Sunday, August 19, 2012

Half-Way Point

I've just come back to Austin from a family semi-reunion at my sister's house with a little bit of time before school starts.

This is familiar.

Two years ago, my parents drove me down to Texas, left some boxes in my apartment, then we had a semi-reunion, after which I bought a car, they bought me some Ikea furniture and took me to Costco and then they drove away. Now, I've been here two years. The big, double-bag box of Quaker Oats my parents bought me is almost empty. Ditto with the enormous bottle of two-in-one shampoo/conditioner. My Ikea bamboo is, miraculously, still alive. (Okay, one stem of it.) I have a different roommate, and a different pet than when I moved here. The first roommate is married and a mother, the bird is dead. I have outlasted a pair of senior Institute missionaries, the grad students in my cohort who just wanted a Masters degree and the departmental secretary.

 I have run a half marathon; gone to Fun, Fun Fun and SXSW festivals; kayaked the lake; served as emergency preparedness leader, RS counselor, RS teacher and activities committee member; cleaned up Bastrop; presented at RSA and CCCC; been president of the UT chapter of RSA; lost weight; gotten published; gotten rejected--several times; gone on more dates in a row than ever; gone on a ghost tour of Austin; created a writing club; never successfully created a book club, but talked about it a lot; got a public library card; bought a bike; sold a bike; bought a bike; had the bike unsold to me; got a smart phone; gone to happy hours with my colleagues; gone swing dancing at the Fed;  met up with old friends in Austin; made new friends who left Austin; studied in the pool; went running outside in January; took a tango class; took a Croatian class; took my last class for a grade EVER; conducted research; participated in research; got my brain scanned for research; left town suddenly under sad circumstances; left town suddenly under happy circumstances; ate at the airport Salt Lick; saw my little newborn niece while she was still newborn; helped my sister move; helped a lot of people move; helped out at the Bishop's Storehouse; house sat for a wealthy family; swam in Barton Springs; spent a Thanksgiving alone; spent a Thanksgiving with my sister; spent a Santa Lucia Day with my sister; gotten a season's pass to Six Flags; taken a real Spring Break (albeit to England, not Cancun); discovered a gourmet popcorn shop; discovered a Bahn Mi shop; learned to tastefully decorate (at least the top of one bookshelf); sung first alto BY MYSELF in a choir;  filled up my walk in closet; cleaned out my walk-in closet; thrown a dozen parties including spinster, Halloween, Olympics, tea, Christmas ghost story, and movie-watching themed ones, all at my apartment, which I kept thinking I'd move out of, but now I think I never will.

I've had some good times here.

When I flew home from the semi-reunion, I knew I had friends here that I would be hanging out with, going to the Texas Rollergirls game, eating pizza at the same place we went to after Austin Comic Con, heading back to the car down Sixth Street, running up the steps to my apartment in a torrential Texas rainstorm. I kind of get this place.

When I moved here, I thought, "what a judgmental, pretentious town! Like high school's pressure to be cool, but constantly." I thought I wasn't on this town's wavelength. My friend Kj Evans has a theory that some cities click and some cities do not, and while I'm always telling this theory to others, I'm not sure I believe it. Maybe I've changed or maybe I've come to know the city better, but I feel like Austin is a part of my life now, and will be forever. When I graduate, for the rest of my academic career, I'll wear burnt orange at graduation. This will define part of me, this time I've spent here.

But it's not over yet. After all, I am only halfway through the enormous Costco bottle of vitamins my parents bought me. Also, my program.

I have no idea what the next two years will hold for me. I know there will be a trip with my sister's family around Thanksgiving, and my prospectus defense, and a couple of conferences I'm committed to. I suspect that I'll write and wrestle over my dissertation and go through that terrifying job-market process. There will be more parties. I'll teach in the spring and AD in earnest at the writing center for the next two years. I'll be running more, maybe even a marathon, but certainly the Run for Your Life zombie run.

But who knows? I certainly had no idea that my first roommate would get married and have a baby (well, in her belly) within a year of moving in with me. I didn't know that one of my friends would drop out of grad school and move to Germany. I didn't know that my sister who lived in San Antonio would be moving to Boston. I'm pretty sure they didn't know that these changes would come to them like this, either.

