Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I Procrastinate Because...

Procrastination is one of my worst habits. (Fantasizing about getting back at rude and inconsiderate people by doing things like throwing water balloons at them or making them rename themselves after the cast of the Jersey Shore is another habit of mine. But I'm not giving THAT one up anytime soon.)

I know that I shouldn't put off responsibilities or work that needs to get done. I am able to get my work done, but it's often hard just to get started because I keep procrastinating. Then I'm left with less time to complete my work.

When I have a lot of work to do, I know that I shouldn't watch TV, read chick lit novels, or write down the laws that I would pass if I were President (Law #1: It is now illegal to talk on your cell phones in the movie theater. The other moviegoers are thus justified in eating all your popcorn if you do.). And yet sometimes I can't help myself, and then not only am I left with less time to complete my work, I'm also left with less time to do fun things.

I started thinking about the reasons why I've been procrastinating, especially lately. I read somewhere that if you can understand the reasons behind bad habits, it makes it easier to break them. So here are a few of my reasons:

I'm overwhelmed. I work two jobs and I have a dissertation to write. There are some days when I feel completely overwhelmed by the stack of papers that are waiting to be graded, the lesson plans that still need to be made, the projects that need to be completed for my website job, the students' e-mails that need to be answered, and the research that needs to be done.

When I feel overwhelmed, I don't automatically think, This will be a snap! I'll get this done, and then I'll clean my apartment! Instead I think, I can't do this right now. I'm going back to bed. And then I'm going to figure out a way to clone myself, as long as it's not an evil clone who will turn against me and take over my entire life. 

I'm frustrated. I recently turned in a draft to my dissertation director, and he says it still needs more work before I can show it to the rest of my committee. It frustrates me that my work never seems to be good enough no matter how hard I try, and it makes me question whether I belong in graduate school in the first place. 

When I feel frustrated, my first impulse is not to sit down at my desk and start a new outline for my dissertation. Instead, I'd rather go to the gym and work off my aggression, eat something chocolate-covered, or give up altogether and consider an alternative line of work, like professional break dancer.

I'm burned out. Even though I am a workaholic, even I occasionally get bored and worn out from working so much. Sometimes I just want to do something fun and take a day for myself. I want to stay in bed all day and watch movies, or go shopping and spend money that I usually reserve for books I need for my graduate research (that aren't available in the library) on something I don't really need, like a cute dress or a nice pair of shoes (instead of the loafers I usually wear, which are sensible but also call attention to the fact that I have ginormous feet). Sometimes I don't want to have to respond to yet another e-mail that reads something like this: "I know that I got a C on this paper, but I still feel that I did everything correctly."

I'm afraid.  When I sit down in front of my computer, sometimes I feel so afraid that I'm going to write something that disappoints my professors AGAIN. In the movies people can rely on magic powers or good-looking heroes, which makes it easier for them to confront their fears. But in real life I have only myself and my fear that everything I want will always be out of my reach. 

But in spite of all these things, I know that procrastination is one habit that I definitely need to break. It would be unrealistic to say that I'll never procrastinate again, but I do need to make sure that I procrastinate less frequently. I can't afford to keep wasting time.

What about you? Do you have a problem with procrastination? If you do, why do you do it?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Just Relax

I've been feeling stressed, anxious, and frustrated lately because of my dissertation. I can't stop beating myself up over the fact that it will take me an extra year to finish, especially because several of my classmates will be finishing this year. It's hard to listen to them talk about the jobs that they've already started to apply for, as well as the articles that they've published and the presentations that they've made at conferences.

It makes me feel like all the hard work that I've done over the past several years doesn't mean much, because I haven't accomplished as much as they have. On the other hand, there are several other classmates who will also be taking an extra year to finish their dissertations.

There has been more than one weekend where I didn't see sunlight at all (I'm like the Academic Vampire who feeds on footnotes) because I spent the whole time cooped up indoors, working.

Now it's fall and I realized that I didn't go to the lake at all this past summer. Every year that I've lived in Chicago, I go out and sit by the lake and watch the water move and think about things, sometimes for hours. It's something that has always calmed me. But because I was so busy working, I didn't go to the lake at all and now it's too cold to sit out there.

