Glass wall

I see you, standing right across,
A glass wall, separating us,
A land barren and deserted behind you,
And here, I am trapped in an ocean of fury.

All you want, is to quench your thirst,
You’ve walked a thousand miles,
To find yourself right next to an infinite source,
You think it’s of utmost importance,
I can see it in your dried up eyes,
Bereft of what used to be tears,

But it’s still out of your reach.
You’ve never been closer,
You convince yourself you can break through the wall,
But the more you try, the more it hits back,
Sends you further off.

You get angry, mad.
You continue to shout in despair,
You think the ocean will dry up,
By the time you make your way to it.

The ocean on its own,
Is engulfed in a storm,
No surface untouched,
By the wrath of the wicked blue vastness.

It seeks to crash upon, a shore stable,
Looking for ground so sturdy,
To anchor the weight of the world,
But all it can meet, is a glass wall,
And all that can control the chaos,
Is the fiery ball on the horizon.

The horizon where the stormy ocean,
And the barren land would meet,
Completing a symbiosis,
But here’s the catch.

Meet me at the glass wall, I’ll tell you.
Run to it, I know you’re tired.
I’ll keep myself afloat,
I’ll learn how to swim,
I’ll fight my way out,
So you can meet me in the middle.

Because at the horizon, I see a glimmer,
With it, strikes a realization.
These worlds didn’t meet at an equilibrium,
It was chaos.
If the ocean struck the shore, it would destroy any remaining sign of life on the land.
It the barren land met the sea, it would submerge within.
No one would know of its existence!

The glass wall needs to exist,
So let’s cut a deal,
Or a hole in the wall,
Try me a river,
Let’s start the flow.

A void needs to be created,
We just can’t avoid it,
Let’s channel our emotions,
And assure the other,
That no harm shall be brought upon either.

We strive towards an ecosystem.
A home that can be called home,
Now the barren land has a river.
And the ocean finally finds solace.

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The Quixotic Realists

Quixotic (adjective) : exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical.

Quixotic realists (noun) : people who are quixotic at heart but know that with high probability, that tends to work against them. So they end up trying to embrace realism, but can never fully do so.

I recently watched a documentary on Nikola Tesla. My first brush with the “modern day Prometheus” or the “real mad genius” was back during my undergrad, when I read this supremely popular comic by Oatmeal on the “greatest geek” that ever lived. I was amazed and awestruck. Edison suddenly became geek Voldemort. I was so impacted by the article that I had to come up with this Physics Bowl kind of event for the Tech Fest at college, and I named it “Tesla’s Noesis”. (In retrospect, a tagline like “revenge of the nerds” would have been a great addition.) Also, this story was a classic combination of two things I rooted for in my late teens : the tale of the underdog and geek supremacy.

But it wasn’t until about 5 years later that I watched a PBS documentary on his life. And it was in these 5 years, incidentally, that I went from being a Quixotic to being a Quixotic Realist.

When I watched the documentary, I thought to myself, how impractical it must have been to decline thousands or even millions of dollars worth of patent money. And I also realized, that the pursuit of an idea appears “crazy” unless it’s realized.

Tesla invented Alternating Current amidst detractors because he had the vision to do so. In fact so many inventors in the past weren’t taken seriously and were disparaged. But after their ideas worked, they were lauded, until they started pursuing a new idea, that seemed a new kind of crazy altogether, to the world. So, let’s face it, the pursuit of knowledge, innovation and discovery, are Quixotic by nature. But at the point that they meet reality, is when the magic happens.

So what happens when that very quixotic idea seems too far from realism?

Sh!t happens.

I don’t claim to be the only Quixotic realist in the world. In fact some of my very closest friends have been or have become Quixotic realists. It’s something that an average Joe Quixotic needs to do to survive in this big bad world. Tame our idiosyncrasies, but not more than what is required to keep our quest for enlightenment alive. The balance needs to be just right.

So when reality seems too far from the Quixotic goal or idea, Quixotic realists, who usually escape into some form of quixoticism, face the ultimate hurdle. The only way to succeed is to fight against every wit and intuition in your mind. It’s almost an out of body experience.

