Wow. Wow—these past three weeks have been crazy times. I think I’m going to have to hark it back to senior fall, my three months of most crazy times in recent memory—and apparently submitting papers is often like that. AND PROFESSORS ARE EVEN MORE BUSY THAN THIS ON A YEAR-LONG BASIS. I was talking with my parents about how much I get paid, and they were dividing out my yearly stipend based on a 40-hour work week, and I was like: uh, but we kind of work all the time? I don’t actually work all the time—I go to school a lot of the time, and lectures, and talk with people, and read things, so I probably work much less than 40 hours a week, it’s just that there’s not a very clear divide between work and self-improvement-that-will-eventually-translate-into-better-work. However, in this case, I was definitely working more than 40 hours a week. I’m still sort of in shock. (And a bit sleep deprived :). Luckily, I’ve been wired on so much adrenaline that it’s not causing me to fall asleep during lectures, as is my wont when I skim off a few hours. Instead I’m kind of in that loopy-occasionally-sort-of-headachy state which is not especially sustainable but allows good progress. I’ve been hanging out with people who have a limited amount of energy and have to stop after they’ve used it up for the day—goodness, I’m so grateful that that’s not something I have to deal with. I feel like I’m probably going to die early because it doesn’t make sense to me to have the almost unlimited supplies of energy I do.)
The craziness has meant that I’m behind on emails, homework (I’m so behind on homework :P), general life organization, and events happening outside my bubble—but quick comment on world-outside-bubble, because there has been a LOT happening. Comment on the UC Berkeley riots yesterday—luckily, I don’t think anyone was hurt as far as I know, though there were a lot of PA announcements and sirens and a helicopter from my side of campus (which is the other side of campus from where the protest was being held). Comment on the immigration change: this has actually made me the angriest out of everything I’ve heard so far, just because it felt like a personal attack. It’s not especially right to be most angry about something that affects my friends and friends-of-friends, but I think it’s all right to be angry about it in general. Stories about how it affects academics (I know, narrow-minded, but this is why it’s personal to me): an MIT student can’t come back to MIT; my coworker can’t leave the country to visit home because she might not be able to come back. Professors / graduate students / postdocs can’t give talks or do research here. The MIT one is the most painful to me because that’s something I could conceivably see happening: made a bunch of plans, am executing plans, have a life and friends and opportunities, then the plans are completely destroyed because of some stupid unexpected reason that had nothing to do with me and I had no control over. And about schooling, having schooling taken away—ugg, just ticks all of my values. I’m very lucky to have to life I do and have that be the thing to worry about, but that sounds horrible. And the new rule is based off a weak correlation about an entire group of people—it’s an overreaction, a standard cognitive bias that everyone shows almost all the time in reacting to highly emotional events. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t correct for that bias. I worry about what other overreactions to weak correlations may look like.
Ooookay, and I’m swinging back to my more mundane life, because there’s not too much to do on that front besides sign positions and look for useful opportunities to contribute. It’s always so strange to me how life keeps on going, how the daily things keep on happening, even as large events take place. I was thinking about this a while ago, and about how people who have lost loved ones could feel like the world should just stop, but they have to keep going, day after day, doing the same quotidian things. It’s very interesting how the subjective worlds that we live in interact with the structure of life we’ve put in place, the “normal” life that operates under the assumption that nothing is wrong, that paces us as fast as we can handle at our best.
Anyhow, it’s been an intense few weeks! I asked a friend how well I was doing at not showing stress, and apparently I managed it fine from his perspective. Whoooo points to Monica! On the other hand, I was out to see Cirque du Soleil with a friend with dinner after (not something I could back out of since we bought tickets months ago) (it was fantastic, by the way) and she totally had to manage me into chilling out. Our conversation went something like this:
Her: “So, do you have time to do dinner afterwards?”
Me: “Yes, if it’s quick. Can we do it near the BART station?”
Her: messing around with Yelp, finding locations. Me: being obviously impatient.
Her: “Sorry I didn’t look this up before—I just wasn’t sure if we were going to do dinner.”
That was an obvious appeasement statement, because it was entirely my fault that she didn’t know about my dinner plans. She’d asked me if we were doing dinner weeks ago, and I deferred because I wasn’t sure whether I’d be in a good place re: the paper, and I only decided an hour before the show started.
Me: “No, sorry, sorry.”
Her: “Are you rushed for time?”
But we found a place and made it there eventually. I got my food first and was eating, and she told me: “Don’t eat too fast!” as a reminder, because she knows that when I don’t have a task to do I get antsy. We then sat down, and we started having a great conversation. And I relaxed, because really great conversation is worth a LOT to me, has a value several order magnitudes greater than normal time, so I calmed down, and we ended up spending several hours just walking around and talking. I always have great conversations with her. We don’t see each other that often, she’s an interesting person, and she has great personality analyses (one of my favorite topics). You’d think I’d KNOW that by this point, and would have calmed down in the beginning, but no, I had to stay freaked out and be rude for a while until her being calm in turn calmed me down. These kinds of failures of self-knowledge bug and amuse me :). It’s the weirdest sensation when you can see someone managing you: when you’re in this emotional state you’re not supposed to be in, and someone else comes in and slowly corrects it, and I think: oh come on, Monica, why couldn’t you have done that?
