Category Archives: Writing

What’s your BASE?

A post came through my Feedly today from The Thesis Whisperer reviewing Helen Sword’s new book on academic writing (Air and Light and Time and Space: How Successful Academics Write). The review started by asking how my writing was going and then asked if I wanted to reflect on my behavioral, artisanal, social, and emotional writing habits. To do so only required me to answer four questions to discover my profile.

I feel extremely time-poor at the moment but I was reading the post on my phone while waiting for the temperamental photocopier in my department, so I needed no time at all to decide to click on the link and take the quiz. (Do you want to take it too? It’s here and it’s really cool. I’ll wait!)

My first result was The Axe Head. Then I decided to take the quiz again, giving myself a lower score for the B (behavioral habits) because while my writing habits have been fairly good for the last six weeks, before that they were dreadful, and they’re still pretty dreadful for any writing that isn’t related to my research.

Changing that one variable gave me The Mountain instead.

The really interesting thing was when I looked up the other profiles. That page also lists the relative frequency of each profile. It turns out that The Mountain is the second most common (after The Pebble, which is the profile where you identify as unhappy with every single one of your writing habits, which says something about how academics tend to feel about their writing).

The Axe Head was one of the rarest.

It didn’t take me too long to figure out why that probably is- to get the Axe Head you have to score yourself highly in artisanal and behavioural habits, but low in social and emotional habits. Leaving aside the social habits variable, this profile means that you think you are a good writer, and you are a productive writer, but you feel stressed and anxious when you write rather than joyful. It strikes me that it must be hard to feel consistently negative about your writing if you are doing a lot of it and you think you are good at it. Writing begets more writing, and the more you write the easier it becomes to write. That has to improve your emotional outlook.

I’m also not remotely surprised that The Mountain is so common. That’s the profile of people who give themselves a high score in the artisanal category but low scores everywhere else (i.e., people who believe they are good writers but don’t make the time to write, don’t have support, and associate negative emotions with their writing). Knowing that you are a good writer but not writing definitely brings on negative emotions, at least in my experience.

The site also points out that “your Writing BASE may change its dimensions from day to day, from project to project, and even from one type of writing to another”, which aligns with my current profile- an Axe Head for my academic writing and a Mountain for everything else.

For me the next step is obvious: more writing, both academic and otherwise. I know from experience that when I am writing regularly and fluently I do experience enormous joy.

Next up- The Lone Wolf!

Did you discover your BASE too? Tell me your profile in the comments, and whether or not you found this as interesting as I did.

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Filed under Books, Life after the PhD, Writing

Accountability- September

Today is my last day of work for September, my last day of work in my first month back from maternity leave.

What have I accomplished?

