Monday, July 26, 2021

Hitting Pause to Enjoy Life

Me and the most adorable, handsome, lovable human being in the universe!

After months of struggling to focus on my academic writing, I just stopped. I stopped planning. I stopped breaking down each goal. I stopped obsessing over my calendar. I stopped sitting in front of my computer pretending to work. I put St. Nick and art education away ... for now ... forever? Who knows. 

I don't know what the future will bring. No one does. So, I stopped pretending to know what I'll be doing and where I'll be working. I stopped planning for a future that anchors me in an academic past that isn't a present reality. Heck, I'm not sure how much of a reality it will ever be. I'm not willing to sacrifice my whole life to the "quest for knowledge" and the "pursuit of tenure." I'm just not that hungry for it anymore, at least not the trappings of "being an academic" ... so, I stopped defining myself as a professional scholar and academic.

I hit the pause button. I took a breath and turned my attention to slower, more enjoyable tasks. Ed and I have been spending our evenings walking around Salem. Sometimes we stop for coffees to drink while we sit in the Adirondack chairs on the wharf. Sometimes we sit on the steps of the Custom House and watch the world go by. Most times you'll find us standing in front of a house and discussing original windows, dormers, and architectural details. I always forget a notebook or my historical architecture book, but it doesn't matter. It's best to keep my bag light. You never know when our walks will quickly turn into a nature watch as we follow a momma skunk and her babies into the kitchen garden behind the Derby House. We've unplugged from the world and it's been glorious.

I started drawing again. I haven't held a pencil in my hand in years and yes, it's hard. I'm having a really difficult time connecting my eyes to my hand. My new progressive lens and arthritis in my hands aren't helping. However, there's nothing more glorious than sitting outside sketching eggplant flowers while the bumblebees buzz around the cucumber flowers. I don't think of anything else but what's in front of me when I draw; so, in a way, making art is meditation. I'm trying not to get frustrated by how rusty I am. Instead, I am cherishing this time being creative. At one point in time, I would have told you that I am an artist above all else. The PhD and my time spent being an "academic" killed that definition of myself. 

Eggplant flower. First drawing in years.

Seashell from Ireland.

I've being spending a lot of time reading about Ganesh and chakras. I've also rekindled my yoga practice and started to meditate and practice morning mantras. This is all linked to rebooting my spiritual practice, something else I stopped doing while writing my dissertation and mourning my Mom. In retrospect, I definitely could have used this kind of structured spiritual practice while going through that horrible and stressful time. 

Full moon over Derby Wharf and the Friendship, Salem, MA.

This summer has been a really good, introspective, and joyful summer. Sure, we didn't go camping or "do" anything special ... but we most certainly have been enjoying it. I, personally, needed a summer like this one. I needed to stop and press pause so that I could think and breath. Like Ed said, this might be the last summer that I have off as an academic. I could have spent it researching and writing, which was the original plan. Or, I could have spent it taking care of myself and healing old wounds. I chose the later and BOY! was that the best decision I've ever made.

Full moon over Derby Wharf, Salem, MA.

For the first time in over 20 years I took the time to nourish my heart and soul. I took the time to allow myself to feel all of the repressed emotions that have been haunting me since Mom's death. I took the time to just be me and get to know that me. Did you know I'm 49? I became very aware of my age this summer. The skin around my eyes is getting "crepey" and my joints are creaky. My taste in clothing is shifting to more artsy styles without all of the Goth or edgy trappings. Classic lines, sorbet colors or deep autumnal colors, and nautical themes have made their way into my wardrobe. 

I cut my hair again to start the growing process over. 

I'm losing my taste for blunt bangs and black hair. I wonder what I would look like with an updated style in my natural dark brown and grey. For the first time in my life I'm considering if I should change my makeup palette and if I should use a different highlighter. Hell, should I put the highlighter under my eyes or across my check bones? Is my foundation moisturizing enough? Should I switch blush colors? Ladies, this aging process is really a thing!!! Navigating it with grace and humor is the goal.

As we're heading into August, the last month of my summer of self-healing, I am both excited and sad. I'm excited that school will be starting soon and, in turn, a new career path. Sad, because this luxurious, unstructured time will soon be over. Ah well. So the Wheel of the Year turns.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

And So It Begins

Every July, right after Independence Day, it begins. First Michael's, At Home Stores, Jo-Ann's, and Home Goods put out their "scouts," and then Bath and Body Works, Yankee Candle, and the others follow. By the beginning of September, Michael's will have everything on sale and Target will just start putting everything out. Every year it's the same schedule. Every year the excitement starts to build on-line in June. Once my birthday is over, I start counting the days. 

