Thursday, September 21, 2006

Work things I do and don't like


I think I want to work in education. The other places where I could imagine possible working are:

  • An institution that does research pertaining to social science or education, such as a government office, foundation, or research institute.
  • An institution that does something related to folk music, such as a concert venue, publication, radio station, management/promotion, or label.
  • An institution dealing with outdoor recreation/tourism. I'm not into roughing it, but I'm also not into luxury hotels at fancy ski resorts. I like simple lodgings such as a cottage with plumbing and electricity but no TV or internet. I favor nonmotorized activities: walking over ATVs, windsurfing over jet ski, cross country ski over downhill ski, bike over motorcycle. The institution I work for should engage in ecological practices such as leave no trace hiking and recycling. Examples of the kind of organization I like are Scott Walking Adventures and Lapland Lake.

Work environment

  • I like feeling that I'm part of a community. This partly comes from working in an institution of the right size: working with only two other people all the time is not enough, but being part of an organization with 10,000 employees ends up being too anonymous. The sense of community also comes from people having the opportunity to cross paths regularly and come to know each other. Another factor is having a shared sense of purpose, identity, and culture. That leads to the next item:
  • I like working with people who share my values. We should all be out to help people, to treat people with respect, and to seek the truth, not to rake in as much money as possible.
  • I like having the freedom to set my goals and work in my own way, yet the support of working with others who will give their input when I need it.
  • I like not having to get too dressed up.

Types of tasks

  • I like working on one big task rather than many small tasks. Partly it's an issue of focus. I like to be able to focus on the thing I'm working on rather than be distracted by the many other things that need attention. I think it's also a matter of complexity. Rather than working with a single strand of thread, I'd rather weave together many strands. I don't like dealing with the individual requests like:
    1. How many applicants from China did you accept last year?
    2. Write me a letter stating that I am a full-time student.
    3. Post a link on the web site.
    Instead, I prefer larger projects such as:
    1. Working with a list of 30 students and a list of 30 TA positions to figure out how to best match the students to positions.
    2. Creating a new database query
    3. Organizing the qualifying exams.
    4. Preparing a presentation.
    5. Organizing orientation.
  • I like working with information. I like databases and statistics. I like taking in opinions from many different people and writing a synthesis that makes sense of it all. Writing meeting minutes does this so I should like it, but the reality is that I'm bored with writing meeting minutes.
  • Though I like working with databases and statistics, measurement and quantification is not the answer to everything. For an enterprise to work smoothly, you need people talking to each other. You need to listen to what someone has to say, not just ask them to fit their opinions into a multiple choice question.
  • I like interacting with people to get their input, to explain policies and procedures, and to provide a service. I don't like interacting with people to persuade them to do something. I don't want to be in sales or law enforcement.
  • I like working with a defined community of people, as at a school, where you can have a list of all the people you want to reach. I don't like recruiting prospective students who have not already expressed an interest in the school because it involves an undefined community and because it involves persuasion.
  • I'm good at organizing things because I keep track of things and follow up on things. If I'm running a meeting, I'll make sure everything gets on the agenda that needs to, I'll gather the background information for the agenda items, and I'll send a reminder to the committee members about the upcoming meeting. Sounds simple, but a lot of people seem not to do a good job on it.
  • I don't like making decisions for other people about physical things like food, furniture, and decorations. I f I'm going to make a decision about such things, it should come from my synthesizing information about people's preferences, not from me thinking of an idea. On the other hand, I can make choices about less concrete things, such as people, schools, procedures, policies, curricula, and writing.
  • I need time to collect my thoughts. I express myself best in writing, giving a prepared talk, or in a focused one-on-one conversation. In a meeting at which ideas are flying all over the place, it's hard for me to respond immediately because I need some time to digest before making my response.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Talk about grad school

Today I spoke to students at a local college about grad school. There were two professors present.

One was Darren, who talked for about half an hour about graduate application stuff, especially the GRE. I knew him when he was a student, so it was cool to see him as a professor. In his presentation, it seemed evident that he was a professional teacher.

The other was Tim Lederman. He required the students from his software engineering course, which is the senior capstone class, to attend. He sat in the back and occasionally asked questions. His questions were very good because they were basically an opportunity to talk about whatever important information we forgot to cover.

I think asking good questions is a good trait in a professor. I've had professors who did that, whose questions caused thoughts to rush to my head.

