The Dissertation Chapter Writing Process

daily life, dissertation, goals, graduate school, Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The end of this month has brought more frustration than I thought. I think I over-estimated what I could get done this month (third chapter in to advisor) and then well, it did not happen. I’m frustrated that even though I was super consistent in writing almost every single damn day in January, I made a little over half the days in February. The month just kind of went over the rails. Still. This has been my most consistent writing chapter and I’m just frustrated that it is not done yet. I try to calm myself down and say “It will be done when it’s done. It will be done when it’s done.” But nope. My anxieties refuse to be swayed by reason. I’ve had days where I can crank out almost 2000 words (this happened yesterday), other days where I can only squeeze out 200 in the same amount of time (today). In fact, at this moment I am about 2/3 of a way through a second draft. I do not even know if the chapter is coherent. I usually go through about four drafts before I send them to my advisor.

The first draft. Usually garbage. I start with a question. This time around its: “what does Rousseau say about Christianity?” Answer: “A lot.” I proceed to pound out quotes and notes on everything related to this topic. I listen to a lot of Bob Dylan. There is a vague outline but no thesis. Usually it is incomplete before I go back through and begin…

The second draft. I am starting to have ideas, a vague notion of a soft thesis is occurring, I start to have an idea about how I could finish this thing. I write a real introduction including a lit review. I start to add other thinkers in the mix. I have some nice interplay between Pierre Bayle and Rousseau this time around. Some honorable mentions for John Locke and Hobbes.

After this I email it to Bruno, my husband/editor. We proceed to have the same conversation we’ve had for every paper, proposal, article, dissertation chapter I have written since we started dating almost three years ago.

“Does it make sense? Am I so stupid?”

“It’s fine.”

“But I mean is my advisor going to want to quit being my advisor when he reads this?”

“It’s fine.”


“It’s fine…do you need a hug?”

Bruno returns the draft with his edits. I usually start to feel a little bit better.

The third draft. Re-write the introduction. Go back through every thing again. Start to Turabian my footnotes and citations. Re-arrange. Have a hard thesis. Check to make sure thesis is mentioned in each section, especially necessary if chapter is about to be an absolute mountain. Have moments of bliss. Have moments of terror. Want to take all my Rousseau books and burn them. Want to read Rousseau forever and ever. Check, check, and double-check the French. This is the part where the chapter really comes together.

The fourth draft. Read through again. Does it make sense? Is there stupid mistakes? Ok, this is fine, usually quick. And then I…

Turn the chapter in. Here comes the panic, the fear. For a couple of days, I just focus on reading. I take a break. My advisor is pretty efficient so within the week…

The chapter is returned back to me. And usually it is not as bad as I thought. My last chapter was approved right away and recommended to go publish (which I worked on over Christmas break). I have a sigh of relief, think I might just make it after all.

I wish I could be more comfortable with this process. I wish I could just be comfortable knowing that if I am working on it, if I am doing the work, it is fine, it is fine, and yes, it is fine. But as I said, my anxieties refuse to listen to reason.

I bet you can guess what my main objective for March is…

xo, Ali






2018 Favorite Books So Far

books, reading

I finished my 20th book of the year this morning. It was a celebratory moment in itself because said book was A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin which means finally, finally, FINALLY I have finished the Game of Thrones series. It has taken me since September 2017 with moments of pure reading enjoyment and pure reading hell (Brienne chapters are the worst). I will probably want to re-read them again before the next (and final) season of the show comes out, but until then I’m glad to finally be done with the series. Fare thee well, Westeros and Essos. Hello…well, I’m not sure what I will read next, if I will even start a new series at all.

If I was only reading about the trials and squabbles of those frisky folks on King’s Landing, I probably would have been finished with the series much sooner, but I find it difficult to be book-monogamous (also those Brienne chapters, my GOD!). I usually have several going at once, although I do try to make sure they are not all in the same genre.

Here are a few of my favorites so far in this year (in no particular order):