  • I have written just shy of 8,000 words of the first draft of a chapter for the edited volume which Q. and I are editing. The chapter is meant to be no more than 10,000. I will be over this in the first draft, but I am not worrying about that at this point.
  • I have entered all of my evidence into my giant spreadsheet, which means I no longer have a million post-it notes in several books, left over from the reading I was able to do in the spring. I’ve also read a few more authors and have added their evidence too. I am not finished collecting evidence, but I’m far enough along with the project that my argument is clear and it makes sense to write at the same time as I read.
  • I have read and provided feedback on some of the other chapter drafts for the edited volume (although not as many as I feel I should have, since our co-editors aren’t doing their work and the lion’s share has landed squarely on Q’s shoulders).
  • I am 25% of the way through the fall semester of my class. I have taught the second half of this class before, but the first semester is new to me, so there is a lot of prep work. I am enjoying the teaching and my anxiety about teaching has largely dissipated now that I have a connection with the students. (I am a very good teacher but I always feel sick before teaching a class, especially in the first couple of weeks. I think it’s a form of performance anxiety. I’m so introverted that even though I genuinely love teaching I have to consciously prepare myself to do it.)
  • I have managed a daily (almost) writing practice on work days. Four days a week, I sit down first thing in the morning with my laptop and write for ninety minutes (or two hours if it is going well). The morning is my most productive time by far and I have fiercely protected my writing time from teaching prep, marking, reading, email, life admin, etc. I have always been an academic writer who think and thinks and thinks and then writes and writes and writes. I wrote my dissertation by not writing for weeks or months at a time and then writing 1,000 words a day (or more) for a few weeks when it was time to produce another chapter. This wasn’t a form of procrastination- it was just how I operated. I thought about my ideas for so long that when it was time to write them up the first draft needed very little to be changed. It worked well with the dissertation, where probably 85% of the finished product is identical to what I first drafted, but it meant I hit a hard wall when it came time to think about making revisions for the book. Admittedly, with this current chapter, I have been thinking about it for months, but I can certainly see a difference in the way that I’m writing. My hope goal is that when I get the draft finished I will be able to just start tinkering with editing the book manuscript, since I will have established writing and rewriting as part of the daily routine. I love to write and hate to edit. I’m trying to change that as it’s become abundantly clear to me that I will never publish if I don’t.
  • I have found places I like to work, particularly a little room on the second floor of one of the smaller libraries of the university that is not mine (but at which I have borrowing privileges).
  • I have completed the first three weeks of the C25K running program (and started week four this morning). That is the most consistent running I have managed since I last completed the C25K program, right before our final FET in the fall of 2014. I have run three days a week every week for three weeks. That should make a habit.
  • I have read five books for fun and am well advanced on a sixth. That is the most books I have read in a month since December 2015.
  • I have mostly stayed on top of our life admin. I have figured out how to pay our nanny; booked a cottage holiday for Thanksgiving; ordered hot lunches for E. at school and signed both children up for activities (swimming lessons and an after school science class for E., music with her nanny for P.); read emails and (mostly) answered them; had my eyebrows waxed and my bangs/fringe trimmed; visited the dentist (twice in two weeks since I am someone who needs to go every three months and I hadn’t been in nine).
  • I went out for lunch with Q., the first of our monthly lunch dates that Q. packed into my tin lunch box on our tenth anniversary, even though we didn’t actually go to the restaurant he had planned as it was so unseasonably warm I insisted we find a patio. I went out for lunch on two other occasions with dear friends whom I never get to see often enough.
  • I ended my work day early once to go and sit in a cafe and drink tea and eat cake and read a book. It was so lovely I had to promise myself I would only do this once a month.

There are still things I am working on. I haven’t quite figured out the best way to use my time in the afternoons when I am tired from the writing and the reading and the deep work but it’s still too early to pack it in for the day. I haven’t solved the problem of how to get up from my desk frequently during the day, particularly since I have to bring my laptop, phone, and wallet with me wherever I go. My original plan was to walk over at lunch time from the small library to the big library, but it turns out I don’t like working in the big library all that much.

I do not feel like I am being a good mother, at least not to the standards to which I hold myself. I am not getting enough sleep because P. is up more than she should be at night and she gets so angry and sad when Q. goes in to try to settle her that it is just easier for me to go in instead and give her the cuddle and the milk that she wants. I am sure I would be better at managing this if I were home more during the day and did not feel as guilty. I am convinced she wakes up because she is missing that connection with me, but it is probably teeth or developmental or habit.

I am not as patient with E. as I would like to be, which is a constant battle made worse by the fact that I feel like I should have so much more patience for him since I now see him less. I have a lot of patience, but there are many days where it is not enough.

I do not always manage to have a real conversation with Q. rather than one about logistics and timings and schedules and house needs and kids needs. This morning I volunteered to take E. to school since I was going to be ready to go at about that time anyway, and then E. took a very long time to brush his teeth so I ended up bundling him out the door and forgot that I hadn’t said a proper goodbye to Q. or given him a kiss.

I still think Q. is doing too much of the housework, but every time I suggest an alternative he restates his position that he thinks it makes sense to just get it all done in one morning. He certainly is doing too much of the cooking, but I have to admit that the nights when I need to cook from scratch are frantic and stressful as it turns out there are very few meals you can cook from scratch with a toddler on your hip who is usually trying to nurse. My idea of “easy weeknight dinners” is not the same as Q.’s, so if he wants to do most of the prep on the weekends, I think I should just gracefully accept.

I am still not sure this is what I want, but I do like having the time and space to think about my research and I can see how difficult it would be to build momentum if I had any less time in which to do that. It’s also extremely difficult for me to rationalize taking any time for myself if I’m working less than four days a week, as I feel that if I’m not with the kids I need to be working, especially if Q. is at home with them.

I am still taking it one day at a time, but, on balance, I think this month has gone well.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Blink and you'll miss it, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Choose Happiness, Life after the PhD, My addled brain, Nursing, Sleep, Who am I really? (Career Angst), Writing

On sleep, work, the baby, and balance (or haven’t I been here before?)

