Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Round 2 Revisions on #DevilDiss2 Complete

Everyone on my Twitter feed, and the Internet in general, is posting their end of year reviews.
Of movies. Of books. Of their academic successes, and failures. Of their life in review.

I began 2015 finishing studying for my PhD comprehensive exams.
I ended it with completing the second round of revisions on my dissertation.

I have just sent my Milton chapter, the sixth chapter, off to my director.
From 30 November to today I have sent them all six revised chapters. And with the holidays, I am sure it will be at least a couple of weeks, if not longer, before I get notes to start the third round of revisions on the dissertation.

This means that for now...
While I took Christmas day off, I have worked solid. I am horrible for taking days off. I've tried to be good about taking Sundays completely off from work, but as I noticed when talking to my godmother the other night, I really can't remember when I took time off-time off. I spent this past semester revising the dissertation, the summer drafting the first draft of the dissertation, this past spring studying for, then taking comps, then prepping and presenting my dissertation proposal defense. Last winter break I was studying for comps.
So maybe last fall?

No matter, the important thing is, for now, I am done.
I have nothing to do the next couple of weeks.

While the Puppy Overlord means that I haven't known what sleeping in is in six and a half years, it means naps are in my future.
Lots of naps.
And Netflix catch ups.
And naps as I fall asleep to Netflix.

Which is good, because I'm more than a little exhausted.
It's been a stressful (albeit productive) year. It's been a busy year.
  • I worked as a co-editor for an upcoming journal issue, which was an interesting experience both for seeing how a focused journal section came about, organizing it, and writing my own piece.
  • I went to MLA for the first time, presented at SCMS in Montreal (and got my first stamp in my passport having forgotten to ask them to stamp it in Vancouver at MLA) but did not like Montreal, and presented again at my home away from home of Fairy Tale Panels at PCA/ACA in New Orleans which I loved. 
  • My article “Don’t Just Print the Legend, Write It: The Odd Construction of Elfego Baca as Folk Hero” was accepted at Western Folklore and is forthcoming. I am really proud of this piece because it is based on archive work at the Center for Southwest Research, came out of an American West seminar, and deeply informed my pamphlet chapter approach for the dissertation. 
  • I was also invited to write a chapter, “‘I’m just a kid from Brooklyn’: Steve Rogers as Working Class Hero” for an edited collection,  Working Class Superheroes. Ed. Marc DiPaolo. Jackson: Mississippi UP. Under Contract. This was also a very cool experience because I was asked to expand an article I'd written for Sequart about Captain America: Winter Soldier as an indictment of the military industrial complex. 
  • My chapter “I Framed Freddy: Functional Aesthetics in the Nightmare on Elm Street series” in  Style and Form in the Hollywood Slasher Film. Ed. Wickham Clayton was released this fall, and I am very proud of this, and it was great to be able to write about Freddy Krueger again.
  • Since my director says I will defend by summer 2016, I went on the job market this fall and applied for about fifty jobs. As of this writing I still haven't heard from 24 of them, so assume I'm still in the running.
  • I designed, and taught, my first post-comps literature class, a Survey of Early English, which I built around the concept of Here Be Monsters.
  • I was also asked by my department chair to design and teach the large online lecture class of Early Shakespeare for the spring, which I'm really looking forward to.
  • And of course there was the initial draft, and two subsequent revisions of #DevilDiss.
I also wrote a bunch of shorter pieces, most non-academic, but still related to my interests. I continue to be indebted to Mike Phillips and @JulianDarius at Sequart for allowing me to pitch them crazy ideas and write for them.
I had several edited collections I proposed chapters for, but did not get in. One on werewolves, another on teaching. I sent a version of my Anglo-Saxon chapter out and it was rejected, but I got great notes that really improved the chapter. The rejections didn't bother me because frankly at this point, it's less things to focus on. 
The next few months the decks are cleared for staying focused on the dissertation.

So, turning the page, 2016 is going to be a year of changes.
  • In March I present at ACLA in Boston about John Constantine as anti-hero and his connections to the demonic
    • This is a great place to try out some of the ideas I start with my Revising Milton class that will become my next book project. And I was invited to submit, which is a nice feeling.
  • In April I'll present at PCA/ACA in Seattle about viewing Cinderella and its revisions through a Marxist lens 
  • In May I'll present at Kzoo a section of my dissertation on monstrous landscapes in Anglo-Saxon literature
  • Sometime before 15 July I will defend my dissertation because my director says I'm defending by summer and that's the deadline which means...
  • I will graduate this year. I will be Dr. Devil AKA Dr. Karra Heather Katherine Shimabukuro.
I confessed to my godmother the other night that on dark days I was worried I would be homeless and starving come June. She laughed at me, pointed out that I'd be 40 in February, and had not yet been homeless OR starving so the likelihood that I suddenly would be was slim to none.
I keep saying this, but I still hope I can convince my director to move my defense up before 15 April, as that will mean spring not summer graduation. Because I'd like to be done when I walk in May, and I don't know how I'll pay the $600 of tuition necessary to defend in July.

I don't know where I will be living.
I do not know how I'm paying bills once my TAship runs out in May.
I don't know what job I will have- I could be teaching high school here in Albuquerque. I could land a professor job. I could work for the federal government.

I could be working at Lowe's.
I look good in red.
There are some things I'd like to aim for, although the dissertation will be priority one the first half of the year.
  • I'd like to send off a version of chapter 4, my Shakespeare chapter, and see if I can get it published.
  • I'd like to get a book contract for #DevilDiss as it becomes The Devil You Know.
  • I'd like to expand my PCA/ACA paper from this past year on Teen Wolf and queer werewolves and submit it for publication.
  • I'd like to use my ACLA paper to start fleshing out, really thinking about my next big project, Revising Milton.

So I end the year feeling like I've accomplished a lot, but uncertain about my future.

