Grad lessons

I happened to come across my optimization class notes from grad school today. It was my toughest subject in the three semesters, it was the only course I ended with a B for, it was also the class I worked the hardest in (you had to).

It was taught by Prof. Andy Sun and was probably the best course I took, or maybe tied with Le Song’s Machine learning theory. His classes were known to be something else. They transported you to a different world of subspaces and Lagrangians and duals (most of them I remember coherently but might not be able to formulate, but it’s still the best I assimilated of anything). I’m already remembering nights spent on Mecaslin Street in my room, hunched under a desk lamp with my class notes and a textbook from the library.

I spent hours and hours on assignments and always ended up somewhere around the class average when the scores were out. I got used to it, I was already getting much out of it anyway. That’s what I thought at least, though the scores didn’t reflect that (that was new, but refreshing). I always sat in the second row, the first row was mostly folks who knew answers to questions (umm, more like could come up with respectable guesses, that was still admirable if you ask me).

Andy Sun was amazing. My favorite memory is walking with him after class one day to share how I was concerned about my grades. He was known to not emote in class save for chuckling at our horrible guesses (we didn’t mind), but he was surprisingly sweet. Before our final exam, he held an office hour – they were usually hosted by teaching assistants. We huddled around the table, he asked us the assumptions to theorems, walked us through a bunch of questions, as patient as he ever was. It was late fall, and it was dark by the time we got out and stepped into our green trolleys back to Mecaslin street. I remember being extremely emotional that his classes were coming to an end.

On our last day, he shared with us what his (name-drop alert) MIT professor told him – that it wasn’t so important that you are great at something. What’s important is that you always believe that you can do somethingbe something.

I feel like I had that feeling, and so well too, before and while in grad school. Not that I don’t anymore, but the can’s from then seem grounded in a protected, curated world of loving professors and familiar, engaging peers, and 10 storeyed structures built solely for housing generations of students. It’s been 1.5 years since I graduated, and when I saw these notes today I remembered a wholly different person from then. I was also younger and 15 lbs lighter.

I miss sitting in classes like Andy Sun’s, where you are simply blown away by the human mind.


Blog for a Thought

Our minds are crazy. There’s so many fleeting thoughts everyday, every hour. Some we hold on to, some drive us nuts, some simply pass us by. Some days it feels like a miracle that we’re able to function at all, but I guess evolution took care of it. Of course it remains that some of us still have more problematic brains than others, but we do our best.

Today I was thinking about how little I’ve shared of my life in the past 6 months on social media. And how drafts have piled up in this website and have stayed in that folder. Somehow, I feel so much more comfortable sharing my sad thoughts here than happy ones.

I have full page drafts on how ecstatic I have been these past months (although I sprained my ankle 8 weeks ago and only started walking on two feet 2 weeks ago). But the only things I’ve shared on my Instagram page are pictures of me on crutches and my Ibuprofen (RIP, stomach). Nothing of my first time out in 6 weeks – the first thing I did was get in line at a Wendy’s drive-through where I’ve been a regular. Somehow I’ve become so conscious of folks judging my stuff, but specifically of them judging my happiness.

So here we are. A new blog for a new day. I’ll be posting stuff at for a while now, mostly cos I don’t want to add journalesque posts on this website such that it gets cluttered in here.

#25 Postcard – To be grateful for Life – All of It

Colbert says, But this is the only life we have. So how can you only be thankful for parts of it? You have to be thankful for all of it, you don’t get to pick and choose.

I am not sure what you call these sessions in therapy. But I was recently in the stage – and it’s so weird, I can’t tell you if it’s the stage of life or therapy or both – where I was identifying the origins of triggers. Driving is a very common trigger. The issue now is that there are times where I think, Oh that thing I wrote about 4 years ago – that obviously was a projection of something onto something or someone. Or that behavior I spoke about is really telling of something else. I am surprised nobody identified that or spoke to me about it, or did they?

I’m trying hard to answer what Anderson Cooper asked, Am I the person I was meant to be? Didn’t everything that ever happened affect who I am today? Don’t I need people to know that, a mark or a sign on my forehead that says I’m not who I was supposed to become?

