Let the summarizing begin!

Hello everyone,

Long time no see! I think last time I mentioned that I was rethinking use of this blog, and I did rethink use of this blog (it was going to be awesome, I have visions, it’s going to be great) and then I was so overcome by the awesomeness of these visions that I didn’t decide to write anything :). So there I was, stalled out for a while, feeling guilty about taking the time to blog because work, you know, you can never do enough work… and then I felt the feeling that has been motivating me to return to this blog for the past few years, which is: “There is way too much in my head right now, oh goodness I need to write.”

I’ve been successfully ignoring that feeling for a while now. (Because work, you know.) (And also I’d have to feel feelings, which I’m admittedly doing anyway, but I’d be all by myself with my feelings if I did it on paper! …which admittedly I’m also doing anyway since I’m usually introspecting alone in my head). However, I’ve been noticing that I’ve been procrastinating more in the past few days than I think makes sense. And when that happens, if I have the time, I’ve been trying to make sure I’m hitting all the desires I’ve been ignoring. Usually this means napping (I’m really not a fan of sleeping, meaning it’s quite a process, requiring willpower, to convince myself that I actually need to go to sleep. Enforced sleeping like naps help compensate for this.), and taking the time to think (I usually ignore that I need to process emotions because I think I have better things to do. One of my friends has cancer and at least that one I only ignored for about a day in a half before I was like: okay, you know what, we actually need to sort through this ignoring it is making me feel kind of uncomfortable-antsy.) Writing’s another mechanism that I’ve been ignoring, but I am making time for it today! See, part of myself that makes me procrastinate? I’m listening to you now, please be proud. And hopefully decrease with the procrastination or at least let me know what’s up with you, because I’m a helpful listening person now, see?

(I’ve also been trying to pay more attention to the parts of myself that are nonverbal but nevertheless try to tell me things. This has been an ongoing movement, of course, but I think I’m slowly getting better at it. I kind of like it as a strategy—try to get all of the needs met, instead of applying willpower all over the place while listening to one dominant part. I strongly suspect other people are much better at listening to their various parts than me, and also think that the “apply willpower everywhere” is a strong adaptive strategy that’s served me well in many instances.)

All right! So what am I talking about today… in typical rambling form, I think I’ll just pull notes up from my blog document and see what feels salient. Or check in with myself and ramble about what seems salient. Oh, first thing: apparently I want to talk about what I’ve been up to the past few months, since I sort of went on a baby hiatus :).

What Monica’s been up to: in non-introspective world, I’ve been studying for my Qualification Exams, which I passed on April 25th! Quals are a standby of the PhD system—they’re big exams people usually take them at the end of their first or second year, and if you fail you get dropped from the program, with rates of failing / content of the quals exams differing by school and department. In our department, it’s almost unheard of to fail, and we have a 3-part, 3-hour oral exam testing 1) our research proposal for the next few years, 2) knowledge of foundational neuroscience questions, and 3) understanding of “related research areas” questions. For our department, this is the last big evaluative procedure before we write our dissertations as 5th and 6th years. (…Yep, the PhD is long.)

I feel massive relief for passing, there, though I didn’t pass fully with flying colors :). There was a section where I needed to derive the Maximum Entropy Inverse Reinforcement Learning algorithm, which the important people informed me that yes, I do need to be able to derive in my sleep, and I fumbled it a fair amount. I’ve literally implemented this algorithm twice in projects, so I see where they’re coming from :). My reaction to it has been interesting, in that some parts of myself really don’t actually feel much guilt or shame about messing this up, and I notice that I’m not taking drastic actions to correct the lack of knowledge, though I do still have plans in place to slowly decrease the knowledge gap. I was telling this story to my friends and being embarrassed about it (because I am ashamed and embarrassed, I just don’t seem to be ashamed/embarrassed enough to stride boldly forth into getting great at deriving these sorts of equations) and it occurred to me, amusingly, than people with other jobs probably don’t have this feeling of “I’m not good enough because I don’t know enough” that college students and younger grad students perpetually have. This seems to be an academia thing: like, if I were in a programming job and doing things, I suspect I may feel guilty about not working enough, but not about not knowing enough, at least if I were a few years in. I’m a pretty long way into the educational process (…I just finished 19th grade, you know? High school and college and a Masters degree and two years into a PhD program. It’s a lot of education), and I know there are other jobs like this too, but the “feeling guilty about not knowing enough” seems like it’s more unique to the academic environment than I ever acknowledged, and probably most people with jobs don’t worry about this bit :). Then again, they probably have to worry about people relations, and thank god I’m in a local environment where I very rarely have to do that.

