A “Winning” Mindset

dissertation, graduate school, running

When it has been awhile since I’ve turned anything in or when it has been awhile since I’ve gotten any “you’re on the right track” type of feedback, I start to get antsy. I mean, I’m always antsy and anxious, but even more so than usual. Maybe some irritability will crop up or dramatic exclamations of “I’m a failure!” What did I fail? To be determined. Usually around this time, I’ll start saying things to Bruno like: “I need a win.”

It does not matter how many times I have “won” (in whatever way that can mean in graduate school). Within a few days, I need another opportunity to “prove myself” because I’m still not sure, even though I’ve been here for five years, passed my classes, passed reading comprehension in ancient Greek and French, passed comps (it was brutally ugly, but I passed) and have had two chapters approved and I still do not think I’m intelligent enough for grad school. And I constantly have to work make sure someone “qualified” can let me know whether I am intelligent enough or whether I am not, because none of the above “proves” it once and for all.

Meanwhile, this is a total joy-sucker and a total sucker-punch to the idea that learning is good for its own sake. I mean, I truly believe it is the best way of life and I would rather be here than making six figures with health insurance elsewhere. What is the point of anything if I can’t spend all day with Rousseau, Plato, Hegel, Hobbes, and so on reading, thinking, writing, etc?

And yet, in my day to day life it becomes much less about learning for its own sake and more about getting that chapter approved because someday I need to finish this dissertation, so I can get those three little letters appended to my name, so that I can get a job, so that I can get health insurance, and blah, blah, blah. I understand the need to be pragmatic, but there are times where it can be crushing, where I forget it is only the means to the end. The day becomes less about what I learned and more about productivity. The word count basically my little star of approval when I can’t get it from anywhere else. You wrote a lot today. Today mattered. Or, you didn’t write a lot today. Today was a waste.

I have not figured this out yet, how to separate the joy of learning with the practical need for affirmation, but moreover for the more pernicious need for affirmation. I have been trying to figure out how to remove that feeling for the last five years of graduate school and I’m not sure that I am any closer than I was today in 2018 than I was in 2013 when I first started.

Amelia Boone, 3x World Toughest Mudder Champion, had a great Instagram post the other day. She wrote, “I spent so many years – maybe most of my life so far – doing things out of fear (racing included). I thought that, somehow, enough awards and accolades and wins would make me happy. That, at some point, I’d be satisfied. But it was only when I accepted that these would *never* be enough did I finally start to feel full.”

I want to apply that mindset to graduate school, to the learning life, because it is true. No amount of A’s, passes, honorary societies, chapter approvals I get ever seems to be enough. I have not “arrived,” because I never will. And as much as I may say that I need a “win” there will never be one final “win” to end all wins, that fully declares “I’m smart enough to be here and certifiably not a moron.”

I’m not sure how someone goes about the acceptance Boone describes, but I am willing to give it a go.

xo, Ali

 

 

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Favorite Things : March 10 – 16, 2018

dissertation, favorite things

Well. I’m caught up. I’ve started the third set of edits and hopefully will be well on my way to get this chapter turned in by the end of the month. I still feel anxious (what else is new?), but I’m hoping that as I get closer and closer to turning the chapter in that anxiety will eventually recede.

Not much on the docket for this weekend. I run twelve miles tomorrow and some fellow graduate students are having a St. Patrick’s Day party in the evening. Still not drinking, we bought some Q ginger beers (still kind of festive, get it…”ginger” beers…ok, I’m still twelve) and I’m making some cookies to bring.

And without further ado, here are this week’s favorite things:

Long, but poignant essay on privilege.

These pictures make me want a skateboard.

Not a vegan, but I was still interested in this list.

Also, not a fan of baseball, but this article on Ichiro Suzuki was fascinating.

Definitely worth reading and thinking about: submissive sex in the age of #metoo.

Usually I wake around 4am — an old article on why that is the most productive hour.

The always wonderful Ann Patchett on baking and retraining your shrinking attention span.

If you read anything on this list, read this one: life after cancer diagnosis.

