March 2019 Goals : The Year of 1% Better

goals, graduate school, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, pregnancy, reading, year of 1% better

We are already almost at the end of March (hello, spring!) and I have yet to post my 1% goals for the month. I have also failed to say how the goals for February went. All you need to know is that everything went by the way-side, but I did submit and successfully defend my dissertation. Still a huge win.

If you’re new here, I declared 2019 the year of 1% better. You can see January goals here and outcomes here and February goals here.

I’ll admit that I began this month kind of unfocused and burnt out. What is the saying they used to say about March weather? It comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb (where does this actually happen?). I came into March like a slug, a very tired slug. I’m not exactly at “let’s get after it” levels yet. In fact, by the afternoon I am so worn out that I find myself catatonicly sitting on the couch, wishing for ice-cream, trying not to scroll through social media (still a 1% goal).

Part of this I suspect is the post-dissertation “what do I do with myself?” feeling. The other part is pregnancy. I’ve been sleeping terribly. I’m trying to take this time to relax, but as I told Bruno, “I don’t know how!” I also told him, after a few days of traveling, that “the best vacation one can give oneself is a consistent routine.” I am trying to give myself the latter as best I can.

So what am I trying to accomplish for March?

Down-sizing. Baby is actually not the only big change to happen this summer. I’ll share more when it is all official, but we are starting to downsize to prepare to move. I joke that I’m going full Marie Kondo, except I assure you I am not thanking my clothes as I put them into trash bags to give to my sisters as hand-me-downs. The two big areas I’m focusing on this month are my closet as I can’t wear most of my clothes right now anyways and several boxes of class notes. Taking advantage of my mental burn-out, I’m spending some quality time at the scanner so I can send boxes of paper to the recycling bin. I suspect the paper overload will take me all the way up to the big day, but it is nice to see the amount dwindle now.

Finish a revise and resubmit for an academic journal article. This is the one goal I can already tell you I am struggling. At this point, it is a monkey on my back I just want to get off. I’m very happy (and grateful) to have received a very positive and helpful revise and resubmit, but I need a Rousseau break. If I can be done with this, no Rousseau for April. Those are the rules. Also, I still very much love Rousseau.

Relax. I’m trying to take some more time for reading. If I want to take a nap in the afternoon, I do not try to push through. Usually I’ve been calling it a day at around noon before I go to CrossFit. Whatever I have gotten done at that point is good enough. Little steps are fine right now. I am lucky that at this point, I can take the time to just do nothing if I need to. I’m not sure how to enjoy doing nothing, but that is a problem for another time.

And that is it! There are a few repeats from previous months. I’m still working through my #CathLit2019 books and trying to avoid social media during the week. Both need a bit of revitalization, so hopefully if I came into March like a slug, I can refocus and leave like a lion? Or pick some sort of fierce, but relaxed animal.

What are your goals for March? How have they been going?

 

Brief Thoughts on Turning a Dissertation Chapter In

dissertation, graduate school, Jean-Jacques Rousseau

I turned in my fourth chapter after work today. I had just a few citations to fix (as a Catholic, I do not happen to keep the volumes of Institutes of Christian Religion around, har! har!). It took me less time than I thought. It took me longer to just send the email with the chapter attached. Tomorrow I’ll go through my advisor’s recommendations for the third chapter and eventually begin chapter five. It will probably my last chapter.*

It is strange to be so close to finishing. I have been in school since I was five. This will be my sixth year in graduate school. I do not know how to think of my life outside of the school calendar, the four seasons being: fall semester (the real beginning of the year), winter break (four weeks of aspired productivity which turns out to be not so productive), spring semester, and summer (busier than you would ever expect).

That said, by being closed to “finishing,” I mean only with the dissertation. I’m not sure if a topic like this — Rousseau on Christianity and citizenship — anyone is ever finished, or if anyone will ever have the last word. Most of the time, I’m not even sure if Rousseau ever finalized his thoughts on the topic. There are topics in life that I hope I never have a “final” opinion on. I always want to be thinking, learning. Never dogmatic.

I always feel weird after I turn anything in or finish anything that took awhile. I can’t quite jump into the next thing just yet, so I am in a kind of limbo. Between chapters, I feel a mild form of this. After semesters, I would feel this in the extreme. I would leave an exam and think, “Now what?” I suspect after I defend the dissertation, I’ll feel the same way. I get stressed about being “busy,” but at the same time I don’t like not having things to do.