To which Colbert replies, But you’re exactly the person you were meant to become.

I think that’s the only answer we know, I don’t think we know the true answer. His theory is that maybe in an alternate reality his father is still alive, he never had to be a parent to his mother, and maybe he’s happier in that version, but definitely different. Colbert says, But this is the only life we have. So how can you only be thankful for parts of it? You have to be thankful for all of it, you don’t get to pick and choose.
All I know is life is imperfect, kindness is hard to practice, especially to self, and I’m trying my best to be thankful for all of it.

Talking about the Blog!

I met Rohit in my CS 7643 Deep Learning class at Georgia Tech. We share a whole bunch of common interests, I’m sort of a private person but I had to jump on it when he asked me to be a part of his new conversation-series Talking to the Moon, to discuss my blog.
He is a great host and does a ton of research for each of his guests (in my case he painfully muscled through an excruciating list of blogposts, I’m sure you as a reader would empathize). We chat through a gamut of topics – from writing to LadyBird to the internet.

The full video is still a cropped one (the original was over an hour long), it was so much fun recording and I hope you guys enjoy this! Below is the trailer, watch the full video here.

Watch the full video here

Introducing BYOTP : Back-to-Office Town Hall

Single-ply, multi-ply – you decide. All that we ask is to show up in office Mon-Wed-Fri. A conversation with the CEO on the new Bring Your Own Toilet Paper policy.

Disclaimer : All incidents are made up, none of the featured characters are human etc. AKA I hope I don’t get fired.

In Conversation With the CEO

Welcome and thankyou for yet another year of great performance and stunning margins. First things first, in keeping with the times, my title will be modified from Chief Executive Good Boi to the more inclusive CEO.
I presume you’ve all read my Back to Office email, I appreciate you showing up here today, we sure are one goodlooking pawnch. (There goes my one and only dog-pun).

Now we have an exciting announcement in store based on feedback we received from you. Before that – Sam, could you run us through the top-voted response to our Back to Office story?

Sam : “Of course. With 578 upvotes, top comment by HoomanIsBae with an o-o reads- “Didn’t we exceed expectations working from home these two years? Not looking forward to returning to the single-ply office TP that tears off after 2 pulls. A puny feline couldn’t work with 2 sheets of that abomination -”

“Thankyou Sam, I thought you’d be giving us the TLDR. Anyway, to answer the question which appears to be of chief pertinence – I understand your sentiments about returning to office.

And we see you being independent, responsible adults here – walking on the grass like it’s nobody’s business, picking up after yourselves – we see all the good work. I ASSURE THAT WE SEE YOU. (It’s a security problem if we don’t and I’ll have I.T. fix the CCTV cams).
And we’d love for you to continue the Good Work! Which is why we have news for you!”

Necks craned, pupils dilated across the room in anticipation and hope as Mr. CEO continued.

“To address what was pointed out from YOUR end, we are initiating a BYOTP policy. Whether you’re furry, bald or thick-skinned, Bring Your Own Toilet Paper!
Single-ply, multi-ply – you decide (and you buy, obviously). All that we ask is to show up in office Mon-Wed-Fri.

The clumsy, rhyming lines appeared on the large screen behind him. Audience exchanged quizzical looks while a few loyal tails wagged ferociously. Clearly he’d missed the point HoomanIsBae and 578 others tried to make, or did he not and was this the best he could do? Corporates are a mystery to me.

“Second row, raising your paw – You have a question for Mr. CEO?”

“So you’re rewarding us by removing Toilet Paper from washrooms?”

“No, we’re rewarding you by letting you bring your own.”

“Erm sure, how about Bring Your Own Bidet (BYOB)? The Afghan Hounds and Asian Shepherds feel 73% more at-home with it. We just ran an audience poll in the last 20 seconds.”

Okay this was tricky and as they say, any stat ending in a 3 must be true.

“I hear you… Let’s start with BYOTP and we’ll get to BYOB eventually. One step at a time, together.”