Have a great weekend!

xo, Ali

 

 

 

 

 

An Hour of Reading a Day Keeps the Anxiety Away

books, daily life, dissertation, graduate school, Harry Potter, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, reading

I usually wake up around 4am. That is, the alarm goes off at four. I lay in bed for a bit, but I’m usually out in the kitchen by 4:15-4:20ish. Bruno usually prepares coffee the night before, so all I have to do is press the “on” button. I chug two glasses of water. I take vitamins.

And, then, I grab a mug of coffee. I set an hour timer on my phone. I sit on the couch. I open a book and read. I do not read Rousseau. I do not read anything related to my Ph.D. I read whatever I damn well please. I’ve been doing this for over a year now.

After I took my Ph.D. comprehensive exam I had a really hard time with stress, like more than normal. Like I have mentioned before, stress manifests itself physically for me so I had high blood pressure, an ulcer, insomnia, and panic attacks. Not to mention, comps was not exactly the highlight of my graduate school experience. Pressure may be a privilege, but I have never been at my best when the stakes are high.

I missed reading for the sake of reading. For the last four years, I mainly read only what was required for class or for a paper. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I read for school. I would not be doing this if I did not truly love it, but around comps I reached a point where I could not separate the fear of failure with reading political philosophy. I feel much better now, but I do not think it would have happened if not for my daily reading habit.

Knowing that I would likely not get it done in the evenings — that is typically “Bruno time” — I began getting up an hour earlier. I began with re-reading the Harry Potter series which I have not read for years and years despite being a favorite. It was comfort fiction, like eating my mom’s chocolate chip cookies or taking a warm bubble bath. I continued from there to Mischka Berlinski’s Fieldwork and then Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. I re-read favorite classics like Stendhal’s The Red and the Black and discovered new one’s like Anatole France’s The Gods Will Have Blood. Somewhere I had forgotten that I’m someone with lots of interests, not just Rousseau. Case in point: The hot topic of books I read last year was on explorers and conquerors of the Amazons last year (this one on Theodore Roosevelt and the Amazon River is on my shelf now. The obsession continues!).

As the year has passed, I have actually transitioned to reading books more related to my field. Right now I’m reading Homer’s Iliad for the first time — I know, I’m practically an uneducated barbarian. I have two books on liberalism and freedom of religion that I’ve started and yes, sometimes, I even read Rousseau — but only the autobiographical works and Julie!

The benefits of reading in the morning have been practical as well as good for my mental state. It is hard for me to drag myself out of bed to work out or to work really. I have tried to start writing right away in the morning and I just don’t like it. I like easing into my day not rushing into it. That I get to reward myself by getting out of bed so early in the morning with some coffee and a book and generally just some quiet time to myself usually means that while I am slow at getting out of bed, that snooze button is almost never pushed.

And by the time I do go for my run or start writing or whatever the morning has planned, I already feel replenished not only from a good night sleep, but a good book too.

xo, Ali

 

 

Blitzkrieg (Bop!) Dissertation Catch-Up

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

I hate feeling behind. We have only two more days until the Ides of March (beware!) and I am already five days behind my writing schedule, not to mention my plans for reading too. I blame last week. But I struggled with keeping up with my schedule in February too and I know I do not expect too much of myself — quality over quantity.

I’m at that point in chapter writing where it isn’t new anymore. And the more time that passes the more anxious I am beginning to feel. I have fifty-four pages of writing, but none of it feels like it coming together. I’m very close to finishing the second draft (assuming the chapter will end up around sixty pages), but I’m afraid I lost the thesis thread. I just want to get it done and turn in it so I can have that day or two of “ah.”

So with all that going on, I went to noon mass and adoration today. And while I entered with a lot of dissertation anxiety, I left with a plan. One might call it divine inspiration.

I have am declaring all-out war on the third chapter. This is a blitzkrieg. Like my “let’s just do this” weekend miles, so I could get my tenth week of consistent running in, I’m writing until I’m caught up. That is, by March 15, I not only want that second draft done, but I went to be onto the third.

This chapter will be turned in by the end of the month. And hopefully it will be even decent too.