After the talk, I went to dinner with Darren and three students. The students had a lively conversation about student stuff, apparently uninhibited by the presence of a professor and a guest speaker. It was interesting to hear their perspectives, to get a view of what it is like to be a student at a small liberal arts college, in contrast to the research university where I work.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


A few years ago, I wrote something called One Kind of American about my culture. This was inspired by two things:
  1. Some international students saying I don't seem like an American. My conclusion regarding this is that I am part of a particular American subculture. It's not that I'm not American, but that I don't necessarily fit the mainstream culture.
  2. An international student suggesting that it would be nice to put together a booklet about everyone's various cultures, including things like recipes and holiday traditions. I wrote the piece as my entry to the booklet, so I included a recipe and some holiday information. The booklet never materialized though.
I have been reminded lately of the distinctions between my culture and mainstream culture, and how much I like being within my own culture.
  • At work, we have these department lunches, where we either have food delivered from a place with no appealing food or go out to a different place with no appealing food. The other people in my department seem to think the food is very good. The problem for me is that the food fits mainstream culture, not my culture.
  • It was nice talking to Meisha and Jesse about mousetraps. They share my view that of course the only kind to talk about is the kind which will allow you to catch mice alive and take them out to the country to live. Mainstream people think otherwise.
  • In June, I went to the Clearwater festival. One of the things that struck me most was that it was nice being in my culture. The food served to the volunteers was tasty. They used sustainable energy to power the festival. The dresses for sale were beautiful. The people around made sense. I heard a mother telling a child regarding a spider, "We're the ones invading his home." Out in the mainstream world, it's not like that. The food that's served, the things for sale in stores, the conversations I overhear seem to tell me that I don't really fit in here.
  • Reading the Haverford magazine, I see articles about things like alumni in the Peace Corps and alumni lawyers fighting against the juvenile death penalty. That's the kind of school I should be associated with. The RPI alumni magazine shows such different values. RPI has flyovers by military planes at commencement. And what's more, people think it's cool. I think Haverford would share my sentiment of "Why would you want to celebrate commencement with an instrument of killing?"
  • There was an article about the largest passenger ship on the seas, as if that was an exciting thing to be on. Who would want that? That's even more unappealing than going to the mall, because for the mall, at least you only have to be there a few hours.
There's another culture I've always found myself in: the computer geek/science fiction/Monty Python/gaming culture. I've had relatives like that all my life, I work with such people, and I tend to find myself socializing with such people. I sat there last night listening to all that Monty Python flying around, and I wondered, "Why do I always end up in this type of crowd?" I tend to be drawn to people from that culture more than I'm drawn to people of my own culture, but I don't really fit in there.

I think I'd like for the people I'm surrounded by to include a significant number of both that geeky culture and my culture.

I think everyone is unique, and often just one subculture doesn't speak to all aspects of who a person is. That's why most people are a part of more than one group. So I probably would not want to be surrounded exclusively by people who fit into what I call my culture. But it would be better than being surrounded exclusively by people who don't fit my culture.

Everyone has a right to exist and every culture has its strong points, but sometimes one gets tired of feeling like a square peg in a round hole all the time. It's not good to completely cut yourself off from people who are different, but it's good to be able to be with your own kind once in a while. More than once in a while actually.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

Cautions to men who want to be my friend (or more)

