June, 2013

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Stops and Starts and Pep Talks

Here is the thing about Virgo-style progress tracking, it requires honesty, and sometimes that honesty can be painful.

This is what shame looks like.

This is what shame looks like.

It was so tempting to just jump from the 19th to the 29th, which still demonstrates that I’ve not met my regular writing challenge, but doesn’t leave all that blank space in my pretty spread sheet.  Here’s the thing about really tracking your writing, though … all that white space matters. Eventually when you track enough that you have scroll up or down in your spread sheet, the white space catches your eye.  It makes you think about what was happening, or why writing was not happening.

Looking back at the goals I set for these five weeks, I think I did meet my goal a little more often than it appears.  (If you really count any writing.) Remembering to track is, however, just as important as the daily writing because in the absence of printed pages tracking demonstrates progress.

Interestingly enough my focused goal for the second week of writing was to update my application materials, and just today I found a couple of reasons to get down to business. (Of course, now I am procrastinating with a blog post. 😉 ) Having a job, and a job that your not unhappy with, is a tricky place to be when checking out the job ads. There are several reasons I wouldn’t really want to leave where I am right now, but there are a few compelling reasons to keep my eyes open.  Namely, I think both the DH and I would like to be closer to one family or the other. When I read a job ad, however, I really can’t stop myself from thinking, “Would I really give up what I have for this?” The question is difficult because yes, it does merit consideration, but it makes it all to easy maintain some inertia. “No, I don’t think I would give up what I have for this” leads too easily to, “Why bother applying.”

Applying leads to all sorts of messy things, discussions with supervisors about submitting an application, the work of updating materials, the endless mental pro/con lists about each position. It is easy to overlook the good that can come from applying, even if the application doesn’t make it out of the initial 600 applicant pool. Submitting an application packet is good practice. Now, I am not advocating for some sort of professional job hunt, but in my case I know that in the next 3 years changes are coming. So, yes, I am just trying to pep talk myself into submitting these two applications. Because, even if these aren’t necessarily the jobs for which I would give up what I have, practicing to get the job I really want isn’t a bad idea. Plus, submitting applications means I could create another spreadsheet to keep track of it all. (It’s the little things that make my Virgo brain happy.)

Weekend Sloth

For the first time in about four weeks I didn’t do anything. I sat in the DH’s Lazyboy, crocheted and watched stuff on Netflix. Saturday it was a nice long marathon of Wire in the Blood. Sunday, in honor of Joss Whedon’s birthday, I watched The Avengers. While I glutted myself on television, I crocheted. Sure the afghan grew, which made it feel like I’d done something, but physically, I really didn’t do anything- no running, no yoga, not even any heavy cleaning. By the end of the weekend I could feel it. My back and hips were sore, and I just generally felt wretched.

I might not really be a runner yet (or ever), but my recent attempts to get myself off the couch have worked their magic by at least making me realize that in the long run doing something is always better than doing nothing.

The Last Weekend

This is the first weekend in a while that I haven’t had to spend at least one day on the road between here and Greensboro. It feels like the first time I have not had ANYTHING to do. While that it certainly not the case, I do plan on cherishing this last weekend before the madness. Training for the summer program I coordinate starts next Thursday and the students arrive on 7/1 whether we are ready or not.

Since this was the last week when I could take things slow and think about one thing at a time I spend some time writing in my work journal. (Yes, that was my writing yesterday.) I’m not so great at journaling at home, but I have found the work journal to be tremendously helpful. In fact, I just finished one and started another. When I looked back at the one I just finished it was fun to remember that it was the book in which I had prepared for my campus visit for this job. The work journal is where I try to write through ideas, set down goals, and -ok- maybe I vent a little too. It works as a sounding board for me, and helps to get through any initial frustration and start thinking about issues in a new way.

I suppose I could do all of that in a file somewhere, but there is something very satisfying about my journal with all it’s sticky tabs and stuff stapled inside.
Do any of you keep a work journal in this way?

Using My Time

One of the challenges I face trying to get back into the writing groove is my desire not to give up the time I suddenly have. Work is busy enough that if I am truly serious about sending something out for publication any time in the near future I will have to once again start using my time at home for academic things. Understandably, I am a little loathe to do that.

The question of what I do with my new found free time comes up frequently. Honestly, I squander much of it re-discovering television. I mean television beyond Hoarders, Discovery ID, and Chopped, and my love-hate relationship with The Big Bang Theory. (I’d give you links, but I’m pretty sure you all know these shows and it’s kind of a pain on my iPad. Ok, ok, I will add them later.) Anyway, as you can probably tell from the above list in the last few months I’ve found comfort in predictable formulas with no thought required. Suddenly, suspense, plot, and intrigue excite me again.

