And a Happy (and Healthy) New Year

Academia is certainly not a profession known for the healthy habits it induces. After all, academics spend a good portion of their time inside behind a desk. They spend long hours staring a computer screens, reading books and articles, grading essays, and attempting to decipher student writing. Meals are sometimes quickly procured and consumed in-between classes, office hours, grading, and research, meaning that the vending machine has probably served as the selection for fine dining on more than one occasion. All of this is topped off with countless student questions, department expectations, committee obligations, professional deadlines, and, oh yeah, personal lives.

However rewarding it may be, academia can also be a stressful, tiring, semi-depressing, and even isolating profession. Heck, when I was a TA, our offices didn’t even have windows. I would go HOURS without ever seeing natural light or catching a glimpse of what the weather conditions were like outside. I ate meals straight out of the vending machine more times than I would really like to admit, and I was a solid ball of stress, anxiety, and borderline depression for the vast majority of my time in the program. The most notable exercise  I got, except for the rare occasions that I ventured across campus to the faculty dining hall, was my countless trips between my office and the copier room down the hall. Now that I’m an adjunct instructor, I am slightly less overwhelmed and in an office with several windows for optimal weather viewing, but I still find myself constantly consumed with stress, anxiety, and unhealthy habits.

I’ve decided that I’m going to try to NOT live this way next semester, especially since this next semester also marks the start of a new calendar year. I’m going to try to do small things to live a healthier and happier life within the unique constraints of the academic lifestyle. Whether you’re an academic or not, maybe there are some things that you might want to try too! Here’s my starting list of ideas and recommendations for tackling 2017:

  • Do some writing that isn’t for work. This could be fiction, poetry, stream-of-consciousness mental wanderings, journaling, diary-keeping, letters to loved ones…the list could go on and on. You can certainly write about work (by which I mean vent about work through writing), but this shouldn’t be writing for work. No assignments, no articles, no conference papers, no book proposals, nothing with a deadline and/or a professional purpose. This is writing for you and you alone. While I do all sorts of writing, one of my main things is that I consistently keep several journals at once…a teaching journal, a health/fitness journal, and a general life journal. Writing about these different areas helps me to reflect on them and gives me dedicated personal time to just think about and write for myself.
  • Make time for exercise. And by that I mean real exercise, not “I’ve walked to the copier and to the mailbox so many times today” exercise. Not only does exercise contribute to overall fitness and wellbeing, but experts often note how exercise can be a great stress reliever. The beauty about this is that, if you’re used to pretty much zero exercise, there’s no wrong way to start exercising. Experiment with different methods and styles to see what works the best for you. This is something I personally really need to work on; I’m going to try to get back into yoga because I love how yoga offers exercise and meditation all in one.
  • Strive for three healthy, balanced meals a day. Teaching 8 AM classes makes it difficult to wake up and get breakfast in before reporting to the classroom. Especially for adjunct instructors, teaching several classes across different campuses within a single day often means that lunch isn’t until late in the afternoon. Otherwise, “lunch” ends up being fast food hurriedly consumed in the car, or a “meal” slapped together out of vending machine food. Not only does this pattern have the potential to make for some hangry faculty, but not eating nutritious foods at regular intervals can lead to headaches, mental fogginess, hair and skin problems, and a weakened immune system. This is something else I really struggle with, so I definitely need to work on this in the coming year.    
  •  Join a writing group (or start one). Writing groups are nothing short of the best thing ever. I have been in graduate student and faculty writing groups and have found them to have countless benefits. Basically, a group of individuals gather together (usually at a coffee shop) for dedicated work time. At the start of the session, those present talk briefly about what they’re working on, and then a timer is set. While the timer is on, the members cannot get up from the table, talk to each other, get on Facebook, check their phones, grade papers, or do anything that isn’t directly writing related. When the timer goes off, then the members can discuss their progress, share bits of their writing with others, and ask questions. While they may not always be as regimented as what I’ve laid out here, writing groups are a great way to establish a sense of community among peers, give individuals dedicated work time, and make everyone accountable for getting something done. I honestly don’t think I would have done as well as I did in graduate school without writing group, and it has been a practice I have continued regularly as an adjunct.
  • Spend time with others who understand what you’re going through. Going along with the benefits of writing groups is spending time with your peers outside of your offices and department meetings. Your fellow academics are enduring the same things that you are. They, too, are negotiating busy schedules, conflicts between their personal and professional lives, teaching and grading woes, and the ever-present dread of deadlines. Basically, these guys and gals get you. So spend time with them. I use faculty writing group for this purpose, but I also try to stay in touch with members of my TA cohort. Even though several of my TA friends (including my boyfriend) are not currently in academic jobs, they’ve been there and done that. Establishing relationships with others in your department is an invaluable resource for advice, ideas, a shoulder to cry on, and a place to vent.   
  • Invest in an essential oil diffuser. One of my TA friends is a huge advocate for and user of essential oils. She has a small diffuser in her office and always has some sort of fantastic blend running if she’s in there. When I was still in the program, her office quickly became the popular spot to hang out because it always smelled so good, and we all just felt different breathing in that air. I became super interested in getting a diffuser for myself, and this Christmas I finally got one. While I haven’t purchased a full set of oils yet and am still perfecting blends of the oils I do have, there has been a noticeable difference in the way I feel when I’m diffusing oils. I highly recommend that every academic considers getting an essential oil diffuser, whether for work or for home.
  • Create the perfect playlist(s). Music can have a great influence on mood. Spend time perfecting a playlist for different situations. Find an upbeat, motivating mix to help push your workouts to the next level. Put together music for grading and writing. Create a refreshing, relaxing mix for when you are unwinding at home. Think of what music you might even bring into the classroom for writing days and workshops.
  • Reorganize/redecorate your personal spaces. Especially at mid-terms and finals, being in academia can make you feel like you’ve lost control at times. While you might have little to no influence over university regulations, department expectations, student learning outcomes, and grade submission dates, you do have control over your own personal spaces. Use stylish containers to reorganize your supplies, or invest in some new décor for your office walls. As a TA, I found that my office was a much more welcoming work space when I cleared former TAs’ stuff out of my bookshelves, bought cute storage for my office supplies, and hung up meaningful artwork on the walls. I even brought in Christmas lights at the holidays. This helped make my corner of a shared office feel more like mine and more like home, and not having this opportunity now is one of the things I dislike most about being an adjunct; I don’t have any personal space to make my own. If you have already personalized your office to the max or are not allowed to make these kinds of adjustments, then consider doing something at home. Move your furniture around, buy new bedding, paint a room…just make some kind of change to reinvigorate your living space and renew your sense of self.
  • Remember to let yourself break down once in a while. It is okay to cry. It is okay to have a complete meltdown. These are natural consequences of working in a stressful environment. The key is not to let these moments of overwhelming emotion take over your life. Allow yourself to break down once in a while, but, when the breakdown is over, let it just be over. Instead of helplessly thinking how you will never get everything done or will never be able to fix the problem you’re facing, take a deep breath and start thinking of an action plan. In my academic life, there have been plenty of meltdowns and freak-outs where I was convinced I would never make it all happen. But, spoiler alert, it always came together in the end. I always made it happen. Going forward, I want to try to remember this. No matter how lost and overwhelmed I feel, I need to take a moment to collect myself and then push on forward.

