- Anyone else arriving at IAD early tomorrow morning for #THATCamp I've got a cool carpool oppt'y available to GMU :) #
- Such a delight to go to the library yesterday & come out with an armful of novels. #postPhDlifestyle #
- Anyone else going to #THATCamp from IAD early Friday morning? I'm looking for a lift. #
- Annie Dillard, on writing #justwhatIneededtoday #knowyourownbone http://t.co/YErImG22 #
- I think #ChapmanU should offer free chair massages for staff everyday! #soblissedoutnow #chapmanrocks #
- Catgirl's self-portrait, all of the details/shading are handwritten text http://t.co/FWzhEefe #
- Me & my awesome adviser #uci http://t.co/lxL26NRs #
- The podium view #uci http://t.co/7Pojr441 #
- Being a doctor is hot (these robes are keeping me more than warm) #uci #
- Wonder if I dare not remove my hat, as instructed, for the anthem #becauseImaQuaker #uci #
- I'm the lone student in the stage (for now) h/t Lorie for the pic #uci http://t.co/NHc2pYRR #
- I think they're playing the Harry Potter theme song instead of the graduation song #uci #
- View from the podium (empty chairs are for other grads who haven't yet arrived) #ucigr @ Bren Events Center http://t.co/h52dkLWi #
- Just became Dr. Remy! #butitsnotofficialuntilIwearthefunnyhattomorrow #happyhappyhappy #
Monday I went to lunch with an old LDS friend, someone I’d known back in the days when most of my time was spent corralling toddlers and keeping house. Because she was on her way to Italy and I just returned, we planned to discuss travel. But instead we talked mostly about change. I wondered if she would recognize the now-me, and how different I would seem from the Jana of twenty years ago.
She said I was still the same person, but suggested that maybe my years spent as a mother-of-young children and as a dutiful-Mormon-wife were more of an aberration from the “real me” than is my life now. So I’ve been thinking a lot about that since we met and I’m not sure. I think I have changed in some pretty fundamental ways–that was the major insight that I had while ruminating on my life at Cape Cod last year and that feeling has persisted since then.
Just like I look back on the essays that I wrote when I was a college freshman or even the blogposts that I wrote a few years and cringe a bit at my naivete, I do the same when I reflect on some of the decisions that I made in the past. I don’t have any regrets, per se. But my lens is not the same as it was before, and that change means that I make decisions differently and hold other priorities than I used to. It feels right to see an evolution of behavior and choices in myself, instead of stagnation.
But perhaps the biggest change in me is that I used to be afraid of change. And I’m not so much anymore. Maybe it’s just a phase that I’m going through and eventually I will find a familiar path and will no longer want to deviate from it. But for now, I’m enjoying the exploration and the traveling. It feels right to be trying new things, even uncomfortable ones. And it’s a liberating feeling to not be constantly measuring myself against the expectations of a church, a community, or a relationship that doesn’t fit my values. In general I feel more present and alive to my experiences and possibilities than ever before, which seems right to me at this mid-stage of my life.
At last, I had this epiphany. I wanted to write prose, and I understood that my real problem with writing was not that I couldn’t do it mentally. I couldn’t do it physically. I could not sit still. Literally, could not sit still. So I had to solve that. I used some long scarves to tie myself into my chair. I tied myself in with a pack of cigarettes on one side and coffee on the other, and when I instinctively bolted upright after a few minutes, I’d say, Oh, shit. I’m tied down. I’ve got to keep writing.
~Louise Erdrich in the Paris Review
I can remember Mike Davis saying the same thing about when he began writing–that he tied himself into a chair and wrote until he got it right. I have yet to physically restrain myself to write, but I have a lot of other tricks to keep me focused (#writingsprints on Twitter is my favorite).
What’s your trick to keeping focused on a writing task?
Photo: Fields of poppies in Tuscany, May 2012
Yesterday I finished those last final steps to doctorhood. Afterwards it was more than surreal to walk out of the Administration Building and across the quad, recalling the time just over 20 years ago that I first walked across that same space…at the beginning of my freshman year at UCI. So today when I walk across the stage to be hooded by my adviser, it will be the close of a long and circuitous journey that began in 1989 when I aimed to become a physician because of my medical history, and ended when I became a professional historian who researches the history of medicine.
Being a doctor doesn’t make me feel any smarter or more worthy. Instead, it’s a testament to the fact that I persisted and knew when to call something “good enough” to be finished (after 35 years of school, one would think that it was definitely time).