Now this constant mental battle, also called cognitive dissonance can take its own toll. A Quixotic realist may either give up all sense of reality or all sense of idealism, both of which, are bad. On both ends, is a sense of loss of identity. Quixotic realism is just a really unstable global minima.

What must a Quixotic realist do in such times, to pull through? Through the last few years in getting to know Quixotic realists, here’s what I’ve learnt.

Quixotic realist #1 wrote a journal entry, every single day, to stay in touch with his core. The end of day routine ensured that his Quixotic side prevailed.

Quixotic realist #2 used music as therapy. A violin or a guitar. A mandolin or a sitar.

Quixotic realist #3 wrote stories, (self referrential) blog posts. And chatted with other Quixotic realists.

Quixotic realist #4 drew sketches about all things beautiful in the world.

Quixotic realist #5 penned letters to pen pals and to strangers on an anonymous online community.

Quixotic realist #6 took long bike rides or walks along the city. Explored the parks. Discovered new restaurants. Appreciated the spirit of the city.

Quixotic realist #6 volunteered to guide guests through a popular garden and helped children in a pre-school.

Quixotic realist #7 helped other Quixotic realists by lending them a shoulder to cry on and hearing them out when they most needed someone to listen.

It turns out, all quixotic realists needed to do to be okay was to be in touch with themselves and their core. As long as they ensured that their quixotic side could stay alive for a bit, reality go fork itself.

Now, I didn’t mention escapism, because that never helps. If you realize that something is amiss in your life, please take the time out to first nurture yourself and make sure you’re okay. So, to my dear quixotic realists, don’t quit dreaming, because only you have the ability to bring about a realistic positive change in the world. Keep going!

Update

If you’re wondering why I haven’t posted in a while, it’s because I haven’t been getting anything meaningful to say. Midway through writing a post, I just end up realizing that I’m either being extremely self absorbed, or I don’t seem to have a strong enough opinion or point to make. One may call it […]

Stop All Way

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post, and I suppose I owe an explanation on why. I moved back to my university after my internship got over. So I’m back to Iowa and life has been very different ever since I landed here.

Towards the end of my internship, I started experiencing, what one could call, a mid-PhD crisis. When you start questioning the goodness and value of your PhD. Before I had come here, I had set a few goals for myself and I was quite successful in accomplishing them. Which meant that I, for once, had run out of my only motivation for trying so hard. I didn’t feel like a loser any more. I couldn’t feed on my insecurities any more.

Let me tell you what 25 years of feeling like a loser, followed by 25 weeks of not feeling like one, feels like; it’s definitely more complicated than what this sentence sounds like, for starters.

At first, I felt that I was capable of accomplishing whatever I wanted. That I could get whatever I wanted. But after I got most of what I had wanted, I just felt empty. Now what? I needed to set new goals for myself, sure. But honestly, so far, I have just about done what the society has asked me to do; mainly what my parents expected of me and what my advisor advised me to.

Then, I started feeling that my life lacks direction. I felt a void. The way I chose to fill the void was to do things that I had held back from doing. For instance, I bought a TV. I bought a couch. I decorated my new apartment. Didn’t work. I went out, tried to distract myself. Drank, smoked up for the first time, went to different cities and met up with people I hadn’t spoken to for ages. Still didn’t work. These activities were distracting enough, in the moment, but I kept feeling lost. I took up smaller challenges, and I accomplished them as well. I was feeling bad about being overweight, so I restricted my diet and worked out. I’m almost near the goal weight that I had set for myself now. One more insecurity down. Now what?

I made myself self-sufficient, so that I don’t need to rely on anyone. Which again, put me in a fix. Do I even need anyone in my life? Maybe I could just get on with seeing people, once in a while, hanging out with friends whenever I felt like. No pressures, no responsibilities of maintaining anything.

I met a lot of interesting people during my internship. I knew that those connections wouldn’t last beyond the three months we would spend together in a closely confined space. And I was able to connect with people in-the-moment. Have no-strings-attached kind of friendships. I was surprised by my own ability to connect and disconnect with people in such short spans of time. That’s so unlike me!

