Tuesday November 24th

Play On

Thanksgiving Week

  • I’ve been spending Thanksgiving week going over Abstract Algebra stuff (I’ve split my week into reading over notes and chapters, and doing proofs).
  • I’m a night owl, so I usually end up staying up really late and taking a nap midday, which is pretty terrible come internship time, which btw…. I think I’ve found the internship that I want to take this summer! The company has been courting me since March, and they’ve really given me the best treatment out of all the companies (all 27!), and as of now, it’s something I want to commit to doing. I also have another summer thing in the middle of all of that, but we’ll get to that when it comes along.

I’ve been thinking about a lot of things this week.

  • I listen to (almost consistently) talk radio on breaks (and surprise; that easily meant that I knew that certain people would be elected while other media seemed clueless. Interestingly, talk radio is one of those things that seems to be ignored by general media as “not real media”, but it can tell you a lot about what is in the air in America. I started listening to black media recently (I joked the other day that by the time I have completed my time at this predominantly-white institution, I will be wearing a dang Dashiki to protect myself emotionally and spiritually from this place LOL); in particular, a black speaker I was listening to this week said something to the extent of how we go to institutions and organizations that hate our very being there, and treat us like trash and that our education starts at home; our homes should define our values (which I agree with). Something about that resonated with me (besides the fact that it’s true). It says something deeper about the fact that there are so many broken homes, and what that means for what “education” at these institutions can provide (and where it falls short). I grew up in a very wholesome home with two highly educated parents who have been together forever, so I don’t take anyone trying to redefine my value system lightly; it often incenses me, to be honest. This is who I am.
  • I remember a while ago, someone at my school tried to manipulate me into thinking that I cared too much about those things. Of course, she was not black, but benefitted not only from specific privileges (I am using the word as per its definition, not as a colloquialism of today) because of direct nepotism and ties of academic power within our institution, despite being supremely mediocre on every other level (it’s scary to think that some of these people may end up teaching students who don’t come from their backgrounds, and try to convince them that they have less value or their heritage is not worth much, and says a lot about some of the systemic issues within Academia). Looking back, it was a way of gaslighting and an attempt to brainwash and detach me from my identity. You see, if I forget about certain parts that make me who I am, I lose my sense of self. I also lose my connection to my community and what makes me unique; all the good things that you value about me cannot be disentangled from the other things that make me myself, including this part of myself. A lot of my purpose since I’ve arrived in the United States has been so inextricably tied to that; and I’m not saying that in a “I see race everywhere” kind of way, but I initially came to the United States to tell “our” stories. So the mere insinuation that “those things don’t matter” is an affront to that existence and my heritage. This ties into some larger issues I have systemically with institutions and their definition of “diverse perspectives” that simultaneously seeks to deny certain types of diversity (as though they have less value while uplifting others as ideal), but that discussion is for another time.
  • You celebrate your identity, and your heritage, but I must mute mine (how colonialist).
  • Furthermore, if I lost that, my reliance on validation would come directly from the acceptance of an outside entity. That is dangerous and unhealthy.
  • Late last week, I went to a restaurant specifically because they have virgin pina coladas (I like coconut because from island. Hilariously, when I first moved to LA, one of the cashiers at the Von’s next to where I lived in Burbank used to refer to me as “the coconut girl” because I would buy lots of fresh coconuts), and a gentleman sitting at the bar struck up a conversation with me. I was only there for a few minutes to pay for and leave with my drink. Within a few minutes, it was clear that he wanted to engage in a d!ck measuring contest for some reason, which unsettled me. He said that “well, things are pretty hard where you’re from and that’s why you’re here, right?”. An immediate need to show dominance. What was funny is that he kept ordering things while I was there, like “what the heck, I’ll order a lobster too!”, and in retrospect, it was simultaneously hilarious and pathetic with a wave of desperation (notice me notice me), like something out of a movie, and I really hope when I left he could pay for his bill. I explained that no; our country is an oil country, but we didn’t have the initial thing I wanted to study; it was a burgeoning field, but I didn’t feel compelled to go down that path anymore. And certainly, I wouldn’t be here, in this particular state, to look for riches (lol). This incensed him, so he immediately ordered a martini on top of everything (what the heck why not!) It’s an interesting example of how there was an immediate need to devalue what I came from, to validate an insecurity of his own. A missed opportunity to make a level-headed connection. Oh well.

