“What is college like?”

Is it just four years of your life that you will spend a lot of money on, trying to be an adult, knowing that your family and financials are a safety blanket which you don’t need to immediately worry about? Is it the four years of your life when you discover that a science or an art that you wanted to make your life about is something you detest completely and that you’d rather do something else? Is it the guilt of exploring better options out there with someone else’s money or hoping that whatever else you find better be an investment which brings returns? Or the shame that you are wasting youth and time and emotion in trying to attach a few meaningful letters after your name when the trauma is done?

Is it the beauty of discovering independence? Of learning that sometimes loneliness can evolve into quiet nights of watching police sirens blink away three blocks from your dorm window and feel comforted knowing that at least you will never grow into that person? Of learning that there are times when the sun rises and you are trapped into a conversation that is stripping your soul of lies? Of discovering the true dimensions of people as they show and hide different aspects of themselves?

Is it the competence of doing your laundry right? With the colored clothes sorted into one pile and the white things in another? Is it realizing that the high of managing to complete your gym routine, homework, breakfast and room-cleaning before 10:00AM is the same as the turning out to be the only student in class who scored 94% and that this, in turn, is the same as being asked out by that shy boy who you secretly crave looks at your eyes more often than he does by hiding them behind his fringe? Is it the awkwardness that will follow when you realize that he thinks you’re a creep and that the line between romantic and weird is very fine? That superficiality is sometimes heavier than souls and thicker than the measurement of your chest-waist-hips? Is it wondering if they are even on the same quantifiable scale?

Is it just the four years of eating extremely oily pizza and a ton of bagels and oceans of cream cheese knowing that you’re one of those few girls who will graduate with your body looking the same, but being exhausted from within, deprived of the enforced maternal nutrition at home? Is it just the four years of coming across people who will have parents who have been in jail, who will have parents who will have cheated on each other, who will have parents who are unable to fund their child’s education for lack of understanding their child’s major, who have parents who have only dreamed of higher education? Is it the four years of learning why alcohol, drugs, drinking, sex and depression, TV, badly-edited writing and five consecutive bottles of Nutella are extremely dangerous because these things let a person run away from the reality that will inevitably slap them in the face? 

Is it the pride with which you will tell your stories back home, by saying, yes, I go to this college and how prestigious it is and look at all the things I’ve accomplished? Will that matter so much to their glazed over eyes who are waiting for you to tell them that you have not found affections in a “foreign” boy and are keeping yourself chaste and perfect and naively unaware of things like depression, suicide and bars? Will that matter so much when you try to explain what your research project is about when they are too busy trying to use you to inspire their own children into poring over books they hate? Is it the shame you will feel when they will hold you to be the perfect example, and your conscience coughs loudly at the back of your head, knowing that at their age you were no better than them and the atrocities you have committed to yourself and to others are nothing compared to what this sheltered oppressed being can comprehend at the age of 13/14/15?

Is it praying that your “gentle” preview of life will carry you though right when each semester sets fire to a different part of your soul and carves mountains out of another? Is it praying that this accompaniment to adulthood is not just the engineering degree but also the capacity to negotiate, argue, deduce and rationalize or even philosophize life into terms that you will feel less terrified of running away from? Is it the many nights of parties in cramped rooms and bent objectives bouncing off the walls as stress, tension of unexplained natures, political and sexual maneuvers and finding the right to belong in an ocean that sweeps in the new everyday?

Is it realizing that you are no longer a child and yet, a child of the world?

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On how the competence of a human being can be condensed to a number

http://www.hindustantimes.com/lifestyle/books/chetan-bhagat-tells-us-a-short-story/article1-436685.aspx

I read this story and while I don’t actively devour Chetan Bhagat’s literature, this piece resonated a little too deeply with being a prospective college student and wondering if scoring a 90%, or even 92 or 95% aggregate is ever good enough.

After I read this story, I reflected a bit on how far my life has come. I study in a prestigious Ivy League university now, yet I complain about my struggling GPA (which is still better than most), how difficult life is and how stressed out I always am. I forget that I have survived worse moments of uncertainty.

Today, I’m sensitive about the fact that my GPA is not 4.0. I forget that there was a time when I had scored 10/50 in a very important Math test. I constantly hear from my peers around me (blame me for being easily influenced) about how their GPA is at 3.9, 3.8 or even 4.0. I forget that there are many others among that privileged 3% admission rate who have GPA’s of 2.0. Columbia’s own Nobel Prize Winner had a GPA of 2.8 when he graduated. But I can’t seem to stop beating myself up for that fact that I’m not on the Dean’s list, even though I have two research projects and a hackathon victory under my modest belt.

The following paragraph summarizes the awful whispers I pick up from those who frequent job fairs and recruitment events and networking events.

“Jobs look for GPA and how good you are at what you do, combined with all your extra-curriculars and how well you present yourself and how essentially superhuman you are because you need to differentiate yourself from everyone else. Nobody wants ordinary. You’ll never get anywhere without a big name on your resume. Don’t hold back from writing your skills on your resume. Don’t be a machine. Show them you’re a human too. Laugh, smile, dress like so and flatter like so. “Network”. “Connect”. Know people and stay on their mind because that’s the only way you’re going to make money and be someone.”

Obviously, the fact that making it to Columbia is a difficult task for many and the hardships they may have gone to be there and the person who they truly are will never make it to that crisply edited, sharply formatted glossy paper that hides among a possible million more. So you’re applying to be a computer science researcher or technology developer? You’re from Columbia? Okay, so you’re good.  But that GPA isn’t 4.0. Like the protagonist of the story, being good is never as worthy as being good enough.