So there you have it. Some of these are things I already do that I would like to continue, some of these are things that I know I need to try to do more, and some are things that I’ve been neglecting completely up until this point. If I incorporate all of these things into my life, I am convinced that I can live a happier, healthier, and more productive life in 2017. Maybe a few of these ideas can help some of you in the new year as well!

Do you have any of your own ideas and suggestions for staying sane in academia in 2017?  Or just living a better life in general? If so, please feel free to share them in a comment!

All’s Well That Ends Well (or Something)

The end of the calendar year is officially upon us.

Of course, anytime that one year comes to an end and another one is set to begin, we as humans naturally resort to nostalgic reflection, introspection, and prediction. We think about what went wrong in the last twelve months, what went right, and what we can do to make the next year an even better one (or, at bare minimum, a slightly less disastrous one). Every new year is chance to start again.

So, how does 2016 rate?

I think most Americans (and people in plenty of other countries) can agree that 2016 has been far from the brightest star in our collective sky. With notable celebrity deaths, global travesties, and a shit-show of a presidential election, I wouldn’t be surprised to find many people breathing a quiet sigh of relief when the clock strikes midnight and 2o16 finally slips away for good.

Putting all that aside, though, 2016 hasn’t been a bad year for me personally. In fact, 2016 has been packed full of firsts and milestones, both good and less-than-good. In the past twelve months I:

  • saw my first published academic/scholarly article in print
  • started dating my coworker/classmate-turned-friend
  • got into my first car accident
  • bought a new-to-me car for the first time
  • turned 24
  • went to Seattle with two of my TA friends
  • presented at an academic conference in Seattle with those TA friends
  • presented at writing center conference
  • graduated with my M.A. in English with a concentration in writing
  • had an awesome Harry Potter themed graduation party
  • got hired as an online writing tutor
  • went on vacation with a boyfriend for the first time to a place I had never visited
  • did all kinds of boyfriend-related things for the first time
  • celebrated 6 months with that coworker/classmate-turned-friend-turned-boyfriend
  • witnessed more than one major parent-related health crisis (again)
  • got hired to continue teaching at my home institution and to teach at the local community college
  • taught a total of seven college composition courses
  • had a final-round interview for my dream job
  • celebrated the holidays with friends, family, and my boyfriend’s family

In total, 2016 has been nothing short of a hectic, stressful, rewarding, surprising year full of twists and turns. While not everything that occurred this year was ideal, I don’t really regret anything; good things always seem to come out of the negative ones. In a lot of ways, this year wasn’t so much about being perfect…it was about setting the stage for where I want to go and who I want to be. I’ve accomplished so much professionally since I graduated in May, and my love life is more fulfilling than it has ever been before. I have good friends, supportive family, and a job I love. I’m not quite where I want and need to be, but I’m definitely headed in the right direction. I’m on the cusp of something wonderful, and that’s what I think 2017 will bring.

