How the Hell did I end up here?

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Lately I’ve been thinking about what brought me to Denton and this PhD program. The thought really is more along the lines of, “How the eff did I get myself into this mess?” Maybe being on year 2 of dissertating without actually having a prospectus accepted is the cause of this or maybe it’s the natural question of someone working their ass off on a degree that will get them very few opportunities in the real world. Or maybe it’s the perpetual drama in my department. Who knows? I just know that I look around my life and think, “how did I get here?” more and more these days.

Here’s how I got here.

Six years ago when I was applying to this program, I knew that my chances of getting a tenure-track job post-PhD would be low. I came in aware of the situation in academia. I came in with three years of higher ed work under my belt as a minister at Butler. I knew the work it would take to get this degree and, even more so, the isolation that comes with a process like writing a 200 page dissertation on a topic that no one around you is an expert on. Greg Roper prepared me well.

It was hard to focus on the problems of a potential future in academia when I was in the middle of the problems of being a minister.

It was hard to focus on the problems of a potential future in academia when I was in the middle of the problems of being a minister.

Unfortunately, when Greg was talking to me about the problems of the future I was contemplating, I was thinking more about the problems of what was then my reality. Let me be clear: I loved being a campus minister more than anything I have ever done. I loved my students at Butler. If I could have worked just with the kids and had no other life or work, just been a hologram that turned on only when students needed me, I would have stayed long term. But unfortunately, that’s now how it goes. Church politics are still politics and I simply wasn’t made for that kind of drama. I get too invested and my faith took the hit. To make matters worse, I had no social life and very little in terms of a support system that was readily available. My sisters often had the opposite schedule that I had and my few other friends were busy with their own lives. I spent most of my free time at home alone or in my office watching Netflix. My work with students started to strain because they were my only source of social interaction with people near my age (then 25). It just wasn’t sustainable.

My internship with the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice the summer before I became director probably had something to do with this as well. I went from living with 200 nuns who loved me to living alone and doing thankless work. The contrast was too much. By October, I was looking at PhD programs and by November, I was applying to UNT. In February, I accepted my fellowship and notified my boss that I would be leaving Indy. He waited until the last minute to replace me, thinking I would change my mind, but I didn’t. I wanted something different, even though I loved my students so much. I wanted to continue the research work I had been doing as an intern at WVC. I wanted to study Environmental Literature and write about Wendell Berry. I wanted to be around people who loved poems for the way the words felt in the mouth, for the taste of the thing and the way it sits in your soul—so much deeper than simple words on a page. I wanted to be around people who understood me and my love of words, of literature.

I wanted to be around people who understood me and my love of words, of literature.

I wanted to be around people who understood me and my love of words, of literature.

Looking back, I probably should have gone back to UD. The English Department at UNT had no such romantic notions of literature. There were a few quiet but lovely scholars I could connect with, one faculty member who has since left the uni. But the life I imagined when I was leaving Indiana was not the life I found back in Texas—at least as far as the love for literature was concerned.

Yet, the life I found at UNT was good. I was happier than I had been in a long time. I was making friends, spending time with my old friends and pseudo-family. I had a support system. And, honestly, if it weren’t for the relationship that tore my life apart, my life here in Texas could have been an overwhelmingly good one. The worst thing would have been a bit of bullying at the office, common enough in academia and something that a tenure-track wannabe should make themselves get used to. Even with what happened two years ago, my life is good. I have brilliant colleagues who are generally kind people (ignoring, of course, those bullies). I have a sweet little dog. I have a generous director. But then, I’m getting ahead of myself.

I quickly found out when I got to UNT that Wendell Berry, though loved in the ecojustice community, is not so celebrated among academics. Something about being a communitarian and that he’s not necessarily the most feminist writer, though I understand his worldview enough to appreciate him anyways. My first semester at UNT introduced me to Aldo Leopold and I wrote a brilliant (ish) paper about the agricultural aspect of a land ethic (Maybe I should have switched to philosophy?) and the sisters’ implementation of one such ethic. In the following semester, I continued to learn about Leopold, was introduced to ecocriticism, and met my director. I knew from the beginning I wanted to work with her and immediately signed up for her next class. It was really about the person, not the class topic, and I just wanted to get to know her better perhaps in a smaller class without so much overwhelm. Good idea, Ari.

My first semester at UNT introduced me to Aldo Leopold and I wrote a brilliant paper about the agricultural aspect of a land ethic and the sisters’ implementation of one.  My experience as an organic gardening intern actually helped a lot!

My first semester at UNT introduced me to Aldo Leopold and I wrote a brilliant paper about the agricultural aspect of a land ethic and the sisters’ implementation of one. My experience as an organic gardening intern actually helped a lot!

The next semester with her was a Xicana feminisms course and I was introduced to Gloria Anzaldua. And for the first time in my life all the little things that I had kept to myself, the frustrations and passions and thoughts, were suddenly on paper right in front of me. Like everyone who reads and loves Anzaldua, it was like she was writing my soul. And so, I eventually gave up the Ecocritical aspect of my research and writing and embraced Xicanisma. It wasn’t about my director anymore, but rather about me, about this experience that Anzaldua writes about that so mirrors my own. My term paper ended up being about the work of Roman Catholic nuns as nepantleras. I thought of my sisters. I felt connection to them and discussed the paper with them when I could.