There were so many other subtle hints in this portrayal that stuck out to me. The indirect ways parents hint at their children, and the sometimes futile lies children have to maintain in order to preserve the social fabric. The idea of your classmates having girlfriends and/or boyfriends and wondering if the elusive and confusing process will remain as awkward as ever.

But maybe in the quest of trying to fit in and stand out and find multiple identities and be good at something, I’ll find the way to strike that balance. And maybe that will be more than a number, let alone in base 10 than in binary. Maybe that could be an elegant function whose solutions I still seek.

Defining boundaries: Breaking up with a friend

Hear me out because this is not the sort of thing I do everyday.I made the cold-blooded, rationalized, well-pondered decision to tell one of my friends that we were not going to be friends any more.

I think I would have tried to reason with her why, but she was too busy feeling her feelings to hear me out. She feels very deeply offended by my actions and I am given to understand that she has been incredibly hurt. But I think that I have made the better decision for both parties. Let us explore the problem statement.

Problem: A formerly close friend and I have grown distant for the last few months. In the beginning of this academic year, we were very close and I sought out her company often. But she doesn’t actively seek my company any further and being a great believer of reciprocity, I decided to maintain the status quo. I am not the kind of person who will actively impose on another human being, especially for company.

Whenever I did hear of her, it was about her fan-girling about one boy after another. I don’t mean to say people shouldn’t do that, but my friend is under the mistaken impression that she will find “love” through her methods (to which I have some objections as well), and that “love” is likely to boost her own low self-esteem. I’m not one to judge here because I have suffered the same affliction as well. And I have grown out of it. But she seems to continue with her self-destructive tendencies, and it bothers me immensely that as a friend, I am unable to do anything for her.

I understand that I am in no position to claim that my philosophy to life is better than hers or anything of that sort. But I feel as though I have failed as a friend if I cannot help them overcome their own demons. Due to our extremely large differences in our life philosophies, and because I think I am mature enough not to ask her to change herself or anything, I have decided that it would be advisable for both of us to end our alliance. I am tired of feeling pity and disgust for the ways that she chases men, even though I respect that chasing men deserves to be her priority as much as being competent and independent is mine.

Very recently I discovered, quite by accident (since we haven’t been frequently in contact for a while), that the boy she is perpetually raving about is simultaneously dating two other girls. It was an awkward conversation because she personally hadn’t informed me how vested she was into him. I just got to hear it through all of our mutual friends. I had to break it to her, and it made for some awkward conversations, but I really wanted to get away from all of it. I asked her why. Why did she have to put herself through these emotional messes every time? And she gave me an answer that has taught me a very valuable lesson: “I couldn’t control my feelings”.

We were already distant then, and I was willing to let things drift because not only do I feel completely useless as a friend, I also feel that she doesn’t want me in her life anymore because I won’t tolerate her listening and talking about boys all the time. (She informed me afterwards that she was very offended that I would think her main interest would be something so superficial). That’s not the point. I’m not judging her interests. I feel that I cannot extend my compassion and understanding to her any longer. We’ve both changed as people (or maybe it’s just me), to be able to tell each other “I love you” honestly.

As circumstances happened, I was in a research panel with her new nascent love interest. We were discussing structural design and machine learning when all of a sudden she appeared from nowhere, claimed that she missed me and what not. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to assume what her intentions might have been. But the timing of her sudden need to reconnect with me felt as though she was using me to get to him. Given the kind of stories I’ve heard from people who are close to her, who are not her haters, I wouldn’t put it past her to be like this. I was just so completely sick of her trying to use me, and that too for something as pathetic as the supposed illusion of “love” in an immature environment like college.

I evaded her response for a while. And when she came knocking at my door, I told her the truth. I’m not sorry if it offended her, because what she has been doing has offended my sensibilities long enough. I think she could be grateful that at least I let her know where we stand to her face instead of hiding it behind false smiles and hidden disgust. I don’t have to cringe every time I hear another incident of how “desperate” she was being. I don’t have to feel like I have failed as a friend for not helping her overcome her insecurities. Again, I repeat myself, I don’t want to say that she is wrong or reprehensible. To be honest, she hasn’t even done anything to hurt me. But I am tired of wasting my time and emotional energy onto her, hoping for a rekindling of our friendship. Even then, even if we went back to being friends, I would not put up with her constant chatter about boys.

I am tired of accommodating the large differences in our philosophies. She likes being the state she is in. I don’t like my friends to be like that and I have the right to choose that. Therefore, the problem is with my terms of friendship, and not with her. I deserve the right to have certain standards to uphold of my friends. She deserves the right to be/do whatever she likes. So the solution is to simply not be friends, because none of the other variables that are in play here are mutable. If she is no longer my friend, then I no longer have to feel like a dead-weight and she doesn’t have to feel like she has someone who is close to her who disapproves of her idea of fun.

I will still insist on being polite and civil, because I think every human being deserves that. But I will no longer have to cringe at the thought of how she may or may not grind up against a random boy in a crowd to boost her self-esteem, because she is not my friend anymore. I don’t have to deal with that.

 

Three enlightening rules on re-evaluating friendships

You may or may not know that I’m a very self-critical person who tends to pay undue attention to what goes on in the world around me. Whenever I sink into this habit, it is a sure indication that my self-esteem is crumbling, because instead of supporting itself from within, it seeks validation from outside. This has led to a rather worrying trend of how I “listen to what other people have to say” too often. Or more accurately, I “take what other people say too seriously”, etc. I sometimes forget that these people I’m listening to are as immature/insecure and fragile as I am, and that they too are perhaps projecting aspects of themselves instead of confronting their true selves.