  1. The Outrun — Amy Liptrot This one might be a favorite, not for the year, but all-time. I keep going back to it, just to read paragraphs of her description of the Scottish Orkney Islands. I have this one on Kindle, the sooner I can get it in hardcover the better.
  2. Why Bob Dylan Matters — Richard F. Thomas Part of my “learn more about music, not just listen to it” project. It provides a great defense of Dylan’s Nobel Prize for Literature, and more importantly, made me appreciate Bob Dylan more and the long tradition he comes from. Plus, it was a healthy reminder that I really need to read my classics.
  3. 168 Hours : You have More Time Than You Think — Laura Vanderkam Some good tough love. Most of her advice is common sense and fairly obvious, but I always need a reminder.
  4. Just Kids & M Train — Patti Smith Scanning through my high schools journals last year, I read something I wrote with an adorable pretentiousness back in 2005: “I want to live a life of art.” And proceeded to explain how I was going to that. I know I am not the first person to write something like that, nor will I be the last. Reading Patti Smith reminded me of these younger ideals and challenged me to continue to hold them. Art is not something you try to fit in, cramming in the hours, but a way of existing and being in the world. I will put these on the “read every year” pile.
  5. The Call of the Wild — Jack London Never in my life would I ever think that a story about a dog would become one of my favorites. Jack London writes like an American.
  6. How Bad Do You Want It? — Matt Fitzgerald I am a sucker for inspirational tales of resilience. The thing is, even though this is a book specifically about endurance in competitive sports, every lesson in here could be applied to graduate school. I think it will make not only my running better, but how I dissertate and everything that is to come after.

I keep track of all my reading on Goodreads. I’m a sucker for the lists and challenges. Plus, those percentage bars that show me how closer or far I am from finishing a book are a type-A dream.

What books have been your favorites this year thus far?

xo, Ali

Monday Miles : February 19 – 25, 2018

monday miles, running

Eight weeks! Double-digit runs! So much ice cream! This last week was my best week of running yet. I know I keep repeating myself, but I will say it over and over and over and over again: I am so grateful. Those miles where I listen to podcasts and music and move my feet have made my mornings and the rest of my days much more alive, even when those runs have had to take place on the treadmill.

Injury & Niggles Update: IT Band still hurts a bit, but only a bit. I think is getting better? See my Saturday ten miler for thoughts on that. My left hip did not bother me at all, but my hip flexors still feel tight without causing me any trouble.

2/19 : MTV Pilates & Yoga with Adriene for the Psoas.

2/20 : IT Band & Core routine, 3 miles.

2/21 : 5 mile run, 30 minutes @ 9 min pace. 3 x 10 Assisted pull-ups; 3 x 10 push-ups. IT Band & Core routine. I know 9 min pace is slow for, well, a lot of people, but I was really happy to be able to do that pace again. When I started the 30 minutes, I was not sure that I was going to be able to do that. Those thoughts started right at the first minute, so I just made a sort of military cadence chant to myself as I ran: “I can do anything for 30 minutes, I can do anything for 30 minutes. Why? Because I feel good. Why? Because I’m strong. I can do anything for 29 minutes…” Yeah. Over and over again. It worked though!

2/22 : IT Band & Core routine, 3 miles.

2/23 : IT Band & Core routine.

2/24 : This was it. This was the day! 10 miles. I started about 10:30ish pace and then finished my last mile I think at around 8:50ish (I couldn’t stop myself). I averaged about 10:04/mile. Bruno ran this with me and it was just a lot of fun. I love going long. I love just being outside and I felt like I could forever. And most importantly nothing hurt. Not even my IT Band. Nothing even felt the least bit of bad at all. It was a good day. I definitely rewarded myself with some ice cream afterwards.

2/25 : MTV Yoga. Yes, this is so old. But I found it on youtube and I used to do it all the time and loved it. So yeah, I started doing it again. I can still quote Kristin McGee on everything.

Total: 21 miles !!!!

Happy miles everyone!

xo, Ali

Favorite Things : February 17 – 23, 2018

favorite things

What a week! Certain days were more productive than others. I’m still struggling to finish this third chapter. It is not that I am not working on it, it just grows and grows and grows. I wanted to have something to send in by spring break (next week Friday), but I am not certain that will be able to happen.

Tomorrow is my first double-digit run of the year and hopefully not the last. Tonight, I’ll make some dinner and do a little reading and relaxing, so I can start Saturday off ready and energized.

And without further ado, this week’s favorite things.

I do not own anything from Glossier and I’m not so certain I like that shiney, glossy look. It looks to me like the girls are sweating. But! This article on Glossier founder Emily Weiss was fascinating.

Back in the good ole days of elementary school, one of our punishments was to write out pages of the dictionary. It did not work for me. I still love scanning through dictionaries to this day. Glad to know I’m not alone. Also, I’m intrigued by the idea of reading a few pages of the dictionary a day. Most intrigued.

Life should be creative, not just your career.

Resilience is a good characteristic of both athletes and graduate students.

I’ve definitely run into a glass door before.

I once was anti-bread. I felt like hell. Now I am pro-bread and am much happier.

Every month Bruno and I have the grocery budget conversation. It is our biggest expense. Here are some useful grocery tips.

