Hello From the Other Side


Hello. It’s me. How are you?

It’s been a long time since I last posted on this page, but I have a lot to show for my time away, including my first-ever blog post for the African-American Intellectual History Society (of which I’m a huge fan), my first-ever article for the Coordinating Council for Women in History newsletter (CCWH Newsletter), and a brand-spankin’-new post for Nursing Clio. Add to that four or five fellowship applications, accepted CFPs for two national conferences (fingers crossed for a third!), and two nearly-finished chapters of my dissertation. With a list like that, I’ve got myself a hiatus for which no apology need be offered… she typed halfheartedly.

Just because I’m not particularly inclined to apologize for my time away doesn’t mean I want to stay away any longer. As some of you know, I’m a big fan of New Year’s resolutions—and “Academic New Year’s” resolutions, for that matter. So here’s my resolution: I’m going to write for SMDS at least once a month (and twice this month, since I already missed January). This goal is born of the realization that there’s only one person I routinely fail to accommodate in my writing schedule: myself. I don’t miss deadlines for anybody else. It’s not uncommon to talk about writing as a form of exercise, and I’m finding that fitness, be it physical, emotional, or artistic—is not a high enough priority in my life.

I’ve got a list of topics I want to write about that’s about as long as my arm, and I look forward to digging into that list over the coming year. Until then, though, I want to thank your all for bearing with me, supporting my non-SMDS ventures as much as you have, and understanding that, to a certain extent, this—posts like this, where I point out the conjoined nature of my successes and failures as a grad student—is what SMDS is about.


“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.


No, this is not a stock photo. Yes, I made these. No, the bottoms are not even remotely brown. Yes, they are super chewy and indulgent. As if that wasn't enough, these delightful little cookies double as a sanity-preservation device!.

No, this is not a stock photo. Yes, I made these. No, the bottoms are not even remotely brown. Yes, they are super chewy and indulgent. As if that wasn’t enough, these delightful little cookies double as a sanity-preservation device!.

My name is Andrea, and I am a “procrastibaker.”

I wasn’t always this way. There was a time, long ago, when I didn’t particularly care for cookies, when Pillsbury did the trick, when baking happened… for a reason. Those were dark times, friend.

Then, during my second year of graduate school something happened, something that—as I understand it—happens to many a young graduate student: I discovered that cooking yielded not only a concrete product (well, not concrete… my food is almost always digestible), but also yielded a feeling of accomplishment. That feeling only multiplied when giving the aforementioned food to other people. Shockingly, folks tended to appreciate my Thai food then more than my academic output. I can’t imagine why.

I caught the cooking bug in a big way. I started inventing reasons to cook. Feeding myself wasn’t enough—in fact, most of the time cooking killed my appetite. No, other people needed to see that I was capable of producing a quality meal, they needed to eat and enjoy it. That year, there was a dinner party almost every week. It was both enjoyable and fulfilling, but my wallet got so light it came darned close to floating out the door. INSERT FOOD PORN HERE:

By my third year of graduate school—not coincidentally, the same year I took my oral exams and advanced to candidacy—I had really honed my new addiction. Instead of big dinner parties, I returned to my first love, baking, and restricted myself to one or two projects a week. I spent significantly less money, and instead of feeding five to ten people to the point of bursting, everybody in my classes got a cookie (or two, or three). This was my calling.

These days, I bake at least once a week. I almost always make cookies, not because cookies are my favorite thing to make so much as they are the most space, time, and cost-efficient of the options available to me. When I’m done baking, everything goes straight into the freezer, and then gets doled out to my fellow grad students throughout the week. I’m the cookie fairy.

My kitchen counter at least one night a week. The cookie flavors may change, but the weird foil runner remains the same.

My kitchen counter at least one night a week. The cookie flavors may change, but the weird foil runner remains the same.

While I’m the only person I know who distributes baked goods on an almost daily basis, cooking is one of the stress relievers of choice for grad students. I know folks with cooking blogs, Instagram and Facebook chefs, and elaborate-party havers. By far the most impressive academic foodie I’ve encountered was my undergraduate thesis adviser: she was in her first year of teaching… she actually made her own sausage. 

