And last

Hey all :).

Last post for the night! And it’s going to be in bullet-point list form, since some of these topics were thoughts I’ve stored up from a few weeks ago and so don’t have the urgency to weave into a narrative :). Here we go!

  • Public engagement

I’ve started doing more public engagement stuff with my work! One of my interviewers for grad school was discussing with me how I needed to practice discussing my work with a public audience, both in auditory and written form. It turns out that when you’re looking for opportunities like this, they’re all over the place. I’ve spoken at a College conference so far and will be talking about my work next Saturday with anyone who comes to Science Café during the Cambridge Science Festival. It’s so strange to me that all anyone needs to do is plant an idea in your head, and all of a sudden you start seeing that there are a lot of people who care about and having been working hard to provide opportunities for ideas that were previously entirely hidden…

  • Confidence

I went and talked to someone after a talk, and she mentioned that “you seem bubbly and confident.” And internally I was laughing, because I’d walked around the room three times and gone back four times for snacks before I’d psyched myself up enough to talk to her. As soon as you’ve done something a few times it becomes more habit, but it always makes me laugh when I see myself executing this sort of do-it-I-don’t-want-to-DO-IT-nooo-YES behavior :).

  • Rowing

One of my favorite parts of the race yesterday on the Thames was when it randomly started hailing. There we were just before the race, rowing against the wind and tide (and therefore not really going anywhere) and it was sort of drizzling, then all of a sudden started hailing with the kind of hail that melts upon impact and the sky got really dark and I was watching Sarah’s windbreaker in front of me become more and more blotched dark with water and the waves were pushing the boat into the middle of the river and Stella, behind me, yells “IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD! WE’RE GONNA GO DOWN ROWING!” and then everything was better and it was this grand adventure and inside and outside I was laughing.

  • Meeting people

It’s not so hard to pull information out of people, you know? Like, you ask them what they do, and what their hobbies are, and what they think about things, especially something hard, and pretty soon you have a good idea of their goals and interests and how they think about the world. Nothing comprehensive, but it’s surprisingly easy to get a good grasp on someone’s general attitude towards life. It’s so interesting to think that there’s this core mentality that defines who we are, and that it’s accessible upon ten minutes of speaking.

  • Working out

It’s nice being strong, you know? Feeling strong. That’s one of my favorite parts.

  • Bad sports practices

It’s usually not about people trying hard enough. It’s about people trying hard in the wrong ways. Tell people explicitly how to get better and the people who care will. The people who don’t care won’t anyway, so scolding the team doesn’t help much. I don’t know how you motivate people who don’t want to change things to get better. That’s probably one of the core questions in managing; one of the core questions in life.

  • Bank lady

There was a lady in front of me at the bank a few weeks ago. She suffused the whole area with the smell of cigarette smoke, and had one in her hand though it wasn’t lit. Emaciated with running trainers and a long jacket. She leant on the counter and gasped for every breath, breathing out a few quick words before sucking air in to finish the sentence. She was talking about something normal—transferring money to an account or something. Very loquacious. All I could think about was: you’re dying. You’re dying in front of my eyes. There’s nothing I can do about it, and you’re likely addicted enough that there’s nothing you can do about it. She walked very slowly out of the bank when she was done.

  • Niceness

I realized recently that I’m nicer in some environments than others. That when I’m in an environment where I’m uncomfortable and wary, I’m nastier than usual, and when people are consistently kind, I monitor so that I’m nicer than my baseline. I get scolded for the nasty behavior sometimes, and it’s interesting, because it’s certainly my problem and I can do something about it, but I’m also realizing it’s a product of the environment. That my behavior is sometimes a reaction to a group rather than being independent—that it’s because of how I’m feeling, but that whether I’m feeling good or charitable isn’t independent of the group vibe. Who we are can be defined by how we act, but also the range of our actions across more or less positive situations.

  • What do people want from you?

It’s a very, very useful question to ask. Implicit in all conversation, really, and sometimes I’m listening in every sentence for the answer, and sometimes I forget to ask the question. But if you talk through what someone might want from you— their perspective, their goals—the motivation behind their words become much clearer. It becomes easier to answer to make sure the conversation moves in a direction you want it to go. It makes it easier to realize what you really can’t change in someone else’s actions, because in their shoes it so obviously makes sense to follow the behavior they’re exhibiting.

