I write in order to remember who I am; these past two weeks, I've felt like I was forgetting, that I should sit down and get some thoughts out so that portion of my mind can relax -- it's like a buffer that builds up with Stuff To Think About that I need to clear every so often. This is my meditation.
I'm sitting on Sumana and Leonard's couch drinking a mug of cold tea I've left out too long; the mug is a free giveaway from last summer's OSCON, I should be writing my papers before Sebastian arrives for the TriBeCa film festival, or doing expense reports, or writing my Grace Hopper scholarship app, or something, but this has been building up too long. (And as I write this paragraph I can recognize the clear stamps of ADHD all over my thinking. It's not a problem; it's just a fact of life. Another thing to understand, another tool to tune, respect, and wield.)
What's happened in the meantime? Massive amounts of schoolwork procrastination and the accompanying guilt and tension, late-nights of pressured writing and distraction... nothing I haven't had every semester of my student life ever since I started having finals, what, 11 years ago? I'm learning ways to understand my brain more, why it's good at some things and not good at others, why the habits and environments I've built and chosen my way into are the way they are -- learning more about ADHD is like having access to the source code of a large swath of my mind for the first time. It doesn't fix the problem now, but maybe it'll help you figure out how to debug for the next release. Being proactive.
These things -- the ADHD journey and the stumbles through deafness (hearing aids, accessibility, CART, ASL, deaf culture) -- are the discomfort of the constant quest to level-up. I keep needing to remind myself that it's not because I'm suddenly more stupid; it's because I'm deliberately placing myself in environments I can't yet keep up with, so that I can learn how to keep up with them, and stretch myself in the process.
A lot of thinking and reading about ADHD; impulsively, last week, I ducked into a seminar by a visiting speaker on the topic -- arriving late -- and sat there as waves of holy shit it's me continually plunged against my mind; I was diagnosed back in college but never consciously worked on handling it well, and the seams are starting to fray). Grabbing books on it. Reading. Knowing that this is a common pattern -- excitement about new and shiny things! not concentrating on what I should really be doing! -- and trying to simultaneously structure life to work with it; going in to writing tutor hours to make my essay seem "shiny" to me again; a project gets exciting-points for a while when I interact with someone about it, and I can ride off that wave for a bit before it fades again. It's why the technique of doing all my homework for a class immediately after that class works so well. Breaking down stuff into bite-sized pieces.
Remembering how I used to think "good lord, I get so much done despite the fact that I have meetings back-to-back-to-back and constantly need to stuff my work between bouts of running around... what more could I do if I had uninterrupted time to sit and write and think?" and realizing, again and more saliently now, that I accomplished so much because I crammed them in bite-sized chunks between a busy life, not despite it; that this structure is the way I get things done at all. Adjusting my schedule as best I could, now in the last few days of term, to try and ease in some small way the desperate pressure I have (again) put myself under. Coping. Learning to cope better. Doing it again and again, as I have for years. It's new, but it's not-new.
It's my attack against the Peter Principle: people rise to their level of incompetence, so what you do is get there and then try to kick your ceiling up again. The world gets larger. You become a little freer to move within it. It hurts now, but looking back on how far I've already come, I have a damn, yeah moment every time, and I tell myself again don't stop, keep going, and perhaps someday you can really and truly make an impact. But in a sense, I already have. As long as I keep up this forward motion, I can die happy at any time with the momentum that I have. (Well... not really. Given the choice, I'd like to keep living a happy, healthy life -- but I wouldn't regret the way I'd spent what I do have already.)
So, on the deafness front. (I'm jumping around a lot here: this is the braindump "let's get it out" post, because I do have that paper, and... and I'm accepting that I'll do what I can here, writing now for this brief time before lunch.) SignMark, the first deaf rapper in the world, came to Purdue last weekend; it was the first weekend this semester I've been on campus, I think, with the exception of the weekend that Sebastian was here for his spring break. Nikitha and Farshid and I went to the concert; I made falafel from scratch for the first time, grinding chickpeas in small batches in my blender due to lack of food processor.
It was the first Deaf culture event I'd been to in years; applaud by shimmering your hands in the air, people signing to each other, me with my awkward "I'm not hearing, but I'm... sort of a fake Deaf person, I can't really sign" position, music loud, the Mel too shy to go and dance with people. But I'm standing closer to the edges; that's a start. And maybe I can take an ASL class in the fall to round out my 9 credits, since I'm trying to deliberately light-load for quals and crazy amounts of "let us figure out how my brain and my ears work" experimentation, and some other non-class things like research and projects for school, and work outside of school to pay the bills.
