Ramble Post

— tags: updates, anger (again :P), sexism (…again :P)

Hey all!

I don’t have a game plan tonight—I’m a little on edge since I’ve been prepping for eye surgery tomorrow :). After so many years of glasses and contacts, I’ll be getting Lasik! It’s very exciting, but involves quite a bit of planning (especially if you have my personality). Then I have to keep reminding myself that I will be SEVERELY INJURED, and am not allowed to push through and do my normal routine after the surgery. You’d think, after so many years of re-injuring myself through this sort of mindset, that I’d have learned. But I have to basically keep on hitting myself over the head in order to get my brain to understand that with injuries you have to rest them, damn it. (…The number of stress fractures I accumulated in high school though because “I feel fine, really!”)

Otherwise, I’m eating frozen blueberries sitting on the couch. It’s been a reasonably heavy work week—I’ve been making progress on one of my projects, and it’s quite nice to just sit down and code. One of the advantages and disadvantages to doing computational work, as opposed to e.g. biological research, is that you pretty much have to be thinking all the time you’re working. When I was running psych studies, occasionally I had things on automatic pilot enough that I didn’t need to be full engagement, and in biological work there’s periods of time where you’re doing motions you’ve done many times before with your hands. Not so with coding. But there is an analogous mode, when I’ve isolated the subproblem I’m trying to solve and am just mentally manipulating matrices, or I’m trying to plot something, and I can turn non-distracting music on every once in a while. I feel like I spend a lot of my research time trying to sort through the heaviest thinking work so that I can get to the music-level subproblems, but then I get interested in the thinking work and do the thing where it takes me hours to get started and then it’s 2am and I think: darn it, I meant to get up early tomorrow.

Other tasks this week have included (unsuccessfully) trying to find a new therapist who takes my insurance—I’ll get there, but it takes a bit of doing to find someone who clicks. I know people who pretty much find a therapist on the first try, and I’m a little confounded by this. Then again, I’m not going to therapy as a strictly typical client, and therapists definitely imply this in their return emails and when they meet me. I was just emailing with one who sounded excellent, who quote “has a soft spot for students” and said “you sound very psychologically-minded” and was “genuinely regretful I won’t be able to work with you”. Insurance was the problem on that one; location also usually throws me. However, I’m finally buying into the idea that a long-term relationship with a therapist would provide something very useful. Mostly, I tend to think that you can do a LOT with someone on first meeting, especially if I’m the client and am dumping introspective musings left and right. There are certain mental habits and patterns that a lot of people have, that I think are pretty easy to pick up on if you talk about sensitive-enough topics. I think a lot of the issues I get stuck on are pretty typical, even if they’re wrapped up in weird intellectualized structures. But then again… unusual patterns are much easier to notice and infer after repeated interactions. And it’s so special when people pick these out for me, when they provide a detail or a framework that I wouldn’t have picked up myself.

(Examples :).

When someone asks me about something or someone that I feel negatively about, I’ll sometimes skip the part where I say I don’t like it, and progress immediately to exceptions and caveats about when I would like it. This doesn’t usually cause a problem—it’s just a slight exaggeration of our normal social inferences around silences and unstated information—but sometimes people have to stop me and back up because I forgot to say why I didn’t like something, or to what degree I disliked it :).

At some point, a friend pointed out to me that I occasionally will congratulate myself on doing something well, out loud. He asked who that was aimed at—was it him?—and I said that no, it was mostly for me. I notice that I congratulate myself a lot in my head when I do things well. I also noticed today that I sometimes forget to do this, and get sad, because apparently I need constant reassurance (it has to be accurate, too) that I know things and am doing well :).

Friends will also occasionally point out hang-ups for me too! And will tease me by exaggerating traits, which is also informative. I just really like when people tell me things about myself I didn’t know :)).

This week I also decided to see if I could volunteer at a homeless shelter, and looked around online and found one near campus. I was worried about it, since the person I emailed was really excited about having a female volunteer since there weren’t many women volunteering. (Note: this is a worrying warning sign for me in all contexts, not just here.) So I promised myself I would go visit but not commit if I felt unsure about it in any way. It turned out that people there were nicely friendly from the moment I showed up, and it was majority male but there were a decent number of women hanging around. I felt out of my comfort zone to an expected extent, but it felt like a safe place to me, and I think I’ll start volunteering there given it felt like a good place for me to spend time.

In other unrelated ramblings, on Friday I went to a party and was playing a party game with some new people. One of the women had to describe everyone in the group, and she said that I seemed “like a confident woman who knows what she wants.” I was touched. Well, first, before I get into that, I thought it was interesting that “woman” was the word choice rather than “person”. I don’t have a ton of data, but general while playing these games I have noticed that women tend to talk about their attractiveness more (whether in the context of being asked questions about how they portray themselves or their insecurities etc.) and are insecure about their intelligence. Whereas in men, a similar idea gets framed as worries about whether they’re going to be capable of achieving their goals. (Admittedly, these insecurities reveal a lot about the values of the people I hang out with.)

