The dreaded revisions

 I've been managing to avoid doing revisions on one of my qualifying papers lately but I finally tackled it:

I enjoy doing the old school, post-it note, visual way of organizing revisions for a major paper. The small canvas of the post-it note requires me to boil down my points to concise statements & I love the flexibility of reorganizing the points or color-coding themes. It almost make re-writing feel creative. Almost. 

What's your method for writing or re-writing?

Making ideas happen

I ran across this terrific clip by Scott Belsky on how to fight project plateau (via the also terrific Brain Pickings). It really resonated with my own tendency to love hatching ideas only to lose steam in the long days and weeks of making the ideas come to be.


Although he's really addressing "creative professionals" here, I think it's entirely relevant to those of us slogging through advanced degrees. Particularly (ahem) those of us who really should be writing really long papers and are way past the giddy idea stage and are well into the trudgery of just getting it done.

A couple of his insights from the clip that zinged me today:

1. Love constraints. Embrace things like deadlines as helpful tools to get through the plateau.

2. Think big, act small. Make work into increments, milestones, tasks.

3. Seek competition. Sometimes "keeping up" really does trigger action & helps engagement

4. Embrace accountability. Share ideas & ask others to keep us accountable.  Study groups, writing coaches, friends and family can all help us stay on track.

. . .

Adding to my book list: Scott Belsky's Making Ideas Happen

League of Student Moms: Jessica

In a stroke of forever luck, I met Jessica on the first day of doctoral student orientation and immediately wanted to get to know her. Besides the fact that she was one of the only other mothers in the PhD program, I could immediately sense her warmth, smarts, and sense of humor. It was like finding your new best friend on the first day of camp!  

Jess inspires me. She's a psychotherapist who has worked with children and families, childcare programs, and school systems for over 15 years. She's devoted her studies and career to understanding and promoting resilience and infant/early childhood mental health, particularly in cases of child maltreatment. Besides all of the above, she is a wise, true, and insightful friend so naturally I wanted to share her insights here:

Tell us about yourself and your family:  I am a 40-year-old mother of two: a 12-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy. My husband and I have been married for 17 years and we live in a suburban Massachusetts.

Favorite word? Nuance

Least favorite word? Dissertation (kidding, I think)

What led you to decide to go “back to school”? How old were you?  I had always dreamed about getting a doctorate, but I wanted to wait until both my children were in public school to begin so that I wouldn’t miss those early years with them, although I continued to work part-time until then.  I was a child and family psychotherapist and mental health consultant (MSW) in early education and care before that time, but eventually thought I would teach in higher education.

What are you studying and where?  What topics in particular are your passions? I am currently an advanced doctoral student in developmental psychology at Tufts University.  I study and teach resilience through the lifespan, that is, I am interested in how many people manage to live positive, satisfying lives in the face of adversity or trauma.

What do you envision after you’re through being a student?  Hopefully this student will become the teacher, although also remain a student for life!

What’s a typical day for you?  I think that part of the challenge of the student-mother lifestyle is the lack of anything “typical”, since I have spent time doing many different things (coursework, teaching, research, etc.).  However, there’s also some good flexibility in that, which means I can present at a professional conference one day and chaperone a school field trip another. 

These days, a “typical” schedule is: get up at 5:30, wake up, get my kids off to school, deal with e-mails while they are getting dressed, developing a lecture for my class or teaching my class, working out in my basement, going to a meeting related to my research, running data analyses for my dissertation, carpooling to one of my kids’ activities, grabbing some food at the market, trying to get some sort of dinner on the table, hanging out with the family, grading papers or doing some other sort of work in the evening, crashing in front of the tv, and, if I still have the energy, trying to read more than 5 pages in a book before I fall asleep.  Repeat.

How do you blend motherhood and studenthood, both on a practical level and a life-balance one? The one thing I have learned is that the balance is an ongoing process that demands flexibility, rather than simply being a puzzle that can be solved.  Every few months I have to shift a bit—whether it’s finding time to go out to dinner with friends, getting a babysitter to spend time with my husband, giving up a piece of work in order to spend more time with the kids, or deciding to spend extra time working on something important for a period of time. 