I had a very enlightening conversation with my father last night. Here’s what I learned from them. 

Rule 1: You are permitted to be selective

I am so tired of apologizing for myself, that I have abused the word sorry a little too often. No, I’m not sorry for liking the kind of music I like, reading the kind of books I like, having the kind of opinions I have. I understand that my world-view is still very young, and that these opinions are subject to the passage of time. However, I’ve spent hours and hours in misery, moping and wondering why my opinion is so different from other people’s, and why they think the way they think. I should have cared less, if not at all. But in times of self-contemplation, I always forget that I get to choose the people I call my friends. I have enough self-respect to know that my loyalty is earned, and therefore, when people seem to abuse it, I have the right to walk away. You don’t have to be with people who don’t make you happy.

Rule 2: There are no standards.

This is sort of derived from rule 1, and while somewhat controversial, I tend to agree. I’ve heard enough of things like, “Oh, he’s usually a nice guy” or “Don’t be so harsh on her. She’s actually a nice person.” This has led my self-criticism to believe that my “standards” are too harsh or too high, etc.

Let me use some observations from my over-analytic mind and make my point as a mathematical proof

  1.  As free, sentient, sapient human beings, we have earned the right to dislike and disagree with things that we dislike and disagree. Sometimes, we can rationalize these feelings. But it is not necessary for us to explain to everyone why we have to.
  2.  All human beings do not judge other human beings equally or by thee same criteria. Hence the subjectivity in opinion.
  3. This brings us to the idea that people have standards. Whether we consciously admit it or not, we do have certain standards for the people we call our friends/employers and/or the people we choose to be in relationships with. Some may make these standards public and obvious. For example, there used to be this rather snobby classmate who decided to include only those from affluent families in her friends circle. (It’s a petty standard, you could say, but it’s her standard and so it’s not subject to our opinions).
  4. Therefore, these criteria by which we evaluate apply to every human being we interact with. Before a person becomes your friend, you are treating them a certain way anyway. A person’s standards do not necessarily apply only when they know that they are being considered as potential friends/lovers.

So, there you go. There are no “standards”. There are only “ways to treat fellow human beings”. You can be nice about it or you can be nasty about it. Those are your choices, but nobody in the world should be able to tell you that your standards are too high. I’ve discovered that when people usually tell me that, it means that they are more lenient with bad behavior than I am. Should I be sorry that I was raised to treat people with respect?

It doesn’t matter what the other person says or does, if they cannot make you feel respected or cherished in their company. It’s simply a waste of time that could have been spent with someone else who truly does make you feel that they are worth investing time and emotion into.

Rule 3: Having expectations is okay

I’ve heard a lot about this. “Don’t expect too much from people, so that way you’ll always be pleasantly surprised.” This sort of misleading optimism is the kind that has made me tolerate many instances of bad, negative behavior for that one in a million chance that they might actually be nice to me for a change.  There’s always the few days when people are having bad moods, mood swings, etc. As a friend and a person, you should draw the line if someone is projecting their negativity onto you by default or ALL THE TIME. 

As someone who has suffered enough of this (and if you’re someone like me, listen up), you do not have to forcibly expose yourself to other people’s crap. Just don’t. It’s unfair to yourself to test your tolerance level. It is not character-building in anyway. I’ve ended up feeling miserable, inadequate, naive, shut-down because of my happiness and the other person continues to thrive among their own biases. It is okay to decide that enough is enough. It is okay to decide when something is not enough. 

More so, it is okay to let these demands be known to the people involved. If they truly care, or were simply ignorant about what was upsetting you, then they will bother to listen. We can’t expect people to change themselves (Fact: they won’t. Time will). But if there’s any relation in which we feel that our sacrifices are unequal, or non-reciprocated, then it’s time to either stop making those sacrifices or let the other department know that there is something bothering you.  It’s okay to expect, especially if you’re trying to meet their expectations.

There you have it. These are what I think should help me re-define the people I hang out with, so that their negativity doesn’t affect me as strongly. Maybe I could grow a thicker skin, or maybe I should have to focus my energy elsewhere in my life so that my social life doesn’t turn into a liability? Let me know if you have similar/digressing/other opinions below.

{Dev}fest 2014: How I evolved into a better person and programmer

So, I’ve been gone for a week. I have literally been disconnected from social media and from my friends and usual coursework for a week.There’s a hacking/app-developing fest that happens here for a week and I participated in it for the first time. It was an interesting, exhausting and draining experience, but I have emerged from the experience with a boost to my self-esteem and some serious resume credentials. I don’t mean to brag, but it seems that the complete detachment from the human world for a week has left me with several ideas that I want to say. For the record, I am running on two hours of sleep and I have written code for approximately 86 hours cumulatively. Therefore, please excuse me for any errors that may inadvertently happen.

It’s a beautiful feeling. That delicious joy of exhaustion, fulfillment and creating something entirely new and your own. The joy of watching your effort work. The joy of creating a tool that will make everything so much more accessible and awesome and in an infinitesimal, but important way, contribute to the continuum that is human progress.

I had several different feelings about joining this project. I know that I am somewhat capable of writing code, but I always had the assistance of homework or a syllabus to structure my learning. This leaves me somewhat sensitive to the fact that despite all my years of experience, I have felt under-accomplished. As it turns out, there are several friends in my friend group who are programmers. All of them decided to go ahead and register for the project without asking for me. I was quite upset about it because I thought they were insidiously (or not) implying that I wasn’t competent enough to be a part of them. They were exclusively a group of six males, and this venture was supposed to be a “bro” thing. My friend justified that clearly, my presence was unwelcome for a completely different host of reasons beside my competence.

