Today's job is to prepare my portfolio for my committee, which is meeting tomorrow to discuss my quals. I'm hoping I can somehow make my quals ("readiness assessment test, " but I'm not too fond of telling people I'm about to "take my RAT") externally useful, although I realize that's not the point of the exam. So I'll be writing more about that as I do it in the next 2 hours, because right now my brain is doing its old self-destructive thing of yelling "but Mel, you haven't done anything, you have nothing to show, you..."
Bullshit, impostor syndrome. I call bullshit. I've done plenty. Maybe it's awkward-grad-student plenty. Maybe it's, y'know, not perfect because I'm still learning how to be in academe. But I've done stuff, plenty enough and good enough for a grad student at this stage, and I am taking a pass/fail examination, and I should not kill myself to do a perfect job -- I need to work hard, do well -- but I really just need to pass.
Okay. So before I do that, what do I need to decompress from?
Reunion. Far too short a time to see too many good old friends again -- I didn't quite get the long, luxurious conversations that I'd hoped for, but I guess that's not what the schedule was designed for. The cue that I was among people who knew me came most strongly on Friday night, standing around the bonfire; my friends stood back, reminded each other not to block the flames, reminded each other that I needed to lipread, leaned over to fill me in when I missed things... and they reacted faster than I could ask. I had forgotten how fantastic it was to be surrounded by an entire community of people who gently, quietly, accommodated me -- not because they needed to Do That For The Deaf Person, but because that's... just what you did for Mel, the same way we make sure there are non-alcoholic drinks for our non-drinking friends, veggie dishes for our non-meat-eating friends, movie subtitles for our non-hearing friends -- it's just... what you do.
I miss that terribly.
Going from the bonfire of my Olin buddies to the wine and cheese night of Sebastian's Olin buddies was an interesting transition -- it hit me that these worlds, our two different Olins, don't really touch. Occasionally. Barely. We can talk about some of the same classes and professors, true. A lot of the values and cultures of the institution carry over; the trust, the transparency, the initiative, the deep humanity and caring. But these are the guys he plays pool and Halo and goes on road trips with, takes on coffee, cheese, and wine runs -- they have their own late-night conversations, the lab in-jokes, the bond that comes from sweating and swearing together week after week after year. And these are the guys I sweated and sweared and swapped lab--couch nap-shifts with; we have our own robotics project in-jokes, our own memories of dancing all weekend and then driving all night to run a 5k, our own world of friendship. And you can't collide those richnesses automatically.
Sebastian and I talked about it a little bit on Sunday, after the reunion was over. We were sitting in the North End park eating cupcakes after seeing Trouble with the Curve (with caption glasses; one of the things I'm very grateful for is how Sebastian does his best to make the universe accessible to me, even if we're not in a community of people who adjust to my deafness). 5 years from now will be my 10-year reunion; 7 years from now will be his 5-year. Our friends are likely to meet more then, on more even footing. It will be interesting to see if and how they mix, if we end up introducing them to each other more.
But for this reunion, it was good to hear Christie talk about beekeeping, and to go to Cabot's and split a Pru with David and Kelcy and Matt Ritter (Andrew tackled his own Pru, and Mark took a small shake of his own), and to catch up with Gallimore and Kristen and Matt Tesch about grad school (I must visit CMU before Matt and Kristen defend in May!) and to somehow get pulled into writing a children's book with VanWyk (after quals, though) and... mm.
It pained me to go back to Indiana after that. But my cousins were there to pick me up, and even that briefness of knowing people in the Midwest helped. I do draw strength from my relationships, more than I'd like to admit -- the image of Mel As Independent Nomad is a true one, but there's a web that sustains her there as well.
Monday was packed. Yesterday was packed. Dance rehearsals are accelerating, and by my calculation over the next few weeks I'm going to go from about 6 hours of dancing per week up to 10-12, plus solo rehearsal time because there's stuff I want to work on. Still hitting the gym 3 hours per week, starting to add in a little running on my own, and I'm easily working out upwards of 15 hours per week and it feels good. The harder I need to use my brain, the more it matters how I tune my body -- and I'm awkward and new at the body-tuning, and it's hard to learn how to work hard and well at it, but my default reaction to hitting a mental block is turning into "physical activity, now!" and boy is it much better for mental unblocking than trying to do something else that's cognitive. I'll push that 'till it hits its useful limit, then find another one and tackle that.
Another interesting bit from yesterday: I've started going to student clinic counseling sessions again (where our psych PhD students do their clinic hours) with the goal of tackling "the deafness thing" some more. Unpacking what it is, what that part of my identity looks like and how I want it to, how I deal with it, what it means to do X, Y, and Z since by getting hearing aids and CART and such I'm marking myself as "deaf" for the first time, instead of my prior default of hiding it as much as possible all the time, working very hard to pretend that it doesn't exist, that it's all effortless.
There is still a huge part of me that wonders why I spend an hour on Tuesdays thinking about such bullshit; what's the big deal? You're fine. You deal with it perfectly fine. Move on, work on more important things.
And then, occasionally, little cracks will show in that, and I become aware of this tremendous rage lurking beneath, two decades of being pushed back to Work On More Important Things. Maybe it's fueled by the energy I pour into coping, every public minute of every day; I don't know. Maybe that's why I keep busy, so I use that energy to grapple with accessing the world instead of feeling things, exploding in unpredictable ways. Whatever that feeling is, it's highly compressed, explosive, ready to spring. So I'm noticing that and very carefully keeping it behind steel blast doors, not letting it out. Just feeling it out, trying to get a grasp of its magnitude. I thought I might have frustrated feelings on the topic, maybe even be mad -- but the monstrosity of anger I've gotten a vague sense of so far is... somewhat... scary. Like getting near an innocuous-looking thick door and feeling an intense heat -- you run like hell because that means an inferno is behind that door, and pray it doesn't shatter and belch fireballs in your direction.
Slowly. Work on that slowly, tiny pieces at a time; pick it up every so often, look, do a little thing, take the time to wrap it back up safely, put it down.
Then off again, moving at high speed at an easy lope. That's what today will be. This has been my half-hour of writing-as-meditation, getting my thoughts in order, getting them out. Now I'll pop my Ritalin, shower, wolf down breakfast while cooking up lunch -- and then portfolio. I'll write more about that as I go along.
My blog is for my future self, but sometimes it's a good thought-training tool for my present self as well.