Dear 12 year old self

I remember you, and the weird tinglings,
That you felt for your school crush,
Love was literally around the corner,
He’d sit right beside you,
And little else did you wonder.

He was great at science,
You were, at best, average.
He was friendly, very social,
You were stuck up, introverted.

You admired him from a distance,
Promised yourself you’d tell him some day,
But you just let it be,
School crushes didn’t mean anything!
And love, wasn’t so easy.

You didn’t have many friends,
You felt isolated, shy, never confident,
Confined yourself to the solace of your own company,
Lived in a bubble, that no one could burst.

You were told to live up,
To incredible expectations.
“Being smart, was of utmost importance,”
“Mediocrity, was as good as failure”,
“Hard work, made the world of a difference.”

Somewhere, you bought into the whole story,
You tried to stick to that story line,
Believed you were meant for something bigger,

Appreciation, was never handed over to you,
Every time you achieved something,
You were asked to try harder,
“Not good enough”.

You were told your head would swell with pride,
You were told, you’d stop working harder.
Love was either authoritarian and dismissive,
Or submissive and overly accommodating,
The later, often being overshadowed by the former.

But appreciation, you got from outside,
Validation from your teachers,
Companionship and support from your friends,
For everything else, you had yourself.

When you felt scared, you had your own back,
You never felt lonely, just desperate,
To escape the reigns of an overbearing patriarch.

You were told we were royal, centuries ago.
Self-righteousness in our blood,
Violence, a liberally used weapon,
Intimidation, a way to get what you wanted,
Sensitivity, a weakness, respect, a default.

Your mother, like mother nature,
Was all too accommodating,
Compassionate beyond any humane capacity,
Helpful, sweet, mediating,
Taught you, to adjust, to comply.

All wrong. Brainwashing.

Respect needed to be earned,
Love needed to be shown, not held back,
Violence, was plain wrong,
Sensitivity, a requirement,
Compassion shown, only where it would be appreciated.

It won’t be all in vain though,
You can still use all the virtues you’ve learnt,
You just need to apply them in the right places.

As for love, the right kind will make its way to you,
And when it does, recognize it, accept it,
Don’t be scared of it because it’s not familiar,
Cherish it, because you truly deserve it.

So, dear 12 year old self,
I’m sorry for the mistakes you’re going to make.
It might take a lifetime to undo,
What you’ve experienced so far.
But you’re going to make your way out of it.

Love,
25 year old self.

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About the Right Ting

Or about my lousy attempts at putting puns everywhere.

I’ve always loved writing. My love for the English language began in my 3rd grade, after I moved to Canada and stayed there for almost a year. When I moved back to India, I was acing all of my English exams!

I think it was in my 9th grade that I started writing elaborate stories. Cause you know, adolescence. So many things I could write about! But before I could start writing, I had to start reading, which, if you’re a 90s kid like me, started off invariably thanks to the Boy who has continued to Live in my imagination, Harry Potter.

Fun fact: HP1 was my first ever Christmas present.

Of course I had read through most of Enid Blyton too, because that’s what our school library had. But maybe it was for the lack of exposure and awareness, I had only ever read … kiddie fiction. I graduated to young adult fiction a bit later, but my sources of inspiration for writing were more or less, limited.

But that didn’t really matter. Growing up, just offered a lot of material to write about. I had a lot of dreams and aspirations. And like every odd-ball kid who didn’t feel like (s)he fit in, I always thought I was made for greater stuff. That my keen observation of the world around me would give me an edge, later on, in life.

I once dreamed about the college that I’d eventually get into, and wrote a piece about it. About how life would be. Or how I would meet a mysterious and intellectually superior guy, with whom I could have a war of words, ideas, humor and possibly love. So basically, my pieces were about wishful thinking. And they were either in my diary or saved as Word documents on my first ever laptop.

But after I got into college, I was exposed to an entirely new universe, which was colorful and vibrant. It was there when I started blogging for the first time. I would blog about the people I would notice. I made caricatures out of most of them and wove short stories that would deconstruct their personalities. Later on, I’d also blog about my experiences. Writing became more observational.

Towards the end of college, I experienced the first ever lull in my life. And I admit, that was the first time I experienced something close to depression. I was very scared of making a decision for myself, career-wise. It was also a point when I had minimal human interaction. So then, blogging became a keeping-an-eye-on-self therapeutic outlet. It also gave rise to Nerdville version 1. And I kept at it, till I found myself in the next phase of life.