I struggled to come to terms with it somewhat, and though I understand the gender-normative requirements of “bro-time”, it still didn’t change the fact that I felt slurred. So I was determined to find a crazy, insanely hard project where I would be valued. I managed to come across a group of five graduate students working on a machine-learning system. Perfect. Not only could I be exposed to wisdom of the <ahem> not-so-ancient, but also I could get first-hand experience in something I’ve wanted to do in forever: machine learning. I was the youngest of the group for a while (we eventually picked up another undergraduate freshman to help us with HTML), but I was still the only girl in the group. Even though I felt immensely grateful for the opportunity to be in such an environment, I was also completely in awe of the people I worked with. We were going to design a three-dimensional recommendation system that would parse through all of the English articles in Wikipedia and based on a combination of some cutting-edge machine learning algorithms be able to fetch better articles.

For a while I thought my presence was unwelcome. All said and done, I’m a fresh-faced sophomore in a group of experienced graduate students. They’re basically doing me a favor by having me on board. So, I pushed myself constantly to deliver, to perform, even if the deliverable required of me were relatively mundane. There were times when it failed. I was required to use a programming language that didn’t have any sort of documentation on it whatsoever. We were taming the mutant beast formed from hodgepodge code of millions of free examples over the web.

My project lead told me that he was actually grateful that there was at least someone in the team who was always cheery and optimistic and funny, because without it working on such a complex, exhausting and immense project would have been difficult. My project lead is an amazing man. He is a visionary, a good human being, a kind soul and more so, an extremely charming man. He is also ambitious, driven and very receptive to feedback. Without him, I would have still been a pouting weenie. Now I call myself a programmer. We are one step closer to creating his dream, which is, in fact, our dream.

During the span of the week, I spent every day writing code from 6:00PM to 11:00PM. Combine that with the 24 hour hackathon the night before. I have learned HTML, CSS and Javascript (Three.js) in one week. I have re-drawn co-ordinate systems and made my math education worth its money, by squeezing out formula for transforming 2D co-ordinates to 3D, working with the changing geometry of shapes as a camera zooms into a screen and the co-ordinate system stretches out, staying patient while scraping the best I can off internet examples only and more so, working in a language that has no formal support system. I’m not saying our team was smooth and non-disruptive. We had our disagreements. We had our conflicts. We resolved whatever we could. We presented the final best of whatever we could. I realized that I wasn’t doing this immense project because I wanted recognition and credit, which was indeterminate. I was doing this simply because I loved it and I created it.

Our project demo wasn’t too spectacular, because our team lead was exhausted beyond measure and so were we. But I was still happy that I had participated and I knew that I had evolved into something else. We were presenting to some of the spectacular people in the industry of hacking and app-development and I was rather disappointed by fate that we were all so tired that we couldn’t make our final pitch properly.

Then two hours later, they announced the winners in different categories of the week-long Devfest. We were awarded the Andreessen Horowitz award for Most Technically Challenging Hack.

Yeah, people are talking about me now. I have the street cred I wanted. One of my friends from the “bro”gang went so far as to suggest that I should work for a company and start making money of my own already. I am admired and loved and envied and perhaps some combination of all of these or none at all. But I do know that I have finally tasted the pure joy of creating on the fly. Of recognizing a structured, final end-goal with limited unstructured resources. I have finally realized the pure unadulterated joy when your code compiles and your screen renders exactly what you imagine it to be. I have finally grown into that person who can shrug off what other people think of me. Only now, when people whom I have never known are congratulating me, have I realized just how empty the rest of the world is in relation to the goals I have accomplished in my mind.

I don’t know how else to say it without actually saying it. I have actually surpassed my own expectations as a person and as a programmer. I know that it is truly within me to strive for something higher and literally I am radiating gratitude to every force and being in this universe. Thank you for everything. Thank you truly, most sincerely, eternally for everything. For the friends I’ve made in this journey. For the incredibly talented people I’ve come across. For the person that I have now become. For the person that I am yet to become.

How to keep my new-found sanity from disappearing next semester

Winter break is ending and I am binge-blogging because I know that once college catches up with me, I will barely have time to sleep let alone write. A lot of things have happened during this break, things that I’m proud of. I’ve worked on myself to change my outlook on many different aspects of life. I’m worried that once college begins, and the external pressures that I have been pushing out of sight crop back up, my new-found resolve will crumble.

I want to trust myself better.

One of my resolutions is to not be a pushover. This should come rather naturally to me because I am quite aggressive and can even be territorial about the things that matter to me. I’ve been told that I “come on too strongly”. I’m not going to punish myself and say this is bad because it’s a part of me. Suppressing it for all these years has led to other people using me and getting away with it. Unfortunately, the new safeguards that are in place may not be finely attuned. Which means I am now paranoid about other people using me and treating me like a human doormat and at some level I am being reduced to someone who is transactional instead of generous.

I need something to remind myself of my goals and ambitions and needs. I need something that is capable of telling my barriers when to lock down on the situation and when to permit things to pass. I need to find other instant stress relievers. Writing is one of them, but in the vortex of blind rage, the last thing I am going to do is sit down and compose my thoughts coherently, let alone record them.

So I asked for advice from some of the most trusted sources in the world: my parents.