So I've been trying to find other ways to relax. (It's not possible for me to completely relax due to the fact that I have a Type A personality; I've even woken up with my hand waving in the air, because I was dreaming about grading papers.) Here are a few that I've considered:

1. Posting a sign that says "LOUD PEOPLE SUCK" on my window for all my neighbors to see, or waking them up at 5 A.M. with a megaphone and yelling, "Attention, all annoying people. If you don't like being woken up this early, then remember this the next time that you let your friends stay over or turn your TV on at top volume until 2 A.M. on a Tuesday. Otherwise, next time I'm going to start SINGING."

Okay. Obviously, I wouldn't do this, because it might not be the best way to relieve stress (though it would be a good way to make enemies). But it would make me feel at least a little better.

2. Go to a yoga class and resolve to make it through the whole class without accidentally falling onto anyone else while we're doing one of those "poses" or silently wondering if my butt looks big in my yoga pants.

3. Watch a TV show that does not include sociopathic serial killers, good-looking crime scene investigators who somehow find it necessary to explain everything they're doing to their colleagues, or twentysomethings who throw temper tantrums and get into bar brawls in order to get attention. (You'd think that if people who get into bar fights as often as some people on TV do, they would learn not to wear short dresses, because then they'd be much less likely to flash people when they start fighting.)

Side note: What show can I watch then? Glee? I tried watching that show, but even though I always liked those old Hollywood musicals, I've never really liked Glee. The people on that show are too darn enthusiastic. When I'm in a bad mood because I had to stand next to someone on the train who has never heard of mouthwash, the last thing I want to watch is a bunch of people who are so happy that they can't stop dancing. And somehow watching lawyers prosecute criminals or cops catch the bad guys makes me feel better, especially because the bad guys in real life often don't get caught or punished.

4. Join an online dating site again earlier than I originally planned, since I was going to put it off for a few months until after my dissertation committee approves a draft of my dissertation. But maybe going on dates will help get my mind off of my work, and it could give me something to look forward to. Maybe I'll even meet someone nice.

Or maybe I'll become even more stressed, anxious, and frustrated by guys who apparently have never heard of the word "discretion" when it comes to writing e-mails to women that they've never met.

5. Writing in coffeehouses, especially early in the morning, because most people aren't up yet and it's still quiet. This is the one "relaxation technique" that works for me. Even though writing is technically "work", it's different because it's something that I do that's just for me, and it's something that I enjoy doing. Even though I'm not published yet, and even though I occasionally envy the successful authors who have already "made it", that doesn't take away the pleasure of writing for me.

What about you? How do you relax?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Grad School Dropout

Anyone who's ever gone to grad school, law school, or med school has wanted to drop out at least a thousand and one times. I've been tempted to quit, especially lately, because the stress that comes with (trying to) complete my dissertation and living off of a tiny stipend drives me up the wall sometimes. I turned in another draft to my dissertation director and advisor, and according to them, it still needs a lot of work. (What I need is a roomful of coffee, a time machine, and a private place to scream.)

Every once in a while, I can't help thinking what it would be like if I were to just walk away from grad school and live a "normal" life like everyone else. Maybe I wouldn't be such an obsessive, neurotic workaholic. Maybe I would be "normal" too. 

Sometimes I get so frustrated, sad, and angry that I want to lie on my bed and listen to "Everybody Hurts" by R.E.M. or Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill album (and maybe make my dissertation committee listen to it). Other times I want to dress all in black (most of my clothes are black anyway, so I'm halfway there) and go to open mic nights where I can read poetry about how academia is draining all the life out of my heart and my soul and I don't even have my one true love to make me feel better because I think that William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway are less irritating than most of the guys I've dated (except I wouldn't want to date Faulkner OR Hemingway).

But I can't drop out of grad school, because...

1. I have learned more from my students than I have from anyone else.

2. I am too much of a prude to work at Hooters or a strip club. (Unless they start letting the employees wear turtlenecks and baggy pants that I would never have to take off.)

3. Seeing as how I started having nightmares that Stephen King's Carrie White went to my school after I watched the movie, I would never be able to work as a doctor and see so much blood on a regular basis without shrieking and curling up into the fetal position.

4. I'd still have the urge to correct people's grammar, except I would no longer be able to say it's part of what I do for a living.

5. I wouldn't be able to read novels without over-analyzing the political/psychological/economic/social/racial significance of every aspect of them.