  1. Don't try to romance me if we barely know each other. I don't even know yet if I want to be your friend or acquaintance, so I'm certainly not ready to think about whether I want to be more than friends.
  2. Our culture has this ritual called dating. In the past, it was traditional for the man to pay for any outings conducted in the course of carrying out this ritual. In more modern times, the woman is supposed to contribute as well. However, we have not made the transition completely. Our cultural expectations seem to be some hybrid of the man pays and the costs are split. Usually on a first date, the man pays, but later the woman is supposed to take the initiative and offer to pay. Sometimes for example, one pays for the movie admission and the other pays for the popcorn. These hybrid expectations are too confusing for me. I don't know when I'm supposed to let the man pay and when I'm supposed to protest his paying and offer to contribute. However, if you follow #1 above, then this will not be an issue. We'll start off as just friends, so you won't have any notion of trying to pay for me. Later, if we become close, it's okay if one person sometimes pays for the other, because by that time, we'll know what expectations we have of each other and we'll be able to communicate more openly.
  3. I may have trouble making plans with you a long time in advance because my energy level fluctuates, and I don't know how I'll feel on a future date. There are some days when my muscles crave exercise and I'm uncomfortable if I sit still. There are other days when I'm really tired and don't want to do anything more than sitting on the couch reading, watching TV, or chatting.
  4. If we become close friends (e.g. spending time together more than once a week), and then you suddenly stop wanting to spend time with me (e.g. because you meet someone new whom you like better than you like me), then you need to let me know. Don't just turn all secretive and evasive on me, maintaining a facade that nothing has changed while pushing me away at every turn. You don't have to be brutally honest if that would entail telling me that you now find me annoying and repulsive. Just tell me that you have this new person or project in your life and will therefore be less available to spend time with me. You're afraid to tell me because you think I'll be devastated by loss of your presence. You may find this hard to believe, but I have a wealth of interesting things I want to do that don't involve you. I can re-adjust my life to do other things. But if you don't tell me, I won't re-adjust my life. I'll leave a spot for you, and then when you always weasel out of doing things with me with some weird lame excuse, I'll end up feeling rejected and I'll also have this empty spot in my life. The reason you are afraid to tell me things have changed is because you wanted to avoid exactly those things. But if you just tell me things have changed, then I can move on and do more interesting things with my life. Don't forget, the reason I have this spot in my life set aside for you is because in the past, you asked me to do things with you, because you wanted me to make that spot for you, not because I had nothing better to do.
  5. If you don't tell me what's going on, but just decide to take the secretive evasive route, at first I will expect you to keep on being there for me the same as you always wanted to in the past. Since you no longer want to do that, you will experience a sense of me wanting more than you have to give. This will lead you to think I'm in love with you. Believe me, you're not as hot as you think you are. I'm not in love with you, I just expect you to keep on being there for me because you were there for me in the past and you have not told me there's any reason why you aren't going to keep on being there for me now.
  6. If you draw me in to be your close friend by asking me to do stuff with you day after day for years, and then all of a sudden you turn all secretive and evasive and ditch our friendship with no warning, don't expect me to be unaffected. You will have broken something. If I gave you my friendship, I consider that a permanent commitment. I generally believe in treating everyone nicely, and I do even more so for you because I gave you my friendship. I'm not going to be mean to you, and I still want to be your friend, but you broke something. It's hard for me to trust or respect you any more. If you want to still be my friend, you're going to have to work at rebuilding. I know you probably don't want to, because the reason all this started is because you started wanting to put less time into our friendship. If you want to just let it all die, that's fine with me. But if you are still trying to make things be okay, don't blame me for becoming high-maintenance. Here's an analogy: you have a flat tire on your car. You don't want to put time into maintenance, so you keep driving with the flat tire. If the wheels are damaged as a result, your car will need even more maintenance than it would have if you had just fixed the flat tire. Don't then say it's a bad car because the maintenance costs are so high.
  7. If you actively exclude me from something, don't expect me to feel comfortable right away if you later invite me to be a part of it.
  8. On the other hand, for those of you who never became that close (e.g. if we get together once a month or less) and you decide you don't want to be my friend any more, you don't have to tell me. Just drift away. My life is not structured to make a spot for you, so I don't need to re-structure it to close that spot, so no warning is really needed.
  9. If you want to be more than friends, start by trying to be my friend. Be sensitive to my pace. If you find me pulling away, slow down. If you find me being responsive to being friends, it's okay if you want to try for more. I don't mind someone asking to be more than friends even if I want to be just friends. It's okay to seek what you want, and I'm glad you put it on the table so we could talk openly. But you could turn me off if you ask when I'm already pulling away from you, because that shows you're not hearing me. If friendship and romance were money, it would be like this: If you ask for 5 cents and I hesitate to give it, don't say, "Okay, give me a dollar then." Instead, wait a week and then ask for 2 cents.
  10. I've read in several different places that despite our modern, liberated times, it still works best if the man does the pursuing. I tend to agree. It's easy to agree since that gets me off the hook for making the first move. But I don't think it's just that. My experiences with humans indicate that the there's something to the idea. And having dated a reluctant boyfriend, I can say I'm not too interested in being involved with someone unless he has made the choice to be involved with me. I will initiate interactions with men I like, but I'm not likely to initiate making the leap from friendship to romance. Though I shirk that job, I do however think it's my job to work hard at:
    1. If I'm interesed in someone, I should provide him with plenty of encouragement.
    2. If someone does try to make the first move with me and I'm not interested or he fumbles it badly, it's my obligation to be kind to him, because he has put himself out on a limb, taken a greater risk than I was willing to take myself. However, if I decline and he persists, then he's not respecting me, and I will want nothing more to do with him.

Friday, September 8, 2006

It's okay to want things to be different

This evening on All Things Considered, there was a story about a woman who was widowed on 9/11. They talked about how she's trying to date now. She said that people tell her not to try so hard to meet people, that you meet people best when you aren't looking for it. She said that's like telling a hungry person that if they will just stop being hungry, a hamburger will appear.

This ties in with what I was trying to say earlier about depression.

Another example: when I was feeling that everything that had been good in my life was falling apart, someone told me to see the loss of the old things as good because it would make room for new and better things.