My father says that the primary cause of my insecurities and my unnecessary emotional stress is my poor health. He is right to a large extent. I don’t know why I thought I had bragging rights to the fact that last semester I survived for nearly 7 hours on a single green apple. Then I thought I was going to prove my strength by pulling off nearly 4 hours of sleep every two days. And then, I was expected to code up a proof for Leibniz’s formula for pi in less than 100 characters in a nightmare of a programming language called Lisp.  To top this all off, I would obviously be unable to solve the problem, burst into tears and start questioning everything from my math capabilities to the fundamental reason for my existence. Yep, this is the Amazing Race to Mathematical Understanding. I have inserted a proof here, for those people who do understand that this is truly less than 48 hours of nerve-wracking stress and worth only 5 points of my homework.

For the record, this is the Leibniz proof in human-comprehensive math. Image/Proof credits: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leibniz_formula_for_%CF%80

For the record, this is the Leibniz proof in human-comprehensive math. Image/Proof credits: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leibniz_formula_for_%CF%80

Indeed, I have lived the zombie life. No matter who you brag about this to, they will wonder how you are alive and marvel at your strength. Silently, they may think that you are surely on a path to an early death. Deep down inside, I know this is not sustainable and treating myself like a prisoner sentenced to hang is not something I particularly enjoy. So full points to father. Healthy body = healthy mind = 100% functional sanity = 0% worrying about what other people think/do/etc.

My mother reminds me of something else entirely.

Back  in India, every Saturday evening, we would go to a nearby Hanuman Temple (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanuman). Every month, we would attend a long ritual, I forget what the precise name of it is, but it was a sort of recounting of the heroic tales and prayers asking for forgiveness and blessings. At the end of the prayer ceremony, all the attendees would have to tie a sacred yellow/red/orange strong on their hands. This string was so strongly bound that there was simply no way to take it off without cutting it. All day and all night it would stay on the wrist of your choice. It was a string that would protect you from all evil and guarantee the blessings of the deity in whatever task you chose to perform. Maybe it was years of conditioning, but I have become so used to it that without wearing the bracelet/wrist-band my wrist feels a little odd about it.

I think it was this ceremony, the Satyanarayan Puja. Image credits: http://www.daijiworld.com/news/news_disp.asp?n_id=98851

I think it was this ceremony, the Satyanarayan Puja. Image credits: http://www.daijiworld.com/news/news_disp.asp?n_id=98851

I don’t know if it protected me from evil, or whether I felt that I had divine approval about any task by virtue of the string alone. But I do remember my mother telling me that whenever I was angry/depressed/hurt, I should look at the string and remind myself to calm down. Years of wearing the string taught me that every time I look at is, it serves as a divine reminder that I have better things to do in my life than be frozen by my own stupidity.

I haven’t been able to attend any such ceremony ever since I arrived in the States. But in memory of that turmeric-dyed string, I now wear a sports wristband with me. It has the flag of the United States on it, so religious symbolism aside, it serves as a direct reminder to what my overall purpose here is: to educate myself and become a better, upstanding member of human society.

Like Wonder Woman's bracelet, this has the power to let e be truthful to myself. Also, it resembles her costume and so is doubly awesome and supercharged.

Like Wonder Woman’s bracelet, this has the power to let me be truthful to myself. Also, it resembles her costume and so is doubly awesome and supercharged.

As long as I remember these two things: stay alive and stare at band when in trouble, I think I’m going to be okay. Finally, I feel a bit more equipped dealing with the next semester now.

How I (am trying to) rebuild myself: Self-awareness

As promised in my previous post, I would write about how I’ve been working on myself. Since this is very person specific, and I usually write very personal things on this blog, I’m just going to ramble on and hope you find something remotely meaningful in all of this.

Firstly, I’ve been putting off embarking on this journey for quite a while. It happens at the end of every year. I always look back and wonder, “Oh my goodness, I’ve changed so much since last year.” When I say things like that, I sort of re-affirm a very stupid postulate in my head that I have arrived at the peak of my transformations and emerged as a final product. Philosophically, I’m aware that no human being at any stage in their lives is a final product, but somehow I always delude myself by saying “Look, I’m at least past the manufacturing stage”.  So this year, in order to make some serious improvements to that, I’ve come to accept that yes, a lot has happened the past year and perhaps something comparable if not more will continue to happen next year and the years after. This leads me to self-awareness aspect 1.

Aspect 1: I don’t adapt to change as easily as I think I do. This is okay, as long as I’m not deluding myself into believing that the change has already happened. Being slow > being completely ignorant.

Aspect 2 (technically, Sub-aspect 1):  I am a shameless expert at deluding myself. Need to stop that on an objective level.

This year started off with a day that was just like any other day, except everyone felt suddenly festive and had holidays. Some childish part of me used to give into the hype about New Years and literally wait, Cinderella-style, for some miracle to occur when the clock struck midnight. Perhaps the biggest personal miracle of them all was to realize that it was literally just the same as any other day. This means that every day is equivalent to a new day and therefore I can apply all the hype about fresh beginnings to every new day as well.

Aspect 3: I can use my self-deluding skills to convince myself of positive things.

In the midst of all the festivities going on, something rather awful happened. For the first time in my life, I got a C+ in a core class that I enjoyed. The class for which I got the C+ was on C++, so the grade appeared to be some sort of parody of itself. This rocked my GPA somewhat hard. It rocked my emotional stability somewhat harder. How am I supposed to celebrate and be merry with this sort of cloud looming over my head? I was waiting for the disappointment and the latent depression to take over, until I realized something important. I got that C+ because I was so busy worrying about my GPA. Well, the worst happened. My GPA has sunk to 3.15. The worry that had sapped off so much of my joy and energy finally materialized and……I’m still alive, the world is okay and spinning on it’s axis and to be honest, the damage is quite minimal and more importantly recoverable.

