Friday, December 26, 2014

Living Small is More Than Just Purging

The last few months I've been dedicated to purging belongings- dishes, kitchen stuff, books, furniture, clothes.

Some has gone to friends and colleagues. Grad students like free things.
Most has gone to Goodwill.
Furniture wise, I am down to the essentials, although I'm staring at a cheap bookcase in my office and thinking of ways to get rid of it. Same with a rolling tupperware bin in my bedroom.
Book wise I think I'm down to essentials, having completed the latest purge last week.
Clothing wise I still have one more round. Despite the fact that I hate girl clothes, am still holding onto skirts.  Part of me still feels like I need to hold onto the person people think I should be. But that gets easier. Once you get going it gets easier with every round of purging. Some items may make it through one more move in eighteen months because they're climate dependent clothing and I'm not rich so rather move it one more time than have to repurchase it.

Going through all this has changed how I view things. I used to sometimes shop at Goodwill. Now if I need more shirts or ties for work that's my first stop. If they don't have it I just wait and go back and check later. There is no rush. Who cares if I wear the same shirt? Or tie? Even if my students are so bored that they're keeping score, what does that have to do with me? Or how I feel about myself?
Not a damn thing.

I find myself viewing the things I want to hold onto (I've spent years gathering This-End-Up furniture) in a different light. At this point I don't need anything else. I may swap some furniture out (I hate my hand me down couch- it's clunky and heavy) and I rather have benches and better chairs than the crap vinyl chairs I have for my dining room table.
These days I rather re-organize things so I have more open space. Reshape my space. Which is a lot easier when there's less of it.

As a want-to-be professor there are some things I can't get away from, mainly books. But I'm no longer holding onto print outs or drafts once something is published. And I'm more judicious about what I get. And organizing what I have better helps too. There's also the fact that most of these books will eventually live in my university office, and not in my house. Although one of the things I like about having a separate room as an office is that once I leave it at the end of the day I am finished working, which helps turn off my brain.

But even with that, I've reorganized that space a lot. Over break I tend to do all the things I don't have time for during the semester. This break this included organizing almost all of the loose pictures that I've been lugging around. They'll be scanned and put on DVD then the cloud. The original pictures will probably be stored, then tossed. I spent the money to turn a ton of t-shirts and sweatshirts from my time in Manteo into a quilt so I can hold onto the items but they're useful and not just crap. I also turned my walk in closet in my office into usuable space with ladder shelves.
The closet was just a dumping ground when we moved in here over a year and a half ago. In some ways that was good because after not seeing any of this stuff in over a year, it was easy to purge it, particularly the papers. There are just two boxes of photo albums left (which I'm saving up to also scan) and two boxes of Mom's knick-knacks which I'm saving up to buy an IKEA display cube for.

Once you start getting rid of things you realize how little you actual need. And you realize that you think about organizing things differently. I got rid of my filing cabinets and instead bought cardboard banker boxes. Right now they contain materials for classes I'm in now, articles recently written and are stored. But when I move next, these boxes will go into the recycling bin because there will be no reason to hold onto them.

I have noticed that purging is additive. And it makes you think. Why do you need fifteen of the same shirt? Or sweater? Or plates? More than a couple of sheet sets?
The answer is you don't.
Would you rather spend money on another thing just to have a thing? Or take a trip? Or put into savings for something you really want?

I'm trying to live small in other ways. Smaller meals. Simpler ingredients. Tossing items as they come in the mail straight into recycling. Unsubscribing from things to declutter my inbox as well as my real box. Tossing crap. Not holding onto things just to hold onto. Taking pictures instead of getting. Thinking differently about what I purchase and why. I wait longer for things to see if I really want it. I make wish lists that I revisit later to see if I really want it.
I'm hoping too as a grad student that this simpler living will help me with a tighter budget now that I'm surviving on less than half of what I was last year. But mostly I feel lighter. I feel as though I look at things in a different light.

Hopefully, in a year and a half I'll have a university job and Nehi and I will be moving. I'm already looking forward to that move for a lot of reasons, but for how much LESS we'll move tops the list.

I waited two months over a sweater. Even waited past Christmas. When I finally purchased it, I feel like I earned it in some way. A friend of mine used to say it's all about perspective. And one of the best things about doing all of this is how it's a forced change of perspective.
We'll see what I do next.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Holiday-Thanksgiving Focus

I have not worked in three days. Wednesday I inadvertently spent on the couch, this round of gum graft surgery wiped me out and was more painful than the first round. Thursday I cooked, addressed Christmas cards, and decorated the house. Yesterday I bought a tree, a wreath, decorated the tree and finished decorating the house. I made Mom's bourbon balls. And went down a rabbit hole- Mom always made her bourbon balls with Jack Daniels, so that's always what I get. Was confused yesterday when I went to buy it and it said whiskey.
So I have myself an Internet education on bourbon vs. whiskey.
There's no actual baking involved so house smells sweetly of Jack. Which is funny because I'll inhale bourbon balls all break but if you put this in front of me in a glass I'd gag.
Go figure.

There are some, not many, recipe cards Mom sent me right out of college, when I was living on my own. She meant to keep going until I had all her recipes, but she started getting sick by the time I graduated in 98, and so I have only a few. I miss her more at this time of year. She's the one who taught me Christmas had a magic all its own.