The Tracks

  • When I was in Undergrad, I listened a LOT to the music of local musicians. I still do. I used to hang around and sometimes work for calypsonian tents, which are the mobile “homes” (usually locations during our yearly Carnival) of traditional singers of one of our oldest artforms in my home country. In particular, there was one album I listened to over and over; that of Ras Shorty I’s Jamoo Victory. Besides the fact that it’s musically brilliant, and contains a lot of instruments from our mixed heritage, it’s incredibly wholesome.
  • He was creating a new artform, and talks about keeping the family together, raising children properly, and even quotes Proverbs in some of the songs. One of the songs, Play On, in particular, talks about what it means to do one’s work in spite of outside validation. One of the lines he says is, “if you are a true (steel-)pan player, there will be no need for green paper”, meaning that one should not need to seek out the support and validation of the United States.
  • He also says “don’t be carried away by applause they give you”, which I’ve always interpreted to mean to be mindful of one’s ego. It’s brilliant.
  • For a lot of our local musicians, or many foreign artists, there is this struggle between what it means to be successful, and if that means that one should achieve a level of validation from countries like the United States.
  • I also thought about this in the context of Netflix’s popular show, “Squid Game”. I think it’s fantastic that a show was able to achieve so much success outside of the traditional studio system, and I remember having a similar conversation with my friend, who has worked in the system for years, asking him, “if you had the means and opportunity to make your own work, without the intervention of the studios, would you need them?”, and he admitted that he would not.

What does that mean?

  • So what does this mean for me? I’ve been thinking about it in terms of tradeoffs and choices and my future. Who do I want the validation of? Do I really care about and value the brands of some of these places that are by default lauded by most? I think it’s a complex answer, because on one level, having those brands (and even some that I have on my CV) does give you some credibility; in tech people will go to talks because the speaker works at X company. In Academia, your paper or grant application may more likely be considered or read if you go to certain schools. To say that one can completely (especially starting out) do this without validation from certain entities might be considered disingenuous.
  • Do I want someone else to determine what “success” means to me? I mention this because what I’ve found is that for many of these (especially tech) companies, they know that they get to determine this, and if you are a non-traditional applicant, the ball is in their court to absolutely string you along, to tell you that you’re “not good enough”, while giving a pass to others who “look the part”. And if you choose to play their game, you must understand this, realizing what this means for the rules of the game. If you don’t have the power to change the rules of the game, and it is solely entrusted to another entity, they are free to change it at any time.

As for me

  • Something about changing to my current topic of research has been extremely liberating for me. It’s given me a lot more self-confidence, but it’s made me realize how much trauma I have endured at the hands of needing to “play the game”. And so, even if I continue, I want it to better for others, who too will play it.
  • I’ve also been thinking a lot about generational wealth. People in my country are pretty frugal, so I’m not one to worry about day to day expenses, and I’m doing fine, but I’ve been thinking more deeply about how a community can benefit from generational wealth, not just monetarily, but in terms of our values, knowledge and our stories. How does that affect our vision of the future, plans for the future. To have the means to go out and do the things you want to do, and educate yourself in a way that is powerful to your mind and not traumatic and makes you feel like trash for the sake of getting a piece of paper.
  • And creating your own “thing” comes from understanding that your own has value, loving your own and being able to cultivate a community around it. After all, what does it say about a community where one’s accomplishments and value only comes from the external validation of another?

This week

  • I’m mostly working through stuff, resting, and I’ve already been asked to do a podcast and work on a review for something else. so I’m pretty busy.
  • I’m going to miss my friend this year, who I usually spend Thanksgiving with in LA, but I take solace in the fact that I’ll be home soon, back to a place where I can be reminded that my values matter. It’s so empowering, that it makes me exceedingly happy. I don’t need the validation and empty promises of an outside entity that does not have my interests at heart.

And that’s it

Written on November 24, 2021