Rather than spend the next month of forced time off worrying about this I will try instead to empty the DVR, spend quality time with Nehi, up our daily runs (once the unseasonable snow and ice melts and our run circuit in our neighborhood stops being a death trap). 
I'd like to catch up on some of the academic reading that got pushed aside as I laser-focused on dissertation revisions this past year, particularly the Wonder Woman book:
I may even read some non-academic books!  I am craving a Nora Roberts. And have books on the stack from my birthday LAST YEAR that have been gathering dust.
In the next couple of months I'll have notes to start round 3 revisions, and maybe even a defense date.
I'll also have some answers on the job market front so I can start planning which back up plans I'm pulling the trigger on.

Until then, I plan on throwing myself a Star Wars themed 40th birthday in a month.
And most importantly, I'll try to focus on the Zen lessons Nehi teaches me.
Because really anything is possible when you have woobies.
Happy New Year's to everyone, may you leave the past year behind you, and have nothing but good things in the coming year!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Twas the night before Christmas...and this PhD student is alone and finishing round 2 revisions

Christmas was always magical in my house. It was my Mom's defining holiday. It started as soon as you saw Santa at the end of the Macy's Day Parade and continued for the twelve days of Christmas. Our house was defined by the rituals and traditions we had. This included making the house look like Santa threw up all over it and putting the tree up the day after Thanksgiving. It included singing carols, listening to Christmas music on an endless Purgatory loop. It meant Christmas movies in the background every second you were awake.
When Mom died in 2011 I clung to all these traditions and made sure I did them all.
My first year of my PhD program I was able to drive the 1951 miles home over three days with Nehi to celebrate Christmas, where I continued to try and keep up the traditions. But I seemed to be the only one clinging to these traditions.

Last year I could not afford to go home. With having to drive because of Nehi, and the three days out and back, it adds up to about $1000 and I just didn't have it.

My godparents and extended family sent presents, but it was still lonely. The only upside was that last year I was prepping for comps in February, so I made good use of the time off.
This year, though is harder. I'm working steadily, but I've had to force myself to watch Christmas movies and am not feeling it. I desperately miss my mom. Family not sending cards, or telling me "whoops, I forgot to mail your present in time" are not helping. I feel alone.

Dissertating is a solitary experience. More so during the holidays I think.

On top of all of this, looming in the background is the academic job market. While I've only heard from about six of the 50+ jobs I applied to, according to the briefly checked, then tab closed, academic wiki, over half of those jobs are already at the interview stage, either the MLA interview, campus interview or in one case, the job is already filled.
Me checking my inbox and spam folders to see if I've missed a job interview request
Now I've tried to be very zen about this. I know some people are going nuts, and I get it. I got an email this week that said:
"I'm sorry to let you know that we have decided not to interview you at MLA next month.  We received 260 applications for this position; it was tremendously difficult to make a short list when there were so many excellent applicants.  Because we are such a small department we needed to focus all the more on the existing gaps in our curriculum."
  • First, you mean MLA, that thing in two weeks?
  • The mention of number of jobs seems odd.
  • As does the last line.
  • And the fact that according to the wiki, this comes weeks after they made interview decisions.
But while I recognize why people get upset by this I also understand this is just how it is, so while I smirked at this, it didn't make me upset. 
Do I think a lot of things about the job market should change? Yeah. Am I going to make myself crazy because it's not fair? Nope. Big cup of nope.
There's still 20+ jobs that seem up for grabs, and I applied to two new ones this week. So it continues.

And I am still eyeing my back up plans.
But whether or not I'm conscious of it, there is stress running in the background- how will I pay rent, or eat, in June? July? August? I've talked a lot about my white trash background. I know what it's like not to have a place to live. Or have regular access to food. So these are real fears for me.

My Dad keeps saying "next year..." as though that's a miracle fix. I don't know how to explain to him that there's no guarantee. I've tried to explain to him, and others (who ask where I want to live next year, like there's a smorgasbord of job choices just waiting for me to choose THEM) that IF I'm lucky to get a job I'll GO anywhere there is a paycheck. I just get blank looks back. They just don't understand how higher ed works.
...I'll have a job
Don't get me wrong- I know I did this to myself. I gave up a $50,000+ a year job with benefits teaching high school. I gave up my house. I did this. I get it. I did it because I wanted more options. Because I wanted to teach at the college level.
I've worked hard. I've done everything you're supposed to do.
I've published.
I've taught.
I've volunteered for things that look good on the CV.
I've busted my ass to finish in three years.
The delusion we all have about the job market
I did everything I possibly could to make myself a good candidate. But as the email response above shows, there are hundreds of people applying for jobs. Many are already PhDs who graduated last year or the year before. Whose publications are more, or more focused.
Why wasn't I a good fit? They dislike the toys on my Twitter background? I wear ties? Am I too old?
I will never know why I did not make the cut for those jobs. They won't ever tell me what it was that put me on the slush pile. It's a weakness of the market that you're supposed to learn from a cycle on the job market but you're not given any feedback or input on HOW to learn or even WHAT you're supposed to learn.

I don't know if I can do another round on the job market if there's nothing this year. I'm switching my high school teaching certification to New Mexico. I'm thinking about going back to Teach for America. I'll be 40 in February and I kind of just want my life back. I want to not live on $16,600 a year. I want benefits so I can have the gum surgery I need. I want to not worry about something bad happening and not having the money to fix it. I'd like to not worry about food. Or paying rent.
It's not about YOU (okay, maybe it's a little about you...)
One of the reasons though that the job market stress has not completely eaten my brain is that I have been finishing revisions. While I'm a little behind my ideal schedule (there's no way I'm finishing CH 6 by tomorrow), you can see I've been trucking along.
The #DevilDiss2 is right now at 424 pages. I feel really good about where I am. I haven't yet written my intro or conclusion, but my director doesn't want me to write those until the chapters are solid, which I get. And I can see how that'll be easy.
I am also really grateful to my director and their notes because I can see that this dissertation will be in a really good place to then move onto a book.
I've almost finished the second round of revisions, can I have a defense date now?
But dissertating with two members of your committee, including your director, on sabbatical is hard.
I have no experience with this process but I hear from others that they get a lot more institutional support.
Despite the speed of me turning around my revisions, and notes that I'm doing everything I'm supposed to be doing, I still wish I could move my defense date from summer to April. For one, I don't know where the $600+ for summer tuition will come from. Or actually, how I'm going to pay any of my June, July, August bills. And I'd like to be DONE when I walk at May's graduation.

