After Lasik, I’ve been going around this past week with some splotches of blood in my eyes. This is normal and not a problem, but it looks weird. I was trying to solve the problem by smiling all the time, since you can’t tell anything’s off if I’m squinting. My doctor and friends, however, came up with even better quotes.
“I thought that if you hadn’t been aware, you would probably appreciate knowing your eyes are bleeding.”
“Yeah, those are eyeball hickeys. Since they’re from the suction cups to keep your eyes still, you know? Bet you never thought you’d have eyeball hickeys; you probably won’t have another opportunity.”
“THAT’S SO METAL.” (Me: what?) “That’s so metal. Bleeding eyes.” (Me: …that’s metaphorical, right?) “No, come on! Iconography in metal music. It’s all over the place.” (Me: …but it’s still, like, metaphorical, right?)
I’m trying to decide what the feeling of the future feels like, when it’s predictable and going to go on forever and mostly focused on research and small-scale.
It occurs to me that it tastes like far-away green ladders.
(Some people use techniques like meditation / emotional introspection / etc. to allow them greater access to the nuances and complexity of emotion. Having acquired a bit of that skill, I can say that it’s interesting. It allows me to catch and hold feelings too fleeting to otherwise identify.
But man, these insights don’t naturally translate to language. I like language a lot, so I’ll frequently make the effort to express my thoughts in words. Moreover, I’m not sure if this is a cause or effect of my preference for language, but a lot more of my thinking seems to be linguistic compared to other people’s. A lot of my emotions, however, are visual. Color is very salient, and my visualizations are often textured. There are sometimes words attached to the colored textures that don’t have direct semantic meaning.
I haven’t quite figured out how I’m going to use these visuals yet, since I feel like I haven’t unlocked the full scale of them. I feel like they’re useful if I can dig semantic content out of them, which I usually can if I focus for a while. They’re also sometimes just fun to play with. But where I’ve found them most helpful is for memory: the visuals give me something to hold onto, to grasp a fleeting feeling as it goes by, and gives me a timestamp of realizing that I was actually feeling a certain way. Then, when I’m trying to pinpoint what I’m upset about / happy about later, there’s not just this smear of mental states across time, but specific moments/ideas/events that I can isolate. And this is helpful, because often I’ll be upset because of one specific thing, and or be happy about one specific experience, and if I can say—oh, it was that— rather than— ug, I just feel gross, I feel like something’s been off the whole day—it’s easy to figure out whatever I was worried about and fix it, rather than feel generalized anxiety.
Tangent about emotional access completed :). That access has been hard-won, so I like to think about how it has been useful in my day-to-day life.)
There’s a version of introspection that feels like progress—I think I’ve been developing and using that over the past six months. There’s also a version of introspection that feels like play, in that it’s not really going anywhere, not really changing my mind in any way, but just fun in the moment to mess around with ideas about myself. I feel like I was doing much more of this pre-six months ago, and that I haven’t really been doing it since. What I’m doing right now feels more like play— I’ve missed it.
I’m still trying to figure this one out. Problem setup:
Some people think I’m really weird. Some people think I have some quirks, but am not particularly unusual.
I think I’m in the middle, and I’d like to be really weird below the surface, whilst still keeping all of the opportunities of behaving normatively.
Possibly related to this, I have no problem blasting people with non-normativity, and equally no problem blasting people with normativity. The “non-normative” versus “normative” split also doesn’t feel particularly natural to me; unlike a few friends I know, I don’t feel like I have different “selves” I present. I feel continuous to myself, not discrete :P.
Since I want to be innerly really weird, I’m always in search of people who do believe this of me. These people seem to think it’s something about presentation styles or social or something. Reports disagree. (Also, the people I hang out with are mostly really weird, so we’re talking a standard deviation beyond what you’d normally consider strange.)
Maybe whether people consider me weird or not is about predictability? No, I don’t think so :). There is a phenomenon whereby I can be quite unpredictable to people who don’t know me, and very predictable to people who do know me. But quite a few people who do know me still think I’m weird, despite being predictable.
