30ish

Tomorrow is my 30th birthday, and as one is wont to do on the eve of milestone dates, I’ve been thinking a lot the past.  I imagine that most people make a lot of stupid mistakes in their 20s. There’s a lot of fumbling around, and perhaps a quarterlife crisis or two, though I really hate that term.  My 20s were no different, which is one reason I have no problem with the new digit at the front of my age.  Many of my friends have already turned 30 and seem no less awesome than when they were in their 20s, and I see no reason why this won’t be the case for me!

Ten years ago I was living with my boyfriend and a roommate with whom I had a long and complicated relationship.  I was about to leave for London, where I would, in short order, meet my favorite band, hang out with them in Amsterdam, fall in love with Spain, meet my favorite author, spend hundreds of dollars on film processing and phone cards, help my friend avoid ordering 3 #3 meals at McDonald’s in Paris, and dig deep into England’s history with the most charismatic teacher I’ve ever had.  I was young, very insecure, and not at all sure what I wanted to do with my life.  I remember coming back from London and writing in my journal that a huge adventure had just ended, and I didn’t know if I’d ever experience anything like that again.

In the intervening ten years, I have:

  • graduated from college (English), then after a few years completed two graduate degrees (both in LIS).
  • got married, divorced within a year and a half, fell in love, had my heart broken, suffered through various crushes and flirtations, decided to be single for a while, met someone pretty amazing, and am now engaged to be married (details forthcoming).
  • worked as: bookseller, customer service representative (banking),  online support specialist for an internet banking service, commercial teller, barista, accounts representative (healthcare), graduate assistant (instructional technology; WISE project), practical (gyne) instructor, visiting computer assisted instruction specialist, reference/technology librarian (academic library), part-time reference librarian (law library), service star (mail order food company), and digital services assistant (business library).
  • gained and lost some weight, ultimately ending up about 20 pounds lighter thanks to running, biking, lifting, yoga, swimming, and discovering how much I really like walking instead of driving when I can. (related: broke my arm, but it’s long better now)
  • bought a house, lost a house, moved 11 times, and lived in 3 states: Illinois, Virginia, and Michigan.
  • had 5 cats and 1 rabbit.
  • went through fits of crafting, accumulating a lot of supplies and a lot of crafty friends along the way.
  • traveled all over the country and back to Spain and France, including walking a portion of the Camino Portugues.
  • experienced a crisis of faith and a gradual rediscovery (or re-exploration) of what I believe.  Also went through periods of deep depression, on and off medication, and had to get serious about my mental and emotional health in order to move forward.
  • really fell in love with cooking and dramatically expanded my palate and skill set, culminating in a breakfast for 104 this fall at SELMA.  Also became deeply committed to local food, supporting farmers’ markets, and making my own attempts at growing and preserving food for my family.
  • listened to hundreds of hours of music, danced my ass off at dozens of concerts and festivals.  Also read hundreds of books and untold millions of webpages.  Also wrote a novel thanks to NaNoWriMo!
  • met so many amazing people that I can’t even begin to name them all.  If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of them.

Tomorrow I’ll celebrate #30 with Shane and new friends and a giant croquembouche that I’ll be building tonight with two friends.  I’ll hopefully sleep in and cuddle some cats.  Maybe I’ll go for a run.  I have no idea what the next few years will bring, but looking back on where I’ve been over the last ten years, I’m confident that there will be many more adventures, heartaches, changes, and surprises to come!

I should be doing work-work, but right now I can’t wrap my head around it, so I’m going to write here for a few minutes.

I had a long, good, helpful conversation with a friend last night that really helped me to examine a lot of my questions, struggles and frustrations with the program. She told me about her own experience being heavily courted for the program, and how it immediately wasn’t what she expected or wanted. She’s now in the dissertation proposal phase, and feels it’s really too late to turn back, but encouraged me to deeply consider my options both here and elsewhere, and not be overly swayed by other people’s ambitions or goals or plans for my own career.