And learning to read -- really read, not just index things quickly. This will surprise most people, but I don't read well; I skim fast, but I don't retain much when I do that, it just looks that way because I build a catalogue of where-to-find-information, then the first time I need to use it, I go back and find it, and once I use it, I remember it. I need to learn how to read, which means learning how to predict the stuff I want to use and using it in advance of other people telling me to use it, so I can be a more independent reader and writer and thinker and researcher. I also need to learn how to write things that are larger than my head. And that's tough, because the "writing space" inside my head is huge; I wrote my undergrad humanities thesis in one go, I've written everything I've ever done in one sitting and in one go, and... I cannot, cannot write my dissertation that way. How to pay attention to classes. How to participate in large discussions. How to understand people when they talk. My old comfortable coping mechanisms are highly developed, and I shouldn't stop using them -- but I'm going to deliberately cut myself off from them for periods at a time, for training. That's the only way I'll be able to develop new ones, and that's the only way I'll keep on learning.
So, SignMark concert. And trying to finish the semester, which always feels like ending a marathon by climbing up a sheer cliff face; you're so close, but you're already so tired, and suddenly it gets harder. Tuesday I flew to New York, stopping by for my mom's birthday dinner on the way out. Wednesday was EucaDay, and it was wonderful to be back in a flow, in a city, in an event... in something I knew I could get into and come out of, wrap and be done. (That sort of thing works well for my brain; I've learned to rev tasks up quickly, finish them quickly, and not leave with any edges or obligations hanging; I won't, typically, follow up.) Learned things about live transcription of events.
Got to talk with Greg over dinner, which was "vegetarian duck curry" for me, fried fish for him. Talking with Greg, or anyone else who understands FOSS culture deeply, is a massive moment of zone-of-proximal-development, at least for me; I suddenly become aware of how much I do learn about FOSS by being out of it in part -- by getting a different toolset to analyze it with in academia. It's like leaving the basketball court to weight train for a couple weeks, and then getting back into it and going damn, my sprints are more explosive than I remember. But it takes other players who know the game well, and who know you well, to bring that out, to make that progress salient and real; otherwise, you've just upped your bench press by 5% but that means nothing to you in the scheme of how you value Real Worth.
Slept like the dead the next morning, had an amazing afternoon geeking out with Mirabai about CART and Plover and FOSS that afternoon. Witnessed, again, the quiet beginnings of a revolution (that's my favorite part of hanging out with Mirabai -- she's making history, and making it the right way). Used my pedagogy skillz yesterday and hoping I can help with Plover more in the future, though I must disabuse myself of the false notion that "help with Plover" (or any FOSS project) means "write and/or test code and/or something-else-technical" -- even I cling subconsciously to that idea, even now! I've gotten Plover a lot of attention through my writing, and put in a lot of shaping of the curriculum yesterday afternoon, and that is just as much a contribution as 100 lines of Python code would be. I know that, but I don't yet know that. Working on it. But steno: exciting.
And dinner with Sumana last night - fantastic Mexican food, conversations that... oh, I've missed being with people who know the world(s) I come from, who know me, whom I don't need to build an explanatory backstory for because we've already traded fairly extensive swaths of our relevant histories... what do we call these people? Ah. Yes. Friends. I miss friends. They are... I used to think I wouldn't mind rebooting my life every few years, but now that I have connections that span more than a few years, I see why one would want to keep them. I do, now.
Working on my paper, piles of notes growing on the folding-tray table next to me on Sumana and Leonard's sofa as I pull them out of my (increasingly battered) Wenger book and into my computer. Reading graphic novels before I sleep; finishing Leonard's first sci-fi novel when I wake up, talking with him (and a just-awakened Sumana) about the plot and characters and pacing as my tea grows cold and I settle down on the sofa here again to write, and now we are full-circle back at the beginning of this post.
And now I feel like I have written myself back into myself again -- not fully nor well, but hastily, sloppily... but well enough. Enough that as I move forward on my "real work," the pieces will align, fall into the right places. And I am learning (forcing myself to learn) to be fine with that imperfection, to be done and to leave it, and to get used to that feeling of walking away when I know things are done but don't feel like I know things are done. There is a time and place for thoroughness, but sometimes... you need to just go, so you can move on, so you can get to those times and places.
Off we go.