  • How much do you work?

How much should we work? How much of ourselves should we pour into our hobbies? What’s a good use of time, of a life? I talked all day today. I wrote some this morning, talked to two people for two-ish hours each, talked with another person for half an hour, worked out and read, wrote some more, talked for another two hours, and am now writing. A calm day, though, really. I could have been studying my Artificial Intelligence textbook all day too. Or completely veg-ing more than I already was. Or doing data analysis in lab. How much do you work and why?

  • Something I had scrawled out:

Relate to it but not feel it entirely? I can buy that— I guess I feel the same way about competing in sports. (What do I do for those situations I have nothing to relate to? We lose out on so much potential empathy but not having those experiences.)

  • Pressure

Pressure results when people care a lot and want to get it right. It can be useful for getting things done when you don’t want to get them done. I’m not a fan of pressure. I know some people are. Sometimes I just want to tell people: isn’t this all for fun? Sometimes it isn’t for fun, but it’s very freeing to just not care. Not caring is an interesting new method I have for dealing with pressure, which I don’t think is the best method since things continue to not get done. It reduces stress but results in far less productivity. Funny how that works. I think there’s something outside of those two possibilities, where you’re working very hard because you want to, though I do think that we’ll always need willpower and discipline (come on, Monica, pull it together, you can do it) to accomplish goals.

  • Formal halls

Are lovely. I meet the best people. Now I sit with my friends, or who I’ve vetted as potential friends, and it’s so much fun. I’ve only been to three Colleges so far—Lucy, Downing, and Wolfson—but I’m planning to head to more.

  • Meeting real live people

It’s so wonderful to realize there’s a wider world out there. I’m not hanging out with undergraduates, so I’m not sucked so far into the Cambridge world, but it’s so nice to meet with people who have other jobs around the university or outside. It’s so easy to get pulled into the microcosm and lose the sense of perspective. Cambridge is a good place to lose perspective though. I may talk with people mainly my own age and mainly in academia, but they’re all so interesting.

  • American

I assume people are British, and keep on forgetting to listen for the American accent. It’s still my default, so I don’t think it’s weird when I hear the American accent. But the British accent is default too, so now I don’t pay attention to that either. And culturally I appear to assume everyone who speaks English with any sort of accent is British or spent a lot of time in Britain and moved around as a child, which is actually a pretty good assumption. One American guy I was talking to was trying to convince another friend that he had a vision for the organization he wanted to lead, and that she should vote for him and be invested in this vision as well. I asked him what his PhD focus was on, and he said E.U. Politics. And I thought: you seem so much like you’re American and should be in politics. It might not be an American thing; who knows. But people with strong ideas who push people hard for what they want by complimenting them—it seems American. I seems to suit this country. I want to know.

  • Sports assumptions

When I think about rowing my assumption is that I will be in the fastest boat here. Other friends don’t have that assumption. They think about my options so differently, because they don’t have this underlying framework describing how I think about sports and sports teams. We had a race this Saturday, and I’d never rowed more than 2k continuously before. A friend was trying to tell me how to eat, another friend was worrying about how hard to push. I eat how I want because I’ve tried a lot of things over the years and know what works, and I know how hard to push because I’ve done 20-minute-long races before. People who are life-long competitive athletes recognize that in me almost immediately: what I’m capable of and what I’m not going to be capable of and where I am mentally in the sliding scale of dedicated. People who haven’t been in this world for so long… it’s hard for me to see it from that direction because I haven’t… really ever been in that position as an adult. It’s good to hear. Shapes how I talk, gives me consideration for what might be sensitive that hadn’t crossed my mind. (A byproduct for all of the privileged? Likely.)