Today, it's back to work. I need to finish chapter one of the dissertation to submit for my theory course.
I need to work on my Nightmare on Elm Street book chapter.
I need to choose one of my early modern comp questions to revise and send to committee member.
I need to grade last student research reports.
And I need to prep for my Viking Women study group tonight for this week's final exam.

Which brings me back to the purge-burn-it-down swing I've been on. I have four tupperware boxes and a hatbox of Christmas stuff. And in no way, ever will these things go on the purge pile. Unpacking each thing is a part of Mom. There are the snowmen, and wooden Santas, and the fairy tale figures (one of the few nice things from Marcelle). The ornaments from high school and college.
I love that I have traditions based on Mom's. Christmas starts as soon as you see Santa in the Macy's Day Parade. The day after Thanksgiving you get the tree and decorate it.

On the flip side, there WAS another round of purging.
  • Glass Christmas tree plates
  • three garbage bags of clothes (socks, sweaters, skirts, shirts)
  • Extra duffel bags and luggage stuff
  • Glass vases, glass beads
On this break's list of things I'm not:
  • I am not someone who wears skirts. I hate them. They're uncomfortable. So on the pile. I kept a couple of woolen ones, in case I move to another clime, but have a feel they may go in another purge.
  • For some indecipherable reason, I had ten cocktail dresses, dating all the way back to college when we had dress up parties. I kept three, black, adult cocktail dresses because they might be handy for faculty stuff. The rest, see ya!
  • I do not need twenty shirts, half of which are the same color. Gone.
  • I do not need fifty pairs of fuzzy socks. While I do need to wear socks in cold weather due to my Raynaud's, I need seven- one for each day. Out.
  • I rarely wear sweatshirts. Why do I have ten? No longer.
I stared at my closet yesterday and I pulled out everything that I had not worn in over a year. I will no longer cling to the idea that I might in the future and some point become that person. I will no longer make myself feel bad because I am not that person.
Sometimes it's easier to define ourselves by what we're NOT than what we are.

This is the first Christmas ever I have not gone home. Nehi and I will be staying here. I have no money. There's dissertation work to do, comp meetings to have, reading for next semester to do- just a lot on the To Do list, and not a lot of time.
So I imagine that there will be more purging (I'm eyeing books on the shelf now that I'm finished with coursework and can cut).

Friday, October 24, 2014

One Foot in Front of the Other

I wrote some about this last week on my other blog, the scholarly/PhD adventure one.
But things aren't getting better and I'm feeling more overwhelmed.

So back to the drawing board.

This week I tanked a presentation in my seminar- it was a dead stick room. Nothing. And I lectured more than I asked questions. And it was awful. It was a topic that I rock on, but it was awful.

I was called a robot by another grad student, that I must have a clone in order to get all my work done. And had horrible flashbacks to MHS- where the only reasons people could come up with for why I worked so hard and why I got so much down was because I was single and had no kids.

Another student who I thought was becoming a friend is now ignoring me.

Yet another student(s) being nasty to me for working hard, being ahead of the game.

I almost cried in front of a professor because he asked how I was.

And my father hasn't spoken to me in three weeks. He hasn't spoken to me in three weeks because I told him that at $14,000 a year I couldn't afford to help support him anymore. And he stopped talking to me. I tried to make sure I explained it- that my TAship didn't pay much, that next semester I'd be paid less than this semester because I'm teaching a different class. That he had a good, full time, salaried job. That I had little savings, and couldn't afford to empty it or take on massive student loan debt. And I got nothing. I've gotten silence. So I can't help but wonder if the reason why he has dealt with me since Mom died is because I paid for things. It's an awful thing to think. To say. To type. But I don't know what other conclusion to come to. Simple causality, right? X happens, then Y therefore X caused Y.
My sister said he's "processing" but when I called her because I was upset she also talked about herself the entire time, so there's that.

So this was not a great week. I am trying not to think of the personal. I'm trying to focus on work. I have a ridiculous amount of work to get done in the next five weeks. I need to focus on getting this round of my dissertation finished, I have one thirty page article to finish, and two more to write. I have classes to finish teaching. I have comps in February.
I don't have time to think about the fact that my life has fallen apart. That I now have no family. That what little support system I had has evaporated. That Nehi and I will spend Christmas in Albuquerque alone. That there will be no one at graduation next year. That I am on my own.

There is no one who cares that I wrote a great class called Revising Milton based on my book proposal that got approved for next semester. That a professor told me "great work" on a project. That I'm trucking right along on creating the resource manual for the TAs. That I'm making great progress on my diss.
There is literally NO ONE who cares about any of this.

They tell you that the PhD can be a lonely process. That it's important to have a support network, connections outside of the program.

But what if you don't have that option? What if most days you're so focused on putting one foot in front of the other, and checking things off the list that you don't have time to think about anything else? That you almost break down in front of a professor because they actually seemed to care about what was going on.
But you can't. Because that's not how you become a rock star. And with this job market, even rockstars have a hard time competing with 899 others for a single job. There's no time for that.

But some early mornings on my walks with Nehi. Or in evenings on the couch, a phrase floats through my head-

I used to have a family.

And it plays on a loop- over and over.
And there's nothing I can do about that.