Sometimes I just get so tired of the women/men divide. And then I remind myself of the racial divides in the US, and the disability divides / sexual divides / gender divides / many other divides in the US, and the gajillion other divides across other cultures, and the relative severity of these differences. And I just get so fed up with dealing with the women/men divide, and then I think of other people who have it a LOT worse than I do, and I just want to throw my hands up in the air and be angry and stop thinking about it and noticing it and talking about it.

I feel like it’d make my life easier, to not notice all of the tiny little aggravations all over the place, but they’re all over the place, and insidiously implicit, and I feel like I need to be on my guard all the time, like I need to reassure myself: yes, that song was stupid, it’s okay, we’re acknowledging it’s stupid, now we just need to worry about not noticing that underlying tone in every other pop sound we might encounter in the future.

I mean, is it useful for me to feel this way? I think talking about it is probably useful. It feels kind of surprising to me whenever I talk to a guy and it’s obvious they get it, because they’ve done their reading and have female friends etc. (and there are quite a few around here!) but a lot of the time people don’t get it and it’s not at all out of maliciousness. They’ve just never heard stories or thought about it. Like, I was talking with one of my friends and he was presenting the argument that in general women may be pushed to look more put-together than men do, but this is compensated for by the advantages of being an attractive woman in the workplace. Which makes the whole system more fair in a sense—he was arguing that you can’t complain about your cake and eat it too. And I was getting kind of comically frustrated with this, because I was trying to express that I agree that being attractive is an unfair advantage in the workplace, but didn’t think the compensating factor should be there regardless. I was completely failing to construct an argument that would convince him until this miraculous one occurred to me: attractive men get BOTH to have their cake and eat it too. And he was like: oh, actually, yes. And I was like: …why did it take me several minutes to come up with that.

I’ve got bunches of stories like this. Nothing malicious at all, very understanding people—I don’t engage with anyone who’s not already “on my side”, so to speak. One of the weirdest parts, for me, is that it’s so hard to explain. When I’m on the other side, and I’m the ignorant one, and the people across from me are relating a story that seems perfectly fine to me and rolling their eyes at each other—“god, why would they DO that”—I often have a hard time trying to infer exactly what the problem is. But there is a problem, obviously. So whenever people tell me stories I don’t understand I plug into my mental frame of “okay, microaggression, immensely frustrating because of repetition not necessarily severity of incident, don’t say or reference that kind of thing in the future, references some underlying society-wide discrimination, got it”. This is good enough a LOT of the time, and if I’m comfortable with the person I’ll politely ask a follow-up question to clarify.

This wasn’t the tone in the “cake eating” story I just related, but a common response that feels like a trainwreck when I’m watching it happen is when the ignorant listener places the burden on the speaker to explain. Because it’s really hard to come up with a convincing argument to someone who’s willing to argue with you to justify to themselves that you know what, I didn’t know this thing was bad, and in fact I’m uneasy because I could have done that “bad” thing, but you know what, I’m justified in not knowing that because it really doesn’t make any sense, and I get that you’re feeling upset and I empathize with you but I need to take care of my own emotions here because I’m feeling a little attacked and really, logically, based on the severity of the incident you’ve just related (which I don’t understand) you may just happen to be exaggerating the situation, and explain to me what’s going on with you because I want to understand and not do the thing in the future (and also, it’s your fault for saying I’ve done something done something wrong in this hypothetical scenario, because I would have done something “wrong” had the character been me.)  

This sort of thing was actually what caused me to part with my previous therapist, actually. We both knew when it happened. I became very offended over something he said, he didn’t back down, I got my “I am being very, very reasonable right now, I don’t want to talk about this, stop talking” voice on, and he still didn’t back down. And at that point, I was probably more furious that he WOULDN’T BACK DOWN than the topic at hand, and it was at the end of the session so I said this was very interesting and said lots of polite things and then went home for the day and ranted to friends :).

