SGSAH Blogger-In-Residence: The Doctoral Experience—Work/Life Balance

In currently serving as the Blogger-In-Residence for the Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities, I’ve had the unique opportunity to weight-in and reflect upon various aspects of the doctoral experience. Via weekly posts, here are my varied insights into this process known as Earning the PhD.

We’ve tackled study/life balance, but what about the great many of us who want to take an internship? Are expected or desire to tutor? Want to continue to build skills outside of academe proper? What about those among us who take a paying job of any sort, for whatever reason, that is unrelated (or tangentially related) but in any case lies beyond the scope of writing a dissertation or thesis?

In other words: what of the work/study-life balance?

Declare a No-Judgment Zone

 

Credit: New Line Cinema's 'The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring'

Before anything else: do not, at any point, feel as if you are required to justify, explain, or apologise for the reasons you choose to work. Likewise, don’t fall into the trap of considering yourself wiser, or more competent/capable than those of your peers who do not hold a position of some sort beyond their programme. Whether it’s because you want professional experience, would very much like to pay for groceries, or because it’s actually quite nice to do a certain amount of work and know you’ll get a certain amount of compensation in a certain amount of time for said work—particularly when you’re in the throes of doctoral research, where the rewards are largely long-term and monetary compensation tends to be fairly scarce: no matter the reason, you’re choosing to work where some of your colleagues may choose not to, and that’s neither good nor bad—simply a difference.

 

(( Read More at The SGSAH BLOG ))

SGSAH Blogger-In-Residence: The Doctoral Experience—Study/Life Balance

In currently serving as the Blogger-In-Residence for the Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities, I’ve had the unique opportunity to weight-in and reflect upon various aspects of the doctoral experience. Via weekly posts, here are my varied insights into this process known as Earning the PhD.

 

When you’ve got enough books in your flat to stack them up and make a nice sofa, it becomes a little bit difficult to separate where your academic programme ends, and your “life”—whatever that means—begins. In many ways, by the point we reach our doctoral programmes, we’ve grown to equate the two as a matter of course, but such a status quo is a perfect recipe for fatigue, burnout, and general negative feeling. Why not avoid as much of that as we can? Here are a few things to consider when sizing up your sense of study-life balance.

Consider Location

For some scholars, being in the middle of action is energizing; the library being just a short jaunt from where you rest your head is the best of all conveniences, a veritable paradise for the life of the mind. For others however, it’s just the opposite: never leaving the office, never having any contrast in experience, and setting oneself up for burn-out, and fast.

The solution? Find your happy place. And here, I’m referencing ‘place’ in the literal, tangible sense.

Credit: Disney's "Finding Nemo"

 

(( Read More at The SGSAH BLOG ))

The War on What, Exactly: “Christmas”, Starbucks, Doctor Who, and Ombre-Is-The-New-Red

 

Starbucks_Red_Cups_2015-e1447198903585

Credit: Patheos.com

Every early-November, a lovely woman I used to work with would come in to the office, hands cupped joyously—reverently almost—around a tall vanilla latte in a bright red container, serene smile on her face as she breathed in the warm, sweet scent and sighed: “It’s like Christmas in a cup.”

So when I saw Starbucks Red Cups trending on social media these past few days, I was first struck with a sense of happy nostalgia, remembering that soft kind of joy—remembering the actual physical Starbucks that lived just off the Square, just close enough to the office that a trip there, back, and with a 5-7 person line in front of you could be made while on a lunch break without missing time; remembering the man who, weather permitting, played an old piano on the corner of the street, dressed to the nines and drawing applause; remembering the kindness of my supervisor, when we walked that way, who always bought her friends who lived outside a deliciously sticky and indulgent canelé from a local bakery, to the widest and most joyous of smiles, the other-end of the spectrum from my colleague and her Christmas-in-a-cup, and yet: perhaps not.

Perhaps not so opposite.

Because apparently, Starbucks Red Cups haven’t been trending because they’re an admittedly-consumerist symbol of a season of traditional warmth and light and giving and a kind of sacred appreciation of the world around you (because in the US, at least, Red Cups come out before Thanksgiving, which is also a winter holiday, and is also a part of the season I’m referencing). No: as it happens, Starbuck Red Cups are trending as a talking point because they’re not“Christmas-y Enough”; in fact, they represent a war on Christmas! Because they lack the previous, clearly religious iconography of past years (that’s sarcasm, for the record), and thus represent an outright assault on the Christian faith and its values.

