Saturday April 2nd
- So I wanted to post for April Fool’s but decided to skip it, although one of my Maths profs says he has typically been known to include “solutions” links for April Fool’s that rickroll his students.
- I ended my day by hanging out with some Math friends, at all places, a bar in downtown Burlington. Very interesting is the fact that every time I’ve hung out with people here, they’ve been grateful because they know I like to work and rarely come out. But it was fun and I got to settle in with a glass of wine, knowing I was planning on sleeping in anyways.
- Also very funny that on the way out with one of my Maths friends, he asked if I was going home to hit the books and I casually responded “yeah most likely” and he laughed. That would pretty much still be me, even with a glass of wine in me.
- I have a couple things in the works and had to get into some summer planning stuff this week, ended a mentorship, started another one and had a conversation with a cryptography peer that ended up being one of the highlights for me this week. My friend is finishing up their degree, so it’s great to hear that perspective. Honestly, as I’ve told my peers at school, I find myself not quite in tune with what is going on at my own institution, since apparently I’m involved in a lot more groups outside (with the exception of the Pure Maths grad group, but even then I’m not properly a Pure Maths grad student, so I am shielded from some aspects of their lives at our institution eg. internal bureaucracy, etc).
- I did get a little taste of it this week because we’re going to a conference this month (a group of us) and our funding has to be separate because although I’m super involved with their group, I am not properly a student in their group, so my funding situation is a different department. So it’s very circuitous, but this is the life. And to be honest, it’s a small inconvenience for one of the best spaces I’ve been in, in a long time.
- And just as those pursuing careers in film (or Academia), it is difficult to make a dent in the world. Things are unfair in both worlds, and some come in with advantages others don’t. For example, I knew persons who came in with substantial access to funding, to start off by producing their own film (of course that they could put themselves in), and others who could barely afford a head shot, and had to work for whatever they could get. Similarly, there are some schools with staff working at the Oscars and those staff will recruit interns so those students have their initial experience on their resume as having worked at the Oscars (a huge deal); I have friends who have had this privilege. Eventually, you can (just as in Academia), ask yourself if you even have a chance if you didn’t do grad school at AFI or whatever, but then comparisons continue; even within my friends who attended those institutions, some went on to success (I have friends who have obtained Emmy awards who are alumni of that school), and others who are still struggling. So there are so many similarities in those paths, and similarly, the same issues of underrepresentation in certain perspectives, because just like in Academia, many “breaks” are obtained by people who see “a bit of themselves in you”. I was fortunate to obtain a mentor in the first 14 days of arriving (four of us were hand-picked: one still does the Oscars or has his own firm by now, another is a consultant at one of the top companies for consulting after doing an MBA at an Ivy and obtaining a patent along the way, etc, but we all started out in lighting and I was the only female / non-white person of the group. There is an infamous photo we took after we all had dinner at this restaurant in Brentwood while one in the group was assistant lighting the Nickelodeon awards, where we went up to Mulholland Drive as the sun was going down. We were all on our way back then.), who really looked after me and is still a mentor today, but for some, they never have the opportunity. As my friend also reminded me when I returned to Trinidad, a lot of my family is known in the Arts as well, so I had certain privileges. Even then, I think it’s more worthwhile for the person who wants it more; create a space for them rather than the person for whom it was a shoe in (although they can both coexist, but they should learn from each other’s paths). They both bring interesting perspectives to the table.