I’ve long assumed that academics weren’t the only people who turned to the kitchen for validation, but I didn’t realize the extent to which that was true until last month, when I read a Wall Street Journal article about therapists using cooking classes to treat anxiety and depression.

It makes all the sense in the world: cooking forces one to disconnect from stress, focus on something else, and (if you do it right) leaves you with something to be proud of, and share with people you might not engage otherwise. To quote the article at length:

Psychologists say cooking and baking are pursuits that fit a type of therapy known as behavioral activation. The goal is to alleviate depression by boosting positive activity, increasing goal-oriented behavior and curbing procrastination and passivity.

“If the activity is defined as personally rewarding or giving a sense of accomplishment or pleasure, or even seeing the pleasure of that pumpkin bread with chocolate chips making someone else happy, then it could improve a sense of well-being,” says Jacqueline Gollan, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

Clinical studies on cooking’s therapeutic effects are hard to come by. But occupational therapists say cooking classes are particularly widely used in their profession, which seeks to help people with mental or physical disorders maintain their daily living and working skills.

I used to think of my cooking as a symptom of a problem: the self-esteem issues that often result from spending the majority of one’s twenties in graduate school. Now, I see my procrastibaking as a solution, as one of the things that’s keeping me going during the long hard slog to the PhD. My only regret? They REALLY should have mentioned this at my orientation!

That would be orange glazed chickpeas and tofu, nestled of-so-comfortably on a bed of sesame-soy grilled zucchini and basmati. BOOM.

That would be orange glazed chickpeas and tofu, nestled of-so-comfortably on a bed of sesame-roasted zucchini and basmati. BOOM.

Here’s a few quick tips to optimize your cooking experience:

  • Cook healthy foods, or cook for somebody else. I cook healthy meals for myself, but the vast majority of my baked goods end up in other people’s stomachs. Grad students, as a general rule, are too poor and too stressed out to turn down free food, so get rid of the stuff you make as quickly as necessary to avoid binging.
  • Mix it up. If you always cook the same three things, you’re eventually going to go on autopilot, which effectively eliminates the benefit of the activity. Sometimes zoning out is a good thing, but make sure you’re trying new recipes on a regular basis. Just don’t put yourself in a situation where the success or failure of a kitchen experiment is going to really upset you.
  • Make the time productive. Just because this is your time to de-stress doesn’t mean you can’t also use it to get important stuff done. I study HIV/AIDS, in addition to other things, so I listened to an audiobook of And The Band Played On while cooking over the summer; it was more relaxing than close-reading the ginormous text, and—since the book is well-written and engaging—pretty fun. Other times, I’ll listen to NPR, put on the news, or listen to a podcast that I would otherwise have to carve out time for.
  • Track your spending. How much is that recipe going to run you, exactly? Cooking is great fun, and I am not an advocate of eating super cheap, but be aware of what you spend. The time and enjoyment I get out of baking cookies is worth the investment in ingredients; the same cannot be said of cupcakes, which is the reason I don’t make them on a regular basis. The last thing you want is to turn procrastibaking into a source of stress, and that’s what will happen if you don’t occasionally do the math.
Definitely the least productive use of my culinary skills so far, but also the most fun.

Definitely the least productive use of my culinary skills so far, but also the most fun.

Are you a procrastibaker? Share your culinary accomplishments with us in the comments!


“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.

SMDS Book Review: The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod

No convinced this is book worth buying. That said, you don’t have to believe me: if you’re feeling contrary, click on this picture to buy the book, and send a slice of that cheddar my way!  To read about my approach to affiliate marketing, scroll to the bottom of this post.

Not convinced this is book worth buying. That said, you don’t have to believe me: if you’re feeling contrary, click on this picture to buy the book, and send a slice of that cheddar my way!
To read about my approach to affiliate marketing, scroll to the bottom of this post.

I write this blog post while wearing a thick coat of shame, for I woke up almost three hours later than I intended this morning. Normally I’d laugh it off—no harm, no foul—but, today? The day I’m reviewing The Miracle Morning? That’s pretty embarrassing.

