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‘I’m Sorry, I’m Busy’: A Chaotic Schedule and Added Stress of Those Who Don’t Understand

Published December 13, 2014 by harleyquinnly

I am not writing this blog to sound pretentious or as a ‘look at me! I’m so important because I’m so busy!’ I am writing it because I have been under an immense amount of stress from grad school requirements but additional stress has been added by ‘friends’ that do not understand the work it takes and why I am unavailable for long periods of time. I constantly tell them ‘thank you, but I have to work on my paper’ and send them pictures of the piles of papers/books taking over my house, and yet every time I have a due date, I am bombarded with guilt trip text messages (“you could make time if you wanted to”) or people that flat out refuse to speak to me. I am tired, and tired of it. So here is a look at my typical week’s schedule. This is why I am unavailable and why someday I’ll be called doctor.

(Side note: I am eternally grateful for the wonderful friends I have that understand my schedule, never complain at me, and appreciate when I am able to see them. Thank you.)

This is literally my home office. And I'm normally a super clean person.

This is literally my home office. And I’m normally a super clean person.

I will gladly acknowledge that it is not the easiest to be my friend. I have to check out for weeks at a time when due dates come up. I am not always available for a hangout. Sometimes I have to go months without seeing people. I could remember to check up on people more often. But I do not deserve the added stress just because I am an extremely busy person.

Just one pile of books.

Just one pile of books.

The Schedule

Weekdays: 

8 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Work

Yes, I am a full time student and I have a full time job. I don’t choose to have this life, it was what I was dealt. I am financially unable to only attend school without working and I happen to like food and shelter. I am also unwilling to take out tens of thousands of dollars of student loans I will never be able pay off. There are next to no jobs for history Ph.D.s and those that do exist often do not pay enough to survive on, much less added loan payments. Excuse me for being financially responsible. (I am not throwing shade at those who have students. You do what you have to do. I’m meaning the unnecessary ones).

6 to 7:30 p.m.: Workout then Dinner

The commute home takes me an hour due to traffic, idiocy, and a lack of infrastructure for growing populations. I workout for half an hour (just because I’m busy doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be healthy). I make dinner quickly and watch whatever is on tv at the time, usually a rerun of “The Big Bang Theory.”

I love Sheldon. And feel like a villain the more I'm in school.

I love Sheldon. And feel like a villain the more I’m in school.

7:30 to ~11 p.m. Schoolwork

I spend every evening of every single workday working on schoolwork. This month I have large essays due that require a lot of incorporated reading. I literally do not leave my ‘command center’ I’ve set up on my kitchen table every. single. evening. Therefore, I do not have time to do anything else.

My "command center" on my kitchen table. I live here.

My “command center” on my kitchen table. I live here.

Me in my favorite recliner.

Me in my favorite recliner.

My One Free Day

I usually allow myself one evening a week for free time. Think about if you were working from 8 a.m. until ~10 p.m. without a break. What would you feel like doing on your rare break? Sometimes I get free movie tickets and go see a movie with a friend/date. Other times I just want to veg out on my couch with my non-judgmental friend, Netflix. I apologize for not instantly running to you for your social needs. Also, with only one night out a week, I can only see so many people in that limited amount of time.

Weekends

Hey, it’s the weekend so I have all this free time, right? Nope. Because I work during the weekday, weekends are the only time I get to get work done for long spans of time. When I have papers due, these are the days that I write them.

9 to 10 a.m. Breakfast and Wake Up Time

I usually let myself sleep in until 9 a.m. This is catch-up sleep for me. I get up, make my eggs and tea, and relax for an hour on my couch. I am human and need a little relax time interspersed.

10 to 10:30 a.m. Shower

After breakfast, I shower. Unless I have to see something or do something outside my house, I don’t do hair or makeup and stay in yoga pants.

10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. or sometimes until 4 a.m.

I work on schoolwork the entire day, taking about an hour for lunch and dinner. I sometimes stay up until 4 a.m. because I have a due date and it’s okay if I’m completely sleep-deprived at home rather than at work. These are full days working on schoolwork. I understand people don’t get that I have so much of a workload I have to work this long on weekend. I do.