Postscript: and it occurs to me, that when Mom was sick, all those years, when people asked him how she was, he always said fine. I always wondered if he stayed with Mom so people wouldn't think poorly of him. So it seems as though I'm denied as well the support of anyone from back home, who won't know about any of this. Because I'm sure, despite the fact that he's cut me off, when people ask about me he will continue to say I'm fine. Or not. I guess I won't know. I guess I should stop caring. Or wondering. So it appears I'm not just alone, but also cut off. Mom used to call us gypsies. Wanderers. Guess Nehi and I are nomads.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

At What Point Do You Have To Face Reality?

The other day I saw on Facebook someone who once flirted with me. They look good. Like, ridiculously good. Like special order, deliver to my house good.

But seeing this has now prompted several days of being depressed for me. Because I couldn't tell you the last time someone flirted with me, or liked me, or even noticed me. I don't have many what I'd call "girly" moments, but I have fallen into a spiral of them, and they've led to depression.

Because I'm 38. And I haven't had a date in 5 years. And I haven't been in a relationship in 12. And frankly, that's just fucking depressing.
When I was younger, I dated  a lot. Did I use up my quota? For a while I had a hell of a track record- people dated me, and then the very next person they dated they married. I should have made a business out of it. And we're not talking one or two, we're talking like five. It was not good for my self-esteem, the question of "what was wrong with me?" came up a lot in my inner voice.That same little, shrill voice is back.

When I was younger, I was bereft if I wasn't with someone. I got over that. I have gone to school. I have earned degrees, I have bought a house and taken care of my mom. I in short, have grown up. And while it's not a popular thought with grown, adult, feminists, these days I find myself very tired.
I'm tired of having to worry about everything by myself.
Of not having anyone share the load so I can take a break or rest.
Of not having any one in my corner.
Of not having support.
Of just not having anyone.

It would be nice to have someone to share things with, both the load that comes with the bad things, and the joy that comes with the good.

Maybe this is it. Maybe at this point it's time to face the fact that I'm going to be single the rest of my natural life.  Maybe I should stop daydreaming and deal with the reality of life and get over it.

And that may all be true. This may be what being a grown up is. But I am a daydreamer. I like to imagine a better life, a different life. A happy ending. The movie ending where I come home and he's sitting there waiting for me, having come for me because he couldn't bear to be away from me one second longer.

So maybe I'll drag myself out of this depression and refocus on work. Because while burying yourself in your work may not be healthy, it at least occupies your time.

Or maybe I'll daydream a little longer. A little daydreaming never hurt anyone, right? For a little while I think I'll just pretend that Stiles is talking just to me.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Redefining My Life- Material Objects Edition

Thirteen years ago, all my possessions were contained in this miniature version of a Brooklyn apartment.
 My clothes fit in a single, small closet. I had little furniture- in fact all the furniture seen here, except for the futon and the bookcase on the left, was purchased within months of moving into this apartment.

Jack Reacher famously travels with only the clothes on his back and a folding travel toothbrush. When he needs new/different clothes, he simply buys them. At one point, as he considers settling down and getting a house he considers all the things you need to settle down- first there's the house, then you need stuff for the yard, and that leads to more stuff. It never seems to end, the need for things generates more need for things. While Reacher at first seems to live a simple life, he is also the epitome of consumerism and capitalism.

Perhaps Fight Club had it right- the things you own end up owning you.
My friends Tammy and Chip chronicled their move from house to sailboat to Napa in Tammy's blog. One of the big focuses other than the sailing specific stuff is the idea of downsizing as they moved from their house to their sailboat. Recently, they've come onto land, settling near Napa, and once again are living in a house. I'm not sure if it's reading Tammy's blog, or something else, but I've been on a bit of a purge myself these days.

I was sitting looking at my shelves the other day and realized that as much as I LOVE my books, there were quite a few on my shelves that I'd read once and never feel the need to read again. Some I was given as free copies that I know I'll never read. So I started going through them- if I didn't think I'd ever reread it again it went on the stack. I'm aiming to be an English professor, so I'm never going to NOT have books, but it's certainly possible to wean down. I ended up with six boxes- all donated to the UNM Medieval Society for their book sale, so good all the way around.

This summer I also weeded out my closet- a truck load went to Goodwill. And yet that purge continues. I was looking at my sweaters, most of which I don't wear, and wondered why I have all these clothes I don't wear. Some are due to now living in the desert, and I don't have a problem with keeping some clothes in storage in case I move to more Northern climes after graduation. But that's not the majority of my clothes occupying TWO closets in my bedroom. Instead there are dresses, tops, shirts, that I bought at some point and never wear.

It's hard throwing things out, sorting to give away to Goodwill. I think in a large part because by giving items away we're giving up on a future self we at one point envisioned- I will never be the jewel toned silk shirt girl. I will never be the 1940s type skirt girl. So in a lot of ways, purging is about knowing who you are, and letting go of everything that is not that.
It also means letting go of the belief that recycling the clothes, giving them away, is somehow a waste of money. As though it's not wasted money gathering dust in your closet. Or that the greater issue isn't that we should think a little more WHEN we spend money, and perhaps spend a little more wisely.

And this leads me to the larger issue. I think in large part we end up defining ourselves by our possessions- our clothes, our jewelry, our furniture. We're this type of person, or that type of person. We can be sorted according to likes, and styles we own.

