Sunday, October 28, 2018

Almost An Extrovert (But Not Quite)

Ten days ago, I turned 50. I meant to blog about it the day it happened (really I did), but I didn’t (obviously) and I chalk that up to the fact that I’ve been behaving like some kind of (admittedly still essentially introverted) extrovert for the past month or so.

Lots of people to talk to. Case in point, I have a visitor and lunch-date today (on a SUNDAY?? this never happens), and I’m going away for the weekend next weekend as well.

To be with people. There will also be cats, but in general, the environment will contain more people than cats, and this is not the norm for me.

Last week, I went to three meetings consisting of groups—of people—that ranged anywhere from 5 to… wait for it…15. I had to present to one of said groups. And in between these meetings, I met with no fewer than 23 students.

Separately. So that’s 23 SEPARATE conversations. OUTSIDE of class. I’m not talking about talking to people in class, or even talking to people right after class.

That’s just standard practice, so I’m pretty sure I don’t get extrovert points for that, since it’s basically just doing the day-to-day requirements of my job.

At this point, if I were to find myself staring down the barrel of a Thanksgiving Day filled with people, I don’t think I’d survive it.

Luckily, this is not the case. All of this flurry of … people… will eventually subside and I will be spending more time with those who are furry (cats, not people).

The fact that I preface the idea of a quiet Thanksgiving break with the word “luckily” is proof positive that introverts may behave in extroverted ways, but they cannot be converted.

So please stop trying, if you are currently attempting such a thing. (You know who you are.) We don’t like it, and not only will we eventually find a way to get shut of you, we will be quite relieved when we finally do. If you want us to miss you when you’re not around, this is not the way. 

Temporarily mandated extroversion aside, 50 has been Fun. I ran 7 miles a day, for 3 days of my birthday-week, I’m not sure why.

Perhaps it was to prove that age really is more than just a number.

All joking aside, I did it and was quite proud of myself, particularly when I think back to the fact that, a year ago, I wasn’t running at all.

Meanwhile, this morning, I ran a little over 5 miles without batting an eye.

I’m not saying I’m fast, mind you (see above about age being more than just a number), just that I can do it in a respectable fashion (read: I no longer finish looking like I’m going to collapse and hurl. Or, more accurately, like I’m going to collapse while hurling or hurl while collapsing.)

I’ve also gotten back into swimming. It was never really “gone” from my fitness regimen, per se, but I’d been finding it hard to find time for it, and it eventually required finding a new place to go, signing up for a new membership, etc. etc. So there has been an extended delay.

A few days before my birthday, I had a very anxiety-riddled day. I was kicking myself for that at the end of the day, when it suddenly dawned on me that, thanks to diligence and various therapeutic interventions, I haven’t had a day like that since February.

In fact, it was only my second such day all year. Holy smokes, Batman, is this progress or what?

I’ve found that tackling anxiety is a lot like gaining and maintaining fitness. It takes practice. It takes strategy and tactics and training—simply sitting around saying, “I’m not going to worry about that, I’m not going to worry about that, etc.” isn’t going to work.

It takes an awareness of the environment: we had a nor’easter yesterday, and did I run in it? Of course not. Likewise, constantly contacting or hanging around with people who create the equivalent of an emotional nor’easter is a recipe for anxiety—so now that I’m 50, I’ve accepted the fact that I can’t “run” in “nor’easters” (of any kind) anymore… and I don’t want to.

You can’t stay fit if you beat yourself up over the past, hang your head and stare at your feet, or keep looking over your shoulder. Occasionally, you look back to see how far you’ve come, but only occasionally, and not if it’s going to send you into a tailspin about how you haven’t made “enough” progress. 

Most of the time, you keep looking forward.

And with any luck, you like what you see out ahead of 50. I know I do.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Breaking Point

Fall Break arrived at the close of business on Friday, and not a minute too soon.

Most of last week was consumed by committee work--tasks that I knew I'd have to do, and some that were new.

By Friday, they'd reached critical mass, and I kept telling myself that the goal was--and had to be--getting them finished so I'd have the two days of break "free."

By "free," I mean available for writing.

And yard work. Because I've been so busy, the yard is beyond neglected. The fact that September was a pretty swampy month--lots of rain, abnormally high temperatures--hasn't helped.

Mowing the lawn meant a lot of jumping in surprise. Because, as part of its "back to Nature" campaign, my yard has become home to a host of frogs, the occasional garter snake, and a big ole crop of stinkhorns.

Don't know what stinkhorns are? Well, they're mushrooms that look like penises. And I mean they really look like them.

Don't believe it? Trust me, I know what I'm talking about. (I blogged about them years ago.)

Talk about a lawn and garden pest.

Today, after I did a bout of writing, I decided to get cracking on the copious amount of weeding that needed to be done all around the yard.