So, friends, let’s say goodbye to 2016 and welcome the possibilities that 2017 holds. It’s going to be a great year.

 

Anxious Academics

I don’t really talk much about my anxiety. I don’t know why I don’t. I’m not exactly ashamed of it. I guess I just always feel like I would sound like I am looking for attention (which I’m definitely not) or exaggerating a nonexistent problem (which I’m pretty sure I’m not).

Some of my friends are less bashful than I am when it comes to talking about issues with anxiety. Among my peer group (broadly conceived), not having anxiety issues seems to be less common and more unusual than actually having them. Since a lot of my friends are around my same age with graduate degrees in English, this makes me question whether this simply generational, if this is a product of the high-pressure world of academia, or if English as a discipline simply happens to attract individuals with similar idiosyncrasies. Or, you know, a dangerous combination of all three.

When I think about stereotypical portrayals of English academics, a few things come to mind. The absent-minded professor that is so wrapped up in their own research that they forget things like scheduled office hours, committee meetings, and whether or not students turned in an assignment. The tenured faculty member that is still teaching off the same syllabus they first developed 30 years ago. The pretentious professor that looks down upon any student that can’t name 5 prominent literary theorists off the top of their head. In six academic years of taking courses and 2 and a half teaching them, I have definitely encountered professors that have fit into each of these categories.

So is that what I and others like me are becoming? A new option on the list of possible professor personality profiles? Anxious academics. Introverts forced to fake extroversion in order to make each class happen. Instructors that cry over their piles of textbooks and ungraded essays from a combination of stress and exhaustion. Fake-it-’til-you-make-it individuals that somewhat dread meeting a new group of students every term.

Anxious Academics. We’re a burgeoning demographic in English departments everywhere. New tenure-track professors and full-time lecturers might be them. Your TA is almost certainly one. The trick is getting us to come out of hiding.

Gilmore Gripes

After months of excitement and anticipation, the Gilmore Girls revival has come and gone, leaving thousands of women in various states of satisfaction, apathy, and disappointment in its wake. Most of the discussion I’ve witnessed, from friends and in more formal contexts, has focused on the those four infamous final words. And, so, that is what I would like to discuss here. Spoiler evaders beware…

In all total honesty, the final four words were not very surprising and thus rather underwhelming. For viewers that never saw that ending coming, I question where they’ve been in the weeks leading up to the revival and if they were even paying attention during the events preceding those final four words.

One of the promotional posters for the revival prominently featured an apple, a reoccurring trope from the original series that was always linked to pregnancy. Lots of fans had hypothesized that the final words would have something to do with Rory giving birth to a daughter and naming her Lorelai to continue the legacy. When the surrogate-talk came up at the beginning of the revival itself, there was too much of an emphasis on pregnancy and child-rearing for one of the Gilmore Girls not to end up pregnant by the end of Fall. With all of this already in mind, the real purpose behind Rory’s visit to Christopher was completely transparent to me: Rory was obviously pregnant.

So, the final four words were not surprising to me at all, and I really have no problem with the idea of Rory being pregnant at the end of the revival. What I DO have a problem with is the situation under which she became pregnant and the ways in which the revival completely destroyed the Rory we knew and loved from the original series.

When Rory slept with a married Dean, she was a young girl caught up in the idea of her first love trapped in an unhappy marriage. She was not totally without remorse and eventually realized that this wasn’t the way she should be acting, so she moved on. What we see instead in the revival is a colder version of Rory with no real qualms about sneaking around behind another woman’s back. Her unsatisfactory feelings regarding the affair center only around how the fiancé is interrupting her own time with Logan. On top of that, she cheats on her own boyfriend repeatedly with Logan, and even randomly sleeps with another dude in the process. Never does she seem to have any sort of guilt or remorse for any of this. In addition, all of this is added on top of a train wreck of a career path in which Rory continually views herself as too good for the opportunities that are given to her.

To those saying that the revival is a realistic portrayal of some 30-somethings nowadays, you’re right. It is totally feasible that a 32 year-old woman might have plateaued in her career and might be struggling to figure out the next phase of her life. It is totally feasible that a 32 year-old woman might have to move back home. It is totally feasible that a 32 year-old woman might unintentionally get pregnant out of wedlock. I understand all of this, and I appreciate the revival’s decision not to give Rory a perfect life as an adult. What is not feasible, though, is that sweet, smart Rory Gilmore became a conceited, selfish, home-wrecking adult that thinks she is entitled to anything and anyone she wants without any consideration of others.

Rory is not the protagonist of this story; she’s the villain. She’s out of touch with reality and acts without regard to the feelings of others. She knowingly ruins lives without a second thought, and she betrays herself through this behavior. For this reason, I cannot and will not ever be satisfied with the Gilmore Girls revival.