Monday Miles : July 23-29, 2018

crossfit, cycling, dissertation, graduate school, monday miles, running, swimming, training, triathlon

I’m not burnt out. I don’t work hard enough to be burnt out. But I admit that I ended last week feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. It did not matter that I received good news — fourth dissertation approved! one chapter to go! — I ended last week and began this week with the big question: what next? This is the last year of funding. Now what? And then swarmed all the things I had to do to improve already approved dissertation chapters, make myself viable for jobs, the shoddy job market, fears of not being smart enough, not working hard enough, not being a good enough writer, etc. In other words, hello anxiety.

The relationship between regular life stress and working out stress are probably not discussed enough. I see plenty about recovery from hard work out weeks, but not much about hard life weeks. Most of the time working out makes me feel better, but then sometimes it feels like another thing on the never ending list of things to do.

So I took a recovery weekend. It worked out well because I went home to Ohio. My sister had a baby (a girl!!) and my mom watched my two nephews. I helped watch the boys and visited my sister and the new baby in the hospital. We swam in the pond. Bruno and I went out to a new place on a lake for fish tacos and beers, listening to a local cover band play “Fight for Your Right to Party” while we discussed whether the right to party was a natural or civil right. It was a nice weekend, but I’ll admit. I came back to Michigan full of anxiety.

I’m hoping the recovery weekend will help me out in the long run though, that long run being the Legend trail half-marathon this Saturday. I want to feel energized and rejuvenated come this weekend, not frazzled and exhausted.

Anyway — here are last week’s workouts.

7 – 23 : Rest

7 – 24 : CrossFit. WOD: Run 5k for time. Time: 26:29 minutes. Mile 1 = 8 minutes, 2 = 8:30 minutes, 3 = 8:49 seconds, .15 = 7.53. This was hard and about three minutes slower than my 5k PR, but I was glad to know where I am. Onward.

7 – 25: CrossFit. Warm-up: 2 x 10 ring-rows, 10 push-ups, 10 good-mornings, 10 air squats, 30 second plank, 1 minute run. WOD: The Chief. Max rounds – 3 minutes. 3 power cleans, 6 push-ups, 9 air squats. Rest 1 minute. Repeat 5 cycles. My form is improving! This is the first lift aside from dead lifts and squats that I’ve been able to actually use a barbell on. Improvements! I used a naked barbell at 33 pounds and — also very exciting! — none of my push-ups were scaled. I did them all regular. Rounds: 3 + 2, 3 + 2, 3, 3, 3 + 3. Like the 5k, I have plenty of room for improvement, but I was happy for those two wins.

7 – 26: Swim. 200m breast stroke. Descending ladder, 150m, 100, 100, 50 x 8 with 30s rest. 100m breast stroke. 1,050 meters. Bike. 6 miles. 29 minutes.

7 – 27: Rest.

7 – 28: Rest.

7 – 29: Rest.

Totals: Run 3.15 miles. Swim 1050 meters. Bike 6 miles. CrossFit 2 hours.

xo, Ali

 

Brief Thoughts on Turning a Dissertation Chapter In

dissertation, graduate school, Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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

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

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

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

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

xo, Ali

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

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.

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on a Hometown

daily life, dissertation, graduate school

We are back in my hometown for the next two weeks. Even though I think I know this area pretty well, things have changed since I left for college back in 2008. Bruno and I decided to do some exploring and ended up at a new (at least new to me) coffee shop that a reviewer claimed had “the best chai tea latte in all of Ohio.” I have not had every chai tea latte in Ohio, but it is the best chai tea latte I’ve had.

I was voted most likely to never come back when I graduated from high school. I don’t have the yearbook for that year — 18 year old Ali was “too cool” for that — but there’s a picture of me in a yearbook rolling a suitcase with my superlative written underneath. I was really proud of that superlative at the time, but in hindsight I suspect it had more to do with my willingness to hate the “provincialism” of the area. I’m not proud of that.

Hometowns are complicated places. Not everyone really has one. I’m talking about the type of place where everyone knows everyone. Your teachers taught not only your siblings, but also your parents, your aunts and uncles, and all your cousins. When you tell someone your last name, they say “you must be this and that” because your last name means something to people. Its the type of place where a stranger says “you look/act so much like your mom/dad” because, yes, they know them. I do not remember my graduating class number, but I do not think it was over seventy. I knew most of them since kindergarten. That can be stifling. It was stifling.

I spent much of my life wanting to escape. And yet, strangely, it is still a place I refer to as “home.” As in, “I’m going home this weekend” or “I’m back home for the next two weeks.” And while I do not want to move back (hard to imagine any political theory jobs popping up around here!) it is no longer a place I want to escape.

Part of it is because I see how much this place made me. I have a college friend that joked about me that you can take the girl out of the small town, but you can’t take the small town out of the girl. This is probably true. I cannot imagine knowing how to work hard on my dissertation if I had never worked on a dairy farm. The high school experiences — getting busted by the cops for having a football party when I was a sophomore, regularly skipping class, regularly partying (often in barns and cornfields) in some ways led me to run arms wide open into discipline and routine. But they also made me empathetic when other people mess up. I get it. I was there in high school. Time spent working in the local factory (and my father) gave me a blue collar sense of humor and I know that. For every delicious foodie meal I’ll ever have, I’ll never be too stuck up for the local greasy bar pizza.