I continue to wonder- how BAD is the dissertation where I can't defend by 15 April?
But I'm trying to focus on the fact that no matter what I'm graduating this year. I still wish I had a defense date though. I wish even more that it was before 15 April.

So this is where I am in the wee hours of Christmas Eve:
I've spent this past semester revising the dissertation, and had originally hoped to have this second round of revision finished by Christmas. But I had to do a lot of extra reading for chapters 2, 3, and 4 so between getting books in from the library and then reading them before I could start revisions slowed down my timeline. I was able to make up some time, sending my chapter 5 revisions yesterday and sending them off, leaving only chapter 6, my Milton chapter. This chapter has devilled me.
I started the Milton chapter in a class this past spring. So it's gotten a lot of feedback, and it has been through a dozen drafts. And I hate it. I feel like every draft addresses comments and then the next set of comments says something else.  It's the one chapter that I can't get a handle on, and I feel very stressed about it because this is the culminating chapter- where the entire history of the English folkloric devil has to come together in my analysis of Paradise Lost or the work of the rest of the dissertation doesn't amount to anything.
But no pressure.
How I feel about revisions: back and forth, got it, don't...
I can't see the forest for the trees. The latest comment, and completely accurate, is that the chapter lacks a solid infrastructure. So that's my mission today on, to sit down and make my handwritten notes about how to fix this. This will be how I spend my holidays.

I feel like everyone is spending the holiday with family and friends...

 Feeling like this...

And I'm over here, in my office, at my desk. My inner Scrooge telling me to finish my dissertation.
But I am sad that my Christmas spirit has deserted me this year. I wish I had it. I miss my Mom. I miss spending Christmas with my Dad.

This last week it seems like everyone sees the end of grading, semester responsibilities as leading up to something, racing to finish because they have things to look forward to.
For me, the holidays will just be more days to work uninterupted. I'll read through my Milton chapter. I'll make my handwritten notes. I'll type them up. I'll send the chapter off to my director.
Because finishing this round of revisions falls over the holidays, I think it will probably be a few weeks before I get notes back and can start round 3. Part of me is looking forward to a couple of weeks off. Because it was a rough semester, and I'm tired. And because I know that I'm bad about taking time off for myself if there is work to be done. So this is the only break I'll get. But part of me wants the notes quickly because the quicker I get them the quicker I can revise, the quicker I can turn them around, and maybe get a defense date, or even better, move that graduation up.

So this holiday is hard. Maybe my Dad is right. Maybe next year will be better. For now I'll just keep doing what I always do- put one foot in front of the other, do what's in front of me, keep doing what's in front of me, until there's nothing else in front of me.
I hope no matter how you're spending the holidays you find some time for yourself. To recharge, and be good to yourself before the new year and the new semester.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Halfway Through Round 2 Revisions and Required December Job Market Update

I just sent my director my revised chapter three which means that the first half of round 2 revisions on #DevilDiss2 are done.

Chapter three focuses on the personality and actions of the English folkloric devil. And one of the questions my director had was why so much of the chapter focused on women. This resulted in a lot of reading. A LOT.
And I admit, that the timing of this, with the end of the semester, and all the work to be done with that, was hard. I was a little behind my ideal schedule. But this week I was able to finish all the reading. And I found a way into answering my director's question.
For me the answer was that women represent the domestic space which stands in for the English nation. In part this is an outgrowth of hagiographies where female saints represented the Church, the domestic space of the Church, and were spiritual mothers. In both situations, the women represent the homefront, and this is why the devil attacks them.

This then provided a connecting throughline for talking about fairies, witches, hagiographies, and Jews as examples of how the devil acts against these figures.
This approach made the whole chapter come together.
So, once the reading was done, I went through and reread the chapter, making handwritten notes answering and addressing my director's notes/questions.
Then today I typed all the notes up. I also had to add all the reading to my Works Cited (I've been keeping these for each chapter, and once I have approved drafts I'll put them all into a master, end of dissertation bibliography). Because of the new computer, and hence new Office, re-adding all the Old and Middle English words and authors to spellcheck took a while. But even that was finally finished, I saved it, and sent it off to my director.
So that is officially the first half of round 2 revisions complete.
I also managed today to grade my freshmen portfolios, and post their grades (with only one hiccup, which frankly I'm praying is it, because as you know this semester SUCKED in many ways and I honestly can't take any more).
I have the notes for chapters four through six, so I'll start on them next.
While these chapters have notes to address (a couple of pages worth) I would characterize them more as tweaks than the substantive revisions chapters one through three had.

So tomorrow, I'll reorganize chapter four first. My director suggested organizing it along the lines of Shakespeare plays as internal and external threats. Then I'll return the massive stack of library books, and pick up the few I need for the Shakespeare chapter. I'll also take advantage of the campus time to print the newly organized chapter four, and scan the students' letter to future students so I can put them up on my teaching portfolio.

Then a trip to the post office to mail one of Dad's Christmas presents.

Then I'll come home, hopefully make light work of the reading I need to add (it's less than five books).
Tomorrow at midnight my final for my survey class closes, so I'll spend Friday grading those, and posting their grades.
Saturday is dedicated to working on my online Shakespeare course for the spring.
Sunday I am taking OFF.

Then next week I'll start on handwritten notes for chapter four, type those up, send it off, then rinse, repeat for chapters five and six.
I'd like to have the second half of round 2 revisions finished and off to my director by Christmas. Considering after Friday my semester teaching obligations are done, and all days become #DevilDiss days, I think this is doable.