6. Other than teaching, the only job I am qualified for is retail, because I spent years working in stores. And I really DON'T want to spend the rest of my life saying, "Thank you for shopping here! Have a nice day!" when what I really want to say is, "Karma will GET you! And I'll be laughing maniacally when it does!"

7. The baristas at Starbucks might show up at my door, pleading, "Please come back! We'll give you free biscotti!" because I won't spend as much money on the coffee I need to stay awake and get all my work done.

8. Everything I've been through in the past decade - all the seminars, the teaching jobs, the retail jobs that made me want to SCREAM, the sacrifices I've had to make - will have been for nothing.

9. I'll never be able to walk past a college without feeling envious of every professor who gets to teach there.

10. I might not write as much fiction, because every time I feel angry, frustrated, or stressed, I pour out what I'm feeling into my fiction writing. The stories I write provide an escape from all the papers I have to grade, the grade complaints from students, the research I have to do, the lectures I have to attend, and the professors who keep telling me to revise, revise, revise. When I write, I feel happy, and it makes everything else a little more bearable.

So I think I'm going to stay in graduate school. I'm only a year and a half away (I hope) from finishing the Ph.D. But in the meantime, I think I'm going to find my Alanis Morissette CD and listen to "You Oughta Know" on repeat for a while.

What about you? Do you ever wish you could quit the work that you're doing? What keeps you from walking away?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

(I Wish I Was A) World Traveler

The last time I did any traveling was more than eleven years ago, when I spent a summer in Spain as part of a study abroad program. Several of the other students in the program enjoyed going to bars and clubs and partying with American tourists, but I figured that I could do that at home. So I often went out to explore on my own.

One thing I noticed about a lot of the people in Spain was how relaxed they were. I liked that they took a two hour siesta in the middle of the afternoon. They weren't rushing around constantly, and they weren't glued to their cell phones like the Americans at home were. They took the time to enjoy long lunches with their friends, and they seemed happier.

So that summer, I followed their example. Instead of spending all my time studying, I walked up and down the streets of the city I was living in. I browsed through almost every shop I came across. I went to restaurants and bars during the day; because I couldn't speak a lot of Spanish yet, I would often just point to dishes that were on display or items on the menu. I ended up eating a lot of good food that way. I even traveled to other cities in Spain. I brought my journal everywhere with me, so that I could write down everything I saw and experienced. Maybe it was because I was only twenty, or maybe it was because I was in Europe, but for one summer, it felt wonderful to not be a workaholic.

But ever since then, I haven't really done much traveling. I visit my parents twice a year, for a week or two at a time; they live in a different state. I don't have the time or the money to travel anywhere else. My passport expired a while ago, but I didn't bother to renew it.

Recently, I went to New Orleans for a couple days to attend a relative's wedding. I'd never been there before. Since I had my mornings and afternoons free, I walked up and down Canal Street and around the French Quarter. I watched artists selling their paintings in a small park, and I took pictures of the river. I tried not to stare at the women who were clad only in their underwear, standing in the doorways of peep shows and strip clubs.

I browsed through souvenir shops. (Side note: what is it about being a tourist that makes you more willing to buy overpriced stuff? It's like, "Yes, I WILL buy that magnet for $3.95! What a deal!") I even bought one of those colorful Mardi Gras masks with feathers attached to it, even though the chances of my attending a Mardi Gras party are about as likely as my going to a death metal concert and then heading to a tattoo parlor afterwards. I went to cafes and watched people singing and dancing in the streets. It felt good to be somewhere other than Chicago for once. (I'd post the pictures I took, but I'm a terrible photographer. The pictures kind of look like I drank a bunch of caffeine and then rode a roller coaster for an hour before taking them.)

After the rehearsal dinner, my younger cousins (who are all in their twenties) took me with them to Bourbon Street. As I walked with them and looked at all the bars, the people standing and drinking on balconies watching the people below, the guys lifting up their shirts to get free beads (I thought it was just the girls who did that), and all the people with beers and cocktails in their hands, I kept thinking of that line from Dante's Inferno: "Abandon all hope, all ye who enter here." (Nothing against New Orleans, of course, which I liked very much. But can you tell I'm a teetotaler? It doesn't really bother me if other people drink, though, as long as they don't throw up on my shoes.)

Many people spend their twenties traveling all over the country or the world. They take road trips across America or they go backpacking in Europe. I, on the other hand, spent my twenties resisting the urge to staple expired coupons to rude customers' foreheads and telling undergrads, "WHY do you have to come to class? Because I SAID so, darn it!" 