As I get older I am realizing more and more that this is the life that I have and that, if I don’t find a way to create balance (including time for connecting with friends and relaxing), life will just pass me by.  I am always thinking, “I’ll just get through this one period and then I’ll attend to X, Y, or Z”, but that can be a neverending pursuit, especially for a type-A personality. 

One thing I continue to struggle with is whether to do a sprint or a marathon.  In other words, do I work really hard to finish this degree so that I can get back to spending more time with the family, or do I go at a more leisurely pace with the degree so that I can spend more time with them in an ongoing way?  I answer this question differently depending on what day you ask me, but the answer probably lies somewhere in between the two.

What items or practices/habits could you not live without?  I don’t think I could live without the practice of trying to “live in the moment.”  It’s important to me that when I’m with the kids, I’m really with them, when I’m out with my husband, I’m focused on really being present, and when I’m working, I can give myself to the work fully.  It’s not that I achieve this sort of Zen all of the time, but I can live with my choices better when I am able to accomplish this goal at least some of the time.

Who are your real life heroes? Favorite heroes in fiction?  Maya Angelou is a real hero of mine—she’s been through such adversity in her life and yet is not bitter.  She is warm and open, yet an inspiring social activist. Jeanette Walls, who wrote The Glass Castle, is another woman who has really impressed me by triumphing over a very difficult childhood by finding success and life satisfaction.

I don’t tend to connect to fictional characters very often—I’m a true lover of non-fiction! 

What books are on your nightstand?  What books are not on my nightstand?!  Seriously, I have four piles stacked about 8-10 books high.  My appetite for good books is completely inconsistent with the time I have to read them, so I just keep collecting.  I am currently reading From Homeless to Harvard, a memoir about resilience—go figure!  But, I also have Jeanette Wall’s second book, Melvin Konner’s The Evolution of Childhood, and Lit by Mary Karr beckoning me. 

I won’t even get started on the books and articles for my dissertation that are sitting on my desk—can’t wait to dive into Understanding Child Maltreatment and Applied Linear Statistical Models?

Have you had a time when your home and student lives collided?  When don’t they collide?  I didn’t get the memo.

Who comprises your support system?  I really need time with the people I love in order to survive this crazy balance.  I suppose it’s one of the ways I’m willing to “spoil” myself.  We have a babysitter every other Saturday so that my husband and I can go out alone or with friends.  I have lunch or dinner with at least one friend or relative every week, and our family spends time together on the weekend. 

It makes for a busy schedule and I often have an initial sense of regret that I made plans and can’t just fall down on the couch, but I always feel more grounded and enlivened after sitting down for a chat.

What inspires you, creatively, academically, spiritually or emotionally?  I am inspired by so many things every day that my problem is usually finding a way to limit myself to more manageable aspirations.  I am not an especially spiritual person, but I believe in the power of positive relationships, so I suppose this is a common underlying theme in what inspires me—whether its doing work that benefits more than just me, connecting with people I love, or cooking for others.  And, on the less profound side, I am a very happy camper when I have a little time to just get silly with my family.

If a prospective student who is also a mom contacted you and asked for advice, what would you say?  I’m not sure there’s a universal piece of advice I would give, since I think so much of what makes for the right balance is specific to the needs of any particular individual and family.  For me, the best advice would have been to know ahead of time that I wouldn’t get the balance right all of the time, but that this doesn’t mean that I have failed or irreparably damaged my children.  Rebalancing is what it’s all about and if I can forgive myself for my mistakes and shortcomings, the work of shifting in a better direction seems to go more smoothly.  Believe me, I am still working on it!

Thanks, Jess!

League of Student Moms: Jen

My friend Jen is amazing. She's had quite an adventure over the past couple of years, including pursuing a nursing degree, founding a magnet school, and leaping into single parenthood. It's fitting to post this interview this week because I am thankful for her friendship and example. She's a hero of mine and recently she took a break to answer my questions about being a mom and student:

Tell us about yourself and your family:  I’m a new single mom of 3 kids—14 year old girl, 11 year old boy, 7 year old boy.  I started going back to school about 4 ½ years ago.  I started out with one class at a time and have been going full-time for 2 years.  I went through a divorce last year and managed to survive, stay in school, and even do well in school.  I think this is one of my proudest achievements.  

