The Six Million Dollar Self-Improvement Report Card

The whole concept behind The Six Million Dollar Scholar is that I’m rebuilding myself, and in so doing becoming a better scholar and person. As a result I’ve written many a post about my adventures in healthy living, good habit formation, etc. It suddenly dawned on me tonight that I’ve never checked back in on any of the subjects I’ve tackled.

Below is my report card. Like the proverbial spaghetti thrown at the wall, some of the changes I blogged about stuck, and some didn’t. But—also like the proverbial spaghetti thrown at the wall—the process has been quite fun.


Maintain a daily journal

PASS. With the exception of one day—the day before I presented at the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association’s annual conference—I have not missed a day. Twenty three days of journaling might not be much, but it’s about twenty days better than I’ve ever done before, so my “diary hacks” seem to be working.

Meditate every day.

NO PASS. I didn’t stay “mad centered” for even a week. While I think Headspace is an interesting app, I honestly don’t think meditation (or at least meditation as described in everything I’ve ever read/seen/heard) is for me. The fact of the matter is, I spend a lot of time being quiet and letting my mind go where it wants to go already, so I don’t get a feeling a gratification from formal meditation that’s significant enough to keep me coming back. I still aspire to meditate, but I’m throwing it on the backburner for the time being to focus on maintaining the good habits I have been successful in cultivating.

Force fun on a regular basis.

INCOMPLETE. This one won’t make much sense unless you read my previous post, “Forced Fun is Still Fun.” I’ve sent off all but one measly square of my adoptive niece’s baby quilt to be crocheted, but since returning to California, I’ve not touched my knitting needles. This is not a good thing, but at the same time, I’m only just now beginning to feel truly settled in at home again. A lot’s happened recently: I got a new roommate, gave a presentation at a professional conference, became *completely* absorbed by the murder of Mike Brown, got a nasty cold, and have been dealing with some medical issues that—while not debilitating—are logistically, emotionally, and physically exhausting. So yeah, I haven’t had the energy for my hobbies recently, but that time’s been devoted to sleep, which I’ve needed badly. I’m still a big proponent of forced fun… and as soon as my life settles into a routine, I’m going to reincorporate it.

Open a credit union account.

NO PASS. This is why a report card’s so important. I totally forgot I’d committed to doing this, and it’s something I can do on campus, with very little hassle. There’s no excuse for not getting it done. Shame on me.

Figure out the “budgeting” thing

PROBATION. On the one hand, I did exactly what I said I would do. I downloaded Mint, and have started tracking my spending. I’ve discovered some trends that surprised me in the process, like, who knew I spent so much at Target? Just seeing my spending in pie chart form has encouraged moderation in some areas. I’ve been eating out rarely, if at all; this includes going to places like Peet’s and its pocket-draining siblings. I’m also NOT buying clothing under any circumstances. But of course, in other areas, I feel like my spending is out of control. My laptop needed fixing this week, I dropped over a grand to attend last week’s professional conference, my medical expenses have gone way up, and just yesterday I purchased two expensive pieces of furniture to help ameliorate the chronic pain I’m currently dealing with. So yes, I think I have a much clearer picture of my budget. Is that reflected by my account balances? No comment.

Pay off remaining credit card debt

NO PASS. See above, and then feel free to chuckle a bit.

Take a personal finance class

PASS. Sort of. I’m not enrolled in a class of any kind, but I’ve started listening to the Money Girl podcast recently, and I can now say I understand what a Roth IRA is, which charitable contributions are tax deductible, the importance of renter’s insurance, and how to save money planning a vacation. (Okay, I might have occasionally dozed off while listening—wow money can be boring—but I totally know where to get information when I need it.) I also reviewed my credit, and made decisions about student loans for the coming year. So I’ve been learning quite a bit, but in an open-air classroom, so to speak.

Lose weight.

PASS. I actually never wrote about this particular goal on SMDS, but reviewing my report card is a bit depressing, so I’m ending on a high note. I’ll probably write on this topic later… suffice it to say I’ve lost six pounds in under a month, and I’m really proud of myself.

So there you have it folks, a heaping serving of realness. This was actually a really good exercise for me, so I would encourage you to do the same, and share it with the rest of us! Accountability is a truly beautiful thing.


 

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

Dear Diary

One of the key takeaways from my most recent research trip—a non-unique one, I’ll admit—was realizing how important it is to keep personal records.

In the course of two days I read approximately six years’ worth of film scholar and AIDS activist Vito Russo’s life. How much of it do I anticipate will make it into my dissertation? Frankly, not all that much.

Vito Russo

The ten-ish hours I spent pouring through Russo’s journals were nevertheless some of the most valuable that I’ve logged in my career thus far. Historians use primary and secondary sources in their work, but we also use intuition, emotion, and other intangibles we can’t fully account for in our footnotes (whether we like it or not). Russo’s journals steeped me in the ethos of the AIDS crisis in a unique way, and it’s left an imprint on both my mind and my heart that I know will follow me throughout the research process.

This isn’t the first time I’ve read somebody’s personal remembrances in an archival setting—every single time I do, though, I find myself sitting there wondering why there aren’t more historians in the world. It’s just so cool. The “intimate connections” that happen in the archive are a huge part of the reason I’m motivated to do this kind of work, and every time I encounter another life on paper, I start thinking about journaling, and the fact that I suck at it.

I am notorious for buying—nay, collecting—fancy notebooks in which I intend to write my life story, only to decide that writing in them would be a desecration. If I actually do write in them, I immediately re-read the content I’ve created and criticize everything from my handwriting to my sentence structure. In so doing, I determine that I’m the biggest jerk on the planet and who the hell would want to read about my life anyway so why don’t I just not and say I did? It’s intense.

At least, it was. I’ve been on the journaling wagon for a whopping six days now, and am happy to say that I think it’s going quite well.

There are two reasons I think I might be able to turn journaling into a habit this time around:

  1. I’m writing with a different goal in mind.
  2. I’ve changed the process by which I write a journal entry.

The former is largely a result of engaging with Vito Russo’s personal writing. I’m eventually going to devote an entire post to his journals, but for now I’ll just say this: while Russo a heroic figure in both LGBT and HIV advocacy, his journals reveal all of his deepest flaws. Every once in a while he’d write something that stopped me in my tracks, because it was so self-centered, or whiny, or arrogant, or etc. etc. etc. That was awesome. The stars, they’re just like us!

I used to imagine my great great grandchildren reading my journals and telling all their friends about what a great woman I was. After reading through Russo’s journals, though, I now imagine them gathering together to talk about the myriad ways in which I was kind of a jerk. We love the people we love not just despite their flaws, but because of them. This realization has helped me to stop worrying about the quality of what I put on the page.

My new technique for journal writing has helped me in this quest to uncensor myself, but there’s still the issue of carving out time to write yet another thing. Taking a cue from Greg McKeown, who advises that you should always write less than you’d like to, I decided that I would only allow myself to write for ten minutes. Can I plumb the depths of my soul in ten minutes? No. Can I give a basic account of my day and how I felt about it? Yeah. I certainly can’t claim that my journal has a wonderful voice, as it’s comprised of lots of super abbreviated sentences, but who cares? Writing is both my hobby and my job. If my great great grandchildren swing a dead cat and somehow don’t find my blog posts, articles, and (fingers crossed) dissertation, they just need a bigger dead cat.

Do you journal? Any suggestions for getting started/sticking with it?

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.