I find myself reminded on a daily basis that sleep deprivation is a form of torture.

I am functioning, but only just. It isn’t even that P’s sleep is all that dreadful, more that she’s up twice every night so the sleep I do get is always fragmented into three blocks, compounded by her for the last week or so getting up for the day before 6 a.m.

Every morning I find the last line from Samuel Beckett’s novel, The Unnamable rolling round and round in my head (“I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”)

I can remember being in a very similar stage at a very similar point during E’s infancy (I wrote about it here). The situation wasn’t identical, of course, but it was eerily familiar: I had a baby who was waking up to nurse twice a night, guaranteeing I couldn’t get a block of sleep longer than four hours, and I had a looming academic deadline. In E’s infancy it was the first chapter of my dissertation. This time around it’s the first draft of the book chapter for an edited volume.

We’re running a workshop for the volume in mid-July and all contributors are meant to have the first draft of their chapter available for circulation by the end of May. Given I’m one of the editors (and Q. is another- the book project is really his baby), there wouldn’t be serious consequences were I to miss that deadline. But that’s certainly not ideal.

When we first organized the workshop and mapped out the deadlines, I can remember thinking (this was before P. was born), “No problem. I’ll start reading and collecting sources in March and then I can write the chapter in May.”

I didn’t seriously believe, you see, that I could end up with TWO babies who would get up twice a night to nurse in the second half of their first year. Surely, I thought, by the time P was eight or nine months old she’d be sleeping better than E was. And then she was such a good sleeper for her first two months that she lulled me into thinking she’d be an easy baby.

Ha.

So here I am, with an academic deadline and a brain that feels like mush, and what really gets me is the whole thing is just so.damn.familiar.

Last time around, when I was assessing the impact of my long-term sleep deprivation, I noticed this:

I’m breaking things.

In the last month, I’ve smashed at least four things in the kitchen- a glass, a port glass, a plate, a bowl. I don’t think I’d broken four things, total, in the previous ten years. They were dumb accidents too- I’d reach for something on the counter and knock something else over instead, or I’d pick something up and drop it on something else. They were dumb enough that each time I remember standing there amidst the shards of glass or pottery, thinking, Really? I just did that?

Yep. I’ve started dropping things or being unable to properly hold them when I go to pick them up. It’s like I’m losing my hand-eye coordination.

And there was this:

I forget things.

I forget everything now, if it isn’t written down, and half the time I still forget it even if it is recorded somewhere. Given I’ve always been the memory of this family (Q. being a very clever man but a very absent-minded professor), this is quite disturbing. It makes me feel weak.

Yep. I forget appointments, plans, ideas, even words. A normal conversation in our house now looks like this:

Q. (wrestling with tangled cables): “We should set up a charging station for the mobile phones.”
Me: “Yes! I want to get one of those…things.” *gestures helplessly* “You know! The things with all the things that you can plug in.”
Q.: “A power bar.”
Me: “Yes! Fuck. I want a power bar for my desk downstairs so I can have a charging station for the iPad and my phone and my laptop.”

I have these kinds of conversations with E. all the time. My FIVE YEAR OLD fills in my vocabulary gap when I can’t remember challenging words like “gate”, “streetcar”, or “upstairs” (these are all real examples).

I invited some of E’s friends and their parents to come on a nature walk with us a couple of weekends ago and got the start time wrong. Luckily it was a beautiful day and the family who came didn’t mind being there thirty minutes early, but still.

I had to take P’s passport application in twice because the first time I went to submit it the nice lady behind the desk had to tell me that not only had I forgotten to sign it (which was easily rectified right there in the office), but I had neglected to get Q. to sign it as well (which was not).

I cannot emphasize enough how NOT LIKE ME these types of things are.

My sense of my innermost self is built on a foundation of BEING ORGANIZED.

I am the one who is always on time for everything. Always. Even with two kids.

I remember appointments.

I fill out forms correctly.

If Q. is the absent-minded professor in our family, I am the steel trap memory.

I know the sleep deprivation is temporary- E has taught me that much.

But its effect is enormously difficult for me to cope with, not just because it makes me bleary and fuzzy and short-tempered each day, not just because it means I cannot imagine how I am going to maintain the needed focus to do the research for this book chapter, let alone actually write the thing, but because it fundamentally erodes a not insignificant part of who I believe myself to be.

