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Journal Journal: Research ... I choose you!

My journey through graduate school has been long and winding, consisting of many different phases:

  1. Oh my god, what the hell am I doing here?
  2. I don't think I'm cut out for this.
  3. Oh well, might as well try the Qualifying Exam.
  4. What the f*ck? I passed? Maybe I can do this ...
  5. I don't want to write my Master's thesis ...
  6. Woah I have a Master's ... and I'm alot farther along than I thought.
  7. Hey I could take just a couple courses and get a Math masters ...
  8. Okay that was a horrible idea. I'm so bogged down with classes I'm not getting any research done ...
  9. Alright! No more classes! Wait ... how do I do research again?

And that brings us, more or less, to the present. I've been thrashing about, trying to get back on the research ball. I have managed to get going somewhat, but as I have been told, it's not enough and should have been done a long time ago. But I'm not about to let that get me down, because that's how I got into this trouble in the first place.

I know that I am intellectually capable of doing research. But graduate research is very different from undergraduate or professional study. I'm not trying to say that they aren't difficult, but essentially, to succeed at either of those, the only thing you really need is diligence, because after a set amount of time and classes you are done. But with research, you need to creative, to get organized, and take action.

I'm really bad at those things. Maybe it's my lack of confidence in myself, but I've always found it difficult to find a problem that no one has ever solved and solve it myself. So I have avoided doing that at all costs, prioritizing other things over research (pretty much every other thing), and doing just the bare minimum to get by.

That isn't good enough. Though others have been quite candid in telling me that, it is only now sinking in to my thick skull. The point is that I finally do realize what I have to do to get somewhere in life. I have wrote about this before here, but I think that was lacking one key ingredient: Fear.

So here I am in, hopefully, a close-to-last phase of my graduate career. It the last, best chance I have to do something I will be proud of.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Delusion: Bargain

Mephistopheles was the only Demon to bear a soul.

It was Spring and the Doldrums were ever so slowly dissipating ... and Mephistopheles was growing desperate ...

"I need your help," said Mephistopheles, almost in a whisper, but he was sure Kain
had heard him.

The Demon Kain, his other half, did not respond. It was chained to a wall, so that it could not act, because it was reckless when left unattended. But Mephisto had discovered before that it lacked the ability to speak of its own volition.

The Demon did not match up to Mephisto in a great many other aspects. It was weak, and cowardly, lacking in any combat skill. But when the Demon Kain could affect Mephistopheles if it chose. It could simply lay dormant and suddenly Mephisto's ambition would vanish. Even if Mephisto focused on the task at had, the Demon could cloud his mind and make him forget. If it had a talent, that was it.

But it was not evil, as Mephisto was slowly realizing. It was selfish, base, and incredibly short-sighted, but on rare occasions, it's desires made sense to Mephisto. This was not one of those times.

"I know now why it was why I, why we, came to Nodd," Mephisto continued ... "We were confused ... we did not know what we truly wanted out of life ... and so when I entered the Nether and trusted myself to Destiny ... and she sent me to my Purgatory, or rather, yours ..."

The Demon twitched, but it wasn't clear that it had responded.

"I have never wanted to be here, and have tried to escape many time, but each time, I inevitably ended back here ... because you dragged me back. You are here because you want to be a Lord, or at least you did, but you have forgotten, and have allowed us both to wallow here for too long ..."

"But it ends now. You want to be a Lord? Very well, I will make us a Lord. But I will need your help to do it. Will you help me?"

The Demon still did not move significantly. Something felt different though. Mephisto focused on Kain for a long time, empowering it to speak the words he knew it would say ...

"My help ... is for a price ..." the Demon hissed.

"What price?" Mephisto asked.

The Demon, having expended enough energy for the day, settled back and closed it's eyes.

"I know what it is you want, and I can try, but we both know how improbable it is that I can get you what you want ..."

Kain's eyes lurched open and he drew close to Mephisto. "You will get us our heart's desire!" it rasped. The Demon coughed and wheezed, finally lying down and settling into slumber ...

"Very well," Mephisto said, with finality. That was the closest to assent that he was going to get.


