What I’m Loving Lately

books, daily life, food, music

After what felt like a long hiatus, this week I have been hitting the dissertation hard. I have been waking up at four in the morning, so that I can start writing close to five to try to get anywhere between one and half hours (if I run in the morning) to three hours (if I don’t) of writing in before I get ready to go to work in the archives for the day. Evenings are spent reading and taking notes. I’m hoping to turn chapter four in by Monday, which also happens to be the day after my one year anniversary. We’ll see.

It has not been all work, excuse me, I mean leisure. Aside for Rousseau, there are a few things that have piqued my interest.

Watching : I haven’t really watched much tv lately, but Sunday night Bruno and I watched the first two episodes of A Very English Scandal on Amazon prime. We haven’t yet been able to watch the third and final episode, but it is well done.

Listening : My current writing music is Pixies DoolittleGouge Away might be the perfect editing song. While at work, I’ve been listening to Bad Blood : Secrets and Lies of a Silicon Valley Start-Up by John Carreyrou on audible. Holy shit. I am obsessed. I am trying to avoid going down an Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos google rabbit hole. I am only a couple hours into it, but I’m already sure it will be a five star book. Also, it is the reason why this song (not Taylor Swift!) has been in my head all day.

Reading : I’m still making may way through the Odyssey. I’m almost done. I started reading Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent. As Bruno bluntly put it when he opened the book and started read a few pages, “Sarah Perry can write.” I have two history books I am working through. The first is Daniel Walker Howe’s tome What Hath God Wrought : The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 and the second, Jon Meacham’s American Lion : Andrew Jackson in the White House. I’m loving the first a little more than the second. For whatever reason, I find Meacham biography kind of tedious, although it is interesting to compare Meacham and Howe on Jackson. I was hoping for more on his political thought, particularly on nullification, and less on scandals involving “wanton” women. I’m half-way through Howe’s book and I love every page, even during the long discussions of internal improvements and the bank.

Eating : Chocolate Vega powder and cherry smoothies. I do not like fruit. I do not like cherries. But for whatever reason, when they are mixed with some protein powder, almond milk, and some ice, magic happens. Also, I restarted my sour dough bread starter this week (is it weird to name your sour dough starter? mine is named Sebastian), so definitely looking forward to eating some of that.

What are you loving lately?

xo, Ali

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Morbid Conversations

daily life, death, dissertation

Our “office” has been the sunroom in my parents’ home today. I worked on editing an article for a professor and did some reading. We walked up to the local pizza place at noon to meet up with some of my mom’s family who were gathering because a relative’s in-laws from Taiwan were in town. It has not been the most productive day, but I think being away from campus has been good for my anxiety.

Anyway, you know the rules in conversation: avoid politics, money, sex. You know you are close with someone when all those taboo topics are discussed. You know you are really close with someone when you discuss the topic that is not even on that list: death.

You know you are comfortable with someone when, as if discussing the purchasing of curtains you can say, “If it happens sooner, I would want to be buried here, but if later and we have a family, a home, an established foundation somewhere, then I would want to be buried there.” And then, the person, in this case, my husband, responds back that he would like a mausoleum because that way none of our kids have to worry about where they’ll be buried (dream big, honey). Then we went back to our work. I went back to editing. Bruno back to writing his dissertation.

Maybe we are unusual, but brief conversations like this happen. I mean not all the time. I can be macabre (once, for a twelve hour drive to Connecticut we only listened to Lore — did not sleep so well that night!), but Bruno not so much. Yet, I think it is normal and probably one of the more healthier tendencies I have: knowing this can’t go on forever.

I think about it when I am wasting time (and I mean wasting time, not just relaxing, not doing something productive). Do I really want to be eighty and have devoted most of my life to Mark Zuckerberg-created methods of socialization? Do I really want to talk about that chick I barely know just because of some picture she posted on facebook? Do I really want to waste the last few years of my twenties spending Saturday mornings catching up on sleep (being hungover) or creating something, being someone, giving to someone?

I do not have a memento mori and while I do think the avoidance of death is unhealthy, being fixated on it is equally so. But I think these occasional morbid conversations, if they are even really all that morbid, help me maintain quality in life, even if quantity (in the grand scheme of history) is short.

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

 

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.

 

 

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

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things : February 10-16, 2018

favorite things

I found this history of the waterbed to be fascinating. My parents had one when I was little that I remember popping. Also, who, as a child of the 90s, did not want that impressive aquarium waterbed in The Goofy Movie?

I am teaching my first class next semester and I loved this interview with Teller (of Penn & Teller) on teaching.

Your reminder that motivation is bullshit.

I try to live a life of intellectual humility. I don’t know everything. That is why I love this idea of an anti-library.

“A private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.”

An important reminder for myself. I can definitely be on the curmudgeonly grump side of life.

Another great reminder: take risks.

And speaking of being able to survive the Yukon the other day, the Yukon Ultra had just one finisher.