Thankfully, I got in on this debacle (it’s a miracle, what moving to another country can do for one’s perspective) late enough in the game that other people have done most of the hard work of pointing out just how misguided this entire scenario really is—from the fact that it’s just not a rationally sound argument, to the larger societal question of what Christmas means from a religious perspective, or even a secular one—so I don’t have to waste time here with thatendeavor.

Which means what I can do, here, is start to ask the real question at the foundation of this debacle. Which is: why are we so keen to see conflict everywhere? What is our war really on?

I could get technical and cite Girard, talk about mimetic desire and rivalry and violence and the need to scapegoat something in order to re-establish a status quo—but what I’m going to do instead is cite the BBC television show,Doctor Who, which summed my point up with impeccable pop-culture eloquence this past weekend:

(( Read More at State of Formation ))

 

The Slow Steps of Progress: Health(care), Love(#wins), and Hate (Beyond a Flag)

11223533_10153365112891168_4487886597058814917_n (1)

Random fact: I was born in South Carolina.

My family isn’t from there. I don’t remember being there before we moved. I’ve visited maybe a handful of times since, but when I need a copy of my birth certificate, or a form asks me for my Place of Birth, or someone wants me to justify why I say y’all, it comes up.

So on that horrifying Wednesday, in the face of the massacre in Charleston—on the days to follow, with the burning of houses of worship: the sickness, the sadness I felt at the news was as raw as it would have been coming from anywhere, but when South Carolina emerged multiple times as the site of such loss and violence and hate, it was visceral in the way that only places you know—even if just in passing—can be. I may only carry that place in small memories and a line on my passport, more often than not, but it felt immediately closer; more concrete.

I remember the first time I understood what the Confederate flag meant when I saw it flying in South Carolina, apparently equal to the American flag, rather than just as a decal on a pickup truck: I remember feeling confusion. Indignation. A sense of wrongness that only grew as time went by.

With the state center stage as the setting for these recent atrocities, I was taken back to those first sights of that flag. When the conversation arose as to whether it should be taken down, my opinion on the matter had been solidified when I was a child. But in hearing the reactions of those who were against the removal of the symbol, I spoke to my parents, asking them to recall what it was like to live there with the flag.

In comparison with the televised rhetoric, what they did not echo was:

It’s not about hate.

What they did echo:

It’s about heritage. It’s about history.

My own perspective—one that I feel that too many of the prevailing dialogues and commentaries gloss over—I found could reside in the unspoken discrepancy between what the defenders of the “Stars and Bars” stated in the media, and what my family resonated with in their nostalgia for another time and place.

Because the argument for the heritage, or the history, of the flag and its symbolism should not be brushed aside. Such arguments are not inconsequential, nor are they entirely invalid. The Confederate flag is a symbol of both heritage and history.

And what must be more largely and readily recognized in that fact is that the history, and the heritage, that it represents, is one of hate. Whether it’s the Civil War, or Civil Rights: one way or another, the idea that the flag is representative of a cultural inheritance does not excuse it from the implications and orientations of that inheritance. Heritage and history are by no means mutually exclusive with hate. Not when the heritage—as heritage so often can be—is a heritage of hate. Not when the history—as it invariably is at one point, or at many—is a history of hate.

And to gloss over the complexity of that intermingling—to either neglect to mention it at all, or neglect to engage it to the extent it warrants in the popular media—is, in my opinion, a failure.

Because North or South: America is one nation. A country in the singular.

And the history of this country doesn’t stop at the Mason-Dixon line. It is everywhere. It is everyone’s.

The history of this country is for all of us to bear.

The history of this country informs every breath we take in the now.