As I thought about all that’s happened to bring me to this point in my life, one small story from nearly three decades ago stood out in my mind. I was 13 and was nearing the end of my chemotherapy treatments for bone cancer. There were warnings given to me and my parents that the treatments would have cognitive side-effects, including memory loss.
Yet that spring, as an ailing 8th-grade cancer patient wearing a wig and walking on crutches, I won my school spelling bee. I then went on to the district level and won that match, and moved on to the state championships.
The details of that experience are dim in my mind now. I would imagine that it must have been tedious for the audience to watch me stand up and use crutches to walk to the microphone each time I had to spell a word. Or perhaps the judges allowed me to remain seated for the competitions because of my limited mobility? I don’t remember.
But even though the details are fuzzy, the thought that keeps bubbling up about that moment now, is one of persistence. I just kept at it. Kept doing my best at spelling each word slowly into the microphone whenever it was my turn. I wasn’t thinking too hard about what I was doing, I was just doing it. I didn’t let the doctors’ predictions or my own self-consciousness at being a one-legged-and-bald teenager bother me. I just spelled.
Today I’ve got the urge to take that fragile-yet-determined 13 year-old me in my arms and tell her a few things…
I want to let her know that someday she’ll be walking confidently across a stage to earn another award because she worked hard at something, and kept at it even in complicated circumstances. I want to tell her that she will be rejected the first time she applies for graduate school, and will be rejected from most schools the second time–but what matters most is that she found one match among the many attempts. I want to tell her that during her years of coursework she will sleep less than those years when she was caring for a newborn, but that she ought to get up when that alarm rings anyways. I want to warn her about how tough it will be to TA and tutor and do odd jobs to pay her tuition, but remind her that she can do it even while keeping things balanced with mothering and gardening and researching. And I’ll tell her that when she does have funding she ought to make sure to work and write everyday, that it’s a luxury she can’t take for granted. I want to explain to her that getting your PhD isn’t about doing things perfectly–often it’s about doing things as good as you can while facing down the fear of failure (oh, comprehensive oral exams, I am looking at you right now). I’ll leave some of the hardest parts out–about the drug-resistant infection that would persist for so many months that there were fears of losing her other leg and about the unraveling of her marriage. Instead, I’ll remind her that she will find true friends to support her through the long dark nights ahead, and remind her that there will always be roses (and roses and more roses).
Most importantly, I will tell her that by the time she’s earned the PhD she’ll be stronger than she’s ever been before, more satisfied with her life than she could have ever imagined, and more sure that there are great things ahead if she’s willing to just keep at it, everyday.
*Photo is from my recent visit to Tuscany, where we stayed in a villa with so many blooming roses that their petals lined every pathway.
- This might be the 1st year that the squirrels haven't eaten all of my peaches http://t.co/U5zj5alr #
- Prepping dinner in the evening sun #happysimplethings http://t.co/Zd8GdUM4 #
- Confession: I do love me a wooden pencil & bought myself an old-school crank sharpener for my office: http://t.co/OsH3shoj #lifeofahistorian #
- Our first course: trout #sotasty @ A Wolf In Sheeps Clothing http://t.co/oze1OijW #
- Wow, Gameboy is attending his senior prom tonite. :) #timeflies #somedaysitfeelslikehesgrowinguptoofast #
- Still hard to believe that this is where I was last Friday (in Volterra, Tuscany) #europe2012 http://t.co/DClpKqo2 #
The photo above was snapped about 10 miles into the race, when my sunscreen melted into my eyes and I couldn’t see a thing, and didn’t want to stop paddling to clear my vision.
And this was as I was yelling to the team to get our second wind, because we had some boats to pass before we reached the finish line:
- My first Violet Crumble just arrived, all the way from Australia. :) http://t.co/ossT14ZF #
- Can't wait to jump on Mieville's train: http://t.co/l3wvVtWO #booksonmynightstand #
- Tonite: Moroccan food! Yum! http://t.co/OjaEZviB #
- Belgian frites! http://t.co/ZQNMjLz9 #
- This one's to make my beer-living American friends jealous #europe2012 http://t.co/jDxJJKlg #
- Sunset a Bruxelles http://t.co/XUVQxp3K #
- A good memory: chugging the last of our Tuscan wine just before passing thru airport security (on our way back to BRU) #europe2012 #
- En route to Volterra #europe2012 http://t.co/wSQ5sjbY #
- Happiness: sitting under a grapevine gazebo in a rainstorm & sipping local wine as the wind blows rose petals at your feet. #europe2012 #
- The colors of an afternoon storm in Tuscany #europe2012 http://t.co/BQl0MJ42 #
- Some roses (for my birthday) #europe2012 http://t.co/KoWiFHYM #
For Christmas he gave me an Italian map and the generous gift of a vacation wherever I wanted to go…(with the gentle suggestion that he thought Tuscany would suit me well).