It's not much of a break, but I'll be happier if all this is done by then, and as I've spoke of before, I don't know really what to do with time off. For the second year in a row I can't afford to go home, so might as well work, yeah?
Getting all this done too means that after Christmas, I DO get a break, other than just prepping my online Shakespeare class. I imagine it will probably be later in January before I get any round 2 notes back to start round 3 revisions, so that's a bit of a forced break. Being done before Christmas also means that if I DO get an MLA interview(s) the next couple of weeks the time between Christmas and MLA 7 January can be spent prepping for those interviews.

Required Job Market Update:
So here are the numbers: As of today I have applied for 47 jobs. They are all over the country. A lot are early modern. Some are medieval/early modern. Some are English Education. I'd be happy with all of them (or else I would not have applied). I've heard from 5 as definite NOs.
Yes, one is my dream job.
No, I'm not going to tell you what it is.

No, I have not heard about whether or not I have any interviews for MLA yet.
Yes, I understand it's now less than a month away.
Yes, I already have my hotel and flight booked in case I get last minute interview invites.
I'm still debating going if I don't get any interviews. I've been leaning towards no. Because I have four conferences this season. At around $1000 a piece (a couple will be less because I'm sharing a room) that's a lot of money, and while I'm applying for outside funding, it's never guaranteed. And not knowing if I have a job next year, that's a lot of debt.

No, I'm not worried.
No, I don't know what I'll be doing in six months.
"Where I want to end up" has nothing to do with anything.
No, I'm not freaking out.
No, I don't care what the academic wiki says.
No, I don't need your condescension.
And while I appreciate the sentiment, please don't tell me hang in there, or hugs.

It's a job. A family member isn't dying. My house didn't burn down. Nehi isn't hurt. I am healthy.

As I've said before- OF COURSE I want a job as a professor. It's what I've been working so hard for. But whether or not I get one has very little to do with me. I did everything I could to make myself a good candidate. I had lots of people look at my materials. I revised a lot. I went to a job seeker's workshop.  

And for the record- all that and I still found a single typo in my CV last week so *raspberry* to all that. And while I understand the logic of showing effort/professionalism in documents, it's CLEARLY a typo and if you're not going to hire me because of that, well, *raspberry.*

And my job has never defined me before, and it won't now.
Whether or not I get to "change my letterhead" or teach at the college level is not going to stop me from writing, publishing, sharing my ideas.
In fact, one of my To-Do items for Monday is to go get fingerprinted for NM, so I can send off my application to transfer my high school teaching license from NC to here. I'm a Nationally Board Certified Teacher, so it's a pretty simple process, although expensive ($125 to file). 
While back up plan A is to pick up teaching at UNM post-graduation, so is teaching high school here in New Mexico.
Back up plan B if those don't work out are applying for federal jobs.
And since both those plans won't require applying for jobs until March or April and by then I'll have a definite answer on whether or not I'm out of the job market this season, so that works out.

I know a lot of people are very stressed about the job market this year. And I hope things get better for you.

I haven't shared a lot of details about the job market, because frankly when I have it has resulted in Eeyores telling me "well I didn't make it either..." or in advice along the lines of "well you should..."
And while I appreciate people trying to help, none of that is helpful. And I'm not a fan of focusing on the negative. So, I think I will probably, for my own sanity and mental health, continue in this vein.

But don't worry about me guys, I'm fine.
Trucking along, happy with my progress, and starting to feel excited about graduating this year.
Of being able to turn my Twitter handle from "SoonToBeDrDevil" to "DrDevil."

Thanks, as always, for the support!

Friday, December 4, 2015

The End is Near...nothing but #DevilDiss2 revisions left...

Yesterday I sat in my last class as a student. It was Old English, my last requirement for my PhD program other than finishing my dissertation revisions. 
After class I walked up to my professor and told him I needed a handshake because he was officially my last class as a student.
He smiled large and said "feels good doesn't it?"
Yes. Yes it does.
I went from that class to teaching my last two classes face to face here at UNM (next semester I'm just teaching one, large, Shakespeare class online, so from home in sweatpants and Green Lantern t-shirts).
It all seemed a little surreal. And anti-climatic.
I was expecting this...

And got this...
This is literally all the energy I can muster.
Which is fine. I guess. But this morning as I woke up, made coffee, and sat in front of my new computer (my laptop suffered cascading failure this week, so unexpected expense, but oh, so shiny and pretty!), I felt unmotivated to do anything.
I still have portfolios to grade, and final papers, and final exams next week. But this day after final classes, I find it hard to find my motivation. In part I think because in a lot of ways this has been a hard, exhausting, semester. But also, because it's been a long three years.

I've been on an accelerated timeline for my PhD, possible in part because I came in with two Masters degrees, and could transfer elective credits in. At at 39 I want to be done.

But let's not discount what I've accomplished. Because I've done a lot in little time because of a strong work ethic.
For those of you who have been following along at home, you can skip the review...
  • I finished coursework in three semesters. 
  • I comped in my fourth semester.
  • I defended my prospectus two weeks later.
  • I wrote a complete draft of my dissertation this past summer.
  • I completed one round of revision this fall, and I'm currently in the second round of revision which I hope to have finished by Christmas (chapter one and two are done, and I'm working on chapter three out of six chapters).
  • In our Skype meeting this past Wednesday, my director said I was still on track to graduate by this summer. To avoid $600+ in summer tuition I'd like to move that up to spring, but either way, I'm graduating this year and that's what counts.
During this time I've also presented at conferences, published a chapter in an edited collection, written an article and co-edited a special edition for a journal, and had another article accepted at a journal.
I've written a ton of blog posts on this process.
I've written reviews and short articles.
I also quit smoking and became a runner.
I've applied to 45 jobs. I've made job market back up plans.

So it's been a busy two and a half years.
And I'm really proud of the work I've done.

But I'm also a little tired.