I am exasperated with people who think you should just change your attitude and be happy with your situation, whatever your situation is.

Sometimes you want things that you don't have and can't get. Sometimes you lose things that meant something to you. It's okay to be sad in these circumstances. No, I'm not going to wallow in grief forever and never do anything useful with my life. But I just want to be allowed to wish for the things I wish for. I don't want to feel like I'm supposed to twist myself into thinking I'm happy about my losses.

I was depressed before, and now I'm not. I did feel bad about my losses, but feeling bad about them did not consign me to eternal misery. I didn't have to convince myself to be happy about my losses in order to get out of depression and on with my life. What brought me out were improvement in my health and making a new friend.

If you can't accept me being depressed, if you're just going to tell me I should change my attitude and not be depressed, maybe you shouldn't bother being my friend. Depression and grief are a part of life, just as joy and hope are, and you need to let me experience it all.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

How did mono affect me?

I've noted mono and the surrounding circumstances affecting me in the following ways:
  • Remembering that I enjoy quiet time at home reading.
  • Learning to pace myself better, to pursue restful activities and let go of dreams of strenuous activities.
  • I don't want to waste my time on fair weather friends.
  • Mostly I'm too tired to go out, so it's not like I could hang out with fair weather friends anyhow.
  • I would like to say it has given me greater compassion for sick people, but it's easy to forget what it was like to be sick. It's easy to be selfish, to feel sorry for myself when I'm sick, but to be too busy with my own stuff to be concerned about others who are sick.
  • I find contentment and satisfaction in my solitary and sedentary pursuits. That seems like enough. Joy and fun have been so rare that mostly I forget that they exist. I made a photo album to remind me of what fun was like. Maybe it would be better not to remind myself of what I'm missing. Most of the time, I don't feel anything missing in contentment and satisfaction.

Sick people and friends

The world has no use for sick people.

You think people are your friends, but some people's idea of friends is someone to go out and do stuff with. If you get sick and can no longer go out and do stuff, then people have no more use for you.

Some people do still talk to you and help you when you're sick. Mostly they view you as a charity case. They talk to you because they feel sorry for you, not because they desire your company, because you have inspiring ideas, because you are funny and fun. When you are sick, people assume that you have nothing to offer.

Several people, both family and friends, told me that family are the only ones who stick with you through illness and bad times. That does seem to be a trend. Family is kind of stuck with you, whereas friendship is more of a voluntary relationship. But it's not an absolute. There are certainly plenty of people who don't stick with their relatives, and plenty who do stick with their friends.

Meisha is a good friend because she knows what it's like to be sick, and she views friends as people who help each other, not just people to go out and do things with.

When I had mono, I was thinking I don't want to waste any more time on fair weather friends. But when I got better, I wished I knew someone who wanted to go kayaking with me. So maybe there's a place for fair weather friends, because sometimes it is fair weather and you want someone to do fair weather things with. But maybe it's better to do things like that with a group like the Adirondack Mountain Club, because then you know hiking and kayaking is what they are there for and they won't be there for other stuff. If you just do it with individual people, you might be lured into thinking they are your friends.

I met a woman last month who was talking about how she wanted to meet the kind of friends who would help her when she was sick. That's the kind of friend I want to be and to have, but I didn't want to be friends with her. In order to be friends with someone, you have to like who they are too.

How to cure depression

It seems usually the professionals who specialize in such things consider the cures for depression to be medications and/or psychotherapy. I guess those things work for some people and some problems. I do know that depression can be caused biologically and alleviated by drugs.

However, sometimes the cause of the depression is being in a bad situation, and changing that situation is a far better cure than staying in the situation and trying to talk yourself out of depression by getting in touch with your feelings and reframing your attitudes. If my situation is not good, I don't want to feel like I'm a failure for being unable to adjust my outlook and become happy. I will be happy once again, without all this effort to twist my outlook, as soon as I get back to a situation where my needs are being met. Sure there are some things you can't change, but you can still find the best situation within the constraints that life has given you.

For me though, the best cures for depression are:
  • To be healthy, with adequate sleep, rest, nutrition, and exercise.
  • To be with people who are nice to me.
Perhaps that's because the depressions I've had have all been caused by the lack of the above.

Perhaps one reason I got my Master's in social work rather than continuing on with my undergraduate major of psychology is that psychology seems to try to cure people through medication and psychotherapy, while social work also looks at meeting people's needs, e.g. housing for the homeless.

That doesn't mean I'll always be taking action to change my situation. When I'm depressed, I'm in no shape to take action. What I need to do when depressed is stuff like go to sleep, listen to music, sit by the ocean (or a lake or river if that's closer by), read a novel, or watch a movie.

