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.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Begin the Week with Words

You know you need to pay attention when you hear or read the same thing a bunch of times in a day or two. The first is a scripture verse I read more extensively on in the book Play with Fire, which I reviewed Thursday. It showed up on three different, unrelated people's Instagram posts the next day. In the same two days I read or heard the following three quotes on destiny. So I'm paying attention - they do seem to apply to my road ahead. 

"Be still and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10

"Destiny is revealed in seasons of confrontation rather than seasons of comfort." Lisa Bevere, Without Rival (book)

"A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it." Jean de La Fontaine

"They say that when a man faces his destiny, the destiny ends and he becomes the man that he really is." Mos Def, 16 Blocks (movie)

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Play with Fire

Source:Family Christian Book Store
Play with Fire: Discovering Fierce Faith, Unquenchable Passion, and a Life-Giving God, by Bianca Olthoff
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication date: August 30,2016
Category: Motivational, Christian
Source: I received this galley from NetGalley for consideration of a review.

As I've worked my way through a series of motivational titles this summer, I feel lucky that so many wonderful authors decided to share their experiences and wisdom through publication in the past so many months. Among these titles I found Play with Fire, which I requested mostly because of the author, Bianca Olthoff. I was not familiar with Ms. Olthoff at all up to this point, but she is one of a few big names in the field of female Christian authorship scheduled to appear at the Propel Women event I am attending in September. Hearing authors speak is always a good time, but how much better when I'm familiar with their thoughts and words? It's akin to rereading the book, which is always good, but I have little time for typically.

Wanting to be familiar with Ms. Olthoff, I went in search of any books to her name and came across Play with Fire on Amazon. Seeing it wasn't yet published, I headed over to NetGalley. What a good idea that was! What makes me especially like Olthoff's book is the fact that although I couldn't identify with much of her life experience growing up, her ability to state her thoughts, emotions, and spiritual situation hit me, and those I could relate to. That's talent.

Play with Fire takes readers through a set of years where Olthoff found her life falling apart. Her mother's worsening fight with cancer, her father and siblings at wit's end, making bad choices for herself financially, emotionally, and relationally, she likens the experience to the Israelites wandering the desert for 40 years. She spent years looking every which way for anything that would ease the pain of wandering lonely and afraid, only to find nothing helped, and in fact she felt worse. As Olthoff's story unfolds, so does the evidence of God's grace. With hindsight, Olthoff is able to trace the places where God had been by her side in her personal desert all along, waiting for her to reach the point of crying out and truly longing to be set free from her turmoil. Although pushing through was not easy, and she found herself stalled at times, Olthoff's story is heartfelt and encouraging to anyone finding themselves stuck in a hard place.

I always assume that part of what makes a book good is the timing in which it is read. Olthoff's book came in amazing timing for me. I am floored. I am speechless and inspired and ready to take on the place I find myself most fearful to enter. I know the current path was set before me for a purpose, so to walk through it, my faith bigger than my fear, is the only way through. Sounds simple, but we all know it isn't. I thank God for the wonderful men and women of God publishing their lives and God's message for all to read this past year. Their words do not fall on deaf ears.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Journey Begins

A trip I made to explore campus prior to orientation and classes.
My journey into my PhD program has barely begun (orientation was this past week and classes start next week) and I already see two things coming for My Life in Books as a blog. One, unfortunately, more possible stretches of silence. I've been so crazy busy pulling life together with our renovating and moving and the start of a new school year, that I haven't even always remembered to post my weekly quotes on Sundays! From what I heard at orientation this week, I can expect much of the same crazy busy between family, work, and school. Second, posts will become grad school oriented. My studies are literature based, so it definitely will still be about books and reading, but I already know that I will have some experience based posts brewing as this one!

I am excited though to have an established blog from which to share the experience. This past Tuesday was graduate orientation at Kent State. It was much bigger than I thought it would be, but it included masters and doctorate students from every department/major of the University. The afternoon was spent selecting sessions we thought would be most beneficial. I attended two that were extremely informative, although they also made me a little more frenzied.

Two down, one to go. Can't wait for
the day when the Kent sticker
reads Alumni under it as well.
The first informative session was titled Conferences and Publishing. The speakers are current PhD students who have attended numerous conferences and have even presented at them. They gave great pointers, like ask professors and current students the best conferences to attend in your subject. The list of do's and don'ts for conference attendance were both practical and specific. And, the best part, they made us aware of the Graduate Student Senate, where you can easily apply for the college to pay your travel expenses to both national and international conferences if you are presenting. Presenting at a conference remains a mystery to me for now...I'm not sure I understand how you go about making that happen and how a topic is chosen, etc., but, at least I know it's something I should do. More than I knew before.

The second part was a little scary, but also part of my dream: publication. They are typically talking publication of your papers to journals and such, but there was also talk of books. For example, one of the speakers has a professor who is writing a book and she asked if she can write a chapter. He said yes. Her name will be in the credits of that book and she can put it on her CV (No, not a resume. What is a CV? Click here). PhD students are expected to have published three or four times by graduation, a process that will take papers way beyond the time and grade restrictions of a class semester.

This session led me to the discovery that the field of academia depends upon networking. The more people you meet, the better. The more exposure you have among peers, the better. The more you can do, the better. And that's why they tell students to attend conferences at every turn. We were even told to get student business cards especially for the purpose of meeting people, making connections, and being remembered. Weird to hear at first, but the more they spoke, the more I came to understand why. The world of higher education is vast. In my little piece of nowhere Ohio alone, I had the choice of three major colleges I could commute to for the PhD program I wanted. If you're expected to publish material and work together on topics, then you have to be in the know within your field. And one of the best ways to do that is through who you know. You never know who will be doing what in the future and if they remember a discussion with you on that topic and have a way to contact you, well you could end up with a project heading toward publication, among other opportunities.

The second session gave access to a panel of current Kent professors. We asked them anything we had on our minds and they all answered honestly. There were a lot of good questions asked and I was particularly excited about their confidence in us. Two questions asked that pertain to me in particular concerned working students; those who have worked between degrees, as opposed to going straight through, and those who are working full time jobs alongside the degree process. Both of these apply to me and the professors' responses were encouraging. They said work experience between degrees benefits students greatly because it prepares their minds to look at the workload and their image in a different way than someone who has always been a student. Seeing all of the work and experience needed beyond the classroom I asked if they had any more or different advice for people working at the same time...mentioning that I also commute an hour and have three kids. They said to plan ahead for the things you know you have to do and those that are most important to attend and accomplish and say no to the rest. And one professor of English added in that working students are among the best he ever has! So, I feel better about it now.

Well, that was just part of my orientation day. My classes start Monday and I am on edge to get this started after a year of discussion about it. Wish me luck!