Archive for category Reverb11
One Word. Encapsulate the year 2011 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2012 for you? If you did Reverb10 then bonus points for also re-posting your 2011 word from last year along with how you feel about that in retrospect.
I am ashamed to admit that I couldn’t remember my word from last year. So I went back into my archive and read my first Reverb post. TIME, apparently, was on my mind last year and my hope for this year was to fill it with joy.
Well what is it they say about the best laid plans? Although there were great moments of joy this year, namely finishing my Ph.D. in May and the weeks of celebration that followed, experiencing the joy of that event was more difficult than I anticipated.
Finishing the dissertation left me in a pretty deep depression. It wasn’t what I expected at all – I thought that moment of triumph would carry me for a long, long time. But along with the relief I felt at finishing I also had a great deal of animosity about being done. I missed working on my dissertation and having something that consumed most of my waking thoughts. It was weird to wake up in the morning with my usual, “OMG what do I have to finish today?” and answer it with, “Nothing. It is done.”
I suppose the finality of that was something I should have anticipated, just as I should have anticipated how much looking for a new job would suck the life out of me. But burning deep inside of me is the bright light of an optimist, ever hoping for the best. I felt like something would break on the job front as I put out an endless stream of application letters for both full and part time jobs.
And slowly things did begin to break and opportunities I didn’t expect showed up and I ended up teaching an overload of classes for this semester (four schools, six classes, approximately 155 students). For most of the semester I felt like I was moving backwards, patch-working an adjunct schedule together like I did before I got into the Ph.D. program.
And then one new job showed up, one where I get to teach master’s students and my whole outlook changed. Finally, something new, exciting, different and permanent (for the most part) showed up in my life. I didn’t realize how stressful part time work would be this time, being older and in greater debt than I was when I first started teaching. That never knowing or only finding out a few weeks before the semester begins IF you have work the next term…. it’s painful. Some day I will write a scathing critique of higher education and how screwed up the adjunct system is. This is not that day.
So when I look back at this year the one word that comes to mind is transformation. This was a year filled with change, emotionally and physically (see posts on exercise for more about that). It is fitting, I think, for the months after finishing a big project to transform my life into something new and different. My plan for the spring is coming together in my head as well, with more time spent writing again. My fingers have been itching to write, a desire that was smothered by the depression around completing the dissertation. So I have high hopes for loosely keeping up with Reverb11 (no promises with such an overload of final papers to read in the next two weeks) and hoping this transformation brings me to a 2012 filled with joy. I worked on that this year, seems fitting to continue to work on it again until I can manage to manifest it for real.
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.
It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to write some words for this space… I’ve been going kind of crazy keeping up with life even though it should have slowed down for me over the summer. Funny how things sometimes just work out differently than expected…..
But I’ve been thinking about this post for the last few days and my fingers wouldn’t stop itching this morning from the desire to write. And since it’s my birthday, I am giving myself permission to write and reflect.
As I look back over my life, I can pinpoint places where I made major changes, the crossroads where I picked the branches that have grown into my life. Some were BIG crossroads like moving to New York or leaving my ex-husband. Those are easy to see and observe the changes that have branched off from those moments. More powerfully still, I stand at a similar crossroads now… a BIG one and I know it. I am painfully aware that this decision will impact my life in a very powerful way and I’m slowly growing more comfortable with my thoughts about it.
I left the Bay Area in 1998, expecting that I would live in New York for a year, maybe two, and then head back home. I enjoyed my time there, made some of the best friends of my life (one I know, thankfully, reads this blog), but it was never home. I never settled. The mindset was too conservative, the winters had too much white stuff on the ground and I just never really felt at ease there.
From New York, I moved to my first hellmouth in the far reaches of Northern CA. I thought I was heading home then, when I left the east coast and headed to my home state. Little did I know that the milage of CA can bring you some very different, er, populations of people and ideas and, frankly, closed mindedness. I still wasn’t home.
Next was eastern WA and a classic college town. I was excited, knowing that college towns are famous independently owned restaurants and bookstores. And there were a couple but there were far more cheap pizza places and nasty beer on tap. Hellmouth #2 still wasn’t home.