He was right. As he so often is. :)
PS: and of course the trip has had more than a few trains–from the Bernina Express through the Alps to the scenic trip around Lake Como to the funicular in Zurich to several German trains…and it’s not over yet…
Monday morning I found myself in Zurich, as an unexpected but pleasant detour on my Europe trip. It was the day that the full force of jet lag hit me, so I was walking around in more than a bit of a mental fog. Fortunately as I breakfasted with a local friend (@chanson), she showed me the sights without my having to think too deeply about where we were headed…
And for lunch I met with a friend that I hadn’t seen since I was 14–someone who knew me when I was diagnosed with cancer, lost my leg, and underwent chemotherapy. I asked him what he remembered about that time because my memories are so dim and fragmented. We talked a bit about what it was like as I lost my hair and became sicker and sicker.
“it was just so sad, we were all so sad,” he said.
Then he recalled a clear memory of seeing me in the hallway at school one day, when someone was carrying me because I was too weak to walk. He said that even though I had to be carried around the school, I was happy.
“You were always happy,” he affirmed. And then the conversation moved on to a different topic.
It wasn’t until later that evening, long after I’d moved on from Zurich and was on the next leg of my trip through the Alps, that I remembered that May 21st, that Monday that I met up with my friends, was the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. 28 years ago. 1984.
Lots of tough things have happened since then…many long dark nights and many days filled with fear. But I’m still happy and expect that I always will be.
- Sunset from the upstairs window of our villa (sososopretty) #europe2012 http://t.co/hqbzO8fZ #
- Under the Tuscan sun #europe2012 http://t.co/nKB0B9fS #
- Lunch: wild boar panini, Rosso vino, thimble of coffee w/this view http://t.co/ZtJQGJ5Z #
- Next challenge for the day: I'm taking to the streets myself (renting a car for wandering Tuscany). #scaryscary #europe2012 #
- Riding in my 1st Italian taxi. Driver tells me it's ok to go the wrong way in a 1-way bc it's Italy :) #
- Decided to stay in Florence another night, this time behind the Medici chapel (gorgeous!) #europe2012 http://t.co/95hyjmS9 #
- Confession: the memorials to Tesla & Marconi were as thrilling to me as Galileo & Michelangelo @Sante Croce ;) #
- Duomo…Firenze…after dinner & a lot of Italian wine #happygigglyhappytipsyhappyhappy http://t.co/17hr14Iq #
- The view from our window in Firenze @ the Brunelleschi #europe2012 #cantwaittoseeitatsunrise http://t.co/ZQcNS3rZ #
- Success! #europe2012 http://t.co/LCdoRQGO #
- Italy, I am in you! :) just ordered my first meal, half in French & half in English #thisisgonnabeinteresting #europe2012 #
- Just reached the highest point of the ride over the Alps http://t.co/vegko3kH #
- Such a scenic view, from the alpine sauna #europe2012 http://t.co/4xNUXJ7L #
- Fondue! @ HAUSER St. Moritz http://t.co/bwzHNA7I #
- Strolling in the Alps on a cold & rainy night in St. Moritz http://t.co/87sYGvFC #
- A sweet snack from an old friend–perfect for today's train thru the Alps http://t.co/HwgJ41LY #
- Fun meetup with @chanson in Zurich #europe2012 http://t.co/156IY4KW #
- Relaxing in Zurich tonite :). #europe2012 @ Crowne Plaza Zurich http://t.co/8kGcJJhO #
- Frankfurt train station http://t.co/elkzTHG8 #
- Home away from home (in Brussels) http://t.co/oGOMuDgS #
- Cafe @cafedemarkten (on an early Saturday in Dansaert neighbourhood http://t.co/rGfUWYM3 #
- The geniuses at #TSA always ask if my foot is real even tho my leg is prosthetic. #lifeofacyborg #bogglesthemind #
What I woke up to, this morning…
- Just booked the Mason Inn for #THATCamp @chnm #madeitoffthewaitinglist Looking forward to long evenings at The Well w/DH friends! :) #
- Big choppy swell made for a fun ride tonite! #somuchbetterthanarollercoaster #outrigger #
- The finger-counting begins (5 days until #europe2012 ! http://t.co/Y3Ey81cN #
- Airline passengers as explained by their pants: http://t.co/WlMpXYVn (of course I always wear a skirt when I fly…) h/t @dooce #