(I was complaining to someone about quals recently outside academia, and they told me I was very lucky to get to learn all the time. Which, true, that’s one of the reasons I really like my job. That response didn’t address the emotional need there, though, which is that learning is also hard. People sometimes forget that e.g. college is actually really hard if you’re trying to learn things in all subjects, including ones you’re doing because you need to know them, not necessarily because you’re intrinsically drawn to them. *shrug* A lot of the time I feel like people outside academia give too much respect for grad students though because of the amount of thinking work that goes into it, though, so I don’t generally feel like complaining about feeling that my effort isn’t recognized, and occasionally go into flustered hand-waving territory :).)

Anyhow, I passed quals (the rest of the sections I think I did pretty well in. So many flashcards about neuroscience questions, it took forever… I can now report what a morphogen is and provide details, though, so come at me!) The other thing I was doing that was taking up my time was teaching. Teaching is awesome, okay. When I was in high school (storytime), I decided as a senior that I was going to enroll in a class that was basically “make your own class related to your future career” that would involve me interviewing nine female professors at the local university, which in my case happened to be a very good and large university, the University of Minnesota Twin-Cities. (…Sometimes I look back at my past choices and am like: you know what, I really haven’t changed that much. Apparently I was into feminism before I went to Wellesley College, and apparently I was into professors before I even went to college. And apparently I was into ten-year plans before I remember being into ten-year plans. I’m an absurd person, is what I am. Oh, hey, no one has said I have potential in forever! (That’s something I remember people saying about me in high school and college, I just remembered.) Whooo, I’m going to say that either means I’ve fulfilled my potential or I’m enough of a person to decide what I want to do now and do it, and it’s not this kind of hopeful vague thing in the future. Cool.)) Anyhow, that’s when I learned about this whole “being a professor is mostly about research, and not about teaching, contrary to what you might except given that you know what a high school teacher is and depiction in movies.” But I was into the whole teaching idea way back then. And I was still into the teaching idea in college, even though I didn’t do anything like teach a class, which I would totally do now if I had the chance. (At the time, I was too busy studying. I was too busy studying to do almost anything else in college, which is actually kind of cool. I worked really hard in undergrad.)

Which all goes to say that when I was teaching my last section this semester (I taught two sections of 25 students each, which meant that I reviewed material with them once a week for an hour), I got to truthfully tell them that I’d been thinking about teaching a class like this since high school, and that it was actually as good as I thought it’d be. My expectations have been tempered over the years, of course, because as you go through life you lose some of the idealism, but it’s still astonishing to me that teaching was pretty much as good as I’d envisioned it. It’s a ton of work, don’t get me wrong, but I like the various parts of it. I like designing the lesson plan, and giving it, and answering questions, and talking with the students, and dealing with emails, and dealing with administration, and doing the problem sets, and holding office hours, and trying to shove information down people’s throats in ways that make sense, and even grading to a degree because you can see where the misunderstandings are. And it’s a lot like being a graduate student in that you have a ton of sub-jobs that are actually pretty unrelated to each other, and I like some more than others, but I like the whole conglomeration a lot. (I’m not a big fan of the tech support, though. That’s something that’s shared as an instructor and a grad student, trying to be my own tech support when I don’t know enough about a system to know what’s going on :)).

I’d like to teach a class, like for real teach one as the main lecturer, in addition to the experience of being a “graduate student instructor (GSI)”, which I was for this class. It was great teaching this class though—Computational Models of Cognition—because it’s a good class, related to my research, big (300 students), and I had a team of people helping me (there was the professor who was lecturing, and then we officially had 6 GSIs and one “Reader” who was basically another GSI). I was the only person who hadn’t GSI-ed before, so people were able to give me advice, though mostly I was just thrown off the deep end because they really do not do as much training as I’d expect people who are teaching undergraduates should be doing. (Read: I had a one-day training with all of the other graduate students who had never taught before. I thought we’d practice or something :)). In short, being a GSI seemed like a pretty similar amount of interesting to being a graduate student, though I just need to accept, next time, that I’m going to have a hard time doing both at the same time because teaching’s really a full-time job :).

