"I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment... and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn." -Thoreau

Monday, July 23, 2012

Caution: Tears and Insecurities Follow

Dear Reader,

Sometimes little things orchestrate themselves in such a manner… that they hurt a great deal.
Even now, with teary eyes, soiled Kleenex, and periodic sniffles, I recognize that the cause for the tears and sniffles is silly. And not really worth crying over.
...Unfortunately, my feelings sometimes ignore the prudence of my more sensible thoughts, and this is such a case. Nonetheless, sometimes it's good to weep a little weep and ride through the pain, even if it is silly.

Alright, so here’s what’s up.

A friend of mine posted pictures of me on facebook. A number of them are kind of fun pictures, and I’m not upset that they’re there. I don’t care. 
However, and this is very vulnerability-revealing, I will admit to being disappointed by them. Well, not by them- by me. This is going to take some explaining...

 See, I wonder whether there isn’t some caveat to the reasonable and hope-inspiring concept that attractiveness follows confidence. Hmm. It makes sense that, by and large, attractive people are confident, but, in my experience, it would appear that confidence -/-> attractiveness. That is, confidence is necessary (though that itself is suspect, as there are those who seem god-gifted with bounties of beauty), but not sufficient for attractiveness.

The thing is, I usually don’t mind picture-taking. This is kind of unfortunate. It is unfortunate because my internal representation of myself seems to match horribly with what is actually there.
It’s this terrible system, really. Annette feels confident à Annette confidently takes picture à Annette sees picture à Annette realizes picture does not at all align with her conception of beauty, nor with what she so well-meaningly believed it would look like à Annette feels incredibly STUPID. Needless to say, the confidence then breaks down and she feels like hiding in a small, unpopulated corner of the universe.

A classic, embarrassing example of these proceedings followed my senior pictures. When I took those pictures, I (foolishly?) believed I looked passably attractive. I was pleased, I was fairly excited. I still remember my growing feeling of disappointment, shame, and finally great pain when I finally received those pictures and flipped through them with increasing panic, as each one failed to be satisfactory. By the end of it I very quickly- but as calmly as I could- slipped to the bathroom, locked the door, and cried my heart out in a strange feeling of shame and pain. Pain for feeling unattractive and stupid enough to believe I looked good, shame for having the audacity to walk around feeling as though I was passably attractive, and an incredible amount of shame and disappointment for being so silly and superficial as to be crying in a bathroom about it all. It was a good time, really.

Happily, this time around flipping through those pictures did not end in tears and extreme pain. More like moderate disappointment at the disparity between what I hope I look like and what I actually look like. I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but when I take too long before a mirror, or on a day (such as today) when humidity has rendered my hair wild (in the not-attractive way), I’m glad that 1) I’m not the one who has to look at me all of the time and 2) at least other people are used to looking upon my very interesting form—and thus are not too surprised by it. 
And it’s fine. (Usually.) 

Perhaps it is a convenient self-defense mechanism,   but I can say that the vast majority of the time, I am unconcerned by my looks. Sure, sometimes I get frustrated and wish I were a bit thinner, etc. etc. but those are instantaneous concerns that don’t really get to me. I really just don’t care all that much, and my insecurities center much more on feeling like I don’t do enough or that I’m not sufficiently intelligent or that I am lacking sufficient quantities of x substance.
(Wow. I really am mostly about abstract concepts… it’s great!)

Anyway, back to the story. So flipping through those pictures, it was a little like “Well, that’s kinda disappointing. But they’re fun pictures. Oh well, keep moving through feed.”


Someone decided to post this on facebook (you know, for the lolz):

Reaction #1: Jawdrop.
Reaction #1.5: …Are people really THAT douchey?
Reaction #2: What the fuck? Please tell me this is a fake add.
Reaction #3: People think this is funny… ? !
Reaction #4: Absorbs evilness and hurtfulness of ad and bursts into tears, with all sorts of unhappy thoughts flooding through, spoiling Kleenex whilst feeling that this is all stupid and not worth my time.

And at this point I’m not sure what to say.

I could say that what had been most disappointing about those pictures of myself was the fact that my ever-persistent and, at this point, hella annoying (I know. Hella is a terrible word, and I’m ashamed. But if the time calls for it…) acne remains ever-persistent and hella annoying despite my recent optimism that there may be hope for the near future….?  (Ouch.)

