Hey readers :).
I’m hoping this will a short one, since we’re approaching the legendary Feb 1st Cognitive Science Society Conference deadline! I’ve literally been planning for this submission all year, because last year scarred me and I didn’t want a repeat of that performance :). I totally am capable of working nonstop on one project, not working out, sleeping less, and not doing any social things, but it’s not particularly pleasant. However, all of my planning has paid off, and this year I am much more on schedule. I have high hopes I’ll have a full draft out by the end of the weekend!
Just to get it out of the way, I just read this article on the Aziz Ansari case, which I’ve been staying well out of, including all of the comments about it on my Facebook newsfeed. As expected it made me sad, especially since I was reading the article sort of as a personality test and it checked off a lot of boxes. But this is our reality and I don’t know what to do about it so I’m moving on for now. (I’m willing to argue about small details of this reality, but not the gist of it. I feel the gist of it is correct.)
In other news, I got to teach for the first time today :). Did you know that I originally started doing research because I wanted to teach at the university level? I was like: I want to be a college professor. And people around me said: well, if you want to be a college professor, you have to get a PhD, which means you have to do research and be really, really good at it. And I said: what? And they said: try it. So I did, and now I really like my research :). But I’ve always wanted to try teaching.
I was so scared the night leading up to it, but I got in the classroom and did my lesson plan and… it was so easy. Being up in front of the classroom was so easy. It was like the best version of doing powerpoint presentations to people, because… lots of reasons, but the main point is that the goal was to try to teach them something. Something that they cared about learning, that I thought was important and cool, and I got to teach them however I wanted, and I was the expert so wasn’t going to be questioned on it, and no one was grading me, and it wasn’t about my performance it was about their learning. And since it was about their learning, I got to do things like ask for questions, and stop when I was talking to clarify a point because someone looked confused, and made them know more things than they came in, and entertain them, and say whatever I was thinking if it was on topic, and they’re good kids. Not that they’re much younger than me, but they were enthusiastic, and respectful, and said things, and talked with each other, and were friends with each other and friendly, and were engaged, and it was just really, really great. And I didn’t have any problems making eye contact with them all because they were making eye contact back, and I know my lesson plan was good because they contributed, and it was just so excellent. I want to make them all learn things, learn all the cool things.
(I even got to tell them my anecdote of realizing why math is cool. And tell them all to work hard, and watch them react to what I was saying, and be an authority. It was so good. All the power, right, and it’s power I can use to have them learn the things I want them to learn, in the way I think it’s easiest for people to learn it (given time constraints since I don’t have forever to optimally prepare these lesson plans). And they’re just such good kids. Gah. First day so successful.)
Another nice thing happened today! I was sitting in a meeting with three other guys, one of which was presenting a newish math/programming concept. I actually followed the vast majority of it, which is quite an improvement from last year (I’m always happy when I realize I’ve become more competent). However, there was this part where the speaker finished up a section and asked if we all understood. One of my friends had been asking a lot of questions, and was nodding to himself in confirmation that he was all caught up. He voiced this verbally. Then the other guy I’ve been working with a lot said he had implemented something similar recently, so this all made sense to him.
Things definitely made sense to me on at a high-level, but I knew I wasn’t getting the kind of implementation, low-level details that my two work buddies had understood. However, I didn’t feel comfortable voicing this, because it had become obvious earlier that I knew the least out of everyone here, and I didn’t want to slow people down given that I wasn’t the one who was probably going to program this part in the end. I was also starting to spiral down into my usual mode of thinking when I get to situations like this, which is as familiar as anything, and I noted its familiarity even as it was happening.
It goes something like: god, I don’t know anything. These guys know so much more than me, now I can’t say anything, I’m just here in the room and what am I good for, I’m just the token psychology person or something, not the math person, what even can I do on this project if I don’t get this? But if I can’t do the math, what am I supposed to do? This whole project is math, what, I can do support or something, no, that’s stupid, what are you going to be the token girl who’s just going to sit around coordinating everyone, god, what skills can you use here that you have a comparative advantage in, nope, can’t think of any, [impeding feeling of doom], and if you don’t get the math now then what good are you going to be in the future, this is your entire PhD here we’re talking about—
This is actually much more of a feeling for me than an actual described train of thought (I’ve never written it out before or spoken of it like that, actually… I hadn’t realize the “girl” part was still in there since I tend to notice that a lot less when I’m friends with the people in the room.) This sinking feeling has been popping up a lot less recently since I now a) understand a lot more, and b) realized that there are some topics I really don’t care about or need to care about, so don’t have to worry that I don’t get it. But the current topic of discussion was very relevant to my PhD and thus my interests, and more of the content was new to me than the people around me. I was actually doing an okay job of heading off this train by reminding myself that for me, three of these concepts were new, and they were all building on each other, while for one of my colleagues only two of the concepts were new and he had a very strong foundation in related concepts, and one and a half concepts was new for my other colleague. I was actually impressed with how well I was keeping up.
