Friday, March 19, 2010

The Fantasy of an Uncluttered Life

Tomorrow, assuming we can make it in the snow, Ed and I are headed to our rental cabin for four days of relaxation. I plan to do a lot of math homework, read for hours on end, hang out in a hot tub (for which the snow is a bonus, assuming, again, that we can get to the cabin), eat homemade food, and just generally chill.

Aside from the hot tub and the general beauty of the surroundings,the aspects of this vacation that I'm most looking forward to are theoretically possible at home. No Internet. No TV. (The cabin has one, but I don't plan to use it.) No distractions. A lot of reading. But I wouldn't do that at home.

Sometimes I feel like it's the sheer amount of stuff in my home that keeps me distracted and unproductive. I don't really have that much stuff - we are not hoarders or anything - but I wish I had even less. I have a persistent fantasy of living in a place that is sparse, simple, utilitarian, and not only uncluttered, but incapable of becoming cluttered, by virtue of not containing things that could clutter it.

Some of this is pure fantasy, but I do want to get rid of a number of things before I leave for grad school next year. I have a lot of things I need (or choose to) hang on to, but there are other things I really can get rid of. Some highlights:
  • A few years ago, I got rid of most of my books, and I'm ready to do that again. (I haven't gotten many new books in the interim, I'm just ready for the next stage.) Most of my books I will never read again, so why should I hold onto them? I plan to take these to the library nearby, where they happily accept donations for their various fundraisers.
  • I am finally giving away my saxophone, which I got several years ago, and really enjoyed taking lessons in before I ran out of time and energy for it. This kind of entails giving up the fantasy of playing sax regularly, which feels sad, but it's not as though I couldn't buy a saxophone and take up playing again in the future if I wanted to. I found a local middle school that is, in the words of the band director, "always looking for quality instruments," and I will drop it off there.
  • I have way more pairs of shoes than I need. Most will just go in one of those ubiquitous clothes + shoes donation dumpsters, but I have a couple of new pairs that I got a few years ago but that didn't work out for me. I have scheduled those to go up on eBay.
  • Once I finish the process (begun years ago) of putting my music CDs into binders, my music collection will be reduced to three or four binders, which will take up a lot less space than the gazillion CDs in their original cases did. Most of my music is on the computer anyway.
  • Various old computer equipment can go to Goodwill or a pawn shop or something.
  • I am going to get rid of my tent and sleeping bag. I never, ever go camping.
  • Almost all of my DVDs and videos can go. I won't watch most of them again and it's not hard to rent a movie when you want one.
In addition, here are some things I do not plan on moving with me to a new place:
  • My dining room chairs, which do not match my table either aesthetically or in terms of height, and are just annoying.
  • A couple of my bookcases, which will be empty after the book purge.
  • My entertainment center, video game consoles, DVD player, receiver, speakers, or TV. I could change my mind on this, but for now I think I'm just not going to bother having a TV or any of that in the new place. (If Ed moves with me, we'll probably take this stuff, but I hope not to really have TV service. If I live alone, I think I just won't have any of it.)
  • Most of my framed posters - I don't seem to care about them enough to hang them up, and they're kind of a pain to move. I can always get something else for the walls.
My dining room table and desk are both useful pieces of furniture that can be disassembled into a much more convenient size, so they will stay (unless Mosch decides he wants the desk back). I may get another sparse type of desk - I would like to have one that doesn't have my computer on it at all, since computers are very distracting to me. I'd like a desk like this or this from Ikea.

Here are some other things I plan to keep:
  • My bed (it's great, very comfy, and everyone needs a bed)
  • My clothes (at least the ones that fit)
  • Towels and sheets
  • Kitchen equipment
  • Photo albums
  • Yearbooks
  • Seymour (my first stuffed animal)
  • My filing cabinet and its contents
  • My little nested teak end tables
  • Cat equipment (litter box, carriers, etc.)
That's the plan.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Or There Is Always Plan B

Next week, after my cabin vacation with Ed (woot), I am flying to visit one of the graduate programs to which I have been admitted. I think I might get a pretty sweet financial deal there and I want to get a feel for the department. Meanwhile, given that I don't have financial packages piling up on my doorstep, I have made preparations for a solid Plan B.

Plan B would consist of doing a master's degree in applied math at a local public university. I hadn't applied to this school, but the deadline is April 1 (and it's not a very firm deadline), and today I filled out the application, wrote the SOP, had the transcripts and GRE scores sent, begged one more letter from my poor recommenders, and am about to mail them the signed forms and stamped, addressed envelopes, etc., so that should be completely taken care of. (In other news, I have gotten pretty good at doing at least basic graduate school applications.)

I don't feel that this master's program is very competitive, so I think I have a good chance of being admitted, especially as I am not seeking any funding. My plan would be to do this program full time, but cut back my actual job to half-time. I think a 20-hour job plus full time graduate study is doable (many TAships take 20 hours anyway), particularly at a perhaps not terrifically demanding program, and half-time at my job would pay more than most graduate stipends, even with full tuition and fees deducted.

In related news, today I let my boss at work in on my graduate plans. She was happy for me, and supportive, but afterwards also (jokingly) called me "bitch" and "ignorant slut." She was quite grateful for the ~ four months of notice, which should give them enough time to hire someone to replace me. She said she is selfishly hoping that the Plan B option is what happens, so that they can keep me part time. (This company is also quite possibly moving to within a few blocks of the Plan B University, which would be mighty convenient.)

