The Scamp and the Writing Challenge: Week 40

Although it is week 40, I definitely have not written 40 posts for the challenge. Somewhere along the way I got lazy and then super focused on my thesis. I haven’t been making much progress on that, so the last thing I’ve wanted to do was do any kind of writing, for work or otherwise. I’m currently feeling guilty about sitting on my couch eating bad Chinese food and watching TV, so I thought I would give this the attention that it deserves.

So back to the challenge, or at least a chance to write in a focused way with no right or wrong answer. I’m hoping that a little of free writing will get me back on my game and help me figure out what to do with my literature review and theory chapter.

The challenge for this week is as follows:

Express yourself
Tell us about a time you couldn’t quite get your words or images to express what you wanted to express. What do you think the barrier was? For bonus points, try again.

This is an easy one, and I am hoping that when I explain it here, I can work out some of the issues that I have trying to structure a really important chapter in my thesis. Explaining critical theory is the foundational basis for what I am trying to do with feedback and assessment at the university, and if I cannot explain it in a clear, but academic sounding manner, then I have no hope in moving forward with my PhD. If I cannot make connections between the previous research and what I hope to accomplish with my study, then I am not working hard enough, or smart enough for a PhD.

The problem is, I know where I went wrong. I spent the whole summer obsessed with word counts and the number of pages that I wanted to have written that I went for quantity over quality. My methodology chapter came together pretty nicely, and now it is in its third draft and gets a little better every time. That was a really easy chapter to write, the first draft came together in about three weeks. I thought that if I followed the structure and the guide I was using for that chapter while I was writing the theory chapter, I would be in good shape. I became focused on getting my 500 words a day in, and really did not stick to the outline I made at all. I was so disappointed that I did not make it to 30 thousand words by September 1st that I sent off a really crappy draft that was all fluff and no substance. The feedback I got from my supervisor sucked. It was hard to hear. I have to start over. The part that she did like was the part that was written by the group for the paper that is up for publication. I spent two years on that paper, and at this point, after 17 drafts, there is very little of it that is my words. So, the part that I wrote myself is shit, and the part that my supervisors wrote is great, but still doesn’t quite set out to do what I wanted to do. I have a lot to try to redo, and the outline of how to do it, but when I sit down at my laptop, or at a computer at the uni, I cannot seem to get anything written that ‘sounds like it belongs in a PhD’. I see that as having wasted three months. Three months that I needed.

This brings me to the second problem. My funding ends in July. There is no way I am going to get more from the programme, and when it runs out, if I am not done with my degree,, I am not sure that I will even be able to finish. I cannot take out any more loans, cannot afford to stay in Scotland, and will never be able to finish my PhD. I am so stressed about finding a job, trying to get something done in three years that usually takes people four years, and worried about the fact that I will probably have to leave Scotland in a few months. I am so worried about all the things going on in my life that aren’t related to my PhD that I am too stressed to be able to sit down and focus on the work in front of me.

I’d really like to be able to take my mom’s advice and just write out the chapter in my own words and then go back to make it sounds all fancy and pretentious, but I just don’t have the time to do that. I also hoped to work it out here and demonstrate that I actually understand critical theory, and that I can use it, critical pedagogy, and the Ideal Speech Situation to explain why the research on feedback, while it has done a lot to help students in terms of their learning, does not do enough to help create a dialogue between students and teachers and allow them to use feedback as a learning tool. I thought a lot about being able to just free write here and then hopefully get some feedback from my lovely readers. Then I realized that if I did, I’d probably get popped for plagiarism when I turned in the draft because it is published here before it gets published in my thesis.

Sometimes I really hate the fact that we have to be a slave to Turnitin since it not only claims the rights to your work once you submit something there,  but the people at the university who swear by it, swear that if too many words or phrases are strung together then you might be cheating, or if you do not cite your sources correctly then you are trying to maliciously dupe the university into thinking you are smarter than you are. But that is a rant for another day. I’m also a big believer in collaboration, and posting it here and then discussing it with others means that it would not be my own thoughts and ideas, and that is a big no no in the world of the tortured PhD student.

I’m not sure how it happened, but I started this post thinking that I could work through some writing issues, and ended up feeling grouchy and angry that I am having trouble getting the thoughts in my head onto paper, and that now I am falling further behind in my quest to become a doctor of philosophy. I’m taking yet another day off when I cannot afford to take another day off.