The first time I called a place other than the Bay Area home was when I moved here, living in the suburbs of Portland, OR. The word tumbled out of my mouth without any real consideration. “I am headed home,” I said to a friend on the phone. He asked, “Oh to see your mom?” And that was when I knew something had changed. I experienced the same sensation a couple of weeks ago when I saw the lights of downtown Portland from I-5, returning home from a trip to see my mom. My heart swelled at that sight, and any thought I’d been having of a nation wide job search next year vaninished.
There is a predetermined path people who finish Ph.D.s are on, a set of “rules” so to speak about what you are supposed to do and when and where and why. It goes something like this….
You pour your heart and soul into a project that is judged by a group of people as to wether it is worthy enough to bestow the title of “doctor of philosophy” to you. While you are working on that project, you also need to be applying to jobs in your field, tenure track professorships anywhere in the country. It is expected that the first job you take will move you to some remote, land-grant university a hair removed from BFE and you will be thankful for said job.
I am pretty sure I’d do well on the job market. My dissertation is good material for an academic book, I have TONS of teaching experience, and great recommendations from the people I work with. If I put myself out there, I think something good would come along.
But I am unwilling to move to BFE. I don’t want to give up the life I’ve made for myself here.
Somehow, that makes me feel like a failure. Like I’m looking down that road and unwilling to force my foot to take the first step. And I realize that sounds kinda crazy, but when you’ve been in a situation where success is limited to one very specific, very limited outcome, well…. it’s difficult not to feel like I’m failing in some way.
So I decided, I needed to redefine success to something that makes sense for me. And that brings me back here to this blog, where I do writing that I enjoy and that makes me happy. I am happy here; I’d be happy, I think in a mosaic career that is part teaching and perhaps part time consulting and writing. Something where I can piece together all the components of life that I enjoy. It won’t be easy – not by any stretch of the imagination – but I think I’m up to it, especially since my recent health crisis has motivated me into a much more healthy and active lifestyle.
My only fear, one that dissipates whenever I think about my reaction to seeing the Portland skyline, is that I’ll still feel like I’ve missed out on something making this choice but then I remind myself that perception might dictate that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but things are looking pretty green from right here.
When I got married, a friend of mine said that every wedding she to went to after reminded her of her own wedding and all the reasons why she got married. She said it was a lovely way to reconnect to your partner and your past.
I didn’t have much of a chance to experience this with my marriage, mostly because things started to fall apart so quickly after the wedding. But I did have that experience this weekend as I participated in my last graduation ceremony.
This ceremony was different for me for many reasons. Yes, because it was for my Ph.D. and it’s the last degree I will be getting. The three of us getting doctorates laughed in unison and said, “No, oh no!” when during rehearsal one of the organizers said we may graduate again.
No, I am pretty sure this is THE LAST ONE.
Sharing the stage with my own students was a once in a lifetime experience. I was so proud to be able to cheer my own students across the stage. I felt a certain level of satisfaction in my own walk across the stage and my big, puffy doctoral sleeves. But the real joy for me was seeing my students succeed in their own endeavors.
But this isn’t what I intended this post to be about. Putting my regalia together, I played back all the many moments I’ve participated in commencement, walked across a stage and shaken hands with people I don’t know. I remembered my high school graduation and the slick red polyester robe that I wore, how my friend, David, had made us comedy and tragedy masks to wear on the top of our caps. In homage to David, I made my own cap topper this time.
It dawned on me sometime during this insanely busy and exciting day that it’s called “commencement” for a reason. For each of us, it was a new beginning. I’ve never felt that way before, regardless of the other ceremonies I’ve participated in. This felt new and different. Scary and exciting.
For the first time since the defense, I felt happy about finishing the dissertation and moving on. Some really smart person somewhere said “timing is everything.” Getting the news about my summer job being cut two days after defending my dissertation sent me into a downward spiral, panicking about the future and worrying myself into a pretty heady depression.