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Filed under Life after the PhD, My addled brain, Nursing, P.- the first year, Sleep, Writing

Microblog Mondays: (Un?)Welcome Memories

Microblog_MondaysI started a five year journal (this one) in May 2014 (on E’s third birthday). I knew I wouldn’t be able to manage the pressure of a “full” diary (I’ve tried multiple times and, except for travel diaries, always get bogged down after a few weeks), but I also knew I wanted something a bit more quotidian than this blog or the notebook where I write down E’s milestones and witty sayings.

This particular journal was perfect- even if I miss a day or two (or a week, as has happened), I am always able to go back and reconstruct what happened in enough detail for an entry.

I don’t have a single blank day. And, for close to two years, the journal entries are a mix of notes about E., my PhD, places we went, things we did, dinners we ate, books I read, etc. Just ordinary days in an ordinary life.

I didn’t know, of course, that 2016 was going to happen.

Here’s the thing: my journal preserves memories that I wouldn’t otherwise have. I usually reread the entries for that particular day from previous years and there have been many occasions where the entry has triggered a flood of memories about a day or an event that up until that moment I would have said I’d forgotten about completely.

So I don’t know that I would remember that particular sliding outing at E’s school with my Dad, or that lunch with my stepfather on the patio with the waitress who messed up all of our orders without the prompt of the journal entry.

The entries are nothing special. I didn’t know, of course, that those visits would turn out to be the last visits. I thought we had years left.

There is a stark contrast in the journal between the entries I made before my father’s accident and those that come afterwards. Rereading is physically painful. I don’t recognize the woman who made the entries in 2014 and 2015 or the life that she was living.

I’m hoping that one day I’ll be glad to have those ordinary visits preserved in more than just my memory.

Right now I feel like I never want to touch this journal again once it’s full.

Would you want the memories of those last ordinary days, or would it hurt too much to be reminded of what you had lost?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under Family, Grief, Loss, Microblog Mondays, Writing

Burn Me to Ashes

I am a bad writer.

Not,  I hasten to add, when it comes to getting words down on paper or, as is more likely to be the case, the screen. Sometimes I even put them down in combinations that look elegant and clever. My supervisor has always praised the clarity of my writing (an all too rare thing in academia).

No, I am a bad writer because the thing I hate to do, more than almost anything else in the world, is edit my own work.

When Q. writes, he is water on stone. He isn’t fast, and he isn’t pretty, but he is inexorable, unyielding, merciless. If Q. has an hour free in his day, he will go and write 150 painstaking, thoughtful, deliberate words. Q. quite likes the editing process. He writes and rewrites and fiddles until at last he is satisfied. When I edit his work (for I edit all of his work), there is always evidence of this tinkering, sentences where Q. thought about two ways to construct his idea and didn’t quite manage to erase all traces of the one he chose not to do. Q. misses those errors when he proof reads his own work because his eye sees the sentence he decided to write and skips over the remnants of the one he discarded.

When I write, I am fire.

An idea will simmer and slowly burn within, like hot coals. I will mull on it, chew on it, dream on it, until at last it explodes inside me, a roaring conflagration that demands I put my fingers to the keyboard (usually because the deadline for when the piece of work is due has drawn so near I can no longer ignore it). When I write, I burn. I hollow myself out. On a good day I write 1000 words in an hour. When I was writing the first draft of each chapter of the dissertation, once I actually started writing (and wasn’t just thinking about writing) I set myself the goal of 1500 words each day. Usually I’d reach that goal by 10 or so in the morning and I’d either keep writing if I was in the middle of something or I’d stop and go back to reading and researching. Some days I wrote 3500 or 4000 words- good words, quality words, words that are still there in my thesis.

I write blog posts (the only thing I’ve written in the last six years that wasn’t coursework essays or conference presentations or scholarship applications or dissertation chapters) in much the same way. An idea will float around in my head for a week or two (or more). When I finally sit down at the computer, I usually produce it in one sitting because I’ve already written almost all of it in my head. I read it over, tinker a little bit, and hit publish. I have never sat on a draft of a post for weeks at a time. I have never rewritten one over and over again. I either write the post, or I don’t.

When I am writing well, it feels like flying.

And when the draft is finished, and I have to turn back to the beginning, I fall to earth.

