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

 

To Build a Fire, Pt. 2

daily life

Back in February, I mentioned I was taking a Wilderness Survival course. Part of my interest was a desire to return to the outdoors. We have a few camping trips planned this summer, but I’d like to be able to hike, to see more, to be really out in the wild. The other part of my interest was to be comfortable with failure.

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Preparing to leave the comforts of a messy kitchen into the wild.

 

Today was the culmination of the course. We had a practical exam: in twenty minutes build a fire, boil water, and make a shelter. And a written exam: 25 questions, short answer. But of course, as Bruno said, we’re never really done.

It was not my best. I mean I did it. I lit my fire, I boiled water. I made a killer trucker, hitch, and slip knot to set up my shelter. But my fire was ever expanding, with the instructor having to put part of it out (this might not be me, but the wind) and I burned up my ferro rod in the fire, so if I were in a real wilderness survival situation I would be…as the kids say…S.O.L.

The written exam was worse. My sense of direction is still non-existent. Given that I was sick on the navigation day, I still have no idea how to use a compass. On the plus side, I do know what declination is. Also, in full disclosure, with the dissertation being the priority, I only prioritized studying for this exam about as much as you could expect. Still. As a normally A student, probably not my best work.

As I left, I began to fall into a “that was not perfect, or even remotely good!” meltdown. I began to fall down a shame spiral. Me: “I said EAST and it was WEST. I am such a moron! I probably seem so careless with my fire. If we were in California, we would all be totally screwed right now.” Bruno: “I thought we were doing this for fun?”

But I caught myself doing it. And I stopped. No more ruminating.  I don’t feel perfect and I’m definitely going to have to pull out some Brene Brown after this, but I feel ok.

Practical knowledge is hard for me. I’ve always been much more of a theoretically minded person (thus the Ph.D. in political theory). That saying about book smarts and street smarts is basically made for me. I can read you Rousseau in French, but common sense skills have always been a struggle.

By my own measurement my “street” or rather “wilderness” skills have improved by leaps and bounds.

Before I started this class, I could not start a fire. I would have thought food would be the first thing to look for in a survival situation (first things: climate control and water). I would have no idea that blue is the best color for a shelter due to its visibility and how map north is different from true north (theoretically, I still haven’t figured out how that works in practice yet except that it involves drawing lines). The only kind of knots I could make prior to this class is the knots that form by not properly putting my necklaces away, and now I can do three different kinds. Not only can I use a knife, but I’m a proud owner of a “survivor” knife that I keep in my Kate Spade purse (balance in all things).

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Look ma! Emergency shelter!

 

I could not find my way back from a bad situation (to do: sign up for a navigation/map reading course), but I think my chances of doing ok in a bad situation have significantly improved beyond what they were in January. And that, my friends, is a success, no matter how I mucked up the test. What is not lost is my enthusiasm.

Onward!

xo, Ali

 

Me vs. the Siren Call of the Internet

daily life, dissertation, goals

I have found my biggest struggle in writing my dissertation has been the siren call of the Internet. I don’t even think about it. I’ll be stuck, thinking of the next word I want to write in a sentence or how I want to phrase a certain argument, and it is like my fingers habitually type in “Facebook” or “Instagram” or “Michigan trail races.” I’ll be on a roll, listening to some tunes, cranking out some words and next thing you know I’m looking at a shirt on Everlane fantasizing about having a daily uniform so I don’t have to think about what to wear everyday. I know I’m not alone on this. Cal Newport addresses the problem of social media and the internet in Deep Work. He recommends quitting.

But productivity is not the only thing that I think social media takes from me. I will just be going about my day la-di-da and I’ll check facebook — I’m about to admit that I’m not the most rational person in the world — and someone will be wrong on the internet (gasp!). I’m not one to facebook philosophize, but I will think about it. I think about what I would say, you know, if I were the type of person who wanted to get in political arguments on facebook. I will ruminate. I will check to see if anyone has said what I think should be said. It takes mental space. Space that could be devoted to Rousseau, planning this class I’m going to teach in the fall, or just feeling peaceful.

The funny thing is is that I try really hard to show up for other people. If we are out to dinner, out for drinks, or out for coffee, you have my attention. I will probably not pull my phone out. But when it comes to my own life, I am easily distracted. Which I guess means, I don’t show up. Stirring the pot while looking at Instagram? Done it. Taken a relaxing bath with phone in hand? Done that too. Sat outside on the porch to read a book and drink some tea, but ended up looking at my phone for most of the time? Guilty.

