Thursday, October 20, 2016

New Levels of Excitement: the Library

This post's original title ideas were "I Hate the Library" and "My Frenemy the Library," but then I thought I'd stick with a familiar title I'd already started this month - "New Levels of Excitement" - and it would apply just as well. These titles aren't meshing are they? Let me explain.

I've always loved libraries. When I was two my grandmother told my mom she didn't know what to do with me, I just wanted to sit and "read" my little books. My high school librarian told me once she loved that I took books out - not just books, but classics. I paid for lifetime alumni status at my undergrad university so I would have access to their library forever. I helped fundraise to establish the newer library in my community after spending a childhood walking to and perusing the smaller, out-of-date one. My longest standing car window sticker reads "I ❤️ my library."

Given my history of love affairs with libraries, where can the words hate and frenemy possibly fit? On a Saturday night, 9:30pm, the cold seventh floor of Kent State's library. On hour 12 of work, with only a 45-ish minute interruption around dinnertime to drive from Youngstown State's closing library to Kent's open late library. Nose running from the cold and the one thing my backpack the size and weight of a small child doesn't have is tissues. McDonald's for dinner, again, and feeling like it's been one McDonald's meal too many. Confusing books scattered around while I alternate between my document and another confusing reference guide online. My right hand is freezing from using the mouse; hours plugging away at my laptop.

In that moment the words came unbidden to my mind: I hate the library.

I think I physically flinched from the blow to my mind. What a grievous sin for a lover of everything a library represents. Surely I could let the concussion subside and no one would ever be privy to the thought? And yet, the feeling lingered, demanding to be felt. So, I'm breaking the first rule of this fight club; I'm talking about it.

Life, and everything in it, is multifaceted. Think of the people and passions you live for. I love my husband and kids dearly, but they can also drive me crazy (and I them). I have some of the best people on earth for friends, but they can disappoint (as I disappoint them). I live my passion teaching high school English, luckier than most people get in a career, but it's hard to roll out of that warm bed every morning. I love books, learning, education, searching and finding, but I loathe heading to the library as of late.

Do I deny the crazy of my people, the difficulties of my job, the challenge of my current dream just because I love them? No. I can't. Everyone and everything has multiple sides, the good and the bad. How can we truly claim love when we only want to accept half of the person or the easy side of the situation? This life and world are not perfect and we set ourselves up for disappointment and despair when we sweep hard feelings under the rug in the name of a pretentious peace and contentment. The hard feelings demand to be felt and allowing the feeling to come and go is the only way they will resolve. Once resolved, what's left? Love. Real love, as it should be, for everything a person, passion, or dream really is, not just what we want it to be.

I left soon after my hard thoughts in the library that night, unable to understand why I felt so wronged by something I'd faithfully devoted myself to for so long. It wasn't half an hour later that I took the nighttime photo of the library posted here, texting it to a friend in my sudden awe. Twelve stories of wondrous humanity, with the school's beautiful blue colors streaking up the front, lighting the darkness. And just like that, I'm in love again, for better or worse.

Monday, October 3, 2016

New Levels of Excitement

New things bring new and different excitement...marriage, babies, cars, jobs, houses. Up til now my new excitements were identifiable by most people because most people have shared similar experiences in their lives. And if they haven't, the experiences are understood by people in general. My PhD adventure has turned that on its head. The things I get excited about now, well, I'm not sure what to say about it. Imagining the conversations makes me want to laugh.

Friend 1: My daughter lost her first tooth and my son made the travel soccer team!

Me: Oh wow, that's awesome!

Friend 2: Nice. Hey, that new restaurant opened, we should try it out.

Me: Good idea. Oh, guess what?!

Friends: What?!

Me: I found a copy of the Cambridge edition of The Great Gatsby online for $11!


Hyperbole, yes. My friends would likely smile and nod at least. Haha, but that's my life right now, full of weirdly exciting moments here and there, but with whom to share them? You think I'm kidding? Here is my list of personal excitement for the past week or so:

*One professor told me I read very well (it was poetry, Wordsworth, and chock full of crazy punctuation...I impressed myself)!

