02
Aug 17

Transitions are Hard

Transitions are hard, y’all. And my job is full of them.

Transitions are Hard

Original photo by Sam X

Sure, I do the same thing every semester, but the way the school year works is weird. There’s so much build up to the fall semester where you get everything set and then power through, and then you push through to Christmas. You get a month off, and start it up again. I taught for the first time this summer, and it was like a third round of the same cycle.

Transitions are Hard Click To Tweet

I feel like I’ve reached a point in my job where I’m not only capable, but so many things are running on autopilot now. I’m able to anticipate what kind of questions my students will have, and head ’em off at the pass, so to speak.

(Teaching is mostly a battle, and getting college kids to write a well-reasoned, CONCISE paper is lot like executing a ancient Greek-style phalanx. You gotta have the metaphorical armed men and the spears to basically prod students into doing the assignment correctly. All’s fair in love and war. And education.)

But even so, the school year has a lot of wear and tear. And the schedule is brutal.

With the starts and stops of the normal academic calendar, I feel like this one scene in Beavis and Butthead Do America where they’re escaping the trunk of a moving car. They’re able to pry the trunk open, but Beavis is scared to jump out because “that road is moving pretty fast.” Butthead says it’s okay, and that Beavis should just run really fast when he hits the ground.

I’ve cued up the movie here for you if you’re one of those productive humans who doesn’t often find themselves quoting Beavis and Butthead and using it at a metaphor for life.

(Side note: Not that I mind you coming around, but like, if you AREN’T the type of person to use Beavis and Butthead as a metaphor for life, what the hell are you even doing here?)

Beavis and Butthead: A Metaphor for Life Click To Tweet

The reason I bring all this up is twofold. Firstly, if you’ve never seen Beavis and Butthead Do America, you absolutely must. It’s a cinematic triumph. And secondly, I’m bringing this up because I FEEL LIKE I KEEP HAVING TO RUN REALLY HARD BECAUSE THE ROAD IS MOVING REALLY FAST WHEN I JUMP.

As I was saying, transitions are hard.

So, each semester, I change schedules. I go from grading EVERY PAPER EVER WRITTEN IN ALL THE HISTORY OF ACADEMIA (or so it feels) to posting grades and having so much free time. Because I need a break, I’ll take some time to just chill and slowly let my brain melt and dribble out of my ears while I watch Netflix. And before I know it, I haven’t used my time off for any of the productive things I intended to use it for, and I’ve already jumped into the cycle of powering through a new semester.

If I could power through the transition, this wouldn’t be a problem. But transitions are hard and I’m trying to avoid burnout. And because transitions are hard, I feel the need to make a small confession.

I’ve been misrepresenting myself a little lately. Sure, life is going well enough, and I’m happy, whatever that actually means. I’ve been keeping in contact with friends, and I’ve had some very good hangouts the past few months.

And I’ve been reading, slowly but surely. Some books move faster than others, and some books make me pause and think about my life, and sometimes that’s too much. But I’m reading still, which is something I have to do lest I go insane.

But here’s where I have to make a confession.

I haven’t been writing.

I have zero writing routine to speak of.

(Please don’t send me a link to one of those think pieces about how if you don’t write each day you should just get out of the game now. I AIN’T HERE FOR IT.)

Summer would be the ideal time to bash out a project — to outline a novel, or create new character ideas, or to formulate research questions for that Ph.D. I’m always threatening to get.

But here I am.

And so, if you thought I was hella good at productivity, know that I’m not. If my life were a car, it would be a primer-colored POS with a dents and dings and loud-as-hell muffler. Parts are held on with duct tape and zip ties, and no one is really sure what happened to the back bumper — that’s how long it’s been missing.

And what’s worse is that I’m in the trunk of said car as it barrels down the highway. I’ve just pried it open and I’ve got to jump. And I should be good at it by now because I’ve been jumping for the past two years.

But no.

Transitions are hard. And that road is moving really fast.

So I haven’t leveled up to writing daily.

Yet.

Transitions are hard. And that road is moving really fast. Click To Tweet

And with that, I turn to you, readers. How do you keep up habits in the face of big transitions? How do you keep your schedule going when your work schedule changes about every 3 months? Have you ever jumped out of the trunk of a moving car?


10
May 17

A Breakup Story

This breakup story starts on a Thursday. The Thursday in question was perhaps, the worst Thursday of my life. Though, admittedly, the breakup was only part of that.

A Breakup Story

This past semester, I’ve been teaching an extra class. And that fifth class took place Thursdays from 6 PM to 8:50 PM. And since Thursdays are the last day of my week, they were always a little arduous.

Imagine if your Fridays required you to be a functional human for a really long time. That’s what it’s like.

Anyway, I came home carrying extra bags of library books and an umbrella. The day itself had been gross simply because it was one of the most humid days in recent memory, and I was covered in several layers of sweat that had dried throughout various times in the day.

My clothes, for the record, smelled like the cast iron skillet of onions and bell peppers that accompany your order of fajitas.