For the last ten years, I'm not sure who I've been. I was defined by my roles, what I did, not necessarily who I was. I was the daughter who moved home to help with Mom. I was the one who bought a house for her family. Who helped support them.  And then all that was done, and I moved to New Mexico, and I spent the last year trying to remember how to live on my own again. But I was still defined by being the person who put family first. But some of that changed this summer- I lost a job, which meant losing $20,000 a year in income. Which meant I was no longer in a position to help support my family without emptying my savings. But me saying that, telling people that, hasn't changed anything. Except perhaps me. The fact that no one seems to care about helping me out, pulling their own weight, or even acknowledging that I said anything, has changed my feelings. In many ways it has tilted my entire perspective. Which is not always a good thing- but ever since I was little organizing things, establishing order over chaos, has always been my way of dealing.

At Christmas, Dad announced he didn't want any of Mom's stuff, and we needed to clear it out or he was going to get rid of it. So I came home with a truck full of knick knacks and photo albums and a vague sense of unease. Here I was clinging desperately to family, and history- trying to remember, worried about losing parts of Mom. But the last few months I've come to wonder why I'm holding on so tight. No one else is. And it's exhausting.

So maybe that's a big part of the reasoning behind the purge- if we're defined by the the things we surround ourselves with, and if we can refocus that frame at any moment, then maybe that's it.

I am a woman who wears ties. And jeans. And slacks. I have little fashion sense- my clothes are organized by color, I store my ties on the shirts they go with, and I tend to buy three things in the same style but different colors so I can avoid anything resembling shopping. This wardrobe suits my job as a TA, and should suit the job of English professor. I dislike clutter, and am not much for knick knacks. I have some of Mom's, but am thinking I'll get a case to display them all so I keep them, but they're sorted.


And I have to admit, that with this tilted perspective, this idea that perhaps I really am on my own, part of the thinking behind the purge is rather morbid.
I'm single. I'm not married. I have no legacy. I have no children. I thought of this at Christmas as I packed up so much of Mom's stuff- so much of this was meant to be passed down to children, to family. I held decades of family memories in my hands, stories of holidays and family. And yet, when I die, no one will care. The stories will be lost. The items discarded.
So when you're single, and you die, what happens to your stuff? Who comes to take care of your stuff? Does the entire house just go to Goodwill? My will covers what to do with my body, and the money to cover it. I left my money to Dad, despite the huge cracks and fissures that have developed there- what do I care, I can't use it.
So if I don't have anyone to leave anything to what do I do with what I have?
Take pictures of memories.
Write about my experiences.
Send it all out into the world.
Because once I'm gone, no one's going to care about the crap in my apartment.

I guess a lot of this comes down to a material focus on the greater things going on in my life. Who I want to be. What I want my life to be. Maybe if I can sort through the material goods, deciding what is and is not essential to my life, I can by default determine what type of life I have, and want.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Summer Weight Lost Fiasco Week 8

Classes ended in May, and it was the end of some very stressful months. Stress and lack of sleep can contribute to weight gain, particularly around the waist- which is what happened to me.

My stress increased when I went to put on summer shorts I hadn't worn in nine months and realized that they didn't fit. A quick check with the tape measure punctured my hopes that the shorts had shrunk in the drawer- I now had a 36" waist instead of my 33". Other than the fact that as a PhD student I don't have the money to buy new clothes because I've put on weight, there's the health issue that waists larger than 35" in a women represent health risks.

So, time to take action.
  • Starting in the middle of May I made sure Nehi and I were taking two walks every day (have only broken 2-3 times due to weather). Our walks (depending on heat) are .6-1 mile/walks. 
    • They say work out until you sweat, then 30 minutes after that (but does this still hold in the desert where you sweat as soon as you exit your door?) 
  • To get through classes, I was easily drinking a Coke a day. I cut all those out. No soda- except for a single can of grape soda (natural sugar) on Fridays as a treat.
  • I thought I was eating pretty well during the year, but have since stopped eating all processed foods, and have increased my fruits and vegetables.
    • I eat breakfast (either cereal and fruit, or fruit and milk milkshake)
    • Lunch is usually a sandwhich (cheese and tomato with olive oil mayo or peanut butter and jelly or hummus and cucumber pita). No chips, no nothing.
    • I drink water all day (blech) except for two cups of coffee in the morning and a glass of milk with dinner
    • Dinner varies, but I eat twice as many vegetables as anything else. I eat meat maybe twice a week. I don't eat a lot of starch. Usually dinner is a salad or pasta with veggies. I steam stuff, I don't cook with oil or butter or salt.
    • I've never been a big dessert person (maybe once a week) and it's either a fruit pie slice (homemade) or fruits.  So that's not something I can really cut out.
  • Also read that vitamin D can help, particularly with belly weight loss, so now take 1000 whatever vitamin D pill every morning.
The end of June (6 weeks for those counting) saw no decrease in my waistline.

So, what next?
  • Started the 30 Day Ab Challenge. I'm on day 16 and while I'm sure my abs are getting stronger (as evidenced from me wanting to throw up when I finish each night), but again, no loss of inches on the waistline. I also read that ab exercises do not "spot reduce" so while I'm core strengthening, it won't result in losing any of the inches off my waist.

Since I'm not losing inches I've started looking at other things. The basic math of increase calorie burning, decrease calories makes sense to me, but the rest of the information out there is crazy.
  • Cut all carbs
  • Don't cut carbs, just focus on whole grains
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Cut fruit because of the sugar content
  • Drink green tea
  • Don't drink tea
I am depressed. Both because of the extra weight and I'm not exaggerating when I say I have no money to buy new clothes for school starting in a month.
I know they say it can take eight weeks for habit/health changes (which it's been) but also that you can see 1-3 lb weight loss per week. So which is it? I recognize it's possible that I'm converting current fat to muscle, and once that happens the muscle helps to burn more fat.