(In retrospect, it’s always incredibly amusing to me that I have the “I am being very, very reasonable right now” voice. It’s very obvious to me when I’m doing it, and in fact I’ll slow way down, deepen my voice, speak very firmly, speak very logically, and tell people that respectfully I’d like to stop talking about the topic. It infuriates me when people don’t listen. When back-referencing incidents like this, I’ll always say “I was yelling at you about…” People sometimes fight me on this—“you weren’t yelling”—but when pressed they’ll say they could definitely tell I was angry. It’s still kind of great to me that my yelling voice is lower than my normal voice. I wonder if this voice encourages more or less back-talk? On the one hand, I’m “being reasonable” and usually pretty polite on the first round, so a lot of people do cease and desist.  On the other hand, I’m telling you I’m angry and to shut up (because I never want to actually engage with people in arguments where there’s any trace of defensiveness; I feel like I’ll always lose, and haven’t gained evidence to the contrary on this with my current engagement style). Thus, if you’re the type of person who wants to “solve” whatever upset me (more unlikely), then you will engage. Or (more likely), telling people that I’m both mad at them and that I understand that it’s just a difference in opinions, they haven’t done anything objectively wrong, makes people engage for the same reason they’ll engage in the “I’ve done something wrong and don’t understand why” reasoning I was describing above. Worse, the more someone argues with me, the more I’ll very clearly try to explain reasoning (taking all filters off) which makes things much more offensive. Huh, it’s occurring to me that some of this may run in the family, and in general in scientific circles. Interesting!

Regardless, I’m still weirded out by people who don’t back down. With this therapist, in later sessions he had me reiterate his arguments and his intentions, which I did in a way he agreed with, but that still didn’t negate the not-backing-down thing emotionally for me. Which he also apologized for. (I did not apologize. I… never feel the need to, in these instances, whether that is fair or not.) Actually… huh, I don’t think I’ve forgiven any of the three men who didn’t back down, even though I understood where they were all coming from. …Wow. In fact, the amount I distrust people for not backing down is… as bad as it can get for me while still considering all of them good people. Huh. From their perspective, this seems kind of extreme, especially given they all still enjoy my company and I liked and chose all of these people in the first place as special. What’s going on with me? It’s something like—I refuse to break down crying for you when I want out of a discussion, this is what you’re going to get instead, and if you don’t recognize that this tone is enough out of the norm for me to stop, then I can’t ever trust you to stop in the future, and if you’re not going to let me take care of myself by removing myself from the situation, then you don’t respect me and you don’t care about me and you should leave NOW. *Laughs*. Not fair at all, certainly. You know what the weird thing is though? People don’t violate this back-down thing very often. I have a hell of a time explaining why I’m angry when people do do it, but generally, when I relate the details of these stories, almost everyone’s like: yep, fair, they should have backed down. Someone please give me a framework to capture this intuition and why I feel weirdly okay being self-righteous about this? I keep on returning to these instances in the blog and feel like I’m getting repetitive, but I still really don’t have a handle on just what’s happening on my end or for people in general or what’s “fair” on a policy-level.)

Haha, it’s later than I wanted (and this has turned into a rambly, self-therapeutic post), but there were a few points I raised above I wanted to tie up. First, can I stop getting angry about the women/men thing? It’s so tiring getting angry and upset. I know women who just don’t notice it any more, and it seems easier this way. Can I just know all of the experiences I’ve already had, and talk to people about it occasionally, and otherwise just shut my brain up? …Seems like it’d be an okay thing to do, results-wise. Seems like I’m utterly unconvinced that I’m actually going to do it, and that something in me thinks it’s REALLY IMPORTANT to continue cataloguing and getting upset at these things. Fine—I shall sort through you at a later date, inner emotions, and see what wisdom you have for me :).

Second, with the comment from the woman at the party who told me I was confident and seemed like I knew what I wanted– *smile*. I’ve never been called grounded before, as far as I know. I mean, I’ve been called confident and goal-driven, but this felt a little different for me. Especially since at this party, I was being pretty quiet, but feeling zero anxiety about it. I’ve been feeling a lot calmer than usual ever since the Summer School. It’s ramping back up, a little, with some of the pressure to finish up research projects and this immediate Lasik thing, but I suspect that’s just because I’ve been pushing myself to do work rather than do the kind of mind-wandering I find re-energizing. I really did mean to make this a short blog tonight, since I won’t be able to work for the next few days, but I guess we all see what happens when I don’t sit myself down in the lawn chair and stare at San Francisco for an hour and sort through my thoughts on life :).

Well, I like that it feels like progress! I’m hopeful that as time goes on, I’ll have handles into my usual emotional hang-ups, and then it’ll be easier to deal with the day-to-day things instead of sifting through the back-log of unprocessed stuff. Given what’s been happening in the last six months, I feel like this is an actual viable possibility. Last week, for example, I really did just want to do research all the time—that felt like the kind of productive I wanted to be. It’ll come back as soon as mind-stuff has settled down a bit, I’m sure. That’s the beautiful thing about all of this—when I don’t have emotional-mind-stuff in the way, it really does seem like what I most want to do is just work, learn stuff, and work out, far less willpower than you’d expect required :).

Thanks for listening to a ramble-post, all :). And I’m very happy to hear about how to think about the anger thing and backing-down etc., if anyone has opinions, so I can have a better way of explaining what goes on!

Best wishes,

Monica

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