When I tear myself away from the television I have been slowly trying to reclaim my health as well. A walk here, some intervals running, even yoga! Don’t get me wrong it’s nothing like routine yet, but I do manage some form of physical activity more often than not lately.

I think my search for new shows to watch (Hannibal, The Killing) or other ways to fill my time is an effort to protect my evening time. (No, I cannot read any more of that book on Writing Center assessment. I need to catch up on Hannibal, or go for a run, or do some yoga.) One of the only unmitigated benefits to being a staff employee, as opposed to faculty, is that I do my work from 8-5, and then I leave. Up until this point that has been a defense mechanism designed to help me finish the dissertation, but I am determined to keep it that way.

As I move forward with this writing challenge, and start to think more about academic issues and dabble again in academic writing, protecting my time at home while still meeting my writing goals is only going to become a larger challenge.

Unexpected Pleasures

Remember Christmas? Birthdays?

I mean the real excitement of Christmas or Birthdays when you were between 5-8? The anticipation for everything you said you wanted and the surprise as you opened presents. More specifically, do recall that joy of opening a present and getting just what you wanted – only you’d asked for it so long ago that you’d forgotten it, or you’d just recently realized you wanted it and hadn’t remembered to ask for it. It’s easy to forget about those moments, about how joyous it can be to get the “perfect” present. I’d really and truly forgotten what it was like to be so surprised.

Then today I got a box in the mail. Last week a friend asked for my address and told me he was sending a graduation gift.  Completely unnecessary I told him (and meant it),   but he said he’d ordered it months ago and was sending it anyway. Since items have a tendency to go missing from our porch I’d been keeping an eye on the mail, but had pretty much forgotten it.  (This is the same friend it took me two years to give a present.) I figured the next time we saw each other would be soon enough.

Then, like I said, when I walked in the door there was a small box on the book shelf.  Sure enough, the return address was from the ‘boro. When I opened the box I am pretty sure I was grinning like an idiot.

Battlestar Galactica Flight Pin

BSG “Elite Pilot” Flight Pin

For those of you who weren’t around for the previous incarnation of this blog.  I LOVED the new Battlestar Galactica.  Perhaps, even, I was a wee bit obsessed with the show. (Viewing parties at my house, incessantly pressuring friends to watch.)There is even a colonial fleet propaganda poster currently hanging in my office. (Another gift from a good friend when I passed my comprehensive exams.)

Bulletin Board with a "So Say We All" poster.

I had to blow this up and lighten it. Not the best picture, but this is what I have instead of a window.

I didn’t even know these pins existed, but this is by far the best present. Anything that makes you feel 8 again qualifies as the best ever!

The watch Bradley let me pick out as a graduation present is nice, and sweet. (And he says he will eventually engrave it with something.)


The story of how I picked it is a different post, but I do love it.

The Keurig machine the DH’s Brother & Sister & their respective spouses went together to get me is definitely the most useful graduation present I received.

In the box Keurig machine

These wings though, these wings are by far the most fun present I’ve received. I’m still smiling like an idiot.

Me wearing the wings.

I didn’t even know I wanted them.

Writing Prep

When the alarm went off at 5:15 this morning I quickly silenced it, spent a moment thinking about what I would write, and then rolled over to sleep for another 45 minutes.

Early morning is definitely my most productive writing time, but I am just not sure I am ready for early morning again.

What I did get done today is some good writing related reading. This fall our writing center will expand, and by expand I mean basically become two centers.  Of course I get  to run both without an increase in salary, but … well, that’s a different conversation. As we put together this new program, I am trying to be more deliberate about what the assessment of this program will look like.

Now, I know there are people out there who like to think about programmatic assessment because I am reading their books; however, I am not so excited about this topic, and sometimes it makes for some slow reading.  The book I’m currently working my way through, Building Writing Center Assessments That Matter is good, and I am finding helpful information.  The only problem is (and this is my issue with most assessment discussions) as I read I keep asking myself, “When? When does all this happen?”

Maybe it is just that with the addition of this new center I now run three different programs throughout the year. Maybe it is just that I have not become a Pomodoro master yet and therefore have not reached the zenith of my productivity. Whatever it is, I am left unable to imagine squeezing one more thing into my day.


Earlier this weekend Shelley Rodrigo issued a challenge to her graduate students: The 5 Week Regular Writing Challenge. While I am not one of Shelley’s graduate students and have only met her briefly, I have recently fallen off my regular writing wagon. Since I turned the dissertation in to the ETD editor (the first time), scrubbing floors on my hands and knees has been more appealing that sitting down to the computer to write.

clean floors

Things that are preferable to writing just now.

Sure, posting here has been on the up-swing, but that is only because I finally broke down and bought a keyboard for my iPad, which makes it easier to write from anywhere. Unfortunately, I think the dissertation turned my computer desk into a site of trauma. Since the house is small enough that rearranging furniture isn’t really an option, I need to find a way to reclaim the space.