It was all going pretty well, until I accidentally began weeding what seems to have been a hive of bees.

They may have been wasps. I don't really know what they were, actually.

I know that wasps have a "narrow waist" and that's how you're able to identify them, but trust me, you really aren't in the mood to fat-shame hymenoptera when you're fleeing and trying to avoid being stung.

Let's put it this way: my Fitbit identified the entire episode as a 13-minute aerobic workout. And gave me caloric credit for it.

The little creatures--whatever they were--pegged me twice. Once on my side, and once on the top of my head (that one really hurt).

It was a bit scary for a moment there, because it's kind of hard to get away from them, once you've stirred them up.

You can scream, "I'm sorry!" but quite frankly, they really don't want to hear it. (Oh, and for the record, shouting "f***!" doesn't do much good either.)

They want you long gone, and whatever reasonable distance you think is "okay" is probably not going to be "okay" with them.

I managed to get the one out of my hair and the other out of my shirt (after they'd stung me, unfortunately), and then I decided that was probably enough weeding for one day.

I took advil (did I mention being stung on the top of your head hurts? yeah--that) and then I took benedryl, because although I'm not allergic to bee stings (just food) (knock wood), in my experience, an immediate dose of benedryl keeps a bee sting from turning into a very itchy production.

In the past, I've had bee stings swell up to the size of a Campfire marshmallow (the toasting size, not the mini), turn bluish purple, and itch like there's no tomorrow.

I'd like to avoid that tomorrow today.

This means, though, that I'm going to spend the rest of today feeling groggy and sort of out of it.

I've already corrected no fewer than 5 spelling and typo mistakes in this short blog post. (I typed "aldready" just now.)

So I'm brewing a little coffee to try to offset the grogginess that's clearly already (nailed it!) set in.

I don't mind spending the rest of the day reading, but I can't help but think that it would be better if I  stood a chance of remembering what I've read.

Hence, the mid-afternoon coffee. This is something that I haven't done since I was in college, when I'd be getting up at noon on a Sunday, and "breakfast coffee" would mean mid-afternoon coffee.

Hey, at least I'm on break. If I end up scratching my head like a monkey for the remainder of the week, no one will notice.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Gone Girl

Yes, I know I said about two weeks ago that I had an idea for a blog post and that I'd post it.

But then I looked at the idea about two days later and decided it really wasn't all that good.

And that was all she wrote.

Literally. The September blogging was pathetic.

I know, I know. (I know.)

But at the same time, I can't feel too terrible, because I actually got a lot of writing done on other fronts, and that needed to happen.

I now have several articles written and waiting to find a home. I proposed a conference paper, that has passed an initial hurdle of review, and I'm hoping the last hurdle is just a big ole rubber stamp in disguise.

I had to laugh at myself: I drafted the conference paper after looking at the call for papers.

When I did, I was pleasantly surprised that they requested a 1500-word abstract.

Usually, abstracts are only about 250 words. This gave me a lot more room to flesh out my ideas, so that's what I did.

I spent about 4-5 days of September doing just that: working my way up to a 1500 word abstract. 

As I worked on it, I was increasingly surprised they wanted such a substantive abstract, since really, this meant it was basically going to be almost as long as the conference presentation paper itself.

But I kept cheerfully chugging along, as the days of September flew by.

Finally, I got within the 1500-word striking zone, so I decided to upload the proposal.

I went to the website and began filling in the various text boxes with the various information.

And that's when I saw it. The guidelines for the abstract.

"Abstracts should be no more than 1500 characters, including spaces."


"Characters." It says... "characters."

"Including spaces."

Where did that phrase come from? How did I not see that the first time around?

"Abstracts should be 1500 characters, including spaces."

So yeah, that's what the website actually said all along.

It said something is pretty typical, not something surprising and unusual.

Cue the klunk, klunk, klunk sound of my head hitting the keyboard repeatedly.

When it was all said and done--all 1500 CHARACTERS of it--I had to laugh.

I'd put so much time and effort into writing up the proposal, that making a 250 word abstract basically meant yanking out a few fragments of some sentences, connecting them to one another, and hoping for the best (and by "the best," I mean "coherence").

At that point in time, I was unwilling to think of what might happen--or how I'd feel--if the proposal had ultimately been rejected outright.

When it cleared the initial hurdle, my heart leapt right along with it.

At least now, if it does ultimately get approved and accepted, I'll have very little work to do next spring, when it's time to pull together the actual paper.

Unless, of course, I experience something like what I experienced with the "prepared" September blog posts wherein I look at them, think, "No... that's not very good. Not that. Think of something else,"  and then just never do.

Anyway, September is gone, and clearly, so was I. That much I know.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018


I feel like I've been too busy to breathe this past month.

