth of it all. Friendships are about forgiveness and acceptance and appreciation and growth, and they’re pretty darn beautiful.

You know what else is beautiful? Achieving things. Trying things with the expectation that you’ll eventually achieve them is beautiful as shit. In my mind, for maximum aesthetics, everyone should be full-heartedly and devotedly and in the way that best works for them be trying to achieve things 24/7, all the time all the time all the time. With their teammates and their friends and with love shared all around to overcome the difficulties. This is SO APPEALING TO ME. There’s so much togetherness, so much love, so much effort poured into a shared thing to make it happen, individual struggle and communal struggle and a community moving to achieve a shared dream. That’s so good. That’s one of the very best things.

(Tangent, but where my mind is: Another thing I’ve noticed is that I don’t necessarily want to figure out people, I want the process of figuring out people. Like, I could read a lot more books about how people work that would probably help, and instead I’m like: nope, I want to experience people and try to figure them out, this is interesting.)

Anyway. One of the points is, people say things like “it’s really great getting to know people” and I have come to the conclusion, finally, that they’re probably talking about different concepts than I am. When I talk with people I really am, most of the time, going for the knowledge-acquisition thing, because I really like trying to reason out how people work. I think it’s a really interesting process. I’m also really really interested in trying to figure out how my mind works, and when I talk with people this is one of my other major goals (maybe one of my main goals): to figure out who I am and how I work by reflection of who they are and how they work, or by directly conversing about how they think I work. Those are two major goals, and then there’s a last major goal, which seems to be about safety and security and warmth and connection, and building that with people. That seems really important. Not only essential to functioning (which is why I’ve been able to slide this desire past my usual filters ;)), but it activates a feel like “this is the point of life, this is one of the best things I could be doing with my time, this is what we’re all aiming for” when it’s done correctly. (Hm… this is probably what people are going for with romantic relationships, too, assuming they think they’re feasible. I don’t think relationships make sense for me, e.g. when I try to shove myself mentally into one, but I’d believe other people think relationships make sense for them, and that they’re getting enough of the golden glow stuff to think this concept makes any sense at all in terms of emotional / time investment.) Then there are the smaller goals of having fun with an interaction (hanging out just for fun with people is sometimes a goal I have) or sometimes it’s straight up information-acquisition in terms of stuff they’re telling me, but I usually care much much more about why people care about things or how they’re telling me than any information they’re directly telling me.

About this third goal, though, safety and security and warmth and connection… I’m doing some active thinking on this. Historically, in real life, this third goal of mine is usually based in trying to fill an absence of a sense of safety and security. I’ve been realizing wanting safety drives a lot of my behavior, such that usually “I want to interact with people” takes the form of: “oh god I need to make friends since I need an emotional safety net” when I first arrive somewhere, a “build and keep relationships we know we have to do this, social climb now keep yourself safe” later, and then finally “whoop haven’t talked to people in a while, need to make sure I don’t lose the skill, also I get sad if I haven’t talked to people in a while and there are too many thoughts in my head that I’m alone with” when I have an established group. I’m currently in that last phase, by the way, with my Berkeley friends. Usually, feelings of warmth and connection pop up in some of these interactions, but it’s not like I’m doing social interactions searching for the good things; I’m usually just trying my very best to avoid bad consequences of the bad.

So here’s the new thought: what if the point of social interactions is NOT to avoid the bad things (ideas about security) but in fact to have the good things (ideas about warmth and connection)? This changes the optimum strategies. If I care about security, the optimum strategy is just to be friends with as many people as possible. But if I care about “I want to”, the optimal strategy is to be friends with people who make me feel ways that I enjoy. How this is framed in my mind is “what if (oooh) I’m allowed to not do things I don’t want to do?” What this general line of thinking has actually resulted in is that I’m doing much more of only interacting with people I want to interact with in that moment instead of everyone who asks.

Things get way weirder if you start thinking about social interactions as things that are primarily meant for enjoyment rather than checkpoints you have to hit to not be unhappy. Moreover, I’ve discovered this fascinating new idea that there’s no universal “good” or “bad” ways to interact with people, despite what I learned when I was younger. (…There are certainly ways of acting that are going to get you good and bad results most of the time, and I learned social stuff in a very reinforcement-learning kind of way, where some actions were labeled as “good” and some were “bad”.) In fact, crazily enough, people are different. (I have encountered SO MUCH EVIDENCE on this, you think I’d have changed my models faster, but there are strong reasons why I didn’t and I’m still adopting this very slowly.) They have different things that they like and dislike, and different things that drive them, and conflicts can exist that aren’t anyone’s fault, and that’s all okay. Moreover, I am allowed to be different. I am allowed to like things that other people don’t like (that’s fine, that one doesn’t usually bother me). I am also allowed to dislike things that other people like. (…This one has caused so many problems for me over the years. When you have a rule that says this is not allowed to be true, you end up with really convoluted coping mechanisms to deal with this true state of the world, and mine are mainly based in anxiety about social rejection, rapid change and use of willpower, and repression of emotion) (I have theories about why I developed this rule, and it feels like it was very logically learned as an adaptive strategy and then taken to an extreme, because that’s how I do things.)

I’ve been trying to figure out why I ended up with the particular system of insecurities that I have, and why I’m so crazy about this need for security thing and why I feel I don’t have it. (I think the need for security is the primary driver of my desire for a relationship, and jealousy of those who have one. There’s a whole bunch of things I don’t want when I think about relationships, but that’s one I do, and if I could steal the warmth and connection feelings without all of the extra stuff I don’t want I’d totally steal that. I think I’d just feel better if I were working towards a goal with someone and all of the warmth-connecty feelings emerged alongside that, rather than being like “this is a FEELING that I am pursuing INDEPENDENT OF ANY OTHER GOAL” which makes me feel worried and antsy and nervous, because it feels like high energy investment for something that isn’t that important and probably isn’t going to be worth it. I might be lying to myself about how important it is for me, but I really would rather not take that action, and in fact have persistently resisted taking that action, so in real-life actions I’d actually really just get those feelings without a relationship, which seems totally feasible to me right now.)

Sorry, got sidetracked being defensive :). Anyway, I think part of the reason I ended up with this desire for security is that I’m legitimately quite different from the average person. This meant that in an environment where I was supposed to be able to pretend like I was an average person—which we’re all pressured to do in some ways—it all of a sudden became this massive test where there were right and wrong actions, and I had to figure it out because those instincts weren’t there from the outset. I was in an environment where there was occasionally strong social punishment for getting “trying to figure out how to be a “correct” person” wrong, and was probably influenced a lot by that because I seem to be quite anxious naturally? (Or something, haven’t figured out this part, or why I was influenced more than other people.) I was allowed really a lot of freedom in being whoever I wanted to be when I was growing up almost all of the time, and never faced anything like ostracism or rejection from friends or family. Still, there was occasional negative feedback, with the general frame being something like “you’re allowed to break the social rules, but you should first know what the rules are”, which makes sense to me. I just had no clue what most of the social rules were, since I started out at a different stage than a lot of people, so it was a lot of catch up.

So I picked up this frame somewhere that there was a correct way to be a person, socially, and decided to make it happen, and then I ended up with this weird set of emotional strategies and reactions that is me right now. Things that probably made it harder for me: first off, I learned a few months ago about this group of people who share weirdly similar social growing-up stories to mine. These are women who were expressing that they didn’t know social rules, so they brute-forced learned them, by reading fiction constantly when they were children, and then by figuring out social the same way they’d learn any other topic in school. These were smart people, who were socially motivated, and ended up “passing” as adults, so you’d never know they hadn’t had the social skills from the outset. A version of autism in women (which is different than autism in men, with different expressed behaviors, and also different social tendencies because it so happens that women with autism seem to be generally more socially motivated than men with autism to learn) with pretty mild other symptoms (e.g. sensory sensitivities, but there’s not enough research on autism in women) and otherwise high-performing. I was like: …oh hey, this could be a label that fits. I don’t want to adopt it though, because “passing” has been the goal for forever, and also I feel weird about adopting a label like autism that means so many things in its different forms…

If you meet me, you won’t tag me as autistic. You just won’t—I’ve been working on this social thing way too long by this point, and a lot of the strategies that were initially explicit are now implicit, and people are surprised when they hear me mention it. But for people who know me better, I’ve heard that this high-performing female version of autism idea can be helpful in modeling me. It’s also been pretty relevant in my career trajectory, I think because I spent so long trying to figure how people worked when I was younger, and it was so important to me emotionally that I get it right, that I kind of never stopped and then just got fascinated, both trying to figure out them and trying to figure out me. So that’s something that makes me different, and makes my social learning strategies different. This frame of trying to know how to behave like a “correct person” socially also I think sort of directly leads into feeling insecure about social interactions, because though I was never encouraged to actually “be” a correct person, I was encouraged to act like one, and I’ve been worrying for years that if I don’t act like I’m supposed to then I strike out, I’m done. Out of the tribe, no one wants to be my friend, pretend when you need to, you know? If you don’t need to then that’s great, but needing to perform to be accepted is the default. (Insecurities, man. There’s also a thing I remember installing my junior year of high school when I hit some pretty hard social rejection, and I decided that I didn’t want anything like that to happen again, and so the way to not have it happen again was to be smart with how I was “trying” socially. Therefore, if I was rejected again, it was my fault because I didn’t do a social thing right, and it was fixable and it was under my control. Which, great, but also… when you try to built different strategies on top of a strategy that’s not perfectly stable in the first place you end up with a pretty complex system? I have a kind of complex system. Though I expect so do many people, because minds are super weird :).)

So for other things that make me different and made the “puzzling out people” thing harder… we’ve got the mostly asexual thing, and “idk what’s going on with romance but I don’t seem to have the strictly standard thing” going on. Then for other things that have shaped my coping strategies, we’ve got the Asian-American upbringing. I talked about that a long time ago… Asian-American upbringings are interesting in that I didn’t realize people who had them had a lot of commonalities until I stepped out of my friend group and realized that other people had really weird upbringings. It’s, like, a way of parenting that comes with a set of expectations and approach that’s generally true of immigrant families, with some specific cultural stuff as well. Mine was non-standard, as much as a way of parenting can be “standard”, because only my mom is Chinese, and also my mom is pretty non-standard in a bunch of cool ways. My parents are both really open-minded to the tune of pragmaticism to an extent that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in anyone else’s parents, and I’m really appreciative of that, and my mom has also got an “build independence in my daughters!” streak a mile wide which is very unusual of Asian-American upbringings. I still think I had enough of one to identify with the label though. There are some ideas about authority and academic values and discipline and dealing with emotions that I thought was just the way the world worked I met some other people and went: huh? It’s not a bad upbringing—it’s really good at getting kids to achieve things, and I like that—people just end up with a similar set of side issues at the end.

Cool. I think that’s it for my current narrative on why I’m okay being how I am and liking the things I like, even if they’re different from other people’s likes, and why I came to be how I am and how it’s not really anyone’s fault (I feel a strong urge to blame people for any emotional reaction I find distasteful, and I’m happy to blame myself), people just interact with the world differently, and my strategies are as logical as anything else in approaching my world and environments, and basically, because everything everywhere now makes logical sense, I’m okay. Good. Glad that’s settled.

(I have this strong image of specific people grinning at me at the end of that paragraph. You can tell people all you like that “no, don’t worry about that, you’re fine”, and literally nothing sinks in until they deal with all of the concepts that are holding up their belief that things aren’t fine. I… is this process as long for everyone else as it is for me. Because it seems like this amount of tracing back to childhood and emotional search and intellectual search and conglomeration of introspective ideas over days and weeks seems a bit excessive, for the conclusion that I’m okay. … And now I’m grinning at myself. Absurdity is fun.)

Aaaaand it’s two in the morning and I’ve been at this for six hours. Typical. This is why I hadn’t started this blog, because I knew it was going to take forever, and also I’m not near done yet. I can feel that I’m not near done yet. Who knows when I’ll write next, though? Is this stream of thoughts neverending? It’s actually not, there’s totally points in the past in which I’ve felt like I’m out of blog ideas and am writing for the sake of continuing a habit, I’ve just been saving stuff up for the past month+ and there’s a lot to clear.

Well, as it goes :). We’ll see if this helps with the procrastination business! Best wishes to you all, congrats on making it through this monster, thanks as always very much for reading, and hope you have great weeks!

Monica

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Update: I’ll be posting less regularly!

Hey all,

Hope you’re all well! Things have been busy lately: i.e., I’m being frightened into studying for my qualifying exam :P. The Quals exam isn’t a big deal, in that pretty much everyone in our department passes, but it would be prudent for me to pass so as not to fail out of this awesome PhD program I have going on :).

That’s the main factor why I might not be blogging for a while. However, I’ve also noticed that blogging has been becoming less “must do this once a week” in my head recently, which is cool because that means my perspectives are changing. I’m not sure how often I will be posting or if the content will change (at the moment, I’m thinking probably not) but I figured I might as well make an official intention announcement and everything given that less regular posting has been happening already :). (…and, like, there’s no lack of old content for people who really want the sense of my thought ramblings :P.)

The CFAR Mentor Training from late March was awesome, by the way, and I’m up to fun activities running around with the community here in addition to the usual teaching (still great) and studying (I’ll get there). Life’s pretty much moving along as usual on my front.

Talk to you later, and best wishes for the week!

Monica

Some anecdotes

Hey all :).

Hope you’re all doing well! I was thinking about the blog this week, and came up with no one story I wanted to tell, so here we go with the usual :).

After playing Dungeons and Dragons for a while, I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with the idea of role-playing. I’m still trying to figure out where I fit into it, and how it integrates into how I see myself. Some brief stories along that vein:

1.

I was at this costume party, where we were all role-playing, and someone came up and introduced himself, reaching out to take my hand.

“You’re squeezing my hand too hard: stop,” I told him, immediately, instead of giving my name.

“Oh, sorry, that’s something I’m trying to stop doing, it’s a bad habit,” he said, and then I realized he wasn’t role-playing.

“Oh, sorry!” I exclaimed. “I didn’t mean to; I’m Monica, by the way. That was meant at your character, not at you. In the role-playing thing. I thought you were doing it on purpose.”

“Thanks for clarifying that, it helps,” he replied.

“Yeah, I’m sorry—I totally wouldn’t have said that to you as a person,” I reassured, still feeling bad.

“But I still would’ve been squeezing your hand too hard?”

“But I wouldn’t have told you,” I said earnestly.

2.

Another conversation from this costume / role-playing party:

One of my friends: “I love this role. As a pretend-CEO, if I don’t want to talk to someone, I can just get up from the table and leave. I can never do that in real life!”

I laugh. “I know, right? It’s fun.”

“I mean, I’m a manager in real life, I do tell people what to do,” he continued. “But I don’t have license to be a jerk. Even when you have power, you don’t have license to be a jerk.”

I smile. “The game’s fun, right?”

3.

“What is it that playing Dungeons and Dragons gives you the most insight in?” I ask one of my friends. “Like, you probably exchange the maximal amount of information by talking with people. Whereas if you’re doing an activity with someone, like rock climbing with them, then you’re exchanging less actual information, but you’re still learning something about how they operate. I feel like DnD is definitely telling you a lot about a person along some dimension.

“Maybe something about moral decision-making?” I muse. “You do have to make a lot more decisions about killing people in DnD than in real life.”