And if hate colors that heritage, that history—wherever it does, however it does; if hate is a part of the legacy that each of us shares by virtue of living here, of being here in the wake of others who happened upon violence and chose to engender hate? We cannot sweep that hate under the rug. We cannot pretend we are immune to its influence. We cannot place blame on the perpetrators without recognizing what the perpetration itself has left behind, how it has influenced us by way of its very occurrence and has been perpetuated—knowingly or unknowingly—into the present. We cannot hide from it, or think it dead to our experience, our actions, our livelihoods. We cannot pretend it’s not there, or that it’s distant and inconsequential, that it does not live in the very bones of our society, of our interrelational world.

Instead: if we ever truly wish to grow beyond that hate—not its memory nor its scars, but its influence in the now—we have to choose acknowledgement. We have to choose recognition. We have to choose not to be blind. We have to own and embody the idea that we cannot continue to trod the well-worn paths, to perpetuate that same hate because it is effortless, because it feels familiar, because complacency makes it easy to say that it doesn’t concern us personally, that is isn’t our fight, that there’s nothing to be done to change the way things are.

Because the fact is: people just like us built up the foundation of “the way things are”; and we, here and now, are making the choices—moment by moment, one by one—whether or not we’ll maintain the status quo, or make it different. Make it better, or worse. And in an intersubjective global community, everything concerns us personally. Every fight that affects one affects all. Whiteheadians go so far as to call the perpetuation of sameness, of “the way things are,” an evil of stagnation.

And the status quo, the easy sameness, is an evil, if the status quo is hate. When pain and destruction, dehumanization and violence follow from it.

Still: we make excuses. Some of them are defensible; others less so. We cite burnout. We cite hopelessness. We cite frustration, or apathy, or the overwhelming futility of our efforts when they seem to bear no fruit. ‘What can we do,’ we ask. To quote The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: ‘What can men (or women, either or neither or both, a single person or a million or somewhere in between) do against such reckless hate?’

Continue reading

What Ships Are Built For: A Review of Callid Keefe-Perry’s ‘Way to Water: A Theopoetics Primer’

I was fortunate enough to receive a free copy of Callid Keefe-Perry’s Way to Water: A Theopoetics Primer for review purposes from Wipf & Stock, as a part of the Theopoetics Book Blog Tour (where you’ll find a number of lovely and insightful reviews of the book, as well as thoughtful commentary/conversation about theopoetics underway).

Image courtesy of Wipf and Stock.

Image courtesy of Wipf and Stock.

At the risk of over-extending the imagery of the book title itself, I found myself pulled by the currents of two streams in considering the book as a whole: the first being what the book does; the second being what it doesn’t do (which perhaps implies an indictment of the work itself, but is not that in the slightest), and what that means.

Continue reading

Let The Holidays Land Gently: An Open Letter to Those Struggling Through the Season

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.”
—Hāfez of Shiraz

This time of year, I often see messages and social media posts hoping, for those struggling with the season, that the holidays (regardless of which, and whether one personally celebrates them at all or not) land gently. I’ve long loved that wording—I think it was in a piece by essayist (and hometown-hero) Connie Schultz, where I first met with it, and it stuck, in that way that good poeticism does: echoing over and again in some place deeper than the mind. For me, though, I don’t know that the words have ever resonated more strongly than they do this year.

Because in many ways, the holidays are beautiful. Aesthetically, there are glittering lights and so many colors, the scents, the sights, the weather, the food. But in a broader sense of beauty, the holidays tend to speak to community and joyous anticipation. They speak to giving, and generosity of spirit; of peace and goodwill.

But sometimes, all of those lovely sentiments are wrapped—under the shiny papers and the well-curled ribbons and the poufy bows—in other things; difficult things. And sometimes it’s a complicated family situation, and sharing a table, or breaking bread, or offering goodwill is a just a bridge too far, a stretch too wide for your hands in a season that can make you feel guilty to not bridge the gap and making that trademarked peace on earth come to your doorstep, if nowhere else.

(( Read More at State of Formation ))

Beyond ‘Us and Them’: Taking Interfaith Dialogue Outside The Ivory Tower

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Full disclosure: it was not my intention to find inspiration for this piece via Ben Affleck.