I’ve been the person who has always tried to hold on to the people around me. I’ve been that person that has been scared of being alone. But now, I don’t feel so any more. I think I can forge equations, friendships and relationships of different kinds whenever I feel like. Without having to care about long-term consequences. I am not quite sure what brought me to this phase, but I don’t feel insecure about things any more. There are always interesting people I can meet. Feeling alone, is more of a state of mind. People are intrinsically good. And if you can make a real connection, no one really wants to abandon you. And everyone wants to make a connection. No one likes being alone all the time. People just have varying requirements of this so-called alone time. 

So, I have to admit, I was very narrow-minded so far. I had razor sharp focus. But the whole world seems like an open playing field now. I brought myself to the champions’ league, and now, no matter how I perform, I will be valued. Things will look up for me. Is that over-confidence? Maybe. Most probably. 

After I faced a series of failures, I set out to make sure I’m in a position where very few people would actually like to say no to me. And the sad part is, I’m aware that I am in that position now. I think I can have whatever I want. The caveat? I honestly don’t even know what I want any more. It’s as if I have a billion dollars, but I just can’t figure out what I want to spend on!

I need to set myself on a new path to discover my new self. But before I can choose which way I want to go, I need to slow down. Cause I’ve just reached an all-way stop sign.

To be or not to be Chill

.. you can start by deciding whether you want to unnecessarily convert Nouns to Verbs, Adjectives to Adverbs. Or just mix up different parts of speech, really! Or basically not care for rules of any kind!

But more seriously, this blog is about my observations of the cool nerdy kids.

The intersection of cool and nerdy kids looks somewhat like this emoji Venn diagram.

It’s mostly creepy and makes no sense. (Also credits to Instagram for making editing so fantastically painless. Honestly.)

So if you find yourself in that tiny intersection, that automatically takes you to the big league, where you can possess the unparalleled knack of have long winded intellectual conversations with nerds and engage in superficial meaningless vivid discussions with the cool kids about what popular culture dictates. Yes that also means non-cool non-nerdy people are essentially non-existent. (Not really, but I wouldn’t know what to write about them anyway!)

So, the question really is, to be or not to be a cool nerd.

I’m nearing the end of my internship, and I have happened to find myself in the company of these rather cool PhD nerds. They are brainy people with loads of papers and awesome internships. But they also like to … chill … and watch lots of movies, Netflix, go on hikes, bike trails, drinking, sky diving and what not. I’ve honestly never been surrounded by so many extroverted nerds before, so this puts me into an existential crisis.

Let me narrate a few anecdotes. I had gone out for this baseball game, and I was out with a bunch of interns for the same. But after the game, which was on a Thursday, ended (or rather we got too tired of watching or … caring), people wanted to grab drinks and have food. So 3 hours of watching a game followed by 2 hours of drinks, food and merrymaking. Not what I had planned for a weekday night.

So of course, I started feeling antsy about the whole plan of eating out (I wasn’t even that hungry, and I really wanted to go home). But … everyone else wanted to eat and hang out. And my limited social skills suggested that it would be unwise to back out at this minute.

Now I don’t know about others, but when I’m annoyed, it shows on my face. I just cannot randomly appear cool. If I’m anxious, you’ll know it. If I feel lost, you’ll know it, from my blank expression. If I’m angry, you’ll definitely know it, I’ll make sure you do!

So I was annoyed with the whole dilly-dallying on which sports bar we needed to go to. Cause watching sports in real life wasn’t enough, we (collectively!) now wanted to watch a zoomed up version on a flat screen while eating and drinking and getting wasted on a Thursday night. Apparently.

So this “cool” intern walks up to me and says “why do you look so annoyed?”. And I say “nah, I was just looking for someone”. Yeah, cause those expressions are very similar.

Defense level: Boston Red Sox during the baseball game. (They lost.)

But that was just the start of it. So we finally made this decision to go to a particular sports bar and I did, what I usually do when I resign to the fact that I necessarily have to be social. Brought out my absurd sense of observational humor and made unnecessarily complicated commentaries.

Social game level : LinkedIn premium member.

The annoying thing about big groups is that there are so many parallel conversations going in different directions, so most of the times I just randomly cue in and pass comments, which may not even be relevant to the given conversation. But I spoke about how this one member of the group was known to be the weed dealer for other interns and the “cool” intern again felt the need to point out and say “look at her, she’s judging him through her eyes right now”.

