Thoughts on “The Process”

books, crossfit, dissertation, goals, graduate school, reading

At the moment my “guru” is Ben Bergeron. I love Chasing Excellence (I re-read it after finishing). I love his podcast. I love his Instagram account. His advice is commonsensical and yeah, a lot of it I have read or heard before, but I like his presentation. I always come away not feeling just inspired, but I actually try applying his suggestions and recommendations — not something I always follow through on. And while his book is about CrossFit athletes, I think all of it is applicable to graduate school.

I have one quibble though. And it is not just Ben who says it. I see it all over. The process. The process, not the outcome is what should be focused on. We can only focus on today. We can only focus on what we are doing right now, in this moment. The outcome does not matter. Just today. Only today. Ben Bergeron and two-times CrossFit games winner Katrin Davidsdottir never discuss winning the CrossFit games. He writes they never even talk about it. They only focus on the process.

I am very lucky. What I most want in life, I already have. On a good day, I wake up. I write. I work-out. I eat. I write some more. I eat again. I read. I study French. I read some more. I might work out again. I eat for the last time. I read even more. Bed. If you would ask me what I want to be doing twenty years from now, I hope I do what I do right now, but writing something different, reading different books, maybe studying a different language, and hopefully teaching. Sure, I’d like a different location and a different income. But the core of my life is exactly what I want. I wanted a life of learning and I am living that life right now. I just want this life to be able to continue.

In this way, for me, the process is the goal. The process is the positive outcome I want to continue. Yes, I want to write a good dissertation. Yes, I want to get my Ph.D. Yes, I want to publish. Yes, I want an academic job. Doing what I do every day, the process, should ideally lead to those outcomes. But I only want those things so I can continue doing what I do right now. I’ve already “made it,” so to speak.

So, back to not caring about outcomes and focusing solely on the process. How can I not care about writing a good dissertation or getting an academic job, not as the ultimate goal, but because without these outcomes, the ultimate goal the daily life of learning, is threatened? Because without these goals, in a way, my living in the process is threatened. Without achieving certain outcomes, I can probably say good-bye to all that. And as my dissertation comes closer to being finished, as I come closer to going on the academic job market, as Bruno as I talk more about this probably being our last year in Michigan, I know strongly I do not want to say good-bye to all that. Outcomes become more important. It doesn’t mean I do not care about the process, but outcomes also ensure that the process continues.

All that is to say, why not care about outcomes? Why not discuss them, want them, hope for them, long for them? I understand that people become way too focused on hitting a certain goal rather than living a certain life, but I do not think that means that wanting things to go a certain way, having specific goals and outcomes is always a bad thing. I do not think it is a bad thing especially when those outcomes are not merely stopping points, but help you continue with the bigger goal, the process.

 

 

 

 

Tri Not to be a Chicken

dissertation, goals, running, swimming, training, triathlon

Confession I: I used to be a total daredevil when I was younger. I think growing up on a dairy farm skewed my idea of “dangerous.” My sister and I would pile up hay at the bottom of a haymow and jump off. We would climb up the sides of silos to see who would go up the highest. We dared each other to grab hold the electric fence (explains a lot, ha!). I grew riding around fast as I could on four-wheelers (sometimes falling off).

Confession III: I’m a total chicken now. There are so many things I’m afraid of now. I’m scared of flying (Bruno had to practically hold my hand through the whole flight from Madrid to JFK in New York), scared of driving (I almost never drive), scared of large groups of people (hello, feeling suffocated), and scared of riding my bike (I had a bad bike accident several years ago, breaking my left elbow).

The day after my half-marathon I signed up for the Williams Bay Triathlon. It takes place September 22 in Williams Bay, Wisconsin on Lake Geneva. It is a sprint distance: 500m swim, 13 mile bike, and a 5k run.

This place holds a special place in my heart. My grandma grew up in Williams Bay. My great-grandma cooked for the mansions that line the lake. It was (is?) a popular summer vacation spot for Chicagoans. Legend has it my great-grandfather was an excellent athlete and would regularly swim across the lake and was even such a good hockey player that the Chicago Black Hawks wanted him to play for them. His mother wouldn’t let him go. All family legend of course. Lake Geneva is a family vacation spot, a place I grew up swimming in during summers. I look forward to swimming in the lake again and doing something small to honor my family history.