I worked multiple jobs because I had to; it allowed me to support myself while I was in graduate school and while I was teaching. I learned a lot from those jobs. But sometimes I wish I had been able to do more traveling, because I wish I could be that girl I was in Spain all those years ago.

Once I finally finish grad school (which, as I've stated before, is quite similar to the nine circles of Hell), I will do more traveling. Maybe I'll go back to Spain, or maybe I'll go to France and write in cafes like Hemingway did. And for the first time in a long time, I'll let myself relax.

What about you? Have you done a lot of traveling? If so, where have you gone? If not, where would you like to go?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Losing Manuscripts

This morning my computer unexpectedly crashed. I wasn't even using it at the time, but for some reason I couldn't get it to turn back on. Considering how much time I spend on the computer (I'd spend a lot of less time online if it weren't for all those homemade Youtube videos of cute puppies and the clips of Jane Austen movies with good-looking male actors - though of COURSE I only watch those movies because I love Jane Austen's books), my first reaction was to start running around and screaming and hope that my sheer terror would frighten my laptop into working again.

I reacted the same way that the cast of Jersey Shore would react if they were forced to live in a town with no bars, or the way that cell phone addicts would react if they were told that the new version of the iPhone had just sold out before they could buy it.

I took it to a computer repair place that I'd seen on my commute, and they told me that a diagnostic would cost $59, but that the problem was probably my motherboard. If I needed a new motherboard, they said, it would cost anywhere from $200 to $500. Considering the fact that I am a broke grad student and I view a Frappuccino as my biggest splurge every week, I almost started screaming and running around again.

So I took it to Best Buy and had the Geek Squad look at it. Their prices were considerably lower, but one of the Geek Squad guys told me I should buy a new laptop, especially because my old one was more than five years old. It had been breaking down a lot lately, and I was originally planning to replace it in a few months. He said that he'd look over my old laptop and let me know what was wrong in a few days, but I also figured that it might be a better idea to buy a new computer than to spend several hundred dollars on repairs for a laptop I would just be replacing soon enough anyway. (After talking with the technicians at both places, I realized that the cost of repairing my old laptop might have ended up costing more than the cost of buying a new laptop.)

I found a decent one that was cheap. But the purchase still means I'll be eating macaroni and cheese or peanut butter sandwiches for the next few weeks. Or maybe I'll pretend to be an undergrad at the school where I teach and go to one of the meetings for student organizations that are held on campus, because they usually serve free food. Except one of my students might be there and "out" me. And then what would I say? "Er, I'm really not looking to be one of the future lawyers of America, sorry! I'm just here for the free pizza!"

But what REALLY freaked me out was the possibility of losing all my files on my old computer. I'd backed up most of them and e-mailed several files to myself, but there were dozens more files that I'd forgotten to back up. Worst of all, unless the Geek Squad guy can find a way to transfer those files, I'll have lost the final draft of the first novel I finished writing last year, as well as the most recent draft of the second novel that I've been working on this year

I have copies of the first drafts written out longhand in my journals. But it's not the SAME. The possibility of losing all that writing that I'd worked so hard on is almost worse than giving up the money for a new laptop. Even though it will take a while, I can work extra hours at my website job, save some of the money that I earn as a teacher, and earn back the money that I had to spend.

But I can't get back all the writing that I did. I can go back and try to rewrite those drafts based on the original drafts in my journal. But as I was typing out those drafts on my laptop, I came up with new ideas, passages, and pieces of dialogue that I added to my manuscripts. And I can't necessarily remember them all. Why is it I can remember exactly what I wanted to say to that mean lady who cut in front of me in line four years ago and then was nasty and deceitful enough to accuse me of cutting in front of her (I wanted to say, "If Jiminy Cricket was your conscience, you'd try to beat him up, wouldn't you") but I can't remember everything I wrote?

Sighhhh. Maybe the Geek Squad guy will be able to transfer my files to my new computer so that I won't lose all that writing. Or maybe I'll just have to start all over. (But this time, I am DEFINITELY backing everything up.)

What about you? Have you ever lost writing before? What did you do?

Side note: I usually respond to most people's comments on the same day I receive them. But I'll be out of town for a couple days this weekend, so if I don't respond right away, I promise I'll respond as soon as I get back.