It's funny; life is full and rich here now. Not without its lonely, sad, exhausting moments, to be sure. And I'm still getting to know people -- it's slower when you don't all live in the same dorm, work on class projects until 2am, and have been thrown together into an intense new world you've never navigated before. Now I study with adult learners. Some of my classmates wonder how I manage to have so much energy, do so many things -- and it's true that I still love the thrill of living inside something that I'm learning, but I can; I'm younger and don't have a family or a mortgage. I actually admire and try to learn from their focus and their balance, because having rest periods of sustainability will let me do my deep dives long and hard into the learning that I love for many, many years.
It's an interesting contrast, being one of the younger people in my program (and certainly one of the most explosively energetic, with interests spotted throughout seemingly random bits of campus) and then one of the oldest dancers in the company. They want to go on bar crawls and do all-night dance marathons for charity; in those times, I find myself being the one thinking that would be fun, but I don't want to do that and get up the next morning! I value balance too.
I'm becoming more aware of how various things affect my mental and physical performance -- and the two are also intertwined. I haven't systematically worked to the edge of my limits before; I've always just sort of run hell-bent at them, slamming hard against my capabilities, abusing the tremendous healing capacity of the teenage body to recover from most kinds of collapse. I've pitched over the edge and burnt out, so I've found those limits -- and then charged sloppily back up against them and burnt out again. Now I'm learning control. Not timidity; not a drawing-into the safe world -- but restraint, precision, observation, watching where I am, monitoring where I'm landing. I still fall, but I've practiced rolling, and I pay more careful attention to my healing times.
The steadiness of training and learning is wonderful, and coming more and more into my body just amazes me. I can not only cartwheel, I can do so over someone else's back, though it still feels scary and unnatural. I can still dive into a roll, but favor my right shoulder over my left, just like I switch direction more easily into a right-footed stance and shuffle left (pushing off my right leg) more fluently than right -- I need to train my awkward side. I can almost do an unaided chin-up; pushups with good form are getting lighter, I enjoy deadlifts, my spins need work, I hesitate to pitch myself off-balance.
Being around people who have and expect physical adventurousness has been a great thing. Last night in rehearsal, Kelley had us partner and improvise, and I was bundled into a quartet with three of the guys. We looked at each other for ideas and shrugged, and Mike lay down to rest -- I stepped up and planted his feet on my hip, said "catch me!" and lunged forward, back straight and legs inline, and he hoisted me up -- "Now toss her out!" called Dallan from behind us, and Mike kicked and my arms flew out into a T and Dallan caught me as I fell back and then swept me back up onto my toes and I thought whoa I'm improvising weight-bearing with other people. Still new. Still scary. Learning fast and coming a long way quickly.
Ethan and Cal say my squats and deadlifts and such are coming along nicely -- beautiful form. Time to add weight. I can get my shoulder muscles working in the right ways when I grip the bar, and I can tell when they're not there -- tonight my right rhomboid refused to fire. But now I know what to do. Take a ball and roll it against the wall this way; stretch like that, try a light set on my own, bent over, maybe holding a book for a few pounds of weight. I can tune my body more and more fluently each week.
And as I do that, I learn how to pace my mind. I can read papers for hours at a stretch, but it's not sustainable; my brain does blow out without realizing it. But I can read a paper and take notes, then do pushups in my living room, then type those notes into Zotero, then get water and cook some lunch, then take another paper...
And knowledge is starting to web out and make sense in a different way now -- papers I read are starting to draw themselves into a web, authors are starting to become clearer nodes, moving through the web in time. Of course Schoen's point on metacognition is obvious to us now; he wrote it as a direct response to the rational thought paradigm. How nice of Dorst to point that out -- but his paper is tentative too; look over here at these two papers that were actually bold enough to set down classifications, and see how this one has a defensive tone against a tougher audience, where the writing of this one can relax... last night when I read Svinicki's paper (the one I drew the comic for), my mind went through a series of familiar blossomings; I've read this paper that she mentioned, plus at least two or three more by the same author -- ah yes, of course, of course -- mind diving deeper, coming back, strengthening the web.
I've begun to be bold enough to write some researchers whose work I'm interested in, asking questions -- and they reply with thoughtful answers, more related papers to read, yes-I'll-be-at-this-conference-let's-talk. I'm learning how to navigate this world. I recognize the feeling; it's the sense of "yes, I'm getting this system" that I learned how to deliberately and quickly get in the open source world, the spidey sense that gave me whatever community cultivation powers I had. It grows a little differently here, and much more slowly, and you have to be more careful because of that -- and I can't yet articulate most of the things I'm learning. But it's starting. It will take a long time. The sense of skill I have in this small bit of academia after a bit more than a year feels like the place I'd be at in an open source project after a month -- it seems to go 15 times slower, so in another 6 or 7 years I should be reasonably adept, and I'll be able to really start rockin' it around my 40th birthday if I keep this up.
But maybe I will have taken gaps and breaks. A year to go around the world. A couple months to build a huge clay oven in the backyard of my house -- the one with large wooden floors and a baby grand piano, wall-to-wall bookshelves in at least one room, whiteboard paint, machine shop access, dozens of sneakers piled by the front door (Asian home: no shoes inside!) and the happy busy chatter of the students whose sneakers they belong to as they chop vegetables from the garden so we can grill them on skewers outside. I don't know! 40's still young -- there are so many options!
The RHIPE group starts splitting from the R programming class on Tuesday; I've skimmed enough of the Hadoop book and the paper Dr. Cleveland handed out to know that I'll be fine madly improvising my way through it. That feels good. Driving to Illinois this morning, I realized why my radio was sounding scratchy -- one or both of my hearing aid transducers was saturating, hadn't made that connection before! I twiddled some knobs; it sounded better. Still working on that, but I know how. Forearm muscles a bit tense typing this post; I'll rub them out in just a moment. I'm hungry enough to eat; I know what I'll have and how it's going to affect me. I'm awkward with so many things -- trying to figure out the deaf identity and access stuff, struggling with regular writing and fellowship apps, nervous about my quals, still heavy-handed with data. But I'm launching, crashing, learning, rebounding. Deep practicing as much as I can. It is exhausting. It feels good. I try to rest enough, these days. Sometimes I even sleep 8 hours. I'm learning how to do enough work that I do sleep long and deeply, and I'm learning how to rest enough to do even more fiendishly difficult work -- you gotta take care of yourself to do those things.
Tonight I'll land in Boston and see old friends around a bonfire, and it will be tough to balance Olin's reunion with so many other things (I've got a ton of work to do) but I will do it. I know how. I can monitor this; it's not easy, but I can.
I love the feeling of growing up. It's such a liberating thing, this learning.