It was completely different from what I had planned, but it felt like things were falling into place. I was moving away from my classical training at UD and overcoming my academic snobbery that I had become aware of during my time at Notre Dame. I was falling in love with texts outside of the canon and overcoming the sadness of leaving Greek behind.

Then all fucking Hell broke loose.

In August 2017, I took my exams under a haze of depression and anxiety that was so much more than the test anxiety my director thought I had. I spent two years being suicidal every second of every day, in the middle of which my theologian turned down my prospectus and I had to start over. It ended up being a good thing that I could start fresh from the beginning because I could go forward without using the Church because, really, why write about an institution that just fucked you over majorly? (You can check out the archives of this blog if you missed all this.)

And that about brings me up to November. And here I am, almost two years post-exams, still working on a prospectus that about half the time I want to throw out the window. But I’m here. And I’m going to finish this degree. And I’m going to keep teaching.

And you know what?

Overall, despite the Hell, despite the drama, and despite three little fuckers that made teaching last year kind of hard—I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else. So, that’s how I got here. And in spite of everything, I guess I’m glad I am.

Goal Check In--43 days into 2019

I can’t believe it’s already February.

We’re 43 days into 2019 and I feel like I’m already falling behind on my goals. Moving has been hard since my back is messed up. I’m seeing a chiropractor tomorrow, so hopefully that will make it possible for me to catch up on my walking goals. Texan bureaucracy is slowing down my name change paperwork (what millennial keeps a copy of their birth certificate?) and the sheer amount of time I spend asleep (even though I’m supposedly better from the mono…) is killing my writing game. The goals I made for the first quarter aren’t even close to done.

First Quarter Goals (due by March 31):

  • Defend Prospectus

  • Complete Chapter 1

  • LLC Formed (this definitely isn’t going to happen this quarter)

  • Finish Life Coaching Certification

  • Complete a Lenten Spending Fast (this one will go into the beginning of quarter 2)

  • Get my TX License

  • Name change paperwork

  • Get another TX license with the proper name

  • Get my passport with my new name

  • Interview Dad

  • Get my tattoo

  • Birthday Celebration

  • Galentines

  • Spring Equinox.

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So far I have the tattoo (photo above), have celebrated my birthday and galentines, and have shown up to the DMV only to be told I didn’t have the right forms of id (see above comment about birth certificates). My prospectus is almost done, I think, though really are prospecti ever done? Who knows anymore. I feel like I’m stuck in a timeloop with my research and I’ll never get out.

At least my hair is purple again.

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How are you doing on your 2019 goals?

Turning 30 Part I: New Decade, New Name, Same Girl

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This past week was my 30th Birthday. Now, I know the drill. Women are supposed to freak the eff out about their 30th because we’re old or whatever. But if 60 is the new 40, then 30 is the new teenager, right?

To be honest, I am so excited for this new decade. My twenties were a shit show to say the least, but I know that my third decade is going to rock.

My 30th Birthday is a big fucking deal for a couple reasons:

  1. Until about a month and a half ago, I was seriously suicidal. I hadn’t gone more than a couple days without obsessively wanting to die for two years—since the big breakup.

  2. During the aftermath of the aforementioned breakup on my 28th birthday, C made the suggestion that the world would be better without me in it. And you know what, I’m still here.

So, in celebration of the fact that I’m still here, I made a huge deal about this birthday. Like seriously, I was the most extra person that I can imagine. And that’s so awesome.

My thirtieth birthday and the year following are all about reclamation for me. Reclaiming my birthday, reclaiming my joy, reclaiming my life. It’s also all about defining and openness: defining who I am, defining what I want to be, openness to the changes that are coming. I’m trying to take on this next decade with intentionality and openness and I’m so grateful for the friends who are already helping me make this possible.

But the reason for this post is not just that. One thing I’m doing—the biggest thing I’m doing—to celebrate my 30th is to give myself a gift—something that I’ve wanted for a long time.

As a part of this process of reclaiming my life, I’m giving myself a new name.

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There is power in a name. In different cultures around the world the act of naming a child is considered sacred. The word chosen for the name and the meaning behind the word are meant to imbue that being with those characteristics.

As a writer, scholar, and recovering philologist, the importance of words in my life cannot be overestimated. My life is dedicated to teaching others how to put words in different orders to communicate more clearly with those around them. I write about words, what they mean in certain orders, how that impacts the world. My faith even involves calling God ο λογος, “the Word.” I’m kind of a word person.

I am blessed to be part of two separate communities that value names as I do. In these communities, names are not just identity markers. The act of re-naming is also connected to taking on a new life. I think of my friends who have become priests or sisters, my friends who are non-binary or transitioning. They each took on these new names at important parts in their lives, showing that this new name symbolizes not only their identity but their choice to make a change, a commitment, a new life.

I’m taking on a new life. It might not involve any vows, but I’m making a promise to myself to love myself, to value myself, and to honor myself. I’m choosing to live. I’m choosing to be honest about who I am, to be authentic and real, to not hide behind my relation to other people. To be known not just as an aunt, a friend, a daughter, but as me—a unique human being with a name that symbolizes who I am and who I want to be.

This isn’t a decision I’ve made suddenly, or without a great deal of thought, or without talking with people I admire and trust. I’ve thought about changing my name since I was a teenager. I have never connected with Kaitlyn. I don’t hate it, it’s just not a name that suits me. I have made peace with Kait for quite a while, but still it’s not me.