Now take it, Dee Dee! Hey ho, let’s go!

xo, Ali

 

Monday Miles : March 5 – 11, 2018

dissertation, monday miles, running

Well, I was not so sure how this week was going to go. If you asked me on Friday, even, I would have said the miles just were not going to get done. I had been having stomach problems for over a week, visits to the doctor, the hospital, a migraine on Monday, and perhaps worst of all, almost no dissertating was done. C’est pas vrais! 

Friday afternoon, I found out the ultrasound was all clear and my bloodwork showed that I was getting over a virus. I did not (and still do not) feel that great, but I was no longer yacking. I felt unbelievably anxious and grumpy. Around four-ish on Saturday, I though I was just going to do what I could to make it happen. I did Wednesday’s 5 miles on Friday, Saturday’s 11 miles on Saturday, and Thursday’s 3 miles on Sunday. It was not pretty. But it got done.

saturdayrun

Saturday Pre-Run Power Pose.

 

3 / 5 : Nothing, nada, zilch. Not necessarily a recovery day, though. I did spend the day chasing down my two toddler nephews.

3 / 6 : 3 miles. IT Band & Core.

3 / 7 : Where everything begins to go downhill.

3 / 8 : I’m dying, Egypt. Dying.” Also, so much time in the walk-in clinic, the hospital, just waiting, waiting, waiting.

3 / 9 : 5 miles on the treadmill. Even though it was fine out, the treadmill just felt safer. This was fine. It happened. 3 x 10 push-ups, 3 x 10 assisted pull-ups, IT Band, and Core.

3 / 10 : I took some time to work as much on my dissertation as I could in the morning and I did something I never do. In fact, I kind of hate doing. I ran my long run in the afternoon. I told myself I only had to do six and could decide from there. Two miles in, feeling bloated, heavy, just blah, I was certain that I was not going to be able to do it. Well, guess what, I did it. It happened. I felt like a walrus the entire time because I felt so bloated and, frankly, exhausted the last two miles, but man, I was in a good mood the rest of the night. 11 miles in average 10:17 mile pace — which, for feeling like hell, felt pretty good to me.

3 / 11 : 3 miles. Slowly trudging around. I was sore. Yoga with Adriene for Back and Hips.

This week was a reminder to quit being so precious. Things don’t have to happen exactly how they are supposed to (i.e. running in the morning, not afternoon) do to get my runs in. I need to (must) apply the same thing to dissertation writing.

xo, Ali

 

 

 

 

Throwback Thursday Tunes : The Dissertation Process Edition

dissertation, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, music, throw-back thursday tunes

ledzeppelin

Keeping with my theme yesterday, I was thinking about the songs that get me through the different parts of dissertation writing. I am not one of those people who can write without music. I need to tune out the other world and drop into dissertation-land if anything is going to get typed out or edited. Usually this is Bob Dylan or the Velvet Underground. Television’s Marquee Moon and Patti Smith’s Horses have been on repeat lately. Other times I’ll just see what Spotify has in store for me. The first 60 seconds of the Avett Brothers’ Talk on Indolence describes the dissertating experience better than any song I’ve ever heard. It captures that frantic writing that comes with the first draft. If I am really trying to concentrate I’ll put on Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 “Pathetique” (my absolute favorite) and just listen to it over and over again.

Here I Go Again, beginning with the nerve-wrecking and hopeful beginnings. You happily take the plunge Into The Great Wide Open.

And then the hurdles come. When you feel like you just Couldn’t Get It Right and you just can’t see the light. You want to take a Mudshovel to your chapter. You tell Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You.” Just me? Ok, then.

But you Carry On.

And eventually you start Beginning to See the Light. The argument makes sense (hopefully). You start to make sure every Oxford Comma has its place.

And then. Finally. The Beautiful Day. You turn the chapter in. And all you have to do is another round or two of edits until it is approved and soon enough, you’ll be Grazing in the Grass. Baby, can you dig it?

You can find the whole Dissertation Edition playlist here.

xo, Ali

P.S. The playlist is 1 hour and 30 minutes, the same amount of time I use as dissertation writing blocks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

“But I AM FREAKING OUT!”

“It’s fine…do you..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