Awoo’s rose to the ceiling. An Indian Pomeranian wiped their happy tears, nodding, “What a leader.”

“Let’s hear another one, Sam. I know we definitely saw some folks excited about the Return to Office.”

Sam : “Here we go again. StopAskingMeToFetch69 with 6-9 in numeric says – SO GLAD to be back in office, I missed the Chipotle. But now there’s less steak in my burrito cos of long lines at the counter!”

“I’d like to commend StopAskingMeToFetch69 on diversifying to human styles, but my limbs are tied on Chipotle. It is what it is.”

Scattered boos permeated the conference room. “Well now you sound just like John, nobody likes John,” a wizened Husky from the front row flailed and dropped her arms.


“The HR, he no longer sends us bowl treats and our bonus this year was meat flavored gummy bears. We love those but it doesn’t begin to cover inflation.”

Jeez, his own bonus wasn’t gummy bears and even that didn’t cover inflation. Mr. CEO glanced at the floor briefly.

“I see we’re at time so I’ll ignore that completely unless you want a generic managerial response from me. We’ll take one last question.”

Husky wasn’t done, “Can we atleast have a Bring Your Human to Work day? I worry for my human when I’m at work.”

“No, and that’ll be all.” Mr. CEO stepped to the edge of the podium. “To close, we know you had fun at home these 2 long years. Now we let you have fun twice a week. Isn’t that fun?!”

As the crowd walked out, the Pomeranian wiped their eyes still wet from animated glee.

“You know, I might just bring my bidet to work anyway. He told us to have fun at work, didn’t he?”

“Yeah, I’m not leaving my showerhead at home either. Hopefully his cameras don’t work.” LadyBird winked at Jessy, the IT admin.

#24 Postcard – Spring 2022 : PARADISE LOST.

Ugh, that word. When did she start using it? Virtually. For all practical purposes. Bottomline.

It was the later part of the shower and there was hair stuck between the butt. Long even when curled up – definitely came from the head. Add Get a trim to a new list maybe?

It feels so weird to not keep a list after so long. Maybe a visit to Portland would be nice, Portlandia was a good show and Fred Armisen is awesome. Come to think of it, even that guy is a sex addict and a cheater. People lose it when celebrities ask to be treated as humans, unless it’s Mithila Palkar.

Sunday loomed over her to the point that even Saturday shower turned dull. Of course it was still fun if she was out and about. But that was part of the problem. What about the inside? She was now one of those people she always had suspicions about – is there too much or too little going on in your head that you either can’t nor need to sit down with your thoughts?
Why didn’t the therapist hear about this?

There were two guys she was meeting, they didn’t know about each other but it didn’t matter. In this age of parents owning up to occasionally despising their little monsters and of loyal spouses that keep mind-whores, this was allowed right? RIGHT? They all begin with the same Any luck on the app? (nobody has met anyone nice ever, where are all the good folks?). Each one ends differently. That should be a writeup – a hundred ends to the same beginning. But really they all had the same abysmal end. Virtually.

Ugh, that word. When did she start using it? Virtually. For all practical purposes. Bottomline. Favored by ends-justify-means folks, invalidating experiences and events. Used often to draw comparisons, oftener to talk business, or to close with a ruthless fact. Virtually needs better contexts.
Why is the adverb so different from the adjective anyway?

There is a bit in John Mulaney’s standup – the one good thing coming to Texas this March – where he says I don’t even know what my body is for at this point, other than to carry my head from place to place.
Sounds about right. All the scrubbing, peeling, moisturizing, epilating and washing up only to carry a head from place to place seems absurd yet almost true. For dancers the body is their device so that would make sense. What was it to her at this point, anyway? And the body definitely couldn’t keep up with her mind.

Mulaney was 35 (and married) when that comedy special came out. 35 year old men regardless of their marital status shouldn’t be treated to an audience for their chaos, unless you’re Mulaney and/or funny. At least virtually.