Not of my work, I still love working on the #DevilDiss2 and tweaking it. It's really starting to come together, and I'm really proud of the gap this work will fill. People say if you're not tired of your dissertation by the time you're done you're doing it wrong, so I guess I'm doing it wrong, because I still love the project.

But I am tired.
If I was smart, I would give myself the next couple of days off, to relax before diving into grading final projects and such to finish the semester.
But frankly, I don't do well with time off (a by-product of my theatre training).
So I will finish this post and my morning coffee. Then I'll go running with the Puppy Overlord (because she's currently in my office barking and demanding her run). And then I'll sit down and knock out CH 3 revisions, ending the day with a library run for finishing the opening lit. review tomorrow morning. Because now that I've cleared the last set of hurdles other than the dissertation, I can SEE the finish line. I can almost TOUCH it.

It's all starting to feel real.

So I rather stay chained to my desk the next couple of weeks and finish these revisions before the holidays so I can binge watch some Netflix and relax as I wait for revision notes.
I have a feeling that the next semester will fly by, and while I know there will be blog posts between now and then, it won't be long before I'm posting my graduation post.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Anxiety as a Grad Student

I've avoided writing about this all semester. I've gestured towards it, but I have not publicly talked about it. I've found myself even on Facebook, which is family and friends, not work people, writing posts, and then deleting them.

Because as much as things have gotten better, there's still a stigma about these things.

But yesterday I had lunch with a friend, and we were talking about a tangential topic and I was sharing stuff that had been going on and their response was, so and so has also gone through this. And so has this person. And I've heard that about this other person. This prompted a discussion of how isolating being a grad student can be. We're not encouraged to share these experiences, as if sharing them admits we're vulnerable, and that's a weakness, and we can't have that. The result is that lots of us are going through the same things and feeling all alone.

Which hit a nerve for me. Because part of the reason I blog is because I think sharing stories and experiences helps people feel less alone. That these posts not only provide information, or approaches on what it's like to go through a grad program, but also let people know they are not alone.

So, it's the end of the semester, but I want to share this.
Since the beginning of this semester, I have suffered from anxiety. It has been bad enough that I have sought help from Student Health, and medication.
It has been a roller coaster all semester, with some weeks better, some worse, and then feeling gut punched when it came back after weeks of being gone.

It has affected my teaching, my work productivity, and my comfort level in leaving my house.
It started in August, so even before the semester started. I started in the job seekers workshop we had feeling awful. For me it was a physical start- feeling like I was choking, breaking out in a sweat, nauseous, stomach issues, feeling like I was going to be physically ill in front of people.

This went on for weeks. I was downing Pepto-Bismol and Immodium, going through a ridiculous amount. If I stayed home, I was fine, but Tuesday and Thursdays when I had office hours, then taught my two classes back to back? I was a wreck. I doubted every single one of those days whether or not I could get through the day. I had some days when I worried about having to run out of the room to be sick, or worse, the public humiliation of being sick in front of people.
And this became a self-perpetuating cycle. Even if I felt okay when I got to campus, I would start to worry about this, and so would make myself sick.

Since my anxiety manifested as physical symptoms (and because of student comments about being intimidating) I stopped wearing ties to work. So my work wardrobe radically changed.

This brings me to my second issue with my anxiety this semester. I am opinionated. I am loud. I always have been. At 39, I've made my peace that I'm not going to wake up tomorrow and my personality will have changed overnight. I'm also socially awkward. I don't read social cues well if I don't know you, or if it's not a situation that has recognizable rules or guidelines for me to follow. 

I've made adjustments over the years. I have a dry sense of humor, but when students commented on it, I dialed back my sarcasm in the classroom. Because I would never want a student to feel bad in my classroom. The first day I tell all my students that I'm direct, but I never mean that to come off as harsh, so if it ever does, please know I don't mean it, and come talk to me.

But here's the thing too, if you don't like me. If you think I'm harsh, or too opinionated, or intimidating, that's also not something I can take on. But I did this semester. I internalized this. I spent nights at 2 and 3 and 4a wondering what I needed to change. What I should do differently. 
What was wrong with me.
But talking to my friend yesterday at lunch, as we talked about academics being socially awkward in general, I realized something. That if there's one place where me being smart, opinionated, teaching difficult topics should be accepted, it's here. I've spent my whole life being made fun of for these things. But they should be strengths in academia. I should not be made to feel that there's something wrong with me. But that is what has happened.

Here's the other thing. If someone makes a snap judgment or bases their opinion on a perception and not reality, that's also not something I can control. But again, I internalized this all semester, and it made me physically ill.

I am not comfortable around a lot of people, I am awful at small talk. Because I'm bad at reading social cues, I worry I will misstep. This awkwardness, my awkwardness, is what endears me to my friends (I think) but also makes some people not like me. 
But as my friend yesterday pointed out, it doesn't help me. I've had a supervisor call me "boot campy." I've had another tell me I'm too in people's faces.
The list goes on.
Just because I can't read social cues doesn't mean I don't know when I'm being made fun of. Or that I can't get my feelings hurt.
And each of these people, I'm sure if I asked specifically what informed this perception, what it was based on, would flounder.

I go out of my way to help people. I volunteer. I share resources. But that's not what I get judged on. So another consequence of my anxiety this semester has been to stay home as much as possible. To limit interactions. I tried to go out with a friend to dinner near the beginning of the semester and I had to leave early because I felt bad. And this was a friend. Someone I felt comfortable with. Interactions with others have been awful, and I've avoided pretty much every social interaction I've been invited to this semester, which I'm sure has not helped people's perception of me as standoffish.
But I love teaching. I've taught since 2001, and it's an aspect of my life I've always loved. I'm a natural. It comes easy to me. I loved lesson planning, coming up with new activities, finding cool connections, new readings, ways to approach texts, how to break things down so students can understand and access things.