“But some people just have to go through a phase of killing people in DnD,” one of my friends points out. “Like, for a few games they’ll just run around and be evil, because they don’t get to be like that in real life, and then they’ll work through it and be something else.”

“And the idea of role-playing is that you get to try things out that you wouldn’t in real life, or are thinking about,” someone else points outs.

“Huh,” I say. “But…”

But the thing is, I still feel like I get some valuable information out of DnD, even if people are role-playing / pretending, in some sense. After playing DnD for a little longer, I have more of an answer to this question. I think you can tell something about peoples’ inclination towards cooperativeness, and compromise. These are long-term games, that last for months, so the relationships you build between you and your fellow gamers aren’t one-and-done. One person’s answer to my question of what you learn was: “You can tell what people are interested in,” and I definitely agree with that one. Some people are really interested in high-risk / high-reward scenarios or the opposite, or want to talk to people to get information or figure it out on their own, or want to be a certain type of character, and that’s all information on who they are. I noticed that my aesthetics for character design are quite specific, and, as was pointed out to me, people differ a lot more from each other than I would expect them to on a lot of the non-obvious, more personal preference decisions like this one. There is also a very interesting set of traits around inter-player dynamics: group-decision making is interesting because of relationships between individuals, characters, and personal preferences—the degree to which people use tactics on in-world characters or on fellow players differs, for examples. These dynamics evolve to a certain extent over time, but I can also notice some fixed traits.

I’ve only played DnD with this one group, but it seems like a really fascinating social environment in general. I’ve noticed I’ve been doing slightly different things with my character, too, instead of just role-playing as myself but with more physical abilities. We’ll see what is to come :).

I’m walking out of the main part of the gym, and looking at a woman in a wheelchair, getting off her wheelchair and onto an arm-rowing machine. Her movements are practiced, and I watch for a little bit, but she’s definitely done this before. I nod a little bit and head toward the exit.

There’s a glass door to my left and another guy in a wheelchair—a young one, looks like a student—outside, waiting to come in. I slow down, scan his face—neck looks pretty paralyzed, but he seems like he’s got good mobility to move the chair with his hand. He’s backing up, and I look towards where he’s going—is there an automatic door button there? He’s stopped backing up, so there probably isn’t—I look back at his face, and he’s looking at me. I tilt my head, almost slowed to a stop.

I scan the people nearer to the door than me—two girls chatting loudly, and a guy stretching. None of them are doing anything—the guy outside probably doesn’t need help, then. I look back at him to check—ah, he’s smiling at me. Definitely needs help, then. Cute smile, too.

I reverse direction, take a step towards the door. The guy who was stretching turns around and starts walking out the door, notices the guy in a wheelchair, and opens the door wider for him. Cute-smile-guy looks at door-guy and smiles gratefully at him, and I turn back around, heading to the locker room.

I probably should have waited for cute-smile-guy to look back at me, so we could acknowledge the end of the situation, but the goal was accomplished and I’ve got places to go. I’m thinking about how no words were exchanged in that whole exchange, and how long it took me to figure out what he wanted. If he hadn’t backed up, I wouldn’t have been thrown off by hypothesizing the existence of an automatic-door button: why had he done that? Oh, neck mobility—he was probably trying to get his gaze in range with where I was standing, which was at an oblique angle. Huh. And how interesting that my brain knew to automatically hypothesize the existence of a button, given that he was moving confidently. Brains are pretty cool, huh? Nonverbal communication is super awesome, huh? What would that have been like if I’d attached an eyetracker, if you were an observer watching me and him have this interaction? And the smile, there, that was a key part of it—what was that smile saying? Like: yeah, you’re right, I do need help, I’d be grateful go on, but, like, sweeter. There was definitely something to that smile, about the inference that I was doing. And all of this happened very quickly, less than ten seconds, and I wasn’t thinking about any of this at the time, it was all post-hoc. My father says that everyone can do this type of analysis, people just don’t want to. Why do I want to? Because it’s so good when I can do it, when I can see this kind of nonverbal communication, it’s just so satisfying and amazing that was can do it… good thing I’m in my field of study. How could I integrate this sort of thing into my research? It’s kind of like what I’m doing with robotics…

I have this image in my mind right now of a scene I saw last night. It was two of my friends, facing each other, leaning by a staircase, dark lighting. They both looked great: each wearing their interpretation of a cocktail-steampunk costume. They were talking quietly while the other partygoers walked up and down the staircase behind them, standing about a foot apart.

I know they’re dating. I’ve seen them argue with each other, I’ve seen them be affectionate with each other, and it was strange to me that they were standing so far apart, that one of them didn’t have a hand on the other’s shoulder. The height difference, too, always surprises me—that one inclines their head down, the other up, in maintaining unending eye contact.

I have relationships (platonic) with both of them—one of them didn’t want to engage with me that night, for reasons I’m not sure of, but decided not to worry about (with them, it’s often not personal), and the other had come over briefly to chat, but was busy helping with the event. I have different feelings about both of them, different attached “sense of them” in my head, and a set of feelings that are about them as a couple. I’m often confused by couples, and I’m confused by them as a couple, and I’m also unusually confused about each of them as individuals.

I glanced at them briefly, leaning towards each other but a foot apart, with my knowledge of how each of them were feeling that night, based on how they had engaged with me and how they seemed to be engaging with the other partygoers, based on the level of demonstrativeness I was used to from them (this seemed a little unusual, but then again, very well could have been normal)… attentive to them both, because I’m often curious about them, but looking away just as quickly because it seemed a private moment, them on the side of the stairwell, and I know something about how much time they get to spend together, and the constraints of the event we were at.

I never know what to do with couples. I watch them, usually, take frozen images of my head, of casual affection, how they look at each other, how they’re positioned, where their hand is, what it means… I get this kind of stillness in my mind that speaks of confusion underneath. I want something from them, I think, but I don’t know what it is. I want them to turn and look at me, break apart, stop doing the confusion, whatever it is that is precious to them. That I don’t understand, that I want in the abstract, but not really, I want love to exist in its own private bubble, I want them to love each other deeply in their own world, not in mine. Not in the world’s world, where everyone should be individuals, should be alone, on their own, facing the world, not in the (confusing, arbitrary? strange? mechanical) embrace of another’s arms.

They shouldn’t have been standing there like that, though. One of them should have been rubbing the other’s arm, offering the casual comfort I’m used to seeing from them. They should have been smiling at each other, excited, the spark that’s often between them live and ready to share, lighting them from within before they each go back to face the world and everyone else. They should have their moment and shine for each other, with each other, bright eyes and smiles. They should have that before they go back.

But they were standing a foot apart, looking into each other’s eyes, dark lighting, serious. I glanced at them, felt the stillness, walked back up the stairs.

I’m laying on someone’s chest, listening to them breathe. Not really thinking about too much, really, just taking in the lighting (red-tinged), and thinking about heartbeats. Speaking of…

“Your heart rate sped up,” I inform them.

“Oh.”

I wait, not sure if that’s it. If that is it, do I want to push them? I’d rather they just say something. But the mood here seems like patience is the name of the game, maybe—

“I was just thinking about the problem of how you create AI with multiple users.”

…Well then. {Flash of disappointment} That would explain why their heart rate sped up, since hard thinking does that. Still, I wasn’t thinking about anything as virtuous as artificial intelligence risk. Now I feel bad, and also like they shouldn’t have been doing that, because if I’d known that was what I was supposed to do then I would’ve, but that’s not actually what you’re supposed to be thinking about in this type of situation, you’re supposed to be thinking about the situation and me and stuff, not I’m-smart-look-at-me-go-AI things—

“I even remember how I got there. I was thinking about the problem of sexual preferences, and how it’s hard to know that sort of thing, and then got onto the general problem of what to do about unknown preferences across multiple users in general, and was then thinking about Pareto-optimal frontiers, and that’s where I ended up.”

…Oh. Yeah, that’s better. Also, like, I do pick nerds for the fact that they’re nerds. Also, people are so unpredictable, gah. How am I ever going to be able to predict the next thing out of someone’s mouth when people do out-of-the-rules stuff like this. Though maybe not that much out of the rules, this definitely fit in with a stereotype I have of another friend, maybe I need to bring that paradigm over—

–oh, wait, actually, it’s also pretty absurd, this situation, kind of funny, would make a good story, I should try to remember the details—

–oh, and also, I really appreciate that he went to the trouble of explaining this, it’s really nice when people indulge me with words and thoughts and stuff when I implicitly ask them what’s up, that was a good answer–

“Ha,” I huff. “That’s funny.”

They ‘hmmm’ back at me, friendly.

As a TA, I’m holding office hours for the students. Three of them are sitting on a couch together, working, and I’ve just told another person that I’ll look into his grades and give him the points back, since it was our mistake.

Another student comes in, tells me that the problem she lost points on was badly-worded, and that she should get points back. For a few minutes, she proceeds to argue with me, while the other four students watch a little uncomfortably.

“Look, I’m sorry that the autograder wasn’t working, but that was stated on the website, and your solution was not a clear answer to the problem, and you can’t do the problem again, and I’m sorry about it but I think there was enough there for you to have done it,” I tell her for the final time. She looks mulish.

“I’m heading out, do you want me to wait for you?” Her friend says, and she sighs and gets up.

“Do you have any other questions?” I ask the three on the couch, impatient to get back to it.

There’s something very satisfying about being a TA, about having students’ respect, about having power, about knowing that you can be right and are going to be backed up and that there’s really no time for you to bend over backward. Most of the time when students come to talk to me about grading errors, it’s our fault and I’m happy to fix it. Even when the students come up with complaints about problem unfairness, I often sympathize with them, because yes, the problem usually is not as clear as it should be. But it’s a matter of: did other students figure it out, did you have the resources to figure it out, if we change this for you will we have to change it for the whole class… being on the other side, realizing that so, so much of the unfairness in this whole system comes down to “we don’t have enough time and energy to make this perfect, we don’t have enough time and energy and money to make exceptions”… It’s very easy to see how people slip through the cracks.

I also really didn’t realize, as a TA, how much of a distance I’d have with my students. I teach two classes of 25 students, once a week. And at the front of the classroom, I’m blind to most people unless they’re actively raising their hands. I simply don’t have enough attention for it—I’m writing stuff on the board, and planning out what I’m saying next, and keeping the flow of the lesson plan, and trying to watch everyone’s faces for comprehension, and there isn’t enough space for me to do what I’d want to do, ideally. In my ideal world, I’d sit down with each of my students, and get a sense of who they are, and where they’re coming from with respect to this class, and how they’re doing, and what they’re struggling with, and I’d individually tutor them and get to know them and be a mentor. Instead, there’s a remarkable lack of communication—when they leave I don’t get feedback from them on how they’re feeling and what they’re learning, and that’s been surprising to me.

But what it comes down to is time. Time, and power, and I can see that change how I interact with people, and how they interact with me. Sometimes students want to argue with me (and I’m not talking about the usual situation of a student bringing something up, which I’m totally a fan of. I’m talking about the situation where I state a decision that I think has good-enough backing, and someone’s going to come up with a list of other reasons the situation is unfair, and repeat those points at me a few times.) When this happens, my internal thought process is: “Don’t f-ing fight me, you’ve got to know you’re going to lose, don’t be stupid about this,” which is incredibly different from my usual “Don’t fight me,” a common refrain I have that is plaintive, and happens when I feel hurt by someone.

The thing is, most of the time students are incredibly respectful and deferential, to a degree that I think is astonishing. It feels really nice, because students are often just grateful for my help, and that feels amazing. But even when students are arguing with me, they’ve always been respectful about it. And I always see their point, too, and realize how the question is unfair, and isn’t perfect, and that they’re coming from a good place and good argument. There just isn’t time.

There isn’t time to make every question perfect, or to make every exception, because if we make an exception we have to apply it to everyone, and regrading can take a lot of time, and policy changes can take a lot of time, and sometimes there are other students who did figure it out and went to the extra effort, and giving exceptions would be unfair to them. And I and the other TAs can’t give extra office hours, can’t help everyone, because there isn’t enough time.

One of my students was interviewing me for one of her course projects. “When you act as TA, what most changes about how you see yourself, how does it contrast with your normal identity?” She asks.

It doesn’t take me very long. “I’m… being a TA, I’m not, like, as nice as I want to be. I want to help everyone, I want to give people extra time if they need help, if they want something from me. And there’s not time for that? My emails are really rough to people sometimes, almost mean compared to my usual standards. Also—I’m not as personal as I usually am? It’s a mentor-student relationship, and I’ve done this before, and when you’re in the mentor role, you have this distance. The mentor asks the student how they’re doing, that sort of thing.”

Teaching’s really interesting—I’m really glad I’m having the experience. The thing is, the students really are incredibly nice. Real life isn’t like that, especially about something as high-stakes as grades—there is messiness, people look out for themselves, even as there are many kind acts, too. Bu there’s this bubble around teaching, in which students are grateful for the help, and deferential, and… you get power, you know, and you want to use it. You want to help everyone, because sometimes someone will come up to you after class and say “thanks so much for that lesson plan, I know it was a lot but it really helped me on my problem set this weekend,” and you turn to your fellow TA and laugh, delighted.

There’s also a thrill in having this much power, in being able to dictate my time, in being able to end arguments. As a graduate student, you’re usually interacting with people who are your peers or who are more senior to you (post-docs and faculty) and who like debating ideas. Moreover, most of us were recently undergrads. We’re used to being deferential, we’re used to being young (most of us, not all of us). Being a mentor and being looked up to is a huge reward.

I’ve also learned—or rather, been reminded of—the fact that I really like putting together information clearly for its own sake. It’s incredibly rewarding when I think people understand things more after I’ve explained it to them, and for me, this is one of the biggest draws of teaching. I just want clearly explain things that people want to know to them, and I definitely want to draw on this personality trait in future jobs.

(But in the end, I think the “thank you, Monica”s that some people throw at me after a lecture as they’re heading out the door—I think those are the instances I’ll most remember. So many previous graduate students I know really enjoyed teaching, and I think this is basically why. It’s so special.)

Oh dear, it’s far too late at night again :). Best wishes to all of your weeks, readers! I’ll be late or (more likely) won’t be posting next week, because I’m psyched to be heading to another CFAR event—three and a half days of intensive emotional drama and learning. And then it’s spring break for Berkeley: ah, beautiful studying days for my qualification exams, and I’m looking forward to that time as well.

Thank you all, as always, for reading :).

Monica

Meeting the joy-part

Hey readers,

Blog time :). Blog time blog time blog time (little giddy, really).

This blog, as is true of so many of my blogs, will be a hodge-podge of unorganized thoughts. Here we go!

Going through what’s immediately on my mind: I got a new bed frame! My current bed frame is unstable, but I have high hopes for this one. It does, however, require assembly, and I quite don’t want to assemble it.

I was mentioning this to one of housemates—that I was dreading assembling this bed—and she told me that she finds furniture assembly fun. “What’s up?” she asked me. “Do you have an Ikea phobia? Or do you just not like making physical things in general?”

“Well, I definitely have an Ikea phobia,” I said, because we’ve talked about this previously. “But do I not like making things…? Hm… I guess. I mean, it’s fine, I can do it.”

