Taking a Vacation from My Vacation

cruiseship stamp fotolia

The past week was supposed to bring rest and rejuvenation, but, you know, best laid plans. The goal for today, therefore, is as simple as it is ambitious: shake off the past week, and return to business as usual. And so, I blog. This post won’t be especially elegant, nor will it prove especially inspiring. Honestly, this post isn’t for you. It’s for me.

Last week, I flew to South Florida to meet up with my mother and brother, with whom I was taking a four-day-long cruise to Mexico. This was our Christmas present, and—in my case—an early Spring Break. Seeing my family is always wonderful, and we were very excited for our vacation, but we also had a lot on our minds. There were many shoes in the air, so to speak, and waiting for them to drop cast something of a pall on the skies over the Liberty of the Seas.

Those shoes did indeed drop. And how.

On day three of the cruise—the day we docked in Cozumel—we came home from a wonderful day of sun, shopping, and dolphin encounters, only to find out that my paternal grandmother had died. She was ninety-seven, and had entered hospice earlier that week, so we were all prepared—indeed, anxious—for her passing. But, of course, being on a ship at the time of her death, we had almost no internet access, and no cell phone service. We couldn’t plan her memorial, we couldn’t notify relatives… we couldn’t do much of anything.

My Nana and I on my birthday, three years ago. She'd been in frighteningly good health--like, travelling cross-country alone and tap-dancing good health--until a fall at age 94. This picture was taken shortly after that fall, when my mother, my brother and I flew to Florida to surprise her at the rehab center.

My Nana and I on my birthday, three years ago. She’d been in frighteningly good health–like, travelling cross-country alone and tap-dancing good health–until a fall at age 94. This picture was taken shortly after that fall, when my mother, my brother and I flew to Florida to surprise her at the rehab center.

To be clear: I am glad my grandmother is gone. The past three years of her life have been challenging; this past year, well, it’s been simply awful. Her death is a blessing and a relief. While I’m not grieving my grandmother, it was difficult to be so utterly disconnected from the reality of her passing. So we sat there, in the casino, playing the slots and sipping on virgin piña coladas, because what the hell else were we going to do? It was a strange feeling, to put it mildly.

Our cruise ended yesterday. We disembarked in the morning and drove three hours back to our home, making calls to the nursing home, the hospice facility, etc. on the way. Things were getting back to normal. We picked up three ecstatic dogs—and one very grumpy cat—from the kennel. And then, when we got home, all hell broke loose.

Sadie was bleeding.

We used to always joke that Sadie acted more like a reindeer than a dog. In 2012, we made it official with a pair of ears. We thought it would freak her out, but she took to them immediately.

We used to always joke that Sadie acted more like a reindeer than a dog. In 2012, we made it official with a pair of ears. We thought it would freak her out, but she took to them immediately.

Sadie had cancer that, while not impacting her appetite or her sunny disposition, had badly disfigured her. She had a tumor (at least) the size of a softball on her leg, and another baseball-sized tumor on her stomach. We all considered it a miracle that she’d survived to celebrate Christmas with us again; it seemed like the only one who wasn’t holding their breath was Sadie. It’s a strange thing to see a dog who looks so sick dancing for her dinner, wiggling her stump, and running to the sliding-glass door to bark at passersby. We were always worried that we might let her go too long, that we’d miss a warning sign, that she’d be in pain and we’d inadvertently allow that pain to continue. We took her to the vet over and over again, only to hear the same thing over and over again: not yet.

When my mother and brother dropped her off last week, the tumor on her leg was oozing slightly, but all seemed well. She was still a happy dog. She was a happy dog when we picked her up. But by the time we got home with her yesterday, all was definitely not well. In the span of about thirty minutes, everything changed.

When she got out of the car, blood started spurting out of her tumor. Our garage was covered in droplets of blood. We looked at her leg, and realized the skin had finally ripped open. We tried to bandage her, but the shape of the tumor being what it was, the bandage came off within minutes. There was nothing we could do. Sadie didn’t seem terribly distressed by her condition, but we knew that it would only get worse. And so, within twenty minutes of arriving home with our menagerie, my mother and I packed Sadie into the car and returned to the vet. As my mom put it to me, it felt like we were playing a dirty trick on her, taking her back like that. Timing’s a bitch.

When we arrived at the vet’s office, we were met by a staff that seemed almost as devastated as we were. As one nurse put it to us “We knew this day was coming, but we’d all hoped she had a little while longer, because she’s such a special dog.” Dogs are tremendously empathetic, so it’s possible she was responding to the emotions flooding the room, but Sadie’s attitude gradually changed. Her usual vet-visit jitters seemed to melt away, replaced by resignation. After a lot of kisses and tears, Sadie laid herself down in-between my mother and I, and quietly, peacefully, passed away.

Sadie and her sister, Maya. We rescued them, and when we realized that adopting them out would mean splitting them up, we decided to keep them. Maya passed away a couple years ago. I can only imagine the fun they're having together right now.

