New Year’s Revelations

Y’all. 7873bb0956e870b595de0df6edb03e7dHave you ever gotten into a really vicious cycle where you feel tired and unmotivated at work, but then when you don’t accomplish what you wanted to accomplish, you decide to take work stuff home in an effort to redeem yourself and your day, but you still feel tired and unmotivated so you don’t do the work at home but you spend all night thinking about doing work, but then the next day you feel tired and unmotivated again because you didn’t get any rest? Or the same thing, but on a semester-long scale? You don’t get enough done at the beginning of the term, so the pressure to do more, do more, do more, just keeps building as the weeks wear on, but the level of energy just keeps falling? Yeah. I think this is what getting burned out is like for me and it has taken a long time to identify just how insidious this cycle is: I’m convinced I don’t deserve time off because I haven’t accomplished anything, but there’s no way to break the pattern without stepping away. 

So, I finally took time off over the holidays – and it was really great. I snuggled nieces, played in the snow, dove into wedding planning, caught up with mentors, went shopping, got pedicures and hamburgers, made Christmas cookies, spent a glorious weekend in San Diego with friends. I’m now wildly unprepared for everything, and behind on big projects, and the days I’ve spent trying to get back into work have not been the magical, productivity-blessed, success-fests I was hoping for, but nonetheless I discovered something. I’m a lot happier when I’m not working. So my resolution this year is to be not working more often. 

It’s not that I want to do less work (that sounds impossible, frankly, given how extremely my productivity bottomed out last semester) – it’s that I want to do more not-working. Or really, that I need to do more not-working. I need it desperately. I don’t really know how to solve my work-related issues (finishing a PhD is a slog and I’ll keep slogging – they don’t call it the Valley of Shit for nothing) but it appears that if I want to maintain any health, sanity, compassion, relationships, optimism, or energy, I need to have a life. (Surprise!)

So I made a January list. I’m attempting to keep my expectations low and my celebrations of victory big.

In January, I will 

  • read one book 
  • write one blog post (check!)
  • host one gathering in my home 
  • bake one loaf of bread
  • shoot one roll of film 
  • have one coffee date with a friend 

I’m also signed up to run the Lincoln Half Marathon in May, so it’s time to start running again. I believe I’ll love my job again someday, but for now, I’m going to focus on loving more rewarding things. Let me know if you want to help me out! Currently looking for recommendations on books, ideas for photo adventures, and encouragement and/or accountability for running. 6356455064543114321264004529_waffles-friends-work

Also, sisters, sorry not sorry all I write about on this blerg is productivity. Maybe I’ll have deeper or more meaningful thoughts again someday. For now, this is all I’ve got. 

Happy New Year!


Decemberween already?

Hello friends! Remember how we have this blog and also sometimes I write things? I’m following two inspirations today: 

  1. Sara did a blog post earlier this week or month (what even are units of time? let’s say semester. that’s the only time unit that means anything to me right now) with a time limit – 18 minutes of writing. This seems like a good idea! Attainable goals! Boundaries! 
  2. My friend Kiri and I did some habit-forming brainstorming earlier this semester (okay, it was probably September) and suggested that writing a blog post could be paired with a treat-yo-self trip to Goldenrod Pastries. So, I’m at Goldenrod currently, with a slice of pumpkin layer cake topped with sprinkles by my side.


I’m at Goldenrod, enjoying a slice of pumpkin cake with sprinkles on top, and it is snowing. It is really truly snowing for the first time this season. I think we had a few half-hearted super frozen flakes earlier this week, but today it’s the big wet fluffy stuff. In fact, it’s the big wet fluffy snow alternating with just honest-to-goodness rain. Is there anywhere nicer than a bakery to sit and watch the snow? Big windows frame the snowflakes falling on cars, bustling through the neighborhood; the pastry case full of colorful cupcakes and macarons and cakes and breads. Well, I could imagine it being nicer – I could be here without my grungy lump of a backpack and without the ever-lingering specter of work to do, projects to complete, papers to grade. Instead, I’ve set a timer for my writing and my next stop is the coffeeshop next door and the ambitious goal of finalizing the papers I’m editing.

