Archive for category My Life

Getting into the Groove

A couple of weeks ago, I made a short post about exercise.  It was nothing profound or even interesting – it was one of the few times I’ve posted simply because I just had to get that thought out of my head.  I was tired, worn out, and feeling like the road to better health would be paved with lots of frustration and time spent literally running in circles.

But a delightful thing happened recently. I’ve been able to feel the change in my body, building up a fair amount of stamina from the 40 minute rounds I’ve spent on the recumbent bike (easy on my knee injury) and some of the moderate strength training I’ve been doing (pull-ups and dips, and some squats and leg lifts).  I’m seeing some muscle tone in my arms (who knew?) and when I need to do tasks around the house like vacuuming, I zoom through them.

On top of that, I find myself craving cardio workouts.  My friend, Kathleen, and I have been going to a local park that has an epic set of stairs – over 100 I think although in the trip up I never have the wherewithal to actually count them.  Last time we went, I went up and down three times, totally exhausting myself.  I’ve only been a handful of times but I find myself craving those stairs now, since the stair machines at the gym just aren’t the same.

I’ve never been in particularly “bad” shape – I’ve generally incorporated some kind of workout into my regular routine and have always favored mind body exercise like yoga.  But this is the first time I’ve applied myself to more strenuous workouts, one that leave me sweaty and exhausted and calm.  I sleep better, I crave healthy foods, and I’m drinking lots of water.

I’ve also been keeping track of what I’m eating, knowing that just that simple act makes you eat less.  I’m using an app on my iPod Touch and it’s got a huge database that hasn’t left me hanging yet.

So when my trial, three month membership to the gym expired today, I had that decision to make.  Do I commit to a regular membership?  It’s not an inexpensive proposition and I could very well do the same cardio workouts at the exercise room provided by my complex, so this took some thought.

But I realized one of the things that keeps me going back to the rec center (not a traditional gym since I’ve had too many bad experiences in such places) is the fact that I am surrounded by people in the same mindset as me.   There is a sign on the door as you leave that says, “Smile – You just did something good for your body!” with a cheese eating grin on the face of a very cute guy.

And I smile.  Automatically.

So rather than disrupt my groove, I’m keeping the membership and cutting down on some other expenses (likely my weekly nights out with my girlfriends). We’ll just have to start making cocktails at home instead…. I am pretty sure they’ll be fine with that.

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Updated About Page

Taking some advice from the official WordPress Blog, I have updated my About page to be significantly more detailed.  Check it out here (or click on About on the top banner).

Another suggestion from the same post is to ask my dear readers what they’d like to see me write about…. So, Dear Reader, any topics you’d like me to discuss here?

I am working on some projects today that I will likely reflect on later this week.  Attempting to push myself out of my comfort zone and do some things that scare me a little. I am sure they will ignite a fair amount of reflection.

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Why Job Hunting in the Age of the Internet Sucks

It’s no secret that I’ve been looking for a full time teaching gig of some sort since I finished my Ph.D.  To date, I have applied to five different full time positions in my area.  Recently, I applied to a local community college and I had a really good feeling about the application.  In my mind, I was a good fit for what they were looking for and I have the experience and the degrees to make me an attractive candidate.

Or so I thought, at least.

This morning, I checked the HR website.  Days after I submitted my application materials my application “status” went from “Under HR Review” to “Sent to Committee for Review” which essentially means they looked over my materials and determined that I had the base requirements for the job.  (In the case of a teaching job like this that I essentially had the right degrees.)  When I checked today, my status changed to, “HR determined not selected for interview.”

As of this posting, I’ve received no notice from the college about this decision.  I only know because my own curiosity kept me checking the site on a near daily basis.

Of the five full time jobs that I’ve applied for this year, I’ve heard back from only one other.  For the colleges where I can check the status of my application, most say something vague along the lines of “In progress” or “Sent to committee.”  One college, that I applied to in November of last year, sent me an email to confirm they received my materials but no other communication after that initial response.

All of this makes me wonder about manners in this technological age. Plenty of people discuss the tendency for people to troll forums and such, being assholes because the anonymity of the internet allows them to do so. Penny Arcade even has a comic about it:

 

Life on the Internetz

It seems some of this has rubbed off into the job search as well. It’s not harassment going on here, and I am not dealing with creeps that think they can say whatever they want to me as I am going through this job search, but the “non-response response” that apparently has become an acceptable form of job application feedback disturbs me.

I could easily whine about how much time I spent on my application materials, especially since almost every full time teaching job requires “supplemental” application materials which often end up being several pages of writing. It’s not that I feel the time and effort I put in the application materials should at least warrant a nicely worded email response that says, “We looked over your materials and appreciate your application.”