(Which, I noted to myself, is not at all the same question of whether I like it or not. It’s satisfying when things are done, and it gives me a kind of “you did what you were supposed to do” satisfaction. So I don’t dislike it, usually, it’s just a task that takes time.)

“How about machines? Did you ever take machines apart as a kid? Did your parents ever stop you from doing that?”

I laugh, say no. She tells me her parents told her to stop, and she mostly did. I tell her I’ve never had the inclination.

“I mean, I think I’ve only really ever built like two things,” I tell her. “The main one—the one where I was really happy I knew how to use a drill from previous projects—was building a plastic headpiece for a cage, for research.”

It reminds me of one of my friends, who recently told me that she tried a drill for the first time: on an unconscious patient’s knee. This is my going-to-be-a-doctor friend. I’m always kind of astonished at how specific the skillsets people need are… like, I need the ability to give a presentation to 25-100 college students, write research proposals that can get funded, do a version of loose networking, drive a car, use a phone, do my job… and some of these are general skills, and some of these are not, and there are some skills that really I feel like probably everyone should have (in that they’re kind of basic properties of being human, like knowing how to grow food and stuff, or making things) that I do not.

“Even when we did dissections, in biology, I’d mostly supervise,” I tell her. “If someone needed me to do it, I’d do the dissection, and it was fine, but usually I just point at things.”

“So you’re the type of person who likes reading more, and philosophizing.”

I laugh again. “Well—I’m not really into philosophizing, but yeah. Abstract stuff. So when you were saying the other day, about how we should go back to the natural form of human learning, apprenticeship learning, learning physical skills—I was like ‘Okay, sure,’ but also ‘noooooo.

I like this housemate. Our perspectives differ to a weird degree on a LOT of things, but she’s very thoughtful and accommodating towards people, and never wants to argue about anything with me. She just wants to state her opinion, and she’ll listen to my opinion, and neither of us change our opinions, but I get to hear about someone else’s consistent-with-her-worldview perspective. For example, I asked her recently how her life was. She replied it was terrible. I was very confused, but after some discussion, it seems like she bases her answer to that question on the state of the entire world, as she perceives it and through news channels.

“Wow, that seems like it’s much harder to change,” I tell her, puzzled. “I like thinking about the quality of my life as pretty much restricted to me, so if I want to change something it’s usually possible. Seems like, if it’s based on the state of the world, you’re kind of stuck?”

She agreed that taking this perspective meant that she did, in fact, seem kind of stuck. We nodded to each other, I thanked her for her perspective, then we went back to sitting on the couch together. It’s so strange :).

A large part of what makes hanging out with this housemate fun and interesting for me is this quality of hers, of having strong opinions about things, of knowing what they are (no small feat, that), relating them with no expectation that they will be changed, and happily hearing the returning opinions with no expectation of changing theirs. This attitude is kind of… well, it’s certainly different from most of the people around me, who are here to change their opinions (towards TRUTH!), or don’t know their opinions (this one happens to me a fair amount), or want to argue about opinions (for better cooperation, or for the fun of it, or towards TRUTH!) I’m generally on the end of not wanting to talk about controversial opinions, and especially not wanting to argue about them. I’m willing to change mine, but I’m particularly conflict-averse on discussions / debates about politics, social justice, feminism, you name it…

I hesitate this days to call it “conflict aversion”, though, because that’s sort of what it is, but it’s not exactly what the connotations of “conflict aversion” entail, in my mind. To me, “conflict aversion” evokes ideas like “people-pleaser” and “social harmony oriented”—which I’ve been called, and the latter is obviously true, but I hate the “people pleaser” descriptor because it feels to me like I’m being told I don’t have a spine and am just going to let people walk all over me. (This is obviously not what the speaker meant, by the way, this is just the chain of thought I get. It’s also in my value system that “not having a spine” is associated with “not being independent” which is associated with BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD in my head. …Basically, if you want to reference the trait, “social harmony oriented” is going to require much less discussion with me than if you want to talk about “people pleaser” :P.)

Anyhow, when someone wants to change my mind about something, I would much rather they just state their argument, with the parts that most convince them and why they care. If the reasons why they care are also true for me, and the logic of the rest of the argument makes sense to me, I’ll usually change my mind to match their point. If the reasons why they care aren’t true for me, then I’ll be happy to have heard the argument and will store it, because I like hearing about different perspectives when they’re directly hooked into what’s important for people. If they want to go back and forth with me, to find out what I care about and make arguments towards that front, I usually don’t think—and this is the key logic here—I usually don’t think it’s worth my time.

Discussions about abstract perspectives often just really don’t seem worth it to me. First, I don’t enjoy them, since I don’t like conflict, and I count any discussion where people are strongly disagreeing as creating a social cost and an emotional drain. So that’s the perspective we’re working from: I don’t want to discuss, and will only if I think something is “worth it”. (Other people seem to enjoy this process, for improving their minds, or engaging with others in a mentally stimulating fashion, or because they want their opinions to be heard… I often think people are really complicated and it’d be really, really hard to convince them of something, and if they wanted to be convinced they’d just read some articles, and I’m going to have to go to all of the work to find out what they care about, and they’re going to attack my opinions, and this is going to be uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing, and I’m just not going to do it.)

However, I do enjoy hearing about new perspectives, and especially hearing about ideas that people care about, and why they care about them, so I like listening to people talk about ideas in that form. I also like changing my mind to be more accurate to the world (TRUTH!), i.e. I like learning / knowing things, so I want to hear this stuff. I just don’t want the other person to start doing the process where they’re really invested in trying to figure out what I care about so they can change my mind, because then we’re going to argue, and if I cared about the topic then I’d care about the topic and look it up, I don’t want to care just because you care. This distinction is subtle, because if people care about a topic, and want to convince me to care about a topic, and are exploring my mindspace to figure out how I feel, and then offering suggestions or their opinions, that’s fine. It’s all about the atmosphere—I want them to not attack my point of view, I want them not to jump on me when I don’t know my point of view, I want them to not be adversarial—to be earnestly interested in what I’m thinking, and point out flaws in those arguments as they see them, but not to have “make person x have this opinion” as their primary objective in engaging with me, and not have “make person x realize why I have this opinion” also as their primary objective. I get it. I can listen to your point of view. I get that you care and I like it, and I’m happy to have learned it. Now the next step is to leave me alone: I don’t care about this topic enough to want to dig into all of the underlying values I have to get me to change my mind, let’s talk about something else that I care about or we both care about.

(So it’s about conflict aversion, and it isn’t. The conflict aversion part dictates a really strong bar on what I consider “worth it”, and I’ll pretty much only engage if the person isn’t going to be aggressive about it. Exceptions are if I think someone’s really out of line (that I’m right, they’re wrong) in which case I’ll say things, but usually it’s not worth it to me to state an opinion if someone’s being aggressive, and if someone’s being too aggressive I’ll back down mutinously.)

(I notice, also, that I’m really defensive about this. And I think the defensiveness comes from this idea that I have that I should really be arguing with people. Because arguing about truth, and I like truth, and wouldn’t one always want to be maximally truth-seeking all the bloody time? Answer for me: no, stop it. I don’t care about this topic, and besides this is not how I want to learn about it. And I feel really defensive about this position, because it’s in my head that people who argue are virtuous and truth-seeking, and people who are conflict-averse are people who get walked over, and I want to be the former and not the latter, and yet I just don’t want to fight with people.) (Where people will tell me “fight” is the wrong word, and I get that, it’s just totally the right word from my perspective.) (And I want my position to be fine. And right now, it’s only sort of fine, and I’m kind of hoping that if I talk to myself about it enough, over time, it will be fine.)

Another branch that my mind is heading right now is that of “what I want people to tell me when I relate one of my perspectives”. Sometimes people will ask me how I feel about something (in the good way where they’re curious and actually want to know) and I’ll explain it, and they’ll ask questions where something seems off to them, and it’ll go on for a while, and in the end they’ll say: “That makes sense.” And I get this crazy sense of disappointment/anti-climax… which I’ve been noticing because it surprises me all the time. Apparently I don’t want my perspective to “make sense”. I think because it obviously makes sense in my head, and them saying it “makes sense” means that they also think it’s logically sound, and I don’t want it to be logically sound because then I can’t change it. It’s much easier to change my mind when someone points out a logical leap that I’m like: oh, you’re right, that doesn’t make sense, let me just adjust this point of view to one that feels better. You could ask: why am I trying to change my mind all the time? Answer: …I don’t know. I think I’d need a more specific example to figure this one out, and something in my head is like: nope, we’re not doing this, I don’t want to go into… (why we need to change ourselves constantly to be like the people around us, why our positions are not defensible, all of this vulnerability crap that’s going to require a gentle touch and lots of time, nope)… ah, okay, so I’m listening to that part and not going into it :). There lie dragons, which I’m working on from sideways perspectives and incrementally :). (Incidentally, I don’t fully feel the opinions that part put forward. I do feel them, but I also feel the opposite in other parts.)

Another part of the disappointment definitely comes from not learning something. I like learning stuff, and when someone says “that makes sense”, then they’ve learned something, but I haven’t learned anything, since the logic already made sense in my head. (I usually do end up learning something from the process of trying to explicate the thing, but it’s not as good as when someone has an opinion or can change the thought.) I seem to be very oriented by growth.

Ooooh, speaking of… I was introspecting yesterday, and that session was building on an introspection session the week before, and I have some awesome parts hanging around. Here’s one, one of my favorites :).

This part is currently tagged with “joy”. It’s mostly non-verbal, and very core. This is me, me me me me me (it also tends to repeat itself), and it likes GROWTH and LEARNING and DISCOVERY WHEEEEEE!!! And people people people: aren’t people the BEST when they care about each other and are kind and love-care and JOY and ooooh, also STRIVING oooooooh striving so good everyone should strive and succeed sometimes oooh wanting and striving and achieving ooooooh. Also, acccceeeeeppppptttannnnceee and love (in abstract form) and (ANGRY) people should be KIND and LOVE ME and NOOOOOO people are scary no people 😦 protect-me people no… but joy. Joy joy joy joy joy wanting-striving-achieving-people-joy-growth :).

I like the joy part :). It feels really like “core-Monica”, and… well, I’ll get to that in a second. In general, though, I made a list of what it likes by just coming up with things that are REALLY GOOD, and then saw if it was also the part of me that got hurt and scared by things and needed protection, because I felt like it was probably that kind of part and should have some negatives in it. (Ha, I read that last sentence and think: there are likely some problematic parts in there, this is in progress :)). This is also definitely in progress—I’ve recently started really internalizing the idea that “models are useful, and not full truth”, and this joy part feels like a currently-useful and not at all permanent distinction I’m making.

There’s also this other part which feels core-Monica, which I’ve been really enjoying. It’s really annoyed at everything, and is quite verbal. It swears a whole lot and tells people to fuck off pretty constantly, and one of its jobs is definitely protecting the joy-part. The joy-part also tells this part to shut up though occasionally, by sending angry eyebrow emojis, and the joy-part also pats this part on the back occasionally because this part has a hard job of being the strong purple/blue part that is resentful at everything but only because it’s been pushed down all the time, and it thinks it’s ABOUT TIME TO TAKE A FUCKING STAND, EHHH???? EHHH??!?!?!?

This purple/blue part is really fun to hang out with because it’s so fucking strong. It’s going to defend us until the end of time, or until something else takes care of it, because it’s our bulwark, it’s going to listen to the tiny parts, it’s going to be our protector. We’ve got OPINIONS now, DON’T WE, and we’ve got a RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT, or NOT SILENT, or WHATEVER, we can do WHATEVER THE FUCK WE WANT, don’t let them push us down like that, we’re going to DO THE THING, DAMMIT, LET’S GOOOOOO!!! YOU WANNA FIGHT, HUH?? YOU WANNA FIGHT?!

(The joy-part definitely needs to comfort the blue/purple part sometimes because the poor thing exerts lots of energy, like, 24-7, and definitely occasionally needs taking care of since it’s fighting for the whole system. But they like each other a lot, it’s very caring all the way through. The blue/purple part feels super protective of its smaller pieces.)

The last member of last-week’s session was my cognitive-monitoring-internal-voice part—that’d be the one who’s talking right now—which doesn’t even really feel like a part most of the time because it’s my default. It’s just how I speak. I’m not really sure how this part relates to the other two, though I was trying to sculpt it such that they were all friendly with each other, because I don’t like when internal parts aren’t listening to each other or are in conflict. In the end, it seemed kind of like: huh, I’ve got these two parts, and they’re very opinionated, and I like you two, and especially need to engage with the purple/blue part because it’s yelling all the time and is verbal and is awesome, and yeah, let’s incorporate this into our daily self/life, yeah? Now that I super know that you exist and are cool? It’s a little parental, really, because this cognitive part has got all of the “now let’s make this work in real life” pragmatism and knowledge.

All of the parts are very thoughtful though, and willing to listen and do back-and-forths with each other, though, which I appreciated a lot. (I would have, in fact, rejected the system if this were not the case.) I was noticing the other day when I was reading someone else’s writing that they had this sentence which was: “he’d rather live out of his suitcase, with strategically disgorged piles around it,” and I thought: that’s a beautifully evocative sentence and I understand exactly what you mean, and also: I would never use that sentence because I don’t like the way the word “disgorged” feels. Isn’t it weird that I’m hugely restricting the sentences I use because I don’t like them aesthetically? Isn’t it weird that I’m hugely restricting the thoughts I have because I don’t like them aesthetically? (I do in fact hugely restrict my parts and thoughts based on how I want the whole system to feel.)

Anyhow, at this most recent introspective session I was thinking about lots of things, but I had a really big breakthrough at the end about “boundaries”. I’m labeling it “boundaries” because this is what other people seem to mean when they’re talking about boundaries, though this term did not at all show up in my head until I was thinking about how I was going to present this discovery to other people.

Here’s the main idea: I get really anxious about saying no to people in some cases. Specifically, the thing I seem to be worried about as a consequence of saying no is that I’m going to be thrown out of this/my community. Also that things will be awkward and emotionally taxing, which I don’t like.

I’ve asked other people for help on this, and… ug, I REALLY DON’T HAVE ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO ATTRIBUTE THIS TO GENDER, but sometimes it seems like people are just like “yep, that’s a hard problem” and I’m like… wait, you also didn’t solve this? Then I talk to other people, whose opinions I want to have, and they’re like: “Set boundaries, Monica! Do it!” and I’m like: yes, that, how do I do that without being doomed?

It turns out, that with a tiny twist in phrasing, I have zero problems doing this. I don’t even know how I got to this solution, but I arrived at it, and just kind of stared at it, and was like: …what? How did this even… I’m still kind of boggling at it, really (I arrived at it last night, so it’s still new, but the set of assumptions underlying it, and how different it feels, is pretty astonishing.)

Here’s the difference. Normally, this is how I read a request for my time: “Give me your time and energy, I don’t care if you have to fake it and in fact I’d rather you would fake it so I don’t get hurt.” Which, admittedly, is an interesting reading of a request that really is usually along the lines of: “do you feel like hanging out?”. Here’s what I learned I CAN interpret a request for my time as: “Give me your joy-part.”

So so so—okay, first of all, I admit that both interpretations are strange, but they HAVE TO HAVE been strange given how much anxiety turning people down was producing. Let me walk you through my normal response.