Christmas in July? NOOOOOOO!!!! Our yearly Halloween Hunt, you silly Ghoul! This year is going to be a little different for us. Not only will we be shopping in the big retail stores, we'll also be shopping in the small, Mom-and-Pop shops here in Salem. Witch City Wicks has been posting teasers on social media about their Halloween collection release dates and Modern Millie is already stocking Halloween and Fall themed dresses and accessories. And let's not forget the wonderful Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie. They announced on social media that they are celebrating "Halloween in July" since so many people missed it last year because of COVID. 

Goodies from Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie, Salem MA
The good folks at Ye Old Pepper decorated the entire Salem shop for Halloween and started selling a limited release of Halloween candy, including their delicious candy corn. The Halloween release is in store only for the time being. A recent post stated that they will be launching the Halloween page on their website in August and will be populating it with deliciousness in September. Yes, you can order their candy!

Ed and I were already out-and-about in Downtown Salem when I saw the post on Instagram. Halloween candy in July! How could we resist?!? I didn't take photos inside the shop, but I can tell you that they certainly went all out decorating. It's wonderful!

Palmful of Heaven: the best candy corn ever.
For those Summer people mumbling, "but Summer just began! Don't rush it ..." don't worry, they still have their Summer-themed candies. You'll just have to deal with buying them surrounded by Halloween decorations. Ahem. If you are mumbling that, you must be new here. Hi! Um, you might want to avoid the posts with the tags "Halloween Hunt" until you're ready for the season. It's kind of a thing with me and Ed. 

Spotted at Michael's on July 4, 2021
Yes, I am thrilled and excited to be living in Salem during this glorious time of year. It isn't be my first season here, but it sure is going to be wonderful, especially since COVID canceled so many events last year. *crosses fingers* Let's just hope this year is safe enough for events to take place.

Michael's, July 4, 2021
Besides local shops, the big retail stores are starting to put Fall and Halloween merchandise on their shelves. Michael's is clearing away huge portions of the store to make room for their Halloween, Fall, and Back-to-School merchandise. As of July 4th, they started to put out the seasonal "picks" and decorative pumpkins. 

Michael's, July 4, 2021
We stopped by Michael's this past Sunday and there wasn't much else out. I'll keep you posted here and on Instagram. Target, of course, is in Back-to-School mode. That's exciting for a whole different reason -- notebooks!!! However, their Halloween website is up and running! It looks like they just started to populate it with their own merchandise, though you can order from their "partners." 

I've seen a number of posts on Facebook and Instagram showing Halloween goodies at Bath and Body Works and At Home Stores. Can anyone confirm? Someone posted that Bath and Body had their in-store Halloween preview this weekend. We haven't been to our local store yet, but I'll report back soon.

Are you going to participate in the yearly Halloween Hunt? Are the stores near you putting anything out? Are you shopping online this year?

Friday, July 9, 2021

Rainy Day Brain Dump


Rainy Day View from My Office
Like many on the East Coast, tropical storm Elsa is dumping buckets of rain on Salem today. The storm warning predicted heavy winds with gusts up to 60 mph. So far we've only gotten an occasional gust that's nowhere near their prediction. As for flooding, we're not close to the water and we're a bit higher than other parts of Salem, so we're dry. From the photos I've seen on social media, others have not been so lucky.

In preparation for high winds, we brought our container garden into my office for the day. As you can see, there are plenty of tomatoes and flowers on the plants. The cucumber, zucchini, eggplant, and pepper plants all have flowers. There was no way I was going to lose everything to a tropical storm! Besides, these pots would have surely become projectiles if we got the winds they were predicting.

BOY! does my office smell glorious. This has given me the incentive to bring my herbs indoors before the frost. I'm going to get a plant stand so that I can put them by the deck door during the fall and winter months. How nice would it be to have basil, Thai basil, and cilantro during the winter? sigh ... and lots of growing things in my office. I'd love to fill this room with tons of plants. I need to buy some African violets for my desk. My Mom always had African violets in the dining room. I used to have a few, but had to give them away when we moved to Texas. It's time to bring them back into the house and my life. As my Mom always said, "Grow African violets for luck and love." Me, I just like the variety of flowers.