The name I have chosen is Aurelia. It’s Latin for “gold.” It was my name in Latin class when I was in high school, so I’m already comfortable with it. Aurelia is a reminder to myself that I have intrinsic value—as scripture would say, we are worth more than finest gold (Is 13:12). I’ve struggled to feel any value in myself for a long time, especially since what happened with C. By calling myself Aurelia, I am reminding myself that I am rare, beautiful, and valuable—regardless of anything else. Gold makes me think also of the sun—of something bright, vibrant, shining. I want to be those things.

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The nickname I’ve chosen and that a few close friends are already using for me is Ari. This is a common Jewish name and I love the meaning. It’s Hebrew for lion, old Norse for eagle, and Armenian for brave. I think that all those are qualities I want to embody. And it’s a mostly vowel-based name with only two syllables and super easy to pronounce and remember. Three letters. You can write them on your hand if you can’t remember them at first.

Now, for personal reasons that I don’t want to talk about publicly, I’ve made the decision to change my middle and last names along with my first. I’m happy to talk about this privately, but it’s a decision that I’ve made after a great deal of thought, prayer, and meditation.

For my middle name, I am taking my mother’s middle name, Ann. St. Anne is the mother of Mary, the grandmother of Jesus—a woman who I have always felt closer to than her daughter. Ann is also a form of the Hebrew name Hannah, meaning favor or grace. Hannah is also the first name of my childhood best friend and the last name of my dear friend, Corbin. So, to honor my mother, keep a powerful saint close, and connect with my two best friends—my name is Aurelia Ann.

Photo from http://www.sanctuairesquebec.com/en/shrine-of-sainte-anne-de-beaupre

Photo from http://www.sanctuairesquebec.com/en/shrine-of-sainte-anne-de-beaupre

For my last name, I am taking my paternal-paternal great-grandmother’s maiden name, VonTress (some family stories say Tress, some say VonTress). This name still connects me to my family and honors my connection with my father. It reminds me of where I came from, it reminds me of my dad, no student will ever come up with an inappropriate joke using it, and it sounds good after Doctor. It still shows that I belong to my family and, despite my desire otherwise, it still keeps me at the end of the alphabet.

I know this might seem selfish or confusing and I’m sorry if that is the case. I know some people might refuse to use my name, although I hope not. I know some will struggle to remember it at first and that’s okay. I know my true friends would never mean to hurt me by using the wrong name. I hope that everyone will accept this and embrace it as my choice to honor my individuality, my sacredness as a person with the right to define myself.

So, this is it, friends—my new name: Aurelia “Ari” Ann VonTress. Nice to meet you.

BE: RECLAIMED, TRANSFORMED, and CONSISTENT.

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Welcome to 2019. It’s only 9 days old, but let me tell you: I’m already loving it so much more than the three years before.

New Year’s Eve has been a time of grief for me these last two years. It was on NYE 2016 that my world turned upside down and NYD 2017 that by best friends abandoned me. So, it’s not really surprising that, given the meaning of New Year’s for me and the fact that I had gotten a little off on my med schedule, I had a minor breakdown this year on NYE. My poor mother was terrified, but I knew that I was really fine. I was crying and shaking, but I knew that this wasn’t me, it was a disease that I hadn’t properly worked with for a couple days. I fell asleep around 8 or 9, knowing that sleep would bring the stability that my limited neuro-transmitters couldn’t provide. When I woke up around 3am on January 1, I celebrated by myself the beginning year that I have decided will be my year.

I think it’s kind of fitting, this less than auspicious beginning to 2019 because I think it’s the story that I’m going to tell myself over and over this year. This disease is not me. This trauma is not me. I’m okay. I’m alive. I’m held in the palm of His hand.

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Every year I choose a word for the year. To be honest, as a general practice, I’ve failed at embracing my word in the past. 2017 was obedience and trust, but I failed to obey or trust or even want to be alive at all that year. 2018 was focus, but my main focus became getting well and healing from not one, but two bouts of mono. I tried, but failed. This year will be different, I can tell already. My word is BE and I’ve chosen three subwords: RECLAIMED, TRANFORMED, and CONSISTENT. I’m reclaiming all those pieces of me that I lost during the break up from hell. I’m reclaiming hobbies, friendships, and dreams that I lost. I’m transforming them and my life into the life I want—my best life. The really hard part, the part I’m scared of and know I will struggle with daily, is being consistent. I struggle with consistency, mostly because of my illnesses mentioned above. I want to be a consistent teacher, grader, blogger, artist, friend, etc., but it’s hard. It requires rest and time management and energy. But I know I can do it. I have an accountability system that will hold me to it. (Love you, chicas.)

I have a long list of goals for the year, mostly the same goals from my 30 by 30, which I’ve decided is really 30 by the end of 30, not the beginning, because who knew a year ago that I would have mono? Not me. I’ll probably share some of those goals later this year, but for now I’m focusing on my words.

BE: RECLAIMED, TRANSFORMED, and CONSISTENT.

What are your words for 2019?

Life Update III: Back to the Woods

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A few weeks ago now, I was blessed with the opportunity to go home to my Woods.