Accepting the Regular Writing Challenge is my way of attempting to re-claim the space and find my writing rhythm again. The biggest issue for me right now is not having a clear project to start with, and not really knowing what I want to write next. My current position does not require me to publish regularly, but I need to get something submitted for publication to prepare for the next position. What I hope to accomplish over the course of the challenge is an easy re-entry into academic writing. My plan for accomplishing this goal looks like this:

  • Week 1 – any writing counts
  • Week 2 – any writing counts + focused goal: Updating application materials
  • Week 3 – any writing counts + focused goal: Begin an annotated bib of recent readings
  • Week 4 – any writing counts + focused goal: Free write to develop argument form recent readings
  • Week 5 – any writing counts + focused goal: Begin first draft of whatever has developed from bib/free writes. 

The idea behind the two different types of goals, any writing + focused writing, is that if it turns out to be too soon to think about academic writing, that I can count any writing I do here towards the challenge and still feel some positive momentum.

And of course today counts! 😉

excel spreadsheet

Virgo-style progress tracking


What I learned in the process

Earlier this week the Malarkey Bin tweeted that Ouiser is putting together an annotated bibliography of advice for anyone considering graduate school. Given that Ouiser often articulates my darker feelings of this whole experience, I think this is an amazingly optimistic of her. I think I’ve crossed into a slightly more jaded realm.

Partly, it is just that in the push to get done I pushed down some serious irritation. Partly, it is that over the course of the last three years I’ve talked a couple different student through decisions about graduate school. While I’ve not actively tried to dissuade anyone, I have tried to be as honest as I can about my own experiences – including sharing the things I wish I’d known when I started -, and I don’t think in any case it has made an impact. However, among all the other powerful influences that lead a person to a position where they need to make a choice about graduate school there is a strong dose of of exceptionalism. I can almost guarantee that every person I talked to about graduate school left my office thinking, “yeah, but…” So, I guess my optimism about offering advice to someone thinking about graduate school has taken a hit.

Today, this came in the mail:


And my heart grew a couple sizes, so here are the two things I wish I’d known at the beginning of graduate school.

First, I wish someone had given me Paul Silva’s How to Write A Lot. During the dissertation process I am pretty sure I ready a million “how to write…” books, and really they all say the same things. For whatever reason, however, I find Silva’s book the most approachable. As someone who got through school on last minute writing, it wasn’t until I started the dissertation that I had to learn how to spend time with an idea, and how to do something besides binge write. I think reading this book earlier in my career might have helped me make something more significant out of my seminar papers.

My second piece of advice is perhaps a little more esoteric; get an Audible account. Audiobooks helped me stay sane in this process because I could listen while driving, doing chores, working out, walking the dogs. The only rule I had for my audible account was that nothing I listened to could have anything to do with my school work. Personally, I listened to fluff – the cheesier the better, detective novels, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, young adult novels. Nothing I listened to required serious thought on my part. The importance of all this listening is that it kept me linked to my love of reading without making me feel guilty for not doing my “work.”

These two thing boil down to – Mind your writing process, and stay connected to what you love.

Les Premieres Impressions

Apparently last summer went too well, because this summer has been nothing but problems. The program hasn’t even started yet and I can’t even hire a full staff. Since I am still hiring, the first part of this week has once again involved interviews. For me, the most interesting part of interviews is the moment someone walks in my office.

You see my office is tucked away inside the tutoring center, so I don’t really get many people who just stop by to see me. The result is I forget that my office is anything other than my space. It is just where I work, and in many ways I don’t even see it. The result is that I am always shocked when other people react to my office.

I realize it is not very often that people exclaim something like, “Oh, this is hideous!” Reactions to my office, however, are almost always pleasant, “Oh! I love this space.” I, too, love my office, but I think that is to be expected. That other people find my office a pleasant space makes me happy.
Usually after someone mentions that they love my office, I make a joke about having to compensate for not having a window. Invariably the person looks around like they have just realized there are no windows. It always amazes me.

So, here is what people see when they look around my office.







Trying this again.
The post I lost certainly wasn’t anything special, but I did want to get something up today.
Not sure what it is about Summer in this city, but it is a killer for our dogs. They develop hot spots/some sort of grass allergy that keeps them chewing/scratching themselves incessantly.

Yasser pretty much lives in his cone, so we got him a nice cushy inflatable one, which he loves. Really, occasionally when you ask him what he wants he will lead you to the cone and give you the most grateful look when you put it on him.

This summer it is also affecting Moshe, so tonight we had to get him a cone as well. He is not as enthusiastic, but he won’t have to wear it as often. Mostly we will keep it on him at night so that we can get some sleep … I mean so he can get some relief.

20130601-211616.jpg The boys and their hats.