*I had a less than ten minute conversation with a professor whose focus is in the same time period as my studies, discussing American canon and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and it was among the best minutes of my week.

*I didn't cry once on the way home from my Thursday class last week (this could change; I have nine weeks to go).

*I found and bought the Cambridge edition of The Great Gatsby online for $11 (yes, that was true. Yes, it's a very good thing. No, I didn't try to put it into conversation with my friends).

*Purdue Owl's site has literary theory definitions AND help to form your thesis!

My husband is crazy supportive with all of this. I've told him all of these excitements and more and he is excited with me. He sees behind the scenes and understands a little better how these things could be exciting. I have a couple of extra supportive friends I tell some things to, but these kinds of things don't always communicate well via text message. And I do have the blog. So, here they are, my new excitements for the week! You have been great cheerleaders from the time I thought about doing this til now. Thank you for your nerdy willingness to read and comment and cheer me on! Maybe we'll make a meme of it:

"New Levels of Excitement - Things Only a Nerd Could Love"

Friday, September 30, 2016

So Much for the Afterglow

The shiny newness is fading. Gritted teeth and long hours will do that. So will challenges to my time, family, friends, house, church, and work management. Challenges to my skills and whatever natural talent is hiding out in my brain. Challenges to my hobbies, eating, and sleeping habits. Challenges to my joy, peace, patience, and self control. Challenges to my eucharisteo. Everclear stated it best, as 90's music does: "I guess the honeymoon is over. So much for the afterglow." Is a dream still a dream even as it turns into something you didn't expect; something you can envision quitting now that it's here?

Of course. Not the direction you thought I was headed, huh? Blame the click bait title (red herring, as the English teacher in me prefers to call it) or just typical human assumption. We humans have dreams and set goals and strive to reach them, only to find out when we get there that it's going to take hard work and determination to carry the dream out. And we have the audacity to be surprised! Why do we think after the hard work it took to get to the dream, that the dream itself would be easy peasy?

Think of people who have done big things: famous, semi-famous, or not at all. People you know personally and those you don't. My parents had a dream to put three kids through college working jobs that didn't necessarily pay that kind of money, but they sacrificed every place possible financially and did it. Martin Luther King, Jr clearly had a dream. He died for it. If God's ultimate goal in sending his son Jesus to earth was for him to die innocently on a cross, why we do we think our dreams and goals shouldn't cost us?

Your dream is your dream for reasons unique to you. Your dream will take you places you may not have thought possible and will change you in ways you could never foresee. Your dream will do this because dreams have a tendency to seem or become bigger than life, and when you face Goliath and triumph, you can't help but be a different person because of it. It's always about more than the dream itself.

So what dreams are on your horizon? What dream are you living out right now? Is it crazy hard and making you desperate to quit? Then it's doing its job. Keep on swimming. You are right where you need to be.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Truth in the Text: Beginnings

Or what you're made of!
Am I the only one this scares to death?
Hoping to start a new meme here on My Life in Books, related to my PhD experience and called Truth in the Text. I've noticed in my assigned college readings that a few lines here and there will stand out as true to life in ways other than to what the text is referring. I was inspired again by a piece in an assigned reading for this week and thought, hey maybe more will show up along the way. It may or may not replace Begin the Week with Words, or they may both come and go as I find good stuff and the time to post. Time will tell.

This piece comes from Edward Said's Beginnings: Intention and Method, of which I read chapter 2 "A Meditation on Beginnings." The chapter discusses how something can be considered "the beginning." Look at the two points below, the topic of literary criticism, and how true to life they are way outside the realm of literature:

"First of all, there must be the desire, the will, and the true freedom to reverse oneself, to accept thereby the risks of rupture and discontinuity; for whether one looks to see where and when he began, or whether he looks in order to begin now, he cannot continue as he is" (34).

"Finally, and almost inevitably...the beginning will emerge reflectively and, perhaps, unhappily, already engaging him in an awareness of its difficulty" (35).