However, possibly we’re actually all really really strange on the inside! And another word for that is special, and we’re all trying to find the people in the world who think we’re strange. And if the person is strange in a way you like, then you’re friends, or you’re sisters, or you’re dating, and you’re good to go, and the problem is solved :).
I was complaining the other day to a friend about how there’s so much I’ve been needing to sort out on my feelings on dating and sexuality and gender and whatever. And he turned around and said something like: “…yeah, I feel for you, I’ve always been x, never had to think about it.”
That actually blew my mind a little bit. I mean, it shouldn’t have, I’ve been on the other side. One of my friends was asking me how my race has impacted my life, and… being biracial but appearing white hasn’t personally caused me to think about my race much at all. This isn’t true for a lot of people, but for me that question was a non-starter.
This same vein of thought occurred to me today when I was reading about one of my grad student friends, who was interviewed recently: http://neuroscience.berkeley.edu/neuroscientist-portrait-project-krishan-aghi/
Krishan is a queer, trans feminine person of color and it’s IMPORTANT in their life. They say: “Legitimately I know of no other queer, trans feminine person of color in neuroscience. It might just be an issue of visibility, and people could be coming into their identities at this very moment but I can think of no one off the top of my head. There are definitely trans folk in neuroscience and I am so grateful for their visibility and the mentorship they have offered me, but I kinda occupy a very niche set of identities.”
And later: “I say this all the time but me being a scientist doesn’t automatically prevent the world from throwing racism, transmisogyny, or homophobia in my face.”
The lesson for me is that our lives are shaped by what we’re born with, and I could recite that lesson to you, with the appropriate context, any day. But… I don’t know. Unlike how I understand that lesson in terms of race, when it’s mostly intellectual, this set of stories connected for me, connected that lesson across my personal experience and that of others and felt generalizable across domains and true…
Like, I don’t know. I was talking to an authority figure and they said something like: if it bothers you, if it bothers you what other people say, why just take drugs and not be that way?
And I was shouting: that is not the point! Disregarding the fact of whether drugs exist for whatever the “problem” is (they don’t, in many cases), I felt furiously helpless, because that was so entirely not the point. I didn’t know what the point was, but it was so much closer to this:
This is who I am, this is who I’ve been, there’s nothing wrong with it, the thing that’s wrong is that other people think there’s something wrong with it. I have ALWAYS BEEN THIS WAY, DAMMIT, and I DON’T WANT TO CHANGE IT, why are you TELLING ME TO CHANGE IT, why are you ASSUMING I WANT TO CHANGE IT. WHY are you not helping me DEAL WITH IT, why are you being like EVERYONE ELSE, stop it, this is not something separate from me, stop.
There are things one should change about oneself, because they’re hurting others, or they’re needlessly making one’s own life difficult. But “needlessly” is such a dangerous word, here, because sometimes the parts of ourselves that other people think are changeable are really not. And sometimes the parts of ourselves that people think are “making your life difficult” are really not the thing that’s making our life difficult, it’s… other people. Sometimes the type of person who is asking you.
And that, that sense of furious hopelessness, furious helplessness, work upon work upon work (and fear, which I haven’t had to deal with, but fear and rejection and loss) that’s what born with means.
Remember that, Monica? That’s what born with means.
(In related news before I finish, has anyone ever told you that you should want something? And you don’t? And you’re sitting there going: why are you telling me to want something which you desperately want, but is not easy to get? It’s bad enough when you’re telling me to want something that you have and think is great and I don’t, but it’s even worse when you’re telling me to want it and it’s not even going to be good for me. Keep your pain to yourself, thanks, I don’t need your shoulds.
I have friend who gave up eating meat recently. I congratulated him in public. He mentioned that he’d like if I didn’t congratulate people on things like this, because he doesn’t like the practice in general of pushing values on people, but that he’d be happy to hear something like “Good on you for doing what you want to do.”
That was an idea I hadn’t heard of—there’s one extreme where you always tell people what they should do, and then there’s apparently the other extreme of trying very hard to never impose one’s own values on people. (Side note: I am aware that in the process of telling me this, my friend was imposing values, but he actually only tends to push two types of values—that one should not push values, and that one should enjoy things.)