And so this month I deleted Instagram from my phone. I’ve had facebook off my phone for awhile now. For the past week or so, after dinner, I’ve been turning my phone on airplane mode. This has not always been successful. Last night, I spent a good amount of reading time googling “crossfit and running” (a very contentious issue!). Today, I think I checked Instagram twice on my computer. I’ve typed in facebook out of habit. When I should have been doing the readings for the class I’m going to teach, I spent a lot of time looking at articles on dirtbagging (our rent is up in mid-June, but we cannot move into our new place until July, so technically “homeless” for two weeks. I’m trying to convince Bruno we should dirtbag during them. He is not persuaded). So, I have yet to overcome my need for internet distraction, but I do think I am making improvements.

Ultimately, the objectives are: no Instagram or Facebook during the week, only on weekends. Weekends only. Turn off the phone after dinner. No more googling things when I should be working. More peace. Write and read more pages, less screens. Less getting mad at the internet. Less trying to persuade Bruno we should be dirtbags this summer.

May is the month of me vs. the Internet.*

xo, Ali

*I get that this is a blog on the internet. But I think I’m being productive here! This entire post was done without searching around on the web, a victory in itself.

 

 

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

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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 Good Day

daily life, dissertation

I have been up since around 4 this morning, working on edits for my third dissertation chapter, edits for a professor’s article, and a little bit of French for good measure. It is after lunch and I am still wearing what I slept in — after I type this up, I am going to go for a run, head to campus and sign some papers (because I have a fellowship for next year!), and crank out about another three hours of editing for my chapter which will be it until Thursday — because we are driving to Connecticut tomorrow. The plan is to have very little to do on the chapter, beyond one last read through, on Thursday when I plan on doing it in no matter what. 

I like days like today. They do not happen much, these moments like I feel like I am in the zone. I may still be in these ridiculous looking leggings that were hand-me-downs (confession: I don’t get Lularoe, plain black leggings for life), but I am mostly packed for our trip east, food is in the crockpot, and editing is going well. Really, that is all I can ask for.

It is strange what can make for a good day. I’m going to go enjoy it.

xo, Ali

 

 

 

The One-Step Over-Sleeping Plan

daily life

The insomnia blues were playing again this week. Late Sunday night, I gave into the Nyquil because I just wanted to sleep. Even though I slept (yay!), I ended up sleeping in late (boo!), and lo! the plan for Monday’s schedule was abandoned.

I suspect I am not the only person who deals with this, whether it is the insomnia or the oversleeping. Normally I am a 4am morning person, so waking up at 8am sets my teeth on edge, heart-racing, and the mind-spiral a-going. Totally rational, right?

This is a do as I say and a not as I do advice for when your sleep does not go as planned. Catastrophe planning at its finest, this plan aims to end your late-waking worries and fears of failure and thoughts of “I’m sure this never happens to ‘insert prominent scholar here’!” Moreover, it only has one step.

Do your normal morning routine. 

Now I admit, I live a pretty flexible life. There is nowhere I technically have to be, nowhere I absolutely have to show up. It is 11:10am as I write this and I am still rocking polka-dot pajama pants and a neon green marathon t-shirt.

But, what I think is especially important is not starting off the morning in that panic-stricken-I-have-so-much-to-do-I-just-lost-four-hours spiral that doing something normal, even if it is shortened, even if the best you can do is just sit with your coffee for ten minutes. Just do it.

Time is a luxury and sitting there, even if for a bit is a reminder that even if the day is starting late, even if it is not going the way you plan, you have it. As Bruno kept telling me, “You still have all the rest of the day.” Or even in the wise words of Alexandra Franzen, “Today is not over yet.”

I always find that if I do a full-dive into the day, without a little quiet time for myself, nothing I do (even if I do manage not to just write the day off) is done with much focus or even, with much enjoyment. The day feels off. The work feels off. Doing the standard morning routine makes things feel much better, or rather, just normal. Sure, less gets done, but at least I can be sure it gets done well.