Things in daily and weekly life have
changed/ended that I can only hope and
assume are part of the process.
Whoa, blew me away. Two sentences that could not describe my life more right now. I feel as if my life has been ruptured and discontinuity has ensued...and the problem is my mind is trying to continue on as I was, which the quote quite correctly states is not possible. I am having a hard time giving over to the rupture needed to allow my new beginning to gain momentum. Starting this degree means giving up other hobbies and missing out on events and time spent with people. It's hard to do that just because, but also because those things go on without you.

This making the second quote true too. Although I am where I've aimed to be for twenty years now (getting my PhD) and am glad to be there, it is only upon entering into and looking back on the short few weeks that I really see this is truly a new beginning, more than the "change of pace" I thought it would be. And difficult it is, mixing unhappy and hard moments in with the happy and good, and altering other parts of life in the process, the new beginning transforming everything around it simply because I had a dream. It's strange to think something you wanted so bad, for so long, could be so hard and bring such physical, mental, and emotional conflict. Do I overplay it? I don't think so. Anyone who's ever dreamed desperately only to find themselves in over their heads upon arrival would understand.

Just keeping it real people. Beginnings are hard.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

PhD Hacks

Anytime you start something new, it's overwhelming, but you end up learning the ins and outs with the help of short cuts and best practices. A few PhD hacks have saved the day in the past few weeks.

My amazing husband didn't hesitate in buying
me a laptop. He told me what a few offered and
suggested which were best for what I needed and
left me to get whatever I wanted. 
1. Get your own laptop. The convenience of leaving my accounts logged in at all times and bookmarking every other site I'm on makes up for every dime spent on a new laptop (which wasn't much - bought a cheap HP with word processing and decent storage and RAM). Especially when I discovered starting this new program meant opening new accounts for software, journals, associations, and search sites weekly. My iPad works for many things, but limits word processing options, among other important items. Although I'm the only one who really uses the desktop at home, my family and their friends can also use it, so I don't want to leave accounts logged in. Also, on the laptop I know the only things on it are my things and it stands little chance of someone messing with them deliberately or accidentally - it is the PhD laptop. Plus, the desktop doesn't help much with PhD hack #2.

Kent's University library - although it is far away,
so I'm only there to pick up books after class.
To work, I head to YSU or a public library, all
close to home.
2. Leave your house. Yes, I need to work, work, work, but it has to be away from my house. No matter how much I tell my kids the next couple hours are work-time, they inevitably have a question, need a fight settled, or wonder in to talk because I'm mom and that's what I'm here for, right? It's really hard to tell them to leave because I don't want them to feel ignored or have hurt feelings. But, if I leave the house for my work hours, I get work done and they don't feel I've pushed them away, I was simply not home. Purchasing my own laptop gives me the freedom to take ALL of my work with me too - again paying for the convenience totally worth it.

3. Have a go-to reply. At first I tended to answer the question "How's school?" by going on about my new laptop and project and people I've met, but soon realized the person asking had kinda stopped listening, was distracted doing something else, or changed the subject as soon as I answered. I know people have good intentions for asking, being courteous, but they don't usually seem ready for the long answer I give. So I've decided on a simple answer for the question "How's school?" For this semester it's along the lines of, "One class isn't too bad and the other is tough." Nothing near what I'd really want to say to answer that question, but people are happy with it, and if they don't ask any further questions, it's all good.

The other side of this is there isn't always much you can say that people understand. I've worked so hard for this experience and not even I knew what was coming exactly - I feel like I'm in the middle of a ton of things I have no clue about right now! The first couple weeks I was excited or worried about simpler things, like getting a new laptop, being on campus, spending the day at the library, getting to know professors, etc. Those are easy to share my excitement about to those interested, but it's already changing speed and I need a reply without all the extra detail. Also, when school is taking over my life, I imagine there will be times I won't want to discuss it and I think having a go-to reply will help then too.