Jogging. I am going to go back to jogging. At least being really tired after a run is a better excuse then I am too afraid to sound stupid.

 

The Scamp and the Writing Challenge: Week 18

I’m a week late. I know. I know.

Same story, different day. I have found myself with a distinct lack of motivation and a profound sense of wanderlust. Thank God by this time next week I will be on an adventure through the Balkans. 7 countries, 5 different currencies, and plenty of sunshine. I’m not taking my laptop with me, but I am going to take my travel journal, so I’ll write it all up when I get back.

The challenge for last week was to look through my couch cushions and find the first coin that I could. I was to then write about what I was doing on the date on the coin. My couch has a lot of strange stains under the cushions, and a lot of crumbs (note to self, hoover the couch), but no coins. Next to my couch though is a little table and on it sat a rogue penny and ten cent euro. The euro was dated 2000 and the penny 2006. I was in the 7th grade in the year 2000, so I decided that 2006 would be more fun to write about.

In 2006 I was in my second year at UC Merced. I was living in my first apartment with two girls I had shared a dorm with, and I was well into my literature degree. I thought I had made friends that would be a part of my life forever.

I spent a lot of time in the sun, and learned the hard way that it is hard to have an odd number of friends, especially girls, and that my low tolerance for drama would leave me feeling isolated and alone. I went to a lot of parties at the start of the year, and then hid away for the second half so that people would stop talking about me. The people I worked with at the library became my really close friends, and the boys often dragged me out for poker nights. I watched the movie Waiting way too many times that year. I didn’t date, but was okay with it, and spent a lot of time watching Grey’s Anatomy in my bed on the weekends. I learned a lot about myself that year.

In 2006 I didn’t have Lupus, didn’t have chronic depression, and didn’t have trouble sleeping. My self esteem had taken a bit of a hit, but I still went on conquering academia. I took a literature class that year with a well respected professor of Spanish literature who told me he was impressed with me because I made a connection between the visual image presented in a play with the actual image of the dialogue. The fundamentals of literature I learned in that class would later help me with my MA at SDSU. I was still driving the Tugboat, and only had 1 tattoo (I know, I don’t even remember me with only one tattoo).

In 2006 I hadn’t figured out how to quell my wanderlust. I had no idea how much fun I’d have with my passport, and how much better life would get once I figured out that not everyone sucked and that it was okay to not want to immediately go back to the place I grew up and become an ‘adult’. I grew a thicker skin, got ready to leave my teen years behind me, and started doing yoga. All in all, not a bad year for me.

I have no forgotten that I still have activities to cross off my list of things to do before I turn 30. I’ve made tentative plans to ride a horse and I am hoping that I can go on a hike while in Croatia, learn to dance in Greece and continue to work on Scorpion pose.

 

  1. Learn how to drive in the UK.
  2. Present at an academic conference
  3. Start a new tradition
  4. Go back to therapy
  5. Visit three new countries (1/3 done with my trip to Malta, next up, France in November and Hungary in December)
  6. Ride in a hot air balloon
  7. Quit the tutoring centre
  8. Volunteer for a literacy programme
  9. Read a book that has more than 500 pages
  10. Make my bed everyday for at least three months
  11. Have a solid draft of my thesis completed
  12. Master scorpion pose
  13. Attend the symphony
  14. Learn a rap song from start to finish
  15. Host a dinner party
  16. Create a  budget so I can pay down my student loans
  17. Create something original
  18. Create a solid workout regime
  19.  Go on a long hike (6 miles or more)
  20. Learn to dance
  21. Eat an exotic meal
  22. Learn to cook a fancy meal
  23. Yell at a football match
  24. Go horseback riding
  25. Master British spelling and punctuation
  26. Create a good sleep schedule
  27. See my favorite group in concert
  28. Fall in love
  29. Stop holding grudges
  30. Let go of my expectations

The Scamp and the Writing Challenge: Week 14

….or, the Scamp is a lazy writer.

The weather in Scotland has been very very very nice lately, and that really makes it hard for me to do anything than take my book to the park and lay in the sunshine. I now understand my cat as he moves through the house following the sun. I’m crossing my fingers that this is not the only bit of good weather we have until next year, but in the meantime, it is not really making me want to sit down and get my work done.

I’m still suffering from a little lack of motivation. I need someone to kick me in the butt and glue my fingers to my keyboard and my back to my chair.