Favorite word? vapid

What led you to decide to go “back to school”?   I had been looking for my ideal career for 10 years after I stopped working to be home with my kids.  I have always loved medicine and hospitals and toyed with nursing one semester the first time around in college, but it didn’t seem to fit at the time.  When my youngest was 2, I came across a nursing program that seemed the ideal fit and it was like lightening struck.  I knew I needed to go to nursing school

What are you studying and where?  What topics in particular are your passions? Nursing at Westminster College in SLC.  I LOVE pediatrics and OB/Gyn.  These are my two passions.

What do you envision after you’re through being a student?  Finally working and being paid (I’ve been doing volunteer/non-paying work for 12 years…)

What’s a typical day for you?  Up at 6 am to get 14 year old up and off to school, get myself and my 2 boys out the door by 8:05 am.  Go to lecture or clinicals.  If it’s a clinical day, my day starts a little earlier.  Race home to be home when my kids walk in the door from school.  Everyone does homework, piano, etc. Try to fit in making dinner somewhere in there.  If it’s a sports event day for the 14 year old, drive to her meet or game sometimes up to 45 minutes away.  Get everyone in bed by 9 pm. 

How do you blend motherhood and studenthood, both on a practical level and a life-balance one ?  I try to get as much studying and homework done before my kids come home from school so that when I am with my kids, I am focused on being a mother.  I compartmentalize very well.  School usually stays at school, home is at home. 

What items or practices/habits could you not live without?  My purple calendar book, it keeps me on track of where I need to be and when.  My cell phone, I stay in touch with my kids and family thru text (have to admit sometimes during class)

Who are your real life heroes? Favorite heroes in fiction?  The women I have met along my journey who balance their education, careers, and their families.  Annie is one of them. My mom is another of my heroes.  She went back to get her master’s degree when I was in high school and she had 5 kids at home, had to commute 2 hours to the university where she was going to school, and she stuck with it and graduated the same year I graduated from college. I haven’t had time to read fiction for a while so…

What books are on your nightstand?

How to Forgive Others

A couple of Thomas Friedman books (The World is Flat)

What Happy Couples Do

Kitchen Table Wisdom, Stories of Healing

Who comprises your support system?  My family, both immediate and extended, my neighbors, friends, and the other non-traditional students in my program. 

What inspires you, creatively, academically, spiritually or emotionally?  I love looking at the sky at night, watching the phases of the moon.  It sounds weird, but I find it calming. 

 If a prospective student who is also a mom contacted you and asked for advice, what would you say?  Try to stay balanced.  It’ll be hard and there will be periods where you can’t be balanced, but make sure you’re present for those important events in your children’s lives, and are there to listen at night when they need a listening ear.  And get sleep.  All nighters aren’t worth it when you’re older.

League of Student Moms: Bridget

For the next installment of the League of Student Moms, we're chatting with Bridget, a nurse who recently decided to return to school for graduate work in public health. I've known Bridget for quite a few years: about a year in person when we both lived in Massachusetts and several more long-distance years of keeping in touch via blogs, facebook, and twitter.  I've always admired her verve and enthusiasm and optimism, which comes through loud and clear in her interview:

Tell us about yourself and your family. I’ve been married 15 years and have three kids ages 10, 8 and 6. 

Favorite word? courageous

Least favorite word? lazy

What led you to decide to go “back to school”? How old were you?  Just this year! I’m 36 yrs old. Going to graduate school has always been a dream of mine. I decided one morning the time was now. My kids were old enough and I was looking for some other fulfillment. This was it!

What are you studying and where?  What topics in particular are your passions? I am pursing a masters degree in public health at Oregon Health and Sciences University. I am passionate about serving the underprivileged in society. I would love to do international work if those doors open up. 

What do you envision after you’re through being a student? Don’t know! Maybe this is why people think it’s a little odd I’m in school. I love the process. I’m hoping I’ll figure out the end result as I go along. [Editor's note: I have to admit that one of my least favorite questions, as a grad school mom, is "so what are ya going to do with that?" so I tried to phrase it a little differently here. I love Bridget's take on it, about loving the process and figuring it out as she goes along. I'm going to channel her the next time I'm asked]

What’s a typical day for you? Up between 5:30 and 6am. Read scriptures as a family, piano practicing, get kids off to school. Exercise. Read. Errands. All the usual mom stuff. I try to get school reading done at the start of the day when my brain is more fresh. As soon as the kids are home from school I forget (or at least try) about my own assignments and concentrate on helping them and getting them where they need to go.