It's not inconceivable that I could get married, and/or drop out, and/or move far away. This could possibly not even be my half-way point and maybe I'll be here much longer or much shorter than my original freshman/sophomore/junior/senior of grad school plan.

But right now, looking back on these last two years, I like what I've done, and looking at who I am now, I like what I've become. The future, out there measured in dwindling bulk supplies and the rhythm of reunions and partings, leaves me hushed, solemn, awed.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Late Afternoon

Man, late afternoon is such a hard time for me. I'm so up-and-at-em in the morning, I frown at the sluggards coming in 10 minutes late to work, I'm focused like a razor, I'm crossing things off my list left and right....

Then 3 o'clock comes around.

I like to think I was conditioned from elementary school days, but maybe it's just plain old blood sugar cycles, but I become essentially useless from 3-5 ish. My eyes gloss over the page. I open and shut Word windows. I type a few lines. But I'm not top of my game.

To compensate for this, I try to schedule classes (teaching and taking) during this time as well as any hourly or on-call work I need to do. That way I'm doing something without having to self-motivate. Unfortunately, I think this makes me just a little more stupid and slow in my classes. There was a time when I would have Monday Afternoon Movies and just give up on my afternoons, write it off and get back to work in the evenings, but that feels so weak, so slackerish.

What do you recommend? what's kind of productive for the afternoons without expecting my brain* to be firing on all cylinders. Whoever fixes my afternoon dilemma will receive a princely/princessly reward, via electronic land.

*I should note also, my body is weak. If I try to go to the gym or run, I tire easily and feel slightly gross.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Proven Mary Happy-makers

I handed my co-worker a torn tab of paper. "Look," I said, "easiest study ever--all you need to do is answer some questions about your mood and they pay you." The email and phone number were from the university. "All you need to do is not be clinically depressed."

"Oh," she said, and handed it back.

I am a happy person. I don't take credit for this: I'm lucky enough to not suffer from crippling chemical imbalances, I have a strong network of family and friends, and I haven't even encountered any major disappointments or setbacks in my life (knock on wood). But sometimes I think people think I'm faking it or over-the-top, but I really do walk around with a smile on my face all the time. I generally love my work, my friends, my life.

That's not to say I haven't had rough times: I've have "off-days" and "down days" and when I first moved to Austin I was definitely less than chipper about the life transition (I don't do life transitions particularly well, generally). But, man, I'm generally happy. In fact, sometimes the worse things are, the happier I am, because it's a more intense experience and funny story to tell.

But here, generally speaking, are the things that make me happier than usual:

1- sunshine. When the weather's bad, I'm far more likely to have a "down day" than when it's sunny, which is funny, because I love a good rainstorm and I tell myself that Portland, or St. Petersburg, is my ideal weather. I think that it's all about moderation, but there's definitley a pattern of happy and sun for me.

2- working out. The more stressed I am, the less time I have for exercise, the more panicky and busy, the more I need to work out. It clears my mind and, as a happy perk, I may have the lowest threshold of "runner's high" ever. As some of my friends can attest, there is often dancing after (or during) a good race, and even if I'm just pleasantly exhausted rather than straight-up giddy, I feel at peace.

3- talking with people. Especially my family, especially my good friends, can give me such perspective. Even when I'm just griping at them and not really getting solutions or advice, I always feel better that there are people who will listen to me break down a little. Even if it's not a stressful dumping, but just a checking in or checking up, I feel much better with regular chats.

4-living the life I've always meant to live. Okay, this sounds intense, but it's not. It's just about fulfilling expectations, even if they're low. When I was going to sleep before reporting to the MTC, I thought about how I'd make scrambled eggs as a missionary because they're quick and tasty and cheap. And every time I made scrambled eggs on my mission I was a little happier, because I was "living the dream." Ditto with any of the weird expectations and goals I've had for my life: reading academic books in the pool last summer, meeting with my adviser at a coffee shop this semester, driving my cute little car around, briefly owning a parakeet named Bertie Wooster, going skiing during Christmas break... if I set an expectation and fulfill it, I feel like a million bucks.

What's kind of satisfying is that many of these things have been clinically proven to help lessen depression, so I guess my getting happy off them is not really a shocker. Still, it may explain why sometimes I'm just skipping through the daisies with a big smile some days.