I’ve been trying to avoid the “reward myself” mentality, but tonight I will not do any work. I’ll sit on the couch and read a novel. I’ll go to bed a little earlier and maybe not wake up at four in the morning. Then, after work on Friday afternoon, I will be back to it, dissertation writing as usual.

xo, Ali

*Unless it gets split in two like chapter three, which I originally turned in back in April.

Intellectual Humility and Lazy Dogmatism

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, political musings

This post is a bit long, but stick with me…

Generalized political smears are a great irritation of mine. Not only do I think they are not helpful, but I also think they represent lazy and dogmatic thinking. As in, “All NRA Members Are Terrorists,” “Republicans are Racists,” “Democrats Are Politically Correct Snowflakes,” “Muslims are Terrorists,” or “Christians only care about life when it is in the womb” or really, pick your poison on whatever cardboard sign you see people, on whatever political divide, holding attacking the other side, usually with some contemptuous generalized over-statement. In full disclosure, whenever I see someone express these opinions, as an argument or protest, I usually do not think that person is thoughtful, regardless of whatever policy decisions they support.

As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn puts in in the Gulag Archipelago, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

That is, making a broad judgment on people based on what their religious, political, or policy opinions, is not only an absurd over-simplification, but also is a relinquishing of our responsibility to see and address our own individual intellectual short-comings.

In response to these broad judgments, I try to make a call for intellectual humility. Honestly, and truly, how many books have you read or research have you done on any particular topic on any particular policy proposal? And I mean more than just read a few articles. And I mean even more than read a few books that support your side. Most of us, myself included, have not done much. Maybe we have pet policies that we care about, like gun control, abortion, or immigration policy or maybe we are an expert in a particular field. Most of us, though, probably take things on authority or at the very least, take some things on authority. And honestly, I think we fail to appreciate how much that authority and the opinions we hold (especially if we stick to only reading and discussing only what agrees with those opinions) is based on pure chance — as in what our parents thought, where we grew up, the schools we went to, and the people we met along the way.

This is a problem that there is not really much we can do about. We don’t have time to read and research and compare everything (as much as I wish I did). Everyone has to take things on authority as a matter of practicality. No matter what, we are going to have opinions and ideals, as pure skepticism is an impossible state for the mind and for politics. Take immigration for example. I take George Borjas as my authority, because I trust, as a Harvard economist, he has done his research and read all the books on the topic (and interestingly, probably because he has done the research is more moderate than either side) and because, what he writes seems to match up with a lot of the political theory I read. But I would never claim to be an expert, because I myself have not spent a great amount of time reading dozens and dozens of books, articles, statistics on immigration, because well, my time is taken up with Rousseau and my dissertation and 18th century France. And while I vote and discuss my opinions in a way that one could probably tell Borjas is my authority, I absolute keep the fact that I have not done my own research in mind when talking with my friends who may have different opinions, or rather, different authorities. I think in our own rhetoric, while holding to our opinions and ideals, we should probably keep in mind our own lack of knowledge and be humble.

I’m not particularly eloquent (or particularly well-written for that matter), but I’ll conclude by turning to my friend Jean-Jacques Rousseau (who is exceedingly well-written) for what I am trying to say. That is how difficult not only is it to make knowledgeable (let alone true) judgments on people for different opinions, but also, what it takes to really understand and know certain arguments and theories. He refers to religion, but considering how much moral capital we ascribe to having the right political ideals today, I think it is currently applicable:

“Among so many diverse religions which mutually proscribe and exclude one another, a single one is the right one, if indeed there is a right now. In order to recognize it, it is not sufficient to examine one of them; they must all be examined, and in any matter whatsoever one must not condemn without hearing. The objections must be compared to the proofs; it must be known what each objects to in the others, and what it responds to their objections against itself. The more a sentiment appears to us to have been demonstrated, the more we ought to try to find out the basis for so many men’s not finding it so. One would have to be quite simple to believe that it suffices to hear the learned men of one’s own party to inform oneself of the arguments of the opposing party. Where are the theologians who pride themselves on good faith? Where are those who begin by weakening them? Each shines in his own party; but one who in the midst of his own people is proud of his proofs would cut a very foolish figure with these same proofs among people of another party…The absent party is always wrong, and poor arguments spoken with assurance easily efface good ones expounded with contempt…In order to judge a religion well, it is necessary not to study it in the books of its sectarians, but to go and learn it amongst them. That is very different. Each religion has its traditions, its views, its customs, and its prejudices which constitute the spirit of its belief and must also be considered for it to be judged.” (from the Profession of Faith, Emile).

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

 

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