The challenge for this week is to think about why I have a blog. There are two answers to this. The first answer is that I started this when I first got accepted into the University of Edinburgh. I wanted some way to document my time living in Scotland where all of my friends and family could find it and keep up with my adventures. When I moved here 5 years ago, everyday was an adventure, every day a new experience. I had a lot to share, and was able to do a lot of new things. It was the first time I lived in another country, the first time I did substantial traveling alone, and the first time I could not just run home if something went wrong. I shared a lot of my life with the world, including being cheated on, and the very painful break-up that followed.

The second answer to why I have a blog is that this is a space for me to sort out all of the crazy things that run through my mind. I kept it going when I moved back to California for a little while, and used it as an outlet while I tried to deal with my reverse culture shock, while I tried to navigate a race war and very strict political game in higher education, and my eventual breakdown and slide into deep deep depression. This is a place where I am way too honest about how I’m feeling, what I am doing, and what I would rather be doing. While I am back in Scotland, and back to my wandering ways, life now is a lot more routine, a lot more settled then it was when I was only here for a year. I don’t always have a lot of new experiences to share, so now the writing challenges help me get my brain flowing and help me get some words on the page. I enjoy the challenges, and enjoy sitting down to work with them each week, even if I sometimes fall behind (I’m a week late with this one, and last week I did three weeks at once). When I started the Scamp Abroad 5 years ago, I never thought I would still be working on it, much less that some many people would be reading it. I’m routinely humbled when people talk about it, or mention that they’ve read it, or tell me how much they like it.

Sometimes people ask me how much longer I will keep the Scamp going. The simple answer to that is: until it stops being fun.

The Scamp and the Writing Challenge: Week 10, 11 and 12

Can you tell I’ve been in California for three weeks visiting my family?

I should be finishing my taxes. I should be fixing the statistics that my supervisor doesn’t like. I should be working on my theory chapter. I should not be eating chocolate, binge watching Sons of Anarchy and staring at a blank Word Doc. That Word Doc has been blank for three weeks. I haven’t even thought about writing. Haven’t even been motivated to sit down and try it. I don’t like that feeling. I don’t do well with the stress of not being motivated.

So, because I am not feeling motivated to write, enjoy my life for the last three weeks in photos. It is hard to be depressed when you are surrounded by family.

I know. All of the photos involve me with my Muffin. That is pretty much how I spent the three weeks. Making sure that he knows who I am since he will be 2 before I can see him again.

I  managed to beat the worst of jet lag coming back, so I’m thinking that by next week I will be back in fighting shape.

I’m going to need it since I am going to have to tackle statistics and my thesis.

The Scamp and the Writing Challenge: Week 7 and 8

Week 7: Dig through your couch cushions, your purse, or the floor of your car and look at the year printed on the first coin you find. What were you doing that year?

I got the year 2015. Hmmmm. Two years ago at this time I was in Boston with one of my favorite Scotland girls. We were there during one of the worst snow storms of that year, and we had an amazing trip. She was very supportive with all that was going on at CSUF, and she left our hostel room so that I could interview with my now supervisors. She kept telling me I had nothing to be nervous about, that I would be great during the interview, and then she took me out to celebrate on our last day in Beantown.

2015 was the year my life changed. It sucked. Parts of it were really hard, and really made me question everything that I was doing with my life. My depression was really bad, and there were a few days that were a struggle. I was able to see a really good therapist at the local community centre, and I know that she had a major hand in helping me get healthy.  My 28th birthday changed all of that. I jumped out of an airplane and got a job in Scotland.

2015 was the year the wombmate got pregnant, and tomorrow we will celebrate my muffin’s 1st birthday. I was lucky enough to get to be there for the birth and his first few days in the big bad world. In three days we will be reunited for mischief and mayhem.

Week 8: When was the first time you really felt like a grown up (if ever)?

I like to joke that I am not really an adult yet, but I am sure I am. I’m not really sure about the first time, but the day I bought my Ford Escape was definitely a day that qualifies as an adult day for me. When my cute little Civic was totaled, I had a rental car until I got the insurance money. When I took the rental car back to the dealership, my brother-in-law and I decided to wander around a bit. A man came out to help us, and when he started talking to my bro-in-law, and when I saw Estelle, I knew I wanted her. Through the process he talked to my bro-in-law like he was in charge, but I asked to see the engine, talked about the oil changes and maintenance, and any previous accidents. Eventually he figures out that I am in charge, and although he talks to me the way a dad would talk to his daughter, he was nice. I usually let my dad handle these things, but after a quick call to him to see how low I could go on the price, I went in and negotiated everything on my own. Again, they talked to my bro-in-law first, and since that made me a little mad, I just held fast to the price I was willing to pay and then I drove home in a car that served me well for a year, and is now in the care of a good family friend.

While it seems like a silly thing to make me feel like an adult, when my dad said I did alright when he saw the car for the first time, I knew I was golden. Next year when I pay off the first of my student loans will really make me feel like an adult.

I am now getting ready for the long trip to California and the last few days of my 20s.

 

The Scamp and the Writing Challenge: Week 31

In my quest to make it to the office at least three days this week, today I decided to stay home. I got up early, I was going to make it 2/2 in the work week….I really was. Then I got a text confirming that my two favourite people weren’t going to be in the office and I lost all motivation to go in.

I did not go back to bed though….even though I was really tempted. I sat on my couch and tried to make an outline for a paper I don’t think I have time for, and shop for vacations that I cannot seem to make myself commit to. I got cocky. I crossed a bunch of things off my list yesterday and I thought I could parlay that wave of success into the rest of the week, but as usual, instead of enjoying my mini success, I’m already disappointed that I didn’t achieve more.

It’s a perk of my personality and it keeps my therapist in rent money. You could say my neurosis is good for the Scottish economy.

The challenge for this week is to think about the pros and cons of my job. I feel like this list is going to be a bit one sided.

Let’s start with the pros:

  1. I can work from anywhere. On days I don’t feel like going to the office (and let’s face it, that is most days lately) I can work from my couch, from my buddy’s couch, the library, or the boy’s kitchen table. I like the freedom that I have to work where it suits me best. It has come in real handy lately.

2. The people. I’ve made some great friends since I started working for the university a year ago. Unfortunately a few of them no longer work there, but the friendship remains. When I do go into the office, they keep me laughing, encourage me to keep going, and make the office a little less gloomy.

3. Publishing opportunities. In the US, academia is sink or swim. In a lot of the PhD programmes you have to meet a publishing or presenting quota….and you have to do a lot of it solo. In the UK, the more authors the better, and the co-authors are your biggest champions. I may be on draft 47 of this paper up for publication, but I know when it does finally make it to a journal it will be a good piece of work.

And I will be this [————-] close to being famous. I’ve also presented at three conferences this year, and thanks to the university, I will get at least two more next year. The amount of publicity my work is getting is great, and hopefully it will make the rest of the data collection a much smoother process.

4. My job is in Edinburgh. We all know how I feel about that.

5. I get to be a doctor at the end of it.

and then an adult.

Now for the cons:

  1. This life is a lonely island. Even though I have a good circle of friends, some of who have successfully made it through this process, it is still something that I am 100% in charge of. I have this horrible problem of equating my the work that I produce with who I am. When that work isn’t going well, it means that I am not doing well. If I get negative feedback, I take it to me there is something wrong with me (which is ironic considering my research is entirely dedicated to feedback, and how to use it successfully). I sometimes feel like no one understands what I am doing, how much work it takes to make this happen, and how much I have riding on this research. This feeling sometimes keeps me in the dark and twisty, and that is a spiral I do not like being in.

2. I’m under a tremendous amount of pressure. I’ve talked about the fact that I am currently the only educational pedagogy PhD on campus. Heck, the university doesn’t even have a school of education. All eyes are on me, and they are all dying to know if my research can actually be used to help inform university policy. This project is the brain child of my main supervisor, so I also get a lot of pressure from him in terms of his expectations and my ability. I’ve also added an extra level of pressure because I feel  like since I sat in this boat before that I should be doing better, be further along in the process.

This has led to a lot of tears, a lot of days hiding in bed, and a lot therapy sessions.

3. Most days I have no idea what I am doing. I’ve turned in drafts of my paper and most of the time I feel like I’ve done all that is asked of me and then the feedback I get asks me to do something completely different. I’m getting edits on things that they told me to edit, spent a lot of time going north and I am now being asked to go southwest, and generally feel like I am wasting my time.

I hate feeling like I am wasting my time.

4. I have to depend on others for my research. I hate that. Especially when people do not put in the effort, react, or care as much as I do. I wish I could control every little thing around me, and I can’t. That frustrates me to no end. I hate depending on other people, and I hate that my crazy expectations are often crushed because no one is as bat shit as I am. I’m really trying to learn how to be better about my expectations, and how to best work with others, but that is such a slow slow slow process.

At the end of the day though, I love my job. I knew the process was going to suck, I know that their will be days that I cry and hate myself (and the work), and I know when this job is done I will have something amazing to show for it (and hopefully British citizenship).

 

The Scamp and the Writing Challenge: Week 26

It is July.

Seriously. July. I survived the month from hell, became an official PhD student, and made it out of Scotland for a quick jaunt into the world of academic presentations.

I’m not sure I was entirely successful.

I turned in a report last week to justify my becoming a PhD student. It took me two and half weeks to write, and I was terrified the entire time. I had a really hard time putting into words why my work is significant and what made me a good candidate for the transfer of title. It really freaked me out. If I cannot explain what I am doing and why it is important, then why should the university move me on?

Which led to a whole host of other problems. If I do not get to advance and complete the degree, then it is back to the land of Trump and Hilary. A land where I have no job, no money, no insurance, and more importantly, no identity. I cannot go back there.

A rather large problem that I have navigating life is that I tie my entire self worth to the things that I produce. I saw this report as an extension of me. If my supervisors don’t like the report then it means they do not like me. I know that this is absurd. I know this, I write about this in terms of students and the feedback they receive, yet I can’t help but be stuck in that quicksand.

The report was just as bad as I thought it would be. My supervisors ripped it apart. They told me as it was, the report would not pass the committee. I had spent so much time being crippled by self doubt and the impostor syndrome, that I produced a really shitty report. I missed a few typos, the report seemed rushed, and I misinterpreted a  question. It was bad. While the team signed off on me becoming a PhD student once I edit and do some heavy revision, I still cannot look past how defeated I feel. I can’t help but think that I am a huge disappointment to my supervisors. None of what I have turned in so far as been good quality work. I’m not a bad writer. I know that. I usually enjoy writing. Lately I have not been enjoying myself. I’ve been stressed. I’m worried what people will think when they read my work, wonder if I have done enough to show that I am worthy of all the things that I have been given in the last year.

I’m also trying to live up to the pressure that my position brings. I’m the first education based PhD, the first one based out of the Department of Learning and Teaching, and I am the living example of why pedagogy is important to a university. With great power comes great responsibility….and a supervisor who is incredibly hard on me, and expects a whole hell of a lot from me. Unfortunately right now I have hit my breaking point. I am a bit burned out.

Luckily I have people around me who believe in me, and a couple who have gone through the process. They talk me off a ledge, send me goats through the mail, and remind me that I am not defined by the drafts that I produce.

This week I had the opportunity to present my paper at an assessment and feedback conference. Last year I got to go to the conference as my introduction to the university and to the role that I was soon to play. I heard a lot of good talks, met some interesting people, and saw a little bit of England. This time around I got to give a 3 minute presentation to a room full of experts in the field. I knew a few people who were there, and I got to sit between two men that I reference in my paper. It was brilliant.

My presentation…..not so much. I went first, and seeing as this was the fist time that the conference had ever done these nano presentations, I was once again the guinea pig. My paper is based around a food metaphor (and I don’t want to give it away yet since it is not complete, and has not been published), but no one laughed at my jokes, and no one asked any questions or had any comments for me. The other seven presenters all had questions and comments. I had silence and a joke that the picture that I used to illustrate my point was only good because it had a bottle of wine in it.

Yeah. Not really my best showing for my first time out, but, hey, you gotta start somewhere, right? I’m feeling pretty beat up about it. So beat up that today as I tried to sit down and make the edits and that I ended up watching a lot of E.R. and then sneaking over to Dan’s flat to nap with him since he is on night shift. This was after I was a massive pain in the ass with him and extremely passive aggressive for the last couple of days. He told me to come over and tucked me into his side for a nap. Then we ate Chinese food and watched Top Gear  until it was time for him to go protect the Queen (yep. She is in this lovely city and he is on palace patrol tonight…hopefully it doesn’t rain tonight).

So now I sit on my couch trying to pretend that I don’t have a million and one things to still do complete my paper for next week and get back to feeling like the badass flamingo that I am. There is always tomorrow, right?

I didn’t even make it to the writing challenge for this week: my family. Tomorrow. As it is almost midnight, I will come back to that tomorrow.