So I get an ask for hanging out, and I internally hear: “Give me your time and energy, I don’t care if you have to fake it and in fact I’d rather you would fake it so I don’t get hurt.” I then get presented with two choices: 1) I grant the request, or 2) I get thrown out of the community. These seem to be almost literally the choices I present myself with (with doom feelings flexible depending on my perceived status of that person in the community). Purple/blue-Monica is then chiming in with the following, though it’s usually crushed pretty quickly. “WHY WOULD YOU GIVE ME THESE TERRIBLE CHOICES. I HAVE TWO CHOICES NOW, AND THEY ARE TERRIBLE, AND WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS TO ME DO YOU HATE ME WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU WTF ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE JUST LEAVE ME ALONE WHAT’S WRONGGGGGG WWWWIIIIITTTTHHHH YOUUUUUUU” and I’ve got this seething resentment that gets cloaked over with a lot of anxiety and worry about rejecting people (I do simulations of rejection and how it will feel, and my simulations are based on my personal reactions, which are often disproportionate to the situation and overblown compared to most people, and there’s some part of me that actually has a model of the other person and is like: “hey, Monica, it’s not going to be that bad”, and the part of my that’s simulating is like “BUT IT COULD BE THAT BAD, THEY’RE GOING TO EXPLODE AT YOU IF THEY’RE HURT: THAT’S WHAT PEOPLE DO WHEN THEY’RE HURT, THEY DON’T HAVE YOUR CONTROL THEY’RE GOING TO EXPLODE” and the other part is like: “hey, hey, they’re a) not going to be hurt as bad as you think they are, and b) low likelihood they will explode,” and the other part’s like: “But what if they do? Then what? Who’s dealing with the fallout, huh? Who’s going to deal with the fear and rejection and anger and self-recrimination and everything, huh? You? We are. We’re going to deal with it,” and the other part’s like: “…fair”.) And in the meantime, I’ve got this constant ping which is like: “You have to reply to them. You have to answer any and all questions. You have to be truthful and give some of yourself to them. Answer them. Answer them now.” (…haven’t worked on this set of assumptions, but it’s also admittedly weird. The “must answer every question asked out of genuine curiosity” is one that’s come up a lot recently and feels related.)

It’s not a great circuit to be in. It took me a while to lay out that this was what was happening, and then I was just kind of looking at it, written out on a whole bunch of mismatched post-it notes, kind of scratching my head.

Because, looking at it, it seems like that circuit of thoughts really isn’t good for anyone. It’s obviously not good for me, but I’m willing to tolerate lots of if it’s not good for me but is saving other people a ton of emotional pain. (Problem 1: I’m allocating disproportionate amount of pain to other people in this situation. But still, there seem to be a bunch of situations where I’m much more willing to hurt myself than other people in the moment, because I can “handle it”. I’ve recently, with the purple/blue part roaring into existence, become much less willing to “handle it”.) It’s also not good for the other person (and this is idea that I tried really hard to use to convince myself), because they probably… well, it’s been put to me this way. If someone asks me if I want to hang out, there are people who are probably literally asking if I want to hang out with them. Like, they are literally asking the question. Do. I. Want. To. Hang. Out. They’re not asking my substitute question, they’re not asking what I think that question means, they’re asking if I have a preference to hang out, and if the answer is no, then the answer is no. I say this, but “do you want to hang out” is still super super super charged in my mind and does not actually mean the literal question, but I can accept the idea that sometimes, what people are doing is much closer to [wanting to know about my preferences], rather than the implicit request to a) deliver, or b) deliver a “no” well.

Or, as a friend I’d like to emulate put it: “Look, if I want to do something, then I’ll do it, and if I don’t want to do something, I won’t do it.”

(Me (wailing): “But the community…”)

In any case, that’s the system I was working with before, and I was pretty incentivized to change it because it was driving me crazy. (I don’t like disproportionate emotional reactions, at all. This is important to me.) And I was thinking: okay, so if I’m trying to grant requests only if I want to grant requests, then how in the world do I convince myself to… (because the “it’s not good for them” argument was the best one I had, and that wasn’t doing it).

And here’s the answer. Interpret the request as: “Give me the joy-part”.

The thing is, I like the joy-part a lot. As maybe THE “core-Monica” member, it’s what I like about myself and what drives me and what’s good about the world, when I feel best. It’s energy and excitement and love and happiness and fear and worry and pure sadness (none of this helplessness and anger stuff) and excitement again. It’s jumping up and down and it’s people and it’s warmth and welcoming. And I want to share it with people. I want to give it to people, I want them to have it, I want them to have my self, I want them to keep it and love it and enjoy it. But I really don’t want everyone to have it. I only want particular people to have it. I want to give it to people who will appreciate it, and who I love/enjoy back. (I’m using a loose definition of “love” here—there’s some concept of “abstract love” in my mind which is more like “appreciation and joy in people” than love-love.)

And (the blue/purple part’s back:) screw everyone who wants to take that part away from me without me wanting to give it. It’s my joy-part, it’s the best thing I have to give. I read “Give me your joy-part”, and I think: yes, or I think fuck you, because that’s a big ask, and that—the joy of wanting to be with you, to seek out your company, to give you all of me, the fact that if I’m giving you my joy part, I really truly have to be feeling all of this mess of emotion for you in that moment—that’s not really something I can give, if I’m not feeling it. It’s not really something I can fake. If you’re asking me to… you know, I think I’m framing this wrong. I think the request is not “Give me your joy-part”, I think it’s also something like “Can you give me your joy-part”… because maybe it’s not so much of a choice as everything else. Or maybe it is, like everything else. I’m not sure which phrasing is better, and I haven’t tried this out yet, but I think the overall question is: “would you want to give me everything you have, all of the delight and happiness and warmth—I’m not talking your time and attention, I’m talking to true parts of you…”

…hahaha, I just noticed a shift in myself, which is like: “You know what, this ‘Give me the joy-part’ thing doesn’t work anymore, because actually I think I can just give them the joy-part.’” FAIL, mind, I’m trying to make a point here :). But interestingly… if I think about what a reply from the joy-part would sound like, it also integrates the blue-purple part, and if I think about trying to access “true” self rather than social-modeling self, the reply comes out more… honest, than it would otherwise. So if someone says “Give me your joy-self”, it’d be more: “Hey, actually, there’s a part of me that’s not really feeling it right now, but…” And here’s the trouble, what you put in the “but”: what can I promise. Let’s see what the joy-self has to say, if I’m asking it what it can promise: “but… I think you’re a really interesting, cool person, and I appreciate that you care about me enough to ask. …I don’t think I’ll be feeling hanging out with you for a while, actually, but you seem great.”

…wtf. Joy-part, I can’t TELL THAT TO PEOPLE they’re going to be SO CONFUSED. That’s mixed messages like whoa.

Joy-part: It’s true though.

Cognitive voice: …that’s actually the really weird part, that it’s true. I… it’s weird to me that the people who I’m simulating writing this message to, it’s not even forced, the above stuff is definitely true when I’m speaking from that part. But… we can’t…

Cognitive voice #2: …what if we did, though…?

Cognitive voice #1: It’ll be SO UNCLEAR. People might send follow-up messages. People are going to send follow-up messages. They won’t leave us alone.

Cognitive voice #2: What if we’re really clear about not wanting to hang out?

Cognitive voice #1: Huh. Well. Or we could just adopt the position of screwing social modeling and responding from the joy-part and purple-blue part all the time, the true voices. I bet people will like that. (Specific people, obviously, as an aside to the blog readers.)

Cognitive voice #3: (lol that we’re talking to the blog readers also. What even is this system of conversation / monologing. Okay I’m out, this is too meta and will be confusing to keep me in.)

Cognitive voice #1: We could… try it? It’ll certainly work better than our current system. And… I think we need to…

Trust in the joy-part, and the purple-blue part. I think we just need to trust in them. I really don’t trust them with making sure we’ll be okay, with doing modeling, with anything that’s not self-stuff, any interacting with others stuff… but let’s try trusting in them for a bit, right? That’s what a lot of people want out of me anyway… (grossness feeling)… (but need to keep the concept…) (grossness feeling about the purpose being of giving to others)… but let’s try it. I bet it’ll be good. If it’s not good, we can always (ha) go back to what we had. I bet it’ll be better, worth trying.

Cool :). All right, well, I don’t currently have any messages that I need to respond to of this vein, but this “try to talk from the joy-part / blue-purple part” is something that can probably happen all the time, among a certain set of people. I know someone who tries to talk to me through this kind of voice, (it’s also the “circling” voice, if you’ve heard me talk about that phenomenon) and it seems useful to me to try sometimes, when I want to. Something fun about the blue-purple voice is that it’s much more cued into “when I want to” than any of my other parts, and it’s also WAY more cued into anger in a form that I can tolerate and endorse. Feels like progress was made, and also like this is a step in a long process that already has a lot behind it—I only got to thinking about the joy-part and the blue-purple part recently, and I feel like they’ve always been there, but have been buried for a long time, and it’s only in these gradual steps that I’m able to see them now.

All right, we’re almost out :). I did want to mention one other thing (…oh man, I didn’t even look at my blog-writing list, this was all just off the top of my head. I’m missing so much) which is a question that someone asked me that I feel I have to answer…

…you know, I’m kind of feeling like I don’t have to answer it right now. Interesting. It’s about reading, and time management and stuff. Feeling it out, feeling it out—okay, seems like I want to talk about it briefly.

This person was reading my previous posts (hmm :)), and especially liked the part where I was saying that I was surprised to learn that that gooey-feelings-hanging-out-with-people can be a substitute for a specific type of reading (this type of reading is a long-term habit of mine that I’ve been tentatively trying to decrease for forever). He said that he was surprised that I was surprised, because he thought it was mutually understood by the both of us that reading was a substitute for something in the real-life-warm-feelings-vein.

I am… not surprised that I was surprised? And am in fact still very much surprised that gooey-feelings-hanging-out-with-people works some of the time. I tried something similar out again this week (replacing reading with people), and it totally felt like I was exerting mental control rather than substituting. I just don’t… trust people enough to make this substitution work. Reading is reliably good for me, very, very, very consistently a positive stimulus, and people are much more variable and much more work. I also don’t think I quite think of people in the… um, right way to make this work? Like, my best friend from college uses as a description of me: “Monica’s very compassionate, but in an intellectual way.” I’m still trying to get my head around that one (I actually feel like I’m trying to bend my understanding around it, and getting stuck) but, like… in my current understanding of myself compared to other people, I think that reading, in some senses, always will be better than people at getting what I’m trying to get, even though I’m reading about imaginary people. I’ve been noticing that I seem to like a set of things much better in the abstract, in my mind, in my concepts of them (and I like it a LOT in my mind) than in real life, and that it’s not really “I haven’t found the best version in real life”, it’s that it’s always going to be better in the ideal, pure form, that’s distillated in people’s stories and not in how they live. That what’s in real life is also good, but separate from the ideas drawn through people’s minds, and that they interact and can sub-in for each other sometimes, but reading is not below, in any sense, what “real life” interactions can give me.

Very willing to change my mind on this one, but that’s my current understanding. (And obviously it’s even a change from one? two? weeks ago, when I learned it could substitute at all. But… that observation could still fit my point, I think, in that it kind of feels like the reading’s the ideal one and occasionally people are good enough to sub-in, rather than people are the ideal one and reading’s a poor substitute, which is the argument that’s more often made to me.)

Okay I’m done now :). Who hoo, more than 6000 words, this one’s a massive one, sorry all! I hear from people that it’s interesting to take a stream-of-consciousness meander through someone’s mental space, so I think I was optimizing for that in this post. (Oh, another amusing thought that occurred to me when I was introspecting yesterday. I asked myself: “okay, if we’re being joy-part with some people, what do we do with people we want to impress?” And the response was: “hmm, polished + some seems fine, that’s what we usually do. And that’s optimized for… uh, something.” It’s incredibly amusing that I don’t know what my polished self is optimized for. It seems to be a compromise between a lot of things, mostly because it’s aimed at trying to give people what they want from me (which varies hugely, and often includes “true self”, which is… confusing when you’re trying to give people what they want and what they want is for you not to try to give them what they want) and keep myself entertained (because I would think that my polished self is about others, only, but I’ve noticed that it’s actually not at all aimed fully at that, because a lot of the stuff I say is really weird and is just following my personal interests).

Hope you have great weeks, all :). This has been a really nice one for me—I feel like I’m happy with my work, and social, and teaching, and life :).

Monica

Back with the usual

So. Y’all.

It has almost been a whole month since my last blog post, which is absurd, and I can’t remember the last time I went without posting something for that long! Moreover, I’ve been wanting to and have been thinking of it at least every few days. I’m just… busy? But the puzzling kind of busy where I think I really shouldn’t be busy. There are no paper deadline anymore, but yet I seem to be thinking most of the time (some of this thinking is for work, and some is just for fun, but it’s not like I’m turning my brain off) and yet… I don’t have time for things like blogging??

What originally happened was that my big paper deadline was Feb 1st. This was a lot of work, especially near the end of it, since I was the main author and point person for the experiments even though I was working with a team of people. There was thus a lot of work-stress happening, and limited sleep.

About mid-January, moreover, things got rough with my housing situation, in that I was thinking about moving at some point and then my landlord and I had a few interactions in which I acted naïvely. Lessons learned, but it was at the point where for a week or so in the end of January, I wasn’t talking to some people in my house and was hiding in my room all the time, which was difficult to do because my room adjoins the communal kitchen. Face-offs were had, I lost, excessive drama and confusion happened, and then I ended up getting to live in one of the communal group houses in Berkeley! It’s been really good, in some unexpected ways in addition to the hoped-for reasons which caused me to look around for new housing in the first place.

Plus, teaching (TA-ing, more specifically). Teaching is totally what’s causing this “I am kind of distressingly busy and I don’t know why,” because it turns out it takes up between 20-30 hours a week, and who has time for 1) teaching, 2) research, 3) life, and 4) qualification exams with that amount of time. Teaching is totally excellent, and I love standing in front of a classroom and lecturing. I always thought I’d like it, but friends/family were unsure whether I actually would since I hadn’t tried it. Happily, it turns out that I do, and the office hours and grading and releasing problem-sets and answering questions and following up on emails and the rest of it is fine as well. Time is just a problem :).

What this amounts to is that I had my year-long-anticipated paper deadline on a Thursday, had to prepare a lecture and teach discussion sections on Friday, and then I had to pack, get furniture, and move on a Saturday, from a house where people weren’t unhappy to see me go and into a house where I barely knew the people. Early February was thus pretty rough—it’s rare that I run out of energy, but I was pretty socially and mentally exhausted for a part of it there.

Thus, I give myself a total break for early February, because it always takes at least a week to recover after a paper deadline, since what happens with paper deadlines is that you put off the non-essential things for after the deadline and then kind of blink disorientedly at the pileup afterwards. I also get really weird around people who I’m not sure like me—weird, in this case, meaning “I’m naturally shy in a lot of situations but it’s been trained into me that that’s bad and so I end up with this weird blend of being sort of anxious but wrapped up in a lot of compensation mechanisms that make it so I’m not actively feeling anxious and try to act very cautious”. The way to make this go away is to figure out if people do like me, in other words spend time with people, so I was spending a little of my time hanging out with my housemates and getting to know them, as is the case with any new place. (Answer: my housemates are both very nice, including generous and attentive, so it’s worked out :)).