I’ve made a mixture of the Hal Higdon half-marathon running three days a week plan plus the Joe Friel beginner triathlon plan. My goal from here until I finish the Serious Series in early August is to run three times a week, bike twice, and swim twice. After the Legend half, I’ll focus more intently on brick training, etc. I am excited to switch things up and I am excited to finish off the season with something different. I can maybe count on one hand the people I know of who have done triathlons (I think like three people, maybe?).

I only have a mountain bike, the same one from my accident. It is rickety and feels a bit like a death trap (oh hi, fear!). I have plans for replacing it before the triathlon, but it will have to wait until the end of the summer (lest I fail the Dave Ramsey commandments of fiscal responsibility). But for now, I put an odometer on my bike and a helmet on my head and as of last week have been riding around town.

And it is nice. I honestly never thought I would like cycling. Even when I would go to and from work on a bike (see above about being scared to drive), it was kind of a drag. But I think now, because I have an end goal, a plan. I find myself looking at bikes, researching bikes, and talking about bikes. I work in the archives of an academic who was known for his cycling and I became very excited finding a letter on how many miles he cycled a year, advice for the newbie cyclist, and buying your first bike. I never expected this interest to happen, but it did.

But it is also a little scary. I think I’m still afraid from my accident. I get nervous about going downhill, like to the point that I probably can’t really take advantage of it because I get that heart racing “it’s too fast” feeling and start tapping the breaks. It is both exhilarating and terrifying. Every time I go out I become a little braver.

And that is what I most appreciate about this new training plan, it really truly shakes things up. It is not just longer (which I’m not actually sure if my body would hold up to right now, to be honest), but it requires two different sports, one of which I can barely do (bike), and one I haven’t done in over a decade (swim). It forces me to be brave with my biking, brave with cutting down running from four to three days a week (yeah, I know that four is barely any and I barely ran over 20 miles a week anyways, but still, different for me).

Even more, it forces me to be brave in changing my goals. I always wanted to go longer with running. I still do, but I think sometimes I want to do too much too fast (I had a solid seven mile run! Let’s look at 50 mile training plans!). And I’ll say it again and again and again. That dissertation is number one priority. I have to do things that do not get in the way of my being able to think and work well most of the day. Sometimes being brave is just being honest with where you are.

Anyway, I’m feeling pretty excited about training right now and I am definitely not going to be a chicken.

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.

 

 

The Smell of Chlorine

goals, swimming, training, triathlon

Yesterday, I put on a swimming suit that made me look like a seven year old. I went to the college rec center, tried to find the entrance to the swimming pool, sighed with relief when I found it, and sighed with further relief when I found that there was only one other person in the pool. I awkwardly sat my towel down with my flip-flops and hopped in. I struggled and then gave up on my swimming cap, put on my goggles, looked at the clock, and began to swim.

When I was younger I was a water bug. I have baby pictures of me about to burst with joy being in the pool. Afraid of the water? Not me. I remember taking swimming lessons, but I do not remember not knowing how to swim. I wanted to be at the pool all day every day. I pretended to be mermaids with my sister, constantly trying to touch the bottom of the 12 foot (I was maybe 7 years old at this age), diving off the diving boards, and ate all the glorious Swedish Fish in the world (always associated with summers at the pool for me, 1 penny = 1 Swedish fish, people!). My oldest friend, Paige, and I would hang out at her grandparents fish farm (doing what else?) swimming in a large pond.

