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No Instructions Needed

I came across Lalah Delia’s book Vibrate Higher Daily after reading an article on her in Yoga Journal. I liked the whole message of identifying the things in your life that raise you up to be a better self and exploring ways of nurturing these energies over the negative ones that always seem to find a way of taking us over. The overarching message is that we must develop methods to open ourselves to our highest potential by cultivating not only a more meaningful life but a healthier one. All things I can get behind.
However, the book was somewhat disappointing as somehow, I expected there to be a more comprehensive method offered—like… do X, Y and Z and you will MASTER the art of higher vibrations! But instead, Delia offers the obvious advice ; avoid toxic people, eat healthy food, keep a journal etc. The basics for a woo-woo warrior like myself Truly, the only take-away for me came from my own ruminations of the title itself which, I have since been using as a kind of mantra or reminder on regular basis. HOW can I raise my vibration on a daily basis? What are the negative energies in my life right now and how can I increase and choose the nurturing ones over the negative ones? I keep a running list—and on days when I am struggling with… anything really— I’ll simply remind myself that I have so many things that I can choose to engage with that can switch up how I am moving through the day. Things like; getting outside to be near water (I am lucky enough to have a lake within walking distance of both my home and my office on campus) – or, brewing a cup of coffee and reading a book (for pleasure!) for 20 minutes in the middle of the day… simple pleasure that go a long way. It is a living document and I continue to add to my “Things That I Turn to When I Need to Up my Vibration-Game” list – for example a few weeks ago, I had the chance to go see some live music. It had been, of course at least 18 months since I had been to any kind of concert and I was hesitant- (Ugh! Going out after dinner! Seeing people! What if I don’t like it?) But the featured performer was the daughter of a colleague AND it was just a few blocks from my house – the audience would be distanced and masked– I had very little in the way of leverage as far as my excuses went. So, I left my home AFTER DINNER (!)

The singer was Kyrie Kristmanson a Canadian Singer-songwriter (from Regina!) now living in France. Her music is somewhat hard to define but I would describe it as “alt-folk-contemporary- chanteuse” and I was enchanted. Vibrations were raised. She was charming, her voice captivating, the music mesmerizing. In fact, the hour I put in sitting in the audience that evening was enough to raise my vibration for a day or two after. “Attend concerts” was added to THE list.
So, I guess, (for me anyway) there really isn’t any kind of method or set of instructions in this regard. The whole “vibrate higher daily” idea- in practice- is more intentional than just “do what makes you feel good” obviously. It goes far beyond instant gratification which tends to lower vibrations instead of raise them (think- wolfing down a package of cookies or mindlessly scrolling on social media 2 of my personal “favourites) and instead, is about how daily actions can reverberate and sustain. The walk by the water calms me physically, the break to have a coffee and read restores me mentally and seeing live music inspires me. All things that lead to me live at my “highest potential”– no instruction manual required.

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That’s Dr. Bad*ss to you…

I somehow managed to resist Jen Sincero’s Badass books for a considerable time— (You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life was published in 2013, You are A Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth in 2017, You Are a Badass Everyday: How to Keep Your Motivation Strong, Your Vibe High, and Your Quest for Transformation Unstoppable in 2018 and Badass Habits: Cultivate the Awareness, Boundaries, and Daily Upgrades You Need to Make Them Stick in 2020. Yes- I have read them all). I finally picked up the first one in January of this year and then promptly devoured each and every one of them. I’ll be honest, I totally held out because of the cuss word in the title. I am certainly not a puritan or Goody Two-Shoes – But then again, I do try hard not to fall into what I consider the cheap trick of using swear words to get attention. Don’t get me wrong—I use them, daily… But, I also attempt to be somewhat creative in that respect by at least inserting a homonym or two or swearing in another language- which somehow seems slightly more sophisticated. More importantly, however, I did not want to ever be caught toting a book with the word “badass” emblazoned on it in through the halls of academia or worse yet have it be visible on the bookcase behind me in a Zoom call- potentially blowing my carefully maintained woo-woo cover.
But I finally caved and in short order was hooked on all things badass-ery.