If you’ve been following me since before the big breakup, you know that I am very close with a group of Roman Catholic Women’s Religious, also known as Sisters (not nuns! Look up the difference!): the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary of the Woods, located just outside of Terre Haute, Indiana. I have discerned with them, become an associate in the Providence Associate relationship program, lived in their novitiate house for many weekends, led retreats to their motherhouse in hopes of bringing more people to the woods, and even spent my MA comps summer working at their White Violet Center for Eco Justice. When I lived in Indiana, I would make trips to the Woods fairly frequently, but even during my first three years in Texas I made it home 1-2x per year. My trips to the Woods, along with most of the things I treasured in my life, were impacted and temporarily put on pause after the breakup and breakdown and my life falling apart.

I promised myself in the midst of the worst part of my depression last year that this year I would get home to my sisters for our annual meeting no matter what. My sisters and their love and prayers were a huge part of my recovery. My love for them was a huge part of my staying alive. I knew that I needed to get home as soon as possible and I’m so grateful it actually happened. That I ended up spending this summer in Cincinnati—only three hours from my beloved woods instead of the 14 from Texas—was purely Providential. That this year we received enough donations for the PAs to offer a scholarship for associates to come home was also Providential and a huge blessing, as I could never have come home without it. Gary’s becoming a service dog sealed the deal because I knew with him, I could make it through if things became painful or triggering, given that my last two trips home were with her.

When I drove onto campus, I felt a combination of relief and anxiety, thinking about the fact that some of these people had seen the darkest part of my breakdown take place. Yet, as soon as I walked into La Fer hall and ran right into my friend, Mel, everything but joy emptied itself from my body. Pure, complete joy. I went through the check in process, greeted by my dear Peggy, and took my stuff up to my room after chatting with even more friends. It was in some ways like I had never left and in other ways like I had been gone for a millenia. It was strange to see my friends with more grey in their hair, and sad to note the absence of dear ones whose celebrations of life I had missed when so far away. But overall, I was hit over and over with waves of relief, contentment, and love. I was truly home.

Gary loved having so many aunts to love on him and so many woods to walk around! 

Gary loved having so many aunts to love on him and so many woods to walk around! 

Over the weekend, I got to spend time with people very dear to me, though not enough time to be sure. I ended up sleeping through almost every social event, my body suddenly so relaxed and my mind so at peace that I could sleep in a way I haven’t in a long, long time. I missed out on spending time with my closest, dearest sisters because they were busy and I was busy and sleeping and overwhelmed. But still, the peace at being in meetings and looking around and seeing so many people I love so much—it’s something I haven’t had in a long time. Lately in Denton I’ve been surrounded by so much toxicity that this space of love and generosity and non-violence was just so much sweeter than I even remembered. During my time there, I suddenly felt more myself, more alive, and more happy than I have since January 1, 2017. It was a pure gift.

It’s only been a few weeks since my weekend at the woods, but it already feels like a lifetime. There’s a lot of work to do here in Ohio and I’m behind—simply because there really was never enough time to begin with. I’m blessed with a compassionate community of support here—the wonderful doctor, my dear roommate, and several kind and loving patients and workers that I spend time with at the office. The work I’m doing here is complicated—there is the literal work I’m doing for Doc, then there is the physical work being done to my body both through treatments and my (often failing) own job of being active and eating clean. Then, there is the much harder work of my emotional-mental-spiritual-self work, including using new techniques for processing false beliefs. In addition, I’m working on growing my Etsy shop, in the process of starting my own LLC, taking classes to become a life coach, and researching for my dissertation. Life is full and complicated and the ongoing transition that my body and soul are experiencing causes some discomfort and anxiety. But I’m okay and I’m surrounded by love—both from the people here and my sisters and fellow associates at the Woods. For right now, that is more than enough.

Life Update Part II: What on earth am I doing in Ohio?

A unique view of my new home. Photo by  Jake Blucker  on  Unsplash

A unique view of my new home. Photo by Jake Blucker on Unsplash

Most people following me on social media are aware that last fall, I made a pretty good friend: Minadora. So, Minadora is now a second year poetry PhD (shameless plug: please buy her book and support an amazing poet AND an amazing small press) whose beagle, Aki, has shown up in many of Gary’s Facebook and Instagram updates. She is a kind, generous, patient human who, like me, is a total homebody who simultaneously appreciates the presence of another human. So, to save money (both in terms of rent and in terms of gas spent driving between the two apartments), we decided to get an apartment together. I’m excited to have a roommate again and to have a much larger space. The constant presence of #akiwiththebeaglenose and his wonderful slobbery kisses is the icing on the cake.

So, a little while after we became friends, Minadora’s dad, who is a fascinating human everyone should know, came to visit for her birthday. We spent a lot of time together and, by some strange miracle, he decided that he liked me (and I him—he’s a very kind, fatherly, gentle human and his daughter is a lot like him). Over Christmas break when Minadora was home, she happened to mention to her dad that I am an (aspiring) professional organizer (among my many other pursuits) and he offered to have me come stay with him and work for him in exchange for housing and food and (because he is a very skilled doctor) medical treatment.

