Posts Tagged Thinking

One Word – #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.

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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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What is the meaning of this blog?

From one of The Post a Day prompts:

Topic #102:

What do you want to accomplish with your blog? What is it for?

Bonus: Many blogs I see never explain to readers what the goal for the blog is, which makes it hard for people who stop by to know if they should come back. Write a post about your 3 goals for the blog, who you think the readers are, and what you’re offering them in terms of topics or themes.

This post was inspired by another blog you should check out – Knotrune.

This strikes me as a very Western ideal . . . why does a blog have to accomplish something in particular?  Why must we always be driven, while writing or producing anything else, to some sort of predetermined outcome?

I started this blog to participate in Reverb10 – my goal at the time was simply to do writing that wasn’t related to my dissertation research and my pursuit of my Ph.D.  I needed to escape and this is where I came.  It helped a lot and I think I was able to finish on time partly because I had a place to put all those extra words in my head.

At the time, I didn’t know that much about blogging or what motivated people to, essentially, keep online journals full of personal thoughts.  Then I saw themes emerge, people writing about what they were going through and finding other blogs, other people, talking about the same kinds of issues.  I found several blogs that I wished I had known about earlier, one of the most important being The Thesis Whisperer and I’m thankful for several of their posts that helped me maintain my sanity through the defense.

After I finished Reverb 10, I found the Word Press guide to blogging which provides a lot of excellent advice (including don’t be worried about linking away from your blog, people will come back!)  In that tutorial, they mentioned that each blog needs a focus, essentially a purpose or motivation or theme, a controlling idea that keeps the readers coming back for more.

So I’ve played around with some thoughts and ideas I’ve had about how to focus or generate a theme for this blog based on what I tend to write about the most: teaching, writing, grad school, literature, and gaming.  But I just refuse to do it.  As it says at the top, this is the place where I am thinking out loud to myself.  I am not all that worried about other people reading it and that’s not to say that I’m not excited when I see my site stats go up or I get a comment from a new person.  I publish this for a reason.  I’ve kept countless journals in my life – I have dusty boxes full of them in my closet – and I know what it feels like to solely write for myself.

So in keeping these thoughts in a blog I am putting them out in the world for other people to see and if someone is motivated to comment or come back because they enjoyed it, then that is wonderful.  But for now, the main motivation or theme of this blog is just me reflecting on my weird and wonderful life.

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I can see my future

I know exactly what is going to happen . . . and I can’t stop it from happening.

This morning, I emailed four more people about jobs and started looking up what it’s going to take to apply for unemployment benefits when my teaching assistantship ends in May.  The good news is I am pretty sure I will qualify for benefits, so I should have some kind of financial cushion for at least the summer until some of the fall part time jobs come open.

As I was putting the emails together this morning, I was reflecting on what it was like the last time I was an adjunct.  Feast or famine pretty much sums it up.

During my first teaching job (the one that screwed me over for this summer) I didn’t know how to play the adjunct game.  I only applied to teach at that one school since, you know, it was the only one in the town where I lived.  I didn’t know that what you’re supposed to do as an adjunct is take a map of where you live and draw a circle representing the distance you are willing to drive in order to make enough money to eat.

This is where you apply for jobs – anywhere within that distance you are comfortable with the commute.  (Or significantly uncomfortable with if you were, like I was back in the day, driving a standard transmission car with no air conditioning or power steering through the Sacramento River Valley during summer.)

It took me a year of slinging shots and mopping floors at a major coffee chain before I figured out I was supposed to apply everywhere within that un/reasonable circle.  (In Redding my circle was rather large – one school 90 miles south and one 70 miles north that I often taught at on the same day. You do the math – I teach English for a reason!)

So this time I know, I understand how the game works, and with that knowledge I’ve applied to literally every school that is accepting resumes or applications for their part time teaching pools.

And this is how I’ve seen my future: fall semester is going to come and I am going to be overwhelmed with offers.  Because of the panic I am in right now about not having a job, I have in all likelihood, put myself out there too much.  Because the thing about contract teaching is you can’t say no.