I’m in the middle somewhere, nearer the end with less pushing. (I don’t think I push less hard, I think I just push fewer things than some people.) It’s really intuitively appealing for me to try to push some of my values on people, because I think they’re good for the world. But on the other hand, one of the reasons last year was so good for me was the people actively encouraged me to stop accepting the shoulds I was getting from others and putting on myself.
It’s all interesting, right? I also think it’s interesting that a few of my recent blog posts have been kind of angry, and think this is actually a good temporary thing. I’ve noticed that I’ve had more anger responses rather than oh-my-god-I’m-wrong-feel-guilty responses recently, and that I feel FAR more comfortable pushing off other people’s shoulds than I did six months ago. I have direct comparisons for this. For a long time I just wanted people to tell me how to change, all the time, and now I’m going through a phase where I want most people to leave me be: I’m happy changing myself at my own pace. I think it’s going to seesaw back a bit, where I’m a little more open to people influencing me in the future… but this feels like a pretty important state shift in terms of my attitude. And it doesn’t really surprise me that this is coming through as anger instead of anxiety or sadness, because those emotions have to come out somewhere, but I’m intrigued to see how I channel that anger in a little while. I’m going to have to do something with it, because I refuse to be grumpy all the time :).)
It’s always funny when I realize these thoughts exist in my head :). When I was doing Lasik last week, I wasn’t allowed to do any close-viewing, so I couldn’t write or type. Moreover, I was hanging out at home mostly by myself, so I wasn’t doing a lot of talking either.
Which resulted in the following—I met up with one of my friends, and he asked me what I was thinking about these days. I proceeded to give a summary sentence on each of three topics. It turns out these summary sentences were exceedingly vague, so he asked me about one of them, and thereby I delivered another few sentences describing the first. And then he asked for clarification on those, and there followed another brief paragraph, again very context-dependent, again missing out on a bunch of subtext. And he stopped there, and didn’t delve into the other two topics, but this revealed to me that I had paragraphs about those stored up somewhere that I could deliver with prompting as well.
I sort of have running thesis statements about topics that I give to people when they ask what’s happening with me, or I’ll describe the topic itself and no conclusions. But those thesis statements subjectively feel like the sum total of what’s “in my head”—I seem to forget that everything other than my top-most conclusions exist.
I was able to start typing again the other day, and just felt this huge sense of surprise and relief, because there was so much that had been happening in my head that started coming out once I started noting down those thesis statements. Because one thesis statement leads to a new thesis statement, and a new thesis statement, and if you’re logging down the top-most conclusions over time, there’s a LOT MORE CONTENT than you think there is. Or more accurately, there’s a lot more content over time than what currently exists in working memory :).
Interestingly, I think this is why I always write these massive monologues to people when I’m messaging with them. Often, the thoughts don’t exist to me until I start writing them out to someone. Usually I’ll start with ideas that I’ve been working through and reflecting on, but hadn’t been able to keep in one place. As soon as I’ve got them written down, I can then start to work on them as a collection, and then I always learn new things as I’m writing. Whether I’m learning or not depends hugely on my focus—I spend a fair amount of time in my work life explicating things I already know, and know I know. But there’s definitely a set of topics where I’ve been working things through mentally, and haven’t had the mental space to put all of the linear thoughts together and see what they can do as a collection. That’s often what this blog is about, actually, and where I’ve been having some tension… because writing-as-explication reads as much, much cleaner, and feels like performance and art, and writing-as-putting-collections-of-thoughts-together is like journaling and rambling. I’ve been trying to do more writing-as-explication, but I keep on running into the need to do writing-as-putting-collections-of-thoughts-together, and because I always learn from that, I bend to the need. I think this need will diminish with time; it already has to some degree.
This does result in funny behaviors though in my messaging. Have you all ever used dating apps, or texted? I dislike texting, have refused to for a while, and I always said that a big part of it was because phones don’t have keyboards. Because it turns out, how I do it, I need a keyboard.