My dinners usually look like this.

My dinners usually look like this.

So, in conclusion, I have taken time out of my study schedule to detail my schedule. Hopefully it inspires further understanding but I’ve done all I can do. This is my life, please understand or at least respect it.

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Why Am I Doing This? A Dangerous Question During Exam Time for Graduate Students

Published August 17, 2014 by harleyquinnly

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I am a Ph.D. student in History. I am having an existential crisis. This can apply to people in any type of situation when it gets tough and makes you ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ Sometimes you don’t have an answer. 

To earn a Ph.D. in history at my university, you must take so many semesters/credit hours of coursework, earning a grade no lower than a B. That is not enough to prove your worth, however. You must take three, six hour long exams over three days, known as comprehensive exams (comps). The three exams are your general field (US history), secondary field (American West), and a minor field (Public History). 

Why are these so daunting? For me personally, I am not good at tests. Sure, I know the information inside and out but when I am handed an exam I can’t even remember what name to put at the top of the page. I will do reviews, projects, or write you a frickin’ book but don’t give me a test. In addition, I am aware that the exam can ask anything that happened in the United States from 1492 until the 1980s. That’s roughly five hundred years of stuff. And you must know what every historian has written about each era as well. 

scream

Yes, I’m aware it’s a form of academic hazing. It’s weeding out the lesser, supposed to be humbling, etc. As if taking (and acing) history courses for about ten years isn’t good enough. And humbling? What about surviving the professors that routinely made your colleagues cry and whose classes required multiple all-nighters (not from procrastination either). 

What I’m getting at, besides being whiney, is today after I found out I must also submit a dissertation proposal during the exact same time as I’m supposed to be studying (and getting signatures from my committee is like herding cats). I made the mistake of asking myself, “Why am I doing this to myself? Why am I even getting my Ph.D.?”

exist crisis

Most people go to graduate school to get degrees required for higher jobs. I went for my Ph.D. because I had just gone through a divorce, wanted to avoid a personal life, and only knew of adulthood through the lens of a college student. I genuinely love the classroom and reading, any academic pursuit really. If I had unlimited scholarships I would be happy doing nothing but being a perpetual student. 

But then there’s real life. The place where I had to quit my dream job I went to graduate school for in the first place because it didn’t pay enough for me to survive on. The place where I work a horrid 40+ hours a week job with a verbally abusive boss before going home to stress over these exams. I’m proud to say that through hard work, scholarships, help, and luck I have no student loans, but I’ve paid dearly for that in other ways. Because I work, I am unable to dedicate myself to publishing (which is the only means to employment, if you can even find it). So why am I doing this?

i-dont-know-who-i-am-any-more

In addition, where I live, having higher education makes you more unemployable than a felon. I often lie and leave off my higher education on resumes or I don’t receive interviews or are flat out told I am over-educated, over-qualified, etc. Smart people need to eat too. (I’m serious about the felon part-I know of a registered sex offender that has a job that pays three times as much as mine)

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I wish I could end this post with an enlightened, ‘This is what I reminded myself of why I’m doing what I’m doing’ but I’m not there yet. I don’t have an answer. Maybe I’m doing this because I’ve already worked for three years to get this far into the Ph.D. Maybe because school was the only thing I felt I was ever good at and base my sense of worth upon it. 

Perhaps this is why you seldom see sober Ph.D. students when they’re studying for comps.

exist 3

Genius or Medical Condition?: The Compulsive Mr. Jefferson

Published July 3, 2013 by harleyquinnly

What we medicate today was seen as genius in history. For the Fourth of July, this article analyzes the compulsiveness of Thomas Jefferson, one of our founding fathers.

David DiSalvo, “The Compulsive Mr. Jefferson and America’s Obsessive Origins,” Forbes.com http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2013/07/02/the-compulsive-mr-jefferson-and-americas-obsessive-origins/ (accessed July 3, 2013).

While waiting for his draft of the Declaration of Independence to come to the floor of the Second Continental Congress for a history-making vote—Thomas Jefferson was thinking about the weather. More specifically, he was thinking about a list that would comprehensively capture variations in the climate at minimum three times daily, for as long as…well…for as long as it needed to be captured (which turned out to be a good long time).

On July 4th, three days after his climactic list was launched, he recorded four readings (Philadelphia was 68 degrees at 6 a.m. and eventually hit a tepid 76 by early afternoon), and—despite a few other things going on that day—also managed to squeeze in a walk to a local gadget store to buy a new thermometer fit for the mission.

Jefferson, like so many prodigious thinkers before and after him, was an obsessive—or what we’d later come to call a sufferer of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). And as argued in Joshua Kendall’s insightful new book, America’s Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation, we should be happy that he was.

In Kendall’s telling, Jefferson’s preoccupation with the weather during what was the most momentous series of events in his life (and in the fledgling nation’s existence) made incredibly good sense. Jefferson knew that the best counterweight to the massive strain and anxiety filling his days was to indulge an obsessive proclivity that would fill his mind—or at least enough of it to make the stress bearable.  For this he chose one of the many scientific pursuits that grabbed his attention from childhood on: a fascination with the weather. And like any good obsessive, he employed a list—a three-column list in this case—to track and analyze data…lots and lots of data.

This was but one of Jefferson’s countless obsessive fascinations, and but one of countless lists.  He was a man addicted to list-making, “addicted to his routines,” and equally addicted to mathematical precision, though the amount of money he compulsively spent to feed his obsessions, and the resulting debt, is legendary.

Kendall’s book covers a range of American thinkers and achievers–from across an expanse of topics, politics to sex to sports–and meticulously pulls out the threads in each of their personalities that evidence an undeniable interweaving of the obsessive and the brilliant.

Jefferson is the author’s emblematic choice for obsessive thinking (what he calls “obsessive innovation”) in American politics. Other categories include Marketing represented by ketchup mogul Henry Heinz, described as “more than just quirky…a mentally unstable man who lived close to the edge for most of his life”; Sexuality, embodied by the good sex doctor Alfred Kinsey, behind whose “inner torment was a lonely child’s terror”; Beauty, whose standard bearer Este’e Lauder openly admitted that “obsession is the word for my zeal”; and Sports, represented by baseball icon Ted Williams who embraced a bat, in part, to balance the formative angst of “growing up with a domineering mother whom he feared.”

These and other personalities—each flavored by doses of obsessive thinking that radically changed everything they touched—are for the author symbols of a driving force that benefits all of us. Without the compulsiveness of a Jefferson or a Jobs, America wouldn’t just be different, but arguably shades less promising.

Kendall drives home this point especially with respect to Jefferson by observing how the statesman’s limitless compulsive energy—energy that regularly woke him throughout the night—pushed him toward excellence even when the payoff was unclear.

When the Declaration of Independence was finally published and read aloud in town after town—hardly anyone knew who penned it. Crowds of cheering Americans didn’t care that a man named Thomas Jefferson had authored the document that grandly signified their broken ties with the mother country. It wasn’t until 1784 that Jefferson was mentioned in a newspaper article as the document’s primary author—and, more remarkably, it wasn’t until the 1790s when he ran for president that Jefferson even claimed authorship.

While our nation’s history isn’t littered with so many examples of obsessive greatness cloaked in humility, the author’s portrait of Jefferson (who fittingly leads off the book) gives us plenty of reasons to be glad that it has occasionally happened.  Amid compulsive bouts of indexing and labeling his expansive library, fine-tuning myriad data points underlying his inventions, and finding new ways to perfect gardening techniques—Jefferson invested his energy in a project that changed the world.

Kendall’s book is a tribute to the paradox captured by another slightly eschew genius, John Dryden, who wrote: “Great wits are sure to madness near allied, and thin partitions do their bounds divide.” America’s obsessives may all qualify as at least a little mad; for some “mad” wouldn’t begin to cover it.  But the plain truth is that their mad energy—applied with precision and chaos in unequal measure—is a key ingredient in what makes America, America. Especially in the case of Mr. Jefferson, that statement couldn’t be more true.

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