When I was doing my Master’s degree, at a university in the UK with enormous snob appeal, I did a course in my first term where the professor had me write a 2500-3000 word essay every week. Every week he’d give me a reading list of around 30 books, and every week I’d read as much as I could and then cry in my room until I had no time left and I HAD to sit down at the computer and write. And every week I’d write it, and then I would drop it off in his mailbox and go and have fun that night because I was free of it, and then two days later we’d meet in his office for a couple of hours and he would tell me everything that was wrong with it and then give me a new topic and a new reading list and I would go back to my room and cry for a while and then I would go back to the library and get the books on the new reading list and start again.

Every week.

It was absolute torture and a terrible blow to my self-esteem (because I had been the darling of my undergraduate department and I had won this huge scholarship to go to this fancy university and now I felt like I was being told how stupid I was on a weekly basis), but it had an unexpected benefit.

That professor taught me to do it right the first time.

In my undergraduate days, I was a tinkerer. I would finish essays two weeks before they were due, just so I could leave them alone for a week and then look at them again.

I didn’t have that luxury with him.

That course made me a better writer. It made me more decisive. It taught me to cut to the heart of a matter. It taught me to write clear, faultless prose the first time out.

Most of all, it taught me not to be afraid of dumping words, hundreds of words, onto the blank screen. The way I wrote those essays- a sharp, concentrated burst of writing- was largely the way I then wrote my Master’s thesis a year later and the way I have written my doctoral dissertation, just on a much, much larger scale.

It’s not that I don’t edit my work. Of course I do. The first draft of every single one of my chapters of my dissertation was filled with notes in bold to myself. I revised every chapter before I sent it to my supervisor. I revised the entire thesis before I sent him the full draft. I revised the thesis again in light of his comments before I sent it to the committee, and I am revising it yet again right now before it is sent to the external examiner.

I have added content, clarified the argument, made reference to more scholarship, updated translations. I have moved large sections of text from one chapter to another as the thesis drew closer to completion and the order of the argument became more apparent.

I have only very rarely touched the prose.

Vast, vast swathes of the thesis stand pretty much exactly as they looked when I frantically hurled them onto the screen while composing that first, very rough draft.

Every time I wrote a first draft I thought it was garbage.

It’s not garbage, though. It never is.

And now I really am in the endgame, and I’m at the point where I can and should edit the thesis not for content, but for style and presentation and order of argument. One of my committee members is not in my field and she has made some very detailed and helpful suggestions for changes I could make that would make the thesis more accessible to historians who don’t specialize in my era.

They are very good suggestions.

They would require me to read the thesis, in its entirety, very carefully.

I would rather do anything right now than do that.

The problem with fire is it burns out.

Every time I reach the final stage of the writing process, the point where I should take a good hard look at my prose and take the time to make changes and rewrite sentences, I find I am so heartily sick of reading it that I just can’t be bothered. I read it one last time to make sure I haven’t missed any glaring grammatical errors, and then I hand it in.

I am unbelievably sick of my dissertation right now. I hadn’t touched it since I sent it to the committee in mid-June, and as soon as I picked it up again last week all the loathing and frustration and boredom sprang back up as though they had never left. Reading it makes me physically ill.

I am done with it. SO done with it. I want nothing more than to do the last few content suggestions my committee members have given me and call it finished.

But if I want to call myself a writer, if I want to really be a writer, if I am serious about tackling one of the books that is in my head during this year at home, I have to learn how to edit my work.

I have to make those changes suggested to me by the committee member outside my field.

I have to find a way to not burn out.

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Filed under Blogging, Life after the PhD, PhD, Writing

Cultivating Stillness

So we are officially one week into the autumn semester here.

One week since Q. started teaching again.

One week since I did not, for the first time since we moved to this city seven years ago (except for the year I was still on leave after E. was born).

One week since I have, officially, become a SAHM.

And I am, not to put too fine a point on it, going absolutely fucking crazy.

Not with E. It’s got nothing to do with E. Right now we’re having a good time together. There are no tears at nursery school drop offs, because he knows I’m picking him up right after lunch. We potter around the neighbourhood.  We bake. We clean the house. We weed the garden. We spend part of every day building a couch train (where we take all the cushions off the couches and put them on the floor in a very particular order that is known ONLY to E. and tears ensue when I, or the stuffed animals helping us, invariably get it wrong). We read books (currently he is big into Amelia Bed.elia Goes Wild). We play alphabet Go Fish (and I regularly lose to his favourite stuffed animal, which is both amusing and somewhat humiliating at the same time). I successfully signed him up for swimming lessons (making sure to be logged in to my computer at the exact moment registration opened in order to grab our most-wanted spot), which will start at the end of the month.