How do you blend motherhood and studenthood, both on a practical level and a life-balance one? Don’t have too much advice here as I have only one week of graduate school under my belt so far! I’d say just being organized with my time. Write everything down. Try to stick to it but not get frustrated when things don’t go according to plan.

Who are your real life heroes? Helen Keller. She had every reason to lead a life of low expectations but she worked hard and achieved great things.

What books are on your nightstand?  How to Read a Paper: the basics of evidence based medicine, Epidemiology, Evidence based practice in public health. Flu Epidemic 1918-1919

Have you had a time when your home and student lives collided? not yet.

Who comprises your support system? family and a few close friends. Mostly my husband. Yeah. 99% husband. He’s the greatest.

What inspires you, creatively, academically, spiritually or emotionally?  Surrounding myself by inspiring people. Reading about them. 

If a prospective student who is also a mom contacted you and asked for advice, what would you say? One thing. You can do it!


Now is your time. Become, believe, try. Walk closely with people you love, and with other people who believe that God is very good and life is a grand adventure. Don’t spend time with people who make you feel like less that you are. Don’t get stuck in the past, and don’t try to fast-forward yourself into a future you haven’t yet earned…

Don’t get stuck. Move, Travel, Take a class, Take a risk. Walk away, Try something new. There is a season for wildness and a season for settledness, and this is neither. This season is about becoming.

 ~from Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist 

The League of Student+Moms

I love hearing about other student moms. I want to know what fuels their days, why they went back to school, what the school~family blend looks like for them. I'm inspired to hear about others' triumphs and challenges and comforted to know I'm not alone. To that end, I'm starting a periodic feature here on Student+Mom: an interview series of other grad school moms, a virtual support network I am lovingly calling The League of Student+Moms (isn't there something superheroic about that?).

First up, Sarah Jones. I've never met her but I'd sure like to! (I keep telling her we should be neighbors. That's not creepy, is it?) I love her blog Unhistoric Acts and you will, too. Meet Sarah:

Tell me about yourself and your family: I’m a 39-year-old mother of four. I’m a wife of 20 years! My family and I live in Cypress, Texas, just outside of Houston. In most respects we are living an idyllic suburban existence, although from time to time my husband and I daydream of a loft in Manhattan. Currently I’m a PhD student in English literature at Texas A&M University. This means that I divide my time between my academic life and nurturing, shuttling, and negotiating with and for my kids.  It’s fun and exhausting. Did I mention exhausting?

Favorite word? I have a ton of favorite words, and I’m rather fickle. My favorite word changes almost daily. However, today, my favorite word is oddy knocky. I just read A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, where he creates an alternate teen dialect/slang language. ‘Oddy knocky’ means ‘by myself,” as in “I have to complete this interview on my oddy knocky.” Try it. You’ll like it.

Least favorite word? Plethora. This is a word that high school English teachers impress upon students as a “smart” word. Oh, and they use it. And use it. Now, every time I read the word ‘plethora’ in a student paper I want to stick a screwdriver in my ear. It’s an okay word, but there is no need to use it 27 times in one paper. Really. 

What led you to decide to go “back to school”? How old were you? Seriously, I wanted to go back to school almost as soon as I graduated with my undergrad degree. My dream career has always been to be a professor of English, but I was unsure about how I would negotiate family along with a lengthy education. I felt my husband and I should start a family, and, silly me, I didn’t think I could have babies AND go to grad school. I was slightly (meaning majorly) conflicted about my role as a woman and as a wife and as a mother. However, when I was 32 I pulled myself together and my husband and I pieced together a diabolical plan. We sold our house, moved our family, and he worked on his MBA while I did my Masters in English. It was the best two years ever! After we both graduated (and desperately needed a steady income again) we moved to Houston, and I worked on getting our family settled. Then I had to go through the entire process again (finding a program, figuring out a schedule for my kids, applying). I started my PhD program when I was 36. No, I was not given a senior citizen’s discount.

What are you studying and where?  What topics in particular are your passions?I’m currently in my fourth year of the PhD program in English literature at Texas A&M University. My area of specialty is the Contemporary British Anglophone novel. My passion definitely lies in feminist studies, particularly identity theory, and thus…I’m writing my dissertation on Contemporary Feminine Identity in the Neo-Victorian Novel, which has a lot to say on the tension between domestic and feminist concerns. 