Then… so here’s an action that I’ve recently noticed myself doing, which feels like a new behavior for me. It’s… okay, it’s actually familiar, but in a different context. What I’m noticing myself doing is escapism. Seeking out things that are socially interesting and feel like progress, and then trying to suck as much spontaneity out of them as possible. This last part about spontaneity feels important, and is in contrast to how I generally live my life, which is extremely planned and optimized. It’s my standard to be planning routes and food and objects needed almost all the time, such that if I’m walking somewhere or laying in bed or whatever, I’m often thinking about organization.

Normally, I notice myself doing this sort of “distract-mind-with-something-interesting-enough-to-justify-inattention-to-goals” as applied to exercise, and most prominently, reading. One of the things that I like about reading is that I’m not in control of myself when I’m doing it, which is why I’ll end up doing it for an arbitrary number of hours. I know that other people sometimes spend too long doing a thing than they planned, but I don’t, really, outside this domain. I have pretty constant pings which are “are you doing something useful? Are you doing something useful?” during almost every activity, and that’s part of the appeal of reading, that that ping goes away.

The ping also goes away during social activities! And, it turns out, by living in this new place my possibilities for interesting and rewarding social activities have increased. Thus, as a long-winded explanation for the decision I’m about to reveal: escapism + getting it off my to-do list = I’ve been making myself more busy by getting back into the dating etc. realm.

Another really weird about this is that I can apparently sort of substitute social time for reading, which is bizarre to me. I basically stopped reading for this whole last month, which is very, very, very unusual for me, and instead have been hanging out with people / engaging in new and exciting social experiences. Moreover, the social stuff and reading feel like they’re fulfilling the same sort of “gooey warm feelings / escapism” goal, which is REALLY STRANGE, because social time has historically not felt like that for me. Social time is usually very interesting but a fair amount of work. (Reading can also be a lot of thinking work, depending on how deep I’m getting into it, but social time is guaranteed thinking work.) Social time is also normally not about warm feelings, because people are confusing and occasionally upsetting and I’m usually feeling some degree of performance anxiety that I’m not thinking about, plus I’m interacting in real time with really quick people / people who want something from me / people who are asking me about opinions / people who I want to drive the conversation for, so I’ve got to be on my A-game. People are fascinating though, and I usually get some warm feelings from somewhere, I just don’t expect it most of the time by default.

Turns out I really like a bunch of people in the non-academic community I’ve been hanging around. I’ve been calling this collection of individuals “cool people”, which makes it sound like I’m doing social-hierarchy-climbing towards the cool people, which I totally am, except that when people hear this they get concerned that I’m popularity-driven, which I TOTALLY AM with regards to cool people, except that who I consider a “cool person” has some correlation with objective status and popularity but also… isn’t that? Like, if you were to list all of the high-status people in this community and then say: what’s your plan to being friends with them, I’d tell you that you’ve got the wrong list, and it’s not like I’ve got this pre-specified battle plan. But I like some of the small sub-clusters a lot, and am enamored with (it gets a little hero-worshippy sometimes) some of the key, high-status people in that group (they’re so cooooooolllll), and enjoy getting the opportunity to hang out with them. In short: I should probably stop calling them “cool people” and just start calling them “people I like” because that seems like the connotation which is more similar to what I’m doing, and also, the people I like are also often REALLY REALLY NICE and have been really welcoming, and I’ve been feeling lots of gooey warm feelings hanging out with people recently.

So I’ve been meeting and hanging out with lots of awesome people, and I’ve also been making great leaps on the dating etc. domain, and it totally feels like it’s “necessary” to deal with stuff happening with work (meaning… that I’m very unhappy with that amount of work that I think I’m going to get done compared to the amount that people want from me). (…Huh. I didn’t realize until I wrote that my feelings about being kind of overwhelmed / given-up / afraid / upset were at the level of “very unhappy”, but that seems to be what that set of emotions are. It’s interestingly extremely contained to this specific problem of time-crunch, because I really like all of the component parts of things that I’m busy with, and I like what I’m doing with my escapism time, and I’m really quite enjoying my life right now. It’s just this one thing about too many expectations about what people want me to do. I’ve been prioritizing “teaching” and “life” this entire month, over “research” and “qualification exams”… which is also a new change for me, because normally I’d give up “life” pretty readily, but I am adamantly not doing that right now. I keep on sleeping instead of blogging, for example, which isn’t a trade I’ve ever really chosen week after week, and exercising, and doing cool social stuff… I probably need to talk to someone about this, seems like it’s worth resolving.)

And, in short, what with spending weekends hanging out, and doing teaching during the week, and whatever-even-else-I’ve-been-doing-with-my-time, it’s been busy. (…I’m still SO CONFUSED ABOUT WHERE MY TIME IS GOING. HOW CAN I FEEL PRODUCTIVE MOST OF MY MOMENTS, AND YET NOT MEET EVERYONE’S EXPECTATIONS? What’s wrong with me?) (Hahaha, I enjoy that framing. It’s more that I feel really defensive and somewhat guilty about prioritizing “life”. Which is, y’know, the most standard problem of standard problems among grad students. I sometimes wished I hung around people who weren’t like: yeah it’s the worst, you just gotta sleep less, you know?) (Another frame I sometimes use for this is “do what you need to to achieve your goals”. An attitude that’s pretty common is: who cares what your goals are, someone else’s goals, and the goal you should follow, is to do the very best at whatever thing you’re doing right now. But sometimes you don’t need to do your very best at that one thing, and you can do well at two different things, and that’s actually better for your individual goals in the long run. This reasoning works in the abstract, at least, though it doesn’t really speak to me at an emotional level.) (What I really want is for “life” (which includes things like sleeping and exercising and doing things that keep me in a positive emotional state like social stuff and blogging) to be default. For everything else on top of it to be exchangeable, but for the baseline things to be just the way things are. And I’d rather not pay large penalties towards my personal goals because of this perspective. I wonder if I’ll ever get this set of issues resolved? It’s so, so common among people I know, and people seem to have idiosyncratic, self-soothing solutions to the generalized problem. It seems that there’s always going to be tension between 1) how much I want to do, 2) how much other people want me to do, and at some point you just have to pick and stick to it. I seem to want everyone to be happy with my pick, but maybe I just have to accept that other people won’t be happy? ARGGGGGG I have so much trouble with that idea, I want everyone to be happy with me :P. (Oh, that last phrase is so familiar to how my mind works :)).

Cool :). Angsting’s over, l wanna talk about some of the gooey things :).

Okay, first, my students (the ones I TA for) like me. This is amazing. They tell me I need to write in larger font on the board, but they approve of my ability to reorganize and present content such that it’s clear. I love love love being complimented for being clear in this sort of thing, and it’s really fun being an “expert” when I can actually mostly be one. They try hard and they look at me when I’m speaking and they write notes on what I’ve synthesized from my reading and my understanding and I see why everyone’s gaga over the teaching bit. All people do not love the teaching bit, but when I meet people who have left academia, a few of them mention missing this part the most.

Second, I went to a party last night where people were… gah, generous and welcoming. GAHHHHHH it’s hard to express not in onomotopeia how much I appreciated when people are generous and welcoming, and care about each other, and sympathize and listen and are funny and laugh a lot and share and are loving. When they soothe and respect and listen and care and express nice things they feel, and reach out, and so much gooey. I found myself just wanting to sit on the couch in my house, with my housemates who I also just like sitting with, and just remember and drift in all of these feelings, because people being nice is so good. Content is good too, and there was very little content exchanged during that particular party, but there were a lot of not-in-language good feelings going on and it was wonderful.

Speaking of “not-in-language” feelings—I had a breakthrough on my “meaning-laden physical contact is hard” problem! I’ve historically had trouble with things like hugging, or comforting, or cuddling, etc., because I get stuck in the complexity of formally trying to reason it out. Specifically, what goes on in my head is something like: “okay, I know what this gesture means, and this gesture means, and if you put them together it results in that kind of effect, and if I move my leg this way it means that, and oh my god if I’m doing this with my hand then what I am doing with that leg and my balance, and oh my god now I feel like I’m pretending and you want me to feel or evoke this emotion and I want to evoke this emotion and I don’t know what I’m doing and there are too many options and too many body parts and too many meanings AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!” Which, if you’re on the outside, looks like: Monica goes very stiff, looks very uncomfortable, stops talking, and starts blinking really quickly while occasionally making stuttering noises. I call this “freezing behavior”, and I’m pretty used to it happening, and feel like it’s a pretty reasonable reflection of what goes on in my head.

Then someone showed me / I figured out something great, which essentially amounts to: I have physical instincts, and I can just use those instead of trying to reason it out cognitively.

(If you’re in this community, the steps to figuring it out were this. Setting: me and them, cuddling. Them: “Try leaning into your “S1” body feelings. Let’s do a guided meditation to do this.” Me: “Huh. I bet you’re one of those people who feel emotions in their body, which is why you’re telling me to lean into my body feelings. I don’t have body feelings, and thus this guided meditation isn’t doing anything for me, but I do have feelings that are expressed through visual imagery in a mental space outside of my body, so I can try leaning into that. Oh, wow. Wait, I know how to do this. You move there and I move here and now we’re both comfortable and now I’ve achieved whatever that part of me wanted. Huh. This set of actions is totally a thread through the possible spaces of meaning but now I have a single thread to follow that also seems to align with correct behavior as I observe in others. HUH.)

(A friend, listening to this story: “…So you used mental imagery to hack your way into feeling your instincts. Awesome! You just bought yourself infinite happiness!”)

(A friend, listening to this story: “Wow, sounds like a very cognitive way to get into something non-cognitive.”)

(A friend, listening to this story: “Sorry I was zoning out could you tell that one again?”)

(A friend, listening to this story: “YEAH that sounds great, congrats!”)

(A friend, listening to this story: “Oh, that’s interesting. Could you apply to the rest of your life too?” Me: “Wait, what?” Them: “Yeah, you seem stiff on first meetings.” Me: “Wait, what?”)

(A friend, listening to this story: “That sounds really weird and non-scientific.” Me: “Yep, it’s all emotions mumbo-jumbo, but it worked! Resulted in change in behavior!”­­)

(A friend, listening to this story: “Cool! Can you tell me more about your emotions in visual imagery thing, sounds interesting!”)

But generally everyone was happy for me, which was fun, and I do like making progress on this sort of thing :). (Also, you see how the people I’m hanging out with are pretty weird by this point. My therapist recently told me: “It’s very soothing for you to put things into schemas, isn’t it?” Me: “…Yeah.” Her: “You seem to do it with almost everything, and get upset when you can’t put things into schemas.” Me: “…Yeah? Are you suggesting I try not doing that?” Her: “I’m not suggesting anything, we’re just noticing and trying to understand.” The amount of times I make this woman say “I’m not advising anything, we’re just noticing and trying to understand” is ridiculous :). But I can tell when she approves of things or not, and it’s such a default pattern to try to work from that inference…)

I also had another discovery a while back about conflict. Conflict is hard for me—I have a low tolerance for it in general, though there are odd exceptions where I’m annoyed enough that I’m going to fight you because I’m right, damn it. In any case, conflict is hard especially because both people can be right at the same time, and I have trouble with this. Recently a friend and I were playing a game together in a group. Part of this game involved frequently rolling dice. When excited, I have a tendency to announce rolls—not only my own, but anyone’s rolls that I can see. I also have a tendency to bounce my leg if sitting (I get told to stop this one reasonably frequently :P) and move around a lot if standing. I also am loud, sometimes talk over people, talk really fast, and can exude energy to the point where I get asked if I’m high :P.

My friend basically got tired of me announcing their rolls before they had a chance to, found the constant moving around was evoking bad memories and was otherwise unpleasant, and was annoyed that I was repeatedly talking over them. We had a little stare down in which I realized all of these things and stopped.

But “stopping” these things, for me, isn’t costless. It’s basically telling me to calm down and exert cognitive control again. Which means that I have to stop being excited, or be excited in a controlled way, which is kind of the same as not being excited. I was annoyed that I had to stop being excited, because being excited is freedom and fun and joy, and I like being allowed to be excited.

So I proceeded to be sad and annoyed at this friend, while also not allowing myself to be annoyed, because it wasn’t justified that I was annoyed because they were annoyed for legitimate reasons and it wasn’t right of me to also be annoyed. I also thought it was stupid to be affected by something this silly, so I was just generally trying to tamp down hard on all emotions relating to it, but it came up in therapy because I actually was quite upset about it.

My therapist said: “So you felt angry because they were telling you to contain yourself.”

Me: “Well, yes, but that’s not taking into account their point of view, which was…”

(Five minutes later) My therapist: “So you felt angry because you felt they were telling you to contain yourself, and they felt angry because you were doing things that felt like they weren’t respecting them and their agency.”

Me: “…You know, that just felt really, really different when you said it. Yes, that’s right. But that felt different.”

My therapist: “Why did it feel different?”

Me: “…I don’t know, let me think about it…”

And it turns out that I have a lot of implicit rules about what is and is not okay. According to these rules, only one person is allowed to be upset in an interaction, and that’s the person who would objectively have been caused the most harm. Since I was getting the lesser amount of harm in the dice-rolling situation, I was “not allowed” to also be upset. Turns out, it’s actually possible for both of us to be simultaneously upset, both for legitimate reasons, and what my therapist was doing was holding up both of those reasons as equal, which I definitely don’t do implicitly. That was the “different” part… that it was legitimate that we were both upset.

The other new part was that she was urging me to “be with the emotion”, which is something I hear all the time. It’s actually fairly helpful to be forced to spend some time just sitting with an emotion, rather than poking at it briefly and then trying to wrestle with it from afar. But what’s also interesting is that my version of “being with an emotion” always results in an action after. There always has to be an action that occurs to ameliorate the situation. Which is part of the reason why I was having so much trouble “being with” the anger, because if I was angry then I’d have to take some action, and I didn’t want that action to be being less excited, and I didn’t want that action to be being irrationally annoyed at this friend, and I just didn’t know anything to DO with this emotion since I was the one in the wrong in my books, but I didn’t want to do anything self-chastising for it because I was ANNOYED, god damn it, because don’t I also have the right to self-express, and it was just kind of sitting in this roiling circle that was popping up occasionally.

But it turns out… “being with an emotion” can literally just mean “be with it”, instead of “be with it and then fix it (make it never happen again)”, which is the add-on that I unthinkingly and always add onto the end of that statement. (And… almost any statement socially, really. This is always at the end.) And so when people say “be with it”, they can actually mean that two people can exist, with minor conflicts like dice-roll announcement, and that that tension can be there, and we can both be alive with it and still with it and it’s just going to be there, and I don’t have to do anything about it, it can just exist. And this is huge. This is SO MUCH less emotion that all of the reasoning and yelling and upsetness I had about this situation—it’s just there, it’s flatter, it’s just: look, there’s a small conflict, small differences, and it’s there. And that’s astonishing.