While my morning was, admittedly, something short of miraculous, I am making a concerted effort to wake up earlier and be more productive. My energy levels tend to be cyclical. At the beginning of the academic year I’m up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, at the exact same time every morning (usually 8 AM); by the end of the year, not so much.

I don’t want to sound unappreciative, but being on a research fellowship can really mess up your biorhythms. I’m falling asleep way too late at night, waking up correspondingly late the next day, and, as a result, missing out on the uniquely happy dance I do when I accomplish a lot before noon. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I bought myself a much-lauded book about developing a successful morning routine: Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life before 8 AM.

My quick n’ dirty synopsis of this book: Elrod does six very specific things every morning immediately upon waking up, and credits this routine with helping him turn his life around. You should do them too! That’s almost the whole story, minus a lot of personal branding. Seriously. As a freshman writing instructor, I wade through filler on a regular basis; this book is jam-packed with the stuff. Is there some worthwhile content hiding in there? Yes. Is it worth spending your money to find it? No. Elrod—who seems like a genuinely good person—makes a lot of this content available online. If I had it to do over again, I’d read the free stuff, try his method, and—if I started seeing results—buy the book as thanks for a job well done.

So what does Elrod do? He (1) meditates, (2) recites affirmations, (3) visualizes success and the path to said success, (4) exercises, (5) reads from a book that inspires him, and (6) writes in a journal. This process is supposed to take an hour, but can go longer or shorter based on your needs.

All of these activities make sense, and clumping them together into a morning routine does too. I tried it for a couple days, and yes, after an hour, I felt pretty good about myself. Then again, I also needed a nap later in the day, because waking up early (sadly) didn’t translate into falling asleep at a reasonable hour. I also found myself quickly lulled into a false sense of security: “look! I’ve already scratched six things off my to-do list and it isn’t even 8 AM! I’m so productive! I’ve definitely earned a break.”

I’m going to give the morning routine another try, starting tomorrow, because three days is hardly a fair shake. I will update you all if/when my life changes. Until then, here’s my analysis: if you’re the type of person who can convince yourself to wake up an hour early to do things like meditate and exercise, you have the motivation necessary to wake up and be successful without The Miracle Morning. So why bother buying the book? If you aren’t motivated enough to do the six things I listed above every morning, reading this book isn’t going to get you there. It’s not that inspirational.

In fact, if you’re like me, this book will inspire more frustration than productivity. Elrod seems like a decent guy with good intentions, and indeed, his personal story is pretty darned miraculous. That said, he really should have invested in a ghostwriter, and if he paid his copy editors, he should ask for his money back. I would call him a victim of the self-publishing boom, but my understanding is he’s made a very tidy profit off of this book… which doesn’t depress me at all. Nope. Not a bit.

There you have it: I think this book failed to live up to its potential. But then again, who the hell am I to throw stones? As I mentioned at the start of this post, I woke up three hours later than I planned to this morning. I am living in the thinnest of glass houses here, people. If that fact alone is not enough motivation to pull myself together tomorrow, I honestly don’t know what is.


“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.

To read about my philosophy re: affiliate marketing, click here.

I’m Back… And I’m Starting Over!

New life chapter

Just three short months after starting “The Six Million Dollar Scholar,” I did that thing that pro bloggers tell you to never, ever, ever do: I disappeared. It’s been over three months since my last post, which is even more embarrassing because that means my blog’s spent more time inactive than it’s spent active. WOOPS.

Well, I’m back now.

So where did I go? I crawled into my own head. A small piece of me actually died in there. Some call that piece “denial,” others “fear,” but I’m going to go ahead and call it what it is: bullshit. My bullshit died. I killed it.

I stopped blogging because I decided “writing for fun” was a waste of time, that the aforementioned time needed to go to my dissertation. I was struggling with my academic work—pretty much for the first time ever—so it didn’t make sense to blog. Instead, I devoted myself to hitting my head against the wall, harder, and harder, and harder. Eventually the dissertation would shake loose, right? Grad school is suffering, so finding myself chronically unsatisfied with my work was just a sign that I was on the right track, right? RIGHT?!?