Deliberation. During my gap year between college and just before coming to Iowa for my PhD, I found myself moving in and out of phases of deliberation. It was a halfway stage. I wasn’t completely down in the dumps, but I wasn’t fully out of the pit either. There was a lot of contemplation, that eventually helped me understand myself a little bit better. It opened up wounds that I never even knew existed. And this was the first time, that I wrote, not just about what I felt, but also about what I wanted to feel. I started using blogging as a healthy way of processing and channeling my emotions.

After that stage, things finally started looking up for me. My PhD started off pretty well. I had changed around 3 or 4 blogs in total, till that point. And I just thought to myself, this new-phase-new-blog rule wasn’t working any more. It just felt like I was stowing my past phases away. But my existence was never a disjoint and disconnected sequence of phases. It was more of a continuous learning experience. So, I decided to stop running away from myself. And so, Nerdville version 2 continues to thrive.

At that point, I started looking towards a new direction to my writing. It didn’t always have to be about me. Didn’t have to be my aspirations, my observations, my feelings and my way of rationalizing. Writing and reading, could be a more wholesome experience. So I tried to extend my passion by adding an extra dimension, of creativity. Writing stories, which were not necessarily centered around me. Though I did borrow elements of myself for writing them, but I did make many of them largely fictional. And that, to me, was an accomplishment of another sort. Writing doesn’t have to be about my current universe. It could be about an alternate one, which very much contains elements from the present one.

To date, I think that’s the most beautiful thing about writing. I can weave a universe that I want, and no one can stop me! No restrictions. No consequences to fear about. For a control freak like me, it just works really well! Writing, at the end of it all, is just about finding the right ting.

Tis the season to be jolly

Feliz navidad! Merry Christmas! Happy new year! And also to people like me with birthdays during the holiday season, Happy Birthday! I apologize on the behalf of all those busy people out there, who just can’t stick around for your birthday and have other plans. But you’re still awesome and oh what fun it is to run (alone) in a one-horse open sleigh, a whole year older and wiser!

For me, I started my 25th year on a rather shaky note: this was the first year I was celebrating my birthday without any close friend or relative nearby. And actually a certain friend who is currently away was even rude to me. But I doubt you can take me complaining about mundane issues like this seriously, coming from a 25 year old woman! I feel old! And I feel that I need to just let petty things slide, and figure out how to have fun.

Which is exactly what I did, though only after gulping down an entire bottle of wine. I have for long wanted to fix things with certain people, and I attempted to do that. How successful was I? More so than I’ve been in the past 2 years. At least I have a load off my chest.

Apart from that I did manage to go out with some of my friends who were in town! It was a fun outing to say the least, and I’m quite happy to be able to be bond with a completely new set of people, which would have never been possible, had I not been left all alone. I also got in touch with some of my friends from college.

I think this winter break has been a learning experience for me. (Speaking of which, I literally got myself a Learner’s Permit!) It has been constructive in multiple ways. For the rest of the days, I hope to get some of my manuscripts ready, to submit for certain conferences. I also hope to get my internship applications on track. So, 2018, ready or not, here I come!

A new year resolution for 2018? To try and be less neurotic, most stable, mingle more, and try to be a happier person in general. A good sense of humor and positive energies can go a long way!

Also, note to self: one does not need to depend on alcohol to “let loose” or “feel good”. I seem to have a dependence because I am extremely uptight otherwise. Too much of a perfectionist to not want to settle for something I haven’t planned/envisioned. So, to the 2018 me: plan things with a reasonable delta error margin. And chill out a little!

The Ananya Factor

Ananya, is a Sanskrit word that means “unique”. And this is a blog about a not-so-uniquely named person that I met when I had gone for a conference.

Now, if you have been following my blog posts, you know two things about me, with absolute certainty:

  1. I am a PhD student and full-time introverted nerd with below average social skills.
  2. I am a woman in academia, who often complaints and feels very strongly about the striking lack of other women like me.

Oh, and also I always make lists. So you know three things!

And so, when I flew to California for this huge conference, I was hoping to meet a few like-minded female academicians, who felt as passionately as I did, about math. Except, I didn’t. But I did meet one female academician. And she was the complete opposite of me. And her name, much like her personality, was like-no-other. She was Ananya.

Now before you start wondering if I have some sort of girl crush on this woman, I must say that she definitely caught my attention… made me rethink a lot of my preconceived notions. So I was definitely curious to know more about her, because she was very different. And very unique. And I rarely bump into women of that sort. Or women of any sort, to be frank.