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

 

In (And Out of) Bed : A Response to Joan Didion

books, daily life

joandidion

Joan Didion’s “In Bed” with all its clinical accuracy made me proud to have migraines. After all, this and a love of big black sunglasses were two things I had in common with a woman who is considered a great American writer.

I had my first in eighth grade, on my way home from my first post-parents-divorce therapist appointment. Hours after I was telling some stranger about life at home, I was in the emergency room, throwing up in a pink container. I had no idea my body had the capacity for that amount of pain.

I did not have another migraine for another year (missing my freshmen homecoming) and after that they came with yearly regularity. I’m lucky though. One a year. Only a couple of hours. I know people who have them for days. Didion had them a few times a month.

I never take anything for them. By the time I realize I am about to have one, it is already too late. I remember sitting with a friend at a coffee shop suddenly unable to focus on my eyes on anything in the room, unable to focus on what she was saying. That is usually the first sign. “We have to go,” I announced abruptly. I spend the next six or eight hours between my bed and the bathroom.

When I was in high school, I used to panic when I had them. When Didion writes that migraines are supposedly imaginary, that is how I felt. I would come down the stairs, startled by the fact I could not feel the left side of my lips, my face, my hands. They tingled. I would be informed that I need to “calm down” because I was “making it worse.” Then up the stairs I would go to make the dozens of trips from the bed to the bathroom.

I later found out these symptoms are common accompaniments to migraine. And I eventually became more stoic. “I’m having a migraine,” I now announce and then ride it out in bed (and the bathroom) until it is over. Calm throughout.

My only migraine-related irritation are those people who get on social media and complain that they are having a migraine right now. I lose my mind (and my stomach) if someone so much as looks out the window, letting in natural sunlight, while I have a migraine. I cannot imagine being able to look at a computer screen. I cannot believe those people. I waver between jealousy and a desire to direct them to the differences between headaches and migraines.

One thing that Didion never discusses is the primal messes migraines create out of normally rational people. Even when she describes the symptoms, they sound so far away, not really experienced. They even sound glamourous. One imagines Didion in her sunglasses. Nobody imagines Didion out of her mind scorched with pain, vomit on her shirt, exhausted, but unable to sleep, most likely irritating (and scaring) everyone around her. I have never had a migraine where I end up in bed and stay there, at least, not until the worst is over. And the worst is the migraine.

This past Sunday night I cursed Joan Didion for her calm, rational approach to migraines. It started at dinner. Bruno and I had a dinner of sushi. And then just as the waitress was giving us back the check, I looked up at Bruno and realized I could not focus my eyes. For whatever reason, I refused to recognize the migraine for what it was. I just had one a couple months ago. It had not been a year. Maybe three months since my last one.

I closed my eyes the entire way home, willing the pain in my head to go away. I did not even make Bruno turn off the music. I was not having a migraine. I went home and laid on the couch. “Do you want some cake?” Bruno asked. “Just a sec, I’m waiting for this to go away.” All the usual symptoms started making their appearances. My stomach started to lurch (a wonderful respite from the actual migraine pain) and my left side went numb and tingly. I removed myself to the bathroom.

But I just could not stay calm. I broke the rule that had been drilled into me since the very beginning: panic makes it worse. I made it worse. I panicked.

Suddenly I have only one aim: stop the pain. This is a side-effect of my panic. I forget that while I can control my emotions, I cannot control this pain. I seek control of the latter.

Deep down I know that I cannot make the pain go away. Still, I do whatever gives me a reprieve from the pain. I throw up. I place my head on the cold bathroom floor, begging over and over again, “Please make it stop. Please, please, please make it stop.” Bruno has to move to a different room to sleep, because I cannot stop getting into bed and back out of bed. There is nothing he can do. And truly I just want to suffer alone. Other people trying to help only reminds me that there is nothing that can be done. And fool that I am, attempting to regain control over my body, I drink water, get sick, place head on cold bathroom floor, plead for the end, go back to bed, and repeat.

I have no idea what time it eventually broke. One of the times I lifted my head (from the toilet? the bathroom floor?) I realized it was over. My head hurt. Yes. But it was starting to dull. Done. Over. I could, finally, go back in bed and remain there.

Didion is right about the end though. I woke up Monday morning still feeling the after-effects of the previous night, an undeserved hangover. I have no idea how much sleep I actually got. My body aches in places that are not my stomach and head. But for one day, I have a forced and welcome calm.

 

 

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