Wrong. I had been going nowhere, and I’d been going there at the speed of light. By the time my twenty eighth birthday rolled around in December, I was demoralized, depressed… I was done.

A fairly accurate rendering of where I was around this time last month.

I went home over the winter break with no books, no journal articles, no writing, nothing. I resolved that I would use my time off to deal with the frightening reality that I might not be cut out for the career I’ve spent years pursuing. To call that process uncomfortable would be an understatement. Academia is, and always has been, my security blanket. It’s my constant, my rock, my significant other. It doesn’t just structure my identity, it structures my assumptions about all the big-ticket concepts in life: success, love, work, intelligence, and freedom, to name a few. Nevertheless, I rolled up my sleeves, and took a good long look at my situation.

What did this several-week-long face-to-face with the truth yield? A series of realizations:

  • I am NOT happy with life as I’m currently living it.
  • I have all the tools I need to succeed, both within and without academia, but I’ve been too disconnected from myself to use those tools effectively.
  • There is nothing more comfortable than that which reliably sucks, and there is nothing more frightening than attaining what you want.
  • By convincing myself that my life path is pre-determined—and structured by others (academia, my professors, reviewers, search committees, etc.)—I’ve made graduate school into a trap, instead of a space to freely cultivate my ideas.
  • My priorities in life have been changing fairly radically over the past few years, but I failed to accommodate, or even accept, those changes.
  • In walking away from blogging (and non-academic writing in general) I have been denying myself that which brings me closer to the truth. Of course I couldn’t post… being authentic would mean admitting I didn’t have all, most, or any of the answers.

I would say I had a fairly productive Winter Break, wouldn’t you? For all the epiphanies I managed to cram into a few short weeks, the process of arriving at all of these conclusions was incredibly difficult. So difficult, in fact, that I couldn’t—at the time—do a damned thing about them. I just had to sit with all this new information, and try not to throw up.

Now I’m back at school, and it’s time to take care of business. What does that actually mean?

This is probably the place where you expect me to tell you that I’m dropping out of school. I’m not. But I might… one day. I honestly don’t know, and that’s actually really important to me.

The single most radical thing I can do, and my single greatest challenge, both personally and professionally, is to accept (and dwell in) uncertainty. So that’s what I’m going to do.

These days, when I wake up, I have three main goals: I will use the day to (1) do meaningful academic work, (2) write something meaningful, whatever that looks like to me that day, and (3) to do something concrete to build up my “alt-ac” options. My days will also include home-cooked meals, exercise, non-academic reading, and at least eight hours of sleep. In essence, I’m going to force myself to live intentionally, but without a concrete end in mind. I’m trusting that this will bring me to a place where I’m able to truly understand what I want out of life, and how—or if—a Ph.D. figures into that calculus.

I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time, but part of me worried that doing so would somehow invalidate the whole blog. After all, I called my blog “The Six Million Dollar Scholar.” Can I still claim that title, now that pretty much everything about my life and career is up in the air?

Yes. Yes I can. Looking critically at (and beyond) my Ph.D. is probably the most intelligent thing I’ve done since starting SMDS. In fact, it’s an exercise more academics would do well to adopt. It’s also helped remind me that I need not be a grad student, a professor, or an anything in particular, to be a scholar. Learning is my jam. I’ll be a scholar no matter where this journey takes me, because that’s just who I am.

So there you have it. I’m back, and on the road to being better than ever. 2015 should be a very interesting year.

“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.

The SMDS “Suggested Reading” List

I have to apologize to those of you who’ve joined the SMDS RSS feed over the past week or so, because your (much-appreciated) interest in my blog happens to coincide with my needing to step away. A dissertation deadline beckons, so I need to hoard all of my creative juices, gremlin style, until Tuesday, October 23.

Until then, dear reader, I thought I would pass along a “Suggested Reading” list for those of you who are new to the website. These are some of my favorite posts so far, and hopefully offer a little insight into what The Six Million Dollar Scholar is all about.