Also, in the same picture was another girl, also named Ananya, which was even more bizarre. There were two Ananyas. One that I met in person. And one, that I heard about from others, and whose paper I was a blind reviewer for. Now, the focus of this blog is the Ananya I-met-in-person (Ananya 1), but let me also give you a back story of the Ananya I-didn’t-meet-in-person (Ananya 2). So, I was a reviewer for this workshop that happened during this conference, and I was not-so-impressed by a certain abstract that I had received. I gave it a mid-level rating (neither Accept nor Reject) and for some reason, it was selected for Orals at that workshop. So Ananya 2 was definitely in attendance, and her name kept springing up from different corners. She apparently won a computer in a lucky draw. She was also endorsed by a huge company. She was everywhere, but nowhere to be seen. But I couldn’t care less.

Ananya 1 on the other hand, was everywhere to be seen. I kept bumping into her and she was extremely chatty. She was from one of the top colleges from my home country and she was also a PhD student here at the US. And she also worked in Machine Learning. So my initial guess was that she was a nerd. But she wasn’t. She had great social skills (well, maybe not so great, considering she hijacked my conversation with my professor)! And she actually looked down on me for being too mathy. I of course, took that as a compliment.

She was kind of a train-wreck. She was clumsy, but she really couldn’t care less about it. She was struggling with setting up her poster during the poster session, so I helped her. It came out printed the wrong way (and super pricey), so we had to tear the glossy paper off the hardboard to pin it up to the poster mounts. And I also accompanied her and two random dudes for lunch and beers at a brewery. I would have never done that on a normal day, but this was fun. I was hanging out with the cool kids. And they were nerds. I never knew that such a cross-breed even existed!

On the last day of the conference, during the closing reception, I ended up drinking a lot and I was accompanied by this very Ananya (because, of course, I bumped into her again). I also ended up meeting some of her friends from college and I had a really nice time, generally chatting with them.

Ananya said she wanted to attend one of the two sponsor after-parties that night, cause then she’d be at a solid number of 10 parties in the entire week. I told her that if she considered the closing reception as one party, she could attend both after-parties and claim that she literally attended a dozen parties. She bought into the whole idea a bit too easily.

She was also really interested in picking up a European guy that night and told me all about her boy preferences, both for one-night-stand and serious-dating purposes. She also tried to get me to dance while the band was playing, but I really couldn’t, specially not after I saw my boss’s best friend, right beside me. She was pretty turned off by that. At the end of it all, I decided to retire early at 7:30pm and four cups of wine down. I hugged her twice and I must admit, it did feel nice and warm and fuzzy. I’m guessing that had more to do with the booze. We then parted ways, cause she had two after-parties to hop to, and I had to get back to my oh-so-boring ways of skipping any kind of late-night stranger-filled partying-scenes. Cause, let’s face it. I find adjective-hyphening more fun than that.

But she was really fun to hang out with too. Cause, usually, when I hang out with someone as out-going, I find it hard to strike a fun, yet intellectual conversation with them. What’s worse is, I think I’ve developed a tendency of looking down on some people for not showing enough intellectual curiosity or passion. With her, I couldn’t do that! She was an overachiever. She was a PhD student. And she had worked with some of the best minds in the world. And yet, she had the ability to have fun. And it really amazed me. It opened my eyes up to everything I was not and I could be.

One of the biggest issues that I face as a female in academia, is the lack of role models. I can’t really tell what my breed is supposed to behave like. Do I have to be deeply immersed in research material to succeed? How do I employ my social skills? What kind of attention do I even want to draw to myself, in this extremely gender-skewed population? And, on the top of everything else, how do I overcome my own shyness, get over the fear of rejection and judgement, and interact more with people? How do I let my guard down, and yet be perceived as professional and serious about my work? So it was nice to meet a girl, who had the same background as I did, but was so different from me. Cause it means that I don’t have to conform to what I am, normally, I think there’s scope to grow, and incorporate more personality traits, while retaining some that I know are working well to my advantage.

And on that note, I’ll end this post, just as I ended my meeting with her. Hoping to bump into one such Ananya in the next conference that I attend.

 

An Introvert’s Guide to being Sociable

Caution: The ideas expressed in this post are solely the author’s and are not reflective of introverts all over the world. Every introvert is different and I do not consider myself to be the champion of them all. Though, we are all champions in our own different ways.

we-are-the-champions-my-friends

Anyhowwww. It’s Thanksgiving break time and work feels duller and the ambient sucky weather makes it hard to roam around and admire my surroundings. Which means, my only respite from hibernating at home is interacting with … (cue gasps) … people. Introverts aren’t exactly fascinated by interactions with a multitude of people.