Aspect 4: I have an extremely awful habit of worrying and corroding my self-esteem based on (future) events that I cannot control. Now that I’m standing in the midst of the metaphoric rubble, I realize that failure, at this level, is not quite bad as I thought it would be. I may still get a job. I may still be able to graduate. I may still be/aspire to be a good, loving, kind human being.

I was talking to my father (literally, the best friend and coach and everything-awesome-in-a-human-form-that-cannot-be-captured-in-my-Mom) about it. This is what he said, “You don’t take a class hoping to get a good grade out of it. You take a class hoping to truly understand the content matter that has been presented in it.” I have to love what I’m doing. To be honest, I do love what I’m doing, except intangible worries of the future make me so anxious that I am borderline dysfunctional.

Aspect 5: I cannot control people. I can control how much I interact with them and what those interactions should be like, but beyond a point I am free to exercise my independence and not worry about ruffling anybody’s feathers.

This comes from a long history of being a people-pleaser. Now I’m not going to say that it is altogether a trash-worthy philosophy, because I still believe in people being kind and nice and courteous and respectful of their fellow humans whom they share this Earth with. BUT if they don’t know their boundaries, it is only right to you and to that other person that you take the initiative to specify the boundaries of the interaction. I still love making people happy and I’m not ashamed of it. But I don’t have to force myself to interact with the kind of people who literally set off my internal alarms.

I’ve been trying to put Aspect 5 into practice even before the new year, and its worked out very well. I hope to keep it this way.

Aspect 6: I do not eat to feed my body. I eat to feed my brain and the ancillary systems, which happen to be my body. So, if I respect my brain and its operations, I have to give due respect to the other things that make it functional and effective. I openly promise (in writing, mind you), that I will not brag about having slept for less than 5 hours every night. I will also not brag about my terrible, terrible food habits.  (Updates are in progress. I promise. In writing. Fingers uncrossed.)

During midterms, my body is composed of 50% blood and 50% this.  Image credits: www.starbucksmelody.com

During midterms, my body is composed of 50% blood and 50% this.
Image credits: http://www.starbucksmelody.com

Not going to begin on the “Body = temple” cliche here, but you know what I’m talking about. I’m almost 19/20 years old and it’s high time I take responsibility for what my hands put into my mouth, under action from my brain which clearly has other priorities besides health. I have been hitting the gym and waking up with all sorts of aches and pains, but that’s okay. A warrior must always train herself in other techniques as well. I can’t be expected to survive college if I lack physical endurance.

Aspect 7: (This one is rather hard.) I would like to be able to respect myself better. I have come a long way from salvaging my self-esteem, but I don’t feel fully confident with myself yet. I don’t expect to achieve this within the year, but through emotional de-cluttering, I’ve become a lot more happier with myself. I try not to think about issues which make me question my self-worth, because if I don’t have to deal with it up-front on a daily basis, it’s not worth my time.

For example, my obsession with superficiality and “not being pretty enough”. I don’t mean to sound like I’m flattering myself here, but I’ve received several compliments and opinions and arrived at the conclusion that I am actually quite okay. Most people say that I look “sweet/pretty”, so they can’t all be telling me the same lie. But here’s where the game takes a level upgrade. Their opinions (or even my own on this subject) honestly don’t matter anymore. I have never claimed to be Head Authority of Pretty, nor am I aspiring to be one. The people who are around me don’t care, so I should stop poking and nettling myself with saying that I’m not good at being something that’s very unnecessary to my existence by default.

I am going to sign off now, because I think I’ve said most of what I wanted to say. I know this list is not complete, and I hope that as the year passes by, I’ll be able to report a happier progress on these issues. Also, to my readers, thank you for reading as always. Please feel free to drop off feedback. Super Happy New Year to you! More importantly, if you have any resolutions/changes/goals, good luck to your success on them. Goodnight!

How I (am trying) to rebuild myself: Relationships

It’s the winter break. There is no other sound besides my staccato typing and my breathing and the thermostat. The house is quiet. My mind is quiet. After a long time, there are no claws of fatigue trying to pull me down. I can now hear myself think and it is important to me that I figure some things out about my life. The year is ending, so I have ample opportunities for a fresh start. At least psychologically. I’m going to talk about a few things that I do that have literally helped me mold myself better.

Firstly, in order to make something better, you need to know the current state it is in. 2013 was a year of a little too many revelations about who and what I am and how I respond to different stimuli. With the assistance of a great psychotherapist, I have managed to find where I have disconnects in my thought and behavior. I’m not saying everyone has to go through that, but one of the key processes I have discovered in bringing self-improvement is being absolutely brutally honest with who and what you are. Also, if like me, you have an additional self-criticism feature turned off, you have to turn it off. At least for the duration of this process.

Secondly, we will now indulge in my second-most-favorite activity. making lists. Make a list of problems you want to tackle. You can make it on paper, or on your favorite task-managing app (this might be better if it has auto-reminders set in), etc. It doesn’t matter what the medium is as long as it is tangible and visible. I’m no expert in psychology but I find that if my goals are visible and present before me, I strive to work towards them better. So make the lists. As many as you want.

Disclaimer: This worked for my best friend and she sort of suggested that I get this method out there. Also, this is not supposed to be some definite astronomically accurate calculation which will tell you everything about life, the universe and everything. No, these are numbers that you create in order to help you get some idea of what your end goal is/should be.

Now I’m actually going to talk about the process, so bear with me. You’re also very welcome to walk with me. I am an engineer, so it’s easy for me to crunch numbers. I understand completely if you’re not a math person, but believe me, when the numbers that you have generated tell you something, you’re less likely to not believe it.