Sadie and her sister, Maya. We rescued them back in 2004. When we realized that adopting them out would mean splitting them up, we decided to keep them. Maya passed away a couple years ago. I can only imagine the fun the girls are having together right now.

To summarize: I took a four day long vacation. In that time, I lost both my grandmother and my dog.

I would say that I was still numb, but I’m not numb at all. I wish I was numb. If I could get right back on that ship and sail away from this situation, I would. As every co-worker you’ve ever had has said at least once: I need a vacation from my vacation. The idea of getting back to my academic work—to steeping myself in other people’s loss—seems impossible. And yet, I desperately need to get back to my routine.

I shouldn’t feel bad about my lack of grief at my Nana’s passing, but—now that Sadie’s gone—I do feel bad about it. I’m struggling with the knowledge that I’ve cried, repeatedly, over Sadie, and not once for my grandmother. It actually makes a lot of sense that I feel that way. Sadie was happy and dancing on the day she died; if it weren’t for the giant bleeding tumor on her leg, she’d have had at least a few happy months ahead of her. My grandmother, on the other hand, was gone months before she died.

Feeling guilty about grief is as stupid as it is inevitable (in my case, anyway). The only way to make those feelings fade is to acknowledge them… to let them stretch out a little, announce themselves, and enjoy their moment.

That’s why I wrote this post. It’s for me, not for you. The guilt and sorrow I’m carrying right now is heavy, so I’m offloading it onto the Internet. Those feelings can run free all over my blog, but their time in my head has come to an end.

 

 “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.

Happy Academic New Year!


I don’t normally take such a long break from blogging, but my oh my, has the past week been busy. I completed and turned in my dissertation prospectus (more on that in another post), started physical therapy, cleaned my house to a degree that’s genuinely unnerving, and started filling my freezer with enough home-cooked meals to last me a couple months. We’re talking at least twenty four hours, probably more, devoted exclusively to cooking and cleaning.

Suddenly, I see a number of parallels between my back-to-school fussing and doomsday prep. But it’s not doomsday I’m prepping for, it’s Academic New Year!

Tomorrow our (read: grad students’) first day back in the saddle. The undergrads will return days later, in—and this is patently absurd—October. “First Day” is putting it strongly. We’re having a meeting, taking professional photos for our department’s website, and enjoying a potluck at the park. Doesn’t matter. The first day of school is always light. It still counts.

As far as I’m concerned, starting the school year this late is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, EVERYTHING ABOUT IT IS TERRIBLE. On the other hand, I’m more desperate to get back than I’ve ever been. I’ve been holed up in my apartment by myself for two long. I think I may actually be paler now than I was when summer started. I’ve been productive, yes, but it’s time to return to polite society.

This impulse is comical at best, and pity-inspiring at worst. Because I’m on a research fellowship this year. I am not taking classes or teaching… in fact, I’m not required to be on campus at all.

To be clear: I am excited to go back to school even though I’m not really going back to school. Cue the sad trombone.

This isn’t quite as pathetic as it seems. Despite being one of the most disciplined people I know (not so humblebrag), even I occasionally need a little support. I’ve managed to not goof off for the past three months, but the impulse to work when nobody’s watching, well, it’s fading. Packing up my silly little lunchbox and going into the office every couple days is going to force me to engage with busy people, thereby shaming me into work.

You bet it is.

At least that’s the plan. I’ve never had this kind of freedom before, and I’m more-than-a-little afraid of it. I’m hoping to mitigate my freedom, somewhat, by forcing myself to show up for the next few weeks, until I have established a schedule. I want to wake up in morning knowing that my peers expect to see me in the dissertation research room, empty lunchbox in hand, with something accomplished at the end of the day.

This little mind game appear to be working, because my back to school butterflies are as alive now as they were when I was in grade school. The primary difference is that now, instead of getting stoked over the prospect of a new Lisa Frank trapper keeper, I’m daydreaming about resolutions.

The start of the academic year is my New Year’s Day. Yes, I celebrate the traditional holiday, but this is when the big changes happen. And happen they do.

Last year’s resolution was to develop an online presence. It was an aweosme resolution because it was broad enough that failure was unlikely, and the possibilities for improvement limitless. The only thing I knew for sure was that I REALLY needed to update my LinkedIn profile, which I’m pretty sure had gone completely untouched for a good four years at that point.

Tah dah! One year later I’ve put together a halfway decent website, started a blog, chaired a panel on public history and digital humanities, edited an online journal, celebrated my one year Twitterversary, AND—perhaps most shocking of all—finally updated my LinkedIn profile. Basically, I own the Internet now. I’m swimming in this space, and the floaties are off!

Academic New Year is real, and if you harness its power for good, the rewards will be bountiful.

When I think of the word “power,” I think of Terry Crews. Because duh.

