Category Archives: Ravynn

Coping and Clovers

Everything is hard right now. I can’t listen to the news for more than five minutes but if I don’t I’ll anxiously scroll through coronavirus reports on my phone. I briefly found solace in burying myself in work, but my novel edits are done for the moment and my new dissertation pages are off to my advisor. There’s a part of me that whispers that I could keep writing new dissertation pages, but the simple fact remains that that particular brand of writing will not bring me joy right now.

Everyone is a ball of tension and anxiety right now, and who wouldn’t be? It’s manifesting itself differently in everybody but we’re all living through something formerly unimaginable.

(At least to some people. I guess now is as good a time as ever to tell people to go read the Parable duology by Octavia Butler….)

My coping has been to write, as I’ve mentioned, but to write something joyful and funny that doesn’t require so much heady work as my dissertation. I’ve been enjoying spending some time each day in a new world, dreaming up new characters and gags and plot points and new settings, letting it come alive to me.

It’s worth mentioning that I haven’t posted much here on BGDGS in the past couple of weeks. Even though normally this is a space I retreat into, my blog posts have been routinely formulaic over the years, where I introduce a challenge, how I’m managing it and an optimistic look to finish line. But in this moment, I lack a lot of optimism and I can’t/won’t feign it for a blog post. So, though writing has been a help, it hasn’t been writing here.

Yoga has been a life saver also. It took a few tries to find a space in my house where I wouldn’t be interrupted by small, easily excited dogs or loud moms (I’m weathering the pandemic at my parents’), but I eventually found a slightly too small space in front of my parents’ closet, that’s out of the way enough that I won’t be disturbed for 45 minutes to an hour. It’s not the perfect peace of a studio, but I’ll take what I can get. I have a friend who offers virtual yoga classes, so I’ve done one with her, but the wellness center at my institution is now offering virtual classes and recorded ones, which I have been attending this past week.

IMG_9881But my favorite new coping mechanism has been searching for four leaf clovers out in the yard. A few days ago, I was outside walking Genghis, enjoying the glorious sunshine when it occurred to me to lean down and admire the clover patches in our front yard. Moments later, I had found a misshapen four leaf clover, but a four leaf clover nonetheless. For a moment, I was a joyful kid again, wrapped in sunshine, holding a good luck charm between my fingers, letting it soothe my soul.

The next day I found another one. That was when I started to think the clovers were trying to tell me something. How often do you find a four leaf clover, let alone two in as many days?

On the third day, I went outside and found another; on the fourth, another. Actually, on the fourth day I found three in all, because when I went back outside later that afternoon ,they were along the route Genghis and I walked.

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Over the course of the days in which I looked for the four leaf clovers, I realized I was beginning to look forward to spending a few minutes outside, not thinking about anything besides the gentle excitement and joy of finding something out in nature. It was something to look forward to, that got me out of the house for a few minutes and that occupied my mind. Then, when I found one, I would proudly show my parents, who were increasingly stunned that I was finding them so easily, and gently wrap them in wax paper to place under my stack of books. The whole process from start to finish probably took no more than ten minutes, but in just a few days, it became my favorite ten minutes of the day.

IMG_9950I was happy when I came back from my mini quests that my dad, who hates to be left out and who had also never found a four leaf clover before in his whole life, decided he wanted to try to find one, too. He promised me he wouldn’t look more than a few moments and I encouraged this, because I felt that if you looked too long, you wouldn’t find one. And not ten seconds later, he found one.

He went back inside, giddy with his find, and I continued my search for a few moments longer. I thought perhaps I had transferred whatever little magic I had found to him because I came up short.

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But when I went back outside that afternoon, I decided to look again, and this time, my seventh clover, I found something even more astonishing: a five leaf clover.

My five leaf clover looked as though it had formerly been two three leaf clovers that had grown too close together, but nevertheless, I had somehow found a clover that had five leaves on its one stem.

After carefully wrapping my find in wax paper and putting it away with the others, I started to think about the significance of the clovers I had been finding. I am a person who believes in good omens and signs. I tend to believe that important things begin to happen in small ways, and you would be smart to pay attention to them. In addition to the recent influx of clovers, I have also seen at least three cardinals early in the morning, which my dad had once informed me were angels. My palm has been itching, a sign usually thought to indicate incoming money (sometimes, depending on who you’re speaking with, the hand that itches is significant also). And I’ve even caught 11:11 on my clock a few times.

So yes, I’ve lost so important opportunities recently: I won’t be teaching at DHSI this summer and the summer program I’ve been a part of for three years has been cancelled, but maybe something bigger and much better is on the way.

Four leaf clovers are lucky, but I think five leaf clovers are even luckier. And the five leaf clover happened to be my seventh find? Seven, the number of completion and perfection? I think some major strides are in the works for me.

I’m going to keep listening and watching, and write about any news along the way.

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Dissertating During Coronavirus

As you all are well aware, we are in the midst of a pandemic. In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus has redoubled public health and safety efforts, effectively resulting in the seeming indefinite closure of schools and universities, retailers and other places and events where folks congregate. This means conferences have been cancelled or postponed, travel is limited, and teleworking and online learning is the new standard.

There’s plenty to be concerned about: beyond the risk and concerns of contracting the virus, many are worried about spreading it, as we’re learning some folks are asymptomatic carriers; parents and other caretakers are now concerned about how to balance caring for their children and elderly; finding appropriate sustenance and necessities as panic-induced bulk buying cleans out shelves at grocery stores. There are worries about displaced college students having to shelter in abusive homes; acute financial concerns as some people are laid off entirely and losing work, and others having to continue working overtime to support a panicking population; and whether our president will wield this disaster as an opportunity to postpone the election.

And that’s just some of the discourse I’ve seen on the news and around the internet in the last week.