  1. Make a list of all the attributes you want to see in a prospective boyfriend/girlfriend/friend. Seriously, write all of them down. Even if they range from “Must not be a serial killer” to “Can play a musical instrument”.
  2. Adjacent to this list, write down how important each attribute is to you. Depending on how precise you want this to be, you can grade this on a scale of 0-10, or 0-100. For example, if you’re a person who really doesn’t care about a person’s background, write a small number against that. Whereas if it matters to you what religious/political affiliations a person might have, write a larger number against that. This scoring also should be consistent with “deal-breakers” about a person. For example, if you prize good manners above financial well-being and someone scores less against that, clearly, that’s not what you want. (As per your own data.)
  3. In the next column, jot down the name of a person you were interested in/are interested in/could be interested in. Score them against each of your criteria. Be honest to yourself in what you really think about this person. For example, one of my criteria was spontaneity. People are obviously more likely to be spontaneous when they have the time to be spontaneous, but I hadn’t quite considered that.
  4. Repeat the process for as many people as you want. This applies to friends too.
  5. Once that’s done, you can now calculate how each person works with you either by adding the totals and comparing the highest. Or, to be more fair, you can calculate the weighted average of each person. So this way, their score is more precise in the aspects that matter to you. Weighted average  = Sum of ((attribute 1 x value of attribute 1) + (attribute 2 x value of attribute 2)+..(keep doing until)…….(attribute n x value of attribute n))/(sum of all the values of the attributes). “n” here represents the last value. So if you have 15 attributes, n = 15 and so on. If you’re using Excel, like I did, use =SUMPRODUCT(<person score>, <value of attributes>)/ SUM(<value of attributes>).
  6. The numbers should tell you something about what sort of people you like, if you didn’t know that already. They will also somehow show how important some of these values are to you, which are more important, equally important, less important. If you were unable to decide whether to focus your attention on Person A or Person B, the numbers should tell you which one is worth more of your time.

So, there you go. It’s sort of like creating your own compatibility generator, except without any magic, or random rules or any arbitration such as the letters of their names and so on. I remember, back in elementary school, when my classmates had this weird game called FLAMES, which was supposed to determine relationship compatibility via some arbitrary elimination of letters. I’m not quite sure how the entirety of relationships that we have with people can fit into the meager category of 6 letters, but I guess at that age, it’s the closest approximation. This one, however, is custom-built, mathematically rigorous, and as my friend told me, “quite effective”.

I will write another one shortly about evaluating myself. As in, my strengths, weaknesses, areas I need to work on, areas I deserve to treat myself on and so on. If you want to follow me along that journey as well and maybe discover something that might help you or amuse you, please feel free to join me.

P.S: I don’t think I’m as grateful to me readers as I should be. Massive apologies. It’s my New Year’s Resolution to work on that. Thank you, everyone, for reading and for following me through this incredible transformation that has been 2013. I always believe, and my mother always tells me to, that the best is yet to come. Happy holidays and best wishes!

A Place For My Head

Wake up in the morning. Wear my work face.

She is strong and driven and determined. She is on her way to get things done, and do them right. She’s the face that’s hardest to keep on and also the most fulfilling. In a strange way, it feels good when she’s clamped on me. But in other ways, the hinges refuses to clasp when I need it on me the most. She’s a temperamental face. But she makes me the happiest.

I feel like I’m worth something when I can be productive, which eventually results in me being happy. “I’ve got my life under control, ” I tell myself. Work face allows me to schedule some self-awards as well. The small kind, the one that only you can provide for yourself. Maybe I’ll have a Teriyaki Chicken lunch special instead of bland dining hall food. Maybe I’ll go say hello to that random stranger who needs help holding the door open. Maybe I’ll just lock myself up in my room and let my playlist drown me. But only for a while. Beyond a point, Work face wants to get back to the grind and I am obliged to obey her.

Work face is slipping off. More frequently than I want to, but I’m grateful for those days when I can keep her on long enough to call it a day.

With my friends, and their lives, I give Work face a break. Human beings are not rational, methodical problem sets that they can be dealt with in segments or in logical ways. I wear my Watching face.

She’s the one who notices how the grass sway and how people interact. She’s the one with hawk eyes. She’s the one thinking up of story lines and blog post ideas, about things to write about and things to do and ways to be creative. She’s also the one who is willing to do more than necessary. Like listen, contemplate, think and maybe even indulge in philosophy. I’ve found that my friends frequently need this side of me. But she is a heavy face to wear sometimes. She comes with her own emotional baggage, anxiety and the redundant results of far too many over-analyses and an unforgiving memory. She’s the first to jump at the sight of panic, but she’s also the one who is my storehouse of kindness and empathy. She’s all about poetry and aesthetics and the transient spiritual nature of the equation. She’s worried about the larger details of life.
I can’t tell if she’s at conflict with Work face. But that’s okay. Watching face needs her time as well. Though heavier, she fits me more smoothly than Work face, so I have no choice but to carry her everywhere.

There are several other faces that I wear and I would love greatly to expand on them all, but I don’t think I could be explaining the entirety of myself very well just by these vague descriptions and metaphors of what each face helps me do.  I have seven listed, which may be a variable number and often times, every other face besides Work switch roles.

Because this is not a conversation about faces. It’s about the medium that hosts those faces.

When I want to do something that cannot be filed under the functionality of any face, the information persists in my head. It’s sort of like a crash dump for when a compiler comes across an error in the code. All operations, whether valid or otherwise, that need to be processed after where the error is detected are forcibly written out to some remote inaccessible buffer and the program exits. Unfortunately, my brain cannot exit the confines of my head, and thus those ideas and memories lurk somewhere, waiting for a face to claim them and execute them.