But anyway, the speaker had asked how we were all doing, and one of my friends had been asking a ton of questions and then also responded he was good. My other friend had not been asking any questions, but when asked said that he had implemented something like this recently and was good. I didn’t say anything, because I was feeling doom-y and didn’t want to detract the discussion with “yep, this mostly makes sense to me, but I’m not getting it quite as well as you guys which is making me feel insecure.” And then after those two had replied, the speaker nodded and looked down at his computer screen, and my engaged friend nodded and looked down at his computer screen, and I was suffused with a hugely increased WAVE OF DOOM because no one cared if I was in the room or if I was following, did they, the question of “are you following” had obviously been answered by all the people who mattered—
“Wait, before we start—“ second teammate suddenly said, interrupting the speaker who had started on the next section, “I haven’t heard from Monica in a while. I just wanted to check in.”
And I was like: …you know, I can’t even describe what that felt like. Just, doom feeling, completely gone. I always manage the doom feeling when it comes up, and whenever it pops up it lasts throughout the entire meeting, and after the meeting, and is distracting and makes me feel bad about myself, and it’s also not the most useful thing in the world and feels a bit like an overexaggeration so I don’t expect anyone to fix it for me. Since it had popped up, I had already shifted mental gears to knowing it was going to be there and being ready to fight it for the rest of that hour and all the time it was going to persist after and feeling gross for the next forseeable future, and that feeling was so magnified watching both the speaker and my friend turn away, busy thinking about their own affairs, and it hurt and was unjustified and then it was like: poof, gone.
I said what I’d been thinking: that I’d been following, not to the extent that you guys were, but I’m not going to be implementing this probably, so it’d be fine. And all of this came out in an incredibly cheerful voice that revealed nothing of the previous doom thoughts—because I wasn’t feeling them anymore— and then I said “Thank you for checking in,” and then broke eye contact really quickly and turned away and just smiled to myself. Smile smile smile, helplessly.
Then of course I got caught in doom-peripheral thoughts for a while like “why can’t I concentrate on learning the math here, why am I thinking about how kind that interaction was, ahhhhhh” but these were nothing like they had been or would have been. And usually I think I’d thank someone really hard for doing something like that for me—meaning, just kind of glowing at them, which people usually find rewarding. (Man, that feels so weird to write. That is essentially what I do though. Keep and hold eye contact, try to express all of the joy feelings through the smile and face scrunching, hold.) But this one felt… I don’t know. In a lot of my hippie-woo interactions, I’d totally have done the glowing thing, but this was a work interaction and one doesn’t really do the glowy-thing at work, I think. But he’d totally executed a move straight out of my standard hippie-woo interactions (he’s also part of that community), but also it just felt really special because I really wasn’t expecting to get out of this one (the doom feeling has a special flavor for work and I didn’t ever expect that to be improved by other people) and then I did and it was really special, and that maybe felt like too much, in some ways, as well.
I really really like when people are nice to me. And when people are attentive to other people. I was hanging out with some of my friends recently, and Friend #1 looked across the table at Friend #2 and asked, “How are you doing?” Friend #2 was curled up on the couch and said, “I’m just feeling really dizzy right now.” Me and Friend #3 then proceeded to stare and then break eye contact awkwardly. Friend #1 turned back to what they were doing, and said casually: “Cool. Let me know if you need anything. Blankets or water or whatever. Meanwhile, it’d be good to carry on with Monica and [Friend #3] for this part anyway…”
It was so casually caring. Like, so casual—just asked a neutral “how are you doing” when they noticed something might be wrong, and then offered to help while not drawing attention, and then drew our attention and carried on… GAHHHHHHH it kills me. I love love love when people are sweet and people appreciate it and they do it smoothly and comfortably and socially and it’s the absolute best. And effective, so effective, it’s so competent and beautiful and kind it metaphorically hurts. (I tried to write “it hurts”, but it doesn’t hurt at any level, even though the phrase feels right.) I want to drown in these people and stay here forever.