Still depressed.

I have a month to go until classes start.
Any one have tips about how to jump start my weight loss?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Fake Facebook Friends

Last week the Internet was talking a lot about the study done on Facebook last year that attempted to manipulate people's emotions by altering the information on their newsfeed. The ethics of the study, as well as whether it violated the privacy of the people have been the focus.

And those are all great questions that should be asked and addressed.

But it got me thinking about something else.
I have 117 friends on Facebook, mainly because I limit accepting friend requests to people I actually know. Last week, I also had a blow up fight on Facebook, as someone I went to college with took severe issue with my rant against a new law in NC that allowed prayer in school. He was ignorant, couldn't make an argument, and just kept going, long after I had stopped responding. The next morning, as I read his posts, continuing past when I went to bed, I got to thinking- why was this person a friend? We obviously don't share the same beliefs, and he showed himself to be an ass. So I deleted him.
But it was a stop and think moment. I have people on my friends list from high school and college- people who I know, but before that friend request hit my inbox, I hadn't heard from in years. We didn't keep up. We don't talk now. I don't have phone numbers for them, or mailing addresses. Last summer, I saw one of them in person. And it was awkward- we had nothing to say to each other. We read each others' newsfeeds, so technically we knew what was going on in each other's lives, but when face to face, there was nothing to say. That doesn't seem like a friend to me.

A friend to me is someone you call and talk to on a regular basis. Who you make arrangements to see when you can. Someone you care for.

Looking at my friends list, I have people from high school that I am politically opposed to, and whose views I find not just offensive, but ignorant. There are theatre people who made no effort to stay my friend when I left theatre- many who didn't try to be my friend when I was still in theatre, and lived in the same city as them.

When I left theatre, and then during Mom's long illness, a lot of my friends fell to the wayside.

Now, there are some people on Facebook that I'm glad I found. I enjoy seeing their lives, and seeing how they are. I make an effort to send them messages, and tell them that I'm thinking of them. It's a wonderful way to keep up with far-flung friends. And it lets my Dad, 1,951 miles away, keep up on Nehi activities. I also have had some crossover from Twitter, and these people (despite never having met them) I do consider friends because of our levels of interaction and common interests.

Facebook has several "levels" of friendship you can set people:
  • Smart lists like work, school, etc. and set what gets shared accordingly
  • Acquaintances just means you see less of their posts than you do your friends'
  • Restricted: Can only see things you make public
    • Limited has been mostly replaced by restricted
Here's what I wish I could- just delete, delete, delete. Take the list down to real friends, friends I make an effort to stay FRIENDS with. But the sad state of modern social media is that it is easier to set someone to a restricted list where you don't have to see them, they can't see you, than it is to deal with the drama of deleting them. Because after you delete them (perhaps with a time delay, because they're not really paying attention to you because...not your friend) you invariably get the "Why did you delete me?" message. And the answer of "we're not really friends" never goes well. And yes, I recognize it's a coward's way out.

One of the reasons that I'm sure this is on my mind is that grad school is a lonely business. Every advice column tells you to make sure you have a support system in place. I have Nehi. I don't have friends here. I don't have people to talk to. And that's okay. But my lack of face to face friends here has made me think about friends, or lack thereof.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The View From the Outside

Most of the time we trip through life, not realizing (or in my case, caring) what our lives look like from the outside.

Yesterday as I sat in front of my computer slogging through my comp reading list, Skype popped up that my godfather was on. So I called him, as it had been quite a while since I spoke to him. We had a lovely conversation. But in addition to being my godfather, he is also a practicing therapist. So the check in questions I get from him are interesting.
We're also friends on Facebook, so he knows what's going on in my life, but his question was HOW was I doing. He commented that he knew everything about my dog, but not much about me. Considering that my Facebook and Google Plus pages look like this (below), that's not surprising.

I once had someone recognize Nehi from Facebook when we were out walking, and then realize I must be the one walking her. So they stopped to say hi, but they stopped because of Nehi. She's famous!
So this comment didn't surprise me.

Part of this is practicality- I'm single. There is no one to take pictures of me (I think selfies are pretty stupid) and Nehi isn't good at working the camera. So I tend to chronicle my life and days through Nehi.

But his questions got me thinking about what my life looks like from the outside.
He wanted to know if I was happy. If I was single. If I liked what I was doing. If I minded being alone.
I am happy, I feel like I've found my niche. I am single, and doing the math, have been single for twelve years (that sounds awful typed out), and I love what I'm doing. While I miss Dad, I've never minded being alone. Particularly after the past nine years of helping with Mom, being on my own is okay.

I think in a lot of ways social media becomes the murky glass through which we view each other. We think we see others clearly, that we have all this access, but perhaps don't realize that the view is distorted. I have one friend who is a few years into her PhD program and is miserable, but refuses to quit. I have another who publicly complains that she'll never get a job and isn't worth hiring. Another sounds like Eeyore on social media. Are these the complete summary of who they are and what's going on with them? Of course not. But it's a distorted view. And in some cases of self-perpetuating myth, is perhaps the reason WHY they won't get a job (would you hire someone who is always down on themselves?) or aren't happy, or whatever. The flip side, which was mentioned by another friend on Facebook was that social media was known to produce depression, as people tended to present only their BEST side, making it seem like they never had a bad day.