I am now at such a point in my life that the random misfits have overcrowded the capacity of my limited brain. My head hurts. It wants to be acknowledged, to feel like it belongs. Unfortunately, time and fatigue are not exactly working in my favor. So I keep pushing things out. Procrastination on a whole other level. Work face has been a bit overused the last few days and she’s showing signs of wear. But I have to let her condition go by unnoticed until this endless, almost infinite stream of duties that are expected of me become something worthwhile.

It’s 2:00 AM and Work face has literally registered her protest by slithering off me and lying like a smoking hulk on the table where I have a problem set due tomorrow and I’m still at question 3 of 6.

This gives me an opportunity to dump everything into this big white box here so that I don’t go to sleep and dream. I don’t like dreaming when I’m asleep. My brain believes in combining the random elements of my existence from the real world and from the residue of shadows and phantoms into some utterly believable illusion, which keeps me trapped for the rest of my slumber. Luckily that’s been approximately five hours each day for the last week or so. Every evening, when classes end, I come back from work and I tell myself that I’m probably going to need to pull an all-nighter. My roommate, who is under comparably equal pressure, laughs and says that she should start keeping a count of how many times I say that and then proceed to crash at the relatively early 2:00 AM. No, not early in the morning. Where I’m at, this is early in the night. At this time, I can still text a normal person and know that they will reply to me within their time, because everyone is up and about.

But I can’t. My body and bones are tired. My brain is not doing the simple functions right. I’m walking into glass doors that have the letters CLOSED in capital letters on them. I’ve forgotten that I need to sign the white slip before my credit card payment gets processed. I am trying to use a pencil eraser on a pen mark. The list is endless.

And I can function like this no longer. So, I  thank all my faces and my weary head for doing their job right.

Next weekend, I will make the time to go spend at least an hour in solitude at Sakura Park. It’s quiet for the most part, has several cherry blossom trees and I think the scenery is beautiful. I’m usually not an outdoors person, but in my head, that’s a designation for a place where I need some kind of detachment from this world. I want to play on the piano for at least an hour. I want to write a story for my other blog.

My faces need rest and my head needs to breathe. Goodnight.

Reasons to change

 

Today was the first time I woke up in the morning, and I did not feel the pressing need of a deadline long forgotten, the latent hunger of a meal that I should need to rush to nearest restaurant for, any urgent reason for doing anything urgently at all. It was a quiet, simple joy. The joy of just being with myself. The wonder of staring up at a blank ceiling and hearing the faint echoes of all the past selves that have lain on the bed, and mused in the same way. Worries, tears, histories, contemplated scenarios, unplanned scenarios and the like. Right now, in this infinite moment of nothingness, I can laugh at the ones that had happened. I can laugh at the night when I cried because my midterm grades weren’t up to my efforts. I can observe quietly the night when I tossed and turned uneasily, wrought with weird dreams: avenues through which my self-doubt chose expression. In moments like these, I can do everything and nothing at the same time.

Sometimes, I remember the days of my high school. The world was unimaginable different then. Granted, I’ve had some rough experiences; most change and growth comes without warning and takes the shape of that which we can’t quite imagine yet. It was the same with my freshman year at college. I didn’t know what I was expecting myself to be able to pull off, but the remnant of those experiences is something that I am still processing in order to improve myself.

But these moments are not one of those in which I reflect on all the injustice an all the perceived “wrong” that had happened to me. I take pride in the fact that I have grown beyond those petty days in school when nobody spoke to me and I was so angst-ridden all the time. I reflect sometimes on how my unforgivable memory has finally let go of their mistakes, even though sometimes I’m not sure it has let go of mine. There used to be those days when I was trying so hard to please everyone that I was slowly losing my own anchor of convictions. But in this moment, I have let go of them. Sometimes it bothers me whether anyone will accept me for who I am. After all, I have enough people who hate me, dislike me and reject me. I am tired of analyzing their motives. The why doesn’t matter any more. I have let you go.

There has been way too much time of my adolescence wasted in wondering why all of my affection has never been returned. I felt that even in a relationship, I felt as though I wasn’t reciprocated. Until I realized that I didn’t need to emotionally invest into these distant beings in order to feel as though my life was complete. It’s okay that I wasn’t pretty enough, or quiet enough, or funny enough or <insert adjective> enough for them. By wearing away all these external attributes of what I am and what I was supposed to be, I’m still in the process of discovering myself.

There used to be months when I would wonder why my ex-boyfriend was the way he was to me. To this date, I cannot explain his behavior. Maybe it was childish immaturity. Maybe it was him being in his natural state, and I had way too many expectations of what a boyfriend should be like to be able to come to terms with what was happening to me. Maybe we were just incompatible people. I know I’m very grateful to him for teaching me a lesson. Not just about the world, but also how I perceived myself. He doesn’t probably know the full extent of how much he has helped me grow. Even if I reach out to him, in an attempt to thank him, he won’t accept it. Because we simply have very convoluted perspectives of each other. I let him go a very long time ago, believe me. But I haven’t let go of what I’ve learned. In moments like these, when I cherish my independence, I thank him for that.

The next term starts soon, and it’s going to be rough. The same old nights spent watching the moon arc across the sky and the sun slowly creep up to usurp its place, while you’ve barely progressed from one problem set to another. The same old schedules that are larger than life, the discipline that I must force out of myself. While at some level, I’m tired of changing myself, I still haven’t identified exactly what it is about me that I should retain. That bothers me. For now there are crickets chirping outside. For this expanding silence, which is interrupted by my own staccato typing, I’m taking stock of how much I’ve grown. But there’s a part of me that’s undeniably afraid that the journey is not over yet.