It’s not E.

It’s me.

I am losing my mind because the future is stretching out in front of me, all nebulous and uncertain and I DON’T HAVE A PLAN.

I don’t do well without plans. (Understatement of the century, right there.)

I knew when I started the PhD I probably wouldn’t get a tenure-stream position. Being unable to move to take up a job elsewhere makes that highly unlikely, even before the job market tanked. By the time I was in the throes of writing up the dissertation, I knew I didn’t want a tenure-stream position, even if one existed. I didn’t have the drive for it. I wasn’t willing to work the hours it required. There was no room in our household for two career-stream academics if we were going to actually parent our son ourselves.

But I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I wouldn’t get contract teaching. Even if it was only one course at first, or just a few tutorials, I always assumed I would get my foot in the door. The pay wouldn’t be much, but my time would be flexible, I’d still be teaching, and I’d stay bound to the academic year. I could be at home with E. in the summers.

And then this academic year started, and I don’t have teaching, not one little bit, and my foot’s not in the door.

I’m supposed to be embracing this year at home.

I am supposed to be viewing it as “a golden opportunity to spend one more year with my son, who is probably going to be our one and only, before he goes off to kindergarten and his teachers see more of his life than we do” rather than “an indictment of failure because you just spent six years on a PhD and for what- if you’d just stuck with contract teaching you’d be entrenched in the courses by now and no one could get rid of you even though you wouldn’t be properly qualified”.

Oh yes, I haven’t actually FINISHED the PhD yet. I’m supposed to be doing revisions right now (more on that in another post).

So it is maybe premature to consider the PhD a waste of time when I haven’t even finished it yet.

We are a week into our new routine, and already I am catching myself trying to make up a new plan. At night, during E.’s quiet time, even when he is at nursery school and I should be working on the dissertation, I find myself surfing websites. My inner monologue goes something like this:

Ok, so we could transfer over your teaching qualifications from Australia. Then you could teach high school here. But there aren’t any jobs in teaching right now! Well, no, but you could send out your CV to some of the private schools- the ones that teach Latin and would like that you’ve coached rowing- and just see if they bite. But teaching high school in Australia stressed me out. It’s not family friendly- not during the year. I wouldn’t be able to do pick ups or drop offs for E. at school.

Ok, so what about university administration? There’s a job for a grant writer/editor at the big university downtown. They want a PhD in their minimum qualifications. You could be good at something like that. You could do well with something like that. You’re not actually qualified for that job, but if you get your foot in the door with a university, you can always move sideways into another position. Yes, but can I do an office job? Can I do nine to five? What if the job doesn’t come home with you? Wouldn’t that be a nice change? But what about the summers?

Ok, what about libraries? You love books. There are lots of interesting things to do in a library. Yes, but they want a degree in Library or Information Science. Great idea! More school! Let’s put off the decision making! Are you serious? Do you really think Q. would agreed to that? Yes, yes he would. If you said, “Hey Q., I know I just spent six years working on my PhD and I’ve been a student for nine of the twelve years we’ve been together, but I think what would really make me most happy would be to go back and do another two years getting another degree”, you know that Q. would agree. He wants most of all for you to be happy. He’s not the selfish one in this marriage. But that’s not fair to him. And it’s not making a decision, it’s just deferring it. You’d be hiding your fears in another degree program.

Right. So what about freelance writing/editing and working from home? You’re available for E. and you can do your own writing too. TOO SCARY. DON’T MENTION IT. WHAT IF I FAIL?

Well, LOOK. We need to come to some sort of decision here. This is your future and the future of your family we’re talking about. What do you want to do? PANIC STATIONS!

And round and round I go, over and over for hours and hours.

Today, I am saying only this:

Stop, Turia. Just stop.

I don’t NEED a plan right now.

I can’t make a plan right now.

I can’t even begin to try to imagine what the rest of my life will look like because a) I haven’t finished the PhD yet and I need to spend my time making sure my thesis is ready to defend when we finally settle on an examiner and a date, and b) we don’t yet know that E. will be an only. I’m 95% convinced that he will be, but I can’t make plans based on the assumption that we are really, truly, done with trying until we do the last FET.

