Update from Dissertation Land

I recently moved from Pittsburgh, PA to Knoxville, TN, traversing a distance of almost 500 miles. This is the eighth time I’ve moved in my life, as I carry on the tradition of the nomadic Quigley clan.

For the first time ever, I have my own backyard (or “garden,” as the Irish would say). It is approximately ten times the size of our actual teeny house, and I must admit I like it this way. I miss the density of Pittsburgh, to be sure, but am also enjoying this rare opportunity to grow a vegetable garden, maintain a compost bin, and dry my laundry on a clothesline. I am also feeling vindicated by my years of self-imposed minimalist living, as this little space is reinforcing that lifestyle.

I am experiencing many “firsts” right now: my first time living in the South; filing taxes jointly; entering the job market with a graduate degree; starting a garden. It is a time of great uncertainty for me, and the current political crisis only makes things seem more disjointed.

As I spend the next few months polishing my dissertation, I am increasingly anxious about finding employment and a steady income, but am also attempting to find the brain-space to write more and pursue my printmaking interests. I suffer from an ailment common to every member of my immediate family: the acute fear of being underproductive. Who am I, if I don’t have a line on my C.V. to represent my current status?

I acknowledge the pitfalls of believing that “you are what you do,” but it is hard to train myself to think differently.

I am incredibly lucky to have a plethora of resources in my life, most notably:

  • my family, and especially my mother
  • my friends, and especially those who are also going through periods of uncertainty
  • my husband
  • my cat

But, I have also found a few unexpected things to be tremendously helpful as I navigate this period of change and doubt:

  1. a good planner: I do not work for this company, and I am certainly not sponsored by them, but I’ve found these planners to be both aesthetically pleasing and incredibly functional: https://shop.mochithings.com/stationery/planners/. I may not have a paycheck for a few months, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be organized! This planner, and especially the monthly overview, reminds me of the things I’ve accomplished (small and large) over the course of a short period of time. At a time when my successes seem less tangible, this book holds great power. Plus, I find that color coding is incredibly satisfying.

    On a run in Knoxville

  2. a routine: When I returned to Knoxville after spending the holidays in Houston, I began training for a half-marathon. I haven’t actually signed up to run a race, because races do not generally appeal to me, but I find that having an exercise schedule keeps me accountable in other ways. I happen to follow this plan, https://www.active.com/running/articles/your-12-week-half-marathon-training-plan, but there are many out there. I appreciate the balance between running days and cross-training days, and am a big fan of the yoga Fridays. I not only have increased my body strength, but also have explored the streets of Knoxville to a degree I wouldn’t have otherwise, and also took a class at a new yoga studio last week.
  3. a garden: The thing that has grounded me the most, outside of my fellow humans and animals, is my garden. Right now, it is a collection of pots and jars on a windowsill, but I am looking forward to building a raised bed outdoors in a couple of weeks. I cannot express how rewarding it is to wake up and find a sprout bursting through the dirt, and to monitor its growth over the course of days and weeks. At a time when I cannot necessarily monitor my own progress, in terms of job prospects, I find balance in the quiet progress of these modest seeds. I am on a fairly strict growing schedule, as I prepare for the last frost (mid-April here), and the transition from an indoor to an outdoor plot. I look forward to sharing herbs and vegetables with friends and others, and find purpose in this slow and steady practice of seed-sewing. I am not sure if our garden will yield very much this year, but the process already seems worthwhile.

I should clarify that these approaches have helped, but I still have my low moments. All things considered, however, I think I’m doing pretty well.

In case the previous account paints the portrait of a very disciplined individual, I should also state that I drink beer, go to karaoke bars, eat dessert, and stay up too late watching Netflix shows.