Journal Journal: Wake Up Call

I drove up to Chicago this last weekend for my friend's birthday. I wasn't feeling too well last week, so I decided not to drink. It has been a while since I was the sober guy at the party, and I forgot how much fun it can be.

But anyway, my friend called me this morning. It was 9:30, so I was still in deep REM or something, but I got up, cursed at the phone under my breath, and then practiced saying hello a couple times so it wouldn't sound like I was woken up.

The first thing I hear on the phone from my friend: her boyfriend has died. Her voice was too choked up for me to find out he died, but that's not the point. She woke up, saw him gasping for air, performed CPR on him, and then called 911, all to no avail. I met her boyfriend on just one occasion prior to her birthday. Initially, I thought he was a little old for her, but I got to know him, and found him to be a really nice guy. These things always happen to nice guys don't they?

I've never lost someone close to me, and I'm not sure how I would deal with it. In the past, I have given my friend lots of advice, but on this one, I got nothing. I've never felt so helpless and meaningless, and I know that what I am feeling is just the smallest, tiniest, most miniscule fraction of what she is going through.


Journal Journal: Killing the Absent-Minded Professor

[Note: Before I catch the story up to the present, let me do a quick leap forward to cover Here and Now]
I am an absent-minded professor. I admit it. I would lose my head if it weren't attached (my family would say this in a much cruder fashion). I have lost so many things through the coarse of my life. All of my plans are half-assed and at the last minute. I used to believe that this was merely reputation that I had not managed to outgrow. But after high school, i moved to Berkeley and the title returned. Then I moved to Illinois, and it came back even stronger. If you change your environment and the same thing keeps happening, then that means that it really is you.

Why am I so absent-minded? Is it innate? Am I hopeless. That is a possibility, but I refuse to accept it. So if it is not innate, then it must stem from some trait that I can change.

It is partly laziness. The evil part of me would rather shirk all responsibility and let every one else plan and take care of all the details of life, while I just scamper about. He does it because he feels neglected by people and the world around him, and he wants them all to prove their love for him. There is no way to do that though. If you don't love yourself, then no amount of proof from the outside that you are lovable will change that.

It is partly anxiety. I like to neglect the present moment. It is a hobby of mine. If you know me, you've probably seen me stare off into space or be "off in my own world." I'm usually reflecting on some great thing that happened in the past or hoping and dreaming (but not planning) about something in the future. Intellectually, I know that the present moment is the most glorious moment that ever was or will be, but it is so easy to forget.

So how does one defeat such a demon? I have tried many different tactics from organizational programs, to the intervention of others, and they would work for awhile, but eventually I would fall off the wagon and be my same old forgetful self. But I have found some success with a simple trick. Its so simple that I'm shocked that it works, but I can't deny its effectiveness.

The method is just observation. I'm trying to discipline myself to periodically observe myself, my thoughts, and my actions, and take stock of everything. Already I find myself forgetting things less. Every five minutes or so I ask myself, "what should I have in my possession? where is it all?", and I have managed to catch myself. I don't do these checks often enough though, but to increase the frequency requires disciprine. I need me some disciprine.

That is only half of the problem. A common complaint about Shankar is that he does not properly people of his plans. Partially, this is because he doesn't really have a plan and prefers to play it by ear. It also has to do with independence. As a child, my father would ask me a million questions about where I was going, why, and with who, and I felt like I was being interrogated (Note: I am not blaming my upbringing for my character flaws). So I equated being opaque about one's plans with opening oneself up for attack and criticism. To defeat this aspect I will need some determination. Whatever I do, I should ask myself "what am I doing? what services will i require? who needs to know about this?", and then take it from there.

So for New Year's 2007, I resolve to gain some Disciprine and Determination. More concretely, I resolve to be as opaque as possible about all my plans with all the people that need to know. And then maybe I won't feel like such a flake.


Journal Journal: Train Ride to Chengdu

My expat gaming friends were scaring me about this one. Because John and I had booked our train tickets so late, we had to get hard sleeper class train tickets. We weren't able to get a precise estimate of how long the trip would take. It would take anywhere between ten and twenty hours.

