Update

Tag: ramble. (I should just do this instead of having to put it in the title. New convention that I might establish :))

Hey all :).

How are you all doing? I’ve been keeping an eye on my mood, and it’s swinging back upward since last week. Last week’s post was rough, but it’s surprising to me that I’ve been feeling melancholy since then. Then again, my issues around [meeting expectations and approval / dealing with criticism / lack of self-trust in ambiguous situations / etc.] are probably going to take months to sort through. Normally I swing between topics / issues really fast; my poor therapist has to keep up with all of the new stuff I come up with on a weekly basis.

However, the set of reactions and emotions involved in last week’s post are a little unusual. They’re long-running, tightly tied in with my history, and embedded within a whole bunch of my systems for understanding and interacting with the world. It’s a bit frustrating that progress on this has been slower than usual thus far, but I have faith that I’ll get it done :). Meaning, I’ll come out of the process with a new set of reactions that involve less intense emotions, and less negative emotions! I feel like my quest here since arriving in CA is boiling down to “how to be more chill”.

(That said, I’m still pretty constantly intense at people. I am blessed with massive amounts of energy, so I tend to blast it. But it internally feels more chill!)

Introspection is such a funny process. The other day I was wondering why I was feeling simultaneously melancholy and also baseline optimistic, so I took the part of me that was observing this and went and asked the optimistic part who it was. After I realized I had to introduce these two parts as equals lest they condescend to each other, the optimistic part (which was taking the appearance of a bushy-tailed, bright-eyed squirrel / monkey) let me know that it was a baseline, constant part of me, that it wasn’t in charge of dealing with intense emotion, but that it liked life. That was its main point, that it liked life. And people. And things. And that this world was a pretty cool place to be. My optimistic part is very accepting-chill. It also pointed down to the forest that it was overseeing, where all the deep emotions lived, and pointed out how lovely that was too.

The above paragraph is patently absurd, by the way. I never would have done anything like this last year, and that’s because moderating a discussion where different parts of you talk to each other is just weird. But the weirdest part is that it can actually be productive? Like, I realized something new about myself and calmed way down after talking to the optimistic part. Introspection can be soooo weird. Also, east-bay hippie stuff can be pretty cool.

I’ve been doing less introspection in general, but a decent amount of my usual mode, which is to directly try to sort through emotions that arose due to something upsetting. Emotions are informative. I’ve also been doing more of my other usual mode, which is looking back on past behavior and classifying it. Once you extend the reach to childhood, pattern-matching becomes even more interesting. The point being that after you figure out what you’re doing in reaction to things, you can then figure out why you’re having those reactions, and then adjust the reactions according to the new situations that you find yourself in. I find that a roadblock in that process is that I don’t know what’s unusual about my reactions, since they’re my reactions, and I often get the most insight about this when I tell someone else a story and they’re like: “…wait, you did / thought / felt what? I would’ve done…”

But enough about introspection :). I’ve been doing research! I’m trying to push through as much research as I can through January, because for spring semester I’m not going to have much time at all. I’ll be TA-ing a course (“Computational Models of Cognition”) and studying for quals. Quals are “qualifying exams”, and are one out of only two benchmarks during the PhD. (The other benchmark is the dissertation. The PhD process doesn’t believe in checkpoints very much.) For the Berkeley Neuroscience quals, we have an oral examination broken into three parts: a) basic neuroscience questions, b) questions about related topics, c) questions about your proposed research plan for at least the next year. I’m really psyched to start studying and teaching. I’ve wanted to try teaching for forever, and studying—assembling high-level information that I’m interested in from multiple sources—is always very rewarding.

Outside of research, not much is going on in my life right now :). I’m working out (too much), reading stories (too much), eating (…takes a surprising amount of time?), and doing thinking-about-self when the mood hits me. Also, social, of course, though I’ve been backing off a bit recently. I was doing various experimental ventures into the dating realm for a while—the past year on and off, really—but am currently on a downswing. MAN, dating is a topic though. I hadn’t really encountered, until this year, that a lot of people are really worried about not finding a life partner. It’s an age thing, certainly, but it’s kind of funny to me that I entered the dating realm at a time where a lot of people are in a mild panic about finding “the one”. (Is this what one’s supposed to worry about during one’s 20s and early 30s? Oh man, that’s a long ride ahead…)

I had some really fun social events the week before last. During one weekend, it was one amazing thing after another—first I spent the day wandering around the Exploratorium (science museum in SF, certifiably awesome) and Chinatown with two friends. Then I met up with another friend for dinner. Then I went to a “no-small-talk” party with strangers. And these were all friends I like a lot, and the strangers were great too. (I find it very amusing to watch myself interact with strangers in weird social contexts like these. One guy I completely bulldozed because I felt he was being closed off, one woman I had a great conversation with, one woman I had a really romantically-charged intense conversation with (she opened with “I’m attracted to you,” and I went “OH BOY”), one woman I was reserved with because I felt she wasn’t in my crowd, and another guy I had an “eh” conversation with. On some level, I’m really not very consistent.)