(That was an interesting conclusion to reach, that teaching and being a graduate student are as good as each other. Right now I’m just really enjoying being a graduate student again though—now that I have the time to actually just do research—which is… wow, pretty cool that I’m enjoying it this much. I think some of the main things that influence my experience are 1) whether there’s an encroaching deadline, 2) whether I feel overwhelmed by a task (…including TECH SUPPORT TASKS OH MY GOD, also when I don’t know how to implement/derive things that I really should probably know how to implement/derive by this point, which isn’t uncommon for me), and 3) whether I feel pressure to complete more things that I can handle at a given moment.

Given that in this current week I don’t feel any of the above (…but don’t talk to me about T-minus 3 weeks before quals, that was a bad week, wayyyyy too much anxiety because all three were happening at the same time), I’m a pretty happy graduate student, plugging away at my little web app that I’m developing and trying to make experiments work. (…My Javascript is so bad. That’s okay, no one’s judging me on my web app besides the participants who will be doing this online experiment). Oh man, I didn’t realize how happy I was with my job right now, that’s really awesome!

(Sometimes I’m not happy with my job for the above reasons, so it’s really cool to acknowledge that I’m really pleased with everything right now. I did notice yesterday that I was excited to go to work, not because of guilty feelings, but because I wanted to do the thing, and that was pretty special. Not that I normally dislike my work on the whole, but the week before this one I just wanted a break when I didn’t work at all, and the months before that I was freaking out about the CogSci conference deadline Feb 1st, and then the daily stresses of studying for quals and teaching until the end of April. This is probably the least stressed I’ve felt in months. I knew I’d get here, though, and I knew going into this semester that it was going to be rough. All of the people in my cohort knew—“just get through quals” has been our mantra for ages, though none of them were ingenious enough to try to also teach during the spring :).)

(Another thing that’s been making my job better is that I know more things now. You would not imagine how useful this is. (Okay, fine, you can probably imagine how useful this is.) It just transforms panic about projects into “ooh, cool problem, I can do this” which just the right level of challenge to make me want to work on it, instead of “FLAIL I can’t ask for help because this is too basic a question and I have to learn how to do this but I have no idea what I’m doing but I have to figure it out what if I’m wasting my time with this approach there’s no way to tell AHHH apply WILLPOWER willpower NOW WE CAN DO THIS GODDAMNIT.”

(Perils of being a grad student: if you’re stuck, you’re pretty much responsible for getting yourself unstuck. You can ask for advice, certainly, but it’s going to come in the form of “oh yeah, just do this (process you’ve never heard of, which you can hopefully look up online) and read this paper (which is implementing the thing instead of explaining the thing, but at least there are equations) and rely on (jargon for concept that’s quite in depth and you could probably take a course on).” Which is certainly helpful, but doesn’t really reduce panic until you’ve gotten used to the fact that this is the way things go. This self-learning thing is awesome and overwhelming in turns, mainly based on the amount of time pressure I’m facing and just how lost I am. Note that the reason I often feel so lost is because my artificial intelligence / machine learning / computational skills aren’t as developed as they could be, and I put myself / [was wonderfully and I’m so grateful for being accepted into] a computational lab, so it’s the catch-up game, as per usual :).)

But this gets better, and I did notice the transformation of “starting to know stuff” happening from the beginning to the end of undergrad. It’s nice that it’s taking hold in grad school too!)

Yep, that was 2500 words on my job. Ha. I’m amused at myself because I haven’t even touched on the introspective things which make up a lot of my subjective experience. Then again, what’s going on externally does seem important to my life :). …I also notice I’m hungry and want dinner. I’m gonna do that first, I think, be right back!