  • Stella

I had a fantastic time yesterday at WeHorr, our rowing race. It was the best race, because I went to London with the group, raced with the group under zero pressure, then went out to eat with Stella and Jo afterwards and drove back to Cambridge straight after that. It’s so rare that social events go exactly how I want them to go, which is why I always bike to events to give myself a way out of them, because it’s a rare thing that when I’m done everyone else is done as well. But Stella invited me to eat with her and Jo, we went straight there and ate, and Jo drove me and her straight home. Exactly what everyone wanted, aligned for the afternoon.

When Stella asked me if I wanted to come along with her and Jo, I went straight into my “older established members being nice to newbies” mindset. Which means, for me, being very quiet. But at some point pretty soon after getting into the car, I had a new thought: no, this is ridiculous. I have shiny new conversation skills, and this may be a group situation but I am fully capable of holding my own. So I started treating them as equals and accepted the invitation as a “we could be potential friends” offer rather than an obligatory “let’s take care of the outsider-group members” offer and it went very smoothly from there. I wonder what would have happened if I’ve treated all of these sort of invitations over the years in the same way? I don’t think I could have for a while—not ready for it—but I wonder.

It was what I’d been waiting for all season, really—time to talk with team members as individuals. Hear about what they were doing at Cambridge and what they thought about it and why they were doing it. Hear those ten minutes about goals and outlook on life. Rowing is so focused on, well, rowing, and I know how these people erg (rowing machines) and the curve of their backs and the dig of their blades, but I barely know what their PhDs are in. And previously Stella, our captain, had been moving people around the boat, switching people into different positions. Now I got the explanations, the whys behind everything, and it’s actually pretty fascinating. She knows how everyone rows, tries to compensate for the weaknesses, and there are so many things behind the scenes that we can’t be aware of with a command like: switch seats with x. I don’t know if we’d want to know, since most of it is, again, to compensate for individual weaknesses. But knowing the reasons behind what she says, and why she does it—it makes me realize how good of a leader she is, and how good this group is in terms of personalities and members. It makes me realize just how well we work as a group, how much that’s negative that isn’t said and how much that’s positive that is.

And I also realized what a fantastic coach she is for me, paired with the rest of the crew for balance. With all of the moving of the seats recently, I got put into seat 5 and Stella was in seat 4. That means she sits directly behind me and has been commenting on how I’ve been rowing for the past few practices and during the race. And I thanked her for it multiple times, because it’s been great. Stella says most people would find it annoying, and I see how that could be and I don’t know how I’d feel about it long-term, but she’s been very good for me.

The reason being: I know I’m doing things wrong. I’m always very aware that I’m doing all sorts of things wrong in the boat, and I’m concentrating literally every stroke to try to fix whatever could be wrong (there are a lot of possibilities). And if you’re in that mindset, then it is nothing but a relief to have someone sitting behind you and telling you what precisely you are doing wrong in that realm of possibilities, and then telling you when you fix it. And then having them watch you for the entire practice and give you feedback through the entire practice. And then have them compliment you in the end for trying, after having actively watched you try for that entire thing. It is so relieving.

During the race as well: certainly the best thing that could have happened. Kept me distracted, focused on keeping it together, and let me know what I was letting slip (again, there’s a lot of things that I usually do wrong) and when. Stella told me to relax a few times as well, which was splendid because being tense because of all of that trying is not much fun. It’s easy to see why the feedback could be annoying, because if you’re not in the mindset to be criticized then it’s also not much fun to be constantly criticized. But it was great for me—the validation (“better”) (“good job,” and sincerely meant), and the confidence that when she’s quiet, things are actually working. That I can relax a little—that things are going fine.

Good day, like I said :). My favorite kind of event—calm, everyone in a good mood, a nice bit of communal effort, someone helping me do my best, getting one-on-one time with members of the team, a warm home ride in the dark with a near-stranger in the beginning and more than an acquaintance at the end. A good day, a good night, and so much more appreciation for every single member of the team and the effort each of them put into making this boat work—everything that they saw going wrong and put a positive spin to, all of the background work in keeping all the womens boats together, each member contributing quietly to making it a positive atmosphere for everyone. I didn’t realize, really. How many ways this could have gone wrong, and how many things everyone did to make it right.

Good night, all. Best wishes for the upcoming week. Thanks for reading as always,

Monica

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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