(Another funny talk I had with someone, about people being upset or sad about situations. I was talking about how repression and forcing down emotions was incredibly useful, and I used it as a first-pass for many upsetting situations. They were telling me that sounded like a bad idea. I went on to explain that what I mean by “repression” isn’t what everyone else seems to mean by “repression”, because I can only repress things if I’ve at least touched on the meat of them, otherwise the problems and emotions pop back up and I have to try to reason through them again. Versus other people seem to have this magical “don’t care” button in which they can shut down anything, even if they haven’t resolved the problem, which seems like a bad idea. But my version of repression seems pretty fine a lot of the time, and regardless useful. Then they started arguing that even if I’m doing my version of repression, I’m still not taking action, and they have a lot of trouble with this, trying to motivate themselves to take action, and you really don’t want to repress anything to take action, that should be the last step not the first. And we went back and forth for a long while, where I really wasn’t understanding their point at all, and then they said:

“Wait. Are you saying that… you’re assuming the correct solution? You’re saying you take action by default?”

Me: “Hahaha, what?”

Them: “No, I mean, this talk of repression is completely separate for you because you automatically assume that whenever a problem comes up you take action.”

Me: “…Of course? I mean, that’s how you solve problems. That’s obvious. The repression’s after that if it doesn’t work.”

Them: (incredulous)

Them: “You know, I kind of like that. Taking action by default. I might try to use that.”

Me: “…Wait, you’re telling me this isn’t other people’s defaults?!

Me: (feeling very odd about this conversation for missing this part, also impressed that they figured it out, also thoughtful)

Me: “…You know, that explains a lot of behavior I’ve seen.”

(People’s minds are so weird, I can’t even. It’s very confusing to me the level at which we understand each other, on either end (we understand so much about each other, and yet the details are wild.))

Hm :). There’s been a lot happening elsewise, but I’m feeling the desire to eat waffles then go to bed, so I think I’m going to do that. Thanks so much to you all who read it (I recently found out two of my friends skimmed through this thing, which makes me so happy :)), and wishing you the best in your weeks :).

Monica

Sweet

Hey readers :).

I’m hoping this will a short one, since we’re approaching the legendary Feb 1st Cognitive Science Society Conference deadline! I’ve literally been planning for this submission all year, because last year scarred me and I didn’t want a repeat of that performance :). I totally am capable of working nonstop on one project, not working out, sleeping less, and not doing any social things, but it’s not particularly pleasant. However, all of my planning has paid off, and this year I am much more on schedule. I have high hopes I’ll have a full draft out by the end of the weekend!

Just to get it out of the way, I just read this article on the Aziz Ansari case, which I’ve been staying well out of, including all of the comments about it on my Facebook newsfeed. As expected it made me sad, especially since I was reading the article sort of as a personality test and it checked off a lot of boxes. But this is our reality and I don’t know what to do about it so I’m moving on for now. (I’m willing to argue about small details of this reality, but not the gist of it. I feel the gist of it is correct.)

In other news, I got to teach for the first time today :). Did you know that I originally started doing research because I wanted to teach at the university level? I was like: I want to be a college professor. And people around me said: well, if you want to be a college professor, you have to get a PhD, which means you have to do research and be really, really good at it. And I said: what? And they said: try it. So I did, and now I really like my research :). But I’ve always wanted to try teaching.

I was so scared the night leading up to it, but I got in the classroom and did my lesson plan and… it was so easy. Being up in front of the classroom was so easy. It was like the best version of doing powerpoint presentations to people, because… lots of reasons, but the main point is that the goal was to try to teach them something. Something that they cared about learning, that I thought was important and cool, and I got to teach them however I wanted, and I was the expert so wasn’t going to be questioned on it, and no one was grading me, and it wasn’t about my performance it was about their learning. And since it was about their learning, I got to do things like ask for questions, and stop when I was talking to clarify a point because someone looked confused, and made them know more things than they came in, and entertain them, and say whatever I was thinking if it was on topic, and they’re good kids. Not that they’re much younger than me, but they were enthusiastic, and respectful, and said things, and talked with each other, and were friends with each other and friendly, and were engaged, and it was just really, really great. And I didn’t have any problems making eye contact with them all because they were making eye contact back, and I know my lesson plan was good because they contributed, and it was just so excellent. I want to make them all learn things, learn all the cool things.

(I even got to tell them my anecdote of realizing why math is cool. And tell them all to work hard, and watch them react to what I was saying, and be an authority. It was so good. All the power, right, and it’s power I can use to have them learn the things I want them to learn, in the way I think it’s easiest for people to learn it (given time constraints since I don’t have forever to optimally prepare these lesson plans). And they’re just such good kids. Gah. First day so successful.)

Another nice thing happened today! I was sitting in a meeting with three other guys, one of which was presenting a newish math/programming concept. I actually followed the vast majority of it, which is quite an improvement from last year (I’m always happy when I realize I’ve become more competent). However, there was this part where the speaker finished up a section and asked if we all understood. One of my friends had been asking a lot of questions, and was nodding to himself in confirmation that he was all caught up. He voiced this verbally. Then the other guy I’ve been working with a lot said he had implemented something similar recently, so this all made sense to him.

Things definitely made sense to me on at a high-level, but I knew I wasn’t getting the kind of implementation, low-level details that my two work buddies had understood. However, I didn’t feel comfortable voicing this, because it had become obvious earlier that I knew the least out of everyone here, and I didn’t want to slow people down given that I wasn’t the one who was probably going to program this part in the end. I was also starting to spiral down into my usual mode of thinking when I get to situations like this, which is as familiar as anything, and I noted its familiarity even as it was happening.

It goes something like: god, I don’t know anything. These guys know so much more than me, now I can’t say anything, I’m just here in the room and what am I good for, I’m just the token psychology person or something, not the math person, what even can I do on this project if I don’t get this? But if I can’t do the math, what am I supposed to do? This whole project is math, what, I can do support or something, no, that’s stupid, what are you going to be the token girl who’s just going to sit around coordinating everyone, god, what skills can you use here that you have a comparative advantage in, nope, can’t think of any, [impeding feeling of doom], and if you don’t get the math now then what good are you going to be in the future, this is your entire PhD here we’re talking about—

This is actually much more of a feeling for me than an actual described train of thought (I’ve never written it out before or spoken of it like that, actually… I hadn’t realize the “girl” part was still in there since I tend to notice that a lot less when I’m friends with the people in the room.) This sinking feeling has been popping up a lot less recently since I now a) understand a lot more, and b) realized that there are some topics I really don’t care about or need to care about, so don’t have to worry that I don’t get it. But the current topic of discussion was very relevant to my PhD and thus my interests, and more of the content was new to me than the people around me. I was actually doing an okay job of heading off this train by reminding myself that for me, three of these concepts were new, and they were all building on each other, while for one of my colleagues only two of the concepts were new and he had a very strong foundation in related concepts, and one and a half concepts was new for my other colleague. I was actually impressed with how well I was keeping up.

But anyway, the speaker had asked how we were all doing, and one of my friends had been asking a ton of questions and then also responded he was good. My other friend had not been asking any questions, but when asked said that he had implemented something like this recently and was good. I didn’t say anything, because I was feeling doom-y and didn’t want to detract the discussion with “yep, this mostly makes sense to me, but I’m not getting it quite as well as you guys which is making me feel insecure.” And then after those two had replied, the speaker nodded and looked down at his computer screen, and my engaged friend nodded and looked down at his computer screen, and I was suffused with a hugely increased WAVE OF DOOM because no one cared if I was in the room or if I was following, did they, the question of “are you following” had obviously been answered by all the people who mattered—

“Wait, before we start—“ second teammate suddenly said, interrupting the speaker who had started on the next section, “I haven’t heard from Monica in a while. I just wanted to check in.”

And I was like: …you know, I can’t even describe what that felt like. Just, doom feeling, completely gone. I always manage the doom feeling when it comes up, and whenever it pops up it lasts throughout the entire meeting, and after the meeting, and is distracting and makes me feel bad about myself, and it’s also not the most useful thing in the world and feels a bit like an overexaggeration so I don’t expect anyone to fix it for me. Since it had popped up, I had already shifted mental gears to knowing it was going to be there and being ready to fight it for the rest of that hour and all the time it was going to persist after and feeling gross for the next forseeable future, and that feeling was so magnified watching both the speaker and my friend turn away, busy thinking about their own affairs, and it hurt and was unjustified and then it was like: poof, gone.

I said what I’d been thinking: that I’d been following, not to the extent that you guys were, but I’m not going to be implementing this probably, so it’d be fine. And all of this came out in an incredibly cheerful voice that revealed nothing of the previous doom thoughts—because I wasn’t feeling them anymore— and then I said “Thank you for checking in,” and then broke eye contact really quickly and turned away and just smiled to myself. Smile smile smile, helplessly.

Then of course I got caught in doom-peripheral thoughts for a while like “why can’t I concentrate on learning the math here, why am I thinking about how kind that interaction was, ahhhhhh” but these were nothing like they had been or would have been. And usually I think I’d thank someone really hard for doing something like that for me—meaning, just kind of glowing at them, which people usually find rewarding. (Man, that feels so weird to write. That is essentially what I do though. Keep and hold eye contact, try to express all of the joy feelings through the smile and face scrunching, hold.) But this one felt… I don’t know. In a lot of my hippie-woo interactions, I’d totally have done the glowing thing, but this was a work interaction and one doesn’t really do the glowy-thing at work, I think. But he’d totally executed a move straight out of my standard hippie-woo interactions (he’s also part of that community), but also it just felt really special because I really wasn’t expecting to get out of this one (the doom feeling has a special flavor for work and I didn’t ever expect that to be improved by other people) and then I did and it was really special, and that maybe felt like too much, in some ways, as well.

I really really like when people are nice to me. And when people are attentive to other people. I was hanging out with some of my friends recently, and Friend #1 looked across the table at Friend #2 and asked, “How are you doing?” Friend #2 was curled up on the couch and said, “I’m just feeling really dizzy right now.” Me and Friend #3 then proceeded to stare and then break eye contact awkwardly. Friend #1 turned back to what they were doing, and said casually: “Cool. Let me know if you need anything. Blankets or water or whatever. Meanwhile, it’d be good to carry on with Monica and [Friend #3] for this part anyway…”

It was so casually caring. Like, so casual—just asked a neutral “how are you doing” when they noticed something might be wrong, and then offered to help while not drawing attention, and then drew our attention and carried on… GAHHHHHHH it kills me. I love love love when people are sweet and people appreciate it and they do it smoothly and comfortably and socially and it’s the absolute best. And effective, so effective, it’s so competent and beautiful and kind it metaphorically hurts. (I tried to write “it hurts”, but it doesn’t hurt at any level, even though the phrase feels right.) I want to drown in these people and stay here forever.

Tangentially, I’ve just run across a new personality test that I’m enjoying a lot. If I only talk about the first half, it has 4 classifications. Under this system, you are one of the four options, and that option is the one you turn to when you’re stressed or put under pressure—it’s your default, natural state. Meanwhile, you also can “model” one of the options, which means you really understand and believe in one of the options, and can and maybe do spend a lot of your time exhibiting traits from that option. You can also “perform” one of the options, which is where you use the tools from that option but don’t really fully embody it. (This is a Harry Potter-based classification system, but they do some strange things to it that I think make it better. I’ve included the names here because they help as tags, though.)

Option #1 (Gryffindor): you do things for ideals. If your back’s to the wall and you have to choose, you’ll destroy relationships and institutions and everything for your ideals. You do what your gut thinks is right and stick to it.

Option #2 (Ravenclaw): you do things for truth. It feels immoral to trust your gut for decisions—that’s just another source of information to incorporate into your models, which you develop and test scrupulously.

Option #3 (Hufflepuff): you do things for people. You care about community and giving everyone a fair chance because they’re a person. You are loyal to people before ideals.

Option #4 (Slytherin): you do things for your people. You will demonstrate the utmost loyalty to the people who are important to you, and will do everything in your power to protect and care for them.

Okay, first of all, I really like thinking about things in this system, because it’s surprisingly easy for me to wrap my head around. I also really enjoy the Myers & Briggs personality test, but I’m really not good at classifying people under that system because the personalities seem so different from mine that I can’t keep them straight. Somehow the above system has concepts that stick with me so I can actually reason about them, and it’s fun how I’ve been reasonably confident about some of my friends.

But anyway, one of the reasons I bring this system up is that when I was going through the much-longer-version of these descriptions, the one that fit best was… Hufflepuff. I’m not particularly loyal to communities and I’m not a good caretaker (as is a common trope for people in this option), but there were several points that fit better than any other group. Things like high empathy and agonizing over others’ perspectives (…I still don’t know if I have high empathy. I was told I didn’t for a long while, and was self-focused. Then words like “compassionate” started getting thrown around late in college, and I’ve tentatively updated my self-concept in that direction. It’s really weird because I can hold myself apart from mass group-feelings with much less trouble than most people, I think, and also in some prominent ways I only care about and think about myself. And yet, given these low-empathy traits, there is some crazy extreme emotion going on around other people, and especially high attention to reading upsetness in people, and my inability to tolerate anger or sadness in people, and there’s something weird going on there.) …In any case, I’ve known I have what I call crazy-intense emotion around people and their behavior towards me, and I’ve been trying really hard to dial that down over the past year. It’s actually the major goal on my information personal-improvement list: freak out less about people.

But the fact that I may be primarily people-oriented on an emotional level (rather than just an intellectual level) is super strange to me. It feels historically untrue—when I was in high school, I remember testing strongly that ideas were more important/interesting than people, and I have always been much more school and learning-oriented than people-oriented. I think maybe part of it is that people are different than me now. For one, I’ve basically found my people—weird in the same way that I’m weird, is what I always say. Second, these people are super interesting for me, and third, I now have intellectual structures for analyzing people. But all of the latter evidence says is that I’m more in Ravenclaw, which cares about intellectualization, rather than an emotion-level kind of people-orientation.

But let’s just say, for the sake of trying it out, that I’m people-oriented on an emotional level, and that when you back me into a corner I’m not going to try to intellectualize anything or find truth, but instead just want everyone to see everyone else as people and be kind and be fair to each other. And that… that feels pretty true.

So, then, what’s all of this intellectual stuff? Because I do believe that there’s a bunch of Ravenclaw in me. I like learning things. A lot.

But again, for the sake of argument… say I care about my immediate community. And my immediate community is all Ravenclaw, and they all want me to care about intellectual pursuits, and I care about pleasing them, and it turns out that I want to hang out with Ravenclaw people because I like them and they’re interesting and care about the Right Things, and then this whole thing gets REALLY reinforced since I decide Ravenclaw people are basically my community and seek out and surround myself entirely with them, and now I’m “modeling” Ravenclaw all the time because it seems like the best way to be (told to me implicitly and explicitly). It turns out I can enjoy a really, really large amount of Ravenclaw, but for the first time I’ve run into people here who are way too Ravenclaw for me, and I’ve finally decided I don’t need to feel insecure about it because I can just be fine with not caring about the topics that they care about. (Somehow, there’s something about that logic that I feel kind of reinforces the point here.)

So then I’m running around with a core-Hufflepuff module, that I’m suppressing because it’s not logical and it’s overwhelming, and modeling Ravenclaw REALLY HARD (and I have a bunch of it naturally as well), so basically I’m an Ravenclaw pretty much everyone, including myself (though I historically have had lingering doubts about whether I’m a true Ravenclaw and have felt bad about this). And (finally, getting to my actual point and where this tangent is related—goodness, it’s easier in my head when I just have the tag for these concepts directly linked instead of doing all of the explanation here)… it occurs to me, that if this is part of who I am, it’s possible I can stop fighting the people thing so hard.