(Ooh. Thing I’m noticing during dinner. I have a very strong “not wanting to look dumb by displaying the depth to which I don’t understand” inclination. I can usually get away with this, because I pick up things implicitly as I go along and eventually I do usually understand, and I also ask clarifying questions when I’m spaces where it’s welcomed to do so. But I was trying to figure out where inclination was coming from, and part of it is maintaining social status (especially in the eyes of my advisors, who I want to trust me and give me good things to work on), but surprisingly, it seems like a good portion is coming from “if they know that I don’t really understand it they’ll tell me I’ll need to fully understand it and then I’ll have to learn it but I don’t actually want to learn it” which is amusing to me. It seems like I’ve discovered that there are some concepts which are hard work to learn, and don’t stick super well with me, and that I can learn them on a case-by-case basis rather than just studying the full picture from the get-go, and this has the results of me not knowing as much as I should but also me not knowing things I that I don’t want to learn that I don’t need to learn. It also has the advantage that there are many hard things I “should” know, but that list is huge and I’m not sure exactly what I’m supposed to learn though I have some good guesses (…and it’s still overwhelmingly huge, I basically just need to be an AI grad student in my mind), but learning things as I need to learn them really narrows down the list of things that I feel like I should learn. There might be more to this, I’m always so amused when my implicit reluctance to do things that I think should obviously be done is based on real life desires / smart interests :))

Ooh cool. I’m done with dinner now, but feeling that nice growth feeling of realizing something surprising. I’ve been having lots of cool realizations recently, but most of them I get to by sorting through feelings I don’t usually feel like looking at all that hard (because they’re squirmy and uncomfortable) so it’s nice to have one that I feel like I’m doing a pretty light touch on, and that doesn’t really hurt at all because I’m just tapping it.

Oh, other things that have happened recently:

I did egg donation (whoo! A process, that).

I dyed streaks in my hair and bought shoes outside my normal look and am wearing different earrings and am going to get cartilage piercings next week. I had been thinking a lot about gender and sexuality/romanticism through March and April, and new comfort with those topics seem to have led to a very small look change. It’s very subtle, though, so most people probably won’t notice, but it’s cool that I feel like I have the freedom to make changes if I want to.

I went to another CFAR workshop. CFAR workshops are like my favorite gatherings of nerd-hippie-woo-ANALYSIS-of-FEELINGS events ever. I enjoy them a lot, and this is my third. At CFAR I talked a lot about gender and loneliness, which later turned into the sexuality/romanticism topic, since they’re related through my thoughts on relationships. I was talking to a friend who is outside of all of this feelings stuff (he’s a fellow grad student) and he was like: “Now you don’t feel like you want a relationship. So… are you back to where you started?” And I was like: …well, in terms of current actions, yes, but my opinions on it are WILDLY DIFFERENT LOL. My feelings on relationships are also much more nuanced and complex than they used to be, by obvious effect of me having experienced more and having to think about it more :). (It looks like I’m going to go down this track in more detail, consider the list structure above complete, here we go.)

A teaser on the sexuality/romance thing: I’m really into the idea of relationships, and I can get jealous of real-life ones due to insecurity, but when I think about me actually having a real-life one my face does this scrunched up thing and I get this stalled feeling and it’s like: “uh… uhhhhh… well…. I mean, no? Kind of no, sorry— but actually no— that seems like a bit much and, uh, kind of unnecessary, sorry. But you can be my friend, if I feel like it? No promises I’ll feel like it though :P.” I’m so rude this days :P. This whole “checking in with what I want” and then acting on it is super strange for me, and I haven’t fully adjusted to how it’s changed how I respond to people. Also I didn’t realize that a thing that I currently want—the absence of certain pressures, many of which I associate with relationships—is so against what a bunch of other people want, and that that’s actually okay. I got a lecture on the naturalness of getting married and having children and how it’s a core part of life the other day, you know? And I’ve been dismissive about the idea that “people need to have children” for years, so that’s easy to shrug off, but the idea that “people need to get married” is pretty ingrained in me. (Despite evidence to the contrary, I may state. I know people who are perfectly happy living their lives without partners (…they usually have much more money and have lots of cool hobbies). It’s still something that made/makes me uncomfortable to think about.)  So I’ve been thinking about that, and I’m not fully okay with it, but I’m more okay with it than I was. Not having relationships, that is. No promises for the future, of course (because I change, and the people around me change, and a lot of the relationships business seems like it’s about the specific people you’re interacting with… plus I as a person do change a fair amount in some ways that I think others don’t).