Okay, whatever. I mean, I probably was judging, but no need to point out, “cool” intern. Also, I was judging “cool” intern way more than the weed dealer intern.

But the point is, I just couldn’t shrug it off!

What is this concept of playing it cool?

I’ll tell you what I find to be cool. There’s this guy that I see in the bus every day. Long beard. Hair tied into a bun. Usually wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts. Sling bag. Headphones on. Glasses. That guy exudes the chilled out vibe.

Meanwhile, I can never pull off that vibe, because I’m just not a cool girl at heart. So the only reason you’d find me wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts with a long beard and hair tied into a bun along with a sling bag would be if I was robbed while vacationing at Hawaii and had to camouflage myself by using a fake beard, and a headphone… for … survival reasons. Cause no one in their right mind would ever suspect that to be me!

I guess some people are just more laid-back than others. And if my blog is any indication, you’d know by now, that I’m far from chill.

But you know what, chilled out people are way too relaxed to write awesome blog posts. Or to spend enough time to even put random thoughts together on a piece of paper. So, being “conventionally cool” may not be your cup of tea, but you can just make your own cup of tea any way and whip up a storm of ideas!

If cool means disobeying conventional rules and wisdom, then the ultimate cool is defying the definition of cool itself!

Contradictions of the dazed mind

As a kid, I was always told to be passionate, to put my heart and soul into things. To show unwavering kindness to people. To be accommodating of people. To work hard, be successful enough to set myself apart from everyone else. To not be mediocre. To not get lost in the crowd. And to fight for my dreams every single minute, because nothing was to come easy. I’d have to earn my independence, just as I’d need to earn respect. Independence was a good virtue. And I was told, to never show my weaknesses.

For the most part, I didn’t question it. Today, I try to rationalize everything. But certain things are so hard to rationalize. For instance, anything related to this idea called Love. Not immediately easy to make sense of. This whole concept of independence… again, highly contestable.

I used to think of myself as fiercely independent woman. In fact, in this day and age, I was told … not relying on men was a good thing. I should take charge of my life, earn my own money, not rely on a man for anything. To an extent, it’s empowering. But when I try to proclaim this independence for everything, it’s insufferable. When I claim to be self-sufficient to the point that I claim to not need anyone, I’m downright stupid. Everyone needs a support system. We humans are built that way. For the sake of our sanity, we need people around us. Friends, family, loved ones. I was wrong in thinking I didn’t need anyone. I needed people. The society somehow tells me it’s wrong to show that need. But everything is need based. It’s not always materialistic or exploiting in nature. A feeling of bonding, a human touch, a connection, it’s all necessary.

It’s for that reason that I find it hard to detach from people. When I can sense that someone is feeling alone, it’s just hard for me to let that go. I’ve been alone and I’ve enjoyed it. And I’ve been lonely and hated it just as much. And I’d hate to know that someone else is going through the same.

I used to think that helping people out was good. And I think it is, as long as you’re not emotionally attached to them. Selfless good deeds are great. But more often than not, you start expecting things in return. And that brings with itself an infinitely heavy burden.

I used to think that mediocrity was bad. That I needed to stand apart. But the more I stood apart, the fewer people I could relate to. I found fewer and fewer people to share similar experiences with. And I felt that my set of problems were so different, that people dissimilar to me would never understand them. So I started pulling away, and my distrust in people around me kept increasing. In trying to stand apart, I wound up walking far, very far, from the people standing near me.

I was told to be passionate, but I never understood where that would lead me. Why is passion such a great attribute? What if I just invest a lot and get nothing in return? I understood that certain things are great to be passionate about. But the one thing people never told me was, most times, that passion won’t pay off. And what no one ever told me was, it would hurt real bad, when things wouldn’t work out. I never thought passion could hurt, but it did.

I was told to not show my weaknesses. To always have everything figured out. To be perfect. Throughout my life, I kept chasing perfection. And the problem with perfection is that you’ll always fall short of it. So I’ve spent most of my life feeling inadequate. What’s worse is, inadequacy is deemed a weakness. And weaknesses are not to be shown to people. So I kept hiding myself, scared that people would judge me and my every move. And some people do judge, but it’s only because they are too frustrated with their own lives to appreciate that someone else might be different. Most people, don’t really care.

