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.

 

 

 

 

What I’m Reading

books, reading

I always have four or five books going. I have been trying to spend more evenings reading instead of tuning out with some Netflix (life is too short). So, after the kitchen is cleaned, I pour myself some tea — actually, real talk, after Bruno cleans the kitchen and pours me a cup of tea — I have been sitting on the couch and reading until bed.

Not included: books on Rousseau, books I’m reading for my upcoming Constitution 101 class. That I’m always reading Rousseau should be a given.

Homer’s The Odyssey. I had full intentions for 2018 to be an epic year. I read the Iliad the other month. I plan on going through them both twice, because I am more than sure I missed plenty. Afterwards onto the Aeneid and then Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Homeric Moments: Clues to Delight in Reading the Iliad and the Odyssey, by Eva Brann. Eva Brann is my Virgil into the world of Homer. And she is right, she does offer up learning Greek as a great temptation (I passed my Ancient Greek reading comps, but even I know that means I only graduated from not reading Greek to barely reading Greek).

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, by Steven Pinker. I do not love this book. I do not even know if I like it, but I also do not think it is as terrible as some of my compatriots are saying. Do I think he gives too much credit to what he is advancing? Yes. Do I think he is right that living now is better than living several hundred years ago? A hundred years ago? Fifty years ago? Yes. Pet peeve: When Pinker quotes Enlightenment thinkers, he rarely quotes from the actual works themselves, but from other people quoting the works. Conclusion: Pinker does not really know much about the Enlightenment.

Your First Triathlon: Race Ready in 5 Hours a Week, by Joe Friel. Possible goals to come? We’ll see how this half-marathon goes.

The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath, by Leslie Jamison. I am only two chapters in and loving it. I can already tell it is not the typical memoir. She wrote her dissertation on alcohol, recovery, and writing — looking at authors notorious for their drinking and what happened to their art post-recovery. I love the use of memoir and stories of writers throughout.

Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace. In full disclosure, I’m not so sure what to make of this one yet. I am only about a hundred pages in, so I have barely started. But views are to be determined.

What are you reading?

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

 

 

2018 Favorite Books So Far

books, reading

I finished my 20th book of the year this morning. It was a celebratory moment in itself because said book was A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin which means finally, finally, FINALLY I have finished the Game of Thrones series. It has taken me since September 2017 with moments of pure reading enjoyment and pure reading hell (Brienne chapters are the worst). I will probably want to re-read them again before the next (and final) season of the show comes out, but until then I’m glad to finally be done with the series. Fare thee well, Westeros and Essos. Hello…well, I’m not sure what I will read next, if I will even start a new series at all.

If I was only reading about the trials and squabbles of those frisky folks on King’s Landing, I probably would have been finished with the series much sooner, but I find it difficult to be book-monogamous (also those Brienne chapters, my GOD!). I usually have several going at once, although I do try to make sure they are not all in the same genre.

Here are a few of my favorites so far in this year (in no particular order):

  1. The Outrun — Amy Liptrot This one might be a favorite, not for the year, but all-time. I keep going back to it, just to read paragraphs of her description of the Scottish Orkney Islands. I have this one on Kindle, the sooner I can get it in hardcover the better.
  2. Why Bob Dylan Matters — Richard F. Thomas Part of my “learn more about music, not just listen to it” project. It provides a great defense of Dylan’s Nobel Prize for Literature, and more importantly, made me appreciate Bob Dylan more and the long tradition he comes from. Plus, it was a healthy reminder that I really need to read my classics.
  3. 168 Hours : You have More Time Than You Think — Laura Vanderkam Some good tough love. Most of her advice is common sense and fairly obvious, but I always need a reminder.
  4. Just Kids & M Train — Patti Smith Scanning through my high schools journals last year, I read something I wrote with an adorable pretentiousness back in 2005: “I want to live a life of art.” And proceeded to explain how I was going to that. I know I am not the first person to write something like that, nor will I be the last. Reading Patti Smith reminded me of these younger ideals and challenged me to continue to hold them. Art is not something you try to fit in, cramming in the hours, but a way of existing and being in the world. I will put these on the “read every year” pile.
  5. The Call of the Wild — Jack London Never in my life would I ever think that a story about a dog would become one of my favorites. Jack London writes like an American.
  6. How Bad Do You Want It? — Matt Fitzgerald I am a sucker for inspirational tales of resilience. The thing is, even though this is a book specifically about endurance in competitive sports, every lesson in here could be applied to graduate school. I think it will make not only my running better, but how I dissertate and everything that is to come after.

I keep track of all my reading on Goodreads. I’m a sucker for the lists and challenges. Plus, those percentage bars that show me how closer or far I am from finishing a book are a type-A dream.

What books have been your favorites this year thus far?

xo, Ali