But it seems like… I’m really interested in ideas, more than people. And one of the ideas I’m super interested in is figuring out how people work, so that means I’m really interested in people, but, like, I don’t think this is the same way that other people are interested in people? Even though they say similar things like “it’s great getting to know someone deeply”.

  • And I’m like: “Yeah, it’s great getting to know someone deeply, especially quickly, because then you get ALL THIS INFORMATION about how people work and what drives them and what motivates them and how all of this internal stuff plays out in observable action.”
  • There’s also a part of me that’s like “yeah, it’s great getting to know someone deeply, and that should be done slowly, because it feels nice to be known, and to be able to predict what other people are feeling and saying and stuff, and know all of this nice backstory about their lives and how it’s made them who they are. And just being comfortable with someone gives me this strong sense of warmth and comfort and safety, and it’s fun to be around them, and it’s easy and nice.”

And my simulation of other people is that they’ve got more of the latter thing, except I think maybe… subtract some of the stuff about the satisfaction of prediction and maybe some about how stories work. And if the occasion is right, add in sexual attraction, and romantic attraction, and the soothingness of physical affection. For both mine and theirs, add in this thing about it being satisfying to be in a relationship (except mine’s more about narrative structure and fitting in, and I think theirs is too but also I think the thing itself is more satisfying for the reasons I’m listing). And then like, add in this thing (I’m squinting at the screen here, I’m so confused about this) about, I DON’T KNOW, like this magic thing that’s about being there to grow with someone together where you’re there to help them and they help you but you’re both independent people who will be together over years and years and move through life together and that brings joy and a deep sense of commitment and trust and eternalness and connection and forever-and-for-always love-hope-dream-greater than you? Or something. I don’t really know, but there’s some magicness about relationships that people are really into, like they think this is the most important thing, and they kind of get offended if you too don’t think this is the most important thing, and I’m like “??? What are you talking about, am I close?”

I’m probably missing a few things that I’m lumping under “magicness”, and I’m also probably not sorting these components optimally, but give me a break, people are really bad at explaining the appeal of this stuff when asked. It’s taken as a default that everyone knows what everyone else is talking about, and people are resistant to digging around it the magic of it, which makes sense to me, because I’m also very resistant sometimes to digging around magic things because otherwise they wouldn’t be magic, and good magic is very beautiful and to be loved. My above description of magic also makes sense to me because I find the idea of people who love each other (including platonically) working as teammates really incredible and beautiful, and I find the idea of “forever” and connecting to something much larger than oneself really appealing and beautiful, and devotion between two people is really, really nice as a concept for me, like one of the best. But then people seem like they’re trying to take these ideas out of the dream world and imagination and stories and execute them in real life in these things called “romantic relationships” and I look at these things and I’m like: but what the fuck are you doing, real people are hella messy and confusing, this is NOT GOING TO BE THE IDEAL THING you’re like gonna break up in two seconds, plus that’s your time, are you aware that that’s your time and energy, like for REAL this is going to have opportunity costs this isn’t just dreaming where you can get all the good energy without any of the costs, why are you trying to merge this two worlds, the dream and the real, are you actually insane? And then some of these relationships actually end up working, and I stare at them in actual amazement and point and say “wow, look that’s actually visible love, just like the stories, this is so bizarre.” And then I go right back to being just frankly astonished and puzzled that all of these people are trying these so-called relationship things and devoting a lot of time and energy into them and caring really deeply about … about whatever they’re doing, chasing the dream or whatever in real life when this shit really shouldn’t work at all because things are messy out here, and then they tell me I should do this thing, and I’m like WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU. (And then I say: okay fine you’re going to reject me and I’m going to be missing something and you know me more than I do so I will try desperately to figure out what you’re talking about and try to do the thing you say, but I am so, so confused.)

On the other hand, I’ve got no problem with all of this magicness happening in friendships. And it makes sense to me how that magic would come about, and casual devotion and kindness and love, and teammates forever and always, and all of the rightness and warmth of it all. Friendships are about forgiveness and acceptance and appreciation and growth, and they’re pretty darn beautiful.