Our compartment mates were characters, probably the most interesting set of characters that I have met in China. Let me go through the list.

  1. Siddhartha - This guy was an Indian diplomat. He was eager to practice his Chinese, which is the first I've heard with an Indian accent. He acted as our defacto translator to the group.
  2. Old Guy - I forget his name, but he was trying to start some kind of revolution on the train. He would gather other old men together and discuss how free markets have benefitted China. He was really worried about John and I travelling through Chengdu, so tried to plan our trip for us.
  3. Bureaucrat Guy - This guy didn't say a word for the first six hours of the train ride. Then he bought some beer and bai-jiu at a station and started getting into the spirit of things. I think his name was "Zhang", as in "stretch".
  4. Bureaucrat's SO - I wasn't exactly sure what her relationship with Zhang was. At first, she seemed like his wife, but she looked to be twenty years younger than him. They never clarified the status of their relationship, so I can only assume, she was his mistress. She was downright motherly to us, and spent most of the trip opening and eating sunflower seeds.
  5. Military dude - He wasn't exactly our compartment mate, but he spent a lot of time in our cabin. He latched on to us when he discovered that two of us were Indian, and one could speak Chinese. His mistress/girlfriend/whatever (she was also about twenty years younger than him) was a yoga instructor and needed some accreditation from Indians for her yoga course. I'm not exactly sure what Siddhartha told him in the end.

The trip ended up taking about 30 hours. Its sound long, but I have a talent for sleeping, so was out for more than half of it. It was a bit of a struggle for John, because he's a coffee drinker, and the Chinese generally aren't, so there was none to be found on the train. Here's a glamour shot of me receiving Tomato Egg Soup, a dish I often end up with when I explain that I don't eat meat. I'd say it was one of the memorable adventures I've had in China.


Journal Journal: Holiday

This next week is a national holiday in China, and so our office will be shut down. Several of our coworkers suggested that we should do something for it, so John and I decided to go to Chengdu. Chengdu is the capital of the Sichuan province, the home of that spicy style Chinese food. It's also the home city of our adviser. So we booked two train tickets to Chengdu, and we'll be heading out there tomorrow.

We decided to (try and) do some touring today as well, so we headed to Tiananmen square in hopes of seeing the Forbidden City. By the time we got inside to the ticket counter, a random chinese girl informed us that the city would close at five. So we decided to stroll down Tiananmen square instead. These other two random chinese girls approached us and struck up a conversation. They were both teachers from Manchuria, and they were also touring Beijing. They walked with us for awhile, but then suddenly remembered that they had to meet up with some friends. Maybe the impressive aura of our M$ internships intimidated them :-). After a couple of hours more wandering, we ended up at this nice international cafe called Bookworm, where we met up with Stef, the girl who hosted us when we first came to Beijing. All in all, a pretty decent day. Oh yeah, and Cal won today! Woohoo!


Journal Journal: Weekends in China

Despite the 12-15 hour time difference, I see a lot of the people I know online, and they often ask me "How's China?". How can you sum up your experiences in another country in a few sentences? I haven't figured that out yet, so say I something like "Things are going pretty good. I have fight fifty Shaolin monks on the way to work everyday, but at least my kung-fu is getting better."

But maybe I shouldn't be so defeatist about it. When John and I first came to China, we stayed with Stef for a couple of days, and she invited us to her Saturday gaming group. She has a lot of rare (mostly German) board games, and so a bunch of expats and other interested folk come and play them. Some of the peoples at this last one were kind enough to share their pictures, so check them out. I'm wearing that blue "The Play" shirt because, after game night, I stayed up until 7:30 in the morning watching (or rather, listening to) the Cal vs. Arizona State game. It was totally worth it. I was pretty loopy the next day, but still coherent enough to get a cell phone. That's right! Shankar is now accessible anywhere! He doesn't have a lot of minutes, so just keep this number for reference. You ready? The number is:



Journal Journal: Apartment? Check! Bike? Check!