Then the next day I met up with my friend Alyssa, from college, and we had a grand time traipsing around SF for dinner and then for walking. (We always end up walking along the waterfront. I even objected this time, and Alyssa rolled her eyes and brought me there, and sure enough I didn’t want to leave once we arrived. Alyssa: “Monica, you always want to walk near water. Accept that this does not change about you.” (Alyssa was my roommate for a summer when we were both at Wellesley, and we engaged in much walking along the Charles river.) Then, when we’d spent long enough hanging out that it was quite late, she let me tag along as a guest to the Rocky Horror Picture show, where she’s a cast member. Rocky Horror was not nearly as frightening as I’d thought it be. Admittedly, I was sitting with the cast, but it was just a bunch of people giving other people a place to have fun, within a somewhat scripted environment. It was a super fun night—I like Alyssa a lot, and it’s gratifyingly mutual. (I feel the same way about the friends from my previous day’s adventures.)

IMG_0336.JPG
Pretty lights at the theater (view from the stage) before everyone showed up for Rocky Horror :).

That’s about all I’ve got, right now! The current thing I’m mulling my brain over is how to write characters. I really want to be able to write characters in stories. And I’ve historically been not pleased with my ability to do so. I seem to get stuck in that visualizing what other people will do kind of hits a blank wall for me, even in real life. This doesn’t make sense, because when I interact with people I have a distinct sense of familiarity or surprise with their reactions, so I obviously have a model of them in my head somewhere. But I’m weirdly unable to access it in a way that’s easy for me to use to write characters? I feel like this block is tied in somehow with my confusion about self-trust and empathy and a section of ideas I’ve generally been exploring in introspection, so work on that will help with this. I just feel like, based on how my thinking works and my available skills, I should by all rights be able to write characters. I’ve written characters before (that I wasn’t terrifically pleased with, but I have some capability), I appreciate characters a lot and have read SO MANY examples of them, I have knowledge of how other people act in real life, I know how to write story-wise in general, and write a lot of dialogue from real-life situations, am capable of constructing plots—this has got to be possible. I’m going to try to figure it out.

Talk to you all later! Probably the next few weeks won’t be very eventful for me, either, just because the semester’s finishing up and I’ve been changing out [hanging out and experiencing people] with [do research especially the class project that’s due at the end of the month] :).  To finish up, I figured I’d include another transcript from the checkout line at Trader Joe’s, because that is a quality store and I usually have good interactions with the people there. Have a good night, all!

Monica

*More transcripts from the checkout line at Trader Joe’s:

Employee from another lane who’s just finished up: “Do you need helping with packing?”

Me: “… No, I think I’ve got it, thank you!”

Employee in my checkout line: “Yeah, I can see you’re an expert.”

“I get the same things every time, I know where it goes.”

“You’re a creature of habit?”

“…yeah, with respect to cooking. Though I should learn how to cook. It seems like a skill that’s best acquired early on.”

“Why?”

“Like, it’s a skill that’ll last for the rest of your life. Seems like you’d get a lot of… [*internal struggle not to say “utility”*] benefit out of it if you learn it early.”

“Ah. What zodiac sign are you?”

Me: “What?”

“Zodiac sign.”

“Uh… I was born in April,” (Me: this is based on month, right? Right?) “Do you know what that is?”

“No.”

“Hm. Taurus, I think?”

“End of April?”

“Yeah.”

He pauses, thinking about it.

Me: “Why did you ask?”

“Oh, I don’t really believe in it.”

“Yeah, but what were you looking for?”

“I don’t really believe in it, but sometimes there are connections between personality and month.”

“Cool. What did you expect me to be?” (I’m pushing, I’m worried he’s not going to say anything)

“… (obviously thinking about it, deciding whether to say it) a Capricorn.”

“What are Capricorns like?” (me: yes!)

“They’re very structured. They follow specific procedures in general.”

“Well, I do do that! I love all this personality stuff.”

“Yeah. Huh, your total is 77.77.”

“That’s pretty special.”

“Yeah. A customer earlier said that 7 is the number of the ocean.”

“Cool. I’m a Capricorn of the ocean. Thanks!”

“(laughs) Have a good night!”

(The amount of conversation you can fit into a checkout line makes me happy :).)

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