I admit, I love calendars and lists and organizational tools.
4. Designate and ask for help. Since I am the organizer and scheduler for my household (details and organization are a gifting of mine), a friend told me that assigning certain things to my family and asking for help as needed would save me so much stress. Hmm...I'm not good at this. I like things concerning my house and belongings done my way, with my supervision, but I needed to work on my control issues anyway, so now is as good a time as any. I bought a day planner for my kitchen. Everything that needs done around the house is assigned to family members able to complete the task on the day it needs done. For example, the kids are assigned dog duty by the week, feeding and taking them out. Everyone brings their dirty laundry to the basement on Tuesday night and picks up their clean laundry on Thursday night. (Laundry being the one thing I won't give up control over! And with my new huge washer and dryer, I only do four loads a week anyway.) The kids are not allowed to go anywhere or do anything fun until homework and assigned calendar items are complete and my husband can see where I might need him to do something that I would usually take care of. This past week for example, my husband did the meal planning and grocery shopping while I worked at home. Also, a purpose of the family day planner is to handle lists. If there are items other than the usual that need done, they are assigned a day and person so I have them written down and off of my mind. Anything left undone is moved to the next week. My friend also said to hire a cleaning lady in at least once a month, which I could totally go for, but we'll see how the family assigned cleaning goes first.

Sometimes, sitting in the sun for a few
minutes with my fur babies is a
perfectly fine break.
5. Plan time for fun. It's true that the majority of my usual "free" time in the past three weeks has been spent on school work, but I've found that I can't just work every free moment, even if I have enough work to justify that. My brain and emotions will fry. I've noticed that when my mind is constantly on a daunting assignment or the amount of work in general, it actually paralyzes me. I feel unable to work because the scope of the project is looming in my mind. So breaks are a must, but it's also a must to plan them out. If I have break time planned, I have something to look forward too and I'm not going to overwork, crash, and need an emergency break at a time when I can't afford it. Over the four day Labor Day weekend we had a cookout with a few friends at the new house. Knowing I had extra days off work, I knew I could spare one evening. Last Saturday I spent most of the day at the library researching for my writing assignment, so I planned for our friend to come over that evening to watch through an old season of Survivor we'd started two weeks ago. I think it will work well and I'm hoping I find opportunities to connect with people during these breaks - finally having this new house but limited time to gather friends here is driving me crazy.

So those are the secrets and short cuts I've found working best for me on this journey so far. I'm enjoying the process and journaling of my schooling more than anything right now because at this point I've learned every part of life's journey is designed to make you better if you'll let it. I'm determined to look back at all I learned and became and see how I'm better for it.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

#30Authors Presents Claire Fuller on The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon

#30Authors is an event started by The Book Wheel that connects readers, bloggers, and authors. In it, 30 authors review their favorite recent reads on 30 blogs in 30 days. It takes place annually during the month of September and has been met with incredible support from and success in the literary community. It has also been turned into an anthology, which is currently available on Amazon and all author proceeds go to charity. Previous #30Authors contributors include Celeste Ng, Cynthia Bond, Brian Panowich, and M.O. Walsh. To see this year’s full line-up, visit or follow along on Twitter @30Authors.

Without further ado, Claire Fuller's review of The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon:

The Pier Falls is a collection of nine short stories by Mark Haddon, most famous for his 2003 novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

Every story in this book is outstanding. The eponymous tale is about a pier and the lives and deaths of the people on it as it collapses and falls into the sea. Each individual’s action is written from a distance as if Haddon realises that to be closer to the tragedy would be unbearable. Instead he gives us snippets of the future for some of the survivors; the pathos highlighting those who don’t make it out alive:

                “He swims steadily towards the beach where he is cheered ashore, 
                  wrapped in a red blanket and led to an ambulance. His wife will 
                  spend three hours thinking he is dead and will not forgive him for a 
                  long time.”

The stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. In Wodwo an English family gather together for Christmas when they are interrupted by an unusual intruder who changes all of their lives over the course of the coming year, until Christmas and the story comes around again, full-circle. The Woodpecker and the Wolf is about six people on board a space station, waiting to be relieved by a second crew who never arrive. Things just get worse from there on. Many actions are described in minute detail, emphasising not only the way the astronauts have to live, but also the type of person who would sign up for such a job. The story spins out of control, even while it is clear that Haddon has a firm grip on what he is intending, until reaching an ambiguous conclusion. I have never so desperately wanted to talk to someone about an ending as I did when I finished this story.

The writing across all the pieces is peculiarly unemotional, as if Haddon is giving us, the readers, the space to find our own emotions between the words. And if these stories sound bleak, that’s because they are. Don’t dip into The Pier Falls expecting a sunny ride, but if you’re looking for limpid writing, and top story-telling then this is your book.


Claire Fuller trained as a sculptor before working in marketing for many years. In 2013 she completed an MA in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Winchester, and wrote her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days. It has been published in the UK by Fig Tree (Penguin), in the US by Tin House, in Canada by House of Anansi and in Israel, Taiwan, Italy, The Netherlands, France and Turkey. It will be published in a further four countries. Our Endless Numbered Days won the 2015 Desmond Elliott prize.

Claire's second novel, Swimming Lessons will be published in early 2017.


Friday, September 9, 2016

Insanity - Only Two Weeks In

My books this semester, for two classes.
Not bad you say? This doesn't include the 20+ books 
and articles I need to read for writing my seminar papers.

As the title of this post suggests, I am either insane or will be so shortly. And, as promised, I am documenting every insane second through journals and this blog. Two weeks into this PhD thing and I have quit at least once every day, sometimes more, but decided I can do this by the end of each day. Since I'm still in it, I guess we can say the "I can do this" side is currently winning.

I decided already to literally take each piece of my classes one step at a time. Even if told to make sure I'm looking ahead to another step, I think I have to focus on and finish off things according to due dates. If I can get to class each week knowing that what I need done is done and done to the best of my ability, well, at this point I can't ask for much more.

First week of classes overwhelmed me with a tidal wave of details. The assignments aren't a single step, but there are so many details and steps for each activity and assignment, I took an entire day to work on an eleven question library research project and I only had one question answered at the end of six hours. The rest of the questions required finding and reading articles and book chapters from various journals and online periodicals. Granted, learning the system hindered me a bit, but by the end of the day, I hadn't even collected all of the materials needed to begin reading to answer the other ten questions.

The reading for just one of my current classes has hit between 200 - 300 pages a week. The reading proves helpful and informative so far, but definitely not the same as reading a good book just for the story. The other class assigns smaller selections, but on material I have little background knowledge of, so I go searching and reading additional resources.

I enjoy the classroom experience itself, as always. If I had applied for a PhD in Education, I could complete everything online, but I noticed of all my options for an English PhD, none were offered online and for good reason. Good literature thrives on intricate discussion. Intricate discussion works best in person. Driving an hour up and an hour back from main campus twice a week hasn't been too bad, although I'm not looking forward to it come snowy weather, but the drive gives me time to transition from my school-as-teacher day to my school-as-student day and the same as I head home at night.

Probably the biggest challenge I've learned the past two weeks is time management. I thrive on organizing and prioritizing and I'm a do it all person - well, do it all according to what I think is important. I've never really had to scale back on my calendar. I've fit in people, responsibilities, hobbies, etc. any time I wanted. This is absolutely not the case now. Teaching takes at least 40 hours a week, more if current activities require working at home. In the past week I've spent every hour between working on one of my two PhD classes - no exaggeration. And in order to function fully from morning to night in all this work, I moved my bedtime back by an hour and a half (which doesn't always happen). I've been forced to draw boundaries around my job and classwork times, making them a shared first priority with my family...and even family takes the back-burner at times. For someone who treasures her friends and hobbies, it's a difficult position to already say "maybe" and "no" to activities I'd gladly attend, but I'm determined to make it through this.

See, "I can do it" is winning today. We'll see where I stand after spending the entire day at the library tomorrow! Watch out reference librarians, here I come.