Tangentially, I’ve just run across a new personality test that I’m enjoying a lot. If I only talk about the first half, it has 4 classifications. Under this system, you are one of the four options, and that option is the one you turn to when you’re stressed or put under pressure—it’s your default, natural state. Meanwhile, you also can “model” one of the options, which means you really understand and believe in one of the options, and can and maybe do spend a lot of your time exhibiting traits from that option. You can also “perform” one of the options, which is where you use the tools from that option but don’t really fully embody it. (This is a Harry Potter-based classification system, but they do some strange things to it that I think make it better. I’ve included the names here because they help as tags, though.)
Option #1 (Gryffindor): you do things for ideals. If your back’s to the wall and you have to choose, you’ll destroy relationships and institutions and everything for your ideals. You do what your gut thinks is right and stick to it.
Option #2 (Ravenclaw): you do things for truth. It feels immoral to trust your gut for decisions—that’s just another source of information to incorporate into your models, which you develop and test scrupulously.
Option #3 (Hufflepuff): you do things for people. You care about community and giving everyone a fair chance because they’re a person. You are loyal to people before ideals.
Option #4 (Slytherin): you do things for your people. You will demonstrate the utmost loyalty to the people who are important to you, and will do everything in your power to protect and care for them.
Okay, first of all, I really like thinking about things in this system, because it’s surprisingly easy for me to wrap my head around. I also really enjoy the Myers & Briggs personality test, but I’m really not good at classifying people under that system because the personalities seem so different from mine that I can’t keep them straight. Somehow the above system has concepts that stick with me so I can actually reason about them, and it’s fun how I’ve been reasonably confident about some of my friends.
But anyway, one of the reasons I bring this system up is that when I was going through the much-longer-version of these descriptions, the one that fit best was… Hufflepuff. I’m not particularly loyal to communities and I’m not a good caretaker (as is a common trope for people in this option), but there were several points that fit better than any other group. Things like high empathy and agonizing over others’ perspectives (…I still don’t know if I have high empathy. I was told I didn’t for a long while, and was self-focused. Then words like “compassionate” started getting thrown around late in college, and I’ve tentatively updated my self-concept in that direction. It’s really weird because I can hold myself apart from mass group-feelings with much less trouble than most people, I think, and also in some prominent ways I only care about and think about myself. And yet, given these low-empathy traits, there is some crazy extreme emotion going on around other people, and especially high attention to reading upsetness in people, and my inability to tolerate anger or sadness in people, and there’s something weird going on there.) …In any case, I’ve known I have what I call crazy-intense emotion around people and their behavior towards me, and I’ve been trying really hard to dial that down over the past year. It’s actually the major goal on my information personal-improvement list: freak out less about people.
But the fact that I may be primarily people-oriented on an emotional level (rather than just an intellectual level) is super strange to me. It feels historically untrue—when I was in high school, I remember testing strongly that ideas were more important/interesting than people, and I have always been much more school and learning-oriented than people-oriented. I think maybe part of it is that people are different than me now. For one, I’ve basically found my people—weird in the same way that I’m weird, is what I always say. Second, these people are super interesting for me, and third, I now have intellectual structures for analyzing people. But all of the latter evidence says is that I’m more in Ravenclaw, which cares about intellectualization, rather than an emotion-level kind of people-orientation.
But let’s just say, for the sake of trying it out, that I’m people-oriented on an emotional level, and that when you back me into a corner I’m not going to try to intellectualize anything or find truth, but instead just want everyone to see everyone else as people and be kind and be fair to each other. And that… that feels pretty true.
So, then, what’s all of this intellectual stuff? Because I do believe that there’s a bunch of Ravenclaw in me. I like learning things. A lot.