- I was reflecting on this, particularly with my friend this week, about how I would probably never go back to any of those spaces I had been in before (including let’s see camera, lighting, concept design, etc); that ship has mostly sailed for me and I don’t think about it much at all, nor do I reminisce with “what ifs”. I’ve really found my fit with this area, and this just seems like the path for me. Things seem to be working out really well, in a way that is not painful, and I’m eternally surprised by how much I don’t stress over things I used to outside of doing this. I was very, very unhappy in film; absolutely miserable, but I was probably on the happier end of “miserable” of most out there, which is funny. I brought my wit with me, and I was liked for that (especially by the teamsters! We like her! Many saw me as a daughter to them, checking up on what I ate for breakfast, making sure I was happy and treated properly because it’s tough to be one of the the only females in that world; often “properly” meant they made sure some new lunkhead on their team wasn’t being mean to me, saying “she’s cool. We take care of her!”), as well as the fact that I was (and still am) “tough as nails”. No one talks about how this is how most people are there; unhappy. It is not a happy space, because you are constantly comparing yourself to your peers, wondering if people will call you for a gig, etc. What we see as “success” in that field is often those slivers of highs, and they are fleeting in that world. But there are mostly swings of unhappiness, and people become very bitter, and it’s a scary thing to see in that world, because you are, in a very raw way, dealing with seeing people confront broken dreams, and for whom there is nothing left to pursue. It’s all around you, which in itself makes the environment very soul-sucking and depressing. Even for those who appear to be “successful”, believe me; their dreams were probably wayyyy above what you were seeing (or fell short in their minds. This extends to other things like their relationships; there are so many broken marriages and people hooked on addictions to quell the pain. I ran across a quote an actress friend in her 70s told me in 2013, which is that “people leave Hollywood when they can’t take the pain of rejection anymore; no one forces them out”. Ouch!). I always remember a producer who came to my home country when I was a teenager to talk about his career; I made contact with him when I arrived in LA to thank him, and his response was to say he was leaving and that he was “happy to get the heck out of this place”. That was shocking. I later also met another director (who is very well known but I won’t share the name) who I had met after asking him if he thought going to school was worth it; I had written him before I attended college. I met this director in person finally at a movie theatre on the lot of Paramount; his movie was in the running for Oscar nomination. I had told him about our encounter and his response was that he was happy I had made it out here and hoped it was treating me well, but he was incredibly worried for the entire time and kept asking me if I thought the movie was okay, like he was looking at me (barely out of college) for validation, to quell his deepest fears. It was a weird experience and it has always been strange that I have had the privilege to achieve a chunk of my dreams and realize it wasn’t what I wanted. Anyways, I am happy to have left before I saw myself become that, and with my youthtful joy and passion and curiosity. Many of my friends look at me from that world and they see me as a success, because it’s clear that I am doing well today (something something people in your world make a lot. I remember just before I left for an internship, a camera man came to pick up a package at a place I was dogsitting, and he was complaining that someone he knew was working at a place I would later intern, and he angrily said to me “I think he’s rich”. A manager of a place I worked thought that software people make “so much damned money” lol, too; probably because in the film world, they would try to find a reason to underpay people for that job, and the market is such in tech that you can’t get away with doing that; people would just walk away and go to another place that pays more competitively, especially as their skills grow. Good thing I didn’t mention that I was interviewing and eventually worked at that very place lol.) and outside of my occasional rantings about academia, I seem pretty happy. Not to say there isn’t pain (there is in every field in which you are making your way, especially in very competitive ones like the fields I have been in; all of the fields I have been in have been very cutthroat, which is why I think software engineering as a career is less appealing to me), but it makes sense the most. I’ve always felt like becoming a software engineer afterwards would be such a safe path in comparison to everything I’ve ever done in my life, so I’m walking on the gangplank of research for now.
- When I was in film, I was often frustrated by how anti-intellectual everything was; I was an oddball in that sense. It is an occupation where you can literally be working on a crew next to someone who has a questionable background and not know it, and I experienced a lot of abusive behavior because of this. When qualifications can’t be checked and people can fudge things to get the job (ie money to pay rent), people try to make up this insecurity (especially having to work next to a black, competent female crew member) in a number of ways, including hazing. And these people skip from gig to gig, even though everyone knows they are incompetent. I breathe a sigh of relief every time I realize that this is less possible in my current space; the bar is higher than a breathing test.
- There is something about Hollywood and working in that space that makes you replay failures over and over in your head, even when you are considered “successful”. It’s a very dangerous place to be in if you are a perfectionist and an A-type personality. So naturally, people like that gravitate there, as do persons who seek validation. Oh wait…the same might be said for Academia haha.
- Btw, no one really goes from hauling cables and repairing fixtures to like, doing a PhD in computer science and stuff, so I’m definitely one of those random stories people in that world go wtf at occasionally, and I always laugh about it (“yeah, what ever happened to her? I don’t see her on sets anymore”). Most of the persons I know didn’t spend as much time in that world; they quickly did IT or whatever (web dev, etc), while I was still slogging around, learning the technical filmmaking craft. One of my friends said the other day that there was NO one like me and nor will there ever be in that world, and they miss how kick@$$ I was (in my mind, I had reached my limit for learning / growing in that world). But now we know why (shrug).
- Just like Academia, in film it’s an accomplishment to even just still be there. A friend of mine was celebrating this week that he finally obtained his permanent residency (and as an extraordinary alien!), but he has had to claw his way through, and a part of me deep down wants him to make it. But I know that there is also a bit of luck involved, too. I’m excited to see what’s next for him, now that he has more freedom and that he’s still there. It’s true, though; you can go to any crew sheet from 5 years ago and look up people who were on there, and look them up on LinkedIn and it is pretty much a given that persons are either still plugging along or at least half have left the biz entirely (the states they go to are pretty wild, too. Like, okay, the person who did sound for this now lives in Iowa and works at Staples as a general manager? Okay then.)