Things are definitely coming together in Beijing. Just yesterday, John and I secured an apartment in Beijing through Craiglist. Our apartment is a lovely three-bedroom, two-bath place with air conditioning, heating, television, washer/dryer, and internet access (though currently only for Windows grrr....). It's pretty far north on Xue Qing road (so far that the taxi driver only knew it as Xue Yuan road). This morning, I was morbidly curious just how far it was from the Sigma building (the office where we work), so I persuaded John that we should both walk. It took about an hour and a half.

But I still wasn't keen on paying for a taxi everyday to get to work. Fortunately our labmate Tie came through for us. He took us behind the Sigma building near where he lives. I noticed that there were bicycle repairmen about every 20 feet on the road, but I never thought twice about them. It turns out that they fix up old bikes and sell them. So John and I were able to procure bicycles for under 100 yuan each. They aren't the greatest bikes, but that provides some anti-theft protection.

So now all we need are some cheap cell phones and we should be rolling!

[Update: Check out pictures of our new apartment here.]

The Internet

Journal Journal: Travelling through the Web

I'm sitting at my desk at MSRA in Beijing right now. I'm still figuring out my living situation and fighting jetlag, but things are slowly coming together. I don't think it have been as smooth as it has been if not for this wonderful thing called the "internets", which I hear these days is a series of tubes. I just want to fawn over some bsites that are rockin' the sh*t.
  1. OneBag: The philosophy of this website is, if you are an independent person (e.g. you don't have kids or are trying to provide water to Nigerians) then it is *possible* to fit everything you need in one carry-on luggage. I found this amazing bag at Ross when I was visiting Sandhya, and I managed to fit all my clothes, books, laptop, and toiletries in their without out any problems. All right, I did have to stow a few things in John's pullman that he checked in (like hairgel !@#$%), but it was less than expected. It was only a little annoying yesterday when we walked about five blocks with my bag before we caught a taxi. Surprisingly I think I packed too much. I guess I'm still a novice at this one.
  2. Hospitality Club: Okay, this isn't my first experience with HC. That would be back in Latvia. I wasn't yet a member of this cult, but through Perry I met all these cool people who are on Hospitality Club, that I knew I had to join myself. MSRA was going to put us up in these crappy dorms at BUAA, but I decided to pull a "Perry" and contact all the people in Beijing on HC that were willing to host. Stefanie was gracious enough to do so, and we have been having a ball of a time. She took us around and introduced us to her gaming (boardgames, not geekier stuff) group, and in exchange we provided her with tech support. I think if you are lazy and just want to be pampered, you should go to a hotel. If you are a bit more social and independent, then you can try out the hostels. But if you're really up for meeting cool people, then HC is the way to go. From what I hear, Perry hasn't used a hostel in almost two years now thanks to HC.
  3. Craigslist: I don't know why I didn't think to look this one up in America. So we showed up at MSRA last Friday, and Yi asked us what we were going to do about housing. MSRA had a apartment renting agent that they contract to, but they told us it was hard to find an apartment for only three months. So out of desperation, I looked on craigslist, and the options just started flying in. There are a million house hunting type websites out there, but what I like about craiglist is how it is at once a very clean website, and yet you can find what you are looking for. We're right now bargaining with two different people, and I'm confident we'll have an address in a day or so.

As a technologist, I have had my reservations about how helpful it is to people. For many years, it seemed that all people did with it is look for porn or bitch at each other. But now I see the real power of it. To help people connect to each, in the *real* world.


Journal Journal: Par-tay

Just before I left for China, I held a house party at my place. I have friends from many different circles, so it always makes me a little uneasy to see all these aspects of my life in a room at the same time. But it's also fun to realize how varied my existence is at times, so I went for it.

The original idea, as suggested by my roommates, was to have Chinese stereotypes all over the place. While that sounded fun, I thought it would be a little unfair to the Chinese, so I expanded it to be a "stereotype" themed party. As many of my party-attendees asked, what does that mean exactly? Well as per this clever episode of "The Office", I required everyone to pick a random nametag that listed some group (e.g., Black, Blonde, Lesbian) to make fun of. It didn't work quite as well as it did on "The Office", but I still think it was fun.

But John and I were still going to China, so we still emphasized that. We had chopsticks and fortune cookies and potstickers and a statue of buddha and those chinese meditation balls and as background ambience we had bruce lees movies playing on the television.