This Thursday was also the final day before my students would be turning in their formal reports. It’s always a harrowing time, simply because no matter how much time you give your students, they will wait until the last minute to ask questions. So in addition to giving tests in my two classes, I had 3 hours worth of questions in my office hours. I tweeted about it.

After office hours I grabbed nachos in the student union, because you get to eat nachos when you’re worn out. And if you work on a college campus, you get to eat like a college kid. It’s in the employee handbook.

Then I went to my class, gave a test, and let the students leave when they were finished.

And when I got home that night — that’s when the breakup happened.

I don’t feel it’s right to say all the reasons why, because some of them are Chris’s reasons, and not my story to tell. But I will say this: The breakup was probably a long time coming.

Which feels weird to type after posting about house hunting, but like, I guess forever decisions like mortgages make you take stock, and had Chris not done so, I probably never would’ve either.

All that is to say that yes, Chris is the one that brought it up. He stood at the kitchen table just minutes after I walked in the door that night. As I put something in the trashcan right next to the table, I asked him what was up, because he looked super anxious.

And that’s when he did it.

There were no major fights or blowups. There were no big red flags. There were no conversations with friends over drinks about all the problems we were having.

Because there weren’t any major problems, nor have there ever really been. Chris and I are really good friends. And we always will be, at least I hope. But we’re not meant to be together.

We’re like a reverse When Harry Met Sally.

And I think we both knew that the relationship itself had been on autopilot for a really long time. It’s kind of like we had built up enough momentum over the years and we were able to just coast for the past few years.

But coasting and momentum are no way to live.

If we hadn’t broken up when we did, I’m sure we would’ve gotten married. I’m sure we would’ve had a couple of kids. And I’m sure that we would be the couple that gets divorced when we were in our fifties because the kids had grown up and we no longer had anything in common.

I can’t say that it’s been easy, because it hasn’t. And I haven’t told many people. (If you’re getting the news of the breakup via this post, and you feel slighted, sorry, I guess. But also, I owe you nothing.)

The breakup itself hurt. I cried. But I gotta be real. The minute Chris did it, I exhaled. It was like a small weight had been lifted. Because I think we both felt that we were moving in this direction. But I’m glad Chris did it, because I don’t think I could’ve.

See, in the sober light of day, we aren’t the same as we were almost 7 years ago when we met. I was 24, a bartender, and barely capable of being a human. He was 30, fresh out of a divorce, and just going to a bar to blow off steam on a Monday night. Neither of us were looking for a relationship, but, well, life happens.

In those years we’ve been together, we’ve changed dramatically. And though we’ve pretty much grown in the same direction as friends, we aren’t in love anymore.

I think here is a good place for me to say that I’m not posting this to solicit advice. In fact, I rarely, if ever, solicit advice. I know some will say that there are natural ebbs and flows in relationships, and that Chris and I should just stick it out. But as my friend Mari said, when you know, you know. And I know we’re doing the right thing.

So, I dealt with my emotions the way I always do — on Twitter.

I am a garbage millennial, always on the social media. WRING YOUR HANDS AT MY LIFE, BOOMERS.

But other things that have helped during this time are:

  • Bingeing 13 Reasons Why on Netflix. I absolutely hated the show, thought it was poorly done, and tried too hard to be deep and serious, all while paying lip service to actual issues. But, hey! A breakup can’t be worse than having to be the overly tattooed 20-something pretending to be a high schooler for a show that will probably go down in history as one of the worst portrayals of mental illness and revenge fantasies. So, there’s that.

  • Reading Fat Girl Walking by Brittany Gibbons. I love Brittany’s blog, and her general attitude toward life. Plus, she’s relatable, so much so that I can imagine us meeting up for nachos and margaritas to gossip and just bitch about life. (Second nachos reference in this post, because I use food to deal with life.)
  • Listening to The Minimalists podcast. If you ever find yourself in a life situation where you’re going to need to pack up all your crap to make a life change in the very near future, it’s so much easier when you’re listening to Josh and Ryan answer questions about the process of downsizing and getting rid of crap. Bonus points for how soothing it is too.
  • Grading papers. I seriously went through all the papers I had to grade in 9 days. That’s a new personal record. But it’s so much easier to get work done when you don’t really want to be alone with your thoughts.
  • Talking about writing. Thankfully, I was able to attend the OWFI conference this past weekend, and just being there felt really energizing. It’s great to know that there are people in the world who are into what you’re into, and that they believe in you even when everything else is falling apart. Also, as if the universe needed to remind me that everything is a very small, closed circle, it was announced that Jay Asher, the author of the book 13 Reasons Why, will be the keynote at next year’s conference. Weird, huh?

As for future plans, I’m slowly making them.

I’m still house hunting, but for a very different type of house. Me and Rosie, the greatest dog in the universe, need a swingin’ bachelorette pad.

I also plan to put a lot of time and energy into writing. Chris didn’t prevent me from writing, but I was in a really comfortable place in our relationship, and I definitely didn’t focus on artistic growth in the way I should’ve. It’s time to stop coasting.

Fitness is going back on the radar too. I mean, it’s always on the radar because I am a woman in a First World country, and I’ve been conditioned to believe I’m garbage if I don’t obsess about fitness in a pathological way. But I’m looking forward to establishing a new workout routine.

