I needed to get out this morning for a little garden therapy. Maybe you could use some, too.
I needed to get out this morning for a little garden therapy. Maybe you could use some, too.
Last week, I applied to graduate during the fall 2020 commencement with a Master of Science in Marketing and Communication. Earning a master’s degree is a significant achievement, but for me, it’s also closing a painful chapter in my life.
This is the narrative I needed to write for over 17 years. It’s also one of the most difficult. But given the milestone I’m about to achieve, I feel like I’m in a good place now to talk about this painful part of my past.
My current graduate program is my second attempt at grad school. My first attempt was from 2001-2003 in a Master of Arts in English program.
For two years, I devoted most of my waking hours either to my own classes or to teaching classes. I ate, slept, and breathed my graduate program and my role as an undergraduate composition instructor.
I was a good student — maybe not the best in the program, but good enough to earn an academic scholarship. And I was, so far as I know, well respected among my fellow grad students and most of the faculty I worked with.
Was I a good instructor? Well, that depends on the individual student, I suppose. I didn’t please everyone. But I also learned during these two years that teaching was not for me. And for the most part, you don’t go to grad school in a discipline like English unless your intent is to work in academia. (For the record, I love the academic environment. I just didn’t love teaching.)
During this time, I was with the man who is now my husband. He was stationed in Georgia while I was in Ohio, so we carried on a long-distance relationship this entire time. I mostly only saw him during breaks and long weekends.
All these things I’m mentioning matter because they factored into what finally happened.
Now, in my program, there were two options for finishing the master’s degree:
Option 1: Write a thesis.
Option 2: Take a comprehensive exam.
After several conversations with my graduate advisor, I opted for the exam. This was the recommended option for those who did not intend to pursue a Ph.D. The exam process took pretty much the entire final semester of the program. I had to choose two literary periods to focus on, create a reading list from these periods, put together an exam committee of three faculty members (one specializing in each of my chosen periods, and another to be the committee chair), and get my reading list approved. The exam itself consisted of a written component first, followed by an oral component with my committee.
Spring 2003 was my final semester. I got engaged in January 2003 — just a few months before my then-fiance (now husband) moved from Georgia to Germany (where I was, of course, also going to live once we got married). So, that was already a major adjustment to process before diving into my final semester.
However, I checked all the boxes for the exam. Literary periods, check. Reading list, check. Committee, check. Reading list approval, check.
And so, I began the arduous process of preparing for the exam. And taking my final classes. And teaching. And planning a wedding. And preparing to move overseas.
You’d think I would get some support from the English Department during this time. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. No. Two of the three members of my committee took off for most of the semester because they had gotten jobs at an out-of-state university and were preparing to move. So they were unavailable when I had questions. The remaining professor wasn’t really able to answer any questions I had. It was always, “I don’t know.” I’m not sure any of them really understood a thing about the exam process. That should have been a red flag for me, but I pressed onward and continued studying.
At the same time, a few of the other grad students were also preparing for exams. Their committees seemed to have a better understanding of what was going on, so I basically used what they were doing and how they were doing it as a guideline to help me prepare.
My committee did answer at least one question for me, though — and this I remember vividly. They told me I did not have to recite poetry from memory during my oral exam.
I went into my exam feeling as ready as I could be under the circumstances. The written portion was tough and took a few excruciating days. I don’t remember much about it. It was the oral portion that turned my world upside down.
I walked to campus that day to take the edge off. It was a good 20-minute walk, which I thought would clear my head. I was called into the exam room, where I sat across the table from the three professors on my committee.
The exam began.
They asked questions about literature that was not on my reading list.
They asked questions about time periods that were not my area of focus.
They asked me to recite poetry from memory.
At times it seemed I was taking someone else’s exam. However, enough of the exam was tailored to my reading list to know it was MY exam and not someone else’s.
The exam ended, and I was told to sit in the student lounge and wait for their decision. I didn’t need to wait. The second I closed the exam room door, I started sobbing. I knew exactly what the outcome would be.
No master’s degree.
Two years of my life wasted.
Student loan debt with nothing to show for it.
The only saving grace of that day was a friend of mine, a Ph.D. student, who was in the student lounge at the time. She stayed with me and made sure I got home later on. She also told me to eat all the chocolates I brought with me to give to my committee as a thank you gift. And I did.