Jen Sincero is not what I would describe as a good writer per se, there is nothing poetic or particularly gripping about the prose but, I do not think that is the point of the book. Each of them reads more like a series of motivational texts or emails from a good friend or, more specifically, a coach, because in fact, that is what Sincero is, an in-demand ‘Success Coach’.
The books draw heavily on experiences from her own life, particularly the major changes she made in her early 40’s when she went from being a broke freelance writer living in a garage to the highly successful business woman she is now. Additionally, she includes plenty of “if they can do it so can you” stories from her clients. She is irreverent, she can be funny but her message is not necessarily new, and she does not pretend that she is offering something totally original. What she does offer is advice that is clear, straightforward and totally without sugar coating; Work hard. Believe in yourself. Never give up. She also offers simple and clear ‘instructions’ on how you too can transform your life. Changing your mindset and “if you can dream it- you can be it” is at the core of her message. How she suggests this may be achieved includes the practices of meditation, daily affirmations and manifestation techniques. Some examples of her advice;

“If you’re serious about changing your life, you’ll find a way. If you’re not, you’ll find an excuse.”

“So often, we pretend we’ve made a decision, when what we’ve really done is signed up to try until it gets too uncomfortable.”

“Our thoughts become our words, our words become our beliefs, our beliefs become our actions, our actions become our habits, and our habits become our realities.”

Maybe it is all timing… everything Sincero is selling is what I need to hear at this particular time in my life as I embark on a new chapter– Even if it is coming from that loudmouth coach’s voice in my ear, urging me to keep going, to not give up, telling me I am indeed a bad*ss. Whatever cheap tricks might be working- I’ll take ’em!

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Guilty as Charged

I am not a big fan of the whole “guilty pleasure” trope- I have come to this conclusion, I am certain, with age, maturity, and just the whole “feeling comfortable in my own skin” that living for 50+ years may have gifted me. I have no problem declaring my love for nerdy past times like reading and birdwatching (although I am pretty sure it is ‘hip to be square’ these days and if you don’t get that reference it means you are probably considerably younger than me) but I have detected a slight shift in my comfort level in sharing a particular ‘guilty pleasure’ in the context of my life as an academic and that is, my penchant for self-help books. You see, it’s not just that I am prone to picking up one or two throughout the year and flipping through them nonchalantly- I am, in fact, a bit of a connoisseur of the genre. And-I have been fairly underground about the whole thing– even going so far as to NOT include them on my Goodreads yearly “Reading Challenge” list! (That is going to change!) But, at any given moment I have a significant TBR pile (see photo below for just a very FEW that are currently in front of me…at this moment– and these don’t even include the ones on my Kobo or in my Audible library- Shout out to Thrift Books who keep me in good supply and save me from sending my family into complete financial ruin with my booking buying habit ). Some, for whatever reason, trigger more embarrassment than others. Brené Brown for example is an academic so I figure had more ‘street-cred’ while Gabby Bernstein has “only” a bachelors degree in Theatre (and how horrible that I would have any kind of judgement against her for THAT?!). My dear friend, who also happens to be a freshly minted PhD woman of a certain age shares my appetite for all things “woo-woo” (as we like to call it) which I must say helps me feel not so alone in my obsession (I will not ‘out’ her here in case she too feels the academic pressure to reject all ‘woo’.) mostly because she is wicked-smart and super-talented which gives me some validation that you can read the woo and be a ‘serious’ academic at the same time.

On my walk this morning, while listening to the audio book version of Gretchen Rubin’s Better than Before, it occurred to me that documenting some of the key findings from these book might actually help me process the information better and/or just help me remember who said what- so, I am going to give that a go and over the next few weeks ‘review’ (because that’s what an academic does, right?!) some of my favourite self-help books.

Long live the woo.

Bring it.

I’m back at the blog- due in part to having a bit of space to write (Hello global pandemic! Hello quarantine!) but also because I was feeling the urge to start documenting, for myself, some big shifts coming down the pipe.

On February 26, 2020, I passed my Viva (Dr Holmes IN THE HOUSE!) — AND, on that very same day, I signed an offer for a Tenure Track Professor job. It is still unbelievable to me that those two things came together on THE SAME DAY. But they did. These two dreams, goals, thorns in my side…

I first got the inkling that I wanted to “be” in academia in 2009. Most of my life between 1992 and 2009 revolved around being a stay-home Mum. I did some professional gigs and maintained a private teaching studio throughout those 17 years but my main focus was the kids. But when the youngest was around 2-years old I starting thinking there was more I wanted to be doing. I remember the moment I saw the posting for the part-time position that would be my first job teaching at a university. I knew in that instant that that’s what I wanted to be doing. So, with only a BFA under my belt (and some professional experience to my credit) I stumbled into a part-time position at a small university.

My first class is etched in my memory. I had to teach private voice classes in a science lab. Certainly not what I would describe as a dream job, BUT— I just knew it was where I wanted to be- I loved the students, the energy, the curiosity, the digging into, the searching, the figuring things out… all of it.