Have a great weekend!

xo, Ali


Lenten Ulterior Motives

daily life

“And after all, there is not a young girl who, to have a more slender figure or to save what is needed to buy fine clothes, would not renounce pleasure more gaily than the rest do to observe the precepts of the church.” — Pierre Bayle on Lenten fasting, Various Thoughts on the Occasion of a Comet

I sent this quote to Bruno today with “#savage.” Yes, I’m basically still a teenage girl.

The more things stay the same, the more things stay the same. I am totally guilty of giving up desserts and sugar to lose a few extra pounds — the extra pounds stayed — I’ve never been good at Lenten fasts. For one, I love fish, seafood, vegetarian dishes. I used to get excited around Lenten season every year because of the delicious seafood dishes my mom would make on Fridays. I think I got the opposite impression of Lent as a time of good eating, not necessarily fasting.

Now I usually give up Facebook and Instagram. My social media addiction by spring is rampant, but of course, even this other ends. I mean, it is good for productivity, am I right? And also — general, over-all happiness. But because I think I’ll eventually give up facebook and Instagram, for good, for good someday, I opted this year for something else.

This year I’m giving up alcohol. Strangely enough, this one ended up being in fashion among my fellow Catholic grad students. That Thursday, I went to a friend’s and all of us girls had given up alcohol. But funny enough, as Bayle claimed, we still had different reasons for doing so, mostly having to do with health.

I’m no different. With my struggles with insomnia and anxiety, I have been trying really hard to figure out what can make it better. These 40 days are not just a Lenten fast, but an experiment to see if the anxiety improves sans-booze. It also gives me a built-in excuse to explain why I’m not drinking that doesn’t make me feel like a buzz-kill (“So you see I have intense anxiety and sometimes I can’t sleep at night…”).

Last night was one week. I still feel anxious, but have yet to have a full-fledged panic attack. And I still have had some sleep struggles, but I am hoping these struggles will simmer down as time goes by. So yes, as Bayle says, I’m observing the precepts of the church, but I still have my Lenten ulterior motives.

I’ll cheers my La Croix to that!

xo, Ali


Insomnia Blues

daily life

I usually keep the hours of 9 – 4, that is, sleeping hours. I like going to bed early so I can wake early. But over the past few months my insomnia has increased. I know when I am going to have a hard time sleeping the moment I lie down in bed. I will be tired, ready to sleep, and relieved when the lights go off. And then? Thump, thump, thump. My heart starts racing.

I might start to fall asleep and then, once again thump, thump, THUMP! I am guilty of, at this moment, turning to Nyquil. But even this has proven to be, in the long-term, an ineffective aid. I took a double dose of Nyquil (don’t try this at home kids!) Sunday night and was still up until about one, heart racing. Then, to top it off, I typically have a Nyquil hangover the next day, brain fog, heaviness, a sort of dull lethargy.

The frustrating part of all this is that it is throwing off my consistency. Sunday night I made a schedule for every day this week because I was feeling behind. I wanted to feel in control. I wanted to have a plan. And of course, life laughs right back at me, because instead of waking up at 4, I woke up 4 hours later with a Nyquil-induced brain fog. And sure, I was able to get most things done. I even made a lemon drizzle cake. BUT, I hate that feeling of not being at 100 percent.

Last night I fell asleep fine and then hello 2 a.m.! I laid in bed for an hour and then just gave up, made myself some coffee, and plopped myself on the couch for the morning routine. I will be exhausted later. And then will repeat the cycle probably again tonight.

I also try to do the things. I do not drink coffee after lunch. I take magnesium before bed. For Lent, I have given up alcohol, as penance, but also to see if it helps my sleep and anxiety. But then again, I am also guilty of doing all the wrong things too, mainly in that I love my screen time. The television is in the bedroom. I check my phone (Instagram!) frequently before bed. I am not doing all I could.

Tonight I am going to try to quit looking at my phone after seven. I will try not to fall into the routine of Hulu-n-chill (Happy Endings!) before bed. And hopefully, tonight, I will sleep, because I do not think I can stand another day of this.

xo, Ali




Monday Miles : February 12 – 18, 2018

monday miles, running

Seven weeks of consistent running! Seven weeks of consistent running! I feel like cheering. When I finished my run Saturday, I was beyond satisfied and still grateful. I am not over half-way through my plan with five weeks to go.

2/12 — MTV Pilates. Always and forever my core go-to. I’ve watched it so much, I can say every line verbatim. “Let’s work our abs!”

2/13 — 3 miles, easy. Core/It Band.

