The Long Shot Clause: Or, learning to be brave

I’m trying something a bit different lately. Something I’m (somewhat goofily) calling my “Long Shot Clause.” Each month I’m going to try something that is a long shot, that I acknowledge and accept is a long shot, something that would be really nice if it worked, but which I understand is not likely to work and for which I will not punish myself if it doesn’t. I’m not sure I’m explaining this very well, but you get the gist, I’m sure. Failing at these things cannot hurt me. But succeeding at them can help me immensely. And they help me learn to be brave.

Here’s an example: my first “long shot” was in November 2015. I picked a paper I’d written for a class, added to it, cleaned it up, edited it, etc. And then I submitted it to an academic journal to be considered for publication. I knew it was a long shot. I had no expectation of being accepted. I saw it more as an opportunity to possibly receive some feedback so I would know how to improve submissions in the future. And I figured at some point I just had to TRY or I was never going to get anywhere in my academic career.

Shockingly, in early January, I discovered that the journal had in fact accepted my submission, with very few required revisions. And now I have an article published in an online academic journal! Admittedly, online academic journals (particularly new ones like this one) are not QUITE as prestigious as more long-running, or print academic journals, but it is still a big deal to me, and it is still a great step in the right direction for an academic career. (You’ll have to forgive me for not posting the journal or article here, as it would negate the semi-anonymity I have here).

My “long shot” for January was to apply for a teaching position with the Duke Talent Identification Program – a position, as I mentioned before, I got with enormous speed and ease mere hours after my interview process. So, two long shots, two successes so far.

This month, my “long shot” is to submit a short story for publication. Specifically, I added to and edited the short story “Gone” I posted here (I’ve now changed the title to “The Haunting of Alex Dietrich” which is more catchy I think), and yesterday I mailed it to the submissions at the literary magazine Conjunctions. Now, Conjunctions publishes both known and unknown writers, including some pretty big names in the business, so I have absolutely NO illusions about being accepted. But again, at some point you just have to TRY and see what happens. Perhaps I will at least receive some constructive criticism from the editors. Maybe all I’ll get is a “no thanks.” Either way, it could be months before I hear back from them. But at the very least, I am trying to do things. To be brave. To push myself. To put myself on the line in ways that are fruitful but will not utterly destroy me if I fail.

I haven’t yet decided what my “long shot” will be for the month of March. I might not be able to think of anything else so soon after my last few attempts. I’d like to try to do something every month, but I won’t kill myself over it, because I think that would destroy the low-stakes feeling of it all. If anyone has any suggestions on other things I could try, or if you have “long shots” you want to try for yourself, please feel free to share. I’d love to hear about them.

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Affirmation

Thing I said on the phone with my best friend just now that I feel is worth repeating to myself: “I absolutely refuse to feel miserable, or mediocre, or like I wasted my potential, for my whole damn life.”

I don’t know exactly how to accomplish this yet, but it’s been decided. I absolutely refuse.

Quick Update

So, the health insurance said no to pre-authorization, demanding to know if I had tried a whole list of other meds first, and had proof they didn’t work. So, the doc has put me on Seroquel now (though at the pharmacy the insurance company even gave me trouble about THAT). Tonight is my second day on it. I’m having some trouble with it so far – nausea and headache and some shakiness, but nothing too serious. It usually takes me a few days to get used to new medications. We’ll see how I’m doing in another few days.

Yet Another New Wrinkle

I had recently been thinking about the two best things that I’ve done for myself in the last few months. The first was getting onto Abilify, which has been a shockingly big improvement on my daily life. The second was, of all things, getting an Audible subscription and starting to listen to audiobooks (a lot).

So, of course, only a few days after thinking about this, I discover that my new health insurance won’t cover my Abilify prescription.

Here’s the deal: at the end of the year, my current health insurance was discontinued, that plan was no longer being offered. So I was forced to pick new insurance with United Healthcare, but due to a limited number of options available in my state, and my limited budget, I apparently didn’t pick the best insurance plan, because it won’t pay for either the brand or generic version of Abilify.

My doctor is fighting with the insurance to get pre-authorization for the Abilify, which isn’t going well. I’m also in contact with Otsuka America, which is the company that makes Abilify, in hopes of getting patient assistance. But in the meantime, my doctor is looking into other Rx options, something with similar effects. I’m worried about switching medications yet again, especially when this is the first one that has ever worked so well, but I guess we’ll see.

Apparently, I just can’t win.

Some Recent Thoughts on Writing

As I try to find a dissertation/writing schedule that I can stick with, that is actually effective for once, a few things stand out:

  1. It helps to have a writing group that you meet with once and week. Some fellow PhD friends of mine have started a group we’re calling the “Shut Up and Dissertation” writing group – we meet every wednesday to work, discuss, bounce ideas off each other, etc. It really helps to have someone you’re at least sort-of accountable to to inject a little motivation into your day.
  2. My brain does not function in a linear fashion, but rather in bits and pieces that pile up and never seem to cohere into anything useful.
  3. As a friend of mine recently realized in a small but important personal triumph: “It’s amazing how much you get done when you stop trying to do everything perfectly.” (She even made a little poster for it). its amazing
  4. In a related note, I keep having to remind myself: “Any words is better than no words.” Ie: if all I manage in a day is half a page, or a paragraph, or a few sentences, or a few disjointed ideas, ANYTHING is better than not having written at all.
  5. My ideas are WAY too ambitious, and I begin to fear I cannot do justice to any of the claims I keep making in my dissertation prospectus, or a couple conference proposals I wrote.
  6. But: All I can do is charge ahead.

