Sunday, September the 25th, 2005

(That’s oppOrtunities for you Northies in the audience. Sorry, just HAD to throw that in there.)

Something has happened to my computer. It has, for a while now, been surprisingly smooth, slick, responsive and just a joy to work with. Also, recently, I’ve somehow magically gained the ability to “just touch type”. As in, there is no real delay between thinking of something and it showing up on my screen. As a result of this, it will take a while before I return to carefully worded, checked, rechecked and refined posts. This is just a stream of consciousness that follows. It will be raw, there will be redundancy, and parts of it won’t make too much sense as they weren’t dreamt up for public consumption.

I was at this workshop yesterday, and as usual, they had a sign-up sheet to keep tabs on how many people showed up. One of the columns on this sheet was which year of grad school I was in. Without really thinking, I was about to jot down 2, when it hit me really hard, I wasn’t in my first or second year anymore, I was in my FOURTH.

Or, in more dramatic terms, NEARING HALF A DECADE.

If you really keep track of these things, by the time I am done here, this would probably be the most time I have spent at a given educational institution. Over 20% of my life up to this point. 100% of my adult life.

Now, if you’re going to spend an awful lot of time in school, you probably should learn a lot that translates into making you a better person in real life. There was never really a concern as to whether I was book smart. Really, I can tell you right now as I could when I was old enough to speak, “there are numerous branches of knowledge where I will know more than you with very little effort, and that’s just the way it will be”. But you know what that translates to in reality?… that I can be playing Viewtiful Joe 2 through the night up to a couple of hours before a test, not really prep, and still get a better score. That’s about it. Sure, that looks good on paper, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t mean much. All years of school has given me is the notion that I am not stupid, and that I am smart enough to pull off whatever I need to get by in an academic setting within any time frame, however impossible the odds might seem to you.

Again, none of this translates in the real world to anything. During the time I’ve spent from pre-kindergarten through getting a PhD (again, quantitatively, that’s over 90% of my entire life, and all my adult life), I probably should have been through numerous non-intellectual-life situations and been trained to handle them. Handling interpersonal relationships of various sorts, teamwork, members of the opposite sex, stress, the ability to deal gracefully with defeat, to be a gracious winner, to not be a social outcaste, to realize that I am not just a lone speck but one in a continuum and that the entire neighbourhood about a point is what matters.

I’ve learnt none of this, nor picked up any of these skills in the number of years I’ve been in school. I’ve squandered numerous chances and continue to do so. I’m still remarkably emotionally stunted, socially stunted, physically stunted, and continue to ride through my life only on the belief that I am intelligent enough to make it (read, con my way) through. I don’t deal with loss (for obvious reasons), I don’t know how to deal with groups of people, I don’t even know how to deal with A person. I’ve resorted to doing things a certain way—initially because I felt I needed no one else to get anywhere, and later because I had no one else.

My skill-set (gained?) after all this time is the ability to bear insane levels of stress (yes, more than you) and not-work-toward and ace tests.

But life isn’t a test. At least not of this kind. No one really cares if you can see relations and deduce laws governing the functioning of the universe. It doesn’t mean squat when you can’t be a caring, communicative, compassionate, empathising… human being. I often harp on sciences being hard. I only do this to con the lay person into believing I’m so much smarter than them because I do this and they don’t. They’re really not that bad. At least here, once you’ve crossed the initial hurdles involving figuring out the language of the field and agreeing with the basic principles, you can build with surprising ease and precision. There are many bigger things. Things which “just are”, and can’t be articulated easily. They’re concepts which can’t even be comprehended easily. Now those are genuinely hard. And it’s there that I need but haven’t a clue.

I hate to admit I think it’s all been a waste, and that my narrow skill set isn’t nearly enough. Sure, my most important critic might say (about some recent written words of mine): “You’re such a marvellous writer. You manage to sneak in every little ingredient—poignancy and humor, insight and cogency”, but that doesn’t translate into her ending up with me in life—nor in my arms, even for an evening.

Of course, it doesn’t help to be insanely (nit)pickey. And have the potential to scale the smallest nearly imperceptible imperfection in someone to gargantuan proportions when that’s all that you can see. (As in, OH MY GOD, the angle between her feet when she walks, she’s a living Charlie Chaplin I tell you!)

This is a printer-friendly version of the journal entry “Squandered Opportunities” from actuality.log. Visit to read the original entry and follow any responses to it.

5 Responses to “Squandered Opportunities”

  1. pUl| says:

    Dude, what’s your point? Are you unable to deal with situations that are socially and/or emotionally driven?