Once an adjunct passes up an offer, it’s not like you go to the bottom of the list – you fall off it completely and then you’re not considered again.  Or at least, that’s been my experience this far.  I said no once last fall, when I knew if I started a THIRD teaching job on top of my online part time job and my assistantship, I wouldn’t have defended this semester.

Yes, I made the right decision turning down the daily classes they wanted me to teach.

Yes, I successfully defended my dissertation and have my Ph.D.

No, I don’t have a job.  At least, not yet.

What I need to figure out now is when to say yes . . .

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I need a break

So I’ve had a migraine today.  The last time I had a migraine was about two years ago and was, oddly enough, right after I finished my exams and advanced to candidacy.

Well, maybe it’s not odd, although I remember at that time all I could think about was the fact that I planned to take at least a month off from writing/reading/dissertation stuff because I knew I had driven myself into the ground preparing for the prelims.  I had hoped to do that finishing the dissertation too but . . . well . . . it kind of blows when the Monday after you become a Ph.D. you find out you’ve lost half your income for the summer and that while you thought you’d have the summer to look for another teaching job, instead you’re going to have to apply for unemployment.

So instead of spending the last two weeks reveling in the fact that I finished my Ph.D. and don’t have to cringe when someone sends me an email addressed to Dr. MyLastName, I have been in a panic about what I am going to do with myself when June comes and I am broke.

Talk about a buzz kill.

I’ve applied to every college within a 75 mile radius of my apartment.  Now it’s time to sit and wait.  I am not good with the patience thing but I am pretty sure my body is telling me it is time to take a break and slow down a bit.  I’ve worked hard, and succeeded, it’s now time to step back and let my well laid out hand play itself out.

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Apparently, I am bad at this

Well, I told myself I would post every day for the rest of April and I didn’t even manage to make it a week keeping up with that idea!  It hasn’t been for lack of desire, maybe a little bit about not having anything I felt compelled enough to say, but last night was because we needed to move furniture.  I moved my desk – the one I almost never use – into Chris’s office so that we can game together and I won’t have to sit on the guest bed with my laptop burning a hole through my thigh.  Fascinating stuff, I know.

So I am going to pull a topic from the The Daily Post blog.   It’s not today’s topic – it’s actually from a couple of days ago:

Topic 95:
What rare talent do you have that most people don’t know?

I have two nicknames these days: Evil Smurf and The Gateway Drug.

Really, they both go together to personify my rare talent.

One of my closest friends keeps a running list of the TV shows, movies, and games I recommend to her and we spend hours talking about them after she watches or plays them.  Another friend just texted me because she can’t stop thinking about a TV show I told her to watch.  The copy editor of my dissertation is now playing an MMORPG . . .

And this is how I am The Gateway Drug.

My rare power: introducing people to things I know they will love.  How do I know they will love them?  Usually because I do but sometimes I just know people’s personalities and the things they might enjoy.

And this is what makes me Evil Smurf.

Maybe “evil” is too strong a word in this context but when I took the “What Smurf are You?” Facebook quiz, that was the answer.  But I do provide plenty of distraction for people, usually in the form of entertainment they enjoy . . . so I can live with that, evil or otherwise.

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Reality Sets In

Looking over the box of library books that I used while writing my dissertation, my eyes fill with tears.  Seems strange that a box of books could make me cry . . .

Are these really worth crying over?

I turn to Chris and he gives me one of those hugs and sob silently for a few moments.  He quietly reminds me that yes, this closes a chapter of my life but that a new one is just beginning.

Of course, that new chapter is filled with such uncertainty I have a difficult time embracing it. Letting go of this box might be just what I need to let go of the expectations I had finishing the Ph.D. – no one is going to swoop down from on high and give me that perfect job and it’s going to be up to me to make that future happen.

Guess it’s time to get to work . . .

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How does it feel?

This is the question of the week: how does it feel?

If you’ve been following my journey at all, you’ll probably guess this question is in response to having finished the dissertation, had all the forms and ballots turned in, and officially completing my Ph.D.

How does it feel?

Completely unreal.