I certainly don't hide things on social media. I think being genuine is important. But I do prioritize- Twitter is used for work, as is my scholarly blog. Facebook is for friends (actual friends, like people I know), and this blog is for myself. I share my work, what I'm doing, what Nehi's doing. Now there are some things I usually don't post, because they walk the line of crossing out of my personal space and into others'- I rarely talk about my family because airing dirty laundry seems gauche, and wouldn't change anything any way. I post rants, and bad days, and struggles. But I don't think those ever outweigh the funny times, the Nehi antics, the amusing anecdotes. I think my life is a balance. I'm happy more days than I'm not.

But I think it's important to remember that social media is not a true mirror. It does not reflect the reality. For some it's a competition, vying for "best life", for some it's a constant rant of everything wrong, for some it's a neverending parade of cat videos. Whatever it is, perhaps we'd all be a little better served by thinking about what it looked like from the outside, not because you care what people think, but because you want your outside to reflect your inside, and we could all use a little self-reflection on our insides.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Puppy Maniac

Nehi is a sweet puppy. She is my bebe. She is the center of my world.
She's also a very large dog, with some breed specific characteristics.

She's also (like me) a creature of habit. So when her behavior changes I pay attention.
The last couple of weeks, Nehi has a new routine. Around 5 or 6p, she lays down by the front door and whines. And cries.
She stares at me. I don't know why. It's not our walk time. It's not her dinner time. But this is her new nightly thing.
Add to this two other events that happened this week:
  1. Nehi and I were playing in the yard, we stopped, Nehi wanted to continue, so she right-hooked me right in the mouth.
  2. This morning, playing with Dragon on the bed, Nehi clamped down on my wrist.
Now, because of her size, and breeds, Nehi has been trained to have a soft mouth. Which I am thankful for, because she got me with the back teeth, where the power is, and if she'd come down with full force, that would have hurt a lot more than it did.

On a side note- I've now determined that I could be murdered in my apartment and no one would notice, as I screamed bloody murder when she did this and there was no reaction from my neighbors.

I don't know what's with this behavior change. She's also barking A LOT to try and get my attention (not her stranger-danger protection bark, the pay-attention-to-me-now bark). I'm home all the time now that it's summer. Because I'm home, except for rare days (like last night when it was still 87 degrees at 830p) she gets two solid walks a day, plus playtime in the yard/house.

So I don't know why she's suddenly acting like this.
  • Maybe she's just acclimating to me being home all the time? Home = pay attention to me?
  • Maybe she's not getting enough exercise? We take a 1.2 mile walk in the morning and a .6 mile walk in the evening. I tend to not push these distances because of heat, and I'm always aware of her knee/ACL issues (why we don't run). But, we also walk at 6a and 730-8p, so maybe up the walk distance? On days we go to the park, I also try to review her obedience training.
  • Maybe we should sign up for more obedience training? There are some dog training centers close by, and they're not super expensive (roughly $10/class for an eight week class). BUT, until the house sells, I'm watching every penny.
It feels like restless energy that needs to be focused.  But she's my first bebe, so I don't know. Friends with dogs, vets- what do you think? Suggestions?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day

Holidays after someone has died feel like you're stuck in an awful time loop. Some are worse than others.
Mom died on Valentine's Day 2011.
Today is Mother's Day.

Each of these holidays represent opportunities for you to be ambushed at the grocery store with decorations, overwhelmed by Facebook posts, bamboozled by ads on television. Don't get me wrong, I don't begrudge anyone their happiness, or their pleasant day if that's what they have. But the single line that goes through my head is the line I started saying 15 February 2011 and haven't ceased to say everyday since:

I want my Mommy back. 

Perhaps all of this is hitting me harder this year because I'm selling the house. The house I bought just for Mom. The house where she loved sitting on the porch and reading in the sun. Watching the goings-on of the neighborhood. Playing with Nehi. Making it her own- picking out the paint and where everything went. Knowing that no one could ever kick her out. The house where she died.
And as I finish the first year of my PhD program, there's not a day that goes by where I don't think what a kick she'd get out of all of this. How much she'd love the pictures of Albuquerque, of hearing the stories of people I meet, listening to stories about my students.
I recognize the paradox- I would be unable to do this if she were still alive. I would still be in NC, in that house, taking care of her.
And you know what? As much as I love it here, and love what I'm doing- I would trade it all for one more day with my Mom. One day to tell her I'm sorry, that I wish I'd paid more attention, that if I knew how little time we had I would have done more.
Maybe this year is harder too because at Christmas Dad announced he didn't want any of her stuff and either we needed to take it or he was getting rid of it.
Maybe it's harder because it feels like my last link to her has been severed.
Maybe it's just hard.
Maybe this day, like Valentine's Day is always going to be hard. Maybe it never gets easier. Maybe you never get over this.

There are days where I feel like I'm the only one who cares. Who remembers. Who cries. Who mourns.