I’ve never been afraid of the water. This is probably why I opted to take a ship across to Europe rather than fly for our honeymoon. This lack of fearfulness around water has probably led to some irresponsible decisions. I mean what kind of parents let their elementary school kids swim in the middle of a 20-30 feet deep lake without life jackets? Mine. In their defense, it was the nineties and we were strong swimmers.

lifepreserver

Rocking my Minster Marlins swim suit. Life belts? Who needs ’em?* 

 

By the time I was the age when I could start swim team, I was at the pool all day. I was never very good, never went to regional championships, and was usually in second or third heat, but I have blue ribbons from those heats! I swam back and breast. I remember really enjoying it until I got old enough to be “too cool” for swim team. I did one year of winter high school swim and did not swim again.

I have been playing around with starting to swim again for awhile. After the half-marathon, I kept telling myself. I looked up beginners swim work outs. I bought a suit, some goggles, and a few swim caps. I watched a few youtube videos on form.

And yesterday was the day. The smell of chlorine evoked so many memories. It reminded me of the time I did not use goggles, opening my eyes in the chlorine, and swam so much this way that I could not open my eyes because they were so red and painful from the chemicals. I laid on the couch with a wash cloth over my eyes. It reminded me of the time Paige and I spent all day at the pool swimming and planning on how we would clean the Miami-Erie Canal while making large taffy like creations with fruit flavored tootsie rolls. It reminded me of the weird “beep” the start at the beginning of a race would make. A lot of these memories are from around twenty years ago — that’s how long it has been.

My first swim work out called for only a ten minute swim. Swim one length (25m), wait 30-45 seconds, swim another, repeat. I could only swim five laps…so 250 meters. And I was wiped out exhausted. I know this is not very much at all. I know there are swimmers who do 3000 meter work outs. I’m pretty sure my form was garbage, I kicked my feet too much, and towards the end I was struggling with staying in a straight line (actually, I struggle with this while walking too). But I was satisfied and happy.

I already cannot wait to get back in the water again. My goal for this next twelve-week training period is to try to swim twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays. The pool is closed due to finals (I think most of the lifeguards are undergrads), so I will not be able to swim again until next week Friday. I’m already excited for it, hoping to get in just one more pool length. I’m looking forward to smelling like chlorine again.

xo, Ali

*Just kidding kids. Be safe.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

What Am I “Serious”-ly Training For?

goals, running

Signing up for races makes me so nervous. My first (and last) marathon I did not even bother signing up for until I finished my twenty mile long run. Over Christmas I debated, should I sign up for something?

My problem is that I will start “training,” but then will get distracted by something else. Should I train for a half-marathon, a 10k, marathon, a timed event? I find it hard to stick with things, so the idea was if I invested in a race, I would be less likely to change horses midstream. Mainly, I was afraid that if training was going well, I might decide well why not train for something extensive? Next thing you know I’m injured, discouraged, and not running. Not at all where I want to be.

I’ve been interested in trail running, really nature in general lately. I don’t know if it is all the Jean-Jacques Rousseau I’ve been reading for my dissertation, but 2018 is definitely the year of “Nature Ali.” We have a few camping trips planned. We’re taking a wilderness survival class, but I digress. So, I looked more into trail races instead of road races.

And I found one. In Hell.

Hell, Michigan. 

On April 28, I will be running the Trail Half-Marathon, which is part of a Trail Weekend that includes a 50k, marathon, and five mile run. I’m half-way through training. It is going well, no complaints. I’m a little bit more nervous about the trail aspect of the half-marathon, because there is not really any trails where I live, but I figure if I go in fully expecting to get my ass handed to me, I will be fine. For this reason, I have no time goals, nothing. I’m just going to go in and see what happens. Also — take a look at this beautiful course.

But I did not stop there. Nope.

I discovered the Trail Half-Marathon is a part of a larger trail series in Michigan: the Serious Series. It included the Flirt with Dirt, which is a 5k and 10k — I am doing both — and then The Legend, which is a 5 mile, 10 mile, and half-marathon — I am running the half. So yeah, it is time to get serious.

It is hard for me not to think about what comes after, especially as things are going well, but I plan on taking things race by race, at least for now. We’ll see how I feel after the Trail Half and go from there. One thing is for sure: I am so excited.

xo, Ali

 

Consistent

goals, graduate school, running

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Inches make a champion.” — Vince Lombardi

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

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

xo, Ali