Things that I love.
There’s so, so much beauty in my world. A friend told me recently that he was tasked with writing a letter of devotion to a stranger, and that caught my imagination during my walks to and from lectures, in the sunny afternoon with cloudless skies. Could be thinking about other things, I thought, but I drafted my own letter out, line by line, piecemeal, forgetting the middle and the beginning and then pulling the end back into the greeting. I love the flights of nonsensical thought, the many flitting, shiny emotions that we can evoke and share. I love that my letter is so different from his, that elements of what we value are swirled in, defined and visible across a few paragraphs.
One of my friends gave me some emotional content, gifted that to me, and I’m grateful to have that to share with him. We were walking and he hopped on a spare jut of cement, graceful, unthinking, wove in and out on the uneven ground before returning to the normal sidewalk. “Lovely,” I said to his back. “What’s lovely?” He asked, turning. “You.” I love when people find the joy in the little things, whether it’s in movements of the body or playfulness in words. I like seeing people happy.
(“So why don’t you like people feeding the squirrels?” he asked next. I love that too, that he’d remembered, that that was a stray thought. There are days and there is sunshine and there are people, and it’s so happy to glow in their presence, to listen to whatever they want to say about how they are.)
I love when I’m sitting in lab and one of my labmates is talking to an undergraduate, telling her about the intersection of art and the visual system, referencing literature and churning project ideas in his mind and for her and I think: this. So absolutely soothing, listening to his voice, talking about science, thinking about science, developing new science, all there, in his head, in his voice, me typing on my laptop with my legs on the table and thinking how much I love where I am.
I’m listening to my advisor, speaking to me directly, speaking to others, watching him listen to others, watching him think while the room waits silently. He is my rock, something steady and always brilliant and always thoughtful and always right, not in every detail maybe but in every way that matters, in scope and in process and in making all of the connections.
Music. Doesn’t hit all the time for me, music, but there’s something in the people who sing it, and why they care, and the effect it can have on us, so nonsensical, these meat-bodies, but we have perception and sensation and music finds it, spreads delicately across the neurons, tiny sparks propagating through the brain. Reminds me to care, sometimes, pulls me into a state of mind of appreciation, or distraction, or acceptance.
She’s sitting across the table from me, staring down at the paper beneath her hands. She’s scrawled all over it, black pen, “jury jury jury jury” repeating endlessly in one corner, boxes and circles and arrows swirling over the rest. “Your mind,” she says, staring down at it, hands around her ears. “I want to figure out your mind.” I laugh delightedly, and she looks up. “Can’t do that all the time, though,” she tells herself, and I laugh. “What are you doing next?” I say, to ground her. She answers, and returns the question.
People tell me stories, on occasion, about other people, about crazy people who they admire who they want to tell me stories about. I love all the crazy-cool people stories, the snapshots of lives collected by my friends: it says something about possibilities in living life, and something about the openness and passion of the people who are now mine.
I love cities over water. There’s no one in the room upstairs, the one with a window as wide as I am stretching out a landscape down to Berkeley’s marina, over the ocean, capturing the bridges and the sky scrapers and the lights of San Francisco. When I looked out today, there were fireworks—just happened to be fireworks when I was looking out. There was so much that went into those fireworks, I was thinking, as I opened the window to hear the booms. I don’t even like fireworks much, and look how low they are above the city, look at the expanse of sky above them—but look at all of the thought that went into these fireworks, look at all the people who can see them, in the city and across the bay.
I was sitting in a meeting with the DARPA funding agency representatives, and listening to my postdoc explain where the projects were going. My advisor sat a seat down, nodding occasionally and listening. The postdoc was so smooth, so clear, so consistently wide-reaching, listing idea after idea after idea, and I was listening, and I was listening, and the ideas were beautiful and incredible and I thought: god, I want to join this lab. And then I realized again that I had joined this lab, and had access to these projects, and had worked with my postdoc on one project already, and it hit me, tiny burst of emotion, hit me over again.
I’ve been messaging people daily, and that’s been something special, to have tasks to do at work, to have messages throughout the day, to have people and lectures in off hours, to have plenty of introspection to occupy my time. To have this balance of tasks, none of which are urgent, all of which are good-feeling, to have enough people in my life and enough work in my life and enough self in my life, to have it all available for my attention.
I love this city, I love this home. My room and the house I live in feel so safe; sunlit and nightly city-lit and with pleasant interactions with its occupants interspersed. The city is familiar and full of food and near San Francisco; the weather is gorgeous and everything I could want is near. I love the people: the neuroscience people, the psychology people, the human compatible AI people, the rationalists. I’m so grateful for the rationalists, who are weird in the same way that I’m weird, such that being friends is sometimes about being more myself, and who are teaching me to grow in new ways.
I love my friends: those crazy people who listen, and argue, and introduce their thoughts and ideas and worries. I love the people who make sure they say goodbye to me, who make sure to say hello, who check in when they miss me, who are honest and clear and real. I love when my friends and others are so kind, when they do things right, when everyone is welcoming and aware and present. There are so many people like that here. So many.
I love my spaces: the lab across campus, the uncomfortable bench near the window, the conference room on the fifth floor, the space in the neuroscience building, the psychology building, the lab, the office across the hall. A friend’s kitchen: sitting across from her over coasters decorated with brains; curled up in a car or a sofa late at night. Tea, dark pink, steaming against a window, steam making my fingers drip with water, in my hands.
Kind words directed at me, people interested in me, people listening, people giving feedback, joy, growth, acceptance, encouragement, chidings, all with liking me and helping me as the focus.
People helping people. People knowing themselves. People doing things right. People acquiring knowledge. People being fascinated. People being curious. People doing hard things. People doing hard things well. People knowing about people. People finding out what they love. People being happy. People growing. People accomplishing. People learning. People explaining, teaching, helping each other, sharing, feeling, living.
Everything’s tied into itself, here, everything feels connected; it’s hard to pull out what makes this place so special to me, though I try. The expectations, I think: the quality of the mindset of people around me, the striving and the balance. The content of what I’m learning—I always forget how much I love it, until I hear others bring it up, until I hear lectures about what I know and care about, and I remember: oh yes, you’ve learned that, oh yes, this is what you wanted to learn, and how much I enjoy this framework as my lens for analyzing the world. The environment: the weather and my places and the views and what’s around. And the people, always the people. I have never found such a high density of people who I want to keep, want to hold.
The new experiences. Walking around hand-in-hand with someone, doing silly things, doing uncomfortable things, checking in with people and having it be easy and honest, being afraid and having that be fine. Having harder experiences and learning from them and others’, sharing in common experiences. Being able to comfort and advise someone, having the confidence to reach out and grab people and their perspectives. Updating. Learning new things about myself. Finally having the skills and the people and the places to try things that I’ve never done.
Having happiness be a side effect, rather than anything reached for. Reexamining and realizing that many things are actually fine, actually good, being able to understand thoughts enough that I can explain them to others.
Best year of my life, I keep on telling people, and it’s so true, over and over and over. Here’s my love letter to a stranger, my love letter to this world, my love letter to my mind and brain, to the people and places and immensity that are making up this experience.
Thank you, anything that you are, stranger. It’s absurd even that I’m alive and well and living: thank you, for these moments in my life.