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During the hour and a half drive back to the house, I tried not to think about how good it felt to be among friends in GSO, or the tension seeping back into my shoulders at the thought of returning. Sitting at Ouiser’s awesome kitchen island eating my first hot, home cooked meal in longer than I dared to count, I laughed and I felt joy and comfort chatting with Mama Ouiser, her sisters and my friend. It was a glimpse into the life I expected to have upon my return to N.C. A life where I could invite friends to my home, cook for them, and where I could share my wonder at the new course my life is on. Later, I felt similarly as I sat at Starbucks chatting with Dr. Phoenix and Dr. Leaving Academia. There was a cloud in that conversation, however, we couldn’t seem to stop careening back to my housing problems.
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It feels like 2016 has been a year of goodbyes and endings: David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, the Obama presidency, etc. Writing a eulogy for the year would seem appropriate. Frankly though, I do not have the heart or stomach for the retrospective. My heart and mind are thoroughly engaged in considering the year ahead.
As I have posted before, each year I choose a word or theme to guide me, 2016’s word was Stewardship. Many times this year it felt like a poorly chosen word, but in the end I think I can see it in my life. While I thought I would use this year to be a good steward of my finances, health, and relationships, the year drug me kicking and screaming into being a steward of myself. It taught me to sit with my emotions, name them, and truly feel them. It forced me to have the courage to listen to my gut, and sometimes the best stewardship is to let something go.
This morning I sat down to brainstorm my theme and word for 2017. You can see my brainstorming starts at a particular place, independence. The word isn’t just a goal I have or a place I want to be. Independence is my state of being. It is where I “Stewarded” myself in 2016.
As I mentioned before, much of what happened this year is, and is not, my story to tell. The consequence of those events though, that is definitely mine to tell, painfully mine to tell. In 2016, I divorced the DH. As with the whole of our marriage, it was fated – full of signs and wonders, quick, and complicated. I’m pretty sure that describes all marriages, but the DH and I have always prided ourselves on our story. The story of our marriage ended this year. The story of my independence began.
This year, 2017, this will be my year of discovery. Discovering who I am, where I want to go, and who I will be. More than vulnerability, more than visibility, more than any of the other words I’ve chosen to guide me over the years, discovery challenges me and frightens me. There is no way to know what lies on the other side of discovery, no way to prepare for it, and that is a vulnerable place for me to be.
I won’t make any promises about how often I will post, or what the content of those posts will be. What I will say is this: Discovery requires exploration, and exploration requires documentation, so maybe there is hope for rejuvenating this space after all.
“I wonder if it will be –can be– any more beautiful than this, ” murmured Anne, looking around her with the loving enraptured eyes of those to whom “home” must always be the loveliest spot in the world, no matter what fairer lands may lie under alien stars. ~LM Montgomery Anne of the Island
After a new friend tweeted about her Anne of Green Gables book club, I promptly bullied my way in … begged and pleaded might be more like it. Turns out I am joining the group for their discussion of the third book Anne of the Island. In this book Anne goes off to college to earn her B.A., and the themes of home and place figure prominently throughout. Given everything going on in my brain and life right now, me stumbling into this book club counts as inordinately perfect timing.
Yeah, I know who could think I’d have anything more to say about home and place, but are you really surprised? C’mon, we’re rapidly coming up to the one year anniversary of my latest cross-country move. The year’s been eventful, and a girl needs to do some processing.
**Note, I know I’ve been all sorts of vague about events this year. The thing is events are still unfolding, and much of what is happening isn’t necessarily mine to tell.
This post starts with a quotation about how some people have a home, a place to them that is always the loveliest spot in the world. I’ve written before about how much I envy people who have this clear connection and relationship to a place they call home. It is not something I typically carry with me. The most difficult question I typically get from people is “Where are you from?”
You’d think that question would have gotten a little easier this year. Yet, each time someone asked me I struggled. I was born here, but I moved when I was young, then I came back for undergrad, but I moved to go to grad school and was there for thirteen years, and now I’m back. Yeah, no one has time for all that. When I admit I have all these ties and connections to Minnesota, people just assume that I have moved home, that I have come back to that one place, the place I’m tied to. I mean, who wouldn’t want to come back here, right?
In some ways, I think they are right. All year, I’ve felt grounded in a way that I don’t typically. It’s not family, because I haven’t see that much more of them than I might have otherwise. It’s not the town, because I truly have never lived here before. There is, though, a familiarity here. My transition to this region, this town, this university it has been smooth. Smoother than many people could expect I’m sure. As my last post highlighted, I’ve made friends here. I’ve created a home for myself. For the most part, I even enjoy my work here.