I blog and reflect constantly on my teaching. This year saw huge paradigm shifts in my teaching based on pedagogical conversations on Twitter, and my own reflection. I stopped policing things in my classroom, instead focusing on content. I let students revise all their work, with the idea that if it was important they learned it then IT WAS IMPORTANT THEY LEARNED IT. I share lessons. I do check in surveys every four weeks with students, so if there are issues we can course correct early and so students feel like they have a voice in the classroom.

You have to know all this I think to understand how much it has impacted me all semester to have this thing I love betray me. 
Once I started teaching, got into my classes, was the only time the anxiety went away. Once I got into my class, it went away, which is common, distracting yourself is a common tip for avoiding anxiety. But my problem was the class would end, and all of a sudden my anxiety would return. I found myself doubting choices, and if a student made a negative comment it would send me into a tailspin for weeks. 

My anxiety this semester has made me doubt my teaching. It has made me doubt my personality. It has made me doubt just about everything about me and what I do. In the final year of my PhD program, I have wondered if the last fourteen years of teaching was a misunderstanding. If I shouldn't be here. What this meant for what is next.

Logically I know none of this is true. I know I'm a good teacher. I know that for every student who doesn't like me, the fact that I'm loud, or wear ties, or subvert what they think a teacher should be, there are literally hundreds of my students who learn from me, like my class, are better after taking a class from me. Who a decade later still check in with me.
But logic has little bearing on anxiety.

This is what anxiety feels like.
You try to talk yourself down. You try to logic yourself out of the downward spiral. You journal. You change routines. You run down a checklist of things to calm down. And maybe it works for a little bit. But then it's 4a you're wide awake and the gerbil wheel starts all over again.
And your heart races, and your blood pressure skyrockets. You break into a sweat and think there's nothing redeemable you can do.
I went through all of August and September feeling like this. I didn't really talk to anyone about it. But it took me two months before I made an appointment with student health.
They promptly gave me a prescription for one medicine to calm me and one to deal with the physical issues. They gave me an appointment with a therapist who promptly diagnosed me with Anticipatory Generalized Anxiety- I anticipated something horrible happening, and that generated my gerbil wheel. I took the medicine for a couple of weeks. But I don't like taking medicine. And it worried me that this wasn't fixing me, fixing the causes. And because this is what I plan on doing, I needed to figure out what was triggering this and work on that.

So I tried different things, physical things. A new tattoo. More running. More heavyweight bag time. And this worked. Identifying my triggers. I was able to go almost a whole month without the medication AND not feeling bad. Then something happened last week and I was right back to where I was at the beginning of the semester.
Last week I guest lectured in a professor's class and I had to take all my medicines because I thought I was going to be sick. It was August and September all over again. But like those months, I felt this way in the thirty minutes before class, but as soon as I started, I was fine.

I have three classes, and two weeks left in the semester. And I don't know what these will be like. 
The lunch yesterday with a friend, and another friend who is constantly checking in with me have helped. Talking to my dad has helped. And I know this is probably all exacerbated by general anxiety about the job market, finishing this year, and me feeling isolated. But again, logic does not really belong here.

The line that now runs on my gerbil wheel is please just let me get through the end of this semester without anything else.

In a lot of ways, I feel like this has been my best semester. I love my survey of early English class. I'm in the second round of dissertation revisions. I've applied to 43 jobs. It's been a productive semester. And I need to keep reminding myself of that because the gerbil wheel seems to want to erase all that.

At this point I just want to get through the end of the semester without anything triggering my anxiety.
Because the great thing about teaching is that each semester is a new start. And next semester I'm only teaching an online class, which I think will help a lot. As will finishing the dissertation.

But here's what I hope people take away from this:
  • You are not alone. Whether or not anyone is talking about it, lots of people are going through what you are. Find someone you can talk to, whether it's online or face to face, a peer, or a mentor.
  • Use the resources your campus has- support groups, student health, counseling.
  • Take care of yourself. While this semester has been awful in a lot of ways, Nehi, time with her, running, have all made sure I didn't go from bad to worse.
 So that's my share. It's embarrassing. It highlights how awkward I am. It's personal. Perhaps it's an overshare. But I hope it helps some people realize that they're not alone, and that there are ways to get through it.

Monday, November 16, 2015

#DevilDiss2 Update 16 November

Last week was not a productive #DevilDiss week.
I spent most of the week struggling to play catch up because I kept writing things down in my Passion Planner to be done, and the day would end and it wasn't done. So I'd feel bad, and then get further behind.


I felt really good about how I revised CH 1 based on notes, and the time in which I did it, so I didn't realize when I started round 2 revisions that something was off.

It was the end of the week before I realized that there were real reasons why I felt like nothing was getting done. During the summer I'm up between 5 and 6a. Nehi and I are running at 6, 630a, and we're back home with coffee, breakfast, and I'm at my computer by 7a. I eat lunch at my desk, and work until 4 or 5p. Long days are productive days.

But DST is behind us. And the end of the semester is upon us. And that means it's 8a before we leave for our run because it's too dark and cold to run before that. So it's 9a before I'm at my desk. And I have to stop working by 4p on Monday, Wednesday, Friday #DevilDiss days because Nehi needs her walk before dark. So I can't create the long To-Do lists that I have during DST. I needed to realize that what I can accomplish on any given day is less because the work days are shorter and because at the end of the semester lots of little things pop up that need to be dealt with.

I felt a little better realizing I could let myself off the hook.

I also received CH 4 notes last week, and will get CH 5 and 6 notes by the end of the month. This means I will not make my intended deadline of completing round 2 revisions by 5 December. I wanted to have these done by then so I could get notes back after the new year, but there's just no way I can get them done.

The way to address a lot of the notes I have for this round of revision is to show more scope and depth and interaction with secondary sources. And despite me knocking this pile down/out for all the books I need to start on CH 2 and 3 round 2 revisions, that's only part of it.
It's just not possible to finish revisions by the first week in December.
The CH 4 notes were good, apparently I addressed a lot of the issues, which I think is good, that I'm making big improvements between drafts, which I think is where I should be. But there are still a couple of major issues.
I was a little disappointed, because I thought with the time/lessons learned between the revisions of the first and second halves, that CH 4-6 were in better shape than 1-3. But I just need to focus on getting the revisions done.