I designated the party as BYOA, but I was worried that there wasn't going to be enough, so bought an assload myself. So, of course, we ended up with way too much. Bob brought these huge beer steins that could fit like three bottles at once. It was fun drinking out of those. I've found that if I stick with beer, then I don't have to worry about Belligerent Shankar coming. That's not to say that I wasn't blitzed most of the night.

Parties never go exactly how you plan them, because you can really decide how people are going to interact. At many points during this one, I stood back and observed the interesting little dynamics of it, and it brought a huge smile to my face. Or maybe it was the three bottles of Sam Adams in my stein. I forget.


Journal Journal: Memories of Latvia

Before I embark on my next great journey, I want to pause and reflect on the neat little things I want to remember from my trip to Latvia. In no particular order ...
  • Jumping over the fire during Ligo to prove my virility.
  • Learning random Latvian polkas and other dances.
  • Beer being sold in 2-liter bottles and costing about a quarter.
  • Teaching a Spaniard how to salsa (because you remember 90% of what you teach).
  • Getting drunk in a bar in Lithuania called "Play Club" that is the size of my closet.
  • Swimming in an ice-cold lake during Ligo, and actually enjoying it.
  • Drinking a beer while on a ride from Vaive to Riga (you can't do that in America).
  • Being made fun of because I brought a Pullman suitcase to the Ligo festival.
  • Having a conversation with a German girl of Vietnamese descent (who now lives in Scotland) about the proper term for a person whose nationality differs from their ethnicity (2nd generation doesn't quite seem right).
  • Trying to mack on this random Latvian girl by being "nice", all the while oblivious that she had a reputation for mooching off "nice" guys.
  • Being the only brown person for at least two hundred miles in every direction.
  • Witnessing a big van receiving it's 18th birthday gift: A nice wash and a new paint job, given by girls in bikinis (Wouldn't any guy love that gift?)
  • Sleeping in a barn full of hay.
  • Being told that I was "the sketchiest person they ever met", by the clerk at the Argonaut hostel.
  • Waking up at seven in the evening, and seeing the blue sky bright as day (It only gets dark after 11:30pm in Latvia).
  • Meeting an actual sales rep for Marlboro in Lithuania, who when asked if I should be smoking, shook his head and smiled.
  • Babbling incoherently to myself as I walked the streets of Riga, by myself and completely lost.
  • Discussing the strengths of the post-medieval Swedish military while I was panicking in the Argonaut Hostel.
  • Hearing Perry's sweet voice on the cell phone in the midst of my nervous breakdown.
  • Finding myself on a bus filled with smiling Lithuanians, none of whom spoke a word of English (They were very helpful in finding the hotel in Lithuania).
  • Spending an extra four days in Essex, UK, with my uncle Raj and his family because of my misadventures in the Baltics.
United States

Journal Journal: Tennessee

Take me to another place ...
Take me to another land ...
Make me forget all that hurts me ...
Let me understand your plan

-- Arrested Development

For my Labor Day weekend, I travelled to Knoxville, Tennessee to meet up my friend Rishi and his brother Raj. The expressed purpose of the trip was to watch Cal play Tennessee. I felt a strong obligation to watch this game because I'm breaking my vow to go Big Game every year. Yes, I know it smacks of dishonor and reflects poorly on my character, but I reflected on it a lot, and I could not, in good conscience, miss the opportunity to travel through China (as well as cause complications with the internship), for a game that I can (and will) see next year. The greater good must prevail.

Anyway, the day before the game I attended my friend Ursula's wedding reception. That was a good time, it was fun seeing her new huppy David knock over the top tier of their cake. After that, I went out and represented at my roommate Bob's birthday bar meetup thingie. It got over around 2am, and so I started driving to Knoxville at 2:30am. Yes, I know, Shankar is crazy.

I managed to keep myself pretty alert and awake until about 9:30 in the morning. Have you ever listened to the Denny McKeown show? I learned more than I ever wanted to know about maintaining my lawn. For the last hour stretch, I called up Pammi, and she and her kids did a bangup job making sure I made it to Knoxville, safely.