It’s often done much more subtly, and I have a harder time noticing it when I’m in a pretty stable emotional state to begin with (also, words. People are so good at words. Half the time I’m thinking: wait, how did we decide that we were going to feel this way about this topic?). But when people take me from being overly-anxious to calm, I do notice that. If you want to get me there fast, guilt’s a good emotion to take me through—just tell me implicitly that I’m being rude. Another good technique is to make me feel like I’m being overly-emotional and irrational, which I consider a major failure mode personally. The key bit is what happens after. Doing either of the above will make me shut up, because I’ll begin a self-chastisement cycle and decide that it’s safer not to say anything. If you leave me there and cut off the conversation, I’ll usually stew it in for minutes to hours, depending on how busy I am and how harsh the delivery was. But then I have some people who are super effective in dealing with me, and what they’ll do is that they’ll give the critique, and then they’ll immediately refocus my attention to where they want it, with very little time for me to feel bad. When it’s done right, it’s amazing to watch.
Why can’t I pull myself out of anxiety-expressing behaviors? There are two kinds of situations here. One, I’m irrationally worried about something and I know it, and I’m trying as hard as I can to suppress the fact that I’m worried, and it’s coming through anyway. There’s not much to be done in that case except be reassuring. (Or, if I’m sensitive about it, just leave it be.) The other case is when I’m wrapped up in something in my own head, am aware I’m being socially-suboptimal, but have ranked-ordered my priorities and am not going to change my behavior on my own. That’s where, if you actually want my attention, you follow the steps above and produce miracles. The miracle being that sometimes I can watch someone reorder my priorities, and in this particular case get to a fully-invested “having fun” state, which is pretty fantastic since I’m not great at pulling myself in and out of different focuses.
I don’t know if I’ve seen this executed on myself without a “feeling bad” portion in the middle—I think I do need to have a “wrong, Monica” signal somewhere or I’m not motivated to adjust. I have seen it done very gracefully though where there’s barely a pause where I’m in that moment. I don’t think I’ve done this effectively on other people. I remember a recent instance in which I tried, but the person wouldn’t reprioritize for me. I think I did an implicit “I’m here, talk to me” thing, but I don’t know how this sort of guilt-based or “you’re being silly” strategy works on other people. I do suspect that I’m sort of unique in how I should be managed. I was recently told that I’m “high maintenance”—which I quite resented; I consider myself a low-maintenance friend—but she was referring specifically to how to maneuver me once I’ve gotten myself into feeling and focusing in a certain way. And yeah, I’m a TON of work when you want to do that. Always have been.
Hm, what are other ways that one can be high-maintenance? Oh, here’s one: how easy it is to talk to me. This really depends on the topic, but in a lot of situations I do depend on a lot on the other person to do the heavy lifting in keeping the conversation going. This usually isn’t a problem, since most conversations flow pretty smoothly without us getting stuck, but if there’s a silence I’m not the best at filling it. Not terrible, and getting better, but conversations aren’t going to be effortless. That seems like a pretty universal standard though, since you don’t often encounter people who are just really good at talking and engaging you and you feel like they’re just going to float thing whole thing and you just have to sit there and talk whenever you want. (Always fun to run into those people though.)
Huh, I’m getting tired. BUT I’M NOT NEAR DONE YET. This whole section on Monica-management wasn’t even on my list to talk about :). I had these wonderful lucid moments in the past month where I was like: oh goodness, I’m having a blog thought! and those moments occurred frequently enough that I have a good backlog. But apparently it is not to be—instead, I jump straight back into the swing of things with a combination of introspection and social interaction, and it is such a relief to be back here. Ah well, though, one must be responsible, and I’m behind on… uh, pretty much everything :). Most urgently I’m behind on sleep, homework, and life organization (also social stuff and blogging), so I must be good and prioritize.
So! I’m super excited to have submitted my conference paper (my first :)), I’ll be talking more about that and other January things in future blog posts, I’m going to the Advancement for Artificial Intelligence Conference this weekend and next week, I’ll be starting my new rotation with Prof. Anca Dragan in human-robot interaction next week, I’m probably going to be rerunning the experiment I submitted the conference paper on in the near future, and I’m going to get to this backlog of stuff I’ve been ignoring. Arrrggggg—no, it’s fine, it’s all going to happen, and it’s all super awesome and I can’t believe I get to do it all :).
Best wishes, all, and thanks to all the especially supportive people in the last month, because there were a bunch of them. Please email me if you’d like to chat, and all the best!