To finish, some articles I thought were interesting on the #metoo movement. While I think it is a great thing that we are getting rid of schmucks like Harvey Weinstein and Matthew Lauer and, hopefully, their less famous counterparts, I do tend to feel hesitant at declaring myself as supportive of the movement. I think Kate Roiphe’s The Other Whisper Network sums up how I tend to feel about the movement.

“Most of the new whisperers feel as I do, exhilarated by the moment, by the long-overdue possibility of holding corrupt and bullying men such as Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, and Matt Lauer to account for their actions. They strongly share some of its broader goals: making it possible for women to work unbothered and unharassed even outside the bubble of Hollywood and the media, breaking down the structures that have historically protected powerful men. Yet they are also slightly uneasy at the weird energy behind this movement, a weird energy it is sometimes hard to pin down.”

Weird energy. Secret lists. A total lack of due process. It makes me nervous. Another great article, and maybe even better, from someone who supports the ends of the #metoo movement, while maybe not its means is Margaret Atwood. She asks if she is a bad feminist.

“This structure – guilty because accused – has applied in many more episodes in human history than Salem. It tends to kick in during the “Terror and Virtue” phase of revolutions – something has gone wrong, and there must be a purge, as in the French Revolution, Stalin’s purges in the USSR, the Red Guard period in China, the reign of the Generals in Argentina and the early days of the Iranian Revolution. The list is long and Left and Right have both indulged. Before “Terror and Virtue” is over, a great many have fallen by the wayside. Note that I am not saying that there are no traitors or whatever the target group may be; simply that in such times, the usual rules of evidence are bypassed.
Such things are always done in the name of ushering in a better world. Sometimes they do usher one in, for a time anyway. Sometimes they are used as an excuse for new forms of oppression. As for vigilante justice – condemnation without a trial – it begins as a response to a lack of justice – either the system is corrupt, as in prerevolutionary France, or there isn’t one, as in the Wild West – so people take things into their own hands. But understandable and temporary vigilante justice can morph into a culturally solidified lynch-mob habit, in which the available mode of justice is thrown out the window, and extralegal power structures are put into place and maintained. The Cosa Nostra, for instance, began as a resistance to political tyranny.”

But another interesting article I found this week is probably the #metoo article I agreed with the most, particularly on how women are educated to understand sex will be uncomfortable and how that extends to relations between males and females and health care (almost ten years to diagnose endometriosis, a shamefully long time for an incredibly common problem for us women).

“In the real world, the very first lesson the typical woman learns about what to expect from sex is that losing her virginity is going to hurt. She’s supposed to grit her teeth and get through it. Think about how that initiation into sex might thwart your ability to recognize “discomfort” as something that’s not supposed to happen. When sex keeps hurting long after virginity is lost, as it did for many of my friends, many a woman assumes she’s the one with the problem. And, well, if you were supposed to grit your teeth and get through it the first time, why not the second? At what point does sex magically transform from enduring someone doing something to you that you don’t like — but remember: everyone agrees you’re supposed to tolerate it — to the mutually pleasurable experience everyone else seems to think it is?”

I’m a big believer in getting the most intelligent analysis of all sides. This is a nuanced and important topic that I don’t think should be sloppily or dogmatically thought about.

And with that, I conclude this week’s favorite things.

Have a lovely weekend!

xo, Ali

 

 

 

Throw-Back Thursday Tunes : February 8, 2018

books, music
c73c49a652a6e6ce762bf70e4b884725

13th Floor Elevators

 

Confession: I’m a total ’60s music-lover. But I have zero music history knowledge. Even Bob Dylan, who is my favorite, I know basically nothing about. I just like listening to the music. The history does not interest me as much. We had a speaker come on campus to give a talk on ’60s music and while my heart swelled at every song he played, a lot of the history was unknown to me. And I thought, “I wish I knew more about that.”

Bruno bought me 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded by Jon Savage at Literati on Sunday as a birthday gift. I’m already in love, because not only am I learning some new favorites, but am actually learning about the history behind songs I have loved for years. I’m hoping that this will slowly develop into a moderate music buff-type knowledge.

But in the meantime, here are some throw-back tunes for this Thursday, heavily influenced by this book I’m reading. I love the dirty, grunge-y sound of the guitars in some of these songs, like The Groupies’ Primitive — a band and song I’ve never heard before and of course, I’ve loved 13th Floor Elevators’ You’re Gonna Miss Me for years. You can definitely hear the beginning of what would eventually become punk and later, even, grunge. I’m usually a total sucker for songs with attitude. I’m generally a happy person, but man I love some angry music.

On the not so angry side, having never listened to the original Paul Simon version of Sound of Silence, I have to admit it is so much better than the version I grew up with. It is both stark and haunting.

I’m about to express an unpopular opinion, at least among my conservative friends and acquaintances, thank God for the sixties.

Click here for the RSJ Throwback Thursday Tunes 1966 Edition.