We're not going to talk about the game much, because it sucked *ss. I'm glad that Cal came back and stomped on Minnesota this week. After the game, we headed out to a bar in downtown Knoxville and commiserated with other Cal fans. It felt really nice to be able to connect with all of these random people over something. I think that's the main reason I got into watching sports.

The next day, to make ourselves feel like our trip was worth it, we did an eight mile hike up the Cascades. I was jumping around, acting like a daredevil, and I banged my knee up pretty good. I didn't really care about it, but then Rishi said "If you break your leg, we're leaving you here." Good call. By the time we made it up to the top, we felt like heroes, but we were disappointed because there were like fifty people already up there, including some little kids and grandmas. There was this waterfall at the top and it was quite beautiful.

So it was a nice little trip I made, just before my next great adventure.


Journal Journal: The Path to Evil 4

In case you haven't yet heard, I'm returning to Beijing! This time it will be for a three-month internship with Microsoft Research Asia. Hooboy ... I never thought I would find myself working for Microsoft. I mean, I applied for an internship with them as an undergrad, but I didn't really consider it seriously because I knew I would probably have another offer from Hewlett-Packard (and I did). The only way they could get me to work for them is for it to be through their research labs *and* for them to throw a foreign country in my face. Microsoft Research Asia is quite different from its parent company. They are trying to be the dominant research park in Asia, and they publish more conference papers and journal articles than many of the world's top universities. My deal is pretty sweet. M$ is paying for my plane flight, an apartment in Beijing, meals while working, and a small stipend. Oh yeah, and I get my research stipend.

As you know, the last time I travelled to China was filled with adventure, the vast majority of it caused by Untied Airlines. I would have liked to go on some other airline, but I wasn't paying for the ticket myself, so I'm stuck with those hosers again. Fortunately, this time around, I have a confirmed seat on the plane. Besides, even if they delay my flight, I don't have a talk or anything that I am supposed to give.

So I'm busy getting ready for my trip, tying up loose ends, procuring passports and visas and all that good stuff. I don't think it'll really hit me until I'm in Beijing again. Woohoo!


Journal Journal: Civil War

I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind
There was something so pleasant about that phase.
Even your emotions had an echo
In so much space

And when you're out there
Without care,
Yeah, I was out of touch
But it wasn't because I didn't know enough
I just knew too much

Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
Probably ...

-- Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy"

Let's do this one without a mysto-magical story to cloak it ...

I am kind of crazy ... Okay crazy is too harsh a word. Let's say I'm eccentric. I have these two distinct personalities in my head, constantly babbling to each other, and until just recently, I didn't realize that there are actually psychological terms for these.

On the one side, there is my super-ego, the anxious one influenced by society, other people, and what I think I should be doing. He isn't particularly smart, bt he is capable of coming up with sets of rules to get through life. That's part of his problem too. He doesn't deal well with uncertainty, with the gray fuzzy areas that abound all around. He cares a lot about what other people think and never seems to know how to act. He definitely doesn't exude much confidence.

On the other side is my id, the more nebulous and mysterious one. He represents my baser desires. He just wants to sleep most of the day, eat bad food, watch tv and movies, play video games, and so on and so forth. I have tried to ignore him most of my life, because I know those desires are short-sighted and get me anywhere. But he is very intelligent, much smarter than me (If only I could get him to do my PhD research). When my id really wants something, he will take it from, whether I am willing or not, and there is very little I can do. The more I have restrained him, the fiercer he strikes out. In my opinion, my whole adventure through Lithuania and Latvia was, to a large extent, my id trying to break out and talk to me.

If you read that article (oh, you didn't yet? yes, i know wikipedia is not the end-all-be-all on any subject, but it's a good first step, and it certainly knows more than me. so go read it), you would have seen that there is another component, the ego. I don't really have one, or at least not a very strong one. I *hate* making decisions, and so most of the time, I let whichever aspect that has the loudest voice make the decision for me. When other people are involved, I tend to go along with them, because my super-ego desperately wants people to like him. But, unavoidably, there are times when no one else is around (or no one else has a strong opinion), and then my id takes over. So that's why I have such a hard time getting up in the morning and out of my house.