What do you envision after you’re through being a student? Huh? Will that ever happen? No. Seriously. It will happen. Right? RIGHT?

THE plan is to get a tenure-track professorship. My first choice would be to teach at BYU, but if BYU won’t have me, then I am currently nurturing the idea of moving to Maine. I want to teach literature, raise goats, knit, and be an all-around good, liberal hippy. And if that doesn’t work out, then I plan to milk a post-doctoral fellowship for as along as I can. 

What’s a typical day for you? I teach seminary from 6:00-6:50 AM. Say what? I come home, pack my nine-year-old’s lunch and send him out the door to school with his dad. I answer e-mail and play on the computer for as long as I can let myself, and then I pull out the books and either read (for my exams) or write (for my dissertation) until the kids get home at 2:45. Then I do the kid thing (drive carpool, attend soccer practice, run to the store for last minute project materials, make dinner, tell everyone to brush their teeth multiple times). This semester I’m only teaching on Wednesdays, so on those days I drive 70 miles to College Station, hold office hours, teach my class, drive home, and possibly act very grumpy to my cute family.

Sarah's workspace at home

How do you blend motherhood and studenthood, both on a practical level and a life-balance one? Most of the time I find it a fairly good and interesting blend. The two roles seem to complement each other. For instance, when I’m writing a paper, nothing sounds more fun than cooking a big dinner or crafting with my girls or even organizing the pantry. And conversely, after a full day of taxi driving, I can’t wait to get home, pull out my books, and read some literary theory.

Practically speaking, I couldn’t be a student without a lot of cooperation from my kids and husband. I have found that this is good for everyone. The kids are forced to see me as a genuine person with hopes, frustrations, deadlines…just like them. As you might imagine, the practical part of attending to classes and assignments doesn’t always work as planned (like last Wednesday for example), but for the most part we make it work. 

From a life-balance perspective, I generally think I’m striking a fantastic balance until BOOM, I realize that I’m really not. There are times when a perfect balance just isn’t possible, when I have to work every second of every day, and when I find that I’m performing poorly in just about every area of my life. Those days I feel sorry for myself for an hour or two, then I pick myself up and keep on keeping on. Things generally work themselves out from there. 

Who are your real life heroes? Favorite heroes in fiction? My real life heroes are those women who have managed to carve out an intellectual life for themselves despite social constraints, family obligations, and a limitless list of difficulties. My thesis chair for my Masters degree was such a woman. She raised her boys as a single mom while working towards tenure. I’m equally inspired by a number of female theorists who have had the intellect and insight to theorize on the positioning of women in our culture. Many of these women (like Simone de Bouvoir, or Nancy Chodorow, or Cora Kaplan, to name only a few) have dedicated their entire lives to this cause. And really, honestly, I’m inspired by the everyday women around me who work tirelessly to give to their families and their community.

As for my fictional heroes, I’m inspired by the heroines of George Eliot, but ultimately disappointed by their prescribed Victorian outcomes. I love the women of Margaret Atwood, particularly in The Robber’s Bride. Her characters aren’t always strong, and dauntless, or leave me awestruck, but they are real and engaged with contemporary matters that are important to women.

What books are on your nightstand? Well, I’m in the last few weeks before my big examinations, so my nightstand is definitely theory heavy. Right now I’m working on Cathy Caruth’s Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History, Nancy Chodorow’s The Reproduction of Mothering, Feminists Theorize the Political, edited by Judith Butler and  Joan W. Scott, and The Politics of Postmodernism by Linda Hutcheon. In my real life, I read a lot of contemporary British fiction like Margaret Forster’s Lady’s Maid.

Have you had a time when your home and student lives collided? Collision is my middle name. This semester, for instance, every one of my 13-year-old daughter’s cross country meets are on Wednesday afternoons – the only day I teach. Awesome. Several years ago, before my own kids were old enough to babysit, time management became very tricky. My husband and I had to time our schedules down to the last minute to make sure one of us was home with the kids. That was sticky. And yucky. Now I have three babysitters and one driver. Still, nothing really substitutes for mom. This means less physical collision but more emotional crashes. Lovely. 

