Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Woes of a grad school student

So, I escaped a lot of the horrors of grad school by choosing an online program. I don't have to defend my thesis (at least, I don't think I do--how do you "defend" a collection of personal essays, anyway?), I'm not living on a starving student budget, and school works around my work schedule. Heck, I've even enjoyed it most of the time.

But sometimes, I suffer. And by sometimes, I mean right now. It's part of the universe's plan to make sure October/November is a soul-sucking time to be a student.

And then I saw this on Facebook and it made me smile:

A gift idea for your loved ones: Graduate School Barbie
Item description from this blog:
Graduate School Barbie comes in two forms: Delusional Master's Barbie (TM) and Ph.D. Masochist Barbie (TM).
Yes, I'm feeling delusional at the moment.
Every Graduate School Barbie comes with these fun-filled features guaranteed to delight and entertain for hours: Grad School Barbie comes out of the box with a big grin on her face that turns into a frown after 2 weeks or her first advisor meeting (whichever comes first). She also has adorable black circles under her delightfully bloodshot eyes.
Thank you for noticing.
Comes with two outfits: a grubby pair of blue jeans and a 5-year-old game T-shirt, and a floppy pair of gray sweatpants with a matching "I hate my life" T-shirt.
Okay, have you been spying on my wardrobe choices?
Grad School Barbie is anatomically correct to teach kids about the exciting changes that come with pursuing higher education. Removable panels on Barbie's head and torso allow you to watch as her cerebellum fries to a crispy brown, her heart race 150 beats per minute, and her stomach lining gradually dissolve into nothing. Deluxe Barbie comes with specially designed eye ducts. Just add a little water, and watch Grad School Barbie burst into tears at random intervals. Fun for the whole family!
And don't forget the frizzy, bushy hair that you have all the time now because you no longer have the energy to straighten or blow-dry it so you let it air-dry all the time and you don't even care what people think of your "new style."

Oh, the things we higher-education types put ourselves through.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Life is like a line that is moving ever forward, never at the same speed or in the same direction, but always moving nonetheless. One of my favorite relief society teachers once illustrated this point by drawing a line of her life. When she was finished, the chalkboard looked like my Jr. high textbook covers that I doodled on when I needed something to keep me awake. I can't draw anything more realistic than a sunflower, so I traced squiggley lines over and over again until each of my brown textbook covers were decorated with countless dizzying lines. I rarely had ink-splotched-free hands during those years.

I've noticed that whenever my life line starts to descend at a sharp angle, I automatically start thinking of new things to do, even when I'm already so busy I'm only just keeping up. I pull out old InDesign projects, search for freelance jobs, go to ward activities, check out new books from the library. For some reason, when I spiral out of deep contentment or complete happiness and experience a string of bad days—as we all do—I assume that new busyness will help me rise to the top again.

After work today I rushed home, changed into my comfy clothes, and set out for my daily walk. I tried to enjoy the clear blue sky, the crunchy leaves, and the warm autumn sunshine, but my heart just wasn't into it. 

I turned onto my last street of my 2.45-mile walking route. My gaze landed on a house across the street. Two old men were sitting in lawn chairs beneath an enormous tree that had shed thousands of pinkish-red and burnt-orange leaves. An old woman opened the front screen door carrying three mugs filled with (I assume) a hot delicious beverage. She carefully handed a mug to each gentleman and then sat in the vacated seat next to them. She clutched her own mug, perhaps smiling at a gruff thank-you from one of the men, but I got the impression that she was smiling because she couldn't help it.

Witnessing that simple scene was enough to remind me that busyness is an obstacle, not a means to an end. It's a barrier that forces our life lines to swerve out of alignment. The world would have us think that if every second of our lives isn't being logged toward work, hobbies, volunteer work, or some other worthy busyness, then we aren't doing enough to justify the precious time we've been given.

Then I watch a wise old woman relax on her front lawn, holding a mug that will soon be too cold to be called a "delicious hot beverage," and I realize just how wrong that ideal is.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A first time for everything

1. I am sick of reading. I've managed my classes thus far by balancing my schedule with a writing-intensive class and a reading-intensive class, but that didn't work out so well this term. I'm looking forward to a Thanksgiving Break with no books and no daily writing quotas.