  2. wahgnube says:

    Like I started off saying, there is a good chance this is just going to be stream of words with no real point. That said, the basic idea is that I am admittedly socially stunted. One of the main reasons for going to school (as opposed to being tutored at home or whatever) is the hope that regular interaction with other children/people will help you grow in this respect.

    I’ve somehow managed to get by avoiding all opportunities to learn and am consequently still socially inept. I often tend to think all this time in school has, thus, been a waste.

  3. pUl| says:

    Does this not depend on what you think/feel about the audience you are about to interact with? I mean, sure you can possibly go ahead and approach a group or some individual at a party (for argument’s sake) and start a conversation or two; but what if you soon realized that there was little or no point making conversation with that group/person? Do you then blame yourself that you could not socialize? Even if you think of socializing as something more than just a mere conversation, it is difficult to maintain that any ineptness is due to shortcomings from your side. Sure, it can be strongly related to your personal preferences (likes and dislikes), but are those really shortcomings? Your personal preferences define a part of what you really are, no matter how insignificant you think it is. In my opinion, this cannot really be a concern unless you are feeling totally alienated or something. If it really is a concern, it is possible for one to speculate that you feel you’ve conquered just about most of everything else (for instance, the finite things you have mentioned and possibly some more finite ones) when compared to others (and you admit it yourself) that this (social/emotional and physical stuntedness as you call it) is one of the ones left to deal with. Comparing yourself with other people time and again is really not a good idea. Really, there is no end to it. By other people, I refer to the people whom you can ‘beat’ when it comes to handling increased levels of stress or people who actually have to prep to ace a test or you know, basically some part of a big (presumably) finite list you’ve mentioned. This is not a competition or some such. I do not have a concrete reason/proof to back the following statement, but in my opinion it is as true as the postulates of thermodynamics are. There is always, I repeat, There is always more than a single person who is way better than yourself in every aspect that you think you are good at. If you must compare, that set of people is your yardstick. And it is not like they are paragons of intelligence and perfection sitting at the apex or something. It holds equally good for them as well. Most people, especially mathematicians and people from certain other disciplines could argue and prove it unlikely. However, I believe in this just as strongly you believe in the karmic balance law however irrational it may seem to certain people. And if you think again and again and again, there are other things to worry about in life as well :)

    Unrelated: Here’s a riddle (sort of). I’m trying to collect a number of different responses from people, so I would appreciate if yourself and/or any visitors could give me their two cents:

    There is a cake on a table. Yourself and your friend both like cakes and would like to split it among yourselves. There is one knife that can be used to split the cake. How do you fairly split the cake with your friend?

    For those who want to, please try not to look it up anywhere. Spend not more than a minute to come up with an answer. As trivial as it may seem, your response is valuable to me. Thanks!

  4. wahgnube says:

    I am still in the process of reading the rest of the response, but I’m first going to answer the riddle(?). Though it’s more like not-much-of-an-answer to apparently-not-really-much-of-a-question.

    A whole cake is an awful lot for two people how much ever they like cake, so I guess they should both just cut themselves reasonable sized pieces until their cake-lust is satiated?

  5. wahgnube says:

    As short responses to different sections:
    1. So, do you really talk to someone or maintain a conversation only when “there’s a point”? What are valid ends? Appeasing someone you need help from? Someone you care about? Some hot person you hope to seduce? I don’t think that’s it at all. I say it is normal to communicate, or attempt to. It doesn’t need to serve any end other than the act itself.
    2. I don’t feel alienated at all. On the contrary, I can easily alieanate because I don’t often feel the need for anybody (or group) else. It is this that I know isn’t normal and have a problem with. I am certain we are not wired for self sufficiency. Case in point, I haven’t a womb.
    3. People use different skill-sets to get by in life. Some of them are smart, others hard working, some of them are pretty… and so on. For most people, it is some sort of combination of these things. My problem is that while I spend my entire life overcompensating in certain aspects (as validated by comparisons, as you put it), one needs a basic minimum in various areas to, not just get by, but get by happily in life. And I’ve (sometimes intentionally) squandered numerous chances to grow in these areas.
    4. I keep highlighting regions of higher personal competence (comparisons, as you put it) not because I mean to put another down, but because it is what keeps me feeling good about myself. It is a bit of personal indulgence which I feel entitled to, because really, I’m not lying. Of course, I could just as well look at some social butterfly type and realize how much she can do that I can’t and feel miserable, but really, what’s the fun in that?
    5. Breaking large blocks of text into paragraphs makes them easier to read.

8,941,171 people conned into wasting their bandwidth.