Who comprises your support system? My husband is my primary support system. He’s always been very willing to adjust his schedule to accommodate my school needs. This doesn’t mean he always CAN adjust his schedule, but he has a great attitude about my schooling. For instance, on Wednesday afternoons he gets home at 3:00 so he can pick up my son from the elementary school. Then he handles the afternoon activities and dinner. It’s nice, really. I also have a number of neighbors who are willing to trade carpooling to help me out. They have been a lifesaver on a number of occasions.

What inspires you, creatively, academically, spiritually or emotionally? Creatively and emotionally I’d have to say I’m inspired by a number of the blogs I read daily. Seriously. I love peeking into the lives of others, catching a glimpse of their talents, struggles and triumphs, and then applying what I’ve learned in my own life. Sometimes, when the going gets tough, I tune into my favorite blogs and realize that I need to get kicking.

Speaking spiritually, I’m teaching a religious class this year that has given me some much-needed perspective. The other night I was cratering. I was tired, over-stressed, and still needed to prepare for my religious class. To say the least, I had a bad attitude. But my preparations led me to a video on Emma Smith, and immediately I felt a turn-around inside of me. Thanks Emma.

If a prospective student who is also a mom contacted you and asked for advice, what would you say? My advice would really depend on the type of program she was interested in. You must be completely committed to the process. I recently had a friend express interest in doing graduate work in English, but when I questioned her further, she wasn’t sure that she really wanted to be an English professor. My advice to her was this, “If this isn’t your fondest dream, if you are not willing to devote every spare minute to this pursuit, then you will never make it through.” I know that sounds harsh, but it’s a demanding program that doesn’t cater to commuters, or moms, or last minute sick kids. With that said, I do believe this was the very best choice for me. I believe that the work is accessible to anyone willing to put in the hours. I wouldn’t choose anything else, but I wanted this with every part of me…and really…it’s taken every part of me to see me through. 

Thanks, Sarah! I swiped some photos from your blog, okay?

Recommended reading (you know, in all that spare time you have)

Well, this blog has evidently come down with a serious case of blog neglect! To remedy that, let me ease back into posting by sharing some really great reads I've enjoyed over the last few weeks.  Okay, months.

~ Julie Q. at Mental Tesserae isn't technically a student mom--she's a professor of humanities.  But her consistently excellent blog chronicles many of the same challenges and joys that I experience as a doctoral student so I hope you'll enjoy it, too.  Her last two posts were particularly terrific: Don't Mind the Gap addresses the resilience of her family in filling in the open spaces during a challenging semester and Zen and the Art of Art tackles the topic of mindfulness and multi-tasking and the woes of having students compulsively texting in class.

~I'm a fan of Cal Newport's books on school success strategies and his blog, Study Hacks, is just as inspiring and helpful.  He shares strategies for "building a life that is both remarkably accomplished and remarkably enjoyable" as well as weighing in on general thinking/research on motivation, effectiveness, and doing meaningful work.  I consider it a must-read and it has really shaped not only how I approach my academics but how I support my kids in their pursuits, too.  Anyway. My favorite recently was The Grandmaster in the Corner Office, about deliberate practice when studying/learning.

~Sarah's a gal I can identify with; we're the same, but different. She's a doctoral student, LDS mom of 4 living in Texas.  When I read her blog, I feel like I'm not alone in this fantastic juggle. She's smart, she's real, she takes fabulous photos. You'll love her.  Catch her at Unhistoric Acts.

~Finally, The PhD problem, an article in Harvard Magazine about the practice and consequences of contemporary doctoral education.  It's an interesting (if a little demoralizing) examination of why we do what we do (and should we?).  Please discuss.

What are you reading these days?  One way I keep track of articles I like (and to have access no matter which computer I'm on) is by bookmarking them on my Delicious account.  Feel free to check out my bookmarks anytime and if you have a Delicious account, I'd love to check out your list as well.

Happy weekend. 

Good for what ails me

There are times that I'm convinced I have adult onset ADD. (And, you know, maybe I really do.) Sometimes I'm so scattered between my roles--mom, wife, student, researcher, etc.--that I can't settle my thoughts enough to make progress on anything, especially when I'm working from home where there are ample distractions and all of those roles bleed into each other.  Maybe that sounds familiar?

