Sunlit Water

October 31, 2009


Filed under: Personal — by teofilo @ 9:11 pm

I don’t know why I’ve been having such a hard time lately.  School has been fine, but it feels like I can’t handle anything else I have to do.  I did finally get my insurance card, which meant I could finally refill my antidepressant prescription.  Probably my current depressive state is due to the weeks I spent without the pills while I was waiting for the card, and while I’ve now started taking them again, I know it’ll be a little while before the full effect kicks in.

Still, though, it seems like I can’t get any major things done.  The latest crisis was precipitated by finding out that my driver’s license expired a couple days ago.  This doesn’t have much direct effect on my life, since I don’t drive and I rarely get carded when I buy alcohol, but it was just a shock and a reminder that I’d been meaning to go to the DMV and get a NJ license for residency purposes for months now but never got around to it.  So now I’m just going to go over there on Monday with as much paperwork as I can gather and hope they’ll accept an expired out-of-state license as a valid form of ID.

This isn’t a big deal, but it just highlights for me how little progress I’ve made on these life-outside-of-school things.  Unlike in past school experiences, I have been able to develop a reasonable social life for myself, so that’s a plus, but otherwise I’m really struggling.

The main thing is that I really need to find a job.  I have plenty of money to live on for now, but it definitely won’t last any longer than the end of this semester, and ideally I’d like to get some source of income set up before then.

It’s not that there’s any shortage of jobs, as far as I can tell.  My school has all these research centers that hire graduate students, and I applied for a couple of positions that were advertised early in the semester and didn’t get them.  Okay, fair enough.  I think it’s particularly competitive to get these positions this year, since the bad economy has resulted in so many more people going to grad school.  My cohort is the biggest anyone at the school can remember, apparently.  Also because of the economy, a lot of these people have relevant undergraduate degrees and/or years of relevant experience, which makes them obviously better choices for these jobs than someone like me.  I could definitely do the work for most of these positions, but there’s nothing in my resume that makes me look particularly qualified.  So it’s not really surprising that I didn’t get any of the advertised positions.

There were only a few of them, though, and it seems like most people actually get these jobs by making connections with the professors who run the centers (or something).  This puts me at a serious disadvantage, because while the professors teaching my classes seem pretty impressed with me, they also don’t seem to have the right connections to any of these centers to help me out with this.  (I haven’t actually talked to any of them about this; it’s just the impression I get.)

Obviously the solution is to reach out to the professors who do run these centers, and I know that’s what I need to do.  For whatever reason, though, I just can’t bring myself to do that.  I’ve been having a really hard time feeling like I belong at the school.  In class I’ve been able to adjust pretty well, but it took me weeks to be comfortable going to the student lounge or the computer lab.  I feel like I’ve somehow lost all of my self-confidence, and my shyness and self-consciousness has taken over completely.  I know I need to snap out of it, but I just can’t.

I guess I just didn’t realize how much I was going to have to advocate for myself here.  I’m not generally happy to accept help or guidance, but I feel like I need some right now.  I guess I was expecting the school to be offering me tons of guidance and that I would be resisting that, but instead the school isn’t pushing any help on me.  I know I can get guidance on all of this if I seek it out, but that’s exactly what I feel totally incapable of doing right now.

I just wish someone would show some interest in me and, like, ask me how I’m doing or something.  I feel like I don’t have anyone to talk to about any of this, which I guess is why I’m now pouring my heart out to the internet.

The thing is, though, that it’s clearly just my lack of initiative that’s standing in my way here.  I guess (and I’m kind of working through this as I write, so it may not all make sense) I feel uncomfortable being a student again, not in that I don’t like going to class or doing homework, but in that I don’t like being in that sort of low-ranking position within the school after working in an atmosphere where I was treated as an equal by pretty much everyone.  I’m really reluctant to overstep any hidden boundaries to what is considered appropriate behavior for students, but I don’t know what those boundaries are, so I just don’t do anything and avoid everyone.

The thing is, I know that if I could just put myself out there somehow, people would recognize that I do belong here and that I do have talents that are valued.  The problem is that none of those talents can really come through without me really trying to sell myself, which is not something I’m comfortable doing.  I don’t want to be a supplicant.  I guess I sort of got used to people coming to me, and I’m having a hard time adjusting to a situation where I have to go to them.

Several times in recent social situations people have asked me questions about things that I happen to know a lot about, and when I answered they seemed really impressed with both my depth of knowledge and my ability to present it.  I feel like those are the skills I have that I’ve really developed recently and that I have to offer.  They’re not the only skills I have, but they’re the ones I have that are easiest to show.  I don’t know how many of the possible jobs out there would really utilize these skills, but I’m sure there are some.

I feel like I’m surrounded by all these go-getters who are really ambitious and motivated.  They have all this relevant background and experience and they’re here to save the world.  Many of them, especially those from New Jersey, are also very loud and pushy in a way peculiar to a certain type of person from New Jersey.  I can’t compete with that.  I’m quiet and shy and skeptical about a lot of this “save the world” stuff.  I’m sure I’ll be able to find my niche here at some point, but it’s turning out to be a lot harder than I was expecting.

I’m not really asking for advice here.  This post is long and rambling, and I’ve mostly been writing it because I feel like I need to get some of this stuff out and this is the easiest place to do it.  I do feel a little better after writing it, so there’s that.


October 21, 2009


Filed under: Academia,Personal — by teofilo @ 10:51 pm

I had my first midterm today.  It was pretty easy.  It also brought me back to a situation I’ve been in a lot when it comes to test-taking.