I could say that it prompted thoughts of, but I do have a boyfriend, and he’s freakin’ amazing! But that in turn prompted strange thoughts that seem to accompany my femininity—largely regrets/pain at then making him be the guy with the acne-ridden, not-quite-attractive girlfriend…

I could say that it prompted memories of bitingly hurtful comments from my mother- who I know loves me, even if she doesn't always do so in the way I would like...

Or I could say that it made me realize that in a very strange way, I was just bullied. I realized that I form part of the butt of that joke… that I am one of the shameful, non-beautiful members of society to be pitied or laughed at.

I could also say that it reminded me of the disappointment/despair I sometimes feel at the very strong suspicion that I will likely never fulfill the requirements of beauty. Maybe this is the foolishness of a twenty-year-old giving itself away, but my teens were "wasted" with, at first, being "not thin enough," and then the onset of braces and acne, my late teens/early twenties are embarrassingly acne-marked, and the future looks bleak between acne, scars, and aging.... 
Confession: All I really want is a beautiful wedding picture, and sometimes I'm afraid I won't have that.

In half an hour maybe I'll sit down and try to think of a list of my redeeming qualities, or of reasons why I can still try to count myself among beautiful people, or something nice like that....

For now, I’ll take a box of Kleenex and cry my heart out in a small corner of the universe until the pain bleeds away and I can return to a non-superficial, non-silly, and lovely world of abstraction.


P.S. Yes, I am okay. A little hurt right at this moment, but I'll be fine. I'm stronger than this.

Friday, July 20, 2012


Hello, hello!

How quickly life enters a whirlwind state!
That, or I have become incredibly lazy this summer. Certainly, relative to the school year, Northfield has become more of a sleepy rural town- in the correct way. Evenings pass by with a strange sense of leisure and rapidity, as though processing time has slowed down. It is a bit amusing that by 7pm the day feels largely over, whereas during the school year that would give me at least five to six more hours of ideal work time- essentially an entire work day!

But even despite this newfound slothery and small-town sleepiness, the level of excitement in my life took a sharp rise in recent days. This is due almost exclusively to the MU3C Conference I attended at the beginning of the week. (MU3C = Midwest Undergraduate Computational Chemistry Consortium). My relatively slow-paced workdays of reading papers, learning Fortran, and trying to get a handle on how things worked hastened considerably as the conference approached. I learned how to smoothly submit jobs for computation, worked on developing my talk for the conference, practiced said talk way too many times, learned how to lift data (not difficult, but it's amazing how things can get mysteriously screwed up...), learned how to use gnuplot (in retrospect, way better than Excel!), struggled to get a sufficiently good grasp of Ewald summation to be able to explain it to a room of people, and frantically gathered preliminary results to demonstrate to others that we (my research partner and I) are not fully incompetent and have actually achieved something during the last five weeks.s.

Consequently, the past week and weekend  were a little crazy and stressful, and the size of my to-do list was, at a point, rather alarmingly disproportionate with the time available for the completion of its items... but it all worked out just great.

The conference itself was very...chill. I would estimate (I am terrible at such estimations) there were 30ish people in attendance? Talks were given by undergrads presenting their research, and also from faculty members (mostly from University of Minnesota, our sponsoring institution), we got a nice tour of the University's Supercomputing Institute (which I know was impressive, but my ignorance impedes me from knowing just how impressed I should be. I suspect I should be pretty darn impressed though), talked to current grad students about computational chemistry at the U, and lunched and dined with fellow conference members. I was happy to be able to meet other students doing work similar to my own, and on the other hand, it was interesting to see how we all had different skill sets. Some people were using quantum mechanical methods, others molecular dynamics (which uses classical mechanics), and others (such as myself) Monte Carlo techniques (which are awesome and use random numbers to run everything!), in addition to a variety of unique systems being studied-- from collisions between CO2 and H, the chemical pathways involved in acid rain, the study of a protein key to a virus analogous to HIV, CO2 separation and sequestration, astrochemistry, and more. Exciting stuff. As for my own talk, in case you were wondering, it went much better than I would have hoped! I was fortunate enough to receive very kind compliments, and it was gratifying to know that my professor was proud of the work we had done. :D Huzzah!

Now I am afraid I must prepare for a new work day. The day promises to be demanding... Dani (my prof) is a strong advocate of the immersive method of education. To translate, it means she enjoys pushing us into the water and leaving us to figure out how to swim... while she stands in the sidelines and glances over every now and then to make sure we don't drown. Terrifying? A little. But surprisingly effective.

So au revoir for now, dear Reader. At some point I must sit down and compose something that is actually interesting and thought-provoking, but I felt it was necessary to explain the cause of my extended absence.

до свидания!