I surround myself with pictures of her and us, desperately afraid of forgetting a single thing. I don't want to forget that she used to sleep at the end of my bed when I was little and scared. Or that she always left my bedroom window open, even in winter, so Peter Pan could get in. That she believed in magic. How she never walked a beach without her head bowed down looking for beach class and cool shells- the collection that I have sitting in my living room. How I could always find her in a store by the sound of her bangle bracelets. How her face lit up on Christmas and birthdays. How her answer to almost anything was a hug. And how she'd tickle my neck, making me giggle when she did. The joy she took in the long line of kitties we had, and how much she adored Nehi.  How even as an adult, she would set my coffee maker in the morning and leave me cute Post-Its to start my day. Whenever I told her about a rough day, or issues I had, she was always my biggest champion- ready to charge into a fight to defend me.
She was always so proud of me going to school. Of being a teacher. She would love me being out here. She always said she saw me on a college campus. One specifically with ivy covered buildings. It's hard not to think of her all the time.

There's not a single day that goes by that I don't feel her with me. And that I don't miss her. I wish she was here. I wish I could tell her about my life. I wish I could talk to her. Hug her. Tell her how much I love her.
But I can't. And I never will be able to.
So I look at her pictures. And I pick up and set down all her knick-knacks I have. And I cry. And I envy all the people posting cheerful brunch pictures of them and their mothers today. And I hope that tomorrow is better.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Goodbye house

The past month has been hard, and horrible. The latest in a string of four very long months
This is the house I bought for Mom.  It's the house I worked hard to make lovely for her. It's the house I failed her in. It's the house she died in.
Dad and I discussed when I started my PhD program that selling the house if we could not get solid renters in downstairs was Plan B. After the debacle of renters who seemed good on paper and then did not pay rent for two months and had to be evicted, the house went on the market at the end of December. January and February and March saw me making mortgage payments, watching savings dip lower and lower, and no bites on offers. It also saw me dropping the price, to no avail.

Finally got an offer on the house at the end of March. Then began the panic- had to pack Dad, find him a new place, get him moved. Did not have a signed lease on the new place until Friday. Dad cannot move into the new place until this upcoming Saturday so he's staying at a friend's.

Moving day was yesterday. Sort of. It took four hours to move all of us into the house four years ago. Yesterday, they were there for seven hours, still did not finish (because Dad did not finished packing) and they're coming back tomorrow to finish. Dad keeps telling me it's fine. He refused all offers of help, and sorry myth of Southern neighbors pitching in- no one came to help despite repeated pleas. I'm trying not to think about how much more expensive this move suddenly got. Movers are holding everything in a trailer until they can move him into the new place. Cats are boarded at vet to avoid multiple moving traumas with schizoid cats.

To complicate all of this, buyer is being weird. When they made the offer, they had a super long due diligence period, and a closing of the 30th (their specific dates). Hence the rush. But now they're dragging their feet, and will not make 30th closing date. So that's all apparently in limbo.

Dad actually found a place where we used to live, so back to the beginning. There's a cyclical logic to that. But I am not there to make sure this all gets done. I am 2000 miles away. I'm not there to say goodbye to the house. I am not there to say goodbye to Mom's memory, the last place I knew her. The new place will be Dad's, and I will not have a connection to it.

I've been so focused on checking things off my list and getting things done that I have not taken any time to focus on the emotional impact of all of this. This is Mom's house. It's the house where Nehi grew up.
Dad keeps telling me it's all fine. But it's not. But there's nothing I can do from so far away.
I will feel better once he's in next week and settled, and then it's just the house sale I need to focus on. Oh, and end of semester papers, exams, and grading. Because you know- PhD program.

I feel guilty Dad had to move, that I could not afford to keep the house. I feel bad that I'm not there to help. I all around feel shitty. But there's not a whole lot I can do about any of this.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Don't Grade Angry

I always give mid semester surveys (based on the end of course surveys the students take) so I can see where I am, and where the class is and make course corrections before the end of the semester. I genuinely take the comments to heart, and make changes. If the students have complaints that for whatever reason I can't change, I always make sure to address these in class, and explain why I can't change these things.
I consider myself a reflective teacher, and I think this is part of it. When I get negative comments, my first thought is always to seriously think about what I did that caused it. I love teaching, and honestly want to help my students so I take these things seriously. I also take them to heart, which isn't always a good thing.

When I checked this semester's results yesterday, most of them were positive, and a couple (due to the weird wording of university surveys) were unclear, so I plan on having a follow up survey to clarify. Then I saw two entries- both of which had the exact same comment, although one had scored me higher than the other. The comments tell me that I have made them hate writing. That I put them in groups for no reason. That I'm not a good teacher. That I try to be "cheery and sweet" but am really passive aggressive. One does not recommend me as a teacher, while the other doesn't like me as a teacher.

I have to tell you, even after thirteen years of teaching, this upset me.
Because I do care. I care about my students, I care about them learning.

I stewed about it all day yesterday. I've stewed about it most of today. And none of my student papers are getting graded because I have a firm belief in not grading angry, and I am angry, and upset.
But not probably for the reasons you're assuming.

I'm not angry at these anonymous students. I'm not mad because they had the temerity for insulting me and being ugly. I'm not upset because this student says I've made him/her hate something they once liked.

I'm angry because there's no purpose to this.

There's nothing here I can work with. Is it two students? One student who posted twice? I have a hard time believing that two students posted verbatim comments.
But there's nothing here I can change. I can't improve this.
If they had said they didn't understand the lectures, or that they needed more prep in writing drafts, or understanding the readings, or navigating the technology we use- all that I can work with. I can fix that. I can improve the experience. Because I do take these seriously, and I do use them to make improvements.

But there's nothing I can do about this. And that upsets me. It upsets me because I can't tell if this is just a student who doesn't like me for whatever reason or if they really need help in the course. It upsets me because it's not true. It upsets me because my teaching does mean so much to me.