These tips have been helpful to me lately*:

1. Do what matters most to you: assess and choose. (Cultivate lilies, get rid of leeches)

2. Create a positive emotional environment wherever you are.

3. Find your rhythm. Prioritize and use your "burst" wisely (whether it's in the morning, afternoon, or evening)

4. Invest time wisely.

5. Don't waste time screensucking. 

6. Identify + control "gemmelsmerch," the force that distracts the mind away from what it wants to be doing : do important work first, limit tv, take breaks and carry on, have a new idea notebook, schedule email time, ELIMINATE TOXIC WORRY (talk to someone, make a plan, get the facts)

7. Delegate

8. Slow down

9. Don't "frazz": give one task your full attention

10. Play

And finally, Live YOUR Life.  Be the captain of your life and make decisions that reflect your dreams and priorities, whether or not that fits exactly with the standard.  Celebrate your own contributions and ideas.

*notes from reading Dr. Hellewell's book CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap! Strategies for Coping in a World Gone A.D.D 

Lighted paths

I've never been one of those people who knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up or, even now, to know the precise answer to the question "so what are you going to do with a PhD when you're done?"

No, where some people seem to have a laser sharp, bright beam of light that sees all the way to the end of the path, I walk in more of a fuzzy glow.  I carry a lantern that illuminates just enough ahead for me to know where to place my next step.  It's not that I'm not certain I'm in the right place right now. It's just that I don't necessarily know where those steps might lead.

Because of that, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for this quote:

Don't worry about what you will do next.  If you take one step with all the knowledge you have, there is usually just enough light shining to show you the next step.

(Terry Tempest Williams quoting Mardy Murie in her commencement speech at the University of Utah, May 2003)

I count on this to be true.

A favorite

How to Climb a Mountain

Make no mistake. This will be an exercise in staying vertical. 

Yes, there will be a view, later, a wide swath of open sky,

but in the meantime: tree and stone. If you're lucky, a hawk will

coast overhead, scanning the forest floor. If you're lucky,

a set of wildflowers will keep you cheerful. Mostly, though,

a steady sweat, your heart fluttering indelicately, a solid ache

perforating your calves. This is called work, what you will come to know,

eventually and simply, as movement, as all the evidence you need to make

your way. Forget where you were. That story is no longer true.

Level your gaze to the trail you're on, and even the dark won't stop you.

~Maya Stein

One nudge at a time


We all sat in a circle, 15 or so doctoral students and our proseminar leader.  Proseminar is a cross between group therapy and staff meeting, where we talk about how it's going and receive direction on next steps.

On our minds that day: the balance. How to have a life while you're a grad student.

Two of us are moms--what a lucky thing for both of us to have each other--so the balance between our real life and our student life is a constant topic for us.  But everyone else struggles with this, too.  One woman wants to have children at some point during the program.  Others are dating or engaged.  One or two brave souls are maintaining jobs and adding doctoral studies to their loads.  As we discussed strategies about how to get it all done and still stay sane, our professor offered his theory of rotating neglect. "Anytime you're doing anything, you're neglecting something else.  That's life. Get used to it. The key is to choose whatever needs doing and focus on it and then rotate to the next item." (He said it more sympathetically that it reads.)

Maybe, I think.  But isn't that looking at the glass half-full? How can that ever feel satisfying--rotating neglect?

I think of life as a student + mom like this:  There's a line of boulders.  Big, heavy monstrous boulders that I have to move from that place right here to over there beyond the horizon.  An impossible job to do in one fell swoop, it requires nudges.

There are several boulders representing parts of my program (coursework, papers, internship, qualifying papers, dissertation).  Of course there are family boulders, household boulders, friend/sister/daughter/service boulders.  Every day I try to nudge a few.  Research articles for a paper (nudge). Make a few phone calls to get needed work done on our plumbing (nudge). Outline a possible QP (nudge). Grade five papers (nudge+). Of course, some boulders really need daily nudging or they slide backwards (family ones, obviously) and I try to spend some good blocks of time with them.  But mostly, if I give a nudge to five boulders I call it good enough and feel (relatively) peaceful.  Tomorrow, more nudges.

It's all about the increments, baby.

I had forgotten I had mentioned my boulder theory until a colleague dropped it into a conversation six months or so later ("I just nudged one of those boulders!"). Since then it's become kind of a code word for some of us. A mantra to talk us off of the ledge of anxiety.