If this sounds like too good to be true, it’s really not. I mean it’s good, but also true.  I’m in Ohio living with Minadora and her dad (who I call Doc), cataloguing some collections and helping him organize in exchange for free housing, amazing food, gentle, fatherly affection, and medical treatment for my PCOS/PTSD/etc. Gary is obsessed with Doc and adores him. I am enjoying spending time with my friend, being away from Texas, and meeting her friends and family. Also, being in Ohio has put me much closer to the Woods (that’s the next update) and several Butler-era friends. In fact, I am writing this right now from the home of one of my close friends from Butler who asked me to watch her doggos while she and her mom are on a trip.

There is really no question about who is getting the best end of this working for Doc deal and it’s me. I hope that I’m able to do everything he needs because I’m so grateful for the help he’s giving me. I’m losing weight, my body and mind are more stable than they’ve been in a long time, and I’m working through a lot of the things I need to work through. I’m really blessed to be here.

A note: I’ve been extremely blessed in the last year or so to really find out who my friends are. Minadora is only one of them. I have an amazing group of humans who offer support and love. I’m so grateful.

Update Part I: A Quick Summary of Last Semester

Photo by  Zoltan Tasi  on  Unsplash

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

So, it’s been a while since I’ve updated you all on my life. There are a lot of reasons for that, so here is my very brief and not-too-positive explanation of like late November through May:

Life update: Towards the end of the fall semester, I was called into the department office because a parent had complained about the number of classes I had cancelled. While it was absolutely ILLEGAL for my supervisors to even read an email from a student’s parent, I got chewed out, was told they weren’t getting their money’s worth out of me, etc. I reminded them that I have a serious chronic illness, for which I have ODA accommodation. I was told that our department did not accommodate disabilities other than pregnancy. For those of you who know anything at all about the ADA, you know that was a lawsuit waiting to happen. I then spent the next like four months dealing with HR and my chair and a constant feeling of doom hanging over me because I was afraid of being fired for something over which I have no control. The fact that almost every close friend and mentor I had was encouraging me to sue my department didn’t help my mindset at all.

To make matters worse, at the end of February, I started feeling like my medication wasn’t working. I was constantly exhausted, oversleeping, felt weak and achy. I went to my doctor asking for a med adjustment, but when I described my symptoms she got a funny look on her face and ran some blood tests. It turns out that sometimes those things are symptoms of actual disease and I had mononucleosis. Apparently there was a serious outbreak of mono on campus and it’s a lot more contagious than we were led to believe in high school (less “kissing disease” more “touched the same doorknob and now you’re dying” disease). Excellent. Just what I needed for my first semester teaching three classes instead of two.

Between teaching three different preps (Comp 2, Tech Comm, and Ethnic Lit (!)) and constantly feeling like I was dying, it was a rough time for sure. To add insult to injury I had the first ever student who I genuinely could not stand. You know me, I love my students. I’ve had difficult kiddos before who I’ve dealt with patiently, but this one just took the cake. Between him and the disability situation, I met with HR way more than any one person should have to in a semester—much less a person semi-dying of mono for four months. 

Research update: As a result of the general feel of the semester, when my prospectus defense was cancelled because a committee member refused to sign off on it, I sort of gave up for a while. In all honesty, I’m excited about the opportunity to do something else—I just don’t know what. And with all the awful that I was dealing with, I spent most of the semester contemplating dropping out at the end of it. I didn’t, and I’m glad I didn’t, but now here I am mid-summer still looking towards the fall with a mix of confusion and frustration. Sing to me, O Muse, of something I can write about!

So, that’s my very quick summary. I’ll write another soon and explain what’s going on now and where I am. Here’s a spoiler: I’m in Ohio.

Coffee Shop Check-In

Photo by  wu yi  on  Unsplash

Photo by wu yi on Unsplash

I can’t believe it’s February already. When I told my kids (and by that, I mean the college students I teach) that the year was 1/12th over, they all groaned. It’s like they don’t recognize the passing of time in the same way. They’re anxious already for Spring Break to come. I would prefer that it stayed away. There isn’t enough time in a day for all the work I need to do

My days are packed right now, with lesson prep, grading, reading, designing stickers (have you checked out my etsy shop yet), snuggling Gary, and spending time with friends. Research and writing are crammed into the moments that I can spare from my students and social circle. How on earth does a human finish a dissertation? I watched my friend, H, one of the best humans I know, finish hers somehow while also being an extraordinary professor, mother, wife, daughter, and friend. I have decided she must have some sort of superpowers or Hermoine-like ability to stop/turn back time. I can’t accomplish half of what she does and I don’t have a child, spouse, or family locally to take care of.

I spend most of my time at a local coffee shop here in Denton that is run by volunteers. It’s my perfect place: big tables, kind and friendly staff, and my money is going towards something that I can support (a home that helps men overcome addiction and get back on their feet). Gary and I have befriended other regulars who often come up to us and say hello, check in, and are generally good people. If my beloved Jupiter House ever reopens, it will take a while to readjust—the setting is so different. But both allow me to accomplish far more than I can at home or in my office. Here, there are no dishes to distract, no craft projects to tempt me. I am anonymous and can function without the anxiety that comes from being in an office filled with people whose primary way of coping with the anxieties of the PhD is to gossip about each other.

There are some difficulties in working here. I can be distracted by cute children, observing awkward first dates, and people who, upon realizing that I have a service dog, generally look and point and talk about how cute he is (they’re right, he is). But, overall, coffee shops are my new houses of productivity. Plus, they have coffee.