Recently, I’ve had to do a lot of driving down to Minneapolis. When I am there, I miss Bemidji. I miss my house. It’s quiet, the deck, the yard. I miss the ease of getting around town, and the view of the lake I get every time I go anywhere. On the drive home there is also always this distinct moment when I feel like I have put the bulk of the journey behind me and crossed into home territory. For whatever reason, that moment comes when I crest the hill and drive down into Walker, MN. It’s like at that point my body says. “Yes, here we are in Northern Minnesota.” But, is this my home? I am still not sure.
Going to see my family in May heightened the tension for me. For the first time, I went back to the Harbor and felt like I didn’t want to leave. I could imagine myself back there. Yes, it was primarily the people. Being closer to my immediate family and old friends would be nice just now, but it was as always, the landscape too. There is something about the mix of mountains and ocean that is unique. Even on the Harbor where you are in between, without a direct view of either, the land envelops you. Often the only way I can describe it is feeling embraced. Since then, I’ve often daydreamed about what it would be like to move “home.” Even in my daydreams though, I’m not truly convinced the Harbor is my home.
As momentous as this past year has been, the upcoming academic year will be just as eventful. This is the final year of my two year contract and the university and I both have some decisions to make. Right now, I feel a lot like Anne when asked about life after college.
“And after those four years –what?”
” Oh, there’s another bend in the road at their end,” answered Anne lightly, “I’ve no idea what may be around it — I don’t want to have. It’s nicer not to know.” ~LM Montgomery Anne of the Island
This morning on the deck, as I started to re-read Anne of the Island, all of this kept swimming around my head. Where is my home? What is next? As I thought about all the places I’d been: where I might want to return, where I definitely would not, and what new places I’d like to try, I realized something.
Minnesota has always been a sort of chrysalis for me. A place where I spend time, where I am tested, grow and develop, but it is also a place I move out from. Certainly the choice to leave here as a child was not mine, but the coming back here for college, leaving for graduate school, and coming back here now, those are mine. No, this is not my declaration that I will leave here. It makes sense to me though, that in this time of change, in the midst of a year that feels like a crucible (sorry for the mixed metaphor), I feel both rooted here and restless. The trick in the next year will be to figure out how this year has changed me and how long I need/want to stay here.
It’s been nearly a full year now, and, yes, there are still boxes in the attic that need to be unpacked. Did I mention this year’s been a little rough? Sorting through old papers, deciding what to keep, and where to put everything hasn’t been high on my list. Also, it is all in the attic. As lovely as that room is right now, it was not fun in winter, so I just didn’t go up there.
Today, I started that project. I need about three more bookselves, but I should be able get some order established up there. Right now, though, it’s an even bigger mess than it was – in that, worse before it gets better, phase. The former class evaluations, course syllabi, and conference programs got boring, so I let myself get lost in some boxes of stuff.
Not only did I find the sappy stuff from our dating months, I found a shoe box full of cards and letters from before I got married. It was fun to look through those old postcards and letters. To see the nice good luck cards, from the places I worked before going back to school, moving from Mankato, or moving into teaching in Greensboro. Apparently, I had a quite extensive correspondence with my old dorm RA. Not the floor person, but the girl who was in charge of our whole wing. We’d not spent a lot of time together on campus, at least not that I remember, but we maintained a good long relationship through writing. At least, I hope I was as good a correspondent as she was!
As I mentioned it’s been a rough year, and I don’t expect that to change any time soon. The highlight of this year, however, has been maintaining and creating friendships. My postcard exchange with Ouiser has been epic. The phone calls, random presents, , chats and all the other ways friends stayed in touch helped me through my truly big move in thirteen years. Playing trivia, weekly lunches, twitter conversations, and all the other ways I’ve managed to make new friends here helped me through my first real winter in just as long.
Reading through my box of long lost post cards, letters, and theatre memorabilia, it was comforting to be reminded of how blessed I have been to make good friends in all my travels. There was at least one letter, postcard, or note from a friend during each major change in my life. Though I’m not in contact with everyone I found in my box of treasures, I’m proud of how many of those people I remain acquainted with, and especially proud of how many of those people are still important parts of my life.
I even brought a few of my old postcards down to include on my new postcard board. Though Ouiser still dominates this board, I’m happy to include some of my old jems from the Advice Monkey as well. Whatever the rest of this year brings me, I am glad to have had this moment to remember that whatever else, my life has been rich in friendship.
