Fun.

Ever since I came to Iowa for my PhD, I have worked extremely hard. Went to great lengths to accomplish a few goals that I had set for myself. And I did end up accomplishing most!

So this year, on New Year’s, I resolved to have more fun this year. And what fun I had!

I’m just 3.5 months into this year and I think I’ve finished up my entire quota of fun for the year!

This year, I gave fewer fucks about most people. I partied. Drank quite bit, even smoked a cigarette for the first time in my life. Made new friends. Played racquetball, cards and pool. Got myself Netflix. Met old friends of mine from college. Visited new cities. All while trying my best to handle my growing work responsibilities. (Oh, I also impulse bought a guitar that I haven’t played for a while now.)

And I’ve been failing at the work responsibilities part (though I admit, I had a ridiculously high amount this semester), but at least I had fun! So I basically flipped my entire life from being a big introvert to a big extrovert. Which brings me to the point of some extra-intro-spection.

At this point, I realize that what I described as fun, is actually what most extroverts would describe as fun. The kind of fun that distracts you from the harsher realities of life. And sometimes, the entirety of your life’s purpose.

I realize that I have had fun before as well, just not with so many other people! And much of that fun involved getting in touch with myself, and not an external locus. So basically, I would write a lot, go on solo walks or bike rides (which has been impossible in the last 3 months, thanks to the constant snow. Why is it snowing in April?!), try some sketching, cook new recipes, decorating, gymming once in a while. And that made me happy too. I relied on and spoke to way fewer people but work kept me that busy and I never felt like I was missing out on anything.

So what triggered this massive change? Well, firstly, I myself wanted to explore what this other, somewhat crazy lifestyle was like. Because when you rely on few people, there could be times when all of those people might not be around, in which case your minimal social needs do not get fulfilled, and you’re all alone in the winter vacation. And secondly, the company I kept. The group of people I chose to hang out with.

What I’ve learned about group dynamics is that you need to contribute a constant energy to maintain your position in the group. For example, if I don’t go play pool for a few times, my friends would get comfortable without me and would henceforth stop inviting me. Also, they’d get way better at playing pool, so the disparity in skill would keep increasing. The same goes for drinking. I like these to be once-in-a-while/weekend kind of activities.

So you need to keep yourself involved to a certain extent, or else you start getting excluded.

I guess that means that it’s more important to find the right kind of people that you can vibe well with. Who have similar life goals and ambitions and similar happiness/stability levels. For example, it isn’t fun to hang out with people who are completely addicted to drinking. Then it becomes more of the thing you do out of peer pressure than because you actually want to do it.

So you want to be a part of a group but also maintain your individuality, which is the tricky part that I want to figure out.

Quite frankly, that’s too many parameters to worry about! Introversion is so much more convenient!

The best kind of deal is if I can learn to balance between these two. Place myself on the fine line between these two and be an ambivert. Extremes are too tiring. And yes, “too much fun” is a thing.

Over the past few months I’ve also started liking aspects of myself more, so I really want to start inching closer to my former self. Keep the internal monologue going. Turns out, I like my own company the best!

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All over the world

Over the past few months, I jet setted all over North America! It started when I flew to Long Beach, California, to present my first ever paper, back in December ’17! It was a refreshing change from corny Iowa (there was a video trending #1 on YouTube this week, called Welcome to Iowa, that should give you a good idea of what I’m talking about). I also visited Huntington Beach, because I love beaches, and they’ve been a part of my life for around 5 years (my undergraduate degree college was in a state full of beaches, and Mumbai, where I come from, also has quite a few of those).

Next stop was in March ’18, during Spring Break, this time to New York City (Manhattan) and then to Atlantic City! I got to meet some old friends after a very long time! Saw some museums, casinos, and yes, a beach again! And pocketed some salt water taffy on my way back!

Soon after, in April ’18, I visited Washington DC to visit my boyfriend after a very long time! He was around for presenting two papers at a conference! We saw the cherry blossoms during their (almost) peak season, and also saw some monuments and museums! And the White House, of course!

I’m only halfway through my route map so far. Next few stops are Calgary, Canada for a conference; Mumbai, India to visit home; Boston, Massachusettes for a summer internship and Vail, Colorado for another conference! Possibly Cleaveland, Ohio to meet my sisters! All in the span in the next few months!