Every hour that I spend in class leaves me feeling more frustrated, angry, and confused about why I’m here. I am, as my friend said, learning more about my interests by doing my job than I am (or would be) from sitting in classes where I’m told how other people think my job should be done. I’ve had a fundamentally awesome working experience since joining the program in 2005; my experience in my courses has been much more mixed. Some classes have piqued my interests, and others have left me wanting to bang my head on a wall. When I first weighed my options – PhD or professional job – I was sold on the idea that if I went straight into a job, I would miss out on the opportunity to do interesting research and to continue to learn. That has not been the case – though I do know that my job situation is somewhat exceptional.

In all honesty, I feel like I’d be better able to do my job if I weren’t trying to pursue this degree. I’d be able to be a better partner if I wasn’t stressed out all the time about classes. I’d be better able to take care of my body if I didn’t come home from work completely drained with a pile of reading ahead of me. I remember calling my mom at about this time last year and crying with frustration because my body was manifesting a bunch of stress-related problems – and she said that I might just have to make the choice between getting a PhD and being healthy.

I don’t know what I’ll end up doing in the weeks and months to come, but I’m thinking long and hard about all of this. Last night’s conversation left me in a place where I think I’m comfortable with whatever I decide. There are a lot of things that make this decision difficult, but most of them aren’t related to the program or the degree at all, and those are things I need to keep in mind as I weigh my options. Thank you for your patience, friends.

It’s all very exciting

Yesterday we went live with Moodle for all courses. This replaced our ten year old homegrown course management system, as well as our school intranet. This is tremendously exciting because it represents the culmination of two years of work for me. My coworkers and I, especially our programmer, have worked our asses off for months in preparation for this announcement, and I’m terrifically relieved that it has gone as well as it has so far. As I said to SB last night, it feels wonderful to have been an integral part of a substantive improvement to the way we teach and learn. The next few weeks will be a trial by fire as we work with instructors and students encountering this environment for the first time, but I’m encouraged by the response we’ve had so far. I’ve also recently realized that I really, really love training instructors.

A few years ago I was really lost, lacking direction in my professional or personal life. I was working a job I hated, and was in a relationship that was on its last legs. Three years later I have a job that I love and a wonderful relationship. The good thing is that I seem to have found my place after a lot of struggling – the bad thing is that in the next few months, we’re going to have to make big decisions about future things like jobs and relationships and where we’re going to live. Part of me really hopes that SB can find a job here, even if it’s just for another year or two – but part of me is excited about the idea of starting over in a new city with the man I love. We’ll see!

It is no secret that I’ve had a hard semester. I was initially signed up for four classes, but I dropped two within the first month of school, shortly after I took my full time job. The two remaining classes represent the last four credits needed towards my masters, and the first of two required courses towards my PhD. Saying that I’m struggling in these courses is an understatement. Saying that I hate my courses wouldn’t be an exaggeration. With a few weeks left in the semester, I’m trying to pull my stuff together to finish up two courses and NOT drop out of grad school. I am so burnt out and discouraged right now – and I hate it.

A year ago I was so excited about the possibility of continuing on in grad school – and now the PhD program seems like something to which I’ve shackled myself. I love my job, but right now things are very stressful, and having to come home and keep working makes getting up in the morning and doing good work even more difficult. The easy solution, of course, would be to drop out. The better solution, I think, is to keep going, get through the rest of this semester, and then take it easy for a semester or two until things calm down at work – while taking courses that will keep my options open even if I don’t decide to follow this path through to the end.

Before I started grad school, I had a conversation with my mom’s best friend from high school – now a post-doc at the JFK School of Government at Harvard. She shared with me a number of impressions of why people pursue degrees in higher education – beyond the stock “to get ahead in their field” sort of answer. She said she thought a lot of people did it to prove something, to assuage feelings of inadequacy, or to do both by accomplishing something they never thought possible. She said she pursued her PhD for some of the above – and to be better equipped to do her part at “saving the world”. I don’t know if I really know why I’m doing this – besides the feeling that I’m not done growing in this area.

Last week, following a particularly awful day of class and work, I had a crying fit after burning the pancakes I was making for breakfast. It was yet another “you’re a big screw up” message in a long week of the same, and it was just too much. I told SB, between sobs, that I just want to help people, and that I didn’t understand why it had to be so hard. Is pursuing a PhD going to help me with this goal? I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out.