2/14 — I had a total panic attack today. I just woke up feeling in terror and then, terrible. I did Yoga with Adrienne for Stress Relief. I felt bad for not running today, afraid that changing up my schedule for the week would mean I just would not run. As is apparent now, that was not the case, but it goes to show how much perfectionism can stress me out.

2/15 — 5 miles. Up a Wednesday mile from last week. Felt good. Did assisted pull-ups, core, and it band exercises after.

2/16 — 3 miles, easy. Core/It Band.

2/17 — 9 miles. I still have not uploaded any of these miles to Strava or anywhere, but this ended up taking me just a minute or two over an hour and a half. I was pretty happy with it, because it was a pretty hilly run! I ran the first two miles by myself and then Bruno joined me for the rest. My IT Band started getting cranky towards the end and so did my stomach. I’m not sure what is up with that as I did not eat anything different. Typically I drink a beat smoothie from Run Fast East Slow and then use GU’s for the run. I’m assuming maybe it is the latter that is causing problems? Mystery to be solved.

2/18 — JasYoga Hip Mobility, JasYoga Deep Rest. I ate some ice cream. Bruno and I watched the original Blade Runner, total recovery day.

Here’s to (hopefully) another great week of running!

xo, Ali


These Are A Few of My Favorite Things : February 10-16, 2018

favorite things

I found this history of the waterbed to be fascinating. My parents had one when I was little that I remember popping. Also, who, as a child of the 90s, did not want that impressive aquarium waterbed in The Goofy Movie?

I am teaching my first class next semester and I loved this interview with Teller (of Penn & Teller) on teaching.

Your reminder that motivation is bullshit.

I try to live a life of intellectual humility. I don’t know everything. That is why I love this idea of an anti-library.

“A private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.”

An important reminder for myself. I can definitely be on the curmudgeonly grump side of life.

Another great reminder: take risks.

And speaking of being able to survive the Yukon the other day, the Yukon Ultra had just one finisher.

To finish, some articles I thought were interesting on the #metoo movement. While I think it is a great thing that we are getting rid of schmucks like Harvey Weinstein and Matthew Lauer and, hopefully, their less famous counterparts, I do tend to feel hesitant at declaring myself as supportive of the movement. I think Kate Roiphe’s The Other Whisper Network sums up how I tend to feel about the movement.

“Most of the new whisperers feel as I do, exhilarated by the moment, by the long-overdue possibility of holding corrupt and bullying men such as Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, and Matt Lauer to account for their actions. They strongly share some of its broader goals: making it possible for women to work unbothered and unharassed even outside the bubble of Hollywood and the media, breaking down the structures that have historically protected powerful men. Yet they are also slightly uneasy at the weird energy behind this movement, a weird energy it is sometimes hard to pin down.”

Weird energy. Secret lists. A total lack of due process. It makes me nervous. Another great article, and maybe even better, from someone who supports the ends of the #metoo movement, while maybe not its means is Margaret Atwood. She asks if she is a bad feminist.

“This structure – guilty because accused – has applied in many more episodes in human history than Salem. It tends to kick in during the “Terror and Virtue” phase of revolutions – something has gone wrong, and there must be a purge, as in the French Revolution, Stalin’s purges in the USSR, the Red Guard period in China, the reign of the Generals in Argentina and the early days of the Iranian Revolution. The list is long and Left and Right have both indulged. Before “Terror and Virtue” is over, a great many have fallen by the wayside. Note that I am not saying that there are no traitors or whatever the target group may be; simply that in such times, the usual rules of evidence are bypassed.
Such things are always done in the name of ushering in a better world. Sometimes they do usher one in, for a time anyway. Sometimes they are used as an excuse for new forms of oppression. As for vigilante justice – condemnation without a trial – it begins as a response to a lack of justice – either the system is corrupt, as in prerevolutionary France, or there isn’t one, as in the Wild West – so people take things into their own hands. But understandable and temporary vigilante justice can morph into a culturally solidified lynch-mob habit, in which the available mode of justice is thrown out the window, and extralegal power structures are put into place and maintained. The Cosa Nostra, for instance, began as a resistance to political tyranny.”

But another interesting article I found this week is probably the #metoo article I agreed with the most, particularly on how women are educated to understand sex will be uncomfortable and how that extends to relations between males and females and health care (almost ten years to diagnose endometriosis, a shamefully long time for an incredibly common problem for us women).