I have had so many messages from the dating app people which go: “oh my god, that was a LOT of text, let me reply to some of it”, or more often, no reply at all. I certainly know what I’m supposed to do—short messages, low content but interesting content, etc. I also know what I’m supposed to do when messaging friends, but if anyone ever lets me get away with it, I’ll do paragraphs on what I’m thinking.
I write paragraphs because it’s intrinsically rewarding, whether the other person replies or not. If the other person DOES reply, all the points, because they’ve now read what I’ve most been thinking about and can give feedback on what’s most important to me right now. If the other person DOESN’T reply, well, I’ve just learned that I have thoughts! And in fact, generated new thoughts based on collecting my previously-inaccessible thoughts! Paragraphs are awesome! …Which is also what this blog is about :P. Ooh, has this slight-variant on my usual conception of writing explained why I refuse to journal if it’s not in public? Nope. The reason for that is unrelated and still centered around the idea of productivity and holding accountable.
(Also, unrelatedly, but sending people monologues of personal thoughts via dating-app messaging has the fun result of pulling out super weird people when people do bother to reply. Very low hit rate, but always a good time when it happens.)
Hm, last thing for tonight 🙂
A friend and I are eating salads together, talking. I’m standing at the center table, and he’s leaning against the sink.
“Oh, I always forget,” he says, and pulls out his phone.
I watch him for a bit, deciding whether to continue the conversation. He seems distracted by whatever he’s doing. I turn my attention to the salad: kale-based, of course. It’s pretty good.
“…I want to buy you a shirt,” he says eventually, and I make a questioning noise. “Do you wear shirts? With images on them?”
I half-grin, raise my eyebrows. “Graphic tees? Graphic tees are awesome, I always wish I could wear them.”
Pause, still typing. “So do you?”
I’m looking at him weirdly. “I mean, to bed. I should change my style at some point; I’ve wanted to wear them for a while.”
He’s typing. “What are your shirts made out of?”
“Uh… spandex and polyester?”
Still looking at the screen. “Hmm…what else do you wear?”
I’m thoroughly confused by this point. “You know what I wear.”
…Ooooh, okay. I get it now.
“Yeah, I’ll definitely wear it to bed. Get a medium. Obviously they only come in cotton, that’s totally fine.”
He looks up, smiling. “Yeah, I didn’t see an option for spandex and polyester.”
I’m much happier to be on solid ground, and go back to gnawing at my salad. There are sweet potatoes and cheese.
Long pause. “Do you like V-necks?”
“Of course. Everyone should like V-necks. V-necks look good on everyone. And I know this because I am right.”
I laugh. “My dad cuts out his own V-necks from shirts, and they don’t look good then. But I generally agree.”
“…So,” I say, into the silence, “Thank you, for the present for not even an occasion. I appreciate it. Or… wait, that feels strange.”
He looks up. “Why? Is it strange to say thank you in this context?”
I think about it. “Given this conversation…? This isn’t the right word, but it feels, like, arrogant?”
He looks confused.
“Because you haven’t…”
“Oh! It’s like, you’re counting your chickens before they hatch.”
I nod. “Yeah. Except, there’s a word that’s shorter than that phrase that is not ‘arrogant,’” I inform him, smirking.
“Yup, that’s the one.”
“…God, I hate Chrome. Manual entry. It should just send it to where I spend most of my time.”
“Well… maybe where you spend time between the hours of 3am to 7am.”
“Exactly! It has all of this information! Manual entry! Why!”
I’m laughing. “I mean, it could do it. Or it could just know your address from previous—”
“Yes! Regardless, it should know my address!”
I’m finishing up the bowl, and an image occurs to me. This same friend talking about a Yale shirt that says “Kale” instead.
“…Does it have to do with food?”
“Nooo,” he says, eyes still on the screen.
I frown at him, not sure.
“Nooooooooo,” he says again, exaggerated, making a skeptical face.
I finish the bowl.
He puts the phone down, moves to the center table. “Is it still rude to say thank you now?” he asks, he’s asking as a real question, pulling his own untouched salad over.
“Nope. Thank you.”
Someone says, “So what have you been up to lately?” and we’re back in the flow.