My grandmother being nutty as she was wont to do.

Nude Models, Pot Brownies, and Frankenfoot: A Tribute to My Grandmother

I wrote this post on what would have been my grandmother’s eighty first birthday. It’s my favorite post because it’s about one of my favorite people; you’ll enjoy it because it’s a reminder that sometimes we don’t need to look very far to find a hero. In my case, I realized I grew up with a brilliant, hardcore feminist in my basement, a woman whose improbable life deserves to be the stuff of books.

Vito Russo, about whom an entire post is coming very soon. Born July 11, 1946, died November 7, 1990. His is one of the many faces I can't get out of my head. Click image to see the website this image came from.

What I’m Learning from A Giant Stack of Obituaries

I came home from my most recent research trip with literally hundreds of obituaries, and no immediate use for them. I’ve since discovered that they may indeed have a home in my dissertation. Even if that turns out not to be the case, they were worth the money I spent printing them, because they taught me a lot about myself, about the research process, and about the fiction that is the personal/professional binary.

Dear Diary

This post has a special place in my heart, because it’s probably the single most effective life hack I’ve implemented since starting The Six Million Dollar Scholar. At the time I wrote the post, I’d only been journaling for six days, but today I can report that, for the first time in my life, I have a daily journaling practice. it’s now been almost two months, and I’m still going strong. It’s incredibly rewarding, and—for an historian, anyway—a great reminder that not all archives are brick and mortar.

Taken yesterday.

The Human Thundershirt

Quite possibly the strangest proof-of-concept blog post ever, I demonstrate that my newfound ability to calm the world’s most disturbed canine is a sign that the world needs more blogs like mine. Plus, there’s an abundance of pictures of a sweet baby puppy dog face girl.

When One Door Closes, Make Lemonade

My summer session course ended up being cancelled, a highly improbable scenario realized by a perfect storm of utter lameitude. When I wrote this post, I thought I’d done a pretty great job polishing a gnarly turd of a moment in my teaching career. In hindsight though, it’s nothing short of amazing how everything worked out. After all, while I didn’t anticipate being out of a teaching job, I neither did I anticipate running into medical problems this summer that would have made teaching a damned-near Herculean task. Maybe, just maybe, the universe was looking out for me?

That oughta keep you busy! See y’all again soon!

“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.

I’m Shrinking, and So Are My Bills!

Last month I made a promise to myself to lose twenty pounds by Thanksgiving.

Before I say anything else, I want to be super clear that this isn’t going to be a “thinspirational” blog post. I promise. This is NOT the place to go for fat-shaming rhetoric. Fact is, I was actually *quite* happy with the person I saw in the mirror a month ago.

In the past several months, however, an old medical problem has resurfaced—albeit in a new way—and my mobility has been severely compromised. I’m heading to surgical consult number two this week, so needless to say, the process of getting better is going to take a while. Until then, I just have to make it work, which means limiting my activity, and taking pain medicine. The only other thing that I can do for myself right now… is lose weight.

Makes sense right? When you’re carrying extra weight your joints are carrying it too, and—right now anyway—mine can’t afford any extra strain.

I promised to lose twenty pounds by Thanksgiving as an act of radical self-care, knowing full well that it was going to be a major uphill battle given my inability to exercise like I used to. Good news folks: I’m about seven pounds lighter today than I was this time a month ago! Hooray for me!

Actually, there’s more than one reason to be proud of me. Here’s reason number two: I didn’t anticipate that this would happen, but in adjusting my diet, I’ve also started saving a TON of money. Like, my grocery bill for the week has been halved, and then some.

THAT, my friends, is knowledge I feel a genuine obligation to share.

In the past I’ve been surprisingly successful using SlimFast shakes to lose weight, but there was NO chance of me trying that again, because it turns out I’m a little on the lactose intolerant side. I’ve significantly cut my dairy intake, and never drink milk anymore. I know meal replacement (“drinking your breakfast” of a different sort) works for me, so instead of buying shakes, I’ve started making my own smoothies.