You know what else is beautiful? Achieving things. Trying things with the expectation that you’ll eventually achieve them is beautiful as shit. In my mind, for maximum aesthetics, everyone should be full-heartedly and devotedly and in the way that best works for them be trying to achieve things 24/7, all the time all the time all the time. With their teammates and their friends and with love shared all around to overcome the difficulties. This is SO APPEALING TO ME. There’s so much togetherness, so much love, so much effort poured into a shared thing to make it happen, individual struggle and communal struggle and a community moving to achieve a shared dream. That’s so good. That’s one of the very best things.

(Tangent, but where my mind is: Another thing I’ve noticed is that I don’t necessarily want to figure out people, I want the process of figuring out people. Like, I could read a lot more books about how people work that would probably help, and instead I’m like: nope, I want to experience people and try to figure them out, this is interesting.)

Anyway. One of the points is, people say things like “it’s really great getting to know people” and I have come to the conclusion, finally, that they’re probably talking about different concepts than I am. When I talk with people I really am, most of the time, going for the knowledge-acquisition thing, because I really like trying to reason out how people work. I think it’s a really interesting process. I’m also really really interested in trying to figure out how my mind works, and when I talk with people this is one of my other major goals (maybe one of my main goals): to figure out who I am and how I work by reflection of who they are and how they work, or by directly conversing about how they think I work. Those are two major goals, and then there’s a last major goal, which seems to be about safety and security and warmth and connection, and building that with people. That seems really important. Not only essential to functioning (which is why I’ve been able to slide this desire past my usual filters ;)), but it activates a feel like “this is the point of life, this is one of the best things I could be doing with my time, this is what we’re all aiming for” when it’s done correctly. (Hm… this is probably what people are going for with romantic relationships, too, assuming they think they’re feasible. I don’t think relationships make sense for me, e.g. when I try to shove myself mentally into one, but I’d believe other people think relationships make sense for them, and that they’re getting enough of the golden glow stuff to think this concept makes any sense at all in terms of emotional / time investment.) Then there are the smaller goals of having fun with an interaction (hanging out just for fun with people is sometimes a goal I have) or sometimes it’s straight up information-acquisition in terms of stuff they’re telling me, but I usually care much much more about why people care about things or how they’re telling me than any information they’re directly telling me.

About this third goal, though, safety and security and warmth and connection… I’m doing some active thinking on this. Historically, in real life, this third goal of mine is usually based in trying to fill an absence of a sense of safety and security. I’ve been realizing wanting safety drives a lot of my behavior, such that usually “I want to interact with people” takes the form of: “oh god I need to make friends since I need an emotional safety net” when I first arrive somewhere, a “build and keep relationships we know we have to do this, social climb now keep yourself safe” later, and then finally “whoop haven’t talked to people in a while, need to make sure I don’t lose the skill, also I get sad if I haven’t talked to people in a while and there are too many thoughts in my head that I’m alone with” when I have an established group. I’m currently in that last phase, by the way, with my Berkeley friends. Usually, feelings of warmth and connection pop up in some of these interactions, but it’s not like I’m doing social interactions searching for the good things; I’m usually just trying my very best to avoid bad consequences of the bad.

So here’s the new thought: what if the point of social interactions is NOT to avoid the bad things (ideas about security) but in fact to have the good things (ideas about warmth and connection)? This changes the optimum strategies. If I care about security, the optimum strategy is just to be friends with as many people as possible. But if I care about “I want to”, the optimal strategy is to be friends with people who make me feel ways that I enjoy. How this is framed in my mind is “what if (oooh) I’m allowed to not do things I don’t want to do?” What this general line of thinking has actually resulted in is that I’m doing much more of only interacting with people I want to interact with in that moment instead of everyone who asks.

