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In My Head: I have to do better than this. My poor readers….

In The Cup: English Breakfast tea with almond milk, sugar, and a cinnamon stick. Num!

Currently Playing: My favorite writing playlist!

Daily Run: 35 minutes: 14 @ 5.5 MPH, 6 @ 6.5 MPH, 8 @ 7.2 MPH, 2 minutes cooldown @ 4.0 MPH

On the Desk: Drafting for my Kalamazoo paper and my seminar paper on the Body; Merrin Born revisions

On the DVR: Grey’s Anatomy and Glee from last week; The Hobbit

On the Nightstand: The Dragon and the Unicorn, by A.A. Attanasio, The Enchanter, by Sara Douglass, La Perdida, by Jessica Abel, John Algeo & Thomas Pyles, The Origin and Development of the English Language, Umberto Eco & Jean-Claude Carriere, This Is Not The End of the Book, Hilary Mantel, Bring Up The Bodies, Carol Lee Flinders, At the Roots of this Longing, Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass, Erica Fudge, Ruth Gilbert & Susan Wiseman, At the Borders of the Human & David R. Shumway & Craig Dionne, Disciplining English.  (YES, this is why I haven’t posted in a while…!)

Papers Graded: 2

BPAL of the Day: Blood Lotus. YUM!

Sadly, my dears, I have been stupidly busy for the past few weeks and I have left you hanging. My readership stats are way down, and who can blame you? All you’ve had to tide you over is my archived posties, and while some of them are actually pretty entertaining, many of you have already READ THEM ALL. What are you supposed to do, REread them all waiting for me to post new content? (well, you could...!) Or, alternately, I could get my butt in gear and post new content for you. Which is my goal today.

So first, an update: what have I been DOING? Well, the short answer is, too much. Last weekend, we went to the North Carolina museum of fine arts to see the beautiful medieval English alabasters on loan there from the Victoria and Albert Museum. These are stunning pieces. My favorite was the Harrowing of Hell:

http://www.asiexhibitions.org/gallery/94716.jpg

For those who don’t know, the Harrowing of Hell is the Old/Middle English term for Christ’s triumphant descent into the underground, when he brings up all the just, but not damned, souls and gives them salvation. It’s traditionally placed between the Crucifixion and Resurrection. This piece is wonderful in particular because you have that fabulous hellmouth to the right, and then on top of it, in the upper right-hand corner, you have the wonderful monkey blowing the horn as Christ leads the souls, beginning with Adam and Eve, out of the mouth of hell. I love it because with that hellmouth and the fun little monkey, it is clearly inspired by a manuscript illustration. So fun!

Anyway, before going to the museum, I had a doctor’s appointment. This is the real reason I haven’t been posting. I’ve been kind of freaking out about the annual check up coming up (those of us who have had cancer tend to get antsy about those annuals.) In my case, it’s doubly stressful this year because I have to find a new oncologist, since we moved. I loved my old one so much, and I have so many concerns and anxieties over it all — what if I don’t find one I like as well? What if the new one misses something? Worse — what if the new one finds something? What if s/he isn’t as invested in me as my old one was? Can I expect that, even? So, that’s been keeping me mightily preoccupied. I try not to let it consume me, but honestly — it’s nearly impossible not to dwell, at least until you’re holding the “all clear” lab reports in your hand.

And I’ve been really exhausted lately. Just tired, with no really good reason for it. Admittedly, I’ve slid a bit in the health and nutrition departments, staying up far too late in the night to read for classes, eating too many sugary foods, drinking too much caffeine, not running as much — but it was starting to feel like a major effort every time I laced up my shoes to run, and I was finding excuses to bail on my runs. Then, I was also taking naps. Long ones, all afternoon. And going to bed early. And worst of all, I’ve been sitting on my manuscript and not getting down to revisions, even though I want to, because it’s just too much effort. None of this has been very helpful — it got me wondering: what if there’s an underlying medical condition that’s making me feel this tired? Which, of course, got me to thinking about the Big C again. Which DH assured me was NOT the case — you just need to sleep more, eat better, work less, cut down on the all-day coffee drinking, he said. SEVERAL times, actually, and with varying degrees of exasperation. But really — that couldn’t possibly be all of it, could it? I was dreading learning the truth…clearly, there had to be something REALLY wrong with me, for me to be so tired and unmotivated. Or, maybe I’m just getting old (I do have a birthday next week, after all, and while I’m not moving into the next decade yet, it’s not by much!) But, finally, when I realized I wasn’t going to feel less tired if I didn’t try to be proactive about it, I took a deep breath and called the student health center. And spent the next 24 hours freaking out about what they might find when I went in.

Don’t worry, the story picks up from here!

Long story short, they did a full work up, and it turns out that I have “I’m-a-grad-student-itis.” I’m not sleeping enough, I’m eating junk, I’m not exercising enough, and I’m drinking too much caffeine.

Yes, I paid them for that diagnosis. And when I came home, my husband had a lovely I-told-you-so moment, which is rare enough that I let him savor it without bothering to stick up for myself. Because sometimes, we owe our significant others that moment.