On Friday, when I went to Storify my #DevilDiss tweets for the week, I realized that I'd hit the limit of tweets for Storify (it's 1000 by the way). So since I'm in round 2 of revisions, it seemed appropriate to start a new Storify and hashtag: #DevilDiss2.
Appropriately enough, my new #DevilDiss volume 2 notebook got delivered last week. I keep a handwritten notebook to trace issues from chapter to chapter and keep track of big revision ideas. But I filled it up, and so the new round of revision seemed like the perfect time for a new notebook.
Some days and weeks you have to focus on the small victories.
So, today I read through and took notes of all the secondary scholarship I'd been sitting on. The bonus was that today felt very productive, and it was good to make forward movement after last week. Now that the reading and my notes are finished, I can turn to writing/revising CH 2 and 3.
I had already written in notes of what needed to be addressed from my director. So tomorrow I'll start handwriting notes, addressing the gaps the secondary sources fill (women mystics, liminal and domestic spaces). I also need to strengthen my argument in both openings. I feel good about the new opening of the first two chapters because a committee member suggested that I do a mini-lit review that summed up the state of the field and then clarified my contribution at the opening of my chapter. This really helped me clarify my argument, and for CH 1 and 2 it helped me resituate the chapters' focus. 

Not stating my argument clearly and up front seems to be an ongoing issue with me, so I need to trace this approach through my other chapters.

I feel good about moving forward with the round 2 of revisions at this point, and with the time consuming reading done, I *think* I can stick to a one chapter revised per week schedule which would mean finishing the second round of revision by Christmas. That probably means the next round of notes by mid-end of February although that may be earlier as I'm sending my revised chapters as I finish them so CH 1 was sent off two weeks ago, CH 2 this week, etc..  It'd be nice if that was the last round of notes, and if these were surface notes. I'm certainly trying to revise with that in mind. 

I still don't have a defense date, just a summer 2016 expectation, and I admit that part of me wonders how bad the drafts still are that I can't move that up. I know I should focus that regardless I'm graduating this year, I admit that I'd like to actual be graduated at graduation in May. For one, I'm not sure where the $600 in tuition I'll have to pay in order to defend in summer 2016 will come from.

There were some good things though. I think it's easy to get bogged down on focusing on the negative, but there have been some positives:
  • Last week marked the third week where I won my battle with anxiety, and while that doesn't seem like a lot, it feels like it. I love teaching, LOVE it. So feeling anxious every time I step into my classroom has really impacted things this semester.
    • I've also really loved the new chance this semester to teach the Survey of Early English.
  • Also, I received acceptance for ACLA in March “The War in Heaven is Personal: John Constantine is the Hero We Don’t Want to Need” in the seminar “Devils in the Details: Demonic Horrors, Devilish Afterlives, and Infernal Desires.” Conferences are expensive, and 
    • I'm a little worried about paying for my spring conferences if I don't get funding help, but I am excited about this one.
    • It also means insanity of ACLA and PCA/ACA back to back (like the SCMS and PCA/ACA insanity from this past year) but I'm ignoring all that.
  • I also got my first request for additional materials from a job. And my online teaching portfolio is getting a lot of hits, so unless you guys are all suddenly clicking on it, I think the views are due to search committees looking at my stuff. So yeah me.
  • This week is also the week a professor asked me to cover their class while they are out of town. It's a medieval evil class so they asked me to give a version of my job talk on the devil.
  • I also wrote a Supergirl review that I'm waiting for feedback/notes on, but I'm really happy with.
So that's where the round 2 revisions of #DevilDiss are.
As always, more to come.
For now, since I got all my reading done early, I'm going to take Nehi running in the snow.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Writing Tips for Students

There was a conversation on Twitter this morning about tips for MA students writing theses, and larger graduate student writing.
This got me thinking. I follow a lot of smart people who are teachers on Twitter. And many share ideas or projects they're working on in their classrooms.

But for teaching at large, there still seems to be a weirdness about sharing materials, lessons, syllabi. I'm not sure why. I hear the phrase intellectual property used, and concerns about plagiarism. I'm going to acknowledge those concerns without addressing them because I think those are bigger issues and attitudes. I will tell you that I share all of my teaching materials. It's all in Google Docs folder, and I'm of the opinion that if you can use anything in that, help yourself.

Scholarly writing often has dual purposes- to both contribute to the field of scholarship AND for use in a classroom with students. Yet I've yet to come across a scholarly text that gestured towards this. I'm considering for my Revising Milton project beginning each chapter with a mind map, geared towards teaching.

How often do we, as teachers, write TO our students, not just for them?
I do every week, in my Blackboard Learn weekly announcements. They're direct address reminders, tips, etc. And I provide a lot of hyperlinked resources on my hyperlinked syllabi, but this all got me thinking- how often do we write TO our students?
@gcgosling writes a lot FOR his students, posting advice on how to read for his courses and field, and how to write. But I can tell you this is a rarity.

So, with the end of semester in mind, and the final writing assignments this entails, this is for my students.

Dear Students:
The end of the semester is near. We have four weeks left of classes. And there's a lot to get done. But here's the most important thing- stay calm. Don't panic. It will all be okay.
This post is an attempt to give you some advice on how to get through the last month of classes successfully.
First, I strongly suggest that you write down in your planner, iCal, Google Calendar, all the due dates of your final papers. I'm partial to bright red impossible to miss ink. Which I then circle in bright red highlighter. I have panicky feelings about missing deadlines, so this makes me feel better.
Next, using these deadlines, and knowing your schedule, backtrack when you need to have drafts, ask professors for help, go to the writing center. So, for example, my Survey of Early English class has these deadlines:
  • 29 October: Brainstorm ideas for final paper/project
  • 5 November: Crowdsource the rubric in topic groups, fill out organizer
  • 12 November: Send me your thesis statement and title
  • 17 November: Go over writing tips and tricks
  • 19 November: Send me rough draft
  • 5 December: Final draft due uploaded to Learn
Good time management helps in several ways. The first is that a schedule, a plan, knowing when you're doing what, will help with anxiety and feeling overwhelmed.
The second has to do with this:
Writing is hard. And writing is a process. If you asked lots of different people they will all describe it as a DIFFERENT process, but most would agree that there are steps.