Things get way weirder if you start thinking about social interactions as things that are primarily meant for enjoyment rather than checkpoints you have to hit to not be unhappy. Moreover, I’ve discovered this fascinating new idea that there’s no universal “good” or “bad” ways to interact with people, despite what I learned when I was younger. (…There are certainly ways of acting that are going to get you good and bad results most of the time, and I learned social stuff in a very reinforcement-learning kind of way, where some actions were labeled as “good” and some were “bad”.) In fact, crazily enough, people are different. (I have encountered SO MUCH EVIDENCE on this, you think I’d have changed my models faster, but there are strong reasons why I didn’t and I’m still adopting this very slowly.) They have different things that they like and dislike, and different things that drive them, and conflicts can exist that aren’t anyone’s fault, and that’s all okay. Moreover, I am allowed to be different. I am allowed to like things that other people don’t like (that’s fine, that one doesn’t usually bother me). I am also allowed to dislike things that other people like. (…This one has caused so many problems for me over the years. When you have a rule that says this is not allowed to be true, you end up with really convoluted coping mechanisms to deal with this true state of the world, and mine are mainly based in anxiety about social rejection, rapid change and use of willpower, and repression of emotion) (I have theories about why I developed this rule, and it feels like it was very logically learned as an adaptive strategy and then taken to an extreme, because that’s how I do things.)

I’ve been trying to figure out why I ended up with the particular system of insecurities that I have, and why I’m so crazy about this need for security thing and why I feel I don’t have it. (I think the need for security is the primary driver of my desire for a relationship, and jealousy of those who have one. There’s a whole bunch of things I don’t want when I think about relationships, but that’s one I do, and if I could steal the warmth and connection feelings without all of the extra stuff I don’t want I’d totally steal that. I think I’d just feel better if I were working towards a goal with someone and all of the warmth-connecty feelings emerged alongside that, rather than being like “this is a FEELING that I am pursuing INDEPENDENT OF ANY OTHER GOAL” which makes me feel worried and antsy and nervous, because it feels like high energy investment for something that isn’t that important and probably isn’t going to be worth it. I might be lying to myself about how important it is for me, but I really would rather not take that action, and in fact have persistently resisted taking that action, so in real-life actions I’d actually really just get those feelings without a relationship, which seems totally feasible to me right now.)

Sorry, got sidetracked being defensive :). Anyway, I think part of the reason I ended up with this desire for security is that I’m legitimately quite different from the average person. This meant that in an environment where I was supposed to be able to pretend like I was an average person—which we’re all pressured to do in some ways—it all of a sudden became this massive test where there were right and wrong actions, and I had to figure it out because those instincts weren’t there from the outset. I was in an environment where there was occasionally strong social punishment for getting “trying to figure out how to be a “correct” person” wrong, and was probably influenced a lot by that because I seem to be quite anxious naturally? (Or something, haven’t figured out this part, or why I was influenced more than other people.) I was allowed really a lot of freedom in being whoever I wanted to be when I was growing up almost all of the time, and never faced anything like ostracism or rejection from friends or family. Still, there was occasional negative feedback, with the general frame being something like “you’re allowed to break the social rules, but you should first know what the rules are”, which makes sense to me. I just had no clue what most of the social rules were, since I started out at a different stage than a lot of people, so it was a lot of catch up.

So I picked up this frame somewhere that there was a correct way to be a person, socially, and decided to make it happen, and then I ended up with this weird set of emotional strategies and reactions that is me right now. Things that probably made it harder for me: first off, I learned a few months ago about this group of people who share weirdly similar social growing-up stories to mine. These are women who were expressing that they didn’t know social rules, so they brute-forced learned them, by reading fiction constantly when they were children, and then by figuring out social the same way they’d learn any other topic in school. These were smart people, who were socially motivated, and ended up “passing” as adults, so you’d never know they hadn’t had the social skills from the outset. A version of autism in women (which is different than autism in men, with different expressed behaviors, and also different social tendencies because it so happens that women with autism seem to be generally more socially motivated than men with autism to learn) with pretty mild other symptoms (e.g. sensory sensitivities, but there’s not enough research on autism in women) and otherwise high-performing. I was like: …oh hey, this could be a label that fits. I don’t want to adopt it though, because “passing” has been the goal for forever, and also I feel weird about adopting a label like autism that means so many things in its different forms…