Within two years of starting there, I began my MFA —a low residency programme that allowed me to complete my degree as I continued to teach. By the time I graduated, in true “go big or go home” style, I had already set my sights on a PhD.

It has been a looooooong, hard 7 years. There have been many MANY bumps along the road. These have included almost every roadblock that the “how to survive your PhD” self-help books have listed as things that may derail your studies. These include (but are not limited to) a death in the family, my husband’s battle with cancer, (all-clear for the last 2 years!) caring for my mother during her descent into Alzheimer’s disease, 5 other family member’s hospitalizations, a cross country move, juggling multiple part-time teaching jobs… oh, and did I mention I was living in Canada but travelling to the UK to attend university(?!) AND, is it no wonder that on top of all this I received a Revise and Resubmit result on my first thesis submission?

You know that; “Nevertheless she persisted””

Yup.

Perseverance in the face of all the obstacles I faced (I didn’t even mention the ageism and sexism I was faced with) was, without a doubt, my greatest (and sometimes only) asset through the whole thing.

And so here I am. At 53 years of age, I am stepping into a whole new chapter. I am thrilled. I’m excited. I am maybe a little scared- but not too much. Mostly I am revelling in the opportunity.

I am ready to get going. One gift that I have been able to squeeze out of 7 weeks of quarantine is the time and space to prepare for this new chapter. I sort of feel like I’m living a kind of prologue right now. I’ve been focusing on readying myself; physically, mentally and emotionally, to charge ahead, full steamahead.

Bring it.

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Writing Retreat- Day 3

Writing Retreat Day 3 – I am back from my walk and settling into another day of just getting it done, plain and simple. There is no doubt I work WAY better like this – immersing myself – concentrating on one thing at a time. (Multitasking is a myth!) And although my “real life” makes this kind of arrangement (hours upon hours of uninterrupted writing) mostly impossible- I’m hoping I can at least cultivate some deeper focus that I can carry home with me- But, for now, I revel in the solitude.IMG_5087

Day One- Writing Retreat

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Day 1 down- hunkering down for day 2. I managed to get a fair chunk of work done- even though I had hoped to get a little further ahead. I made the realisation yesterday of just how much I have trained myself to function like I am constantly racing against the clock. This is the case in my ‘real-life’ of course – I ‘only’ have so-many hours until the kids get home, I have to cook dinner, do laundry, pay attention to other humans…But not here- so, what is so surprising is that all of that is still very much present in my body—I had to keep saying out loud; “You have all day! Get up from this chair! Stretch! Eat! It’s OK to look after yourself!” I did swim out to the floating dock in this photo. (I took a pool noodle with me for safety as per my ol’ man’s instruction). It was glorious. Refreshing. I’m going to do it again today.

Do or Die Writing Retreat

Writing retreat on the eve of day one. The family has just left and I am setting up my workspace before I head to bed so it is all ready for me when I wake. The plan is to write/edit my derrière off for 4 days with appropriate breaks for swimming, yoga, meditation, walks on country roads, reading and eating (not necessarily in that order). All this with limited human interaction. Bring it on!IMG_5073.JPG

Run, run, run away…

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I’ve finally managed to get a bit of a running practice/groove going on here. It has been 10 years since I ran a marathon—  (it appears that I am still wearing the same running shoes!) and although I have only ever run the one (there were a few half-marathons in the year or two before and after ‘the one’) despite wanting to, because of a myriad of reasons (moving to a city that is a frozen tundra for 6 months of the year, tearing a hamstring in a supermarket fall, starting and trying to finish a PhD etc… etc…)  I have not been able to get back to running regularly, never mind train for a marathon.

Before I go on, let me just make this clear;  ‘running’ for me is a very broad term– I define it here, for the purpose of this blog post as; “sufficiently moving my body in such a way that may resemble shuffling or walking, yet which results in my face turning beet-red and me breaking a sweat.”

I have been using a “>Couch to 5K app – Every morning  a disembodied voice greets me at 5:15 am with a cheerful (no, make that creepy) “Hey awesome runner!” and then, throughout the next 35 minutes instructs me when to walk or run and adds further peppy comments like “Great! You’re doing it!” (No sh*t-Sherlock – you think I’d be listening to you if I wasn’t out here plodding along the deserted streets at dawn?!) I tolerate her banter only because it keeps me honest. I’m good at following instructions and I fear that if I was left to my own devices I’d give up and walk more than, run.

I have to say, I am really, really happy to back at it. Over the winter I was desperately trying to find an exercise regime that made me feel everything that running does for me, energized, raring to go and mentally clear. But, despite sticking to a gym-based routine that included time on the elliptical machine and weights it always felt like a chore. I have been faithful to my daily home yoga practice (inspired very much by the book Yoga at Home that I return to again and again) but desperately knew I needed more.  And, I have to admit being outside, after a looooong hard winter in which I was I was sick a lot… colds, hacking-persistent coughs, fevers and even a pneumonia diagnosis at one point. I am just so happy to be outdoors. Plodding along.

Early morning is my absolute favourite time. I love the nearly deserted streets. I nod to the few other runners I encounter on my way (and pick up my pace to save face when they come into view) and feel total respect for all those on the first bus of the morning (already standing room only). I keep only one ear bud in so I can hear my creepy-disembodied running coach chirp her commands and inspirational catchphrases (“You’re almost there! Keep going!”) But my other ear is tuned to the morning birdsong — for me, the best kind of inspirational catchphrases.

Besides the beet-red face and sweat, running both clears my mind and gets the ideas flowing in a way that nothing else seems to be able for me. Most mornings, part ways into my run, I am fumbling to record a voice memo on my phone (temporarily silencing Suzy Slogan the running coach) while mid-stride because I have an idea for a artistic project, or (on the best days) a few words come together that help bridge something I have been mentally sweating over in my PhD thesis revisions. Sometimes I try and make it home and go straight for my notebook when I walk in the door to scribble down some notes that may or may not be indecipherable by noon, but, never mind- I am already in slightly giddy from the feeling that the creative juices are flowing all before 6am.

Some mornings, along my route I look for ‘signs’- clues, or prompts that may get me going… thinking beyond my research and my own little mental bubble.

I have been running past this car ever since I started back running six weeks or so ago. Each day I would try to come up with different signs it offered me. Abandoned car, (vehicle, machinery, transportation) multiple parking tickets (violations, fines…) AND (it’s hard to see in the photo) but hanging from the rear view mirror (LOOKING BEHIND? BACK?) is a dream catcher (!) I took the photo a week ago– just because it was inspiring so many ideas. But, today the car was gone.

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So, I will continue my early morning shuffles. Searching for more clues.

In the taxi with Twyla Tharp

This is speaking to me!!!

“Non-writer friends always ask: ‘Where do you do it, when do you have the time?’ And my answer has always been: ‘in the cracks between other things.’
Even in the time it takes to run a bath…

Anthony Wilson

I have been thinking a lot about habits recently. The unconscious, unthinking ones which, as Sylvia Plath said about words, can govern a life. Coming into the kitchen and hitting the radio switch to On. Coming into the kitchen and putting on my iPod or a CD. Cooking whilst listening to any old football rubbish (game or discussion, it doesn’t matter: insert team here). It seems that I don’t have a lot of choice in these matters. These habits have taken me a lifetime to perfect. But after nearly a whole week without the news or mindlessly scrolling the paper, it turns out I do.

There are those other ones, at the beginning and ending of days. Wake up, run a bath, bath, dress, make coffee and a sandwich for Tatty’s lunch, coffee, Pray as You Go podcast, teeth, then out, or in, depending, to start the working day. I…

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Still at it

“I am just finishing up my PhD” is a term I used frequently these days. It happens mostly when people ask what I have been up to or, in the situations when I am meeting people for the first time as a means of telling them what I do. For those I am meeting for the first time it does the trick— but for friends and family who ask it is always fraught with a bit of “Oh! You’re still doing THAT?!”

Yep. Still at it. And I will sometimes go on to explain revisions and resubmissions and sometimes just leave it at that. Still at it.

Dani Shapiro writes in her book; Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life “When writers who are just starting out ask me when it gets easier, my answer is never. It never gets easier.” And I would argue that it is the same in a PhD journey. While I acknowledge that I have grown in so many ways, gained heaps of knowledge and will almost, kinda, sorta now claim to be an almost expert in my field… it most certainly has not gotten easier and in fact, I believe it has gotten harder in that ‘the more you know the more you know you don’t know’

As a split location International student (this means my school is on one continent and I  live on another) I am not around people who are also PhD students much.
It is lonely. And even to the few other PhD candidates or recent grads I come across here, explaining what I do can be complicated as the UK and North American systems differ widely. Add the fact that I am doing a practice-based PhD something which can be a thing of mystery to even other students in the UK system, and it gets even more complicated trying to explain myself.

We can all agree, however, that it is hard. And, I am sure we can all agree that it will feel SO good when it is OVER.

But in the meantime… Yep. Still at it.

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