Poor graduate students everywhere: you do NOT need a Vitamix or a fancy pants juicer to make a decent smoothie. A regular blender does the job just fine. That first shopping trip—the one in which you acquire bag upon bag of frozen fruit—is a little painful, but after that, your weekly shopping bill will go through the floor. MY GROCERIES FOR THIS WEEK COST ME UNDER $40. That’s fourteen plus smoothies, ingredients for a giant batch of homemade Santa Fe style Beans n’ Rice, and the staple foods I needed to replenish.

NB: I cook and freeze meals en masse about eight times a year, so I always have a variety of dinner options despite only cooking one big meal a week. If you’re cooking all of your meals the week you eat them, your grocery bills are always going to be big. Sorry.

High protein smoothies are not inherently diet-friendly—in fact, you have to craft your recipes very carefully if you ARE trying to lose weight with them—so replacing one to two meals with this stuff isn’t just a tip for grad students to lose weight. Nope. It’s a tip for folks like me who (1) desperately need to save money, (2) can fill up on a “liquid lunch.” and (3) won’t get too bored with the “smoothie experience.” I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to food (really, I just want to be full), so, provided I get to have different kinds of blended fruit beverages whenever I want, I’m perfectly happy to drink two a day while counting my imaginary money.

I knew "The Incredible Shrinking Woman" was an actual movie, but never realized that  Lily Tomlin starred in it. Onto the to-do list it goes!

I knew “The Incredible Shrinking Woman” was an actual movie, but never realized that Lily Tomlin starred in it. Onto the to-do list it goes!

So there you go folks. A quick and painless way to save at the supermarket and stay healthy at the same time, brought to you by the Incredible Shrinking Scholar. Hit me up in the comments section if you’d like some recipes, or have some of your own that you’d like to share with the rest of the class!

“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.



The Tale of the Giant Bed

Bed1This past week I bought a mattress—like, a real mattress—for the very first time. In the five plus years since I graduated college, I’ve been through two $100ish dollar pieces of IKEA foam nested less-than-comfortably on wooden IKEA bed slats. They creaked and groaned with every move, and each night’s sleep was slightly more uncomfortable than the last.

So why wait five years to invest in a decent bed? My rationale was simple: grad students don’t have nice things. Grad students are poor. If I manage to get a PhD AND a job, I’ll have earned a comfortable mattress. Until then, to quote Dan Savage: “Suffer, bitch.”

This is a fairly accurate representation of how huge my new bed is.

This is a fairly accurate representation of how huge my new bed is.

So how is it that I am writing to you now, perched atop a tower (no kidding, an actual tower) of coils, latex, and foam? How is it that I’ve joined the ranks of the elite, with their fancy box springs and ten year warranties? I didn’t get my PhD, nor did I get a job, and I most definitely did not get rich overnight. Far from it.

I wish I could say I came to the decision to toss my crap bed and invest (with the help of my beloved mother) in a real mattress through meditation and a careful reframing of my self-image. Alas and alack, that would be a lie. I came to the decision because I’m in pain. Like, I’m-going-to-need-surgery level pain.

In a slightly bizarre twist, this is the second time I’m writing about mattresses this month. In a previous post about attending college with a physical disability, I wrote the following:

 [I]t can be really hard to know what you’re going to need to get through college, and how exactly to go about getting it. Because college is a new life experience, it necessarily brings up new issues for which one is unprepared. The most important accommodation I had in the course of my undergraduate career wasn’t about where my classes were or attendance policies, or even being excused from classes during inclement weather. No… turned out I really needed a new mattress every year. Can’t say I’d seen that coming when I was getting myself ready to go to college. What your students need may surprise you, but keep in mind that it may also surprise them.

Realizing I needed a new mattress now, almost ten years after I originally marched (okay, limped) to Bryn Mawr’s Disability Services office and requested the same was admittedly a little demoralizing. What was more demoralizing, though, was realizing that it took yet another instance of physical impairment to get me to prioritize my wellbeing over my credit card balance.