It's hard to change your life. The point is not that if you are depressed, you have to instantly go out and fix your situation. The point is that you may have to live with your depression for a while, but be patient with yourself as you take one step after another into the future. If you keep walking long enough, you might be able to walk into a better situation, and when you reach that better situation, things will all fall into place for you.

Dreaming big is not necessarily a good thing

Everyone always says you should dream big, aim high, etc. I'm not sure that's always such a good idea.

I recently heard about my cousin, who likes sailing and used to do work related to that. She decided to become an accountant because she has health problems and wanted a job she could do even when not feeling well.

I think maybe I should be more like that, should set my sights on things that I can actually do, rather than constantly getting frustrated and disappointed over not being able to do the things I aspire too.

I heard my cousin's story thirdhand. It sounds neat and simple now, but perhaps she too has experienced much frustration and disappointment.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006


It was over 7 months ago that I came down with mono. It wasn't fun. I was too tired to do anything. It seemed like way too much effort to go to the kitchen and get some food, even food which required no preparation. When I walked to the laundromat a few blocks away, I felt sort of light-headed and felt like I was going to fall down. Driving to get groceries or go to the doctor was quite a task. And along with sickness came depression and despair.

Gradually I started getting better. I started going back to work part-time in March. By late April, I was feeling energetic. I went rollerblading four days in a row.

Then I started relapsing in May and June. Sometimes I'd take a vacation day because I was so tired. Up until mid-July or so, I rarely made it through a full 40 hour week of work.

By late July, I again started feeling energetic, nearly cured. I went rollerblading a few times, though not as far as what I used to consider normal.

Then I started fading, and was tired all of August. However, I've been working full-time almost all the time since mid-July. And I try to exercise. Sometimes it's just 15 minutes of yoga. Some days I don't even attempt that much, because walking from the living room to the bathroom after a full day of work is more exercise than I want to be doing.

The fact that I'm back to work full-time is a enormous amount of progress, and I should appreciate that, but I'm still lacking stamina. Before I was sick, I couldn't keep up with many more stamina-gifted people, but now I lack stamina even compared to my former self. I have trouble concentrating at work because I'm so tired. And going to work is pretty much all I have the energy to do.

Sometimes I do a good job of accepting where I'm at. Sometimes I really enjoy staying home and reading in my spare time. But there's still a part of me that dreams of kayaking, sailing, hiking, rollerblading, skiing, building houses for Habitat for Humanity, and traveling. I've been thinking that since I missed out on most of the fun summer stuff (though I did make it to the Clearwater festival in June and paddled a kayak a bit a few days ago), I want to take vacation time in September and do something. But I'm too tired to go somewhere, so I'll just stay here and go to work. But if I'm tired, maybe I should take time off. But if I take time off, I want to go somewhere. But I'm too tired to go somewhere. So I'll just stay here and go to work. This is the circle that my mind keeps going around in.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Honor the living

When someone dies, we give speeches about how wonderful they were. We publish articles in the newspaper about how wonderful they were.

Why wait until they aren't around to enjoy it? Wouldn't it be better to appreciate people while they are here?

I think birthdays should be appreciation days. Birthdays should be about celebrating the fact the the person was born.

TV shows about lawyers

Boston Legal and Just Legal are both TV show about lawyers, but they show such different views of the legal system. In Boston Legal, everyone is rich and powerful. They get what they want regardless of what's legal, because as lawyers, they know how to win.

In Just Legal, the clients are often poor people from shady backgrounds. And the legal system is a huge bureacracy, so it is often hard to get things done right. The innocent may get convicted. The guilty may go free. The police and prosecutors may not thoroughly investigate. The defense lawyers may make deals with the prosecutors which are in the best interest of the defense lawyers but not in the best interest of the client.

These two shows represent the top and the bottom of the legal profession. They seem completely different, and yet some things are the same. In both, corruption exists in the legal system, and in both, there are people with strong ideals of justice.

You could say that it's like that in any sector of life, that there will be some good and some bad. That may be true, but I don't think it's all equally distributed. There are some places where most people are smart people trying to do the right thing, and other places where most people are lazy, dishonest scoundrels. Each institution or department or office or school or whatever has a certain culture, and people who don't fit that culture tend not to remain. The problem is how to find the pockets of people who share my values, or how to grow those pockets larger in whatever place I'm in.

Starting a blog or three

A few days ago, I thought, "I should start a blog." Then I thought, "I should start three." I decided I wanted a personal blog, a music blog, and an education and social science blog. This is the personal one. I already started my music blog on myspace. If I do start the education and social science blog, which I may not, it will be on Facebook.