Grad School: The 3nd Fall Semester

I’ve come to realize that I have no idea how engrossed I get in class until I sit down to write about it, without words that can be found in a Catholic encyclopedia.

This semester was up in the air for me up until the first day of classes, at least that’s how I felt about it.

This semester I finished fulfilling my required number of elective credits (I hope). I’d be lying if I didn’t say I still have some apprehension about it. There’s a level of “done but not done” I just haven’t gotten comfortable with.

The semester was fairly light in terms of workload since I was only taking one class, but other than that it was pretty challenging.

It was a small class, which I typically like. However, the make-up made it challenging for me, sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. I’ve gotten used to interacting with the same group of people in so many of my classes it was an adjustment just interacting with different people.

That alone made class hard.

You know how they say sarcasm should never be in an email? It’s kind of like that. If people don’t know you well, like at all.

I spend hours choosing the “right” words, and it turns out the “right words” and the “best words” aren’t always the same thing.

I can’t really tell you if I learned anything related to the topic of the course because most of my focus was on effective online communication (or at least trying to be better at it). I’m sure I learned something, the results will come with time, not unlike a lot of other topics I’ve studied in these last few years.

At the beginning of the semester I wish I could’ve taken more credits but now I can look back and see it as a nice break before heading into a heavy workload.

In all honesty, I’m glad things turned out the way they did, especially now that I don’t have to deal with it anymore, because it made me realize that I had become too comfortable in terms of how I conduct myself as a student.

I also read books that I actually enjoyed, a feat that’s hard to accomplish in graduate school.

Now onto the longest stretch of work I’ve ever had to do, and if I’m lucky at the end of that stretch will be the finish line (oh God please let it be the finish line).

Now What?

This is the 3rd time I’m participated in HAWMC. Each year it comes at a less than ideal time and by the end I can’t wait to write the last post. This year is no different. As much as I get out of blogging everyday this time I just need to be able to check this off the list and move onto the next thing.

What is the next thing?

Practically speaking, there’s a paper to write, podcasts to record, and Christmas shopping to finish (which should’ve been finished by now, because I’m one of those people who shops throughout the year to avoid the added stress).

Ideally speaking, I have a project coming soon. Just how soon? It’s at the editor’s but I’ve already seen what may well become the final product. It turns out I’m very bad at providing feedback short of ripping something, anything, to shreds.

Then there’s grad school to finish which includes a capstone that needs writing. I feels like I’m in the middle of a triathlon I couldn’t find the time to train for, after I signed up and paid the entry fee, so I kind of should do it.

All of this pretty much leaves my career up to chance, word of mouth, and pure luck. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to speak and write more in the last year. It just hasn’t happened. I’m trying to see it as a positive, to give me the time to devote to other things without having to decide what to do or overextend myself.

That doesn’t mean that my life as an advocate is going to be put on the back burner. Another degree will add another dimension to my business, to my advocacy work, at least that’s the plan anyway. HAWMC isn’t the end of the line, it’s a stop on a journey to something greater. But like I’ve said already, the month has been long enough. It’s time to move on to the other things I have on the calendar on the way to where I eventually see myself being.

However, I’m available if someone needs me.

I’m participating in WEGO Health’s Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge. If you want to find out more about Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge visit their blog, Facebook, Twitter. You can find more posts by searching #HAWMC.

Grad School: The Third Summer

This summer could have easily been titled “the summer of my discontent,” and school commitments played a big part in that, not just because it takes up a substantial portion of my summer either.

I learned a lot from last summer in terms of class logistics. It’s tempting to load up on courses since they’re readily available. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

One class a day is enough, because there are plenty of ways to fill your day; formation requirements, exploring campus, meeting people behind the avatars, and studying.

As much information you can get your hands on before class starts is good, but somehow it’s never enough. Thankfully it being my 3rd summer I had enough resources to pull together (read: friends) in the same situation so we made it work.

My days basically went like this:
-Breakfast in bed, literally as I didn’t pay for the meal plan this year, so I had some Netf!ix time then too.
-Back to my room to finish studying

For basically 2 weeks straight.