I cried all day. I called my mom, and she cried with me. I can’t begin to describe the devastation of something like this.
A few days later, I moved back home with my parents. I was a couple weeks from flying to Germany to help get settled into our rental house. Before I left town, I met with the dean of the graduate program. He was, shall we say, unsympathetic. He told me I could put together another committee and try again, but it was obvious he thought I was wasting his time.
When I was back in Columbus, I started hearing from some of the grad students. More than one person said I was deliberately set up to fail, and that’s why the exam had questions that did not match my preparations. The faculty had apparently decided they were dissatisfied with the overall performance of the graduate students, so they wanted to make an example of someone to scare everyone else.
I wasn’t planning to move on to a Ph.D. program. I was also one of the first to take the exam. And I guess they figured that failing the exam wasn’t going to destroy the trajectory of my life. (Which is true.) I was, in other words, the perfect scapegoat.
I wrestled with whether to believe any of this or not. I wanted to put the whole mess behind me and try to focus on the rest of my life. But too many people said things like this to me (including a faculty member), and academics from other institutions told me this wasn’t a unique situation, and I fell prey to academic politics.
I tried to move on. I spent the rest of 2003 focusing on the wedding and Germany.
In 2004, I tried again. I checked in with the English Department, and they told me to start the process. However, I only found one faculty member for my committee. I was a pariah. No one else wanted to work with me.
And so, the specter of this unfinished business has haunted me since then. I successfully completed all the required coursework. It was that damn exam that kept me from getting the diploma. I spent a lot of time being angry … with myself … with the English Department … with the faculty members involved.
To this day, failing that exam is my measuring stick for anything bad that happens in my life. Only the deaths of dearly beloved family members have been worse. Everything else? I can survive and move on.
If not finishing that degree has altered anything about my trajectory in life, it’s only made me hungrier to succeed. Earning a master’s degree has remained on my bucket list since then, and I have had a fire within me to get it done and kick ass while doing it.
So, here I am — twelve weeks away from completing all my coursework. I’m in a program that is nothing at all like my previous experience. Everyone is invested in student success. Everyone is supportive and available to answer questions. This program is for working adults, and we aren’t expected to eat, sleep, and breathe grad school.
I am excelling in all my classes. And I finish off with a six-week capstone — an independent study project supervised by the lead faculty of the program.
I got this.
Gardening at my house looks a little different this year. At a time when seemingly everyone has a sudden interest in growing their own food, I opted to cover my vegetable bed with a plastic tarp to smother all the weeds. This has been my plan since last gardening season for two reasons:
I decided to try containers this year so I could still grow some things. It’s just easier and far less time-consuming. I planted two containers of Contender bush beans, two containers of San Marzano tomatoes, and a container of strawberry plants.
Well, the strawberries aren’t really going to produce this year. I’ve gotten two berries so far. Mostly the plants are just spreading. This is fine, and I expected it. The last time I planted strawberries, I didn’t get a decent crop until the second year. I think they will be in good shape for next year.
The San Marzanos are coming in, but I’m picking and tossing a lot of them due to blossom-end rot. I’m trying to diagnose what’s causing that so I can at least salvage some of my tomatoes.
Finally, the Contenders. This is my first time growing bush beans. My husband, who is not a fan of vegetables in general, likes green beans. But I honestly thought he only liked canned green beans (store-bought, that is, not home-canned). He actually encouraged me to grow these and said he would eat them.
They are easy to grow, and the plants are producing well. I’ve picked enough over the past three days to prepare some for dinner tonight. So I have them simmering away in the slow cooker in some vegetable broth, seasoned with a bit of sea salt and fresh cracked pepper.
To me, this is a victory. It may not look like the gardens I’ve had the past few years. And I’m certainly not getting the same yield. But I’ll take any success I can get in 2020.
I’ll definitely be growing these Contenders every year.
The moment the realization struck me is still vivid in my memory – much like any other life-changing moment.
It was the summer of 2003, and I was in Germany. My fiancé (now husband) was stationed there and had just moved there a couple months prior. Instead of planning a wedding, I was there preparing for married life. I wasn’t just marrying someone. I was moving to another country. I was leaving my life behind for something new and unknown. I was there to test the waters. To help set up the house. To basically get everything ready for me to move there for good.