A debacle in the Land of some Dreams

Note : They/their is singular in the writeup and to preserve identity

“Good morning! How ARE you?” That came out more cheery than I expected, staring at our names pasted on two adjacent rectangles on the screen.

“Not too good. Things aren’t so well in the family.” What? They’re American. Aren’t they supposed to know the Good morning-I’m good-How about you dance?

“Oh I’m sorry. I hope everything is fine.” Never intrusive. Always optimistic. Clearly ignoring the ill detail that was just shared aka would they like to modify their response? I’d nailed it by the book.
Don’t judge me, it wasn’t my book.

“Hmm I don’t think so.” – never thought I’d see a day of such candor and yet here we were. Why wasn’t B joining the call and why was I held hostage to this slight overshare, a definite inconvenience in the first world?

“It’s been a while, I don’t think it’ll be fine soon”. Don’t get me wrong, I did feel sorry for this person. But that was overpowered by the time they said my faulty audio sounded like I was in a tin can, and such other misplaced passive-aggressiveness.
It’s always them behind the bad attitude and never your internet. That shit hasn’t changed since high school.

I was reminded then of that introvert who took a job in Netherlands and moved there to avoid small talk. While here the small talk was elevated to medium talk, it felt good and uncomfortable at the same time, and I hoped I’d never subjected anyone to such discomfort.

Who was I kidding?

And whose book is it anyway?

Mental Health, Introverts, Conversation

I’ll be fucked if this is some transitory phase from being an introvert to extroversion. Please tell me it isn’t.

At the beginning of this year or even three months ago I couldn’t have imagined that I’d be writing this. Yet here we are.

Two weeks ago, I met somebody on a dating app (what else is new?). I would write about the guy, but let’s focus on me as we always do so nobody is scared off by this article.

He called himself a conversationalist and over a first-call asked me a bunch of questions.

I knew the questions. I knew he was trying to figure me out before he told me that, because a 25-year old me had tried it and then stopped. It’s a fairly straightforward exercise where you ask somebody a simple question, and listen.

Except really, while it is story-telling, it’s still a conversation between two people. You are on the other side ensuring they like talking through it while respecting boundaries, but most importantly retaining genuine interest in what they have to say.

Narcissists usually indulge since your interest is construed as recognition of their brilliance. But unless their jobs depended on it, the worst has to be a person who asks you that stuff only to get in your good faith, or to fit you into a familiar box. They neither want nor deserve your story, they’d probably be happy with the lukewarm one-liner you reserve for a coffee-shop greeting. Which is why bless the introverts who don’t play that game.

Well, unless our jobs depended on it.

So I love listening, but it’s my turn to speak. And then I realized my mind was a mess.

Before I could finish one half-formed thought I was reaching for another. This was new to me because behavioral interviews have been my thing, because I’d spend too much time in my head, and I usually have some idea as to what lies in there or atleast always trusted myself to follow a train of thought to arrive somewhere intelligible.
Without it, I’ve been trying struggling to define what I might be.*

So I say, I’d usually enjoy this, but this is just a bad time. And I briefly mention anxiety.

Sometimes I drive so I don’t have to listen to my thoughts. And that seems like a bad reason to do anything, especially if pushing down on the accelerator makes you feel better about drowning out the mess.

I think the irony is that mental health was my priority for half a decade, staying attentive to when I need to sleep in or go out or meet people or be compulsively active. I hear people say it can be horrible to spend time inside your head. You know what? That was today, it will be better tomorrow, and the day after I would be gushing about how wonderful my life is, just like Sunday and the whole week before that.

The mind is a scary place, you’d think you know exactly what’s going on and have no idea what’s been brewing up in there or for how long.

PS: I’ll be fucked if this is some transitory phase from being an introvert to extroversion. Please tell me it isn’t.

PPS: I know we’re all adults here but to be safe, this isn’t about talking but about talking talking.

* that was a train of thought. Phew. I’m proud.

#23 Postcard – Driving and Grocery Store Dates

There’s a scene in LadyBird where LabyBird drives a car for the first time through familiar streets of her Sacramento home. She talks about how everything feels different when you’re driving past them.
I had that feeling last Sunday as I drove through my neighborhood streets.