Another weekend gone, and another Sunday afternoon spent in the sun outside Kopi drinking coffee and playing catch up with the week’s readings. This week has been too too – too much smoking, too much drinking, too much snacking, too much flirting, too much spending, too much rocking – I have been out every night this week, one way or another, and am running on low low low. This week was Sleater-Kinney at the Highdive on Sunday, Tegan and Sara at the Canopy on Monday, goth night on Tuesday, Darren’s birthday dinner on Wednesday, failed intense studying on Thursday, Aroma on Friday, Aroma and ROCKFEST (featuring the Hum reunion show) on Saturday – and now here it is again, a week later, and I’m in the same spot as a week ago, just more tired, more confused, and extremely jealous of the couple at the next table with the perfect baby and perfect corgi (named Simon). Do I know what I want anymore? Not always. I am every day equal parts content and unquiet. I feel like a terrible student and yet am seriously considering staying for a PhD. I am terribly unproductive on all counts, which leads to stress and depression, which leads to more unproductivity. The leaves are starting to turn, and there is no point to this post except to say hello and I miss you, friends.

a cross-posted list

thinking about matt leaving for baghdad, and how fucked up i am over it. last night i wanted to call him back and keep him on the phone because if he was on the phone, he couldn’t be sent away from me and sarah and greg and his family and his wife and everyone else who loves him – because you can’t know him and not love him. and yet i know that this love is enough, that it will wrap layers of protection around him, and that it will bring him home to us.

thinking about assessment in online pedagogy, and how the things i’m reading point to a lack of research in this area. thinking that i have, once again, found myself at a crossing point where my reading and my interests and my various jobs are all meshing, and that maybe this is a direction that will really work. i spent an hour last night requesting books from the library, and will spend another hour or two tonight requesting articles. this is a good feeling, and borders on the excitement i’ve been so desperately looking for.

thinking about sex – ok, thinking about sex too much. it’s been a long time, and i find myself wondering if what i need is just some rockin’ sexual chemistry to knock me out of this ongoing neutral.

thinking about the turn of the season, the coming of fall, and sleeping warm between flannel sheets. thinking about pumpkin soup and hot chocolate and corn mazes and the crunch of leaves underfoot. thinking about football games on tv and mugs of hot cider and the way the light is golden this time of year.

thinking about chemistry. i spent most of yesterday baking challah for our (very early) rosh hashanah dinner. this particular recipe requires three rises – make the dough, rise an hour, knead the dough, rise an hour, braid the dough, rise an hour, and then into the oven it goes. the dough just would not rise – at least not to my expectations – and while i swam my laps yesterday the not-rising dough turned into this whole allegory for my relationships in the past year – y’know, bad chemistry, or not enough heat, or lopsided braiding, etc – and i had prepared this whole witty story in my head that i was going to present as i took the lopsided flat loaf out of my bag and set it on the table – and then it was perfect. perfect – and i’m sure there’s an allegory to go with that as well, but i haven’t figured it out yet.

thinking about talking like a pirate – it is, after all, talk like a pirate day, and it’s too silly of a thing not to be all about. i am wearing my pirate bandana and my super wench tee with pride.

upon hearing about my insane schedule, my friend told me “as long as you’re happy, that works”. i wasn’t sure what to say. am i happy? i dunno. this is a very good, very challenging life – i can’t imagine being anywhere else or doing anything else right now. i am taking a difficult load of classes (even after dropping one this week), but it’s good because i feel like i’m in way over my head and want with everything in me to understand the things i’m reading about. i am constantly surrounded by interesting, funny, intelligent, awesomely weird and wonderful people – coworkers, friends, family. i spend every spare moment reading, which is all i ever wanted for my life. i struggle to make it through the long days – and then i have moments of clarity and peace with the wind in my hair riding my bike home in the dark, or of perfect synchronicity in the pool when the rhythm of my breath determines the rhythm of my laps, or of abandon on the dance floor, being spun around and around by my friend while i just laugh and laugh.

but am i happy? i dunno. i’m tired, mostly, and in the back of my mind is the siren call of the camino, of packing up and leaving this place in a year and setting off for places unknown. while doing research for the new course management system i’m going to be running, i got distracted by looking at developmental partner schools in spain, thinking that the things i’m doing now might open those doors for me in a year or two. i think, though, that i’ve given up on speculating where life is going to take me – and i’m just trying to be in it as much as i can. and that – that is good.