As someone who routinely exhorts others to try daily writing, and who knows from experience how helpful it can be, lately I’ve been woefully bad at following my own advice. Since finishing my dissertation, I have periodically tried to get back into daily writing practice. Participating in a writing retreat, joining a writing accountability group, making spreadsheets to track my progress, pursuing different types of writing, I have tried everything.
Out of all that effort, I have an article that still needs about 5 – 10 hours of revision before sending it out, the sporadic blog posts you see, the first few scenes of two novels, and the first drafts of two poems. Starting things seems to be the easy part for me, the continued effort – or actually finishing – that is not my strong suit. Are there external factors in some of this, definitely: last year within the span of three months I took a new job, packed up the house, and moved to a new region of the country; now after spending the last four months adapting / learning my new job, I am being pressured to start taking on more and more; and, well, there are other significant challenges not for blog consumption. The result, I am fairly certain that anyone who looked at this list, or listened to me talk about things for a while, would tell me my inability to get back into daily writing practice is to be expected, and that I need to cut myself some slack here. In fact, I’m fairly certain I have heard those exact words from nearly all my close friends.
Surely within the archives of this site there is one, if not six, versions of this post, so what is different this time? This time, I am accepting it. Instead of supplying a lot of “yeah, but…” excuses and responses, and continuing to beat myself up about not writing while forcing myself to try to fight through it, I am taking the braver (for me) route of practicing a little self-care, of letting go of the pressure to always write. This morning I realized that I am able to take this position, to be a little kinder to myself, because what I have been unconsciously developing is a daily reading habit.
For a girl who’s been reading voraciously as long as she can remember, it might seem strange that I am just now developing a daily reading habit, but I am. I have always read voraciously, but I have also always been a binge reader. I love to read in one, or two if necessary, long sessions where I can truly immerse myself in whatever world I am exploring. Though they were often spread out over a longer period of time, even my audio book listens counted as small binges, given the length of my commutes. Now that I no longer have that commute, my book listening has slowed considerably. I put my Audible account on hold in December, and have seriously considered cancelling it because I am just not listening as often as before.
This year, though, this year.
I know we are only a month in, but this year has already kicked my ass and taken my name. I’ve been in full on crisis mode for about three weeks already; and since that is not ending any time soon, I’ve done what I always do to cope … turned to books. I have just had to learn a new way to do that because there is no time for long escapes into other worlds, or even just good advice. Every day for the last week or so, I’ve programmed my coffee pot, set my alarm, and gone to bed early. I have done all those things, so that when the coffee starts brewing, my white noise app shuts off, and the alarm starts to play “Rise Up,” I can snooze for 15 minutes, then get up, fix myself a cup of coffee, get back in bed and read for 30 – 45 minutes. It’s not working miracles, but I do think it’s contributing to my ability to manage my current situation. In fact, though it has always been very good, Monday at the Dr.’s office my blood pressure was the lowest it has ever been.
Also this morning, despite everything I’m reading, or perhaps because of it, when I found myself in the middle of some bad self-talk and mounting shame about how I should be using this time to write. I was able to stop those thoughts, and realize that for now a daily reading habit is enough.
I didn’t set out for this to be a year of saying yes to everything that scares me, but I have intentionally, unintentionally, and somewhat haphazardly taken some big and small risks this year. Since I spent last week, as Dr. Brene Brown describes it using the Franklin Delano Roosevelt quotation, face down in the arena, I’ve spent this week trying to take stock, figure out what got me there, and how to get back up. Fortunately for me, the universe sent along a few reminders.
Though I find the “just get through it” mentality generally serves me well. One of the downfalls of this mentality is that sometimes I get so busy “getting through it” that the things I need to process, and actually deal with, tend to stack up.
As someone surrounded by friends and family who face daunting struggles with depression, I consider myself blessed that my own bouts of depression tend to be short-lived, and in some ways purposeful. Sometimes it takes me a while to figure it out, but generally if I am feeling depressed it is a sign that in “just getting through” stuff, I’ve also let things pile up. So, last week when I reached a particularly low point, I knew that part of the process of getting back up would have to be taking stock of things and figuring out how to deal with them.
Please, don’t run screaming, this is not going to be a post where I give you a three step process for solving all my (and/or your) problems. This post is more about identifying the things, taking risks, and their rewards. If you want to run screaming from that, well, now is the time; and, it won’t hurt my feelings if you do.