The new semester has presented new challenges, but also has allowed me to embrace new adventures. I’m teaching my first technical communication class, which has my class schedule even more full. I honestly don’t think that teaching three classes is any worse than teaching two, especially given the nature of the course. It’s a lot of learning new genres of writing and styles of teaching. I took it on because I needed money and sold it to others as a “good learning experience,” but honestly, it’s turned out to be just a lot of fun.

Teaching Ethnic Literature has been by far the most rewarding part of the semester. I am excited to go to class each Wednesday night and talk about things that matter to me with my kiddos. At the request of my last literature class, I have changed up my curriculum design so that the conversation is more guided by me and less by them. It’s more work, but I think they might be learning more. Plus, it’s so much fun thinking about what we can discuss in each of my favored texts.

 

Teaching comp is about the same as always. I have another good class of kids who could probably use a grammar class before comp to give them confidence and knowledge they missed out on in the test-driven education system, but instead I’m just going to have to help them gain that confidence myself. I’m one of the few people I know who genuinely loves teaching comp. It’s fun to talk about writing and help students gain confidence in their writing. The theme for this year is talking about writing through the lens of race and we are preparing for a visit from Paul Beatty, author of The Sellout, in March.

Anyways, I just thought it was about time for a life update. There is more to come this week, so come back and check in!

On New Years Goals, My Birthday, and the start of a year that I’m planning to rock!

Photo by  NordWood Themes  on  Unsplash

2018 Goals

So, it’s January 16th. Yes, people, that means that we are halfway through the first month of 2018. Stressed yet?

I haven’t written yet about my 2018 goals, but I do want to share those with you. 2018 is going to be a big year for me and I’m planning to rock this year so well that it makes up for the absolute disaster that was 2017. Good riddance, year of awfulness.

So, 2018.

My word for 2018 is FOCUS. I want to focus on the things most important to me: my family and friends, research, teaching, self-care, and creativity.

My goals this year fall into three categories: Adventures I want to have, Projects I want to finish, and ongoing goals that I want to work on.

Photo by  Matthew Sleeper  on  Unsplash

 

Adventures:

  • See family in Rolla
  • Attend SP meeting in June
  • Attend Go Wild 2018
  • Go to a museum
  • Go to zoo with H, M, and V
  • Go to one non-ALR reading
  • Volunteer 6 times

 

Projects:

  • Interview dad
  • Read 10 nonfiction, non academic books this year
  • Etsy
  • Submit article for publication
  • Apply to a job
  • Finish a draft of my dissertation
  • Digitalize all my files
  • Declutter my apartment
  • Get rid of 300 things in 2018
  • Curate a capsule wardrobe
  • Supplement regimen
  • Stamp inventory
  • Books organized and database updated
Photo by  Andrew Neel  on  Unsplash

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Photo by  Patrick Fore  on  Unsplash

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Ongoing goals:

  • Keep up with grading and teaching work
  • Find a spiritual community
  • Become a budgeting badass
  • Master the art of Meal prep
  • Re-immerse myself into the liturgical year
  • Year-long spending fast (oh, yes, I will write about this in another post)

In addition to these, I have a few daily, weekly, and monthly rituals I’m trying to turn into habits, most notably a Bible reading plan with my soul-sister, B.

Operation: Birthday Reclamation

Photo by  Luca Upper  on  Unsplash

Photo by Luca Upper on Unsplash

Given that it’s January 16th, most people who know me know that it’s the day after my birthday. And this was an important one for me, given that it was one year ago on my birthday that someone I really trusted said something awful to me—the worst thing I could imagine and the worst she could probably have said at that time. So this year, I set out with a few good humans to reclaim my birthday.

First, I went to Starbucks with my friend, M. Then, my close friends and I celebrated by going to a favorite restaurant, walking around favorite shops, and sharing gluten free crepes at a new favorite place recommended by my dear friend and adopted brother, T. It might sound like such a simple thing, but for me it was a huge blessing. At one point during the meal, I looked around and saw the faces of my beloved friends and thought—these people care enough about me to sacrifice their last day off before the semester, drive 30 minutes, pay for an expensive meal, and walk around a stationery shop all just to celebrate my birthday. It’s humbling to be loved so much and I’m so grateful.

Genuinely the best friends I could ask for. So sad B. wasn't able to make it! (Photo by random lady at Daiso.)

Genuinely the best friends I could ask for. So sad B. wasn't able to make it! (Photo by random lady at Daiso.)

It is also a reminder to me that we can never know what God has in store for us. A year ago, I thought my life would never get better, that I would never heal or be able to trust again. A year ago, I did not even know three of those friends. All three of them were brought into my life during 2017—and our friendships cemented largely because of Gary. And the rest--even though I knew them—have become so much more important to me in the last year. It’s been a long, hard road and there were many times that I wasn’t sure I would make it (and neither were they), but I’ve finally hit a stride where I feel strong and healthy and—dare I say it?—happy. There are still many struggles ahead and I still have rough days, but I just keep thinking about that saying—it’s a bad day, not a bad life.

2018 will be my year

Photo by  Garrhet Sampson  on  Unsplash

This is what I keep saying. When my friends and I are stressed, I repeat it over and over. 2018 will be our year. I’ve seen that celebrities have claimed it will be the year of women. I’m not sure about that, but I fully believe that something is going to change for the better for me and for my close friends. And it’s going to change because we’re going to work hard.