I've spent much of my life ignoring my id, feelings that those desires that I have are wrong and evil. But in truth, my id isn't such a bad guy. Besides his diabolical intelligence, he is also much more confident and sure of himself, because he couldn't care less what anyone else thinks. He's also a pretty funny guy, from what I hear. I think much of the reason that I drink is that it seems like a quick and dirty way to conjure him. It's kind of like getting the manager of an arcade out to see you by breaking one of the pinball machines. He'll come out, but he certainly won't be happy about it. That's why I call him "Belligerent Shankar" :-).

Now that I know about these parts of myself, I think it will help me become a more unified person. Part of the problem is that my id and super-ego like impersonating each other and confusing me, so I can never be sure who exactly is speaking to me at any given time. But I'm learning ...

User Journal

Journal Journal: Clean Room II 2

A couple of years ago, I wrote this entry about how doing something simple like cleaning my room empowered me to feel good about my life. Well my life is very cyclic, and I've found myself again in the same kind of funk. In fact, to be precise, I'm stuck in Phase Two. So I did some self-diagnosis. I am in a funk because I feel like I'm not accomplishing anything. I don't get much done during the day because I wake up so late. I wake up so late because when my alarm goes off in the morning, the first thing I see is the hurricane that is my room and I just feel like sleeping more. And as before, in order to get out of the funk I needed to give my room the once-over that I never gave it when I moved in.

But like all sequels, the villain has to be more diabolical than the original. In Clean Room I, the villain was Depression, a fairly harsh foe. I was depressed because I didn't believe that I could really succeed in grad school, I was extremely lonely, and I couldn't take the drama in Harvest House. But I defeated my depression by moving out of Harvest House, and hunkering down and finishing my Master's thesis. I'm not sure if the loneliness ever went away, but I'm working on it.

This time around, the villain is Anxiety, and he/she/it/whatever is proving to be a much more insidious enemy to fight. The symptoms of Depression are readily apparent on my face and in my body language, and it is readily defeated by counseling, medication (to some degree), and distracting myself with pseudo-productive things. Anxiety is much harder to see. When I tell people that I have it, they are usually very surprised. I seem very confident and sure of myself most of the time. My Anxiety doesn't manifest itself with nervous stuttering (at least not most of the time) or heart palpitations or freaking out. I just find myself not doing anything. Sitting around, wiling away time. That might sound like Depression, but it's not. I do believe that I have a bright and promising future ahead of me, and if I figure out this stuff, I know that I can combat my loneliness. And I'm much better than I have been about not getting drawn into drama and not letting external drama affect me. So why do I do nothing? Because I'm scared. Scared of doing what I have to do get out of here. For all the bad stuff, being in grad school is kind of comfortable. I don't have much responsibility. I have enough money to putter about. I'm scared of starting up the research (and it is starting again) because I know it is a fairly hard road ahead. I'm scared because I might not succeed, and you can't fail at what you don't start right?

My counselor was telling me that cleaning the room was a way of rationalizing procrastination, by convincing myself that I'm doing something seemingly productive, and he probably is at least partially correct. But I know that if I had just gone to my lab or whatever, it would have been gnawing at me the whole time, and I would get nothing done anyway. Only time will tell who was right.

Cleaning my room was much more difficult than it was before. My room is considerably smaller than the one in Harvest House, and I have accumulated much more stuff than before. I started by throwing out as much useless stuff as I could find, but no matter how much I threw out, more kept coming. Cleaning is a funny job, because it is actually much easier at the beginning, when "low hanging fruit" like dirty laundry and random papers abound. Towards the end, when there is just random stuff that doesn't quite have a place but you know you don't want to get rid of is just lying on the ground taunting you. It took in fact this whole weekend, but I more or less finished.

Will it happen again? Almost certainly. Especially if the sequel is as big a hit as the first one. But I'm trying. If I can "maintain" the room until September 13, I believe that will be enough to establish precedent. And if I've learned anything about myself, I am all about precedent.

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(1) Never draw what you can copy. (2) Never copy what you can trace. (3) Never trace what you can cut out and paste down.