Then, of course, there’s the firm suggestion that we practice “social distancing,” a conscious effort to prevent the spread of the virus, which involves limiting the amount of contact we have with others. Many others are having a much harder time with this than I am, admittedly. Staying indoors, only venturing out for necessities, and entertaining myself with hobbies I can do in the house is pretty much what I do anyway. Plus, as I’ve written before, it’s just me and my dissertation this semester, which means I can write from anywhere as I have no obligations to be physically present at the university.

Rationally, I know not much changes for me, aside from the fact that my dog and I are weathering the pandemic from my parents’ house an hour away from campus. And yet, the low level of panic I typically feel in general on any given day has been turned up from about a 1.5 to a 4, with spikes of acute anxiety throughout the day.

I know I will be okay for a while. I’m safe. I have many of my comforts: my dog, my art, my books, my journals… but I can’t say I’m not unaffected by the many stories that cross my timeline in a day. Folks I interact with regularly online are having graduations cancelled and losing freelance gigs and are already in precarious financial and health situations. It could easily be months before things get back to normal.

It feels…disingenuous to be worried about my dissertation right now. On the one hand, there are so many other, more important things I could be occupying myself with at the moment. But on the other, work has always been my anchor, it has kept me grounded in the midst of personal upheavals. As long as my already busy mind is kept focused on a task, I can minimize the amount of time I spend spiraling into rabbit holes about the world ending.

I can’t say that there’s a “right” response to an international pandemic, but pressuring myself to work on a project that ultimately will end up on a shelf in College Apartments, untouched for decades once finished, just doesn’t seem useful.

What I think is a better idea is striving for some sense of normalcy in these uncertain times. Given that I am already prone to panic and anxiety without the added stress of a global crisis, for me, striving for normalcy will probably mean being more proactive than usual about my mental health and tending myself first, and working when and if I feel like it. I will need sleep, walks with Genghis, time to read, make art, write, to feel okay. I really need yoga, but it looks like my University is working to put some virtual fitness classes in place for us, so hopefully, I’ll be able to tune in with my favorite yoga teachers soon enough.

Most importantly, I think I’ll be reminding myself as often as I can to take some very deep breaths. More often than not, I realize I’ve been holding my breath. I sit up straight and and do some seated cat and cows to release my spine, roll my head on my shoulders, and breathe.

Sometimes that’s all you can do.

Breathe.

Dissertation Check-In #1

I opened a new scrivener file for my dissertation and started writing on December 28, 2019. In the two months that have elapsed since that day, I have done a lot of reading and a lot of drafting– 50 pages worth actually.

If it seems like I’m writing like a madwoman, here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Writing is my primary vehicle for processing the world so I write a lot and often.
  2. I write fast. If I have an idea, I can lay down 1,000 words in under an hour.
  3. I don’t self-edit as I write. I word vomit and edit later.
  4. I am not working this semester. At my school, if you TA or are a teaching fellow, you’re off the semester you are not working.
  5. I have written something that can serve as a basis for each chapter, intro and conclusion, whether it be a conference or seminar paper, or an article draft. (Protip: before I started writing, I gathered all my relevant writing into a document so I would have my ideas all in one place. That document was 150 pages.)

To point number five, I’ve tested out a lot of these ideas, worked them out, but I’m excited to get to spend some time molding them on paper and synthesizing them even further.

Also, in terms of actual writing time, I don’t spend that much time writing. Every week, I give myself a writing goal word count. Typically, the minimum is 1,250 words (or 250 words on average every week day) and the maximum is 2,500 (or 500 words on average every week day). I try to be very flexible with myself, so it doesn’t matter how the words come out. If I write 1,250 words or more one day, I consider my work done for the week unless I have a stroke of inspiration, I rarely write more. Usually, though, I spend about an hour three days out of the week working on my word count goal.

That said, if I’m only writing a few hours a week, what am I doing the rest of the time? Reading. I spend a lot of time reading, rereading, reviewing, and researching. I’m taking notes and sketching and outlining. Admittedly, I do other things, too: I go to meetings for my various jobs around campus and with my advisor, I do conferences, go to lectures. And of course, I spend some time freelance writing, pitching and drafting and editing essays.

But I’ve got a rhythm for the time being: Monday through Friday, I am in Williamsburg, writing in my apartment or at the local coffeehouse. Every day that I write, I also move. So I try to make it to a yoga class (or Body Combat on Wednesdays), every day that I spend sedentary working. On Friday, I stop working, no matter where I am on the spectrum of my word count, and I drive home to Suffolk and spend the weekend with my folks. We do nothing happily and we go to church on Sundays. I sometimes make things, like mini canvases with custom quotes, for people. I take a break. And then on Monday, I drive back to Williamsburg and start my week over again.

All of my pages have gone off to my dissertation advisor and I’ve since gotten edits and comments back. However, sometime last week, I realized I was going really hard on the dissertation, even with all of my scheduling and breaks. So I took last week (which incidentally happened to be my birthday week) off. Tomorrow, Monday March 2, I am going to comb through my advisor’s comments a little more carefully and spend a week or two adjusting and reworking based on her thoughts. I will spend the last two weeks of March hopefully drafting about 20 new pages of work.

My goal, ultimately, is to have a sizeable chunk of this project drafted this year. I expect most of my work will come in the editing process. Writing, simply put, isn’t the hard part for me. Editing to get it where it needs to be is the beast I have to conquer.

In any case, I think I’ve made good progress over the last two months. I have a system that works for me and an advisor who is supportive, present and forthcoming with feedback. I do like being in this space: I love that it’s just me and my writing. It’s what I love, just getting carried away by ideas, and right now I can do that with minimal interruption.

It’s kind of nice.

Will it stay that way? Only time will tell.