What I’m Loving Lately

books, daily life, dissertation, graduate school

I’ve been making some changes lately, swapping coffee for tea (most of the time) and my lunch-time sandwich for a lunch-salad. My work outs are different. I’m only running three times a week, with swimming, biking, and CrossFit thrown in. I quit working at home and now try to make it to the library every single day. I bought a new planner that I’ve loving. I’m trying to be consistent at practicing reading/speaking French again. Life is good.

Here are some things I’m loving right now.

Results tea from Tea Forte. Once upon a time, before I got hooked on coffee I was a real tea junkie. I even had a blog called “SocraTeas” because I was not a coffee person…yet. Then I hit that liquid ambition hard. With my stomach problems, I decided to mostly give it up, even though I still think and will forever think coffee is like a warm hug in a mug. I was drinking some rooibos tea from Kroger’s, and that was ok, but I figured if this was going to stick I would need to bring out the big guns. Results is delicious. I do not miss coffee at all when I drink it. It doesn’t seem to ever get boring (like rooibos) and I think it will be my standard morning drink for awhile.

RomWod. You might have noticed this addition to my workouts the last couple of weeks. I want to work on mobility, but sometimes I just need someone to tell me what to do for the day. These videos are usually only 20 minutes (aside for Thursdays) and they are effective. Bruno and I usually do them post-dinner when we are both super sore from our work outs and they usually help get me into the mindset of “ahh, the day is over.”

Working on campus. I am struggling with distraction lately. Being home has made it easier for me to say “ah, well I’ll just take the day off” and then I’ll sit on the couch on read…not Rousseau and not anything to do with an Introduction to the Constitution class. We decided we were going to start going to campus in May and for the most part it has worked out. I’m still struggling with desperately wanting to use the internet (I’ve already broke my goals to avoid social media during the week) and I suspect I still waste a lot of time internet surfing, but I definitely have gotten probably more done in the last two weeks than I normally do. So it is, at the very least, a step in the right direction.

Soup for breakfast. So here is something strange. When I was having all my problems back in March and April I was eating a really restrictive diet and a lot of bone broth. I started having soup for breakfast because I could not eat anything else, usually ground beef, bone broth, green beans, and plenty of olive oil. I’m still doing it, although I’ve been adding more veggies and the ground beef is grass fed, local, and (my favorite) raised stress free. This week is it ground beef, bone broth, carrots, turnips, and green beans. Its good and I feel satiated the rest of the morning.

The Historian by Elizabeth KostovaWhat I consider a relative miracle, Bruno and I managed to buy around 10 brand new, some hard cover books for less than $100 over the weekend. We bought them at some bargain book place and it was heaven. I was not expecting to find much, but I wanted everything. This book has been on my to-do read list for awhile. I’m not a Twilight person, but I love Dracula and I read Anne Rice in high school, so you could say I like the vampire stories. This book is so beautifully written, that I do not think one would even need to be a fan of horror to love this book. Sidenote: it explains academic life pretty well. There are some great lines about dissertation-writing.

Anything you are loving lately?

xo, Ali

 

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Dissertation Update

dissertation, graduate school, Uncategorized

I started chapter four yesterday. Or is it five? I turned in chapter three a couple weeks ago, but with the craziness that comes with the end of the semester by advisor will not be able to get to it. I told him that I thought it might be better as two chapters, but that I needed a break from working on it. I tell you this. I can talk your head off on Rousseau and Christianity right now. And right now, I need a break.

I asked if I could just start the next chapter instead and return to chapter three or chapters three and four, and was given the a-ok. So I’m back to writing and have about a thousand words written (and approximately ten thousand more to go!). I appreciate that it can be a total mess and imperfect, whereas with chapters three/four, I was in the state of “will it ever be good enough?” When I start something new, I can just turn on some tunes, open some Rousseau, and go. It feels good.

So far, the goal, the plan, the ideal, is to have chapters three, four, and five done, turned in, and approved by the end of this summer. That leaves one chapter left with a year of additional funding. I think I can handle that.

xo, Ali

Gonna Take Some To Do The Things We Never Had, or Why the Music Video for Toto’s Africa Exemplifies Life in Graduate School

books, daily life, graduate school, music
IMG_4754

This post brought you by the greatest song in the world: Toto’s Africa

And now for something completely unserious.

Toto’s Africa has experienced a renaissance. From its use in Stranger Things (don’t do it, Nance!), ubiquitous club hit, to being the internet’s favorite song, it is going to take a lot to drag us away from Africa.

But what much of the commentary has failed to recognize is the deep similarities the music video has with life in graduate school. As far as I know, none of the members of Toto have ever attended graduate school, but alas, I think the music video certainly characterizes the several years some of spend between undergrad and (hopefully) getting a real job.

Before you begin, watch the video here. Watch it twice, because of its greatness.

  1. The amount of time spent in a library. This one is probably the most obvious. I know my college library now more than I ever did as an undergrad. The only difference here is that where the library in the music video is themed “African safari,” the one for mine is themed “America.”
  2. Constantly looking through books for information. I just need that one quote…now where was it? Looking, looking, looking…oh, maybe it was a different scholar who said that. Like the lead dude in the video, if you are in graduate school, you are constantly trying to put the pieces together. That means a lot of book scanning.
  3. Looking for books. How much time do graduate students spend looking for books in the library? How much time do I spent looking for books in the library? An inordinate amount, most likely. Not included are the times when you are just distracted by books on shelves unrelated to research topic. I cannot be the only graduate student who falls into the shelf abyss.
  4. That feeling of being hunted. Is it fear of failure? Imposter syndrome? Or is it chasing time? Deadlines? Too much to do in too little time? I’m not sure I know what causes all the books and bookshelves to fall over in the music video, but I think I understand it.
  5. What does it all mean? After watching Africa’s music video, one might be left thinking, “Huh? What just happened?” One of the google results that pop up when you begin searching Toto Africa is “what does it mean?” The same question can come up on particularly tough days of graduate school or even certain difficult texts (I’m looking at you, G.W.F. Hegel!).

