On time and noise
I remember being a freshman this time last year! It was all excitement and anxiety and joy, everything jumbled up together, all extreme highs and lows. Every little decision and activity felt monumental and life-changing; I had to go to that info session, I had to meet new people, I had to go on exciting College Adventures™. I had to slump over in the Maseeh 3 bathroom at 4AM and cry for no specific reason, traitor tears leaking through my fingers onto waxy floor tiles. It feels almost like a dream now. Nothing was what I expected, probably because I went in with no expectations at all.
What I didn’t realize was that, in the process, I forgot to do things for myself, by myself, and with myself: going for a walk, decluttering my closet, playing a video game in my room. All the hangouts and trips and events last year were new and exhilarating, and I met so many wonderful people; yet, despite interacting with more people in a day than I would in a week of high school, I felt strange pangs of loneliness more often than ever. I wrestled with this sense of isolation and alienation a lot, particularly during first semester; part of it stemmed from trying to find the communities at MIT that I fit into, but another reason was that I never took time to just sit down; time for myself to think, to reset, to stop sprinting from class to club to friend to event and just exist for a while.
MIT is a very exciting place. For most of the things you’ll be interested in, you can find a lot of people doing things around it. For me, that’s been AI, mathematics/problem solving, literature & writing, teaching people stuff, random socials, east side culture, climbing, etc…
When I got to this place I was so excited, and rightfully so. I explored and spent time in different communities, getting the feel for different little pockets of the MIT landscape. And I stayed in some, and realized others weren’t for me or that I wouldn’t have time. I was in this chaotic bustle of discovery but also underneath it I was dealing with the pressure of intense workloads and the difficulty of transitioning to a new environment.
These conflicts meant that sometimes I didn’t have enough bandwidth to really engage with things. It’s easy to just see something and try to add it to your bag, but with everything, in a short sighted way. But in doing so, I was losing out on a lot of depth.
This semester I’ve been kind of naturally trying to incorporate more focus into my routine, something I had more of in high school. To me, this idea of focus also comes back to the idea of me time to be alone that Gloria is talking about. Having time to just think about an idea, read a book, look at the sky…
It’s also the first time at MIT I’ve had the space to do this, but even when I leave this time open for these type of activities, I feel like there’s this nebulous whirlpool of socials & activities & dormspammed events & talks that are all kind of relevant to my interests and I sort of just stare out and have to learn to say no, because doing all these things doesn’t give me peace.
That peace, for me, often comes from more silent moments and especially being in nature. I love the mountains back home but I suck at planning stuff and haven’t been exploring any nearby much. I went to the Harvard Arnold Arboretum though last month, and it was very peaceful and pretty :)
This flurry, and people doing stuff, is part of what makes MIT wonderful, but it sometimes feels like noise. This noise in the look of that acquaintance talking about this event going on, or the noise of the notification of a meeting or thing I have to go to, or even the noise of people outside when you for once go to sleep early enough to hear crowds chatting out your window on a Friday.
I feel sometimes like I want to recoil and stay a bit within myself so I can think more about what I want and what I’m learning. Because that noise is overwhelming, and it’s actually fine if you don’t do all those things. Most one off things won’t change your life, and change happens over large periods of time. I guess this is just learning that it’s okay to just be? I’ve never needed there to be a lot going on to keep myself busy, but the activity makes me feel this strain of possibilities and imagined becomings, but actually it’s fine and it’s just okay to be?
There’s this kind of beautiful property of the world where if you spend a lot of time doing something and actually trying you’ll just like generically have something to show for it and you’ll grow a lot? And then the argument for doing new exploratory things is to find those pursuits you want to dedicate time to, but sometimes you just need to dive into a pool and look at the depths?
Beyond that more self-sufficient stuff, I also want to spend more time with close friends and just chill, rather than partake in lots of socials. I’ve been realizing that I mostly just have a set of friends but never really had a “friend group” at MIT, instead seeing people one on one or in some like event context or living community, and maybe I want to change that, although I’m not sure how since my friends are kind of spread out.
Other than that abstract talk! What am I focusing on this semester?
I’m getting more and more certain the thing I want to do after I graduate is research. Maybe I’ll change my mind about this, but I just really enjoy learning things and having lots of freedom, so it seems like a good setting. I’m doing a UROP in the Solar-Lezama lab on using library learning and program synthesis (generating programs that solve problems automatically) to create safer and more intrepretable agents. It’s going well but I want to put more time into it, especially since there’s a lot I need to learn for it.
I’m taking fun math classes this semester, 18.404 and 18.100B! The problem sets for both have been fun and they’re both classes where the time commitment is okay but if you spend more time you can really get a lot more out of it, which I like. I also want to study some type theory and stats on the side this semester, but we’ll see what I have time for (often not much!).
Poetry ~ words
I’m taking 21W.771, Advanced Poetry Workshop. It’s a great class, where I feel like I’ve been getting a better sense of what poetry is about and why I like it / how to write good poems. I also want to keep reading literature, and just finished Ficciones by Borges, which was very beautiful. I want to run a little reading group with people where we read pretty stories, but that’s in progress.
I’ve been taking 6.191 Computation Structures, which is quite cool but I need to spend more time because it’s somewhat at the bottom of my priority list. I also am taking 6.S898 Deep Learning, and although the lectures are nice because I’m getting a lot of exposure to the prof’s intuitions, the psets haven’t been the most useful because I think I’ve had exposure to the coding side more, although I would still recommend it to people.