We were at a party. The weather was beautiful. Everyone was outside, enjoying food and conversation and laughter. And here I was, playing with the hosts’ new puppy. Avoiding people. Especially children. The kids were loud, screaming, getting on my nerves.
It occurred to me, then. I’m happier with dogs. I don’t want children of my own.
L found me, then. I realized I had to tell him. We never discussed having kids, to be honest. It’s so much part of the status quo … it’s just expected. So, I actually never knew his honest feelings about having children. How had we never discussed it?
I just took a deep breath. A lot was riding on it. And then I told him the truth. “I really don’t want to have kids. I want dogs instead.” He didn’t even hesitate. He told me that he didn’t see himself having kids either.
It was decided, then. We were not having kids.
We told our families just so there wouldn’t be any questions after the wedding about when we were going to start a family. Regardless, I still got a lot of criticism, especially among the other military wives.
“You’re not a real woman unless you’re a mother.”
“How can you be so selfish?”
“It’s different when it’s your own.”
Etcetera, etcetera …
I think I’ve won this childfree BINGO game several times over.
I had a difficult time making friends once I knew my own mind. I was a pariah among most military spouses. (There were a few who had interests outside of their children and would deign to socialize with me.) I can’t tell you how many times I would meet a spouse, and the first question she would ask is, “Do you have kids?” Once I said no, she would end the conversation right then and there and have nothing more to do with me.
Whatever. I don’t want to waste my time with people who don’t care to know me for me.
It even impacted choices I tried to make over my own body. Male doctors would never entertain the notion of me getting my tubes tied because “that’s not fair to your husband.” Nice of them to assume he wanted kids and I was a selfish bitch depriving him of fatherhood.
Anyway, I’ll be 45 next month. It’s actually been a really long time since anyone harassed me about not having kids. I guess that’s one of the delightful perks of getting older.
So, do I regret not having kids?
No. I don’t. Despite numerous people telling me that I would. They were all wrong. L is also perfectly happy not to have kids. We often discuss how content we are with our life just as it is, and we don’t feel like we’re missing anything.
That said, we love being an aunt and uncle. We don’t hate kids (as many people wrongly assume). We just don’t want any of our own.
Since I’m writing about this subject, I want to thank everyone I’ve known on my journey through this life who has been understanding and accepting of our decision. For some reason (even though it is nobody’s business but ours), I’ve been judged (way more than my husband has), and some people have been really offended by our choice not to have kids. This has always baffled me.
I guess the takeaway from this is live life on YOUR terms. Who cares what the status quo is … what culture and society expect from you? You are the one living your life, and you need to live YOUR truth. You will get pushback if you go against expectations. If people are offended by your life choices, that is THEIR problem, not yours.
Just remember that when things get difficult. Take a deep breath and be grateful that you are being honest with yourself.
I evidently was born not to look on the bright side of life. Critical, cynical, pessimistic … glass half empty. I can’t tell you how many friends I lost over the years because, at different points in my life, I became toxic.
“This is just who I am,” I would tell myself. And if people couldn’t accept that, fuck ’em.
Until I couldn’t accept myself. Though honestly, maybe I never accepted myself. I didn’t love myself for most of my life. I’m not going to get into the years of emotional abuse I endured. I’ve alluded to it before. And I think that’s largely responsible for how I felt about myself growing up.
And then, once I rid myself of the source of that abuse, not liking myself was basically a habit. (Depression and anxiety don’t help either, but that’s beside the point.)
I’ve been on a journey since then (late 2011, in case you’re wondering) to turn myself around. To find gratitude and joy in my daily life. I will never be Susie Sunshine — I am too much of a realist for that. But I am learning to love myself, warts and all. And now I think my default font is set to upbeat.
(If that’s not a real font, it should be.) (HA! It is!)
That’s not to say I don’t slip up. I was in a really dark place two years ago, primarily because I was in a horrible job at an office with a toxic culture. It drained me. I relapsed into negativity and became as toxic as my environment.