On my way back from office today, Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now started playing on the radio. I had just taken the final turn from a 6-lane to a 4-lane to my apartment, it was a long 5 mile stretch. I didn’t need the GPS anymore which meant I could finally enjoy the music playing – if you’re a baby driver taking on traffic on a war footing everyday, you might relate.

There’s a scene in LadyBird where LabyBird drives a car for the first time through familiar streets of her Sacramento home. She talks about how everything feels different when you’re driving past them.
I had that feeling last Sunday as I drove through the streets near my place.

It wasn’t extraordinary. I missed being able to halt by neighborhood roads in the morning (because there’s no shoulder here for the most part and no parking on the sides, ugh first-world problems). It was Halloween weekend, some of my teammates were in office with families and that was probably a more interesting place to be. I came to know from Bryan later that that was on Saturday.

But it is magical at night when I drive the roads at 15mph.
The city is almost shameless in its sprawl, yet the narrower byroads are too charming in Texas, like suburban paved streets interspersed with familial nothingness. They feel like home, the church-fronts are filled with kids in the morning (or a wedding party), and the extensive parking lots are empty and welcoming at night. Lit-up reindeers smile from front lawns of houses tucked away from the main roads, and family cars crowd the streets on weekends. On a related note, some of the houses also bring to mind Virginia the movie with an unkempt front porch, but I’ll let that one slide.

On Sundays, I clearly match this town’s energy.

Everyone dresses like it’s Sunday everyday here, but especially on Sunday. (I’m constantly overdressed in this state).

In Atlanta we’d visit the local Target, a 10-min walk away, a couple of times during the week. If you’re remotely well-dressed, some also-welldressed guy would try to chat you up or a 5’3” dude would ask if you needed help in reaching the shelves. (I’m 5’2.5” for context). There’d always be someone who had clearly just moved to the city, their trolley overflowing with dinner sets and soap dispensers. My local Target here though is filled with young moms and working women like me. All dressed up still, but I miss Atlanta. I was clearly too cocky for my own good during my time there.

Also we need more dates happening in grocery stores! My own Modern Love chapter, I am positive, will be during a run at Target.

Afterwards, Chandelier by Sia came on. I was 2 minutes away from my apartment complex, in the two-lane towered by tall trees and houses with large front porches.

I sometimes dread our parking, but this time I got a nice spot on the 3rd floor. Here we are 🙂

The 5AM hour

Hours before daybreak belong to television lights thrown on younger faces asleep on couches, parents driving teenagers to tuition classes and early morning goodbyes.

Hours before daybreak belong to television lights thrown on younger faces asleep on couches, reflections flying past their curtains into the damp, sickly air. Parents that drive their teenagers to tuition classes for lessons they’re happy to forget about until they drive their own in a few decades.

It is the hour of early morning goodbyes in presence of a thoughtfully packed bag that doesn’t quite belong nor assume relevance until a few hours. Amidst stolen moments of delight at an infant air that speaks hope and possibilities in a way the approaching noisy day cannot.

The exam in three months? You’ll crack it. The messy long-distance relationship? It will be okay. The project you have a deadline for today afternoon? There’s plenty of time, and you know what they say about the early bird. (They say it has a false perception of time).

It is the hour of walking past gym-goers in a world of their own behind glass walls. The hour before tea and coffee, where everything seems a little less unequal, a little more messy, real.

If I were home it’d be the hour to appreciate a peaceful dawn before sweat-stained morning drowns it in bus honks and handbags clutched to chests. To be proud to belong to the land of (good-looking) temples, to be thankful for the smell of agarbati everyday at daybreak, and the person responsible for it.

Most of all, the 5am hour belongs to the “You can call me anytime sir/madam” guy who will not solve any of your issues in life, but whose constant uneasiness somehow convinces you whatever is plaguing you isn’t as bad as his own.

(I wrote this while waiting outside Texas Driver License Center yesterday morning, I heard that “You can call me” line one too many times.)

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