But again, for the sake of argument… say I care about my immediate community. And my immediate community is all Ravenclaw, and they all want me to care about intellectual pursuits, and I care about pleasing them, and it turns out that I want to hang out with Ravenclaw people because I like them and they’re interesting and care about the Right Things, and then this whole thing gets REALLY reinforced since I decide Ravenclaw people are basically my community and seek out and surround myself entirely with them, and now I’m “modeling” Ravenclaw all the time because it seems like the best way to be (told to me implicitly and explicitly). It turns out I can enjoy a really, really large amount of Ravenclaw, but for the first time I’ve run into people here who are way too Ravenclaw for me, and I’ve finally decided I don’t need to feel insecure about it because I can just be fine with not caring about the topics that they care about. (Somehow, there’s something about that logic that I feel kind of reinforces the point here.)
So then I’m running around with a core-Hufflepuff module, that I’m suppressing because it’s not logical and it’s overwhelming, and modeling Ravenclaw REALLY HARD (and I have a bunch of it naturally as well), so basically I’m an Ravenclaw pretty much everyone, including myself (though I historically have had lingering doubts about whether I’m a true Ravenclaw and have felt bad about this). And (finally, getting to my actual point and where this tangent is related—goodness, it’s easier in my head when I just have the tag for these concepts directly linked instead of doing all of the explanation here)… it occurs to me, that if this is part of who I am, it’s possible I can stop fighting the people thing so hard.
(I’d say “stop fighting and do something about it”, except that that doesn’t feel true to me. “Doing something about it”—i.e., being kind and comforting and whatnot—has always felt extremely frightening to me. I remember distinctly in fifth grade when my best friend was sitting on the bus next to me, and was staring out the window and crying. I asked her what was wrong, and she said she was homesick. Feeling entirely overwhelmed and also like someone needed to fix the problem, and that I was certainly not competent to do it, I tapped another friend in the seat in front of me on the shoulder and made her switch with me in the hopes that she could do the comforting thing. I was later informed this was not particularly helpful, but this has been something I’ve been doing for years. In college, girl on swim team laying on the floor. Me: see girl, immediately go get captain and tell them to help. A month ago, friend crying because of a messy breakup. Me: stand around super awkwardly (my other friend almost hugged me because she said I looked so uncomfortable) but feeling really grateful other friend is going to take care of her. I’m now much more willing to sit through people who are unhappy because I feel like I’m actually marginally helpful if it’s a one-on-one—I can listen—but I have a block around comforting, especially physical comforting, that has a very particular feel. Saying kind things isn’t a big problem, by the way. I feel a little embarrassed sometimes when I do it, but saying sappy things isn’t a problem, nor is saying sympathetic things. The comforting block actually feels a little like the “touching people in general” block, which is interesting. Oh, another interesting data point: one time someone explicitly said to me “God, I feel embarrassed right now. Can you put your arm around my shoulder and, like, pat it?” And that was no trouble. Wouldn’t it be convenient if people told you how to comfort them, and also weren’t going to do emotions all over you? I just realized I’m kind of terrified of emotions all over me, still. There’s, like, nothing to do with them. There are just a lot of emotions, and people are sad, and I’m like ahhhhhh I’m sorry you’re feeling this way I see why you’re feeling this way ahhhhhh.) (I find it kind of weird that I do this. I know what the comforting gestures are, and I know what the stock phrases are, and I care, so you’d think I could just execute. I think part of it is that I don’t know that I’d want these things done to me, so instead of doing something more intuitive, it’s about following the script, and I’m really scared of the script. So instead I just stand around looking so uncomfortable that third-party people come up and try to comfort me, lol.)
But anyway, the reason I think that it might be good to relax on the “I-care-about-people’s-emotions, like-a-whole-lot!” idea, is that a) suppression has not been working out very well for me recently, and b) the decision, a few months back, to stop thinking I’m not the right type of person because I don’t care about what everyone else cares about i.e. what I should care about if I were the right kind of intellectual, has been really nice for me. It’d be kind of nice to know how deep the Hufflepuff traits run—because I can see a stopping point if I squint at these impulses, they definitely don’t go on forever—and maybe, like, develop some different skills around Hufflepuff? Because I’ve definitely been developing skills around having Hufflepuff, but they aren’t the ones I think you’d most expect. I’ve got really superior suppression skills, networking skills to help deal with emotional fallout, quite good at avoiding all forms of communication that could lead to negative emotions I can’t deal with (in both me and them—I also can’t deal with my being upset at people), and am decently skilled in framing these emotional impulses in ways that will win me sympathy from Ravenclaws. The final point was something that was pointed out to me recently, actually, and clued me in that this frame might be worth investigating. Specifically, a few people have asked me why I have such insistence on my feelings being “justified”. I spend a large amount of time in my head trying to figure out if I’m right to feel what I’m feeling, if I’m justified, and will present information to others in this framing, and analyze others’ actions in this framing. One of my friends several months back was like: “uh, it sounds like you two just aren’t compatible, why do we have to put everything in this ‘morally justified’ frame”. And then my therapist recently said: “They are what you are feeling—how could they not be right? Though I understand that it’s more complicated than that.” I stared blankly at my therapist for a moment at that one, then started laughing quietly to myself. “I’ve heard that one before,” I told her. “It just bounces completely off how I think about it.”