If you meet me, you won’t tag me as autistic. You just won’t—I’ve been working on this social thing way too long by this point, and a lot of the strategies that were initially explicit are now implicit, and people are surprised when they hear me mention it. But for people who know me better, I’ve heard that this high-performing female version of autism idea can be helpful in modeling me. It’s also been pretty relevant in my career trajectory, I think because I spent so long trying to figure how people worked when I was younger, and it was so important to me emotionally that I get it right, that I kind of never stopped and then just got fascinated, both trying to figure out them and trying to figure out me. So that’s something that makes me different, and makes my social learning strategies different. This frame of trying to know how to behave like a “correct person” socially also I think sort of directly leads into feeling insecure about social interactions, because though I was never encouraged to actually “be” a correct person, I was encouraged to act like one, and I’ve been worrying for years that if I don’t act like I’m supposed to then I strike out, I’m done. Out of the tribe, no one wants to be my friend, pretend when you need to, you know? If you don’t need to then that’s great, but needing to perform to be accepted is the default. (Insecurities, man. There’s also a thing I remember installing my junior year of high school when I hit some pretty hard social rejection, and I decided that I didn’t want anything like that to happen again, and so the way to not have it happen again was to be smart with how I was “trying” socially. Therefore, if I was rejected again, it was my fault because I didn’t do a social thing right, and it was fixable and it was under my control. Which, great, but also… when you try to built different strategies on top of a strategy that’s not perfectly stable in the first place you end up with a pretty complex system? I have a kind of complex system. Though I expect so do many people, because minds are super weird :).)

So for other things that make me different and made the “puzzling out people” thing harder… we’ve got the mostly asexual thing, and “idk what’s going on with romance but I don’t seem to have the strictly standard thing” going on. Then for other things that have shaped my coping strategies, we’ve got the Asian-American upbringing. I talked about that a long time ago… Asian-American upbringings are interesting in that I didn’t realize people who had them had a lot of commonalities until I stepped out of my friend group and realized that other people had really weird upbringings. It’s, like, a way of parenting that comes with a set of expectations and approach that’s generally true of immigrant families, with some specific cultural stuff as well. Mine was non-standard, as much as a way of parenting can be “standard”, because only my mom is Chinese, and also my mom is pretty non-standard in a bunch of cool ways. My parents are both really open-minded to the tune of pragmaticism to an extent that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in anyone else’s parents, and I’m really appreciative of that, and my mom has also got an “build independence in my daughters!” streak a mile wide which is very unusual of Asian-American upbringings. I still think I had enough of one to identify with the label though. There are some ideas about authority and academic values and discipline and dealing with emotions that I thought was just the way the world worked I met some other people and went: huh? It’s not a bad upbringing—it’s really good at getting kids to achieve things, and I like that—people just end up with a similar set of side issues at the end.

Cool. I think that’s it for my current narrative on why I’m okay being how I am and liking the things I like, even if they’re different from other people’s likes, and why I came to be how I am and how it’s not really anyone’s fault (I feel a strong urge to blame people for any emotional reaction I find distasteful, and I’m happy to blame myself), people just interact with the world differently, and my strategies are as logical as anything else in approaching my world and environments, and basically, because everything everywhere now makes logical sense, I’m okay. Good. Glad that’s settled.

(I have this strong image of specific people grinning at me at the end of that paragraph. You can tell people all you like that “no, don’t worry about that, you’re fine”, and literally nothing sinks in until they deal with all of the concepts that are holding up their belief that things aren’t fine. I… is this process as long for everyone else as it is for me. Because it seems like this amount of tracing back to childhood and emotional search and intellectual search and conglomeration of introspective ideas over days and weeks seems a bit excessive, for the conclusion that I’m okay. … And now I’m grinning at myself. Absurdity is fun.)

Aaaaand it’s two in the morning and I’ve been at this for six hours. Typical. This is why I hadn’t started this blog, because I knew it was going to take forever, and also I’m not near done yet. I can feel that I’m not near done yet. Who knows when I’ll write next, though? Is this stream of thoughts neverending? It’s actually not, there’s totally points in the past in which I’ve felt like I’m out of blog ideas and am writing for the sake of continuing a habit, I’ve just been saving stuff up for the past month+ and there’s a lot to clear.

Well, as it goes :). We’ll see if this helps with the procrastination business! Best wishes to you all, congrats on making it through this monster, thanks as always very much for reading, and hope you have great weeks!

Monica

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