There’s a great amount of relief to being done, to not having my committee tell me to write another chapter or that some part of my dissertation wasn’t good enough.  There’s a lot of fear, still, in wondering what is next and where I will be working, especially in light of having one of my summer sections canceled.  (The first time EVER that I have lost a section of online teaching which is proof that the budget in CA is in serious trouble and that it’s probably time to move on from a part time job I’ve had for almost a decade.)  There’s some sadness, too, in being finished with such a big project that I poured so much of myself into over the last five years.

And lastly, and most importantly, there is joy.  Bright, happy, shiny joy and it sits like a glowing light somewhere in the core of my being.

It’s funny – I’m always at the ready to talk about the difficult things I’m going through in my life but I stumble over myself to talk about the good things.  I don’t know if it’s that self-effacing tendency women have to not take joy in their accomplishments or if on some level that perfectionist in me will always hold on to the “you’re not good enough” vibe but I was struck by this today when one of my former students ran up to me to hug me and say congrats and she asked THE question and I just stared at her.

It’s too much and nothing at all at the same time: relief, fear, sadness, and joy?  What kind of soup does that make?

The completely unreal soup of life.

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This morning I got a text from a friend telling me how proud he was that I finished my dissertation and successfully defended.  He said I made it look easy.

I responded back that it wasn’t easy at all actually.

And then I almsot sent a second text saying:

“But I was really lucky.”

I stopped myself and instead said:

“I made some really good decisions along the way.”

This is a really important distinction for me to make.  Often, I want to dismiss what takes lots of planning and thought as “luck.”  Several people (my coach included) have pointed this out to me.  I tend to dismiss the things I do well and focus all my energies on critiquing myself.  I am always open to critique and not always to praise, self or otherwise.

I think this is part of what is causing the post-phd blues.  The edits I need to do on the dissertation are very minimal and are totally voluntary.  The anxiety I experienced leading up to the defense was centered mostly on the idea that I would get in that room and they would tear me apart because that was what, in my mind, I deserved.  No where in my thinking was the memory of the careful planning and the months I spent writing and editing the dissertation.  My mind was completely focused on what was wrong with it, regardless of the constant positive praise of my adviser.

Even during and after the defense when one of my committee members continued to say what a great read my dissertation was my main thought was, “Damnit.  It must not be good enough if it was easy and fun to read.”

Yes, I really thought that.

So somewhere between those two texts this morning I changed my mindset.  And just like remembering to live in the moment, I know this one isn’t going to be all that easy to remember but hopefully I can get some more positive pathways established in my all too negative thinking brain.

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It’s a weird sensation, finishing the dissertation.  I think somewhere in the back of my mind I never thought it would end.  With that I’m also not sure I knew exactly how much definition it gave my life.  It was *always* on my mind in one way or another.

It’s been the first thing on my mind in the morning, and the last when I go to bed at night.

And now it’s done.  Granted, it’s still on my mind but not in that pressure cooker way it was before – you know, the one where you feel like your brain is going to implode from the pressure?  And you can’t wait until it’s over?

A friend tonight compared my depression at finishing to post-partem and my dissertation to a baby.  (Well, loosely – I storta threw in the baby part myself.)  I don’t think that’s too far from the truth, although in many ways I think the dissertation isn’t  a newborn, it’s more like my first child just left for kindergarten.  That would be about right time wise.  Five years working on this project, and it’s likely I’ll work on it a few more trying to turn it into a book.  And now I’m dealing with what to do with an empty house during the day.

(This is actually a really good metaphor because I spent the better part of today wondering what I was going to do with myself.)

So as I was killing brain cells watching stupid TV soap opera dramas (Desperate Housewives.  What?  Don’t judge.) I decided I knew what I really missed.  I miss writing.  I miss that push I’ve constantly had in the back of my mind to produce, that urge no matter what to get to the computer and get something out.  I didn’t realize it but that push is what kept me going through the dissertation.  It wasn’t anything more than simply my desire to write, the one and only desire that has stayed with me for my entire life.

And then I had the best thought of all.

I don’t have to stop writing.

In fact, I have more time to write things I really enjoy.

Now, if I could only figure out what that is, I’d be set.

So I’m going to commit myself to writing everyday for the rest of the month and see what comes out of that.

To be continued . . .

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