And lastly, and this is somewhat more recent. I have been told to not care as much. That my actions are inconsequential in the grand scheme of things anyway. That I shouldn’t give too much importance to people and deterministic goals. Are they right?

I still think I should care. Caring keeps me in touch with my human side. I feel that the more rational I become, the less sensitive I am to my surroundings. In fact, being sensitive is in fact an aspect of rationality that I haven’t been able to understand. I’ve always seen rationality and being emotional, as two orthogonal things. Maybe they go hand in hand, and I just haven’t figured out the right balance.

The midway (Coffee Break Conversations)

So I happened to go to the office pantry yesterday to grab myself a pick-me-up for the hour.

And because it’s still “summer” and there are so many interns here, I always bump into some fellow philosophers (to give you perspective, all of us are doing PhDs… Doctorates in Philosophy).

Speaking with a fellow PhD student can be so different from a normal conversation, because there’s a fair amount of insight, contemplation, critique and sometimes even creativity that goes into the conversations. So I thought it would be perfect to write about these mini discussions.

The first one I’ve decided to write about is a conversation that I had yesterday.

There’s a coffee machine (a fancy Keurig) in the pantry, and there happen to be 8-9 odd choices for coffee. Now I’m very sensitive to caffeine. Tea works fine, but the coffee in America is really strong for me. So I get cranky if I consume too much/ have it too strong.

Which meant that I had to make an important decision. Light roast, medium roast or dark roast? Luckily I had another PhD intern in the vicinity whose brain I could pick.

“Go for the dark roast then”, he said. “The higher the roast, the lesser the caffeine”.

Whaaaaat? Really? I’ve spent two years here and I don’t know this already?

Hold on. Google to the rescue.

“It’s not that I don’t trust you, but I need to check this on the internet”.

“Clearly you don’t trust me enough!”, he said.

I just don’t trust people in general. I need enough samples to ensure that what’s being told to me is not an mere opinion or hypothesis. So my thumb rule is, never trust a person in the first go. For…. scientific reasons.

“I trust you to the extent that whatever you’ve said has created enough suspicion in my mind to actually bother cross checking it online.”

Defense strategy level: Nailing it.

Okay, so Google said, for the same volume, Dark roast has less caffeine. For the same mass, Light roast has less caffeine. It’s basically a different in density.

Okay, great but I don’t know the concentration in those Keurig pods. They’re both the same volume, but do they have the same volume of water? I’ll never know.

So I decided to go with Dark roast…. you know, because of my newly built…. trust. And then Keurig has this additional complexity. It asks you for cup size. 4oz, 6oz, 8oz, 12oz.

Now does it maintain the concentration or vary it according to cup size? Fortunately I had Googled this before, so apparently, choosing a bigger cup size waters down your coffee more.

Great. I go for 6oz.

And at this point, I basically tell my patient friend why I just choose to go for the midway option, because that way I’m cutting my losses. You know, like a minimax problem. You go with the option that minimizes the maximum loss that you could incur.

And he did, what any other intellectual would at that point of time. He made a counter argument.

Okay, bring it on, I’m good with counter-counter-arguments. I’m good with arguments of all sorts, tbh.

“That’s not the best strategy. For example if you go to a store and buy a Cola bottle, they non-linearly increase the price, so it’s more economical to buy bigger sizes. There’s a higher payoff if you go on extreme ends.”

Sure, but those two optimization problems are not equivalent.

Though that’s not the correct argument…

“Okay, but so many times, I end up buying the bigger packet of chips, for best price/pound. But… More often than not, I also cannot finish the packet. So I end up wasting most of it.”

“Okay, so you save it for later and finish it later”, he said.

“Yeah, but I sometimes can’t even finish it over a month, and the quality of crispiness declines with time, so I’m not exactly getting my money’s worth. Instead if I pick the medium priced option, I get a bang for my buck w.r.t. the smallest option, but I also finish it all, and am effectively paying lesser than I would have for what I’ve actually consumed.”

At this point someone else came by and started talking about something else, thank you for the diversion, stranger, and saving my friend from further embarrassment.

But that discussion was definitely, some food for thought!