- A friend of mine who attended Berkeley got me into reading philosophy books in-between takes on the back of our electrician’s truck. He fluctuates between doing comedy and tech (which is why I don’t believe in putting people into singular boxes; you can live “between” two groups / passions), but was properly frustrated by that aspect of that world. He’s always trying to reconcile his love for comedy with the frustration of how unintellectual the sausage factory of the film industry is. It’s a tradeoff that I was very happy to leave behind, and in a way I never fit because I am an intellectual, and being an intellectual is very lonely in that world. I used to read books in the morning on Architecture, Automotive Lighting and Electricial Codes (the resistor codes), in a Ralph’s grocery store across the street from where I worked, at the seating at a Jamba Juice. It was an escape for me from a life of anti-intellectualism or rather, pseudo-intellectualism, but I would never have anyone to talk to about the things I read. I do now and it makes me incredibly happy.
- One of the things I did learn from that world was about paths. A friend of mine this week really liked what I said when we were discussing this concept of being an intellectual and generating ideas. I said that that immediately reminded me of the film industry, where most persons think that to have a career,they need to suck up to execs at big studios (ha..this can be related to some large tech research companies, too, I guess. The truth is that if you have something they can’t ignore, they’ll kiss up to you). But the truth is that for most, a career is built by slogging in smaller, no-nothing films, and as people move up and get bigger and bigger breaks, they take people they like working with along. So say, in 10 years, with a handful of lucky breaks, you end up getting your union card and working on large movies. Of course, there are other things involved, like the roster and such nonsense like that, which has some element of luck to it, but my point still stands. What matters most is sticking things out and growing a network of your peers. Who do you like working with? Who brings a perspective that you would like to continue working with?
- With that being said, you still need to evaluate if it makes sense. In my case, along the way, I kept getting several clues that “I was better than this”, and while I can’t pass judgment, it was moreso that I kept running into persons who literally told me this, or eventually I had gotten the point where a friend told me that she “couldn’t understand 99%” of what I was saying; it just went over her head. So I realized it wasn’t my tribe and that the ride was coming to an end, even though these people would always be part of my support group, my peers. And even today, I celebrate their wins. For some, it’s been a LONG time coming. Ten, twenty years before any recognition. I guess the same can be said for Academia, too, though.
- This week had me reflecting on some of those things, and strangely not because of the Oscars (which I stopped watching years ago, partially because they were always in conflict with Dimanche Gras, which is a staple of our Carnival celebrations at home), but because of how many analogies I have been able to draw between the two worlds. It feels effortness to exist in Academia; the two worlds seem so similar, but I can be more of myself in this one. I am understood more here.
- By the way, Academia isn’t less crazy. There are similar numbers of weirdos, politics, drama, but I haven’t met a guy who walked into a place with blood running down his leg (yet), or someone showing up for lunch on a set, laying a bunch of orange safety cones, cursing people out, and then leaving after lunch and taking their cones. I think people have to be a bit more discreet about their alcohol and coke habits here compared to entertainment. Do it after hours lol.
- Random Probabilistic Graphs: random walks on graphs, Markov Processes and Dynamical Systems
- Number Theory: primitive roots of unity, Discrete Logarithm
- Algebra: Hilbert Basis Theorem, Noetherianity (review), Term Orders and Multivariate Division Algorithm, Lexicographic vs graded Lexicographic and monomials in Multi-Index Notation, Groebner Basis and Syszygy (coincidentally my username has been syszygy something something on some discord groups for a while now), Buchberger’s Algorithm, we played Chomp Game and declared a champion on the blackboard. As soon as I saw it I thought it reminded me of the Chocolate breaking problem so maybe I’ve played too many maths games in my life or hang out with too many mathematicians.
- I also ended up doing some more CodeWars and bumped up my rank even more there (but just doing puzzles for fun).
- Elliptic Curves: Hasse Bound, Zeta Function of a Variety over a Finite Field
- Combinatorics: Last vertex visited on a random walk: cover tours, random cover tours, etc
- Math Grad seminar: a talk inspired by R. Bell’s Etale Fundamental Group. Also mentioned The Freshman’s Dream
- I am musing about next semester; there was originally a plan of not taking classes at all, but I might just sign up for Complex Analysis and a Graduate Combinatorics class on Spectral Graph Theory. But this is not confirmed yet. I have until the 11th, which is when I sign up for classes (or not).
- I get to hang out with my mentor from CSRMP this week! Hooray!
- I actually had to give up a summer school this week, and I was super sad about it and moped for a day or two, but hopefully I can look at the notes and attend another time.
- I’m still able to attend the other one, thankfully!
- I’m making progress in proof-writing. I also attended this Meetup on rigorous probability and statistics, which was cool because we ended up covering some stuff we’ve been writing proofs for in my Combinatorics class; the Meetup is run by this professor from the University of Tokyo.
- I have to start work in an hour or so for the weekend.
And that’s it
Written on April 2, 2022