For me, getting through things often means narrowing my focus and concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. This a great strategy for the day to day, for things like being fully back in the class room for the first time in five years, or for immersing myself in a sub-field I’ve only dabbled in before, or for re-adapting to life in a smaller, more isolated community. The problem with this narrow focus is it means that when I do stumble I lack the perspective to help me recover. Since I have always managed the day to day stuff fairly successfully, it is natural for me to be hard on myself when I start not coping well with the day to day.
I did all of that to take a job I’d applied for in April, and interviewed at in May. A job that carries a similar title and some similar day to day work, but that in reality has vastly different expectations. Basically in about 8 months I changed nearly everything about my day to day life. Yet, my day to day, get through it, coping strategy doesn’t really account for that. Basically, it tells me, “You did this to yourself. Now, suck it up and get going.”
As my last post revealed, it is hard enough for me to admit I miss the people and community I had, I haven’t even started to think about how I miss my standing desk and dual monitor set up, the window in my office, the restaurants I could walk to for lunch. All of those things I know are affecting me physically and emotionally, yet I’m not taking the time to consider them. Really, I am actively berating myself for not dealing better. (Yeah, I know … that is some logic there.) As silly as it sounds, this week I’ve been thinking about / accepting that this move, this new job, this new life they all constitute a very big risk I have taken. Funny, it wasn’t until last week when I felt completely flat on my face that I realized I was even in the arena in a very big way.
Actually, it was a combination of feeling completely defeated, and taking smaller risks that helped me to better accept the big risk I have taken, and to be kinder to myself in this struggle. Last week, I sent a draft of an article to a colleague at another institution. It doesn’t sound like much of a risk, but this is the first time I’ve shared my work outside of my friends and graduate school co-hort. (No, the dissertation does not count, and why is a different discussion.) This colleague graduated from a more prestigious university than I did. She is insanely smart, and I feel like I work to keep up with her in conversation. Though I knew it would ultimately help me, I worried about sharing this not quite first draft with her. It felt like showing my warts. I was worried she would tear my work apart, and that she would be right in doing so. Of course, I didn’t share any of this with her, so today when I received her feedback it felt like a gift. She praised and loved parts of my article, and she gave me wonderful feedback and tips on the other parts … the parts I knew needed more attention. My reward for this risk isn’t the praise an positive feedback she gave; my reward is that she pushed in all the places I knew I needed pushing. She confirmed my own instincts about my writing. Right now, for me, this is a win, and a small risk that I hope will lead to bigger ones.
This is getting long, I know, but just one more thing. The other risk I took this week is having my faculty mentor, who is from the professional education department, observe my class. Being back in the classroom this year has left me all kinds of vulnerable, but this last couple of weeks I have really been feeling it. Listening to other people in the department talk about their composition classes, it’s become clear to me that I have a very different pedagogy, and structure my class quite differently. The most obvious way I have done that is by making my class read, think, and talk about race. (I did mention that I moved North of North, right?) Since they are all working on their own topics and projects, we needed an example to talk about in class, so I structured a series of readings focused on race in America, which started with whiteness and ended with Rachel Dolezal.
Whenever I talked about the readings and discussions our class was participating in, my colleagues would talk about how brave I was, or seem incredulous that I would bring these issues up with my class. There were conversations that were a struggle, but, for me, it all paid off as I listened to this class talk about Ta-Nehisi Coates The Case for Reparations. (Yes, they read it, and yes they owned the discussion.) The reactions of my colleagues began to have an effect though. I worried, was I forcing my view on them. I’d done my best in class not to impose my opinions, but, given my authority in the classroom, even bringing up this issue could be considered imposing it on the students. I also worried if I’d gotten too far into the readings / discussion, and neglected the writing. Last week, in a meeting before class one of the students thanked me for making them think about and talk about race. I won’t lie, that made me feel good.
Last night, when I was talking with my mentor about the class she shared two things. First, the class said they enjoyed that I was making them talk about hard issues. (The student who’d thanked me last week was absent, so this was coming spontaneously from other students in the class.) Second, the feed back she and the class gave me about where class / my teaching could improve, confirmed what I’d already been thinking. Again, that the class didn’t hate me for making them wrestle with a difficult issue, was important good feedback. More important for me though, was the confirmation that what I suspected needed work was also what they felt needed work. It was another confirmation that the risk was worth it, and of my own instincts.
Yes, I took these small risks, and in doing so I learned I am not the perfect writer or the perfect teacher. I also learned, however, to trust my own instincts about how to become better at both. I can also hope that the positive results of these smaller risks are good omens for the much bigger risk I have taken with this move. I am definitely not comfortable right now, so I guess the least I can do is be courageous.