And yes, some things have shifted – I’ve had a couple of job interviews and I have some prospects on the horizon. Maybe that was all I needed to be able to acknowledge my own success – the prospect of *something* on the horizon other than the job search.
I’ve talked about my struggles accepting happiness, shifting my outlook from having sadness and disappointment as my life long companions. Finishing the Ph.D. shifted me back into that place of doubt, that place where I found comfort in disappointment and heartache. Commencement – my true beginning – shifted me back out again and reminded me I have lots of reasons to be happy.
I have a loving partner.
I have great friends.
And I have a shiny degree that I worked my ass off for.
Life is good.
It was closing in on the end of my first year living in New York. I was unfamiliar with this middle season I had heard about but never actually experienced: mud season. After about a week of trudging through sloshy, melting snow, and tracking mud into my apartment, I suddenly understood why people had “mud rooms.” Having spent most of my previous east coast time visiting Maine in the summer, it never made much sense to me that people had separate entry rooms with stand brushes for shoes and racks for heavy coats.
Then it happened. April came and the accumulating snow began to melt and no matter where I went there was mud.
But if felt so good, the rain and the warmer temperatures that marked the start of a new season, one that would hopefully leave me feeling slightly less isolated and homesick. I missed California – I missed home, and the ocean, and “winter” where it was overcast and foggy but I could count on a sunny and warmer day here and there to break up this “cold” season.
The PNW has mud season too, except it lasts a little longer, like the entire expanse of winter. It recently hit me the reason my skin begins to itch for some sunshine about this time of year is because winter and spring here are pretty much the same. Living in a climate where it snows for several months, spring rains smack of relief and warmer temps. When you live where it rains for winter AND for spring and then for some of summer, too . . . well. You can see how the experience isn’t quite the same.
I went out onto my patio this week and refilled the bird feeders and swept off the chairs, pushing the seedlings from the tree outside my living room onto the ground. It felt good to be outside, under some sunshine, and the cleaning was part of my own personal renewal where I am feeling more connected to being at home since I don’t have overwhelming deadlines hanging over my head and a huge project to finish. I’m starting to feel like a normal person, the kind that can plan home projects for the weekend instead of pages of writing chapters or reading texts for a literature review.
So the mud this year, the in-between season, suits me well. I am in-between, too, in that maleable state that isn’t the same as what it was but hasn’t formed into what it will be either. Let the rain come, and I will soak it up and see what it changes me into.
If March 2011 was your last month to live, how would you live it?
I literally groaned when I read this prompt, much in the same way my students often groan when I tell them that peer reviews are not optional. The timing for this prompt couldn’t have been worse – it came in just as I nailed down the date for my dissertation defense: April 1st.
How could I write about not living to see April 1st?
So I resigned myself to skip it entirely.
Then Emerald City Comicon happened and my perspective started to change.
I won’t wax poetic (again) about the event because, really, the perspective change only had a little to do with meeting Felicia Day and Wil Wheaton. It was really about realizing the value of the work I’ve done and how important it is to me.
The thing is it doesn’t really matter what happens on April 1st. I finished the dissertation and submitted it to the graduate school for review. They said the formatting looks really good, and I am ready to go.
And better than simply finishing it, I am pleased with the outcome.
Now that is something I never expected to say. There is a saying in academia, “The only good dissertation is a done dissertation,” and there is a lot of truth to that. 50% of the people that make it to the point where I am now fail. They don’t finish at all and instead of the coveted Ph.D. behind their names they have ABD (All But Dissertation). It’s not an official title in any way but it is a reality for many people who pursue this path.
So I pretty much figured I’d just write my way out from under this albatross and get finished with this degree and then move on. I am not even sure I want to keep writing academically, but that is a story for another post. During such an event filled weekend, where I again embraced my geeky-ness with total and utter abandon, I realized the journey is what is important. I’ve come this far and I’ve done something that makes me proud. Hopefully, my committee feels the same way and they bestow upon me the title “doctor” on April Fool’s Day.