The moral of the story here is simple: think about how you would treat yourself if you’d just returned from a trip to the hospital. If you’re anything like me, you’ve found—or imagine you would find—that in the moments where your health hangs in the balance, you speak up, make demands, and advocate for yourself. You can’t afford not to! Why oh why don’t we treat ourselves that way all the time?

Gee... if I'd realized adjustable beds were THIS much fun...

Gee… if I’d realized adjustable beds were THIS much fun…

You know that adjustable bed commercial where the middle aged woman says something to the effect of “I’m glad I didn’t wait until I’m too old to enjoy this!” Well, that’s basically what I’m saying, only in a “hindsight is 20/20” kind of way. At this particular moment my fancy new mattress isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. It’s a necessity because I waited until I WAS in too much pain to view it as anything else. Yes, I am enjoying my new bed, but I’d definitely enjoy it more if I’d bought it earlier, and for the right reasons.

I can think of nothing more important for quality of life than a good place to sleep. And yet, for four long years I let (a) sticker shock, and (b) the cockamamie notion that grad students aren’t supposed to be comfortable, keep me from having my gigantic miracle bed. Lesson learned. From here on out, I’m going to expect better of myself. I’ll always find the money for the things I need: the more difficult task is remembering that I deserve to have the things I need.

So yeah. The new office chair’s being delivered tomorrow.

“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.

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.

A Week-Long “I Told You So!”


I’m back from my unscheduled hiatus with a message: listen to your body, or it will make itself heard.

I’ve been the recipient of this very message three times over the course of the past week. I’m hoping evangelizing is all I need to do to allow my subconscious, or the universe, or whatever it is that’s brought me the aforementioned message to move on, and start beating another dead horse.

I took a break from posting to SMDS because I woke up on Friday with the beginning of a cold. In retrospect, this shouldn’t have been surprising. I had been experiencing the emotional and cognitive impacts of pain management for a week already. The more I told myself I was going to be okay, the less okay I got, until I was no longer sleeping. My doctor finally convinced me to make the switch to a narcotic pain killer. That my body was eventually going to tire of being on red alert 24/7 is kind of a no-brainer. We’re talking multiple layers of denial, here, folks.

Nevertheless, when I felt that oh-so-familiar tickle in my throat, I responded much the same way I responded to the realization that my pain had become unmanageable: I tried to think my way out of it.

Writing this post is an exercise in 20/20 hindsight. Thinking through the past week, the difference between positive thinking and willful ignorance seems really obvious. Looking at that tweet now, I feel like kind of a boob.

And I should. That Friday, I kept all my appointments, added some new ones to the docket (because why not?) and declared that if indeed I was to become sick, I would meet my virus head on! When I wasn’t out and about, overdoing it in every conceivable way, I was at home, cleaning my bedroom furiously… because who wants to board oneself up in a dirty room? I did all of this in spite of the fact that my doctor had already ordered me to stay in bed. By the time I went to bed Friday night, I was sick, tired, and hurting like crazy.

Four days and many medications later, I was on the mend, enough so that I felt I needed to keep my appointment with my dentist.

I have always prided myself on having great teeth. I’m almost thirty, but I’ve never had a cavity, despite a pretty epic diet soda addiction and chronic acid reflux. In a family where trips to the dentist are almost always accompanied by bad news, I’ve always been the golden child. Until a few weeks ago.

Yesterday morning, I went in to the dentist’s office to get the first two of three—count ‘em, three!—cavities filled. Interestingly enough, that’s a cavity for every year I blew off going to the dentist, on account of being far too busy being a graduate student. What a boob.

When it comes to going to the dentist I am a model patient, and getting these cavities filled was no exception. It was neither painful, upsetting, nor particularly inconvenient—the whole experience was actually kind of interesting. That said, walking out today with my lopsided smile, writing a check for a dental procedure I could have easily prevented… it was my own private walk of shame. A walk of shame accompanied by lots of sniffles, and a bit of a limp.

I’m really happy to (slowly) return to life as usual. That said, I’ve realized I need to make a really serious effort to pay closer attention to my body. Listen to your body, or it will make itself heard.  The price I’ve paid for denial has been a steep one, and I’m too stingy to pay it again.

“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.