Since I left that place, I’ve been doing better. I practice mindfulness (including meditation), which helps tremendously. I try — as advised in mindfulness practices — to let go of things that no longer serve me. Doing this has helped so much with my depression. And I still get anxious, but I think I have a better handle on it than I did before.
This current global crisis has been a true test for me. Do I give in to despair, as I see so many others doing? Do I freak out and start hoarding everything in sight in case this really is the apocalypse? (I don’t believe it is, but clearly, a lot of people do.)
I’m fine. Really. I’m calm.
I’m working from home. I’m avoiding going out, except for walks through my neighborhood because I need fresh air. There is still the occasional trip to the store or getting carry-out from a restaurant — I want to continue supporting local businesses because they need it right now. But I’m careful and following the CDC recommendations.
I still have a job, and so does my husband, so we are truly fortunate right now compared to so many others. And even if the worst-case scenario occurs, we’ve been prepared for it financially for some time. (People have actually accused me of being negative because I think about the worst-case scenario, but honestly, it’s just good sense!)
We still have our health. Our families are still in good health. I am doing what I can to help out — I donated blood last week because there is a critical need for it, among other things. (Please consider donating blood if you can. It’s badly needed.)
I am grateful. And blessed.
When things get back to “normal,” it will be a different kind of normal. Some things may be better, and some things may be worse. But this isn’t the first time there has been a monumental shift in normal, and it won’t be the last. Humans are resilient. We will adapt.
And on that note, I hope, dear reader, that you are well. Both physically and emotionally. If not, I send you light and wish you peace.
It feels lately like the world is on fire (metaphorically). A pandemic is spreading across the globe. Sporting events have been canceled. Museums and libraries are closed. Lines at the grocery store are two hours long. Toilet paper is being hoarded (for some reason). Everyone has been advised to practice “social distancing.”
As I stood in a massively long line at Kroger yesterday (not buying toilet paper, I might add. There was none to be had even if I needed it), it almost felt like we are on the verge of some sort of apocalypse.
We’re not, though. Honestly.
Anyway, you have no control over this microorganism that is wreaking such havoc right now. What you CAN control is your reaction to it. Stay informed. Use common sense. For God’s sake, wash your hands. Try to avoid touching your face. (It’s hard, I know.) Don’t shake hands with people. Disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Consider your vulnerable friends, neighbors, and family members who will be hit hardest by this virus, and keep your distance. Even if you feel perfectly healthy, you may be asymptomatic. Do what is within your power to do.
But this isn’t just physical. As the news seems to get worse every day, you need to protect your mental health.
Parks are still open. I don’t know about you, but nature is a soothing balm for my world-weary soul.
I took a day off work yesterday to hike around Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve just outside Yellow Springs, Ohio.
I wish it was just a bit further from civilization. But it was still a wonderful escape for a couple hours.
Also, just because the museums are closed, that doesn’t mean you can’t visit.
Here’s a listing of several world-renowned art museums that offer virtual tours.
If you have 5 hours, you can enjoy this tour of The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. (I have been there before. It’s incredible.)
Stay healthy, everyone. Take care of yourselves and each other.
I’ve never been a trendy person when it comes to fashion (or anything, really). And I’m not sure how I would describe my style. It’s often bland and boring, but sometimes I make an effort. My everyday outfit for work is usually some type of t-shirt or tunic with a cardigan, a pair of chinos, and dress flats or booties. On weekends, I wear yoga pants, a t-shirt, and a hoodie or cardigan. I only put on jeans if I go out.
Anyway, I decided to give Nadine West a try. You provide your style profile and they have a stylist pick out an outfit for you every month (or every two weeks, if you prefer). Yes, there are other services like this. Stitch Fix is probably the most well-known. I chose Nadine West because their prices are extremely reasonable, their customer service seems to be amazing, their social media person is delightful (as a marketing professional, I appreciate that), and I liked what I saw with the customer photos they feature on their Facebook page.
My first shipment arrived today. I was filled with an equal mixture of excitement and trepidation. It’s Schrödinger’s Outfit — simultaneously awful and amazing as long as the package stays unopened.
Well, reader, I opened it. Because why wouldn’t I?
This is what they sent me, minus the bracelet, which is being sent back. (The necklace, by the way, is something I already own. A wonderful piece made by my friend Clever Kim’s Curios.) I have tiny wrists, so bracelets are problematic unless they’re adjustable, and this one is not.