However, the “this feeling is justified” thing goes over just fine with the majority of people I interact with, and in fact they seem to think this is the proper way to conduct emotions, by weighing whether they are justified or not. I was tracing back to childhood, too, in the shower today (…shower thoughts. They reveal a lot about what you naturally care about :)) and that was interesting, because I think my parents explicitly enforced both Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tendencies. “Well, have you thought about what they were feeling?” (Hufflepuff, and a response I remember to some emotional complaints.) and “Well, is it true?” (Ravenclaw, and a response that I think was almost always present?)
So I think I’ve gotten good at trying to formulate emotional responses in Ravenclaw terms, but that it doesn’t work very well all the time (…evidenced by recent emotional fallout from a recent housing situation. The mess that has resulted from this sparked a lot of my thinking about this, actually, because the emotional repression module wasn’t holding up very well.) But but but—there are canonical Hufflepuff skills that exist too. Like, ability to comfort people, and build communities if one so desires, and stuff like that. I’ll actually have to think more about these Hufflepuff skills, because the only one I’d be into developing right now is to compensate for my really terrible ability to comfort people. Oh, and possibly dial down the emotional responsiveness to people, that’d be super good. (Building communities? Do I want to build communities? I’ve actually found a surprising non-desire to build communities compared to the people around me (I just want to join the good ones) which seem contradictory to the core-Hufflepuff theory. The other main evidence again my core-Hufflepuff theory is that I’m really not that loyal to people. Or, like, general people yes, but specific people no—I base my people-rankings based on how good (which has a strong competence element to it) they are in every interaction and as stable people. I’m also hella intellectual / meta about this sort of thing, and have high capacity to be interested in whatever I think I should be interested in, which goes against the Hufflepuff theory and for the Ravenclaw-core theory. The fact that I’ve been trying to tamp down on the people-emotions stuff for years, though, without much success, and that I have really really weird coping systems around it—they are so bizarre, and extreme, and bizarre—indicates to me that there’s something going on.)
Hm :). This personality system is pretty strange for me because I don’t fit in the categories very well :). It’s actually a 4×4 grid, so the second half of the sorting is how you do things, rather than why you do things, and I have a really hard time placing myself in that framework, even more than I have with my Hufflepuff / Ravenclaw confusion here. But it’s a fun system, and has provided me with an way to sort people that I can manage. I notice I’m getting better at “grasping” people, which I’m hoping will eventually let me predict people, which will eventually let me write people, and I’ve been trying to write fictional people for more than ten years now :).
To finish up (…this did not end up being short, surprise :P) I wanted to say that I am moving houses! I’m really excited. I’ve been up in the Berkeley Hills since I got here a year and a half ago, and now I’m moving down to the south side of campus, to go live with people in the crazy community I’ve joined. There will be a cat, and there will be a gym that is close, and there will be people, and I think it’ll be fun trying to live with friends, since I’ve never really done that before. I was texting with one of my academic friends, and she was saying that her room might open up and encouraging me to come, and I was telling her that I already found a place. And she kept on telling me about her place until I said that the new place was a Rationalist community place, and then she texted, I quote: “oooh another rationalist community place! Ok nvmd then you stay there” She had been skeptical over the Rationalist community ever since I got involved more than a year ago, but the phrasing “then you stay there” was both hilarious and touching to me. She cares. She cares about me trying out new opportunities, and finding home, and living with people who care—and this place may not live up to any of those possibilities, but she’s encouraging me to try it out and see.
I’ve got good people around me, readers. Such good people :).