The end of this month could come and I could meet my end knowing that I had spent my time researching something important to me, and along the way I met some great people and made new friends I never would have known otherwise. Better than that, I learned so much about myself in the process, about who I am as a writer and thinker and an academic. Although it’s hardly poetry, I’d like to think that I’ve chosen every word with care and consideration, planning and mapping it all out with the kind of precision that poetry demands.
Even now, having the draft done and getting ready for the defense, I feel parts of myself returning: my desire to cook and bake, and visit with friends and family, and to game just for fun. This new life is opening up for me and I’m looking forward to the next part of my journey, even if I am unsure where my next job is going to be or what that future actually looks like. Just finishing the dissertation is an accomplishment regardless of the title that it will bestow upon me. I told myself early on to “trust the process” and I have that motto emblazoned on the bookcase in my office (right next to my poster of Rosie the Riveter eternally reminding me, “We can do it!”)
So I guess the take away message here ties into a sense of living in the moment, embracing what you have instead of worrying about what is to come. Sheesh. I feel like I have to keep learning and re-learning that same lesson over and over again. I’m sure I’ll forget again.
One month into 2011, what question(s) are you living? Are there any prompts/questions that arose during #reverb10 that are still resonating in your life? Are you living new questions?
My temper has been really short the past few days. It’s odd actually. I sent off the lion’s share of my dissertation to my committee last week, I am very close to nailing down the date for my defense (which might just be April Fool’s Day) and yet I am feeling utterly unresolved. I have little things nagging at me, a new LMS to learn that is driving me mad, and new online classes that started yesterday.
But really, these are small bumps. I’ve got another job to apply for, and two that I am still waiting to hear back from (although the waiting causes some anxiety, especially since I know I am a really good match for one and I’m afraid the Ph.D. might not work in my advantage.)
I think most of this unsettled feeling comes from living in a new question: what next? At the end of last year, when I started working on reverb10, I knew what was next. I had a plan and even the moments during that time when I faltered, I knew pretty much what was coming. Finish the dissertation. Defend. Get Ph.D. Life long pursuit achieved. Have big party. Talk like cave woman.
Somewhere in the last few days a scary reality set in. I have *no* idea what is next. None-what-so-ever. I’ve always been somewhat cavalier about the upcoming changes in my life – I’ve lived as an adjunct before and living as a Ph.D. student isn’t that much different, although a year long contract is a luxury not afforded to many adjuncts. I know I’ll pull something together, the question is what does that something look like.
Part of me is ok with the uncertainty.
Part of me is screaming inside.
Like usual, I am suppressing the screaming part. There is work to be done, papers to be read, and I hope I keep my distain out of the countless emails I send to my online students, answering the questions that I wrote the painstakingly detailed syllabus to answer.
I suppose I should remind myself of all the lessons I learned while I’ve been working on this blog:
As the saying goes, life is uncertain – eat dessert first. Perhaps my dessert should come first, and should be the one thing I can always count on: the knowledge that I’ve persisted this far in this mad life that I love and that is the only certainty I need.
And as I want to wrap up there, I am taken back to another one of reverb10’s prompts – Letting Go. I do have trouble letting go and as glad as I am to be moving on and out of school, I think part of me is struggling with letting go of being an official student in some way. I read on a Ph.D. forum one time that there is a different reaction from people between when you are “working on” your Ph.D. and when you’ve finished it, especially if you’ve finished it and you haven’t gotten whatever dream job or ideal income it was magically supposed to grant you. I think I might be a little bit afraid of that stigma, that somehow it’s so much easier and full of hope to be “working on” a doctorate rather than have finished it.
There is a part of me that fears being done. Much like I got upset with my brother laughing because I am a “professional student,” I don’t want to face the questions that come when I’ve finished and I say, “Yeah I’m teaching part time.” I know I will be fine with it, and so will the people in my life that truly love and care for me. But still . . .
Recently, I found a great blog – The Thesis Whisperer. It’s ironic because I found them so late in my process. One post that spoke the most to me discussed how getting a Ph.D. is really about learning about yourself. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve learned so much about myself and I think this last lesson that I’m learning right here, and right now, is that I need to let go of other people’s expectations and ideas for my life and just live it.