So today I am telling myself to let go of the need for a plan. I am telling myself to cultivate stillness. I am telling myself to wait, wait at least until the new year, when the thesis will be done and the FET will have happened, before I make any decisions about the future.

And I am also telling myself to be gentle. I am reminding myself that I don’t have to figure it out all at once. What E. needs from me as his mother in the next couple of years as he starts full-time formal schooling is not necessarily what he will need from me when he is eight, or ten, or fifteen.

I am trying to train myself to imagine other possibilities. Q. and I were both raised by mothers who were at home with us for much of our childhood, who then went on to become teachers. Our mothers were always around in the summers. It is exceedingly difficult for me to imagine a life where that is not the case for E., a life where I work in an office and we have two weeks together in July or August. There would be good things in that life too. Maybe E. would get to go away to camp when he was older, something my sisters and I never did because our mother was always at home. Maybe E. wouldn’t spend hours marooned at school waiting for his mother to finish her work devoted to other people’s children so she could come and pick him up, like we did. Maybe E. would have a mother who could come to some of his assemblies and come on school trips and do all of the things during school hours that parents who are also teachers are never able to do.

My mother stayed at home until I was ten (the advantage of being the eldest). But when I was ten and she went back to work, she was only a year older than I am now. I don’t want to be a SAHM mum long-term. It wouldn’t be good for me mentally. I’m already struggling enormously with the idea of going without an income for the year, even though Q. makes a good wage and we will be ok. We won’t be putting much away for later, but we’ll be ok. But we’ll have to think about money a lot more than we have in the last few years, and we’ll have to be much more careful with it, and I’m realizing just how important it is to both of us and to our marriage that we don’t usually have to be super careful.

I’m really lucky, I know that. I am incredibly privileged that I can have this year at home with my son, that my husband fully supports me being at home, that he makes a good enough wage that we can manage with me at home without doing more than tightening our belts a little. I am (relatively) young still, and healthy, and I will have a PhD before the year is done, and I have the chance to choose, really choose, what I most want to do with my life.

Right now, though, I don’t feel lucky.

I feel adrift.

And trying to embrace the NOT KNOWING is proving to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Blink and you'll miss it, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Life after the PhD, Money Matters, PhD, Writing

Crossroads

This is my 500th post on this blog.

It seems appropriate to hit such a milestone at this point.

I turned thirty-five this summer.

My thirties thus far have been almost entirely devoted to achieving two things:

1. Motherhood

2. A PhD

The quest for both started in my late twenties- I was twenty-eight when I started at the clinic, twenty-nine when I started the PhD- but it’s safe to say that my thirties have been dominated by these two very different goals.

My blog has been there for almost every step of the ride. When I started it, in March 2008, I had just started at the clinic and I was in the second semester of my doctorate. I’ve turned to my blog in good times and (especially) in bad. I’ve documented wherever the roads to both became bumpy (and boy did they get bumpy at times).

Now I’m at a crossroads.

By the end of 2014, I should have the PhD in hand. I have a complete draft that has been revised. My supervisor and two of my three committee members like it (the third is being frustratingly slow to read it). I’ve had two and a half months free of it, and I think now I can stand to look at it again and start to make this final round of revisions before the defence. There have been many, many times along the way where I didn’t think it would happen, but I know now I will finish. And some days I even think it will all have been worth it.

I did become a mother, something for which I am grateful each and every day, even though that made attaining the PhD ever more difficult. And by the end of 2014 we will likely know whether our family is complete as it now stands, or whether we might yet welcome one more member.

Regardless of what happens with that final FET, the second half of my thirties is not going to have the same focal points as the first.

I will not be trying to expand my family.

I will (probably) not be in academia.

I don’t know what the next 500 posts will bring, but I believe that my blog will still be here, that I will still be writing in this space when I turn forty. I wonder if I will be as surprised by the next five years as I have been by the last five.

This year, the last before E. goes to school, my unexpected extra year at home, is my opportunity to put aside the stress and the panic and the constant deadlines of the PhD and to sit, really sit with myself and examine what I want out of my life, and what my family needs from me.

I have the chance now to find the new focus for my life.

I have the responsibility now to figure out just what I’m going to do now that there is no question that I have grown up.

It should be a bold new world.

I’m scared shitless.

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Filed under Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Family, Life after the PhD, Money Matters, My addled brain, PhD, Writing