This is my Christmas tree. It’s the best.

I’ve been in school for a long time now; this is my ninth semester of grad school. That means we’re heading into finals week number nine at Nebraska – and this should be old hat by now. Truthfully, it kind of is. There’s something comforting about the letting go (is it giving up?) that can happen at the end of the semester. Now is the time to go into survival mode – get way too excited about Christmas trees and pumpkin cake and procrastinatory binge-watching of Netflix – turn on the focus mode that only happens with very tangible deadlines like the end of the term – let go of the big-picture questions and fears about what I should be doing or how I should be handling things or what I wish I was capable of – get through the end by dreaming about what could be the next time around.

Here’s to annoyingly persistent optimism and the sweetness at the bitter end – Happy December, sisters!

the days of miracle and wonder

Hi Sisters.
The semester is ending for me soon (feel free to be jealous of collegiate schedules for a minute) but that prospect is just not promising much relief at the moment. I’m only taking two classes, so only a few things will drop out of my schedule, and the need to accomplish things in research is unrelenting. Turns out you don’t get a PhD for just showing up and going to class for somewhere between 5 and 100 years. You actually have to DO A THING and contribute to the field in some way and write a thesis. A thesis full of exciting new results! Le sigh. These things have been discouraging lately.

But I’m having a Paul Simon-influenced day, and that’s comforting. I put on an encouraging morning playlist from Spotify while I was getting ready for work this morning, something with a peppy title like “Wake Up Happy!” or “Good Morning Vibes!” or “You Aren’t a Total Failure, I Swear!”, and it included the song “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover”. This immediately made me think of that episode of the Muppet show where Paul Simon is a guest and makes a “50 ways to love your lever” joke. I can’t find a clip of that specific moment, but please enjoy this performance (which references the joke!):

So, that was a good start to the day. I listened to “Graceland” on my way back to the library tonight.

There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I’m falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
Oh, so this is what she means
She means we’re bouncing into Graceland

The car ahead of me on this drive had a wonky left blinker; it was hyper-blinking, way too fast.  Abby, remember when the alternator in the Corsica died when we were moving you back into college housing one August? There was the hyper-blinking first, when everything seemed fine, and then the gauges started flailing around, and then the radio died, and then the power steering, and the car itself. Dad was following in the van, but all the seats were out so it could hold your life’s possessions, so Aunt Barb came and picked us up on the side of the highway. I think the sky was the same sort of grumbly gray as it is here today, vaguely ominous and unsettled without being actually threatening.

There’s no point to this story (or this post! haha! fooled you!) besides to say that the blinker on that truck made me think about that ridiculous day, and all the moves we’ve made together, and the way we manage to show up – in any and every sense, both figurative and literal –  to share in each other’s lives, and to say that Paul Simon reminding me that there’s a reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland was enough for today.

Jess (but you can call me Al)

PS Paul Simon is playing in Lincoln in May! I’m thinking of starting a scholarship fund to afford a ticket. Anybody want to chip in?!

Mental High-Fives

Hey Sisters,

So, I’m currently in the midst of prepping for my third half marathon. The race is on May 1, right before the end of the semester, and so far, training is going pretty okay. I’ve been enjoying running more as the weather gets warmer and I’m more excited to have an excuse to be outside. We should pause here, though, to acknowledge the fact that I’m running a half marathon. I’m running. I’m planning to run a distance that has marathon in the name. I’m participating in a thing called a marathon that has nothing to do with summer break and Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman. (Do you guys remember that summer? That was a great summer.) Okay, but really – and this is not my first time. I’ve successfully completed 26.2 miles of running (with a six month pause in between). I ran ten (slow and cranky) miles on Sunday. Marvel, one and all, and be amazed, as we think back to my honestly traumatizing gym class experiences in elementary and middle school, when I could not run an entire mile, thankyouverymuch, without walking and/or wheezing. I took an aerobics class for my gym credit in high school so that I could avoid running miles and playing sport games involving coordination and could just bounce around doing step aerobics videos. (“My step came in the mail! Let me just run… down the steps… to get my step…”)

We must ask then – wha’ happened? How did this become a thing in my life? (I’m pretty sure we’ve talked about this before, but I promise, there will be a point to this eventually.) I tried running on and off in college, once or twice a semester, with no great success. The summer before my senior year, though, things changed. I came back from studying abroad with a newfound sense of determination, I guess, and had exactly one really great idea: mental high-fives. Mental high-fives early and often. I started enthusiastically congratulating myself on my great fitness accomplishment as soon as my feet hit the pavement. Are you wearing running shoes? Are you outside? You did it! Are you moving away from your house? Yes! You’re still doing it! You are a success! Are you getting tired now, and thinking about walking? That’s okay! You’re still outside! Moving! You ran today! Hooray! High-five!

What’s the value to this plan? Turns out I was not very good at running, but I am even worse at enjoying things that I feel like I’m not very good at.(#reasonsourfamilydoesn’tplayboardgames) Previous fitness attempts involved a lot of self criticism. I’d make a plan, like “run to the park”, and then get tired on the way there, and quit running, and feel like a failure, and then NEVER TRY TO RUN TO THE PARK AGAIN because trying (and failing!) to run to the park just made me feel bad about myself. For a while I figured the answer was just “try harder”. But it’s hard to get better at something without trying at all, so the answer for me was actually “do what you can” which turned into being able to do more the next day. Or the next week. Or the next year. (You’ll notice that several years elapsed between when I started a semi-sustainable running habit and when I thought signing up for a half marathon was a good idea.)

Alright. So why am I bringing this up again? It’s spring break for me right now, where “break” is code for “spending a week in the library trying to get caught up on all the projects and also procrastinating and kind of hating yourself”. (That name is much less catchy, granted.) Unfortunately, the procrastination/dread-of-doing-the-things isn’t limited to break. It’s been a real bother this semester. I tend to start the day with lofty goals, and I’m even on a fellowship this semester, which means I’m not teaching, which means I can be extra ludicrously ambitious. The day begins and I start trying to do a thing. That’s when I discover that the thing is hard! It’s hard and maybe I’m not being immediately or obviously successful. This is when the internal commentary steps in: so you’re not done yet, huh. looks like it’s not going so well. this is really important, so it’s too bad you’re screwing it up. probably never going to get a job. you’re really not cut out for this. look at how much you’re struggling. if you were smarter, this would be easier. but you’re not. (GAH IT’S EXHAUSTING JUST TRYING TO TYPE THAT OUT NO WONDER I’VE BEEN FEELING SO CRAPPY.) So I’ve gotten to thinking about the ways I can break the cycle.

Enter: Mental High-Fives. Early. Often. Is there a way to translate this strategy to my work life? (Side note: either the unthinkable is happening and I’m successfully making a SPORTS METAPHOR or we can say I’m just thinking mathematically and trying to generalize a technique to a slightly different situation. Your call.) I’m going to try it. I’m going to try to set attainable goals, but mostly I’m going to try to give myself a big mental high-five for trying. For starting. For showing up and doing the work, regardless of the outcome or the value or the merit. That was thing about running for me – I had to stop the constant evaluation of my success, mid-stride, to be able to get anywhere. So let’s do it. High-fives for showing up and trying to do a thing. I’ll let you know how it goes. (We may not be off to a great start, since I just spent a good chunk of my library time writing up this manifesto instead of, you know, doing actual work.)


High-fives all around,



PS. A secondary strategic point for anyone actually thinking about starting a running habit: cute workout clothes you’re excited about wearing. Abby, you and I went to Old Navy together  the week I got back from France, I think, and we got matching running shorts. Very important part of the process.  Third strategic point: encouraging friends. I have had a group of really wonderful people show up in my life and hold me accountable to getting outside and getting moving at various points. Most of their names start with “K”. So… there’s that.