The semester has started. (In case that wasn't already obvious.)

I've been trying to keep up with course prep (I'm thinking maybe teaching a totally new course again wasn't the best idea), while also trying to catch up with a bunch of unfinished applications and proposals and submissions.

Oh, and did I mention that I also keep discovering new things to apply for?

Yeah, that too. Gotta stop that.

Long story short, everything everywhere involves writing. Documents followed by documents followed by abstracts followed by cover letters... that kind of thing.

So when I do get a spare minute to exhale, I'm finding that the thought of ... writing... on the blog makes me feel nothing short of queasy.

But at the same time, the thought of not writing on the blog--again--makes me feel terribly guilty.

So today I figured I'd make a virtue of necessity and simply write about how unbelievable it is that I've been away from the blog for a month, after being so diligent for a while, and that maybe issuing that statement would help me get back on track.

I have a possible idea for a blog post later this week, so let's see if I stick with it.

My productivity tracking also fell by the wayside for a bit, because the start of the month was marked by a lot of errand-running and course-setup and things that, while they grease the wheels of the academic machinery and writing, aren't really things that make me feel particularly productive, per se.

But maybe I can combine a renewed commitment to the blog to a renewed effort to track my ... efforts.

I want to believe.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Scramble

The last week (or so) has been all about The Scramble.

Classes start next Tuesday, so... there's that.

I have a deadline of Sept. 1st for an article I plan to submit, and so far, it's going well (knock wood) but of course--OF COURSE--it is going far more slowly that I had planned and hoped.

I'm reminding myself that at least I had the good sense to set aside an article that I've been working on for a while now that is almost done, so that I could work on the one with the hard-and-fast deadline.

Because for a minute or two there, I had been telling myself that I "had" to finish the no-deadline, I-did-this-to-myself article before I could start the "due Sept. 1st" article.

Needless to say, that was just madness. So I set it aside and I'm reassuring myself that, when I finish the Sept. 1st article, the other article will "all but write itself" because I've "had time away" from it.

If believing that is wrong, I don't want to be right.

Like others, I've also been glued to the political news out there, but like others, I really don't want to talk about it. Fingers crossed, that's all I'll say about that.

So in essence, my time has been spent reading and writing, to such an extent that it's been easy to set other things like the blog--and exercise--aside (or at least try to set them aside), in deference to the unspoken terms of The Scramble.

But I'm trying not to, because I don't want to undo all of the good that I've done. There have been lots of new blog posts this summer, after a lengthy hiatus, and this is a good thing.

I've also signed up to do the Million Miles again this year during the month of September--it's to raise money for Alex's Lemonade Stand, a foundation that raises money for childhood cancer research.

If you'd like to donate, my team's page is here: any and all contributions, great or small, are greatly appreciated! 

I set a low mileage goal for myself this year, because I'm staring down the barrel at a busy semester, so didn't know what I'd be able to accomplish. I'm committed to doing at least 100 miles in the month of September, though--anything else will be gravy.

Right now, though, I'm scrambling, because even though I kept the garden quite limited this year, I'm staring at it and realizing that it's probably going to take more time to get that sorted than I actually have available.

I blame the weather. It's been horribly hot and humid, followed by entirely rainy, for so many days, that it becomes difficult to gauge when to do what.

And, looking at the weather forecast, I see that it's predicted to be 90 degrees again on the days that I have to teach next week.

Thanks a lot, Mother N.

Perfect weather for a mad, sweaty scramble.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Day After Vacay

I took about 10 days off and while it's always a bit sad to have to wind down a nice vacation, it's also true (for me at least) that I generally feel refreshed and ready when I return to work.

This vacation was no exception. There was all kinds of fun, including trips to a couple of spots I'd always wanted to see.

We spent a day in Salem, MA, and given all of the witchy-kitschy things there, I'm not sure you'd really want to spend more than a day sight-seeking there, unless you're into the dark arts, in which case (sorry, couldn't resist), there would be a lot more for you to see.

We visited the Jonathan Corwin house (pictured here at the left).

We also visited the House of the Seven Gables (pictured below).

Nathaniel Hawthorne's birthplace has also been relocated to the property, so we visited that as well.  

We spent some time at the Old Burying Ground and the Salem Witch Trials Memorial.

Everyone should visit the latter. It's an important reminder of what happens when hysteria takes over and people lose sight of what they know to be true about their neighbors and the people they've known their entire lives.

We also took a day-trip to a place that I've always wanted to see--The New Bedford Whaling Museum.

(I'm not like the other girls, I know.)

I first heard about the museum when I was writing an article about Moby-Dick--a novel that I've always loved. (See above about not being like the other girls.)

So I've wanted to visit for some time, and luckily for me, my friends were down for it. They admitted afterward that it was interesting because it was unexpected--not something you would already know much about, and something worth learning more about because it is an important part of the history of New England.