2. When you've worn through the duct tape covering the holes in your shoes, it's probably time to replace them. So today I bought a new pair of tennis shoes for 30 bucks--a steal. I'm hoping my new ones last at least six years like my comfy hobo shoes did.

3. I got a flu shot today, but only because everyone else was doing it. It was so not a big deal. I wonder if I would have avoided the Plague last year if I had gotten a flu shot then.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

When my bed becomes my enemy

It's been a brain tiring week. So brain tiring, in fact, that three nights in a row I slept so deeply that small sounds, bathroom-break urges, and superfluous thoughts couldn't rouse me. In other words, I fell asleep and didn't wake up again until my alarm went off, three nights in a row. Usually that happens about three times a year.

Some of you are probably thinking, "Oh, how nice!"

The past three mornings my only thought has been, "Eeeermmooooooofhgh."

That, my friends, is the sound a person makes when they really don't want to get up. This morning it was so bad that I hit the snooze button five times and then, after I had showered, I snuggled back in bed to "say my morning prayers."

And hours later, the only thing I want to do is sandwich myself between those silky soft sheets. I don't want to work, read, listen to music--none of that. I just want my bed.

Too much "good" sleep is like a drug for me. It's oh-so-wonderful, but I'm much more oriented and happy when I get my normal 6-7 hours of semi-interrupted sleep.

P.S. Can someone please tell me how high school schedules are distributed at the beginning of 2nd semester? I can't remember, and I'm really tired of the stress it's causing in my dreams. Thanks.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The art of reading

My professors are always telling me that if you want to be a good writer, you must write a lot (duh) and read. A lot. I'm still working on the writing-every-day thing, but I jumped at the excuse to read more than I already do. In less than a year, I've turned my love for reading into something more closely resembling an art, a balancing scale of guidelines and skill.

Guideline #1: Don't stick with one genre. 
You never know what you're missing if you stick with just one genre. In my pre-artful reading days, I read mainly fantasy, YA lit, and Mormon fiction, and I am slowly expanding my reading pool to include nonfiction, literary magazines, the classics, and modern hits. I still love thick fantasies, I'm falling more in love with creative nonfiction every day, and I'm starting to appreciate the classics for more than just their literary value. On the other hand, I still don't really like mysteries, I have not acquired any more patience for modernism, and the YA genre doesn't call to me as much as it once did. I know what I like not because I read a lot of what I like, but because I expose myself to a wide net of books.

Guideline #2: Don't finish books that aren't worth your time.
It took me years to fully grasp this concept, but there are far more books in this world than I could read in 10 lifetimes. I used to commit to finishing every book I started, but I've relaxed on that a bit. It's a shame to waste precious reading time on something worthless when there are millions of other great books awaiting your devoted attention. Because I'm trying to explore books of many varieties, I don't abandon as many as I would like, but at least I can abandon poorly written books now without feeling guilty.

Guideline #3: Always read more than one book at a time.
I used to religiously concentrate on one book before moving on to the next, but I've since learned that mood and environment are prerequisites to whether you will enjoy a book or not. When I'm in a loud restaurant for a lunch escape I want something that doesn't require my full attention and that preferably lies open on its own (this is where I do most of my magazine reading). When it's my bedtime reading hour, I want something that will reward me for living through the day (the classics don't cut it). I keep at least a couple "main" books with me whenever I settle down for some good reading time, and I have piles of unread books next to my nightstand waiting for my mood to change in their favor.

Skill #1: Fast reading.
The faster you read, the more you get to read. This doesn't mean you fly through everything you read without comprehending anything or stopping to ponder, but--ya gotta be a fast reader to read a lot of books.

Skill #2: Strong eye muscles.
Reading for hours at a time can really hurt your eyes, so it's something you have to practice. I've read so much the past couple days (mostly stuff for school) that my eyes are still jerking around my eye sockets for a while after I turn the light out. Some day I hope I can read for four hours straight, should I choose to do so.