Well done, Nadine West! I would likely have purchased the top and cardigan on my own if I had seen them in a store. The leggings, definitely not, because I wasn’t a leggings type of person. But I’m sold. And my Toms booties look great with it.
The title of this blog seems appropriate, given that I was recently laid up with the flu, and I have cabin fever like crazy. I haven’t been out much aside from work and running errands. I’m getting antsy for spring. (And anxious to start camping season.)
Here, have some flowers. I took these at Franklin Park Conservatory a few weeks ago, which is a great place to go here in Columbus when you have the winter blues. Their orchid exhibit is going on right now, and I love the Victorian theme this year.
I’m such a library nerd. I have been since I was a kid, and every almost trip to the library resulted in me walking out with a stack of books in my arms, eager to go home and dive in.
One of my favorite activities used to be perusing the stacks to find a book (or several) to read. Sometimes I knew exactly what I wanted and sometimes not. I actually thought it was more fun when I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. I would inevitably leave the library with a book I’d never heard of and an author I’d never read. The library is full of undiscovered treasures.
Even as an academic, I loved going into the dark, neglected recesses of the university library to look for dusty tomes that hadn’t been touched in years. (When you study some fairly obscure old texts, you have to dig deep to find what you’re looking for.)
Everything went digital, and I forgot the pleasures of browsing at the library. Life no longer affords me much time to spend at the library, so I peruse titles on the library website instead. Oh, that digital book is available right now? Sure! It looks good! Download to Kindle.
That’s been my primary way of reading for some time now. No trips to the library necessary.
And the major difference with grad school now, as opposed to my last journey through academia, is that everything I need is online. I don’t need to drive to campus. I don’t need to visit the library. Everything is quick and accessible on my computer. (I’m still getting used to digital textbooks. There was something so satisfying about marking up a textbook, but now it’s all nice and neat.)
Yesterday, I had to stop at the library to return a DVD. But I found myself with some unexpected free time, and I had just finished a book on my Kindle. Why not, for old time’s sake, browse the library shelves and pick out something to read?
Suddenly, I remembered how great that visual and tactile experience was. I only knew I was looking for something on the shorter side. I have so little time to read for pleasure nowadays, I can’t deal with an excessively long novel.
To pull a book off the shelf, read the cover, leaf through the pages, and decide if I want to take it home with me? I forgot how wonderful that is. Doing it online is not nearly as fun, nor does it engage your senses nearly as much.
Ultimately, I chose Rutherford Park by Elizabeth Cooke – a book I never heard of, but it was compared to Downton Abbey, so I could hardly resist.
It’ll be nice to rest my eyes a bit by looking at an actual paper book instead of an electronic device. I spend so many of my waking hours staring at some kind of screen.
And now I must make a point of visiting the library more often. It’s one thing to be a frequent patron, but you can do that without ever stepping foot inside the building. It’s a whole different experience to go in and take the time to really browse and see what the library has to offer.
It’s New Year’s Eve, and I suppose most people use this time to reflect on the year behind them and look to the year ahead.
I do that, too. But I won’t bore you with those details.
Instead, I will focus on one project I did this year – a challenge, really. I decided around this time last year that I would post at least one photo every single day of 2019 on Instagram.
Seems easy enough, right?
Well, it’s not.
The photo had to be taken that very day, for starters. Some days, it was easy. Most days, it wasn’t.
But it’s not a challenge if it’s easy.
The harder days forced me to get creative – to think outside the box. If I was at home the entire day, I had to really look at things around my house (either outside or inside) in a new way to see if I could create an interesting photo. Sometimes I failed at that, but I even posted the photos that I didn’t like.
Sometimes, I forced myself to go somewhere for the primary purpose of getting a great shot for Instagram that day. And that’s good, too, because it got me out to explore more than I would have otherwise.
For better or worse, I stuck with it. And I got some really great shots because of this challenge.
But I’m glad it’s over. I want to pursue a new photography challenge for 2020. I haven’t decided what yet, but I’m leaning toward doing more macro shots.
You can see some of my favorites from this challenge below.
Here’s to a creative and inspirational 2020!