That said, when the actor delivered an impassioned argument (including some explicit language) refuting Bill Maher and Sam Harris’ collective views of Islam on last week’sReal Time, I admit: I was transfixed. It made me think about such a plethora of issues; I sought out numerous commentaries on the debate, looking to better contextualize my own impressions and articulations in response, and amidst the vast array of clips and editorials, I came across Chris Hayes’ examination of the exchange, from which he drew the conclusion:

“Turns out, as a general rule, that asking people to explain what they believe, and why, is a whole lot more enlightening than speculating about their beliefs as if they’re not in the room.”

And that, right there—that crystallized what, for me, kept leaping out about this entire Real Time debacle: this idea of coming to the table, of sharing good fruits, in an Alvesian sense—of a truly genuine dialogue.

Because in academia, we try very hard at attain interfaith understanding; and we sometimes succeed, and it is fruitful. But in our classrooms, in our university-sanctioned settings—the Ivory Tower and its affiliates—we operate within a context that is oftentimes unrepresentative of the world we’re trying to engage.

The theory, at crucial points, sometimes diverges from the practice.

(( Read More at State of Formation ))

Both Feet; All In: In Defense of ‘Do What You Love’

Image courtesy of Katelynn E. Carver.

In the wake of commencement season, there have been a number of articles discussing the cost of education, employment prospects, and ultimately, whether it’s really as wise and noble as we’ve believed to heed the oft-given advice to “do what you love.” Questioning whether this idea is “wisdom or malarkey,” some propose that to “do what you love” may be little more than the “most perfect ideological tool of capitalism,” shrouding realities of worker exploitation by “[disguising] our own labor to ourselves” under the guise of passion, within the context of “love.” Doing what one loves, therefore, emerges as self-perpetuating delusion, at worst; crippling foolishness, at best.

The thing is: I heartily, lovingly, passionately disagree.

In high school, I was introduced to the works of mythologist Joseph Campbell. Like so many before me, and since, his words, particularly the philosophy that he espoused of “following your bliss,” resonated profoundly and have stayed with me from the moment I first encountered them.

Do what you love. Follow your bliss.

Wisdom, or “malarkey”?

(( Read more at State of Formation ))

We Are All of Us Soft Animals: Ruminations on Compassion

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

Image courtesy of Katelynn E. Carver.

I’ve been mulling rather consistently over the idea of compassion, of late.

Admittedly, my present preoccupation with the theme was sparked by a concurrent preoccupation with the “unfounded bomb threat” that occurred at my University in December. The stories that followed of the student charged in connection with the incident left me grappling with a number of concerns: the welfare of the student body, the welfare of the student involved, the policies and actions to be taken by the school, the resources in place to respond and how they would be implemented, and so on and so forth; and specifically, how compassion for all parties involved would come into play.

I’d wanted to write on all of this specifically at the time, but December-into-January proved a flurry of activity: my want for blogged-reflection, therefore, fell to the wayside.

And yet, the theme continued to pull at me.

(( Read More at State of Formation ))

As Long as Possibility Remains: A Reflection on the Aftermath of Ariel Castro’s Suicide

A man killed himself last week.

In itself, by itself, that’s not so uncommon, or even statistically noteworthy; in itself, by itself, it is staggering and significant.

Image courtesy of Katelynn E. Carver.

For me, Northeast Ohio is home. I grew up with photos of Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry being featured on the news constantly when they disappeared, and at least once a year as vigils were held, as hope endured even if it thinned, even if it frayed. When the women were found, when the story made national news and I heard it in Boston before I spoke to my family and they mentioned it—those girls, do you remember those girls?—it felt somehow more personal, for the proximity. It was close to home.

The news last week of Ariel Castro’s suicide in Orient has likewise commanded airtime, has taken over conversation. On the news, in the stores, conversations in passing with maintenance workers, cashiers: strangers, really—the sentiments, for the most part, are the same.

Justice wasn’t just blind, it was blindingly fast. What a coward, death is too easy for him! A man who does that sort of thing to women deserves to die. Good riddance. Saves my tax dollars, doesn’t it? Won’t have to feed him for his thousand-year sentence. Couple-thousand dollars for a state burial and we’ll wash our hands of it. Hell, he doesn’t even deserve a burial. Burn his body and toss the ashes.

It’s not an unheard of sort of reaction. It’s not unprecedented, or surprising, either. But frankly, it doesn’t sit well with me.

(( Read More at State of Formation ))