We also visited the Mariner's Home, and the Seamen's Bethel, so I also got to see the famous cenotaphs mentioned in Moby Dick and the pulpit shaped like the prow of a ship (that's been added since the production of the 1956 film--Melville imagined the pulpit looked like the front of the ship, but at that time, it didn't).

My friends ate chowder. (I'm allergic to fish, so none for me.) We walked a lot, and then, we got up the next day and walked some more, touring Federal Hill in Providence and having a cannoli.

We went to Matunuck Beach when it was hot and all got a little bit of sunburn because we were having such a nice day.

The next day, because it was still hot, we went to Narragansett and ate gelato. 

We drove go-cart race cars and played air-hockey and miniature golf. We ate more ice cream.

We had a barbecue. When it rained, we went to the movies and we went bowling.  

In short, we had a perfect little vacation... except for the day when I didn't shut the fridge door all the way and came home to find that it was 75 degrees in my fridge... and it wouldn't start up again.

Turns out, that's a function of having a fridge with an auto defrost. We managed to problem-solve and get the thing going again, and I must say, I'm still filled with chilled relief every time I open the fridge and it's cold inside.

I also put my train ticket to Salem in a "safe place."

Never do that.

I eventually found it, but I think my friend thought she was going to have to put a paper bag over my mouth so I wouldn't hyperventilate. I'm a very tidy person, so randomly losing things is sort of my nightmare. (Again, see above about not being like the other girls.)

I'm sorry my vacation had to come to an end, but all in all, it was a great way to recharge my mental batteries and begin getting myself ready for the upcoming semester.

Where did the summer go? How can it be August already?

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Murky Middle

Lately, I've decided that being midway through a writing project is basically like biking (or running, or even walking) in heat, humidity, and a headwind.

When conditions are favorable--when the weather is cool, the humidity is low, and you've got the wind at your back--you can measure how far you've come, realize how far you still have to go, but decide "I can do it!"

You feel good about yourself, because you're tackling a challenge.

Heat, humidity, and a headwind change all of that.

Suddenly, it's as if you're working really hard and going absolutely nowhere. But by the time you're midway through the journey, you realize that you're simply too far along to turn back.

You have to see it through to the end, but the end really is nowhere in sight.

The light at the end of the tunnel? You raced towards what turned out to be a flickering flashlight--and then the batteries died.

A lot of people will say that the start of a project is difficult--"the blank screen!"--while others will argue that the ending is always problematic--"how to wrap it all up?!"

I say, the murky middle is the worst.

In Write No Matter What: Advice for Academics (2017), Joli Jensen devotes a chapter to the topic of "Working with Stalls"-- points in the writing process where the writer "encounter[s] unexpected stasis--a loss of writing momentum" (105).

Isn't that such a nice way of phrasing it? "Unexpected stasis." It sounds so... peaceful.

Jensen attributes such stalls to four types of problems: "writing lulls, psychic resistance, structural problems, and profound loathing" (105).

God knows we've all felt that last one, that's for sure.

In my experience, though, I've often encountered a writing dilemma that lies somewhere between an outright "stall" (although heaven knows I've had those too) and a situation that Jensen calls "finding the lost trail" ("when you've lost track of the path you thought you were on and can't see another route to follow" [86]).

In the experience I've encountered, you're not stalled: you're moving (writing).

And you're not lost. You basically know the path you more or less need to follow, and you're not in a panic, because you realize that there are probably multiple paths you could follow that would get you to your goal.

But in the murky middle, when heat, humidity, and a headwind set in, progress slows measurably.

Although you seem to be getting from point A to point B, you feel like the going is so slow that you begin to wonder if it's a sign that you really should just give up.

This morning, I woke up and knew that I needed to go for a bike ride. I knew it needed to be at least 20 miles, and I knew basically what path I would take and how long the ride would probably be.

And ye gods what a slog that ride turned out to be this morning. The humidity kicked in earlier than expected, and it felt like I was biking through lukewarm soup.

And the headwind, which you'd think would be a nice breezy option on a warm July morning, only made matters worse: it left me pedaling away but feeling as if I was getting absolutely nowhere.

Or getting somewhere so slowly that I might as well not be biking at all.

10 miles into a 20-mile ride, odds are, there's no return strategy that's going to be anything less than 10 more miles.

But on the bike, you can't give up. (This is where the good people who came up with the adage "the only way out is through!" nod and smile knowingly.)

When you're writing, you can. And many writers often do.

In fact, Jensen suggests that they may need to (particularly if they're experiencing a stall due to "profound loathing.")

But I say, keep moving through the murky middle. If you're not completely stalled, you're writing.

And that writing--slow as it may be--may turn out to be just what you needed to get back home.