The sun is out again in Chicago. This winter was colder than last year and speckled with small moments of fun: ice skating, hot pizza, and watching snow float like dandruff in the wind.
My last term of classes starts this week. Mourad and I agreed that we’re officially “in the middle” of the PhD program. I feel confident doing academic research — finally trusting that noodling on the whiteboard all day is leading me somewhere. I’m aware of my newfound status as a role model for prospective students. But in my head, I still think: I just got here, what do I know?
I started a relationship last summer and it’s the opposite of stressful. Her name is Sagarika. Because it feels so easy in the good times, the hard times have been completely manageable. My day-to-day rhythm is completely different now that she lives down the block – we see each other every evening. I think our past lives make us freakishly good at communicating through conflict and about what we want for our lives, both now and in the future. Let’s see where it goes.
“Some people don’t drink because they don’t like to drink; others don’t drink because they like it too much.”
One recurring topic on my mind is the relationship with our hopes and dreams. In adulthood, we have time and space to construct a life we think we want: a relationship, a career, a ritual. But sometimes our present selves no longer want this life. I’ve seen this happen in two ways. The first is when one is “skidding on a dream”: the relationship isn’t quite working, the career isn’t really what you thought it would be. You want to want it, but you can’t make yourself happy in it. The second is when one is “addicted to the dream” (Ryan would say “lost in the sauce”). You avoid yourself by being in the relationship; you work constantly instead of fixing problems in the rest of your life. Your dream replaces your real life.
I think there are dangers in both. In the first, you can trap yourself in a life you don’t want to live in, even if it should be the life for you. I love the metaphor of a crab stuck in a shell they don’t want anymore. It’s risky to leave, but often worth it to find something that fits the current you. In the second, I’m reminded of the protagonist of Midnight Gospel. It’s great to put energy into your passion, but without paying attention to the rest of your life, it all can come crashing down.
I’ve supported a couple friends in the first failure mode this year. I can relate. Wanting something very badly can make you wilfully ignorant. (When you’ve formed an identity around drinking, it’s hard to admit that you just might not like drinking anymore.) Self-awareness is mischievous here, because the loudest voice is I want the dream to work, not I’m unhappy here. My piano teacher reminds me to listen to the softer voices in a piece of music, and make sure they shine, too. The best I can do is to remind my friends to listen to all the voices in their head before deciding where the music should go next.
For me, I’m worried about the second failure mode. I have been treating the Ph.D like college sports, thinking: Do I want to make the NBA? I might be too focused on “getting good” instead of having fun. Since my last update I’ve put three more papers out. I’ve noticed political and cutthroat behavior, and adjusted to protect myself. I can weave my work into a story that feels like a research agenda. But other parts of me are starting to decay. I could use a little more philosophy, exercise, and entertainment in my life. My next challenge is to find the right balance of enjoying my mathy passion and living a full life.
I’ve been traveling a lot. The biggest trip was to Europe for a month (!) I spoke at conferences, sightsaw, ate gelato; I feel so lucky to have this in my job description. One highlight was seeing Nisha in the UK (the first time since she’s moved). We roasted desserts over a fire we made in her yard. She’s really built a wonderful life in Cambridge. I’m finding joy strengthening my relationship with both of my sisters. I’m glad that each of us gets to choose our own path; at the same time, I do hope that one day we’ll all live in public-transit distance.
This summer I’ll be in Berkeley for a month, and Utah for several weeks, and then New York for some time. Don’t hesitate to reach out, via call or text or email – I’d love to hear how your story is unfolding.
Some things I’ve liked recently:
Music and art:
Advice, productivity, musings:
Our home, our future:
Science and math: