Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Runner at a Yoga Class

I got a one week trial pass to Equinox Gym, a very fancy gym near our apartment, and I figured this week was a good week to use the membership, figuring that New Years Resolutionists wouldn't be flooding it until the weekend. While we have a decent gym in our apartment, I was happy to play with some of the broader selection of equipment, and to try out some classes. My big goal for the week was to try to do at least one yoga class.
I didn't feel totally graceful at yoga class
Yoga and I are not the most natural fit. One, as a runner, I'm not very flexible. Two, as a type A person whose brain goes a mile a minute (and my mouth too), it's to quiet my mind and focus on my breathing. But as someone prone to excessive worrying, I thought maybe this could be a good opportunity to try a new solution to mellow out. And I'm glad I did: I really enjoyed the classes. It is so different from any exercise I'm used to doing, particularly running, where you're trying to move forward, and this is about being still and centered.
A lesson I've learned and re-learned this week: Just because someone is fit in one area does not mean she is necessarily all-around in great shape. I am admittedly a good runner, and can produce good times in distance races. But even with core and strength work a few times a week, the classes whipped my butt (and everywhere else). I am sore all over, and holding some of the positions caused my body to quake and quiver. BUT, I did not fall over, and I am taking that as a victory. And despite my soreness, there was some momentary internal quiet. For an hour, I didn't look at my phone, connect with the outside world. I breathed and posed. And yes, the dissertation thoughts and anxieties crept in, but there some quiet.
I don't think I'll be trading in my running shoes for a yoga mat permanently. But I do think that there is a lot I can take away from the practice and use it to complement both my running and my writing.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Writing in the dark, running in the rain

I try to regularly have both reading and writing goals. Reading new scholarship often pushes me to write and to think about ideas in a new way. Since Friday, I've had a relatively new (2012) dissertation on Mary I've been meaning to read by Clare Marie Snow, "Maria Mediatrix: Mediating the Divine in the Devotional Literature of Late Medieval and Early Modern England." Today was finally the day where I sat down to read it. Did I get through all of it? No. But a few compelling sections helped me meet my goal of writing at least 300 words for today. Some days, a page is all that I can do, and if I wrote a page a day, I'd have a full draft in a year. And there are days when I can knock out a few pages, and those days feel great, particularly on the heels of unproductive days where the cursor blinked, taunting me.
There are so many authors who encourage others to get into the daily writing habit, even comparing it into the habit of running regularly.

And then this one appears often on New Year's Eve

I also got my daily run in today, running in the pouring rain.  When I say pouring, there were numerous puddles that were beyond ankle deep. I came back after 5 miles, a good distance for the middle of the, soaked but invigorated. Where I run, there are dozens of runners and cyclists usually out there, no matter what time of day. In the 45 minutes of running, I saw 3 people out there. Yes, it was the day before Christmas Eve, but it was clear that the torrential downpour was a deterrent to others. But I could play in the rain, jump in the puddles (once you're wet, you're wet!), and not take myself too seriously.
Running in the rain or any sort of bad weather isn't always ideal, and neither is writing. There are times when you don't want to do it, don't want to get up early and head out to hit either the keys or the road. But strength only comes from leaning into the wind, the rain, the fear, and not just settling for the easy days.

End of the day word count: 350

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Race to be PhinisheD - a new outlook on the blog

When I started it at the end of 2008, this blog represented a different phase of my life.
First of all, I looked like this:
Me with my mom October 2008 - first semester of grad school
·      I was 22 and had just started my master’s program
·      I had never ran a marathon and was preparing for my debut in Spring 2009
·      I was close to ending my college relationship and ultimately getting ready to be single, learn more about what I wanted and needed from a relationship
·      In a lot of ways, I was very lonely. I was settling into life in DC, trying to adjust to graduate school life, trying to figure out what being a post-collegiate adult meant.
·      I wrote trying to connect with others, to track my running, and to chronicle my new life in the city.
Really, since I started dating my now-husband, I fell off the wagon in terms of blogging consistently, as I think I just got busy and happy, and didn’t use the blog as an outlet, because I didn’t need a virtual sounding board – I married one!
Me and my husband at my brother's wedding - November 2015
But I'm going to revamp my blog, which I hope will help me with my dissertation. The new subtitle is "Race to be PhinisheD" (hopefully you get the pun - Ph.D) and the main goal is to use it to help me chronicle and write out some of my ideas, keep me on track, plan a schedule and stay accountable. My best running happened when I was writing about it and I think the same can be possible for my writing. I think overall 2015 was a good year for my writing, particularly because my advisor liked my first chapter. However, the second one needs some significant revision, and that's what I'm tackling now, as well as developing the structure for my third chapter.

I want to use these final 2 weeks of 2015 to plan out things for the spring semester. This is particularly important because I will be teaching in the spring! I'll be at the University of Maryland, which is the third university I'll have taught at. I'm teaching a class called "God wills it!: The Crusades in medieval and modern perspectives" for the history department. I'm really looking forward to it and have been enjoying planning out some of my lectures.

But everything I've done has led me to 2016 - the year I hope to graduate. There have been many wonderful things about graduate school, but I'm also looking forward to closing this chapter of my life. This should happen nearly simultaneously with turning 30 in 2016.

I do plan to write about running, and I do think a marathon is still in my future. But the training for those big marathons, my Boston PR, the training and studying I did for my comprehensive exams, has set me up for this coming year: training to finish the dissertation.

Instead of mileage counts, there will be more emphasis on word counts, I’ll chronicle revisions to my chapters, instead of race descriptions. The intensity that fueled my training will spark my writing instead. And just like when I would lead up to a marathon, and go back and review my training log, I’ll work my way up to my defense tracking my writing. The marathon was not an insurmountable task: I can vanquish the dissertation too. Now off to plan for January!

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Day the Pope Came to School: The Papal Visit of Francis at The Catholic University of America

          When I decided to go to The Catholic University of America in 2008 to begin my master’s degree in medieval history, I had selected the university for its sterling reputation as a center for those interested in the Middle Ages, rife with eminent professors who wanted to cultivate students’ interest in a historical period full of conflict, faith, invention, imagination, and change. As a cradle Catholic myself who flourished in a Jesuit undergraduate school (The College of the Holy Cross), it was icing on the cake to study at the university founded and sponsored by the bishops of the country with the approval of the Holy See. But as I finished my master’s, and then elected to stay at CUA for my doctorate, the fact that my graduate education was housed at THE Catholic University of America became increasingly important.
            I was on campus the day Pope Francis was elected and watched him emerge to the throngs at St. Peter’s Square.
March 13, 2013 - Jorge Mario Bergoglio's first moments as Pope Francis
As the golden banners came down around campus as we celebrated our new Holy Father, it was clear from the earliest moments of his papacy that he would enliven the church and the world. It was impossible to ignore his beautiful words, his pleas for social justice, and exhortations to love all people, creatures, and our beautiful planet.
            It was thrilling when it was announced that as part of his visit to Washington D.C., he would give Mass on the lawn of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which is adjacent to our campus at CUA. I’ve spent so many Sundays at the shrine, attending Mass, but also quiet moments during the week, between classes, praying at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. This was my church, my school, and our pope, the people’s pope, would be there.
            I spent this summer on campus writing my dissertation. My doctoral dissertation is called “The Voice of Mary: Later Medieval Representations of Marian Communication.” So for the past few years, I’ve been writing in the shadow of the basilica, thinking about the words of the Virgin Mary and her extensive power in medieval devotion. People actively sought to communicate with her and they viewed her as an effective intercessor. As I got deeper into the writing, it was easy to envision the parallels. Mary, who demonstrated quiet obedience when accepting the angel Gabriel’s message at the Annunciation, also spoke to people in the Middle Ages and stirred powerful outpourings of religious piety. Pope Francis, humble while functioning as the most powerful Catholic in the world, electrified the world and challenged an increasingly narcissistic society to change.
            In the quiet moments of the summer, amidst editing footnotes and constructing an effective argument, I would occasionally watch the Basilica, and in the dead of summer, the campus was quiet. How would 25,000 people fit here, and what would it look like? I tried to imagine this church, majestic and awe-inspiring place, one of the largest Catholic Churches, full to brimming with eager pilgrims, priests, students, families, all clamoring for a glimpse at il Papa. In the days leading up to His Holiness’s arrival, the excitement built on campus as pope fever swept through Brookland, DC’s “Little Italy.”
            I signed up to volunteer at the Mass, checking tickets for those who were seated on the lawn. I arrived at campus as the sun was coming up, excitement spread over the 1,000 volunteers who were eager to play a small role in this historic day.
In front of the Basilica, excited to volunteer for Mass
The sun’s golden rays framed the basilica, like a halo over this exalted shrine. After moving through security and making our way to the Basilica Lawn, a clear blue sky enveloped the campus, the light blues mixing beautifully with the blues and gold of the National Basilica. An artistic mosaic was met with the rich mosaic of people who were streaming across the lawn. I greeted families who flew in from California, nuns who bussed in from New York, even friends of mine from college – a Catholic reunion. As the hours passed, the lawn teemed with joy – everyone was brimming with excitement over meeting the Holy Father. Alongside me were metropolitan police and secret service. Snipers lined the buildings of our campus, protecting the Holy Father, the dignitaries, and the 25,000 others who just wanted to spend a few hours in communion with the pope.
            As word got out that the pope was to arrive soon, the barricades were closed, and security tightened up, preparing the route for the Popemobile. The gorgeous music accompanied the beautiful weather and landscape; God was the painter, conductor, of this day. The cheers grew louder and louder, crescendoing as he arrived on campus. Our campus, where students just the day before rushed to classes, rushed to the front of the barricades to greet the pope. I was at the corner, and I saw the secret service car preceding the Popemobile, as the cheers grew louder, as the white Jeep appeared before me.
I was this close to Pope Francis

            He was greeted like a rock star (this video by CUA shows the live version. The parade downtown wasn’t for a sports team, or a throng of millennials screaming for the latest boy band, but for a pious man who preached about caring for the poor, loving all without judgment, and doing unto others. And this humble man, dressed in white, waved and blessed the crowds, smiling modestly. Pope Francis’s presence was invigorating. I waved and waved as he rode by, grinning and a bit teary-eyed. Joy radiated throughout the campus. And then he did a victory lap, coming back our way and the palpable joy and wonder spread. I waved feverishly, so moved by the presence of this man, so filled with joy and hope, as faith welled up within me. Calling it magical sounds trite and understated. It was phenomenal. I was fifteen feet away with the Vicar of Christ, the heir to the keys of St. Peter’s. But those terms, majestic and accurate, would not be Pope Francis’s first choice of titles. He has carried himself with humility, embracing the role of servus servorum dei (Servant of the Servants of God), the people’s pope.
After the Popemobile tour, Francis entered the Basilica to process down the aisle. I had seen so many priests walk down that aisle, and it was remarkable to know that he was doing the same. And as he came out behind the red velvet cloth, it was reminiscent of when he first stepped onto St. Peter’s, overlooking the flock of excited Catholics. We witnessed the canonization of St. Junipero Serra, an eighteenth-century Spanish Franciscan missionary. It was a historic moment as it was the first canonization to ever take place in the United States. As a medieval religious historian, I had long studied the history of canonization procedures and the impact of saints in medieval society and I was able to witness was a twenty-first century edition of a medieval practice.
Pope Francis swinging the incense (Courtesy of
Mass in progress (Courtesy of
The canonization transitioned into the Mass, which mirrored Pope Francis’s message of welcoming and loving all. Different parts of the mass were read in different languages, a variety of genres of music sung by the angelic choir: a colorful tapestry of all of the different kinds of people who professed the faith. I was thrilled beyond words that I was able to receive communion, as they provided gluten-free communion for those of us who could not consume the wheat due to Celiac Disease. To fully partake in this most special mass and receive the Holy Eucharist was just one of many blessings of the day. There was time to pause and pray silently, and I offered up prayers for my family and friends, loved ones who had passed on, and for the world in crisis, that such crises and expressions of hate would be challenged through the love and strength of those who saw the good in people. In the concluding remarks, Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of the Diocese of Washington, thanked and welcomed the pope on behalf of the diocese, country, and The Catholic University of America. We CUA students clapped and cheered, and the welcoming words brought the entire crowd to its feet again. It was our city, our campus, our church, our pope, and we could not be more thrilled to have him in our backyard.
I was up past these trees, but this gives some semblance of the crowds

As the pope went into the basilica one more time, and people started to go, the music continued to play, fading more into the background. The sun set, drenching the religious landscape with new hues, closing out on a magnificent day. We began to pack up, and bid farewell to old friends and new ones, wishing everyone the best as we went our separate ways. Some were complete strangers, but we were united in this shared experience.
"Love is Our Mission: Welcome Pope Francis" (Banner on the Basilica) (Courtesy of
The closing moments of Mass
As I made my way home, I reflected on the day with my husband, parents, and grandparents, all who watched it online but wanted to hear my version. Beyond my wedding day and a select few memories, this day was like no other. I walked home with a feeling of hope, a sense of renewed faith – that if one man could rally a crowd like this, could we take that feeling and bring positive change to our nation’s capital. In discussing this palpable energy on campus with Msgr. Paul McPartlan, professor of theology here at CUA, he beautifully articulated that we need to remember that while Pope Francis provided palpable energy and inspiration, we need to remember that it is the Holy Spirit that is within us, always, and gives us the power and strength to effect positive change and make a dedicated effort to improve conditions, in the wake of His Holiness’s visit. Just because Pope Francis has departed our nation’s capital, does not mean that his message should fade into the background.
Because of an efficient and dedicated staff, the campus will go back to normal quickly, and in a few days, there will be little physical evidence that he was here. But I am hoping that the Holy Spirit will continue to flow through the city and make us think less of selfies, and strive to be selfless. I’m less than a year away from finishing my dissertation on the voice of Mary, and its resonance at the end of the Middle Ages. I’ve been making progress, but the days of writing and editing are not always glamorous and rewarding. But after a day like that, when the Spirit is alive and ever-present, it is a reminder to be proud to be studying at The Catholic University of America, writing about the Virgin Mary.

The pope came to my school, and it is my hope for all who witnessed his presence, whether in person or through the media coverage, we heed his lessons and live his mission to the fullest.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Bastille Day 4 Miler - Back in the Racing Saddle!

It's been a while since I've blogged - it's been even longer since I've raced. The last race I did was a 10k in October and that was relatively subpar. My pursuit for PRs and podium finishes was put on hold for an uptick in writing. And that was the right decision: I need to be focused on the task at hand (the Ph.D.) and just use running to maintain sanity.
And the running kept happening, with some semblance of a regular routine. The length and frequency was somewhat consistent, but not bound to a particular schedule. And that was helping - I submitted my first dissertation chapter in June and received positive and helpful feedback from my advisor. Happy with the success and momentum of the first, I am well in the middle of my second chapter - something I'm hoping to finish sometime in August.
But, racing is one of my favorite things to do. I find it to be so exhilarating, and also so fun. But, I've become competitive I don't like the idea of showing up not fully prepared. With that in mind, I avoided races. I still had the DC race calendar in my head, knowing full well which events passed me by. I remember in April thinking to myself, "I haven't done a race I've been proud of in a year." And that was hard to swallow, and I went back to my writing.
But I still was checking the race calendar - maybe I could find something low-key to test the wheels.
And then: ta-da!
Bastille Day 4 Miler
Cost: $5
I'm in! There wasn't much to lose - it was a short race on a Tuesday night along the C&O Trail at Fletcher's Cove. I didn't do any speed training to prepare, I just figured I'd hop in and see how things turned out. I hadn't been timing any of my runs, and I figured anything under 8:00 pace (maybe even 7:30 pace) would be a good benchmark.
It wasn't a sunny day, but at 7PM, it was still pretty hot (high 80s). I ran there from home (about 3.7 miles) and was drenched by the time I got there. But talk about a view!
Fletcher's Cove - just a few miles from downtown DC
Between the 8 and 8.5 mark on the Capital Crescent Trail

For DC, it was a pretty low-key, small (160 people) race, and it was just fun milling around chatting with people before the start. Originally, I thought we would be on the paved Capital Crescent Trail, but we were on the gravel Chesapeake and Ohio Trail. Stay tuned for why that matters.
I was a little nervous at the start - this wasn't sandbagging - I had no idea how it would go. How much speed was left in the legs? Sure, I could run a steady 10 mile run at an easy pace, but would I blow up trying to go fast in a shorter race? But we were off.
They call it muscle memory for a reason. While it was clearly evident that I couldn't go out and lead the race, I wasn't falling apart either. I didn't wear a watch, as I just wanted to go out by feel. The old instincts were coming back, and I was clicking along. I definitely wanted to run a negative split, and figured the turn-around point would be a good marking point to pick things up. As we headed into the turnaround, someone yelled out that I was third woman. Sounds good to me! At the turnaround, I could see that there was a pretty decent gap between me and second, and me and fourth, so the goal was to just try to pick up the pace and pass some guys. It was so hot out, and I was grateful for the large water cups distributed and the spray station (two kids gleefully spraying us). I kept duking it out with a few guys, which really, the back and forth was good for all of us - no one was slowing down. It was so peaceful and quiet out there - hard to believe we were in this little oasis in the middle of our nation's capital. But bliss aside, the competitive juices were ramping up in the home stretch, and I was taking no prisoners. Stoked to cross the finish line as the time flashed:
27:28 (6:52 pace)
3/67 women
30/166 overall
Talk about muscle memory. Yes, in my best fitness, I could run 10 miles 20 seconds per mile faster, but this was great! Not all was lost, and it was a reminder that I love racing and even if I can't devote as much time to training, this should still be a regular part of my life.
Also, this was a race on a gravel trail, and the Georgetown track coach calculated that gravelly trails tend to add 10-15 seconds to your time, so I'm thinking it was closer to 6:45 pace.
Overall, I had a blast - it was just so much fun racing again. I broke even - it was $5 to enter, and I won a $5 Starbucks card. And they gave out these shirts too. Too hot to wear it running for a while, but love a DC-centric shirt.
I'll be testing my racing flats out again tomorrow at the Friends of the W&OD Trail 10k in Vienna - my old stomping ground! It was great to race again, and run (around) this town with a bib on!

post race selfie

Monday, May 25, 2015

Hard Choices

Admittedly stealing my title from Hilary Clinton's book, which I've only read the new epilogue that she linked to in a recent editorial. And it may sound a bit facetious to write about hard choices, when I know all-too-well that daily people make much more difficult choices than what I do.
That being said, I'm taking life by the reins, and making some changes:

From 2006-2014, I worked for Johns Hopkins University's Center for Talented Youth Summer Program. It has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life, and has brought me to some wonderful places, including Santa Cruz, CA, and given me some wonderful friendships as well. It has allowed me to work on my leadership skills and grow as someone interested in education and mentoring others. I've had the privilege of working with thousands of students, and hundreds of staff members. For seven weeks each summer, I get to go to camp, and day in and day out, and give students (and staff) a great summer experience. It is awesome.

I am making progress on my dissertation, and entering into what I hope is the final academic year of my graduate career. I moved to DC to get a Ph.D., and I'm not leaving until I get it! Also, I married a government employee - odds are I'll be in the district for quite some time. However, it is eyes on the prize now. Beyond wanting to settle down and keep up with my wonderful family and friends, there is nothing I want more than this. And barring anything that would put my health and sanity at risk, I'm stopping at nothing to walk across the stage in full regalia.

That summer job is really more than seven weeks, when you count prep, planning meetings, and wrapping everything up (and recovery!), it takes up the majority of my summer. By the time everything has come to an end, it is time for another school year to start, which for the last three fall semesters has included teaching. One job quickly slips into another, and the years keep slipping by. You can call me Mrs. now, but not yet Dr.

With a heavy, yet detached heart, I decided not to return to my summer program for this year. Writing that letter to my supervisors was not fun. Telling those who I've had the pleasure to work with that I won't be back was no picnic either. I'm not saying goodbye forever, but I know that as long as I have worked for that program, it has been something I've needed to focus on single-mindedly, and the dissertation goes on the back burner. And the dissertation is what needs to my single-minded attention.

I'm not teaching this fall either. I'm fortunate that I received funding to ensure that I do not need to do that. I love teaching - I've had wonderful students who make class so much fun to teach. But again, the prepping and grading, when done thoroughly, takes up a lot of time. I'm so grateful to have gained so much experience since I started teaching in 2012, and taking a new role in the classroom has given me so much joy. But again, the dissertation needs most of my attention.

I'm not racing either. I haven't done a race I've been proud of since April 2014. That being said, the past five weeks, I've averaged 40-45 miles per week. I've done long runs ranging from 15 to 17 miles and they've been awesome. I now live in Dupont Circle, and have access to some of the best trails in DC. So I'm running for fun, for health, for sanity, but I'm not competitive. I hope to be again some day, but I can't commit to a racing season, intense training week in, week out, when that dissertation needs my focus. There is only so much intensity I can put into life, and I can't burn the candle at both ends and expect great results.

So, I'm identifying my priorities. I have my health, a family, a dog, some wonderful friends, and a dissertation. There are things I've had to say no to, and those are the hard choices. But if I can finish sooner and then move onto the next stage in life, the hard choices will be worth it.
Me with my husband and my parents

Celebrating our first anniversary!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"There will be a time in my life when I don't have to prove myself anymore!'

I've read Kathrine Switzer's Marathon Woman at least a dozen times since I first got it as a gift in 2009 from my parents. When I first met Kathrine, later that year at the Marine Corps Marathon expo, I asked her to sign the book and told her I had already read it a couple of times. She told me that the book takes on different meanings when read at different points in life, and it's true. I've read it for running inspiration, but am seeing now the inspiration she provides for my writing. 

A lot of the vignettes of her life are so richly described, with such vivid detail, that one can't help but remember the different training runs and races Kathrine completed (and then later organized) all over the country, as well as internationally. It's not just her signature story of the 1967 Boston Marathon that resonate, but of her victory in the 1971 NYC Marathon, and earning her amazing 2:51 PR in Boston in 1975. They instill excitement in their own unique ways, as well as both the snowy and sweaty training runs she did to achieve those goals.

Probably because we've had some snow ourselves the past week in DC (here, only an annual event, compared to my hometown in upstate NY), but this story came to mind this week. It's on page 242, describing a training run in preparation for the 1974 Boston Marathon...

"One snowy Sunday in February I jogged up to Central Park to do my long run...I was the only person in the park...I looked up at the expensive apartments along Fifth Avenue, imagining the people having coffee or Bloody Marys, reading their thick Sunday editions of the New York Times,or looking out the window and watching this solitary figure running through the snow. I wondered if they admired me or if they thought I was a nutcase....I usually laughed it off and thought how envious they must be of my youth and vigor, and that all their money wouldn't buy the health and accomplishment I had....The fact was I wanted just for once to curl up on a Sunday with coffee and the Times. That's when I knew I was tired. So I stopped for a moment and shouted up to the buildings, 'There will be a time in my life when I don't have to prove myself anymore!'"

If there was ever a line that resonated with me in the book, it was that one. The dissertation, I'm learning more and more, is about proving myself: to my advisor, my committee, my department, my family and friends who have watched and supported me patiently as I've plodded through this process. It's the late nights and early mornings starting at the blinking cursor on my laptop, trying to knock out a few more pages that have been getting to me. Or just answering patiently, with a forced smile, some canned response to the always-frustrating, "So, when do you think you'll be done?" I too would love to just curl up with coffee and my iPad, reading a book without the guilt drifting in of "You could be writing now...tick tick tick."

 I know that when the dissertation is finally approved, signed off by all of the faculty, those feelings will disappear. I know it won't be permanent - the finish line just keeps moving back.

My time will come, and I know when I'm there, I'll be raising my arms in victory. But right now, I can only shout to the heavens, 'There will be a time in my life when I don't have to prove myself anymore!'

Monday, January 26, 2015

"A step forward, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction."

"Don't try to rush progress. Remember - a step forward, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction." Kara Goucher
This was the Runner's World quote of the day e-mail I received a few days ago, citing a time-Olympian and one of the fastest American distance runners. I've been thinking about it a lot, and keeping that mentality in mind as I soldier on in my dissertation.
The last time I posted, I had just arrived to Dayton to begin my two-week research stint there. It was freezing! All of my western NY upbringing has melted away in the six years I've been in DC. There were days when the high was 2 degrees - and I was just shivering. But in the end, there were a lot of positives:

  • It was my first extended research trip
  • I made a lot of extremely valuable professional connections, including some faculty who write in my larger field
  • With the new year freshly-ushered in, it gave me time to re-focus and hunker down to realistically plan out my goals and plan of attack
I had nothing else to do but dissertation work. No laundry, no chores, no cooking (can you now imagine why my husband missed me so much?!) Taking away all of those little responsibilities and expectations just enabled me to clear my head. Leading up to Christmas break, after a semester of teaching and writing, I was feeling pretty burnt out, and unproductive as well. Instead of running in circles, I was writing in circles, and hardly at all. The new year, and new location wiped away the slate and presented a new one, clean and full of possibilities.
I've had people say over the years, "Oh you're so motivated, you run marathons, surely this is a piece of cake." Or, "I know you are so regimented with your running." Or my all-time favorite (said for the upteenth time last week by one of my readers), "A marathon must be harder, right?" No! Looking back, I feel like I practically danced through my marathons. That's not true - I put a lot of hard work into training for them. But even the moments of agony in the marathon have not compared to the agony of the Ph.D. I'm not saying that to be overly-dramatic, but this has given me a lot more heartache, tears, and worry than the marathon ever did. But I digress. The point is, I've always been so regimented with my running and training, and while I had a clear-cut routine in coursework and during my exams, it's been more difficult to have a stable researching and writing routine in ABD-land (all but dissertation). I loved coursework: there was a clear-cut schedule (and a clear end in sight!), and I thrived in that environment (I'm sure that kind of scheduling is why training works well for me). But now it's time to bring in the big guns:
That's my mom, my two aunts (her younger sisters), and me on my wedding day. My aunts have been involved in my life since I was born, and my mom was my first teacher (and is still teaching me a lot...these days, it's how to cook!). They are all go-getters in their own way: my mom successfully raised two children and got us into our dream colleges, Aunt #1 is a successful corporate lawyer in NYC, and Aunt #2 was a powerful executive before she had her children. 
They are my "professional naggers" (I got the term from an actual company -- yes, you can actually pay  someone to call you up to make sure you're doing what you're supposed to do).And I say that knowing they will probably laugh at that title. But they are all so motivated and driven - and know how to keep each other accountable! But in all seriousness, I am keeping them informed on my daily goals, and ultimately, how close did I come to meeting them (and if not, why not). I need that accountability so I can finally cross this finish line!
That's where I am at tonight. Did I exercise today? No. But did I write 4 pages? Yes. So, maybe there weren't as many endorphins released (although I did play outside with my dog in the snow), but the satisfaction of a good writing day is pretty close to a runner's high.
Step by step, page by page, this thing is going to be written.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Sunday Night evening on the eve of hope and productivity