I am pretty excited about both Plan A and Plan B at this point even though they are rather different paths. The idea of Plan B is that afterwards I could either work in industry (or government) in a more professional position, or apply to doctoral programs as a (hopefully) stronger candidate.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Living Under Threat

I made a discovery about myself and my motivations a few months ago in therapy, and I think I wrote about it at the time, but it's worth revisiting because I keep realizing it over and over and it's something I need to remember to apply. And that is that (a) I respond much more strongly to positive than to negative motivations, and yet (b) my natural instinct is to try to motivate myself negatively.

I don't remember, as a child, ever being given positive reasons to do anything. (I mean, of course I was given positive motivations for things that are intrinsically fun, like swimming or going to Disney World. I'm talking here about things one would not naturally want to do.) It was never, "Eat your vegetables so you'll grow big and strong," or, "Think how great you'll feel when your homework is all finished," or, "If you're an honest person then people will trust and respect you." The reason for doing something hard was always the avoidance of some negative outcome like not getting into a good program in school or being disbelieved or being one of those ridiculous children who will only eat hamburgers.

This strikes me now as a bit odd (although possibly not as odd as it actually is).

Last night, I needed to finish the homework for my Seminar class today. I really didn't want to - I wasn't looking forward to puzzling out the proofs I needed to write, and the class doesn't (generally) interest me that much. I really fought myself over it, but there was no way I could justify not turning it in. But I didn't want to do it. But if I didn't do it, then I wouldn't have it, and I'd have to do it later and apologize to Dr. Ruch again and feel bad about it.

Eventually I was able to cajole myself into doing the assignment, which turned out to be really easy once I was willing to put in the required organized effort. And once it was done, I felt amazing! I absolutely love the feeling of having a completed assignement ready to turn in. Also, the proofs turned out to be moderately fun. Overall it was terrifically satisfying and I was really high from it.

And that is how I should have motivated myself, not by pondering how screwed I would be if I didn't do it, and by convincing myself I had no choice (which is pretty much never true, and don't think I don't know it), but by thinking about how much I would enjoy having it done, and how good I would feel about finishing it on time and doing a good job on it. But that type of motivation doesn't often occur to me.

The thing is, after a lifetime of living under threats (my mom's, when I was a kid, and my own internal ones), I am not very responsive to them. Not that many horrible things have ever happened to me as a result of my actions (or inaction), so most of those past threats have turned out to be baloney. Other threats ("I need to lose weight or I'll die of diabetes") are either far in the future or so horrible that they cause me to avoid thinking about the topic at all.

And who wants to live a life of doing things just to avoid some bad outcome? I mean, seriously? I am a descendent of millions of generations of humans and other creatures who survived despite the perilous nature of living, and I live in the safest and happiest time of all (so far). It's no wonder I'm not that easily frightened.

For the most part, if my only motivations for doing something are negative, it better be pretty easy. Wearing a seat belt is a good example of something easy that we only do to avoid something bad. Everything else worth doing has some positive reason behind it - it's satisfying, or remunerative, or improves the quality of one's life in some other way.

So, to hell with threats. I am gonna MESS THESE THREATS UP. I call them out.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Looks Like I'm Going to Grad School

Nothing is fully determined yet, but I have been assured by the grad director at one school that I will either get a nice fellowship from the school, or a TAship and tuition + fee waiver. I should find out either at the end of this week, or in a couple of weeks. The offer is good enough (either way) that, if it's my best offer, I'll go. I'm pretty psyched.

Once I have an offer on paper I will let my boss (and, by extension, my coworkers) know. I'm friends with one and he knows already, but the rest do not, and I don't see any reason not to give them a few months' notice rather than a couple of weeks. And it's getting a little awkward when people congratulate me on my impending graduation and either ask what I'm going to do next or say I must be relieved that I won't have to do icky school anymore.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Feeling Dumb at Math

My advanced calculus class this semester (part II of the sequence), despite being taught by the same (great) professor, has so far been vastly harder than the first semester. It has been hard enough that I got an 83% on the first exam, which is lower than any of my exam grades (including the one I dropped, and knew ahead of time I would be dropping) from last semester.

We started with sequences of functions, then moved on to series (of numbers), and then to series of functions. I basically skipped this material entirely when I took Calc II in 1991, but I have since reviewed that entire chapter of a regular calculus textbook. I am keeping up with (and doing well on) the homework, but every assignment is difficult-to-impossible and the situation doesn't seem to be improving.

Assuming I go to grad school next year, I'll be taking graduate-level analysis, so the difficulty of this material only makes it more beneficial to be seeing now, rather than for the first time next year. But it's been very hard for me to persevere with it when it often seems as though I'm not improving [note: this is objectively false as best I can determine]. The assignments often frustrate me to the point of tears or rage.

I decided on Saturday night to try to take a humbler approach to the material, to not let it be about whether I am smart or not (a real weakness of mine), but to see myself as a servant (if you will) of the math. I'm not sure it's having any effect yet, but I'm going to keep trying it.

I know that if I'm going to get anywhere in math, I have to learn to work without the promise of success - to work on problems that are hard enough that I may feel stupid and hopeless for quite some time. I guess this is good practice for that.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Shutter Island

On a whim, at 7:00 last night I went to see Shutter Island, the Martin Scorcese movie about two federal marshals (Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo) in the 1950's who investigate a woman's disappearance on a small island on which there is an asylum for the criminally insane. It may be that the asylum is being used for cruel psychiatric experiments, or something of the kind, and the previews hint at questions of whether it will be possible for the marshals to leave once they have arrived.

The movie was creepy and a bit scary, and the ending was less predictable than I had anticipated. I'd say that if the premise or previews for this movie appeal to you, it's well worth seeing.

(Oh, one note. If you try to avoid movies with Holocaust imagery, know that one of the marshals has frequent flashbacks/dreams about liberating Dachau.)