What am I saying? That is exactly how this should go. There should be some other means of notification other than me checking the HR portal to figure out if I am still in consideration for a position, especially when I submitted some of these applications months ago.

I am not 100% sure when my status changed for this most recent application, so there is still the chance that I will get that, “Thanks but no thanks” email at some point. I suppose since things on the internet move at lightening speed, I would be more fair of me to wait a day or two to post this, just in case that email does indeed find its way to my inbox. But since they didn’t send an email to me *before* changing my status on the website, I feel fine in posting this mini-rant now.

So much for professional decorum.

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Words

Most of my life revolves around words.  I have been fixated with words for years.  I spend time researching word origins for fun, I write my own words, and I teach other people how to use words.  It’s a good life – one that I enjoy most of the time.

I remember my first semester teaching. I had a student make an appointment to talk with me about her paper and the grade she got.  I was apprehensive – I wasn’t sure what to expect really being my first class and everything.  I knew she was a good student and I also knew her writing was falling short in some ways.  She was assuming that the reader knew what she was trying to say.

So we sat under an old oak tree and she told me the classic line somewhere along the lines of why did I get this grade and I should have gotten an A. I gave her the chance to vent, to get out her frustrations which I suspected weren’t all from my class.  And then I tired to tame the words in my head into a shape she would understand.

Basically, I said, you need to actually say what you’re thinking. You just told me you were thinking that Elisa Allen (from John Steinbeck’s The Chrysanthemums) felt trapped by the hills, the fog, and the fence that contain her flowers.  In the paper, you just list those as parts of the setting of the story but don’t discuss how they relate back to her character.  You need to put the words behind your thoughts and not assume your audience knows what you’re getting at.

I wasn’t sure in that moment if she understood what I was saying but she decided to rewrite and turn it back in.  When she did, I saw marked improvement in her writing – she made her points clearly and I could understand what she was getting and and why.  Her papers for the rest of the semester were all fleshed out like this and I could see where she was making the effort to put my words to work.

Variations of this conversation, in class and in one-on-one situations, colored the rest of my teaching. Only recently have I realized exactly how important that idea is not just in writing but every other aspect of life as well. Your partner, your mom, or your siblings, anyone else in your life that you love… none of them know what you’re thinking. Sometimes you just have to buck up and say it, as difficult as it might be to put words to the feelings.  Don’t ever take for granted that the people around you know without you telling them.

And even so, when you are talking to each other, take the time to suss out what you’re actually saying as opposed to what you assume is being said.  In the class I taught this spring, one of the concepts we constantly came back to is how we, as readers, impact what we read.  You might think words are universal and indisputable but part of the power of words is the fact that meanings are often maleable, moving and shifting like the sun that breaks through the leaves on a summer’s day.

After my mom got sick, my brother and I started talking on the phone more often. I suppose this shouldn’t be news but since we didn’t grow up together we were never really close.  He started telling me “Love ya, Sis” every time we ended a conversation.  It’s amazing the impact those words can have.  Yes, I have assumed that my brother loves me for most of my life, but finally hearing him say the words in such a blatant, honest display is more than a little overwhelming and it’s left me with more kindness in my heart than ever existed before.

Words take work. And risk. And it’s worth it in the end.

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Crossovers

I never realized how many musically inclined friends I had until I bought Rock Band.  I knew we were a creative group of people, and I knew many of us had theater backgrounds but I didn’t know that most of my friends are musicians of one sort or another.

So Rock Band was more of a draw for my group of  friends than I had expected it to be.  One of the interesting observations I’d heard from many of my musician friends was that it was often difficult to reconcile what the game was asking them to do and what was happening musically.  Like when they were asked to play a note at one point, it wasn’t always where they thought it should be in terms of the song being played.

This was an entirely new concept to me.  Whenever I played the guitar, bass, or drums, the actions for the game were completely abstract as far as I was concerned.  The red, blue, yellow, green and orange “keys” I was hitting?  Just buttons to push at whatever given time.  Knowing the song we were playing only mattered if I was singing because let me tell you, you don’t know the words to any songs you sing.  ANY.

But I digress.

I finally had this experience my friends talked about but only after I bought Rock Band 3 and the keyboard controller.  Suddenly my fingers where moving in time to the music and my familiarity with the song was a help, my lack of knowledge a hinderance.  It’s completely changed the game for me.

You might already know where I am headed with this, dear reader, but in case you don’t here is the *big insight*: I know how to play the piano.  I took seven or eight years worth of lessons when I was a kid and although if you sat me down at a piano I would have a hard time recalling Fur Elise or Moonlight Sonata, I can run most of the major scales and know most of the major and minor cords.  This knowledge allows me to play the keyboard on HARD, a difficultly level I would never approach with the other instruments.