Though, interactions with a few people that seem interesting, yes. Also, let me introduce you to the most cliched introvert love story ever (*cough* John Green *cough* Rainbow Rowell *cough*): I fell in love with him/her because he/she was so much more free spirited and comfortable talking to everyone, which is a trait I can admire from a distance but can’t imbibe. This may be followed by getting screwed over by the very same outgoing f(r)iend.

So I thought to myself, why not come up with a social skills survival kit for introverts? Most of these are probably (not) obvious, but it’s a good idea to list them down for further reference. Also, listing is a good idea in general.

  1. Binge on pop culture. Because, big POPulations put the pop in POPular. Which means, it makes for amazing small talk across a variety of people. Watch the latest Marvel/DC movie. Definitely watch Game of Thrones. Listen to EDM. Listen to the latest Taylor Swift album and keep track of how many people she has dissed on it. For girls, just keep track of beauty and fashion trends, cause… vanity. How to stay in touch with the latest pop culture trends? Just check YouTube trending videos. The React channel by FBE is pretty good with this.
  2. Food! Everyone loves food. So if you make good food, or give people free food, you are likely to gain some social goodwill.anigif_enhanced-16596-1441630579-10
  3. Booze and cigarettes. Apparently great bonding agents, I was told by a senior.
  4. Board games, card games, escape rooms (basically any distraction that can keep you from getting to know the other person too well). And these are fun too!
  5. Now this may sound nasty, but there are a few people who care too much about what other people say. And they call you over and ask you what you feel about things that are inconsequential to you. Like whether one pair of heals looks sexier than the other on them. And you can give any opinion, even if you have the remotest understanding of it. So yeah, hangout with such people. They value your opinions.
  6. The common enemy theorem. This was something I learnt during college: it’s easy to bond over common hardships or better, common evil person, who wants to sabotage you. In college, this was in terms of cruel professors or jerks who took themselves too seriously. Or the education system in general. So find someone who wants to whine about the same stuff that you do. And whine.
  7. Get a sense of humor. Now this is tricky because different types of humor appeal to different people. Some people like it crude and nasty. Some like it cute and innocent. Some like it intellectual. I’ll say try each and figure out which works best for your audience. This is also good training for an alternate career, while you’re accomplishing your primary goal of making friends.
  8. Have and showcase a talent. If you want to be a part of a group, you need to have some distinguishing quality. Anything. You could be the girl who gets wasted a lot. Or who can do two backflips in succession. Or who is good with money. If life is a sitcom, pick a quirky character to play. If your show becomes popular, you keep at it. People may get tired of it at one point, but by that point they’re too used to seeing you, so they won’t switch channels and you may also end up raking in millions (don’t … bank on this though). It’s a win win.
    299a0485ce39a8b2ff935a7dbd2173be-tv-quotes-nerdGah. The cringe!

I go by these rules, and I have accumulated a whole of … *an embarrassingly low number of* friends. Nah, I bet they should work for most people. I just haven’t followed this seriously enough. Might be a good social experiment to do and report back on later. Until then, happy friend-making!

Letters undelivered

*This piece is semi-fictional, but just seemed like an interesting idea to write about.

*****

Hi there,

Have you ever sent a letter to someone with a rush of excitement, only to find yourself waiting endlessly, for the intended person to acknowledge its receipt? Or have you been on the other end, hoping to receive a letter from a beloved, only to find that curiousity die down every single day, because you know the postal services screwed up somewhere? I’ve actually found myself on both ends.

But how many times does it happen, that you end up receiving a letter that was never intended for you?

And what do you even do with it? Deliver it to the person it was intended for? Write something back to the sender? What’s the right thing to do?

My initial thoughts were simple. Tear it up. Open it. Read it. Devour it. Cause I had been snubbed by the postal services way too many times. And this simply had to mean something. Maybe it was the universe sending me a message.

Now before you can even attempt to jump onto any conclusions, let me paint a picture. I received this letter around Thanksgiving, which was intended for a certain Ruby Berkshire. Now, I am no Berkshire but I do consider myself to be a gem of a person! Also, Berkshire, that’s such a British name. Indians have an illustrious fascination with the British. I was intrigued. Also I had only moved into my current apartment about four months ago, so Miss Berkshire was probably a previous resident. And someone thought of her as worthy enough to be written to.

