What I’m Loving Lately II

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.

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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