(I’d say “stop fighting and do something about it”, except that that doesn’t feel true to me. “Doing something about it”—i.e., being kind and comforting and whatnot—has always felt extremely frightening to me. I remember distinctly in fifth grade when my best friend was sitting on the bus next to me, and was staring out the window and crying. I asked her what was wrong, and she said she was homesick. Feeling entirely overwhelmed and also like someone needed to fix the problem, and that I was certainly not competent to do it, I tapped another friend in the seat in front of me on the shoulder and made her switch with me in the hopes that she could do the comforting thing. I was later informed this was not particularly helpful, but this has been something I’ve been doing for years. In college, girl on swim team laying on the floor. Me: see girl, immediately go get captain and tell them to help. A month ago, friend crying because of a messy breakup. Me: stand around super awkwardly (my other friend almost hugged me because she said I looked so uncomfortable) but feeling really grateful other friend is going to take care of her. I’m now much more willing to sit through people who are unhappy because I feel like I’m actually marginally helpful if it’s a one-on-one—I can listen—but I have a block around comforting, especially physical comforting, that has a very particular feel. Saying kind things isn’t a big problem, by the way. I feel a little embarrassed sometimes when I do it, but saying sappy things isn’t a problem, nor is saying sympathetic things. The comforting block actually feels a little like the “touching people in general” block, which is interesting. Oh, another interesting data point: one time someone explicitly said to me “God, I feel embarrassed right now. Can you put your arm around my shoulder and, like, pat it?” And that was no trouble. Wouldn’t it be convenient if people told you how to comfort them, and also weren’t going to do emotions all over you? I just realized I’m kind of terrified of emotions all over me, still. There’s, like, nothing to do with them. There are just a lot of emotions, and people are sad, and I’m like ahhhhhh I’m sorry you’re feeling this way I see why you’re feeling this way ahhhhhh.) (I find it kind of weird that I do this. I know what the comforting gestures are, and I know what the stock phrases are, and I care, so you’d think I could just execute. I think part of it is that I don’t know that I’d want these things done to me, so instead of doing something more intuitive, it’s about following the script, and I’m really scared of the script. So instead I just stand around looking so uncomfortable that third-party people come up and try to comfort me, lol.)

But anyway, the reason I think that it might be good to relax on the “I-care-about-people’s-emotions, like-a-whole-lot!” idea, is that a) suppression has not been working out very well for me recently, and b) the decision, a few months back, to stop thinking I’m not the right type of person because I don’t care about what everyone else cares about i.e. what I should care about if I were the right kind of intellectual, has been really nice for me. It’d be kind of nice to know how deep the Hufflepuff traits run—because I can see a stopping point if I squint at these impulses, they definitely don’t go on forever—and maybe, like, develop some different skills around Hufflepuff? Because I’ve definitely been developing skills around having Hufflepuff, but they aren’t the ones I think you’d most expect. I’ve got really superior suppression skills, networking skills to help deal with emotional fallout, quite good at avoiding all forms of communication that could lead to negative emotions I can’t deal with (in both me and them—I also can’t deal with my being upset at people), and am decently skilled in framing these emotional impulses in ways that will win me sympathy from Ravenclaws. The final point was something that was pointed out to me recently, actually, and clued me in that this frame might be worth investigating. Specifically, a few people have asked me why I have such insistence on my feelings being “justified”. I spend a large amount of time in my head trying to figure out if I’m right to feel what I’m feeling, if I’m justified, and will present information to others in this framing, and analyze others’ actions in this framing. One of my friends several months back was like: “uh, it sounds like you two just aren’t compatible, why do we have to put everything in this ‘morally justified’ frame”. And then my therapist recently said: “They are what you are feeling—how could they not be right? Though I understand that it’s more complicated than that.” I stared blankly at my therapist for a moment at that one, then started laughing quietly to myself. “I’ve heard that one before,” I told her. “It just bounces completely off how I think about it.”

However, the “this feeling is justified” thing goes over just fine with the majority of people I interact with, and in fact they seem to think this is the proper way to conduct emotions, by weighing whether they are justified or not. I was tracing back to childhood, too, in the shower today (…shower thoughts. They reveal a lot about what you naturally care about :)) and that was interesting, because I think my parents explicitly enforced both Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tendencies. “Well, have you thought about what they were feeling?” (Hufflepuff, and a response I remember to some emotional complaints.) and “Well, is it true?” (Ravenclaw, and a response that I think was almost always present?)

So I think I’ve gotten good at trying to formulate emotional responses in Ravenclaw terms, but that it doesn’t work very well all the time (…evidenced by recent emotional fallout from a recent housing situation. The mess that has resulted from this sparked a lot of my thinking about this, actually, because the emotional repression module wasn’t holding up very well.) But but but—there are canonical Hufflepuff skills that exist too. Like, ability to comfort people, and build communities if one so desires, and stuff like that. I’ll actually have to think more about these Hufflepuff skills, because the only one I’d be into developing right now is to compensate for my really terrible ability to comfort people. Oh, and possibly dial down the emotional responsiveness to people, that’d be super good. (Building communities? Do I want to build communities? I’ve actually found a surprising non-desire to build communities compared to the people around me (I just want to join the good ones) which seem contradictory to the core-Hufflepuff theory. The other main evidence again my core-Hufflepuff theory is that I’m really not that loyal to people. Or, like, general people yes, but specific people no—I base my people-rankings based on how good (which has a strong competence element to it) they are in every interaction and as stable people. I’m also hella intellectual / meta about this sort of thing, and have high capacity to be interested in whatever I think I should be interested in, which goes against the Hufflepuff theory and for the Ravenclaw-core theory. The fact that I’ve been trying to tamp down on the people-emotions stuff for years, though, without much success, and that I have really really weird coping systems around it—they are so bizarre, and extreme, and bizarre—indicates to me that there’s something going on.)

Hm :). This personality system is pretty strange for me because I don’t fit in the categories very well :). It’s actually a 4×4 grid, so the second half of the sorting is how you do things, rather than why you do things, and I have a really hard time placing myself in that framework, even more than I have with my Hufflepuff / Ravenclaw confusion here. But it’s a fun system, and has provided me with an way to sort people that I can manage. I notice I’m getting better at “grasping” people, which I’m hoping will eventually let me predict people, which will eventually let me write people, and I’ve been trying to write fictional people for more than ten years now :).

To finish up (…this did not end up being short, surprise :P) I wanted to say that I am moving houses! I’m really excited. I’ve been up in the Berkeley Hills since I got here a year and a half ago, and now I’m moving down to the south side of campus, to go live with people in the crazy community I’ve joined. There will be a cat, and there will be a gym that is close, and there will be people, and I think it’ll be fun trying to live with friends, since I’ve never really done that before. I was texting with one of my academic friends, and she was saying that her room might open up and encouraging me to come, and I was telling her that I already found a place. And she kept on telling me about her place until I said that the new place was a Rationalist community place, and then she texted, I quote: “oooh another rationalist community place! Ok nvmd then you stay there” She had been skeptical over the Rationalist community ever since I got involved more than a year ago, but the phrasing “then you stay there” was both hilarious and touching to me. She cares. She cares about me trying out new opportunities, and finding home, and living with people who care—and this place may not live up to any of those possibilities, but she’s encouraging me to try it out and see.

I’ve got good people around me, readers. Such good people :).

Monica

Life is nice

Readers-readers-readers it’s blog time!

I’m so excited. This week has been… incredibly busy? A bunch of my friends are just getting back from break, but I feel like I’ve been on continuous “go” for a while now, especially since school started yesterday. But I’ve finally carved out some blog time. This week I’m going to write out lots of relatively-disconnected little thoughts that I’ve been saving up for a while. These are things that I write down when they occur to me, at least a few times a day; elsewise thoughts can fall into loops in my mind and it’s nice to have a clean mindspace :).

I find it interesting how much I echo people’s speaking styles, after a single exposure? I don’t often notice it, but I was at a dinner party the other day and the new phrasing that was coming out of my mouth was strange enough that I checked back to see where I had gotten it from.

This time, it was “I thought I’d check the source material,” which is something that fits in my vocabulary, but not something I’d normally use. It turned out one of the people at this party had used it about 15 minutes before, and I said it when I was speaking to him again, unconsciously.

I also said “there is a Sarah,” which I would never use in my normal patterns. It had been repeated twice though previously, in this group of people, so I appeared to have adopted it. I also generally notice I tend to adopt a more casual, slang-y way of speaking with people I meet on the street, and tend to go very intellectual and fast when I’m annoyed with someone. I’m possibly most scientifically eloquent when trying to bulldoze people I’m annoyed with than when I’m actually trying, which is an interesting observation.

What’s strange to me is the actual adoption of language is unconscious. I’m aware when I’m speaking in a different way than normal, but it feels like it’s just “happening” to me. However, I’m fully aware of what was said, and who said it, and can usually track these things back to the specific instance in which the particular phrasing I’ve adopted was used. I wonder if people who pay less explicit attention to everything that’s said adopt language. You know, I intuitively think they probably do.

Another odd observation is how much I pay attention in conversations—like, if you stop focusing for a few seconds you can lose an entire sentence—and how much it seems like everyone else must as well? It’s kind of absurd that we don’t miss more than we do when talking to people. Then again… it depends on what you’re talking about. A lot of the people I talk with put content in every single sentence, but maybe most conversations you can generally get the gist of it if you zone out on occasion. One of my friends has trouble with zoning out, and really wants glasses that will show a conversation transcript on the lens so that she can catch up when she inevitably loses the thread somewhere.

I was talking with my advisor about context-switching recently… basically, I’m bad at working on several projects at once, and would rather do things one at a time. However, as a professor, apparently all they do is context-switch, constantly. My professor says it’s a skill one learns in grad school, and you can get better at it and less stressed about it.

The thing is, though, that I don’t think I’m bad at context-switching in general. I was in college at some point, and occasionally my life gets busy now (read: this semester :P) and I’m able to get a lot of diverse things done with pretty low overhead. But context-switching with projects stresses me out, because you have to hold a lot in your head. If I’m not the lead on a project, no problem, but I seem to be trying to hold the entire project in my head every time I work on the project that I’m mainly responsible for. Meaning, not only am I tracking what I’m doing, but I’m doing a lot of tracking of is this what I’m supposed to be doing, is this the best thing to be doing, which requires that you keep the entire scope of the project and where you’re going and what remains and in what order it should be done and what needs to be saved and how should this whole thing be organized—all of that, in mind. And if I’ve got this massive precarious structure in my head, and someone’s like—nope, you need to work on this other thing now—I’m looking at this crumbling, enormous thing, and I just want to be buried under it and be overwhelmed and pulled and upset because uh, I’m holding up this thing right now? I don’t like how huge it is and I’m trying to decrease it, leave me alone?

I guess the strategy here would be to break it down into pieces and work on each of those pieces. I struggle with that because I really like having the big picture (at the project-level, and at “organizing Monica’s time” level) in mind. I think I’m actually quite good at the whole organizing-time-efficiently-and-making-plans-happen-in-advance-and-in-order skill, even compared to a lot of the people I hang out with.

The strategy I came up with a month or so ago and I’ve been pushing in my head is a general “DON’T WORRY ABOUT THIS YOU DO TOO MUCH PLANNING” banner that I send around my head reasonably frequently. It is actually doing something—making me back off a little on the nitty-gritty details and try to just let things happen—but I’m interested to see how that develops further.

Wow, I notice that it often takes several paragraphs to discuss a thing that is a fragment of a phrase in my word doc of thoughts. E.g., the whole chunk above is: “Context-switchableness? Have to learn it? (says [advisor name])”

The remainder of that sentence is “but also I like blocks of uninterrupted time a LOT”, which I also think is interesting. You know how I don’t use a phone? I didn’t use to use a phone, and I still try to strongly discourage friends from contacting me on a phone. The reason I don’t like phones is that they make you way too contactable. People expect you to respond in, like, minutes. Which is completely unacceptable to me, because I need huge chunks of time—hours—where I can switch off the internet and people and just be left alone. This is a lot of the reason why I end up with a late schedule, because that’s the only time when you’re not expected to be awake and ready to engage.

This desire of mine for chunks of alone-in-head time is annoying to people. It’s annoying because it’s really nice when you can contact people in minutes, and don’t have to plan everything days in advance.

I’d been thinking about this desire as just that—a desire, and one that everyone shares to some extent, and I was just exaggerating it to be annoying for some reason, but everyone basically has the same feeling, they’re just getting over it better.

However, I was talking with people recently who were taking a different mindset. In this mindset, everyone legitimately feels different needs, and they’re forcing themselves to be in the roughly average mold as everyone else, but literally everyone has different capabilities and different defaults. So it’s not that everyone’s in the default of “oh my god why are you forcing me to be online all the time STOP” but then are just really really good at context-switching and shunting their brains to different topics… instead, there must be a lot of people for whom, like, checking messages and responding constantly feels good or something? Or like, not kind of traumatic if done constantly. Just like, a thing, maybe a mild inconvenience, maybe even good, like how I feel sometimes when I’m in the mode where it feels kind of fun to have a gazillion things to manage at once.

And if this is true… then my forcing people to plan also takes somewhat of a different light. Because I’m really good at planning. I like planning, I have a hard time turning it off, I like looking ahead and knowing the layout of my day and where it’s going to go. However, I know people often don’t like it when I make them plan instead of doing something on-the-fly. For example, before I had a working phone (read: last year), I used to print out Google maps before I went anywhere and plan my routes, and then basically get it right on the first try when I needed to get somewhere new. I still tend to memorize maps before I take off for places on my bike. But this is really hard for some people. (e.g. I suck at street names. Images are great, street names are so bad.) And I actually know it’s hard for some people, and that not being spontaneous drives some people crazy and takes all the fun out of it and makes them feel cornered. Also, I’m increasingly realizing that a lot of people around me can’t focus or take action as well as I can. ADHD doesn’t let people focus as long as they want to (…I have an astonishing ability to focus for pretty much however long I need to. I didn’t really realize this was astonishing until recently. I knew people didn’t focus as long as I did, and attributed that to… something… mainly “I’m-ignoring-this-because-it’s-confusing-and-I-don’t-want-to-think-bad-thoughts-about-people’s-willpower”). And if you need me to take action on something relatively mechanistically easy—something that involves several steps, emailing or calling or whatever, but not hard—this is extremely low effort for me. In fact, taking these kinds of actions is relieving for me, because otherwise they’re piling up on my lists, and I have to finish my lists, and I don’t want anything on my list because it’s distracting. I now am doubting that this is how completing small actions feels to most people.

I’m having a hard time drawing a distinction between what I thought and what I now realized, since I think the above may be obvious to people. But it’s something like…

Before: There are two assumptions: 1) everyone has my default skills (people are allowed to have extra skills, but they have all of my baselines), and 2) everyone basically has the same landscape of things that are enjoyable or stressful (what I’m calling preferences). Since these assumptions don’t actually align with peoples’ behavior, I seem to have arrived at an odd series of justifications for the contradictions, some of which are below.

