APMO 2012… Tuesday, the 13th of March. Cripes, I almost wrote 2011 again. It’s been far too long since my last full-blown competition, and I have still been feeling lousy. Where do I even start?
I had no idea what expectations I ought to have set for myself. I’m still keeping in mind that it’s not a standard test and there isn’t much of a “norm” to look up or down to. Just having the qualification to enter this stage is already rather significant. The only person I can compete against fairly, in essence, is myself, and I don’t know where the idealistic me should perform or if that sort of question even makes any sort of metaphysical sense. So I kept telling myself, whatever happens, happens. There doesn’t seem to be anything else. Besides, I did reasonably last year, I still have chances of maybe doing better next year or finding a further goal to aim for. Stop panicking, start preparing! The only problem being, of course, a certain chemotherapy-induced feeling of misery…
Saturday was a terrible sleep-binge of a blur: one sci-fi movie and half a horror movie I didn’t really pay attention to; then for no reason whatsoever an incredibly rare excursion into alien-hunting video games. Halo, the one without any numbers after it, on an Xbox, also without any numbers after it. I was surprised the entire tangle of obsolescent wires and machinery fired up without any problems. Homework, only tangentially.
Sunday was also a sleep-binge, after a breakfast eaten in a sleep-walking state for the sake of getting all the meds down on schedule, somehow managing to kill off a trivial geometry problem in the process. I couldn’t bring myself to get any further into math mode. More not-very-seriously done homework, largely thrown under the excuse of “I’m not sure what I’m really supposed to do here, let me just ask the teacher again tomorrow”.
And Monday was just more of the same, a senseless, directionless stupor, perhaps with a tiny bit less of the sharp edge on it, except of course that Monday was a school day. So that was school for me: going with the flow, through the normal routines, operating mostly reflexively at a miserable 40% power: no full concentration, but not tired enough to flop over and enter system reboot. I survived the classes and breaks responding to external stimuli at one-third the normal speed… yes, teacher, no, teacher, I don’t have that map and I don’t know how to do the homework and I won’t be present tomorrow. Sorry, seeya, competition day.
I knew, I was signing up for this insanity when I decided more than half a year ago to start coming to school “normally” again, because I had thoroughly experienced doing nothing in a corner and decided that it was too oppressive. And even though my planner already feels crammed beyond its capacity, not to mention that I have two days of absences in a row lined up, I know I can handle this. Hey, I still have ridiculous Asian grades, and the system is wonderfully merciful on me. Big props to all my teachers (who will never read this sentence)!
The Monday afternoon spent at home, though, was an exercise in breaching pretty much all the rules of last-day preparation ever. The only exception might be that of not sleeping late, but since steroids are also involved in this particular situation it’s not very applicable. I was still feeling miserable, and I snapped by giving up all of my self-respect and control and singing every universally-hated song I could think of in a voice two octaves above the absolute maximum a rational being would be able to endure producing with my vocal chords in the shower, while my mom picked up my sister. This did make me feel better, just by losing myself in the full irrationality of what it’s like to be human and to not need to give a damn for one tiny moment.
But right away, while I felt like I had done something right, I jumped into the deep end of my procrastination habits. Here it is. I spent the better part of an hour on TVTropes — on Monday night, the day before The Competition. I ignored all the pens and pencils and identification, spending the last five minutes possible trying to figure out which compass I expected myself to use. Wait, I have to open this spanking new one with all the fancy wrapping on it? Okay, I’ll do that, it’s late, whatever — great, how do I close the box? What am I supposed to put everything in?
Shouldn’t I know better than that by now? I’ve been doing this for half a decade.
So, the lesson for me: I can’t cope with maybe-or-maybe-not depression and my procrastination habits at the same time. It’s… tasking. Why is life so hard?
Fast-forward: today morning, also spent in the least beneficial method possible. I can say without a doubt I was far from my peak condition. I saw a cryptic crossword I printed out maybe a month ago and fiddled with that during breakfast. I did end up parking a little geometric problem in the back of my brain just before leaving home, but I didn’t work on it very much.
Forty-five minutes of pseudo-slumber in a not-quite-comfortable position later, there was the entire competition assembly. Say hi to the people you recognize, and the people you should recognize but don’t, and the people you don’t know whether you recognize or not so it’s best not to say anything. Mill about the classroom, trying to recall some of the in-jokes and panicking about the complete lack of olympiad-solving mode you are currently in. Doors open, sit down.
And here, of course, is where the confidentiality agreement kicks in. More after the official problem release date. Just one thing, though: I still have not figured out how my compass is supposed to fit inside its box.