I not only test well, which seems to be pretty common among my internet acquaintances, but I also test fast.  I’m almost always the first person done with a test, sometimes by a considerable margin.  Since I’m also shy and self-conscious, this usually means I end up sitting there with my completed test until someone else finishes and hands theirs in, which tends to embolden me to turn mine in too and get the hell out of the room.  Today I finished the test, which had a three-hour period set aside for it, in about an hour, and then waited about half an hour until a couple other people had turned theirs in before I turned in mine.  My roommate, who is also in the class, later told me that most of the remaining people turned theirs in shortly afterward, so I may not have been the only person doing this.

I do tend to get good grades on these tests, but even when I don’t do particularly well I finish quickly (sometimes I just don’t know the answer to a question, and there’s no use agonizing over it).  I often wonder, though, just what all the other people in these tests are doing for so long.  Am I really that unusual in finishing so quickly?  I emphasize that it’s not that I’m particularly well-prepared or anything.  This seems to happen regardless of how well I’ve studied or how well  I know the material.

October 18, 2009

Times Change

Filed under: Personal,Politics — by teofilo @ 6:31 pm

Matt Yglesias has an interesting post on Israel where he discusses how his own Zionist consciousness was formed in the “Oslo era” of the nineties, when Israeli politics was dominated by secular social democrats earnestly engaged in the peace process and secular liberal American Jews strongly supported them.  I’m a little younger than Matt, but my own understanding of the situation developed at around the same time under similar circumstances.  In retrospect, it turned out to be something of a dead-end and even an aberration in the course of the long and tragic history of Israeli-Palestinian relationship, but at the time there was a real feeling of hope and a sense that the violence and nationalism of the past was drawing to a close.  After being introduced to the issue in that frame, the subsequent total collapse of the peace process into chaotic violence and extremism was a really crushing blow, and I think it really left the American Jewish left feeling lost about what to do.  Personally I’ve gone a bit further down the road of rejecting Zionism entirely than most others in my camp, but even people like my mom, who remains both steadfastly Zionist and strongly opposed to the approach of the contemporary Israeli right, seem very dispirited about the way things have gone and unsure about whether or how they can be set right.

I think this is the best context in which to understand what J Street represents and who it is speaking for.  There are a lot of people out there who really want to return to where we were fifteen years ago, and while both American and Israeli politics have shifted in a way that makes that not quite possible at this point, there have been some faint glimmers of hope recently that make an organization explicitly advocating an anti-AIPAC, anti-Likud, pro-peace agenda really attractive to a big segment of the American Jewish population.

October 6, 2009


Filed under: Personal,Politics — by teofilo @ 4:44 pm

I just called the New Jersey voter registration hotline to check if the registration application I mailed in went through, and it turns out it did.  It’s just taking a while to process them this time of year because there’s an election coming up.  So that’s good.

October 5, 2009

Bicycles For All

Filed under: Transportation — by teofilo @ 4:35 pm

This discussion of bicycling in Denmark is interesting, and it reminds me of a similar dynamic that I’ve encountered here in New Jersey.  In my immediate area (Highland Park and New Brunswick), distances and infrastructure are such that pretty much everything you need is easily accessible by walking, and that’s how I get around.  All those things are, however, much more quickly and easily accessible by biking, so lots of people bike.  While in many parts of the US biking is associated with a certain socioeconomic group, here, as apparently in Denmark, it’s much more widespread.  Lots of cyclists are the expected young, educated white people, mostly Rutgers students and faculty, but at least as many are Mexican immigrants of all ages, and a broad cross-section of other parts of society is also represented.  Unlike in Denmark, however, the transportation system here isn’t designed for bikes at all.  The roads are narrow and crowded, and I have yet to see one with any sort of bike lane, so people mostly bike on the sidewalk, which is also narrow and crowded.  Everything’s just on a very small scale, and while plenty of the roads are oriented toward cars, very few were designed for the amount of traffic they now get.  The traffic jams in Highland Park are absurd for such a small town.  This, however, actually makes biking even more attractive in some ways, since it means that for a great many trips biking is not only faster than walking, it’s also faster than driving.  The driving force behind all of this, however, is just the density and socioeconomic profile of the area, not any deliberate policy choices to encourage biking, which makes it sound much like the pre-1970s Danish situation.  Obviously rather few places in the US are like this, so the general implications are probably fairly limited, but it’s interesting to see the dynamics in action.

October 4, 2009

One Down

Filed under: Personal — by teofilo @ 1:18 am

Well, I finally got through to PSE&G to ask why I never got any sort of follow-up after signing up on their website.  I’ve tried to call several times but always ended up getting put on hold forever, so I figured I’d have a better chance if I called late at night.  It worked, but I was still put on hold for five minutes before I got to speak with someone.  Makes me wonder how many people are calling the electric company at 1:00 am on a Sunday, but whatever.  The guy was very helpful and confirmed that my name was on the account, although he didn’t have any explanation for why I hadn’t heard anything or gotten any bills.  He said the September bill had been generated, and that he would send me a duplicate copy since I don’t seem to have received it.  So here’s hoping it comes.

Assuming it does, that takes care of the most crucial of my various problems settling in.  Now I just need to tackle voter registration and health insurance.

Update: Turns out Aetna has a convenient online form for submitting questions to customer service, and “request insurance card” is one of the predefined categories.  So I’ve taken care of that one too.

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