So I won't be grading today.
I pride myself on getting papers back by the next class, as I think timely feedback is the only feedback that matters. But I'm going to give myself a pass on that this time. My students may not understand, but I know it's in their best interest.
Perhaps tomorrow I'll feel better.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Being a grown up sucks

So I've been on Spring Break this week. It's been a busy, but pretty productive week: I went to the zoo, I revised my Freddy Krueger article for publication this spring, wrote my critical annotated bibliography for my Global Renaissance class, wrote my presentation for my Middle English class, and today writing my article for my American Gothic class is on the docket.
I've been able to sit in the sun and read, take plenty of walks with Nehi, eaten junk food. Good times.

I've tried the last three months NOT to worry about things going on in NC, because there's nothing I can do about it. But checking my email today made me realize that I'm tired of being a grown up. Chase emailed me to tell me that there was an escrow deficit in my account, and because of this my monthly mortgage payment on the house in NC is going to go up over $100 a month.

Meaning that I am now going to pay $1500 every month. $1500 every month that comes out of  my savings, and doesn't get replaced. $1500 less every month from the savings that is supposed to support my job hunt in two years, move me to said job, and just savings in general.

The house in NC was showing a lot the first couple of months, but nothing recently. And not a single offer, despite my realtor telling me our price is spot on, if not a little below expectations. So every month that goes by my savings gets lower and lower, and there's only so much money in savings. At some point, there's not going to be any more money. The gamble is hoping that the house DOES sell and that I can recoup the money that seem to be speeding out of my savings. And have money to move Dad, and put money down on an apartment for him. We tried getting a new mortgage for him, for just a small condo, but Wells Fargo offered us a mortgage that was almost what we paid now- with a $36,000 lower purchase price than what I bought the current house for, and putting money down (which I didn't with this place) so someone please explain that to me. So, no mortgage. So Dad has been looking for an apartment the past month, to no avail, as no one wants cats. Even with paying extra.
Like I said, I've been trying not to worry about it, because there's nothing I can do about it. Out of my control.
But today, that email about the mortgage payment going up...just makes me want to give up. With the mess last fall of the renter turning out to be a douche- not paying rent, breaking the lease, having to pay for a lawyer to evict, having to clean house up to put it on the marker...I'm tired. I'm a grad student working on my PhD, which by the way, is a full time job all on its own. Reading and writing for classes, teaching classes, on top of participating at conferences, trying to get published, having an active social media profile to get my name and work out there. It's a lot. And most of the time, it's fine. But today just feels like the straw that broke the camel's back.

I know there's nothing I can do to make any of this any different than it is now. But I could seriously use a break here. Just something. I really need to just be able to focus on what I'm trying to get done here in New Mexico. I just need something to break my way.
So today, I don't want to be a grown up. I don't want to have to worry about how I'm going to pay bills, get the house sold, where the money for the mortgage payment is going to come from.
I just don't want to.

I want someone else to do it. Someone else to carry the burden, just for a little while. Just once.

Friday, January 17, 2014


So I'm sitting at my desk today. Staring at the things I HAVE to get done over the four day weekend.
  • Grade, set up online class for week
  • Finish reading grad school stuff (two books, ten articles) for class starting next week
  • Get tax stuff together so it's ready to file as soon as I get forms
  • Finish prepping class I'm teaching this semester
It's not a huge list, but it's a chunk of time.
And I'm still procrastinating about all of it. Some of it may be because I'm not concerned about NOT getting it done. But as I stare at my desk, and the mindless TV on in the background, I think I'm procrastinating because other things are leaving me feeling a little overwhelmed.

I woke up this morning to an alert from my bank that I had a zero balance. I was pretty sure this was a mistake, because I'm brutal about balancing my checkbook. But nope, not a mistake. So I logged into the online account to figure things out. And saw my savings accounts. Which led me to the other overwhelm factor today. The house in NC isn't really showing. Only two people have been by. No downstairs renter means every month it doesn't sell is $1200 out of pocket. Money that won't be replaced. Money that comes out of the long term savings (otherwise known as the job market, support between PhD and job money). How many months until I'm seriously screwed?

Being by yourself has some serious advantages- I only have to worry about Nehi and myself. My time is my own. But it also means that when things become overwhelming, there's really nobody to help shoulder some of the crap. It ends up with me just staring at my desk.

I realize that there's nothing I can do about the house. Finding sellers, getting approval for a new mortgage, finding Dad a new place, getting him moved, it's all out of my hands. So logic dictates that worrying about it, or letting myself be overwhelmed by it all is pointless. I'm still worried though.

And part of me feels guilty. Because this has all happened because I quit my job and decided to get my PhD. Don't get me wrong, I don't regret doing it, I love what I'm doing. But I was counting on a long term renter to cover the mortgage in NC. Not on them not paying me, and breaking the lease three months in. So now there is all this other stuff. Stuff I have no control over, that severely affect my future plans.

I don't say any of this to invite you to a pity party. It's just, there are lots of ways that being single is difficult. Being on your own can be hard. Going through grad school with only yourself for support is hard.

So I've balanced my checkbook. I've reasserted order over chaos. I've picked out my highlighters to annotate the books I have to read. I've made a list of tax items to pull together. As for the rest, I guess I'll walk in the sun with Nehi, and try not to let my brain scramble from the stress of it all.