“In the real world, the very first lesson the typical woman learns about what to expect from sex is that losing her virginity is going to hurt. She’s supposed to grit her teeth and get through it. Think about how that initiation into sex might thwart your ability to recognize “discomfort” as something that’s not supposed to happen. When sex keeps hurting long after virginity is lost, as it did for many of my friends, many a woman assumes she’s the one with the problem. And, well, if you were supposed to grit your teeth and get through it the first time, why not the second? At what point does sex magically transform from enduring someone doing something to you that you don’t like — but remember: everyone agrees you’re supposed to tolerate it — to the mutually pleasurable experience everyone else seems to think it is?”

I’m a big believer in getting the most intelligent analysis of all sides. This is a nuanced and important topic that I don’t think should be sloppily or dogmatically thought about.

And with that, I conclude this week’s favorite things.

Have a lovely weekend!

xo, Ali




Throw-back Thursday Tunes : February 15, 2018

music, throw-back thursday tunes


Do you have a favorite day of the week? I am a big fan of Monday’s and Saturday’s. I like the beginning freshness of the first and then the guiltless finality of the second. On Monday’s it is a new start. My motivation is high and the possibilities are there. But as the Mama’s and the Papa’s say Monday morning couldn’t guarantee by Monday evening that motivation would still be here with me. Ok, I did took some artistic liberties with the song, but you really can’t trust that day.

And for whatever reason, no matter how little or how much I got done during the week, Saturday is the day I can relax. I am usually exhausted from my run. I do not feel bad about that cheeseburger. Or that ice cream I have afterwards. Whatever is left to be done, well, that can always happen on Sunday.

I was listening to Tuesday Afternoon by the Moody Blues the other day, thus the inspiration for this playlist — the days of the of the week list. Not included: Manic Monday by the Bangles and Last Friday Night by Katy Perry. Nope. Hardest day of the week to find a song for: Thursday. I normally like David Bowie, but I could not even get through his song Thursday’s Child.

What is included? A little bit of the Rolling Stones, another visit from Simon & Garfunkel, a little bit of business time, and a little bit of a Louisiana Saturday Night.

I hope you enjoy!

Click here for the RSJ Throw-Back Thursday Tunes 8 Days a Week Edition!




To Build a Fire

daily life

I am not good at failing. This is funny for two reasons: 1) I like trying new things. 2) I fail a lot — you would think I have made myself immune to it by now. Failure, rejection, any of these sorts of things, make me uncomfortable to the point of irrationality. During my entire grad school career, I have only gotten two B+’s on papers, and I still cannot bring myself to actually look at them — being failures and all. Actually the thought right now makes me feel like hyperventilating. I’m a big fan of the gold star, the pat on the head, the beautiful, glorious “A” on the paper. External approval, man.

Enter this wilderness class I am taking right now. I am not exactly a stereotypical wilderness person (whatever that means). I mean I love champagne, manicures, facials–I give myself a face and hair mask twice I week. I get massages twice a month. Shoes and clothes make me really excited. And my idea of a good time is an excellent foodie-type restaurant. I love luxury. Granted, I grew up on a dairy farm and once had a summer job shoveling sand in a foundry. I am no stranger to hard work, but my inclination is definitely towards comfort.

But a couple of months ago, I just felt this urge to give it a go. We received camping equipment for Christmas and are planning to test the waters this summer. I started reading more wilderness memoirs. And yeah, I know I’m totally romanticizing it here, but in a time where life just feels so go-go-go, I wanted to focus on something that could be completely away from all of that. I wanted a goal that was outside of grad school, outside of running, and to do something completely and utterly different. So two days before the class started I signed up.

And I am really bad at it. I mean I’m barely good at using a knife in the kitchen, let alone carving up tent stakes out of wood. The other week, I had a total success building a fire with a ferro rod and homemade tinder. I felt like a total wilderness rock star and totally primal. You see that Zeus? I made FIRE!

But this past week, I spent over an hour in about ten degree weather, knees in the snow, trying with all my might to get one of my fatwood sticks into some kind of dust and another stick feathered (see above about being terrible at using a knife) so I could use it as a tinder to start a fire. I was warned it would be harder, that the only easy day was yesterday. I did not start a fire. I could barely even get my ferro rod to make sparks. I trudged back to the truck cold, wet, frustrated, and discouraged.

“Good thing we’re not in a Jack London novel,” I think I said to Bruno. Then I hopped my frozen self into a bubble bath, complete with a hot chocolate.

This Thursday I am going to have to try again. And who knows? Maybe I still will not get it. Maybe Zeus is mad at my hubris from the other week and is already planning on chaining me to a mountain complete with a liver-eating eagle. Or maybe, I will get it. I need to remember that rarely is anybody a natural at anything. Time and experience can make this better.

One thing that is not a maybe: After this class is over, I am probably going to get a lot more comfortable with failing. And hopefully with using a knife too.