Given how successful last year’s resolution was, I’ve been wracking my brain for months trying to figure out the perfect goal is for this academic year. This entire blog is a resolution, so—with all these ideas circulating—it’s hard to pin down an individual goal to focus on. But, of course, if you set too many goals for the Academic New Year, you’re more likely to be unsuccessful. I needed one good goal… anything else I improve in my life is gravy.

I’ve decided that this year’s goal is to cultivate a daily writing practice beyond the journaling I already do. I see this goal potentially manifesting in several ways: maintaining my blog, devoting more time to freelance work, finally submitting those journal articles I’ve been sitting on for years, and, of course, dissertating like there’s no tomorrow. Those are the possibilities that I see now, but if the last year has taught me anything, it’s to wed oneself to processes, not their outcomes.

Tomorrow morning, when I get up unnecessarily early to iron a skirt that will most certainly   be visible in my picture day photo, I’ll be doing so with a little extra spring in my step, because I know I have succeeded at changing my lifestyle, and will yet again. I hope that you all of you start thinking about one goal you can devote yourself to this year—wherever your calendar year begins—and know that you will achieve it, because you will.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m  pretty sure there’s a floor that needs mopping… somewhere.

“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. You can join the SMDS community on Facebook by clicking here and liking the page!

The Benefits of Blogging in Graduate School

blog

I’ve been blogging for a little over two months now, so I think it’s about time I—and, by extension, so-inclined readers—take a step back and analyze this project.

When I started SDMS, my primary goal was to stimulate my scholarly writing. If for no other reason, this is the reason that this blog will live to see another month. And another, and another…

I honestly believe that most graduate students, but especially those graduate students who have a genuine passion for writing, should have a blog, even if they only post to it bi-monthly.

When I blog, my overall productivity goes up. Writing about something that isn’t AIDS or corpses puts me in a “work” headspace without also starting my day off in (let’s face it) the most depressing way possible.

Blogging takes time, but in its own curious way, it’s also a time saver. If I’ve been active on SMDS during the week I sit down to work on, say, an application essay, my sense of overwhelm around said essay diminishes.

The minute I feel dread setting in, all I have to say to myself is “Dude, it’s a two page essay… that’s, like, ONE blog post. I write those things every freaking day, and I do them in an hour. Chill.”

Now, does an application essay actually take me an hour to write? Not a chance. But that’s not the point. The point is that producing creative content on a daily basis is helping me get over the initial psychological barriers that I—that we all—face when justifying our work to others.

I’ll confess, I didn’t go into this little experiment entirely blind. I spent all four of my college years writing and running Bryn Mawr and Haverford College’s shared newspaper of record, The Bi-College News.

The website's changed a bit, and I don't know any of the writers anymore, but I'll always have a soft spot for "The Bi-College News."

The website’s changed a bit, and I don’t know any of the writers anymore, but I’ll always have a soft spot for “The Bi-College News.”

The Bi-Co News was a big commitment. Originally I’d only planned to write the occasional opinion piece, but by second semester of my sophomore year I the Managing Editor (read: second in command) of the whole enchilada. After a year and a half in that position, I did a brief stint as Editor in Chief, a run cut short in part by medical issues, and in part by my discovery that I really didn’t like being Editor in Chief. During my two year reign at the top of the totem poll I was putting anywhere from twenty to forty hours of every week (unpaid, mind you) into that newspaper.

Was I a walking, talking bucket of stress? Yes, yes I was. But I was also, much to my surprise, a better historian. No longer did I pride myself on being obtuse, or spending more time on an essay assignment than my friends had. The long hours spent working on The Bi-Co forced me to strip away at least some of the pretense, and make an argument, already. The clock was ticking. I had to learn how to think fast.

I took a five-year break from literary journalism (which I had come to think of as more self-indulgent than practical) to focus on becoming a fancy academic who produces fancy academic writing.

I now wonder how much better my academic prose—and my blogging—would be if I had budgeted the time to be a complete writer.

SMDS is essentially The Bi-College News 2.0, only with a much smaller staff, a non-existent budget, and self-imposed deadlines. Sometimes the little voice in my head tells me I’m being more self-indulgent than practical. The me that’s actually matured in the past five years knows, however, that the time I put into blogging is time I’m investing not only into my mental health and creative side, but also into the craft of writing history.

The medium itself might not work for everybody—I certainly know those for whom an epic Facebook post probably does what SMDS does for me—but I think we need to see more graduate students writing for public consumption on a regular basis. Now that I’m two months in, and non-academic writing has become a daily habit, I don’t know what I’d do without it.

If you love writing, you need to be writing… even if nobody’s reading.

Lucky for me, some of you ARE reading. I’m thrilled to have your support, and want to keep it!

Since SMDS isn’t going anywhere any time soon, I’d really like to hear from my readers. What kind of posts do you most enjoy? What could you do without? Are there any topics you wish I’d cover that I’ve not yet touched on? Hit up the comments section and let me know what you want, and I’ll do my best to provide 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.