I feel so high and so fly 🤓! Let’s hope I continue getting chances to see new places!

Yes and no – Part 1

As she walked into the supermarket, Anuva had a tough choice ahead of her. It was a question that seemed to have daunted her since forever. So she gathered every shred of focus and attention that she could, and hoped her decision was for the best.

Poppables or Pringles?

150 calories in a serving size of 30 potato pops or 15 potato crisps?

What if she made the wrong choice?

Surely it deserved more than 5 minutes of contemplation!

Yes, and no.

If she contemplated long enough, she wouldn’t pick either, because that would be the healthiest choice.

If she didn’t contemplate at all, she would end up picking at random, and both would be equally unhealthy and pricey. At least she could save 5 minutes of her life. Or she could just pick both. 2$? Big deal!

The problem was and is, when the extent of contemplation was somewhere in between.

And in between was … neither yes nor no.

***

It was almost the end of his shift as a part time store manager at the local supermarket. Jay walked across the snacks aisle and found a girl keenly inspecting two different packets of snacks. He was amused. This girl had been staring at a rack of crisps for what felt like eternity. Picked one packet up. Kept the other one back. Repeat.

Seriously? So much contemplation over crisps?

Something was definitely up with this girl, and Jay had two choices; on any other day, he wouldn’t have bothered. But he had had a long day and he really needed to shut the store down for the day. This girl was the last remaining customer.

“Hi, can I help you?”

“Umm no, I’m okay”, Anuva muttered with utmost uncertainty.

“I apologise ma’am, but I need to shut store soon.”

“Oh, okay, can I just checkout with this one item?”, she held out a box of Pringles that she had picked out for the nth time just a few seconds ago.

“I’m sorry, all counters are closed, though I can make an exception if you have cash on you.”

“Oh, crap! You know, I always think I need to have cash, but forget to take a cash back while checking out.”

“I… Wasn’t really looking for an explanation but I’ll take that as a no.”

“I’m sorry, I’m having a bad day.”

“Yeah, at this point, I’m going to have to concur with you and say the same about my day.”

“Sorry”, Anuva mumbled. Being thrown out of a supermarket was a new achievement for her. So much for trainwrecking.

***

Trainwrecking was what Anuva called her life, humorously, when even the smallest of things seemed to go wrong. It would usually be a series of mishaps, that, in the long run, would seem very trivial, but in the moment, alluded to the whole world crashing down on her. And this, was one such day.

“You don’t need to keep apologizing, you know!”, said the guy from the store. Jay his name tag read.

“Okay. So what rhymes with Jay and comes right after it?”, Anuva said, humorously.

“K?”, Jay rolled his eyes.

“Yup. K! JK!”

“This was definitely funnier than your Deal or No deal episode from a few minutes ago”.

“Are store managers allowed to be this sarcastic?”

“Only when customers like you are indecisive in the dead of the night at closing time, and the manager hasn’t slept for 20 hours.”

“Wow, what’s going on with you?”

“Life”, Jay shrugged.

“Well, that explains it all!”, Anuva stared at Jay, animated.

“Yeah, so let’s close this shop down for now so we can get on with … life.”

“Fair enough… So where do you stay?”

“What’s up with you, ma’am? Breakup? School trouble? Can’t find the right shoe to match your top?”

“Don’t do breakups, I’m a straight As student and I just have one pair of shoes that goes with everything I wear”.

“So what was with Sophie’s Choice back there?”

“OCD.”

“Of course!”, Jay sighed.

“You won’t get it.”

“No, actually I do. I’m just hoping you get it too, soon enough, before you manage to keep someone else from getting a night of peaceful sleep”.

“What’s your problem again?”

“Life.”

***

Being stuck at his place of work was the last thing Jay wanted to do. He had been up all of the previous night, studying for an interview that was to happen that day. It had got cancelled and pushed back on the last minute because (something that makes no difference to this narrative) came up.

“So, I think we’re done here. Have a good night!”

“No wait, you didn’t even ask me my name?”

“I guess that slipped my mind somehow.”

“Anuva”.

“Okay Anuva. Good night!

“I’ll see you again tomorrow! I’m coming back for the Poppables.”

Of course she would.

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.

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.