New glasses.
Today's weather has caused a welcomed respite in my normally busy schedule. I just don't feel like "making progress" or "being productive." All I feel like doing is reading, flipping through magazines, and drawing. Actually, that's all I really feel like doing all weekend, especially since I'm at the midway point between semesters. 

I start my MS LIS classes on September 1. I'm excited, but pretty nervous about being a student again. I've been having a difficult time focusing on anything, including reading for long periods of time or any kind of writing that takes concentration. I just can't seem to sit still or stay on one task for extended periods of time. 

There's a lot of left over baggage from my PhD and early post-doc time attached to these activities. And there's certainly a lot of personal insecurity, especially when it comes to my writing. I think the main problem for me is the amount of criticism, often no nonsense and sometimes cutting, heaped on academic writing. Sure, I'm supposed to roll with the criticism and see it as helpful. I'm supposed to grow from it. I'm supposed to be clinical when it comes to criticism and editing. And yet, after 20 years of graduate school and 6 years post-doc, I still can't be clinical and unfeeling when it comes to academic work. I still ruffle at criticism. Not all criticism, just that which tends to be overly negative and destructive. The last time I received good criticism was in 2016 when I submitted my essay on Mary Beth Edelson to American Studies. Good criticism is when the reader or reviewer points out the issues with the essay and where the essay could be improved, while giving concrete suggestions on how to do so. Good criticism also points out the good stuff -- where the writing is clear, where the author makes a solid argument, etc. My last essay was shredded by the reviewers and none of them gave me any good, constructive feedback. Hell, my experience writing my dissertation was somewhat the same; though, I did receive good, constructive feedback during my defense. It's exhausting to only be told what sucks and what needs improvement.

Reviewers and professors forget that criticism needs to be helpful and constructive. It should provide examples of where the essay is strong, and it should clearly and objectively ... but in a pleasant tone ... point out where the essay needs work. I'm not saying sugarcoat it. I'm saying be mindful that overly acerbic criticism could turn someone off from writing and research forever. This is especially true for first generation students. We don't have the same background as many of our colleagues. I honestly don't know when my writing is good because I wasn't constantly told how brilliant I am or how good my writing is. Instead, I was told that "I'm a diamond in the rough" and that I need help. Pffttt ... I didn't really need help with my writing. I needed help with time management. I still do. I need help falling in love with the process. I still do. 

Both of my parents didn't go to college. I had to figure out a lot of things on my own or seek out help, which wasn't always easy to do in graduate school because of the competition and desire to "weed out" the bad or unpromising students. The only reason why I finished my PhD is because I was a stubborn jerk who refused to be pushed out of a program that I had the right to be in.

What's wrong, Mommy?

I've been doing a lot of meditating and internal work this summer. It's been difficult to deal with some of the issues that are surfacing. But, I'm dealing with them. Thankfully, I have Ed and Bijou to help me through this. There's nothing better that cuddling with Ed or playing "mousy" and "pancake" with our cutie, fuzzy Noodle. 

As for teaching, we'll see. The enrollment is down at City Tech and one of my classes only has four people registered. The other class met the registration requirement. If my classes aren't canceled, I will be teaching two classes, starting on August 26. I've been applying to all sorts of GLAM or cultural jobs, mostly part-time, just to get some experience in my future career. No bites yet. It's kind of frustrating to have all of this experience, but none in the field where you want to be. All I want is for someone to give me a chance! 

Other than that, COVID-19 has really forced us to focus on our health. We both have underlying conditions that may or may not be a problem if we get the virus. We've really stepped up our physical activity and made some major changes to our diets because we want to survive the virus if we do get it. Sure, we're both fully vaccinated and still wear masks inside, especially now with the delta variant. We're doing everything we can to stay healthy and alive.

We walk 6,000-15,000 steps almost every day, and I've added yoga and weight training to my daily activity. Ed's been watching what he eats and has cut down on snacking at night. I'm doing a combination of intermittent fasting and volumetrics, which works very well for me. I'm down 15 pounds and have about 30-35 more to go before I'm at my optimal weight. I'm anxious to see what my blood pressure and blood sugar numbers look like. Alas, I need to wait until the end of August to meet my new doctors. 

How are you coping with this new COVID threat? What's it like where you live? East Coast friends, how did you fare with Elsa? 

Most importantly, stay tuned ....