Learning to be Okay

 

Three weeks into 2016, and already it’s been a very up and down kind of year.

I have taken the deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman surprisingly hard. Alan Rickman in particular genuinely made me cry, which surprised me because I don’t generally react so strongly to celebrity deaths. Perhaps it was just because it’s only been a month since my grandfather died of cancer, and perhaps the cumulative effect of all these deaths intensified the feelings. I don’t know. But the last week has been very difficult because of it.

And just like last Spring semester, I’m not teaching because there were just not enough courses for all the adjuncts. Last Spring semester I had the same problem. I didn’t get any courses and thus didn’t have  job from the months of Jan through Aug. It was extremely difficult, and money was very tight, particularly after my mother was laid off back in May.  I applied for positions at several community colleges as well as the university I generally teach it, and didn’t get any courses at any of them. But I have no doubt that is at least partly my own fault: because I don’t drive, the locations I can reasonably get to is limited, and when I stipulate that, it lowers my chances of getting any courses to teach. I know there were some openings at two other community college campuses, but I just can’t GET there. The places I can get to aren’t hiring, and the places that are hiring, I just can’t get to. So, as usual, I have shot myself in the foot because of my driving issues.

But there was good news. I applied for a position at Duke University’s Talent Identification Program Summer Studies Program. I had an interview last Wednesday and was immediately offered two courses to teach during the summer. This is good for a number of reasons: first of all, the Duke TIP Summer program is very prestigious – an advanced studies program for high school students around the country that is run by Duke University but takes place locally; second of all, it’ll be a good experience and a good thing to put on my resume; and third, it means I’ll have a paycheck over the summer for once and won’t be quite so worried about my finances.

However, the Duke TIP Summer Studies program is going to be a SHIT TON work, and is going to monopolize most of the summer. I probably won’t be able to do much of anything else – dissertation work, or fun things, or whatever – during the months of June and July.

So, since I don’t have anything to do this semester, and I’ll have a LOT to do over the summer, the plan is this: I’m doing my summer and spring in reverse. And not teaching this semester will give me the opportunity to really focus on my dissertation work.

Of course, I said that last spring as well, when I was trying to finish my prospectus, and due to severe depression, I failed MISERABLY. Last Spring and Summer were just BAD. Okay, more than bad, I was (as I’ve said here before) suicidal for three months and genuinely did not believe I would see Christmas.

But now I’m on new medication, and a strict vitamin regimen, and I’m trying really hard to find a good balance between expectation and reality. I’ve been making extensive to-do lists, and I’m trying to figure out a workable daily schedule. I’ve been on a major self-help book binge the last two months as well. I’ve read Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and her next book Spark Joy. And next up is Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done by Brian Tracy. I’m trying to do small bouts of exercise or yoga throughout the day, to keep myself moving even though I’m stuck at home most of the time. I’m meditating on a semi-regular basis. In other words: I’m doing everything I can think of to do and be better this year.

My biggest problem right now is forcing myself to stick to a schedule. I know I feel better and work better when I have a set routine. But when I have no set things to do or places to be – ie, teaching, grading, taking a course – I have a very hard time motivating myself to stick to a routine. My own knowledge that I should never seems to be enough. In high school and even parts of my undergrad I could motivate myself just fine. I didn’t need external motivation to keep myself moving. Apparently, I do need external motivation now though. And without a class to teach, or a graduate seminar to attend, finding that external motivation is proving difficult. Here’s hoping I can work something out.

But in the mean time, the take away is this: my spring is my summer. My focus will be on my dissertation work. And I’m learning how to be okay with that.

 

Goodbye to the Space Man

Today I am heartbroken over the death of David Bowie, like so many others. His music and his presence have been such a huge and important part of my life, especially my high school years. And it’s not just that his music was good or brilliant or influential – which it was – it’s also that his life, outside of his music, was so inspiring. The way he presented himself, the way he controlled his own narrative, the way he lived his life, these things were so important and inspiring to me.

I don’t explain it well, but I think this Medium article  by Sara Benincasa says it best:

I do not believe it is a wild exaggeration to say that there are on this earth today many people who would not be here without David Bowie — either because their parents procreated to his music or because (and this is I believe the more important group) he gave them a reason to stay alive when perhaps they did not want to. He was the patron saint of all my favorite fellow travelers: the freaks, the fags, the dykes, the queers, the weirdos of all stripes, and that most dangerous creature of all: the artist. He was the crown prince(ss) of the unusual. He was so marvelously, spectacularly weird, and he gave so many oddballs, including this one, hope.

You can read the whole thing here: “Thank You, David Bowie, from the Weird Kids.”

Here are a couple of my personal favorite songs by David Bowie, just because I can:

and the last music video he did, which his publicist confirms was done as a “parting gift” to his fans:

David Bowie will be sorely missed by many of us. It will be a long time before I can listen to his music again without getting upset and overly-emotional. I have no doubt many of you feel the same way. We will all mourn together.