Every once in a while I'll look back and see a sad (yes, neglected) boulder way back there and realize I need to make it a priority for a bit (usually it's the negotiable, non-deadline things like my own research). So I adjust.  In one respect, I'm just nudging boulders inches at a time.  In the big picture, I'm strengthening and moving and getting there, one nudge at a time.

There, there, little writing phobia

"The angel doesn't sit on your shoulder unless the pencil's in your hand."

~ Mary Oliver
I have that quote posted over in the sidebar and on a bulletin board. But I've been thinking. Is that even true? For me?
* * *

I'm knee-deep in writing a paper for my public health class (my LAST class for my degree. Woohoo! Let's not talk about all the writing that is still ahead of me...).
I have such a love/hate relationship with writing*. I need writing. I love to have written. But it's painful. After 23 years of school (ahem. I know, makes you want to stage an intervention, doesn't it?), I'm finally okay with the way my mind seems to need to write. Instead of fruitless sessions of staring at a blank screen and panicking, I've gone with my natural tendencies to ruminate and organize and THEN write.
  1. I get the assignment. Or the idea.
  2. I start hating the assignment/idea but my brain starts mulling.
  3. I think about it. When I'm making beds, when I'm loading the dishwasher, when I'm in the car, little ideas are floating to the top of my mind. But it counts as time working on the paper (I tell myself)! (If it's a lit review, I start reading articles and taking notes.)
  4. I start jotting down random ideas. I am still terrified of actually writing but tell myself to just write whatever ideas have surfaced. There, there, little writing phobia.
  5. I start organizing the randomness into a skeleton outline. Again, much soothing of anxiety and telling myself it's no big deal, just writing an outline here.
  6. More thinking. I have to walk away several times (sometimes you just have to give in to the adult onset ADD) and come back and type a few more lines.
  7. Finally I start writing little snippets into the outline. Again, I am really sneaking up on myself. The idea is to get everything to the stage where the writing is all that's left: the ideas, order, and structure are already done! It might look like procrastination but it's really all just my necessary prep work.
  8. NOW I'm truly writing the paper, linking the snippets and fleshing out thought. Inevitably I start getting excited and it starts feeling easier as the paper comes together. (Like childbirth, I'll forget all the pain and effort of the beginning once I get a glimpse of the final product.) THEN I love writing.
So I'm on #7 now with this paper, which makes it sound really good but all that writing is still ahead. Ugh. (And, as you can tell, I've walked away for a bit.)
For the longest time I tried to force myself into the One True Way of Writing, which (I thought or was taught) was sitting down at the computer and writing the whole thing, or at least spending hours on end focused on the writing. I fought myself the whole way.
In reality, if I would have just let myself do it the way I naturally operate--small bursts of attention and energy with lots of unproductive-looking baby steps--I would have been much more productive and happy. A peripatetic writer, that's what I am. And not really a procrastinator after all--a lot of the work just happens below the surface.
So, how does your writing/project process work?
* * *
* does anyone have a love/love relationship with writing?

this was inspired, in part, by Marty's post about the writing muse. Have you checked out her terrific 12-week seminar? Try out her challenges for scouting out your muse. I think my muse hides under the covers or trembles in the corner until I've done all the other prep work. Or maybe she's around the whole time?


Babies, Bacon, & Me

Hi there, I'm coming to you live from beautiful Washington, D.C. I'm here for the first meeting for the fellowship and have already met (and shared a cab) with two of the other lovely fellows. Should be interesting to hear all about what everyone's doing and have the chance to discuss my project and find out ways to make it better. It's inspiring to be around all of these people who are so passionate about finding ways to help improve the lives of babies and their families. Hopefully some of their brilliance will rub off a little on me.

It's kind of weird to be a business traveler though. I've traveled before but never professionally (meaning paid for by someone else). I always imagined myself walking briskly down the airport concourse like a Charlie commercial (or is it Enjoli? except I don't bring home any bacon, really, I pretty much work for free) but instead I was sweaty and I wore the wrong shoes and I kept getting my bag handles all tangled. You know, as usual.
Speaking of babies and families, I miss mine already. (Thanks, G, for holding down the fort). Bacon for everyone when I get home! Because I might not bring any home but I sure do know how to fry it up in a pan.