So there it was, the letter undelivered, sitting on my table. And I dared to open it.

*****

Ruby Berkshire obviously meant a lot to Paul, No Lastname. No, that was not his last name, he just didn’t indicate one on the letter. It was just addressed from a certain Paul, from Mississippi. Maybe he didn’t have a last name. Or maybe he didn’t have a first name. Paul is a valid last name too. No hints about ethnicity either. There are (last name) Pauls that are Indians too! Also, there was no return address. Just “Mississippi”. How many M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i’s would it take to locate a Paul in Mississippi?

Mononym Paul seemed to have written a thank you cum friendship letter to Miss Berkshire.

I know it’s been a long while since I’ve written to you, and you were probably not expecting this by mail…

thank you for being the wondorous human being that you are. You never fail to surprise me.

…In every achievement of yours, I seek inspiration … and in every failure, a warrior partner… cause battles aren’t fought alone.

Damn, Paul was intense.

Paul went on for one more page about how he would be the Sapphire to this Ruby, and how both of them, separately, were destined for a sparkling bright future.

What was the deal with Paul? Why was he so overemotional? Was everything okay with him? Did Ruby break his heart? Or did he break hers? Move over Berkshire, Paul had my attention!

I rummaged through the rest of the letter and finally found my eyes drifting to the end of the letter. By this time, I was totally immersed. I wanted to find Ruby Berkshire and trade lives with her. I had mapped out a plan to cyber-stalk and find out who she really was.

Ruby, if you’ve reached the end of this letter, I have something important to say to you…

I know you’re not Ruby. If you are, then the odds of that were less than one in a million. But that doesn’t make you any less than one in a million. Luckily for you, I’m not Paul either. Or maybe I am actually just a random intense guy on the street called Paul. Paul is a common name. Unlike Ruby Berkshire. I wrote this letter as a social experiment. I picked a random valid address off Google Maps and I decided to post you a letter.

What did you think of it?

Letter writing is such a lost art, do you think I could have conveyed those beautiful emotions in person? Words are open to interpretation; even though there’s emotion attached to them, they appeal more coherently when read in the right frame of mind. Plus it never hurts to know that someone put in so much thought and effort to put a piece of creativity to pen and paper. Someone you may not even know!

If this letter made your day, in any way, join me in this experiment. Write your heart and soul out and send it to someone, anyone! Spread some cheer! And you know whom to address it from 😉

Love, Paul.

I think Paul is on to something. What do you think? Let me know!

Till then, I need to get going. I have a letter to write.

Love, Ruby.

How to Operate with a Humanoid: Part 7

Confederacy of the corporate clones.

Ever since Drake, the humanoid ventured into the corporate world, he wanted to become a name to reckon with. So he beat other corporate clones and used his robotic and deep learning skills to climb up the corporate ladder. Now he’s boss man and has his own set of corporate minions to control.

Since humanoids are not exactly “people”-persons, this can get rather challenging. In a twist of fate, corporate boss-level humanoids, have to be the ones issuing commands, instead of being issued commands to. This can be especially challenging when they are at the mid-high level hierarchy and have to both validate results from a lower level and get their results validated from the higher level.

Corporate boss-level humanoids go about their days, in a robotic fashion, as expected. They have a set of algorithmic-ally determined meals on a weekly basis, as per schedule. Their travel plans are also robotic-ally scheduled through AI powered transportation services such as Uber. In their spare time they do randomize the inputs to their usual routines, and sometimes end up getting optimal results. An example of this can be painting colorful imagery or cooking an exquisite meal for self, and the output is usually high levels of self-satisfaction, which is often missing from often over-worked boss-level humanoids.

Boss-level humanoids also love giving life-advice, since they have been trained by a deluge of intensive experiences encompassing a wide range of human emotions. If offered one, it is definitely worthwhile to listen to the sage-like counsel of such humanoids.

Boss-level humanoids are also a limited number of steps away from becoming Chief-level executives, though Drake the humanoid does have some prior backstage experience in that department (this esoteric joke will most likely only be understood by Drake). In all likelihood, he will get their sooner than most people would expect, because of his super-awesome and unique set of skills.

The only thing boss-level humanoids lack is physical affinity to cute girlfriend, so here’s hoping Drake the humanoid can invent teleporting abilities (or at least clone self and send one to meet cute girlfriend) using his superior intellect. Till then, all he can do is ACK this mor(o)se code message.

EDIT: This happens to be my 100th post on the blog! Yay to me!