And there you have it. Five reasons why the music video for Africa by Toto is like graduate school. Am I Buzzfeed-worthy yet?

xo, Ali

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Consistent

goals, graduate school, running

Consistent: adj. (of a person, behavior, or process) unchanging in achievement or effect over a period of time.

“Be regularly and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” — Gustave Flaubert

I have chosen a word for the year before. I remember one year being “Joy.” I have a small issue with these words though. How can I be joy though? Sure, I can make a point to notice the small moments, say “isn’t this nice?” more often. Be grateful. Try not to grumble so much. But for the most part this word is intangible to me.

I’ll admit to being prone to having a “cross it off the to-do list” mentality. It is kind of hard to determine “Did I joy today or not?” It was easy to forget. And what if it was a bad day, month, year? Those happen. So, it was just frustrating and flustering. And, more importantly, forgettable.

But I still like the idea of having a word. I like the idea of having something to look towards to evaluate my days (see aforementioned “to-do list” mentality). One thing I struggle with is consistency. I get things done and, if I am being fair to myself, I can even admit I get things done well.

My problem is that I am constantly tweaking. If I see a new schedule I like, I want to implement it. Should I write my dissertation before I work out or should I work out before I write?  This successful person does this in the morning. This successful person does this in the afternoon. Tweak. Tweak. Tweak.

I discover an interest I did not realize I had. I must explore it. I will lose hours to it. Days. Guaranteed. Last year I hit a total Amazon rainforest phase. I can tell you more about those who explored the Amazon than you might care to know. I was supposed to be working on my dissertation proposal.

Then, of course, there is the problem of doing things right. I can be all or nothing. Black and white. Did I wake up late? Day over. Did facebook distract me too much? Day over. Perfectionism for me is an excuse for laziness. I almost did it today. It is not going right at all and I thought, well, fuck it. I’ll make myself a bath and read the day away. Thankfully I did not do that, but my tendency is very much if things do not happen the right way, then the day is worth chucking away.

“Inches make a champion.” — Vince Lombardi

My desire for 2018? To be consistent in all things. I want consistency in running. I do not care about high mileage. I do not care how fast. I just want to see 4-5 days a week every week this year that I ran. I want consistency in writing. Procrastination has never been my vice, but I still sometimes feel like I am scrambling, never doing enough. I want to write a certain amount of time (for January it was an 1.5 hours, which did end up working out to about 40 pages of a rough draft) every single day consistently. When I start working on French again, instead of picking some big number to do every day. I want to read/speak 20-30 minutes every day consistently. I do not want to be doing some big impressive amount of work every day, I just want to do what I want to do consistently.

And so, cheers to 2018, cheers to being 28, and cheers to being consistent.

xo, Ali

 

Running: A History, Pt. 2

graduate school, running

You can find part one here.

When I started writing this post last Thursday, I ended with a rupture, that is the rupture of a cyst in my ovaries which led me to be a no show at the Air Force Marathon in Dayton a couple years ago.

It took me about another year to string together any consistent running, but when I did I started training for the Xenia Marathon in 2015. I was in my second year of graduate school. I was in a relationship that was not great, not to mention had plenty of other unnecessary drama going on. And I trained for the marathon, but the whole thing was a slog. It was not like the first time where I felt non-stop energy, like I could go on forever.

There are a lot of reasons for this, but I’ve always handled stress poorly like as in high blood pressure, ulcers, migraines, etc. So I went to go get a Ph.D. Go figure, huh?

But I digress —  at this moment of my life training for that marathon was probably the only good thing I had going for me. I was in a state of being two feet off the ground at all times making terrible, I mean terrible decisions, and felt incredibly alienated and lonely (see aforementioned bad decisions, bad relationships). But, I could run. And I was so grateful. I see it as a happy regularity during a time that was mortifying in its chaos. And it was beautiful.

The DJ played Elvira by the Oak Ridge Boys as I crossed through the finish line. I was not as in shape as I was in 2013, but I still made it happen. It was an amazing moment, but to be honest I could not enjoy it. The stress of life, from just regular graduate school (good stress) to the fact that I felt like a path I was on was beginning to suffocate me (bad stress) made the moment feel incongruous. It was hard and the day is marred by my wrecked personal life squeezing the joy out of what should have been an impressive moment.

 

marathon

Sweet background port-a-potties.

 

I trained a few more times after Xenia, usually ending with injuries. I broke up with the bad boyfriend and began dating Bruno. I focused on my personal life. I focused on school, learning French, reading as much as humanly possible. I missed running, but I did not want it to break my heart again.

Bruno and I ran a half-marathon together and I felt the bug again. I wanted to run again. Now that my personal life felt good again, I wanted to have a running life again. And I worked hard. But I still keep getting injured, usually a pesky hip, a calf, etc.

 

halfmarathon

Half-marathon with 15 minute PR!

 

I have wondered if I am being too precious. Not running has not made these injuries better and I feel happier when running. So, 2018 is the return. And so far, so good. As I mentioned yesterday, my IT Band has been giving me some grief, but I feel confident that with consistent strength and yoga these problems should work themselves out.

Here’s to Running: A History, Pt. 3 being one filled with triumph and joy!

xo, Ali