When I’m here I feel reconnected with the important things — faith and family. While the anxieties of dissertation writing, planning to teach my very first college class, the really shoddy academic job market never really truly leave, they seem like lesser problems. The important thing is to make sure I spend time with my younger, still in elementary, middle, and junior high school sisters. The important thing is to make sure I stop by and see one of my best friends who just had her fourth baby and let her know she is a total bad ass for becoming a mother again. It is watching my nephews for a week because their babysitter is on vacation. I’m not too busy for loving people when I’m home.

While we were driving to this coffee shop, I told Bruno, “I just feel so relaxed.” We were driving along the country roads listening to the John Denver song of the same name. I’ve been working hard and getting back on a routine. The fourth chapter is swinging along. This was not the relaxed state of doing nothing on a beach. It feels like the relaxation of having your priorities straight. Time spent in a  hometown can do that for you.

xo, Ali

 

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

 

Dissertation Update

dissertation, graduate school, Uncategorized

I started chapter four yesterday. Or is it five? I turned in chapter three a couple weeks ago, but with the craziness that comes with the end of the semester by advisor will not be able to get to it. I told him that I thought it might be better as two chapters, but that I needed a break from working on it. I tell you this. I can talk your head off on Rousseau and Christianity right now. And right now, I need a break.

I asked if I could just start the next chapter instead and return to chapter three or chapters three and four, and was given the a-ok. So I’m back to writing and have about a thousand words written (and approximately ten thousand more to go!). I appreciate that it can be a total mess and imperfect, whereas with chapters three/four, I was in the state of “will it ever be good enough?” When I start something new, I can just turn on some tunes, open some Rousseau, and go. It feels good.

So far, the goal, the plan, the ideal, is to have chapters three, four, and five done, turned in, and approved by the end of this summer. That leaves one chapter left with a year of additional funding. I think I can handle that.

xo, Ali

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

IMG_4754

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 “Winning” Mindset

dissertation, graduate school, running

When it has been awhile since I’ve turned anything in or when it has been awhile since I’ve gotten any “you’re on the right track” type of feedback, I start to get antsy. I mean, I’m always antsy and anxious, but even more so than usual. Maybe some irritability will crop up or dramatic exclamations of “I’m a failure!” What did I fail? To be determined. Usually around this time, I’ll start saying things to Bruno like: “I need a win.”

It does not matter how many times I have “won” (in whatever way that can mean in graduate school). Within a few days, I need another opportunity to “prove myself” because I’m still not sure, even though I’ve been here for five years, passed my classes, passed reading comprehension in ancient Greek and French, passed comps (it was brutally ugly, but I passed) and have had two chapters approved and I still do not think I’m intelligent enough for grad school. And I constantly have to work make sure someone “qualified” can let me know whether I am intelligent enough or whether I am not, because none of the above “proves” it once and for all.

Meanwhile, this is a total joy-sucker and a total sucker-punch to the idea that learning is good for its own sake. I mean, I truly believe it is the best way of life and I would rather be here than making six figures with health insurance elsewhere. What is the point of anything if I can’t spend all day with Rousseau, Plato, Hegel, Hobbes, and so on reading, thinking, writing, etc?

And yet, in my day to day life it becomes much less about learning for its own sake and more about getting that chapter approved because someday I need to finish this dissertation, so I can get those three little letters appended to my name, so that I can get a job, so that I can get health insurance, and blah, blah, blah. I understand the need to be pragmatic, but there are times where it can be crushing, where I forget it is only the means to the end. The day becomes less about what I learned and more about productivity. The word count basically my little star of approval when I can’t get it from anywhere else. You wrote a lot today. Today mattered. Or, you didn’t write a lot today. Today was a waste.

I have not figured this out yet, how to separate the joy of learning with the practical need for affirmation, but moreover for the more pernicious need for affirmation. I have been trying to figure out how to remove that feeling for the last five years of graduate school and I’m not sure that I am any closer than I was today in 2018 than I was in 2013 when I first started.

Amelia Boone, 3x World Toughest Mudder Champion, had a great Instagram post the other day. She wrote, “I spent so many years – maybe most of my life so far – doing things out of fear (racing included). I thought that, somehow, enough awards and accolades and wins would make me happy. That, at some point, I’d be satisfied. But it was only when I accepted that these would *never* be enough did I finally start to feel full.”

I want to apply that mindset to graduate school, to the learning life, because it is true. No amount of A’s, passes, honorary societies, chapter approvals I get ever seems to be enough. I have not “arrived,” because I never will. And as much as I may say that I need a “win” there will never be one final “win” to end all wins, that fully declares “I’m smart enough to be here and certifiably not a moron.”

I’m not sure how someone goes about the acceptance Boone describes, but I am willing to give it a go.

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