But there actually is more to it. I had lunch with my advisor, and we talked about my doctor’s visit and my health concerns, and I explained about being so tired, and looking at books or my writing and thinking “I really want to, but I just don’t wanna…” And she told me that this is pretty much par for the course for doctoral candidates. That yes, I got my MA and I was working full time and I’ve always been really busy and over-committed, and yes, I’m super-committed to my work and hyper-enthusiastic about it and I’m loving every minute of grad school, but that the kind of thinking, the kind of mental work I’m doing now, is a different level. That in its own way, it’s as exhausting to think and reason the way we are asked to do it as it is to train for a race.

In other words — I’m supposed to be this tired, and it means I’m doing it right.

Who knew?

Anyhow, I let everything fall to the wayside last week and focused just on wrapping my mind around that new reality, that new way of considering the work I’m doing. I focused on the reading and thinking I was doing, so I could feel how my energy was being used- and you know what? My advisor is right. When you are working at the level of concentration it takes to really dig into theory and use it, it actually is physically draining in a very tangible, real way that I hadn’t really noticed before. Have you ever played video games that show your character’s life force as a horizontal bar, so you can see when your energy is being drained? I play Skyrim, and honestly, that’s what it reminded me of — when I focused on it, I actually could feel my stamina sapping the same way my character’s stamina saps when I’m over-exerting in pursuit of some goal. Well, in Skyrim, I can increase my stamina each time I level up, which isn’t as easy in real time.

So, the answer becomes — how do I build more stamina? I’ve been researching that over the past week. In addition to the obvious — which is that the more you do something, the better you get at it and the easier it is — the answer is, you do the things I have let fall by the wayside: you get enough rest, you exercise, you eat right. The same lifestyle that keeps you physically healthy, is the one that is optimal for keeping you mentally healthy as well.

That should probably be very obvious, but I don’t think it necessarily is. People in graduate school abuse their bodies terribly, on the average — they get poor sleep and not enough of it; they grab fast food because they’re always rushing to the library, the lab, the meeting, the workshop, the class; they down massive amounts of caffeine to fuel this insane pace — and then, they complain bitterly about how burned out, tired, stressed they are; how hard grad school is; how they always feel like they’re not doing enough. No matter what you have accomplished, there’s always another book/article/study you should be reading, another thing to be writing, something else you should be doing in your quest to earn the PhD. And it seems I fell into this trap, myself.

Whoopsie-daisy.

The thing is, it’s still going to be 4 (5?) years to degree, whether you take the time to make and eat the salad instead of going through the Wendy’s drive-thru again; whether you take the yoga class instead of reading one more article this afternoon; whether you go for a 2-mile run 5 days a week or spend that time trying to cram another couple of readings under your belt. The question is: what do you want those years to look like, how do you want to feel during that time, and how do you want to look and feel at the end of it?

I want to be the very best version of myself that I can be, mentally, physically, and emotionally. I think it is therefore in my best interests to “make haste slowly” — to take better care of my body, so my mind has a healthy environment to grow in. To take better care of mind, so I don’t lose it!

To that end, I have pledged to do better by myself — to give myself permission to rest when I’m tired, to eat good foods, to exercise even with looming deadlines. I don’t think, in the end, the twenty minutes it takes to run a couple of miles is going to make or break a seminar paper’s getting done — I think we just trick our minds into believing that sort of thing — oh, I don’t have time, I have to…. It’s not just an excuse or a justification, it’s a cop-out. We don’t want to expend the energy it would take, so we just don’t. But, as I am learning now, if you don’t train your body and mind, you don’t build the energy and strength you need in order to get better, to be able to do more. In other words — it has to be harder, before it gets easier.

Who knew grad school was going to be such an eye-opener to the importance of maintaining healthy lifestyle choices, when I already thought my eyes had been opened?

And after all of that, you’re probably expecting a healthy recipe… but, you know, sometimes we need to just put something incredibly yummy and decadent in our mouths, right? So I’m sharing with you my new all-time favorite banana bread recipe. Trust me — make two loaves at a time: one for you, and one for your family/friends/whoever else, because you will not want to share!

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup white sugar

1 large egg

3 ripe bananas, mashed

1 – 1.5 cup butterscotch chips

Directions

  1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease 2 9×5-inch loaf pans. Set aside. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a bowl. Set aside.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer in a large bowl until light and fluffy. The mixture should be noticeably lighter in color. Beat in the egg, then stir in the mashed bananas. Pour in the flour mixture, mixing until just incorporated. Fold in the butterscotch chips and walnuts; mixing just enough to evenly combine. Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 25 to 28 minutes. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack.

Original recipe appears on allrecipes.com

And NOW, without further ado, your six sentences. This comes from the center portion of the story, when Merrin is in the wilderness learning to be herself instead of a girl like the other girls. As always, I’m glad of your comments, suggestions, and critiques!

***********************

You would think that being in the woods day in and day out, every day would be the same as the day before. But I found that each day brought with it  new beauties to consider, new fears to confront, and new challenges to conquer. I even grew to like being by myself in this world, as I learned to navigate it. Except at night. The nights were interminable, and terrifying, and even when sleep did come, it was shallow and restless. I woke abruptly each morning with the sense that I had dreamed terrible and beautiful things, but could never remember what it was I had seen.

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