Last week, after packing up the house and putting everything on a trailer, we loaded up the animals and said good bye to North Carolina. After three days on the road, we were back in Minnesota and ready to spend a weekend with the In-Laws. Sunday morning we re-loaded the animals for one last four hour car ride, and headed even farther north to our new home in Bemidji.
It has been a long time since the DH and I lived in Minnesota, even longer since either of us lived this far north. We both have a healthy fear of what this winter will bring, but for now I am basking in the blue of the sky up here.
In June I accepted a position at Bemidji State University, and in just ten days I will start there as an Assistant Professor of English/Writing Center Director. It was a little sad to leave NC State when most of the consultants were off for the summer, but I am excited about this new opportunity.
What I am not excited about just now is the state of my life, which greatly resembles the state of our house.
At least everything is finally set up enough that I can write. Each morning I come into the downstairs office to work on my syllabi. Each morning I have my breakfast and coffee with Ceasescu’s new squirrel friend. (Look past Ceausescu and you can just seem him.)
Squirrels are noisy eaters, by the way.
All the animals have acclimated pretty well. The dogs had a long day Tuesday when we unloaded the truck, and the cable guy came to the house. They were quiet in their crates, but shaking and nervous the whole time. They all seem to love the extra space in this house though, and the yard. The dogs LOVE the yard, lots of space to run around in. The DH thinks they know this is home now, but I am not so sure. I think they are waiting for us to pick them up and put them in the car for another three days.
Maybe I am just projecting my own disbelief and wariness onto the animals. Yes, I left NC State and moved, but I haven’t started the new job yet. It makes everything feel a little unreal and tenuous.
It is that time of year again. August. When EVERYONE from instructors, to staff, to students rushes to make sure they are all ready for the big day. Fortunately, this year I had the foresight to plan some time off between the end of the summer tutoring program and the beginning of the regular school year. Not too much time Friday – Tuesday, I like getting five days off, but only using three vacation days. (What? You all knew I was sneaky like that!)
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Remember that one time I said, “Things should slow down in the next couple of weeks ….” Yeah, that happened.
Seriously, every time I get busy I look at my calendar and pick some random date when things are magically supposed to slow down; the truly crazy part is that whenever I hit that magical date I am genuinely surprised when I remain as busy as ever.
If you want to measure things purely in word counts and/or days written AcWriMo didn’t go so well for me. I set a pretty low goal of 12,000 words and probably didn’t write more than 3,000. (Next time I am counting all the damned emails I write at work!) I am, however, declaring November a success! What I didn’t do in terms of word count I made up for in ideas! No, I don’t have 9,000 ideas laying around right now, but I do have three little embryos of projects started and that makes me happy.
Finishing the dissertation left me so wrung out I really wasn’t sure I’d ever be excited about an academic writing project ever again. What changed? Well, for one I have co-authors: two of them. These women are super smart and will challenge me to do good work, and most importantly my fear of letting them down will keep me going. The second thing is a research project. I know! Me? A research project? But, yes it is true, and actually exciting because I’m learning so much in this process. (Remind me about this excitement in a few months when this project really gets underway and become hard. 😉 )
Yes, I am as busy as ever, but I think I must secretly like it that way since I keep coming up with new ways to keep myself busy.
The truly fun part of November using the pictures Ouiser took for us to make our first ever personalized Christmas card. Here’s a sample. No, it was never possible to get the dogs to look at the camera at the same time. We probably should have given Ouiser an industrial sized jar of peanut butter; that would have gotten their attention.
Recent events led me to think about how much my life has changed in the last three years. Last week I completed my first ever submission review for a journal. Since graduating in May, I think it was one of the first activities to make me really feel like a professional. Yes, there have been other moments, but in many ways I’d settled back to live as usual, so I’d stop feeling the wonder of actually being finished.
The other day I went to the library to pick up a book for a new project. I pulled out my school ID card and, before putting it back, actually looked at the picture. The picture has always been a little dorky. The day before I started work Ouiser’s cat scratched my eye lid, so I had an extra bag or two under one eye. Also, for some reason I wore my hair in a way that I almost never did.
It’s hard to get a decent picture of a picture of an ID card, but I think you get the point. Looking at that picture I was struck by the thought it was taken only three years ago. In many ways the last three years have felt like ten. I hardly recognize this picture.
For comparison, here’s a picture of me from today. It’s my post-hair cut selfie in the car.
The change is more than just the Ph.D. or the haircut. I probably can’t really explain it, because it is all of that and more. It’s the Ph.D., the hair, the tattoo, and even my willingness to take and post after haircut selfies. All of which are probably just expressions of how I’ve become more comfortable with myself.