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve become a lot more into planning and the planner community. In case you didn’t know, I even founded the Denton Planner Girls group on facebook! We have regular meet ups and it’s so much fun. I’m really getting back into my creative side and I’m finding bullet journaling to be particularly therapeutic. I definitely think that getting into planning has made me more confident—and for good reason! When I’m constantly seeing words like “Hustle,” “Boss Babe,” and “Goal Digger,” it’s hard not to start thinking in those terms. This led me to invite M. to join me in the Wild Sisterhood—my first year back since I came to Denton. I have a lot of plans for this year beyond me goals above, including starting my own business, and I think that becoming a Wild Sister will help me with those goals. You’ll hear more about that in the future. But for now, just know—2018 is going to be my year. I hope it’s yours, too. 

 

And, in case you missed it on my social media:

Photo by Heidi Cephus. 

Photo by Heidi Cephus. 

30 by 30: Looking towards the future

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So, as you might know, I turned 29 last week. I made a pretty big deal of this birthday because, honestly, it was a big deal. But I’m also thinking about the fact that I’m one year away from 30 and I’m not really where I wanted to be by that landmark year.

So, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of life I want to have and what kind of person I want to be when I hit 30 and I’ve set some goals to get me there.

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1.     Read the Bible all the way through: I mentioned before that I’m doing a bible reading with my friend, B. I’ve really lost a lot of my relationship with God this past year since I stopped going to Incarnation. So, I’m doing this bible reading to bring me back into the faith I love and grow a deeper relationship with God as well as growing closer to my best friend. The reading plan we’re using is from Bibles and Coffee by Jackie Rau, whose stunning Bible art is enough to make me almost consider buying another Bible/owning more than my main Bible. Almost.

2.     Read all of Anzaldua’s Published Works: Okay, yes, this is kind of cheating given that my dissertation is on Gloria Anzaldua, but I also just want to read her because she’s so inspirational and challenging and such a bad ass Xicana that I want to be just like her.

3.     Visit the Anzaldua Archives: Given that the archives are in Austin, Texas, there’s just no reason not to go while I’m still living so close.

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4.     Walk 1,000 miles: I used to walk 3-5 miles per day, then I had the bronchitis that would never end. Then, when I adopted G., we used to do 1-3 miles each morning. I’ve definitely gotten out of the practice and want to get back into it because it makes me feel happier, more awake, and makes my body stronger.

5.     Lose 30 lbs/ go down 2 sizes: So, this is like the most American goal ever, right? I have it worded this way because my friend, M., told me I should focus on size instead of weight because muscles weigh more than fat. But honestly, the real goal is to feel stronger and healthier. The last year of depression eating has taken a toll. While I’ve lost weight rather than gained it since all this started, it’s mostly been from being tired/depressed/unable to get out of bed and, therefore, unable to eat—and I feel weaker because of it, even if my clothes are more loose. I need to feel comfortable in my skin again.

6.     Get a tattoo: I’m still working out what I want, but this is the year. I’m one year from 30. I no longer believe the people who said I’d regret it.

7.     Dye my hair lavender: Because I can and I’m one year from the job market. So, last chance for a while.

8.     Learn how to do makeup: Because even though I’m a low-maintenance feminist, I’m also a freaking adult.

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9.     Capsule wardrobe with a style that suits me: I’m almost 30. I still have clothing items from high school and college. I really want to find a style that makes me feel myself without being unprofessional. Also, I’m currently living in running leggings and maybe I need to find something else so that I’m no longer wearing athletic wear 100% of the time I’m not teaching. But most of all, I have more clothes than any three people could possibly need and most of them don't make me comfortable. 

10.  Create and stick to morning and evening rituals: I seem to never have time to do the things that actually make me happy, like reading, writing, snuggling Gary, meditating, and creating art. I should be doing these things every day. I’m working on a new daily ritual. I’ll tell you when I figure it out.

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11.  Do forgiveness on the people who harmed me: My friend, M., has taught me this method of forgiveness that is really helpful in moving past wounds. I want to do this not only because forgiveness is part of a non-violent and Christ-centered life, but because those people do not deserve to maintain power over me. My anger keeps me connected to them. Let’s sever that connection.

12.  Go through stuff in storage: When I look around my apartment, I am horrified by the amount of stuff I’ve accumulated. When I think about my grandmother’s garage in Missouri, it’s enough to give me nightmares. I can guarantee, if I haven’t seen it in that long, I probably don’t need it. Except the books, but even those are going to be pared down.

13.  Get rid of 300 things: But really, though, if I go through storage, it should be like 3,000.

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14.  Find someone to finish my t-shirt quilt and get it done: I’m all about letting go of past projects or finding someone else to do them. This is one thing I don’t want to feel guilty about.

15.  Digitalize and recycle most of my files: Because I have two filing cabinets full that I don’t want to have to move all over the country.

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16.  Master budgeting: I’m working on this one hard core and meeting with a financial advisor for help. I want to get control over my debt in a big way.

17.  Interview my dad: I have a long list of questions I’ve been wanting to ask and get recorded. I really need to do this.

18.  Get published: I really want to get something published in an academic journal—especially because my chapter is still on hold while the collection editor is dealing with health issues.

