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

 

 

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

 

The One-Step Over-Sleeping Plan

daily life

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

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

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

Do your normal morning routine. 

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

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

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

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

xo, Ali

 

 

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

 

Lenten Ulterior Motives

daily life

“And after all, there is not a young girl who, to have a more slender figure or to save what is needed to buy fine clothes, would not renounce pleasure more gaily than the rest do to observe the precepts of the church.” — Pierre Bayle on Lenten fasting, Various Thoughts on the Occasion of a Comet

I sent this quote to Bruno today with “#savage.” Yes, I’m basically still a teenage girl.

The more things stay the same, the more things stay the same. I am totally guilty of giving up desserts and sugar to lose a few extra pounds — the extra pounds stayed — I’ve never been good at Lenten fasts. For one, I love fish, seafood, vegetarian dishes. I used to get excited around Lenten season every year because of the delicious seafood dishes my mom would make on Fridays. I think I got the opposite impression of Lent as a time of good eating, not necessarily fasting.

Now I usually give up Facebook and Instagram. My social media addiction by spring is rampant, but of course, even this other ends. I mean, it is good for productivity, am I right? And also — general, over-all happiness. But because I think I’ll eventually give up facebook and Instagram, for good, for good someday, I opted this year for something else.

This year I’m giving up alcohol. Strangely enough, this one ended up being in fashion among my fellow Catholic grad students. That Thursday, I went to a friend’s and all of us girls had given up alcohol. But funny enough, as Bayle claimed, we still had different reasons for doing so, mostly having to do with health.

I’m no different. With my struggles with insomnia and anxiety, I have been trying really hard to figure out what can make it better. These 40 days are not just a Lenten fast, but an experiment to see if the anxiety improves sans-booze. It also gives me a built-in excuse to explain why I’m not drinking that doesn’t make me feel like a buzz-kill (“So you see I have intense anxiety and sometimes I can’t sleep at night…”).

Last night was one week. I still feel anxious, but have yet to have a full-fledged panic attack. And I still have had some sleep struggles, but I am hoping these struggles will simmer down as time goes by. So yes, as Bayle says, I’m observing the precepts of the church, but I still have my Lenten ulterior motives.

I’ll cheers my La Croix to that!

xo, Ali

 

Insomnia Blues

daily life

I usually keep the hours of 9 – 4, that is, sleeping hours. I like going to bed early so I can wake early. But over the past few months my insomnia has increased. I know when I am going to have a hard time sleeping the moment I lie down in bed. I will be tired, ready to sleep, and relieved when the lights go off. And then? Thump, thump, thump. My heart starts racing.

I might start to fall asleep and then, once again thump, thump, THUMP! I am guilty of, at this moment, turning to Nyquil. But even this has proven to be, in the long-term, an ineffective aid. I took a double dose of Nyquil (don’t try this at home kids!) Sunday night and was still up until about one, heart racing. Then, to top it off, I typically have a Nyquil hangover the next day, brain fog, heaviness, a sort of dull lethargy.

The frustrating part of all this is that it is throwing off my consistency. Sunday night I made a schedule for every day this week because I was feeling behind. I wanted to feel in control. I wanted to have a plan. And of course, life laughs right back at me, because instead of waking up at 4, I woke up 4 hours later with a Nyquil-induced brain fog. And sure, I was able to get most things done. I even made a lemon drizzle cake. BUT, I hate that feeling of not being at 100 percent.

Last night I fell asleep fine and then hello 2 a.m.! I laid in bed for an hour and then just gave up, made myself some coffee, and plopped myself on the couch for the morning routine. I will be exhausted later. And then will repeat the cycle probably again tonight.

I also try to do the things. I do not drink coffee after lunch. I take magnesium before bed. For Lent, I have given up alcohol, as penance, but also to see if it helps my sleep and anxiety. But then again, I am also guilty of doing all the wrong things too, mainly in that I love my screen time. The television is in the bedroom. I check my phone (Instagram!) frequently before bed. I am not doing all I could.

Tonight I am going to try to quit looking at my phone after seven. I will try not to fall into the routine of Hulu-n-chill (Happy Endings!) before bed. And hopefully, tonight, I will sleep, because I do not think I can stand another day of this.

xo, Ali