  • If the majority of other people are showing a different preference than mine, then I’m somehow wrong, because we all have the same preferences. I thus need to compensate for my wonky and unjustified set of preferences.
  • If I can’t compensate properly, because my wonky preferences are really off from normal… well, that doesn’t make any sense, because all of our preferences are roughly normal. So how to explain it? Oooh, I know: other people also have this bad preference, but are really good at overcoming it. They are super skilled in something. Everyone has my default skills, but people can have extra skills, and it seems like the majority of the population has a skill that I am lacking. Ah, the reason I am struggling with this preference is because I am lacking a skill.
  • Hmmm, wait, here’s another weird thing. Some of my friends, who are good people and try hard and everything, are failing to achieve a thing. Why are they failing? They have my default skills—they have insane willpower, almost infinite energy, are equivalent smartness, and have strong preference to please—they should be able to apply this to any possible hard thing and at least do as well as I could do. Why… aren’t… they? I mean, obviously it’s a failure in willpower—they aren’t trying hard enough—but that’s not an okay thing to think. Some things are hard for people, we know that, just like there are equivalent really hard things for me that other people don’t find hard. But why don’t they just—but NO MUST BE SYMPATHETIC—but—you know what, we’re going to just ignore this people-failing-thing, it’s very mysterious.

For an example that wraps up all of these veins of logic:

  • Uh, many of my friends appear to be magic? Like, they do things and those things feel absolutely impossible for me. How. The thing scares me, I have no idea how they do it, but they say they like it. But—how—okay, so, well, obviously the difference is they like the thing. And we all have roughly similar preferences, so all I need to do is make myself like the thing—it’s surely possible, I can do this, I just need to willpower through it, since willpower is the core of everything if you happen to not initially like a thing you’re supposed to like. Uh, crap, I still don’t like the thing. Well, well—well who cares if you like the thing! Sometimes people are different, fine, but whatever, you still need to actually do the thing. Just—do the actions. Do whatever people are doing with whatever mindset you have, just push through it. Okay, some progress but—why are people so good at this? Why am I not good at this? Why—right, it’s because people are unnaturally skilled at this, it’s because I’m having a failure in skills here, obviously there’s some mind thing going on, but obviously I should be able to push through, if you can’t power through by brute analysis then… then… and now people are telling me that I should be good at it, that I should be but I TRIED I can’t willpower more I don’t know what to do, I don’t understand why you want more willpower from me—and now you’re telling me that since I said I want it (of course I want the skill, didn’t I just say that?) why don’t I just do it, and I know we all have the same preferences and you want me to push mine over but that didn’t work and I don’t have any more willpower to give you and WHY DON’T YOU LIKE ME I’M TRYING CAN’T YOU SEE I’M TRYING I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING I DON’T KNOW WHY YOU’RE MAGIC AND I’M NOT, I’m sorry, I’m angry, I don’t know, I’m sorry.

(Note, for those of you who are new readers: this is not at all what’s going on intellectually :). I’m writing here from more of my emotional baseline, which also has beliefs, but my emotional center is much more inaccessible than my intellectual self and, as such, its beliefs don’t always make logically-cohesive sense. They’re pretty decent instincts, as they go, but are often slow to adjust to changing circumstances.)

But! But. I’ve been teaching myself some new tricks recently and trying to push those into the metaphorical hindbrain :).

First acknowledgement: Here’s a new knowledge bit, Monica, take it or leave it—most people don’t try to willpower through hard things.

I think, since I’m good at willpower, and willpower and intellectual analysis are my fallbacks, I tend to think that every time someone succeeds at something I find hard, it’s through a success in willpower. That means if I don’t have a success it’s through my failure in willpower, since it was just as hard for them and this is the path they took.

I… I really don’t know what to replace this with, but it just doesn’t make sense that people are willpowering through whatever crap I find hard. People just don’t find a lot of those things hard. And when people are telling me to do things that they find easy, I shouldn’t hear that as this request instead: “You just need to goddamn try harder, Monica, because I just told you to match my preferences and the way to do that is to try harder.”

(One of my friends said the following thing once: “People are already generally doing the things they find easy. If people aren’t already doing [x type of] research, it’s probably going to be a lot harder to get them to do it than it would be if you were simulating convincing yourself, because people gravitate to the things they find easy.” That comment still puzzles me at an emotional level, but I like thinking about it, because I think there’s some real truth I’m not acknowledging there.)

Point 2. Here’s a thought: People don’t all have the same preferences. And it’s okay. It’s OKAY. You are allowed to like the things you like, and dislike the things you like, and—nope, crap, I don’t believe this one. I still want everyone to want roughly the same things. Hm… let me try a “because” on that. I still want everyone to want roughly the same things because… it’s fair. Because you have to. Because you have to do what people want from you, and that means you have to like it, because you’re not allowed to not like it and be angry with them, because then they’re going to hurt you, and then you’re going to have to do it anyway, because they’re right and you’re wrong so it’s better not to think about it.

…Oh, okay, that’s informative. Thank you emotional self! (It’s always funny how the emotional self has good reasons for beliefs that off the top of your head don’t make any sense. I believe in the emotional self though—it’s got its own set of logic, mostly revolving around protection from hurt, recently :)). So there’s something about it being safer to have the same preferences, and—oh, there’s also my recent narrative about people being dangerous! In therapy a few days ago I described people as “jumbled messes of emotion and color that are literally going to explode at you if you don’t try to control any part of them you can—if you don’t understand what you can say as input and what’s going to come out as output, if you don’t make them into this comprehensible black box where you understand at least some of the wires.”

I think I’ll probably have to sort through my “people are dangerous” narrative, since it runs deep. The tag of “people are dangerous” is just my newest iteration of it. It ties in a lot with my strong need for everyone to be nice around me, and to fulfill expectations, and to have very clear expectations set for me… when I think about the “people in dangerous” kind of behaviors I have, it ends up feeling like a tangled, wrapped up ball of Christmas lights that feels incredibly cringing-away-from-things and desperate-to-please and afraid-anxious. Basically, if I can figure out how to get enough new frames that I don’t believe this one, I’m going to be so well taken care of :).

But anyhow, let’s try my last easy thought. (I feel like I’m describing my feelings right now, but not at all taking advantage of all of the possible fixing-this approaches that would be possible reading this from an outside intellectual perspective. Maybe someone will point some easy way out of this to me, or maybe I’ll come back to it later and come up with something myself. It literally just takes a sentence in the right moment for me to get a perspective change, but it’s hard to make that sentence.)

Last easy thought: people have different skills. Yeah. Yeah. This is my new realization as of a week ago, and more yesterday. Yesterday was about the intersection of preferences and skills, actually. It’s like: different people find different things hard. It can actually just be really really hard for me to be accessible by phone constantly, and that’s fine. That’s a real thing. It’s not that other people have more skills than I do, it’s that it’s literally just not as hard for them. Interestingly, I don’t seem to have to do much adjustment for the “other people can’t do what I can do”, since I already have a strong sympathy-understanding-they-just-can’t-for-some-reason response built-in. But I think the update there is not that people are unable to do specific things, but that the meta-skills are different too—what the landscape looks like if you don’t have willpower and energy and brute processing power to throw at it. The update is that it’s not about specific damn-can’t-do-the-thing, but about perspective, about what mental resources are available when you grab for them, the idea that other peoples’ default go-to I-need-help tools are not the same as mine are. (And so will succeed in circumstances mine won’t, and fail in circumstances mine won’t, but they’re different.)

I think a lot of this feels like a gradual expanding of my new “people aren’t always right” belief, which is built on the idea that all of us are basically the same. (Made up of the same cloud, my mind is throwing up at me. It’s a grey cloud, and the “people aren’t always right” belief is sort of like a castle on top of it. Since talking to my friend who can’t see mental imagery, I’m appreciating my own more.) And I love the “people aren’t always right” idea, because it’s helped so much with the “people are dangerous” front, because it means I can listen to things people say and aren’t immediately wrong, don’t have to have a reaction to it.

(One thing that’s super super puzzling to me is why I’m so unguarded with people. Like, there’s a part of me that feels deeply threatened by people, and yet I seek out new people and throw as much of myself at them as possible, and hope that they’re nice and don’t say anything I have to take to heart. This doesn’t make sense. Why am I not more scared? There must be some weird exceptions and compensatory stuff going on behind the scenes, and I am really puzzled about how those are working.)

Whoop that long. Back to your regularly-scheduled short(er) bits, here we go :).

At this dinner party the other night, I told my “breathing too loudly” story. This story goes as follows: when I was in high school, during a certain period of time my mother liked my sisters and me to all be downstairs, in the living room, rather than upstairs in our rooms. This is because I spent most of my time in high school either studying or doing sports, so if I was allowed to be up in my room all the time studying, then no one would ever see me.

However, I’m not good at studying with people around or with noise, which is why, to this day, I still need to do all of my serious work alone and in silence. (It’s mighty inconvenient, may I tell you :P).

At one point I even yelled at my sisters for, quote, “breathing too loudly”, which I still get teased about today.

And that’s the punchline of the “breathing too loudly” story. This is one of my stock stories, that I’ve told many times, and when I deliver it, it is funny. People always laugh at the last line—incredulous, amused—and I mean for it to be that way, that’s the way this story is told. It’s not a “should be told” this way, or anything I’ve thought about deeply—that is just this story: this story is about friendly teasing about obnoxious things we used to do as children, and it is humorous because of how ridiculous a response that is.

I told this story incidentally, an “along the way brief story about me” in answering a question at this dinner party. And I got dead silence. I even added the “I still get teased about this today,” with a sheepish smile, because I was getting nothing, and the there was a little bit of laughter. But everyone always laughs at that story—when people care about you and are paying attention, and you’re giving them humor cues, people are primed to do this.

The follow-up question was, sympathetically: “And how do you feel about that situation, where you had to sit downstairs?”

I’ve, like, never ever ever had that happen, and I feel… kind of touched, actually. This happened to be an entire group of people who knew about or experienced need for silence and preferences around social stimuli, and they were listening to this story, and they weren’t listening to my delivery cues, they were filling in the story. I think when I tell this story normally, and people are simulating themselves in my place, when I come out with “and I yelled at my sisters for breathing too loudly” it’s a total surprise because it’s nothing they would do, and so it’s funny. I think with these people, they were simulating themselves in my place, they were not enjoying it, they were listening to what I wasn’t saying, about being stressed and noise-bothered and not a particularly yell-y type of person in general, and they ignored the humor cues, and gave me silence. A “that’s not funny” silence, a sympathetic silence, and a “tell us more, if you’d like” end.

This reminds me of one of my friends, who once told me that no one believes her about things she finds really upsetting because she delivers “I’m really upset” stories in a monotone. Since I heard that, I’ve been watching my own tone when I talk about things that upset me, and I’ve been very surprised, because that’s almost never been the case for me. When I talk about things that upset me, I’ll often do it in a serious voice, which gets taken somberly. I’ll also often do it with a serious voice but smiling, and that gets treated pretty much exactly the same as if I’m making an upset face with it. I didn’t expect this, because the words contrast my facial expression—I do amused, or just smiling with flat eyes—but people have no problem interpreting this, and don’t smile back. Never when I’m telling a joke though, and especially not with like 5 people all doing it at once. I guess it could have been the delivery—it’s possible I did it differently than usual—but the sheer amount of surprise that I felt afterwards assures me that I didn’t think I delivered it that differently.

I wonder, then, what stories function like this for other people. Probably the entire class of embarrassing stories, which were not fun in the moment for the teller but need to be told as humorous as a defense mechanism. (And eventually embarrassing stories can become relegated to an independent “younger self”, at least in my experience, so then I don’t mind telling them because they’re not about “me” anymore.) Not actually sad stories, which can’t really be told as humorous very well, because people can read the sadness in the content. Oh, people-are-still-resentful stories—stories where people are still kind of aggravated with the teller for doing a thing, and then teller has to make themselves out as outrageous and the story as humorously awful for the other people to blow off steam. You know, I’m pretty sure the breathing-too-loudly story is a “people-are-still-resentful story”, or at least that’s why it became a funny story in my mind, because it kind of had to. Everyone was upset in that situation, but I was the one who took the bad yelling action unsolicited, as it were.

There must be other stories that function as funny stories when they weren’t actually funny to the person—I feel like there are many types of stories like this, that range from—oh, black humor, of course. That’s definitely the canonical example, and there’s got to be more in the “I’m kind of uncomfortable range”—slapstick, I guess as well. Wait, what’s pure, happy humor? No, that definitely exists as well, like when someone does something clever, or unusual, or sweet, and it’s delightful. I’m getting anchored here on my existing story, but that slight uncomfortableness, that I’m not even aware of anymore when I tell the story, combined with laughter is so—interesting. It tastes like something, hard to grasp, kind of dark, kind of sharp, kind of out of reach.

Well. I really liked talking with this group of people—they kept on reading true things into what I was saying, kept on reading the backstories, and it was pretty amazing. I love when I have people’s attention and they’re using their minds to figure me out.

I was talking to a friend about therapy, and she was telling me (ooh, look at all of the “she”s in the blog today. For a good while I only had stories about male friends, very glad to have female friends back in my life. Acknowledging that gender is complicated and nonbinary and that this perspective also makes a lot of sense to me.) that she wouldn’t want to do therapy, because she doesn’t want people influencing her when these are her issues, this is who she is. And every person brings their own form of feedback based on their perspective, even if it’s just how they smile or when they nod or when they frown slightly. And my friend doesn’t want that, doesn’t want to be influenced or changed by someone else’s perspective when what she talks about is her own.

…I’m just really grateful for her for saying that. People don’t often have that kind of insight, and she was saying it off-the-cuff, and I see what she means. I can’t really see what she means and what I think about therapy at the same time (which is interesting, and feels like a real stopping point for me being able to gain a cohesive understanding of people. I feel like I can’t back up enough to get multiple perspectives in my head at once. I feel like I’m in mine, and I can zoom into other people’s, but then I want a “model of people” and I’m flicking through individuals and I’m like NO, I want a model with ALL OF THESE PEOPLE AT THE SAME TIME.)

(With regards to my personal perspective on therapy and how I differ, I think it’s something like: I want the therapist’s perspective, since I assume it’s a “normal” perspective…? Oh interesting, that might go down the track of wanting to know what’s normal and typical and how I’m different and how people work, but the wanting normality thing is not necessarily because I want to be normal so much as I just need to know what normal is. …Wait, that’s weird, why is that such an urgent need, huh.)

But anyhow, I really like hearing her perspective, which seems like a great reason not to go to therapy, if you’re exposed to what I think is the principle of it in the first place. You have to want to be changed, or… well, I think it can still work, but it’s going to be a lot more painful for everyone involved.

Someone was asking me if I liked libraries. I said no, because if I wanted to study, I’d go to a quiet no-people place, and if I wanted social, I’d go to a social place. But I like book stores, and I like books, so libraries are good because: books!

This response produced much happy discussion about books among the group, which my companion responded to with a smile and: “Everyone here likes books.”

“Are you surprised?” I asked.

“No. It’s just cute,” he said, and smiled some more.

He paused, then said: “Sorry, I didn’t hear your full answer about libraries,” so I explained my reasoning about libraries again.

“Ah,” he said, nodding. “Libraries are a place of worship for me.”

“Ah,” I said, nodding. None of my reasons would be relevant, then, and I could definitely see how one could love libraries if one viewed them as places of worship. “That makes sense,” I agreed.

Hmmmm :). I got through not very much of this word document, but am glad I got to share what I did about thoughts this week :). Thank you all for reading as always, and wishing best weeks to you all :).

Monica