As for dating again, I’m sure it will happen eventually. But for now, I’m going to respectfully decline all your offers to hook me up with that one single guy from your office/church/homeowner’s association/fantasy football league/biker gang. I’m really good at being single, and after 7 years of being in a relationship, I’m really looking forward to being single again.


09
Mar 17

Create Space to Breathe: 4 Tips to Help You Fight Overwhelm

When the things that need to be done start to pile up, I know I need to create space to breathe.

We’re smack dab in the middle of grading season. Or, more accurately, procrastinating grading season. (Every day I manage to tell my students they shouldn’t procrastinate with a straight face. I have no business doing that.)

Create Space to Breathe: 4 Tips

Normal adult activities like cleaning and grocery shopping have fallen by the wayside because I feel like I don’t have time to do it. And while I may not have time to do it all when I need to get 116 papers off my plate, I know I have time.

I firmly believe that busy is a choice. But I also know that there are times when you have more to do than others. And grading season is definitely that time for me.

In the past, I’ve wasted time feeling like I needed to be cooped up and cordoned off — away from the world and working diligently to get things done. But the problem with staying inside all day and looking at a computer screen is that it very much makes Marisa a dull girl. And if I’m being honest, it makes me hate my job and my students, which isn’t really productive at all.

So, this year I’m taking a more strategic approach and making an effort to create space to breathe. I feel like I have to this semester, especially since I’m teaching 5 classes this time around. I’m also at an age where I can’t be productive when I cut corners. So, fast food isn’t an option since it doesn’t really fuel my body anymore, so much as shut down the whole production while I lay down and attempt to digest. And there are no more all-nighters for me. In fact, I’m in bed at the same time every single night.

I know some of my coworkers can stay up late to get things done and still teach the next day. Or they can fuel up with nothing but coffee and donuts. But that ain’t me.

So here’s what I’m doing to create space to breathe during this busy time.

001: Going for walks.
Through a wellness initiative at my university, full-time faculty and staff received a free Fitbit. And while it’s not he first step tracker I’ve owned (I used to be a Garmin Vivo Fit user) it has definitely made me way more competitive when it comes to getting my steps in. Not only do I see my friends and all their steps within the Fitbit app, but I also see everyone on the university’s fitness portal. Because of this, I know how much more other people are doing, and I want to do more.

Now, there are only so many hours in a day, so it’s not like there is plenty of time for me to walk all over the place. Instead, I’m using my lunch breaks during the work day and walking around campus. Thanks to global warming, it’s been so unseasonably warm, and that has definitely made it a lot easier for me to traipse around campus during the day.

Not only is the walk good for me, but it enables me to take a moment away from the computer. I truly get to use that time to decompress from grading, lectures, and emails. It’s perhaps the most relaxing thing I do all day.

002: Eating my lunch outside.
I’ve got a bad habit of holing up in my office and eating lunch in front of my computer. I know this isn’t good, but it’s so hard to make myself go elsewhere. Plus, it’s not like I want to be the irrelevant old professor who rolls up in the cafeteria and tries to strike up a conversation with students in hopes that they let me sit with them.

I’m a 100% introvert, so I need time in my day when I’m not interacting with people. That’s usually why I eat my lunch in my office with the door closed. But the other day, I walked to my favorite spot on campus after I purchased a sandwich. I was delighted to find that no one was sitting on my bench, and very few people were passing by.

Naturally, I parked right there and enjoyed my pastrami on naan sandwich with an over-sweetened iced green tea. The best part? I could hear a choir rehearsing in Carpenter Hall.

003: One-on-one talks with good people.
I’m very fortunate in that I’m surrounded by a lot of deep thinkers. We can discuss a lot of things, and I never feel like I’m stuck in very surface-level conversations, which I HATE. It may seem counterintuitive, but when I’m stressed out, it’s nice to talk through some difficult concepts. If we stuck to just the small talk, I think that would stress me out more.

Over the course of this past week, I’ve talked about writing pedagogy, race relations and the biases we carry, whether or not a Ph.D. is actually worth it, and why we buy into the systems and institutions that we do. I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I live for these kinds of discussions. And by taking time to have them, I feel better through the day because I’ve interacted with a human on a meaningful level, and haven’t stared a screen all day.

004: Turning my brain off by 8 PM.
I’ve found that the best way to be productive and get through a really busy time is to clearly delineate how I will use my time. By that, I mean I need to set aside time for work and time for shutting down and relaxing.

I mentioned that I’m in bed by the same time every night, But I also have to start relaxing and winding down at the same time so that I can get to sleep more easily. At around 8 PM ever night, I put away all my school stuff. I may write or blog or journal, but mostly I’ve been too fried to do that. Instead, Chris and I cuddle up on the couch with Rosie, and we’ve been watching Twin Peaks (I totally hate this series — sorry nostalgia fans) or Desus and Mero (bar none the best late night show on the air).

Oh, and yeah. I’ve had a big ol’ glass of red wine each night.

 

So there you have it. That’s how I like to create space to breathe when I feel overwhelmed. What do you do when you’ve got a lot to do? How do you create space to breathe?