My previous knowledge of how to play piano mapped over into the game and has completely changed my experience of it.  I have always enjoyed Rock Band – it’s one of the few games that pretty much everyone can enjoy, even the people not playing it can watch the videos or the rapt attention being paid to the screen by the performers.  And it is a performance.  That is part of the “play” of the game – acting the part – and part of the fun.

Part of what I discuss in my dissertation is how game experience maps into other areas of life, that the confidence and problem solving gamers experience gets translated into work or life situations.  Well, apparently it works both ways – life experience maps back into the game as well.  It’s not a surprise that these experiences interact with each other this way – it is this give and take between what we know and what we are learning that is the foundation of identity formation and gaming is, for many of us, a significant component of that formation.

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Exercise

Really sucks sometimes.

That is all.

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Patterns

For most of my life, the end of any semester has been marked with a cold or a flu, something that forces me to take some time to recover and physically take care of myself.  Sometimes the sickness is dramatic, like the respiratory infection I got the semester I finished my Spanish translation class.  (One of the most stressful semesters of my life, both personally and academically.)  Sometimes it’s just a cold that passes after a few days of extra sleep, juice, and chicken soup.

In the past couple of years this hasn’t been the case.  I have waited after submitting final grades and finishing portfolios or other projects for the exhaustion and sickness to take over.  And I have certainly been tired but I haven’t gotten sick.

So I thought, well hey, I’ve been doing this teaching thing for almost a decade, I’ve removed some major stressors from my life, perhaps I’ve just gotten past taking my stress out physically.

Rarely have I been so wrong.

A few weeks ago I went to my doctor because I was experiencing some physical symptoms that scared the crap out of me.  Literally.  Given the “negative history” in my family, she ordered a battery of blood tests, pretty much everything except the fasting cholesterol test I did last year.

I didn’t think much of her warnings about the extent of the tests until I walked into the lab and the attendant gave me about ten test tube labels.  “All these are for me?” I asked.  She nodded and pointed me back to The Chair.

I had to wait about five minutes before the phlebotomist came to take my blood.  She brought six vials, two that were double sized.  I kept reminding myself to breathe and wished I didn’t have such a curious nature.  I had to look after the fourth vial just because I had never seen so much of my own exposed blood in one place before.

I left the lab woozy and light headed, sitting in my car for about five minutes, drinking water before I drove home.

Then the results started coming in via email.

They were just the lab results, not yet the ones explained by my doctor.

So I tried not to panic when I read “pre-diabetes” on one set of results.

My mind could not make sense of those words.  I am 5’6″, 140lbs, and 36 years old.  I have a BMI of 23.  My diet consists of whole grains, lean meats, and lots of fruits and veggies.

And yet…. pre-diabetes.

My doctor emails me the next morning, telling me to take inventory of my diet and start exercising more to lose some weight and that we’ll re-run the tests again in August to see if this issue has resolved itself.

On top of this, I also have two vitamin deficiencies  – B12 and D.  The D is so severe that she ordered me a prescription dose of 50,000 once a week for eight weeks, and 1500 every day after that.

I spend a day or two freaking out.  A litany of How? What? Why? plays through my head over and over again.  I talk to a friend who had Type 2 and completely overhauled his life with exercise and diet changes after losing an insane amount of weight.  He’s certain that this pre-diabetes has been brought on by a combination of stress and genetics.  I am pretty sure he is correct.

The irony here, the thing that still has me shaking my head, is that I have been so attentive to my diet for so long because of the predisposition to heart disease that runs in my family.  No one in my immediate family has diabetes – I have aunts and uncles battling it but no one in my first line of family.  With that and the fact that I’ve managed to moderate my weight well as an adult, I didn’t think I’d ever battle diabetes.

Through my reflections I’ve come to realize that instead of getting a cold or other sickness over the last very stress filled years, I’ve instead been silently beating the crap out of my body.  I hadn’t even registered that I stopped taking my multi-vitamin…. it just got lost in the stress filled dance I was doing to stay on schedule and finish my dissertation this spring.

A few weeks ago I started to freak out about the fact that I lost half my summer income.  And yes, this is still a problem but I am going to reframe it now.  Instead of flipping out about money, I am going to spend my more open summer schedule eating better and exercising.  I joined our local community center that has a pool, a rock wall, a gym, and other fitness classes before I even got this news, knowing that I needed to get my blood flowing again after an intense period of sitting on my behind writing.  Now I am thankful my teaching load is lighter and I have some time to get some major changes going in my life.

And I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to report back in late August that my blood sugar levels and vitamins are all back to normal.

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