I received a grant to research at the International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton. They have some incredible late medieval and early modern sources about the Virgin Mary, and are relevant to my dissertation. I am placing a lot of hope and expectation in this trip. After my colloquium (an intensive workshop) in November, and facing suggestions for serious revision and restructuring in my dissertation, it just was hard to summon the motivation, and courage (yes, there is often the feeling of needing to be brave to write) to write and tackle the dissertation. The feelings of defeat, and discouragement, resonated a lot louder than my goals for completion and motivation. I’m trying to quiet those enough and find the New Year and new semester as motivation to get past this hump and mental block.

I am trying so hard to envision the finish line, even though it is over a year away. When it comes down to it, I’ve always had big goals, ones that require long-term planning and execution, but this is the longest. I’m going to be counting on more people for help, support, and encouragement, than I’ve ever demanded. Otherwise, if I just let it all fester in my head, accountable only to myself, my head will explode and I’ll burn out way too soon.
I want to finish I want to finish I want to finish I want to finish. I have to keep saying that to remember that this is actually the goal – my goal.
For the next two weeks, I’ll either be in the library or in my hotel room, with my laptop as my only roommate. I need to write and be productive, to go balls to the wall and crank out some decent material.
I hope I can look back at this trip with fondness and nostalgia. I’ll be able to link this trip with memories of solid writing and innovative thinking. When future grad students ask for advice, I want to cite this trip as inspiration, recalling with a smile, “Those were the golden days – I was able to accomplish so much and it changed my mentality for the dissertation in the final stretch.”
I recall two different New Year’s and new semesters, coincidentally, both odd years, like this one, where I took on a gung-ho attitude, and ultimately, had a profound impact on my life:
January 2011. January 10, 2011 was my first day of classes of the semester, and also, the first day of going gluten-free after my December 2010 diagnosis of celiac disease. I looked at everything as shiny and new, filled with possibilities. On that Monday, I was at the swimming pool by 7AM for my double-days of workouts (this was also my first day of training for my best marathon ever – Boston). I then cleaned up, dressed in professional drab of grey and black (I still have the top and remember the memories of wearing it on that day) for a directed readings course with one of my beloved professors. It was a grueling one-on-one one-hour session, every Monday morning at 9AM – what a way to start the week. But as the weeks progressed, our conversations progressed and the dialogue became all the more compelling. I became stronger mentally, I gained physical strength in my training, and my insides began to heal as I adjusted to my new diet. I ran a personal best of 3:27 later that spring, and found I had experienced a large mental shift in my thinking and training as a budding historian.
January 2013. I sat down and made a list of goals, with my then-boyfriend, now husband, by my side, agreeing to support me and push me. The big professional goal was to get my dissertation proposal passed. Over MLK weekend (now fast approaching once again), I sat in the desk he made for me, occasionally gazed out the window, and wrote the first draft of the proposal that eventually passed later that spring.

With both of these memories in mind, I am at the eve of another odd-year January semester full of hope and anticipation. I still need to write out some concrete goals, but the dream is out there. Now it’s time to make it count.