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19.  Finish a draft of my dissertation: It might sound insane, but I really think I could have drafts or rough outlines of everything by next January. It would be so good to have this off my shoulders.

20.  Start my own business: More info to come!

21.  Learn how to build my own brand: see above. :)

22.  Master SEO

23.  Increase my blog readership to 500

24.  Make 100 sales on Etsy

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25.  Take a trip somewhere fun: I haven’t done this in a long time. It would be nice to go somewhere not for family or a conference.

26.  Do 5 things on my DFW bucket list: I’ve lived in the DFW area for 7 of the last ten years. Why have I still not seen these things?

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27.  Visit a TX winery: See above. Also, wine.

28.  Take a cooking class: I’m not a bad cook, but there are things I’d like to learn to do.

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29.  Work with G. until he is really well trained and passes the tests: Just because he’s an official service dog doesn’t mean the training should end. I’ve been really lazy with it lately and it’s starting to affect relationships with others, not to mention our relationship. He deserves better guidance.

30.  Enter a calligraphy project into a show: This will, of course, require me to start doing calligraphy again. I deserve to enjoy my hobbies and creating art brings me joy.

So, that’s my list. I think that 29 is going to be the best year yet and I fully intend to get all this done. I deserve a better life and I want to be a better person for the people (and dog) that I love. So, let’s do this thing.

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P.S. If you're interested in other goals I have, check out my bucket lists

Unbreakable Willy Women: With Love to our Littlest on your Graduation

It’s finals week and I have a paper due tomorrow (tonight?) that I should be writing, but I’m tired and fried and needing sleep. So, while I wait for the coffee to wear off, I’m reflecting and writing this. And, because it’s late and I’m tired and I’m writing about my family, I’m writing in my own, real, Missouri voice. Read with accent, more as you go along. Last weekend I went home to Missouri for my mom’s graduation. It was an awesome trip and I loved it, even if I did have to drive 24 hours in three days and then come home to research and write 40 pages (still in progress)...

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A Month of Letters: InCoWriMo review

Anyone who follows me on here, or on Facebook and Instagram, knows that I have participated in the International Correspondence Writing Month during the month of February. What this entails is basically writing a letter each day during the month of February. That’s it: just write the letter. 

I decided that this year, I would participate partially because one of my New Year’s goals last year was to write more letters. I did it, but “more” was basically like, “Oh look, I wrote ten letters over the course of twelve months.” So, I decided that 29 letters in 29 days sounded like a good challenge. I wasn’t sure I would make it, but I thought I would try. Well, it turns out that I did it.

He might not be the hero Gotham needs, but he's the stamp I needed for this project! My post person probably thought I was crazy with the amount of letters I was mailing out. 

He might not be the hero Gotham needs, but he's the stamp I needed for this project! My post person probably thought I was crazy with the amount of letters I was mailing out. 

For the entire month of February, I sent out, on average, one letter every day. Sometimes I had to write five or six to make up for missing, but I got it done. Sometimes it was a struggle to think of what to say or who to write to, but over the course of the month I kind of figured it out. At the beginning, some of my cards or letters felt awkward or forced, but I think that by the end they just started to flow.

I have a few tips for people who are interested in participating in the future: 

First of all, the best thing I did was print out a calendar and write down the names of people I wanted to send letters to. Some were birthday cards, some were letters to dear friends, and some were letters to complete strangers that I found on the Pen Addict InCoWriMo list (there’s nothing like writing to other people who will appreciate your love for fountain pens).

Another great tip for finishing InCoWriMo is to promise yourself that the letter doesn’t have to be long. While I can always go on for pages when writing to certain friends (that would be you, Daniel Orazio), sometimes I have a hard time thinking of precisely what to say to family members or older friends who might not really care about what’s going on at UNT or how startlingly beautiful the sky is today. The point is to send a letter, not a novel.

Lastly, if you have trouble thinking of who to write to, check out the organization The World Needs More Love Letters. Each month, they send out a list of people going through a rough time who need to receive love letters. It’s kind of fun sending these strangers messages of hope—and frequently, it brings me peace because I can relate to part of their struggle and it helps to do something. Check it out!

Here are some of the letters I sent out to TWNMLL. 

Here are some of the letters I sent out to TWNMLL. 

All in all, I’m so glad that I participated in InCoWriMo. I’m trying to continue my letter writing, so if you want to be a pen pal, just let me know. If you receive a random letter or card in the mail from me, know it’s not me being weird. I just love writing letters and I think most people love receiving mail. It goes well together. 

Thoughts on Academia and a Plea for Help

As many of my friends know, I have been accepted to present at the International Ecopoetics Conference in Perpignan, France this June. I have applied for funding from the University and have received some, but not enough to cover a trip to France, even a simple one. For those of you who don’t live in the great ivory tower of academia, it might seem strange to you that we travel around the world for the sake of presenting a 20 minute paper and receiving comments from our peers.

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An Open Letter to my Dad on His 80th Birthday

Dear Dad,

I don’t know if I have told you this often enough, but you are my hero. It’s not because you’re a soldier or because you used to go to work with barrettes in your hair and glittery stickers on your work shoes or even because you would watch videos and read books (long before the age of YouTube) to learn how to fix my hair in intricate and interesting ways. You are my hero because you were there—all day every day during the summer and every day after school. You weren’t just physically present but emotionally and mentally as well. You never checked out of the Dad job....

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