So here's the next set of tips:
  • Brainstorm several different topics or ideas. I keep a writer's notebook where I keep all these things. Just because an idea doesn't work for THIS assignment doesn't mean it wouldn't work for something further down the road.
    • Once you have your ideas, run them past me (your professor) for a couple of different reasons. First, your professor can let you know if this is something that can be covered in the assignment length. Some topics like the role of women in medieval literature is HUGE. Books and books have been written on this. Choosing a topic you can address well and completely in the pages given is key to doing well.
    • Your professor is also your greatest resource. We are experts in our fields. So we can recommend not only how to narrow down topics, but also books and articles that you can use.
  • I like the next step to be cursory research. I think particularly for undergrads, going to the library website, typing in some search terms, and seeing what's out there, what's been said, can help you.
    • This is also where the size of the assignment is important. If you're writing a 4-6 page paper, and you can only find two sources on your topic, you're probably fine. If you're writing a 8-10 page research based paper and you can only find two sources, you might want to choose a different topic.
  • Next, start writing. At this point I suggest that you write YOUR argument. Don't worry about polishing. Don't worry about adding secondary sources, or formatting, or anything but highlighting what YOU want to say about this topic. 
    • I avoid a lot of formatting issues by having an MLA template document- size and font are set. Margins are set. Header and heading is there. So I just open this, click Make a Copy (in Google Docs) or Save As (in Word) and I'm all set.
      • Here's also my plug for Google Docs. It's the best thing ever. First, you don't ever have to worry about losing a document, not saving it, the file being at home and you wanting to work on it on campus. It's easily shared with peers for editing, as well as with your professor. If your professor wants a Word doc or PDF, you can easily download it in those formats.
    •  My general writing tips:
      • I encourage students to make sure their introduction outlines their paper. However, a lot of times you don't know what your paper is about until you're finished writing it. So consider making your introduction the last thing you write.
      • I like clear topic sentences that tell me what topic the paragraph is about AND what you have to say about this topic.
      • I like evidence from the text that proves your point.
      • Then I want you to explain to me HOW this text proves your point. Think of it as showing your work in math.
      • With conclusions I like to think of it as this: you've spent all this time and energy analyzing/arguing. Now that you've done all this work, what big picture statements can you make? What themes or big ideas emerge? What trends? What effects?
    • Here's the professor secret: we've read your secondary sources. We know what other experts in the field argue or say. Usually (and this may depend on the field or the assignment) but we're not looking for a summary or review of what's been done. We're interested in what you have to say, to contribute. How you use, or see the issue.
    •  Here's another secret: It's MUCH easier to revise and work once you already have something on the page. Nothing is more intimidating than a blank page, so fill it. Even if you end up revising most of it, if your future drafts look nothing like your first draft, this first draft does a lot of the heavy lifting.
      • Everyone writes differently. The only thing that matters is that you write in a way that works for you. You don't have to do anything just because it's how others do it. That being said, if you don't have something that works for you, you might want to try these techniques:
        • Pomodoro Technique: is one I know a lot of professional writers swear by. You write in short, timed bursts.
        • Others don't organize writing by time, but tasks. So for example: I'm done for today when I finish writing a first draft.
        • I use a combination of both. Sort of. I can't work in short bursts. I sit down early in the morning, after walking Nehi, usually around 7a. On writing days (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) I don't do anything except write until 4p. Some days this is super productive, some days I stare at Twitter a lot. Most days I'm productive because I know I'm not allowed to leave my office. Each day I have set goals- finish reading scholarship, finish typing up edits. If I finish that day's goal early, I get to leave early. It's my treat for doing well.
        • Find what works for you. It may not be any one thing, it may be a combination of things.
  •  Once you have something written, whatever it is, print it out and set it aside. This requires that you NOT write the paper the night before. If you've time managed well, this is already done for you. Scheduling a couple of days between drafting and revising accomplishes a couple of things. The first is, it is easy with projects to not realize the difference between what's in your head and what's on the page. This is not an undergraduate thing. This is not a young writer thing. This is an EVERYONE thing. If you set something aside, and then come back to it it allows you some distance. This distance helps to clear the cobwebs, and helps you see what's on the page versus what you need the page to say.
    • If you have friends or classmates who are willing to look at your work (and I encourage you guys to do this for each other) this is when I'd send it to them.
    • This is also the point where you can send drafts to me. For the record, with me, you can send me drafts at any stage. If you want me to just look at an intro, or a section, that's fine too.
  •  So, you've waited your couple of days. And now you're ready to go back to it. Before you look at the paper again I suggest you reread the assignment guidelines. This will help you read the paper to make sure that it does what it's supposed to do. Most professors will tell you this is the first thing that they grade papers according to- does it do what I asked?
  • I like to write revision notes as handwritten notes because I think it helps to see it. I start by reading it out loud. Even if you don't know what the error is, you often know what sounds right. Read with a pen in hand, and make changes as you go along. This is also the stage where you can make notes about where you should insert that secondary scholarship.
  • Once all your handwritten revision notes are finished, the next step is to type up these notes. Once this is finished, again, set it aside for a little bit. I don't think you need days, but I still think a little distance between each step helps.
  •  For me the next step is often the last one. I bring up the file and the first thing I do is grammar and spell check. Get rid of all those red and green squiggles. Then I check formatting, that the citations are correct, that my Works Cited is on a new page, and accurate.
  • You're done! Submit it and relax!
I hope this was helpful. Please feel free to tell me what tips or tricks you use, what works for you, what doesn't.