Spoiler: The train is a metaphor.

I’ve been reading this book called A Fault in Our Stars (Amazon link). It’s pretty short, but I’d been nursing it slowly over the past two months, until I decided tonight to finish the last third of the story in one session.

I don’t cry over fictional media*. Rarely do I cry over real-life events. It takes something tremendous to do it to me. I didn’t even cry when my grandpa died.

And I just sat here sobbing for the past hour and a half finishing this book, at times with too much water in my eyes to keep reading.

So I am grateful to have had this… humanity-affirming experience. (Thank you, Universe, for being so complicated and beautiful and relentlessly harsh. Sometimes I don’t really know what to do within you, but I definitely don’t know what I’d do without you.) Perhaps more profoundly, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to choose it — to elect to subject myself to intense emotional distress, to have it feel real and genuine. Because I think, maybe, there’s something healthy about allowing yourself to genuinely experience the full range of emotional states — to break the monotony, or to keep the Human Machine well-oiled in a metaphysical sense.

To grieve, in a controlled (or at least limited) way, and without having to suffer the logistics of loss. So that when it hits you For Real, in the flesh-and-blood world of our ancestors, it doesn’t destroy you, does not derail your train killing the hundreds of passengers that are your daily routines, habits, and positive thoughts that make life productive and/or bearable.

The world has so many broken people. The world is so good at breaking people. How does one stand up to this? It comes for you, too, even if you try to believe otherwise, even if you race as fast as you can from the risks and perils and slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (as they say)

I do not even attempt to claim that I have an answer or — or that I will ever have any single answer, but I have now been sufficiently impressed by the power of love, and of stories, to test, to prove, and, maybe, anchor the human spirit, through better and worse.

This is a short missive; it may echo quietly. Reflect upon its echoes.

 

*Okay, I cried when I saw The Last Samurai when I was 14. Don’t judge me!!

ten-minute freewrite, and other news

first, “other news”.

1. A 22-year old from my hometown went on a shooting spree at my local mall yesterday. He went to my high school, apparently, though I didn’t know of him; he killed two people. This is kind of heavy. I’m not personally affected or in shock or anything like that, but it prompts reflection, because this is *very* close to home, geographically at least. More deets here: Clackamas Town Center Shooting

2. If you’re a regular or occasional reader of this blog, I would appreciate it more than you can imagine if you would take the time to leave a short comment when you read something that I post! Especially if you have something thought-provoking or even critical to say, but I’m not picky. There is something eerie about blogging comment-less; like standing on a platform and shouting into a pitch-black room, and not even hearing an echo come back. My dream is to stir up conversation, to stimulate an exchange of ideas among intelligent people who are far removed from one another.

second, “ten-minute freewrite”. Feel free to ignore the following, I just felt like typing whatever oozed out of my brain for ten minutes and then posting it.

(more…)

Heartrate – Lungrate – Brainrate

Impostor Syndrome

Impostor syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.

It is basically feeling that you are not really a successful, competent, and smart student, that you are only imposing as such.

Some common feelings and thoughts that might characterize the impostor syndrome are: “I feel like a fake” “My classmates/professors etc. are going to find out I don’t really belong here,” “Admissions made a mistake,” etc.

The impostor feelings can be divided into three sub categories:

1.  Feeling like a fake: the belief that one does not deserve his or her success or professional position and that somehow other have been deceived into thinking otherwise. This goes together with a fear of being, “found out”, discovered or “unmasked”. People who feel this way would identify with statements such as: “I can give the impression that I am more competent than I really am.”  “I am often afraid that others will discover how much knowledge I really lack”.

2.  Attributing success to luck: Another aspect of the impostor syndrome is the tendency to attribute success to luck or to other external reasons and not to your own internal abilities. Someone with such feeling would refer to an achievement by saying, “I just got lucky this time” “it was a fluke” and with fear that they will not be able to succeed the next time.

3.  Discounting Success: The third aspect is a tendency to downplay success and discount it. One with such feelings would discount an achievement by saying, “it is not a big deal,” “it was not important.” One example of this is discounting the fact that they made it here, which is really a big success.  Or saying, “I did well because it is an easy class, etc.”  Or, you might have a hard time accepting compliments.

This is not an all or nothing syndrome.  Most of you probably could identify with a few statements but not with others. Some people may identify with impostor feelings in some situations and not in others, or maybe you may not identify with these feelings but have friends who do.

[…]

I think I had a panic attack today. Despite a really calm and productive morning (wherein I wrote down a bunch of life goals for the month, paid some bills, did some exercise, made healthy breakfast and, later, lunch), I stressed myself out a little bit before my guitar lesson when I realized that I hadn’t really addressed most of my assignments for the week in my practicing. My guitar teacher is a really sweet and chill 22-year-old who’s nonetheless amazingly talented, and we click really well, so he doesn’t get angry or passive-aggressive if I underperform (although it makes the lesson a little awkward). But I was embarrassed about not having anything noticeably better than last week, and that embarrassment translated into a nervous vibe that lasted the entire lesson. When the lesson was over and I walked to my car, I felt jittery, disoriented, a little short of breath, and full of pent-up anxiety. Worse still, the feeling became overtly physiological in nature – I could feel blood rushing to my head, and I was seriously wondering whether I’d been drugged or having a very minor stroke or something. I calmed myself to the point where I could drive home, but was still jumpy when I got back, and had to lie down for an hour. I cried a little bit. It sucked.

I don’t mean to scare you with the above story. I’m doing pretty well now and don’t foresee the above recurring anytime soon. The reason I even blog about this incident is because I think this isn’t my first experience with severe panic-like stress, but I never really recognized it as such before.

I’ve known about impostor syndrome for a long time, but never thought that I was suffering from it. I knew that I wasn’t at the top of my class, especially after freshman year of college, but I still felt that I had a few skills that I was really good at that helped offset my weaknesses, at least in areas that I cared about, and this gave me self-esteem enough to push on without getting this paranoid, overarching fraudulent feeling. But senior year was a different ballgame, especially with the circus that my thesis was. I’ve thought a lot on the bizarre set of events (and my continuous mismanagement of them) that comprised my thesis, and this reflection is one of the primary things driving me to spend my year off focusing on self-improvement.

As the year progressed, and I noticed that I was seemingly falling farther and farther behind, I felt more and more intense stress immediately before and during each thesis meeting. Towards the end of the thesis I could practically imagine my research group thinking the following:

“Here is an articulate, seemingly intelligent person who is not obviously socially inept. His knowledge seems to be on par with his peers. But after careful observation, we have realized — he completely lacks any sense of organization or self-discipline, despite somehow making it through three years of college — and not just any college, but HARVARD. What fools were we to think he could possibly handle such a sophisticated task, when he doesn’t even have the capacity to finish a freshman-year problem set! He is like a child in adult’s clothing, walking and talking like an adult, but does not even know how to tie his own shoes, much less handle the realities of day-to-day life.”

There is nothing I fear more genuinely than having this happen to me again in graduate school. It’s one of the major reasons I wanted time off. Today’s incident reminded of that stress like nothing else has since college.

I think my panic attack today may have been a sign: “Your motives are in the right place. But you’re going to have to do better than that.” Maybe I’m falling into the impostor trap; maybe I’m demanding too much of myself. I don’t really know. But I do honestly think I have farther to go, and I hope that I can get there in time.