This was the 1st time I’ve had assignments due during the week other than “just” reading. Honestly I hope it’s also the last time, although that’s highly unlikely, because it made things more difficult. It’s hard to truly learn anything when you’re focused on the oral exam at the end of the week.

I’ve never been a fan of oral exams, like most people, they aren’t any easier as an adult.

I had it in my head that last year would be my “summer of suck” but I feel like I had two of them, for different reasons obviously but the feelings were/are the same.

I’ve never spent so much time in a library, ever. In an odd way I’m proud of how I stuck to much of what I had planned. Usually I say one thing and get caught up in the plans of others, however most of us where in the same classes so that had an effect on things.

I did have time to spend one on one time with a few friends, another benefit of not having the meal plan is that you have to get out of your room (and the library). As much as I have enjoyed having a sole focus for a week (in the past) I think my favorite moments from this summer are ones in which I spend time with classmates outside of class.

Many classmates graduated this past spring so they weren’t with us this summer, at least not physically, so I wondered how that would impact my experience this year. Thankfully, well not really, I was kept busy enough that I didn’t think about what was missing this year compared to previous years.

I also relearned what I love about this school and the community. Although I only spend a few weeks a year with people in person it doesn’t feel that way. It just adds to the feeling of community I have every day (even if some days it does mean being underfed, overtired, and stressed out; at least we’re in it together).

Grad School: The 3rd Spring

I thought this semester was going to be easy, instead it was a semester that looked easy on paper and was anything but in reality.

At first I was only taking one class, which isn’t uncommon for pat time distance learners, like myself, but I’ve been fortunate to be able to take at least 2 classes per semester (thank God for 1 & 2 credit courses).

Then all the practical pieces for my practicum came together and that’s where things got interesting.

Even my advisor was shocked, which should’ve been at least one clue.

I must’ve thought my practicum was going to be easy because there were no big benchmarks, like quizzes, tests, or papers. Instead it would be more of a “boots on the ground” class.

In other words, I’d be working with people.

It’s one thing to master concepts in a book but it’s another to put them into practice, or sometimes just attempt to.

Now I’m no stranger to working alongside people but this was semester was a lesson in interpersonal communications for sure.

I have a whole new respect for people who do parish work. I have even more respect for people who find it energizing. I think I would find it incredibly stressful if I worked at 98% of the parishes I’ve heard people talk about.

I appreciate the gifts of being able to work for myself, by myself, when, where, and as much, or as little as I want to, more as well.

I never imagined I’d look forward to learning about the Old Testament either, but that’s just how things worked this semester. I can honestly say that there’s more depth in the Old Testament than I ever thought possible, and the class just scraped the surface of it all.

I will not be changing to the Biblical Studies program with an Old Testament emphasis, just in case you were wondering.

The “easy on paper” semester ended up being the “hardest semester so far” in reality. I won’t lie I almost cried & screamed in delight when I logged in to check my official grades recently, which was probably a good thing because the library was morgue level quiet at the time.

I survived, that was enough for me, to be recognized for the hard work was just icing on the cake.

Now on to finishing with the summer……

Grad School: The 2nd Fall Semester

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was looking forward to this past semester more than most, even if it was just by a little bit more than usual. I’ve completed some sections of my degree program that I never have to take again, unless I want to. Doctrine isn’t one of my strong subjects, for example.

But it’s behind me now, so it’s time to celebrate (or at least take a well overdue nap).

It wasn’t a stress free semester but I seemed to have a better handle on things than last year. A benefit of having more than a year of study under my belt I guess. There weren’t as many late nights as other semesters, but it wasn’t because my time management skills have improved. In fact I think it’s the opposite.

I think this past summer served as a good training ground for quick thinking and juggling multiple deadlines without getting confused, or at least not so confused that I couldn’t find my way out.

This semester hasn’t been without its share of disappointment either. I thought having a few semesters under my belt would mean I would have a greater sense of community with my classmates since we are such a small group. Instead I’m meeting more new people than continuing to build relationships with people I already know something about. It’s not a big deal, but slightly disappointing none the less.

I’ve also been busier this semester, with non-school or work related activities, than before so maybe that had something to do with it. I think Lucille Ball once said, “If you want something done get a busy person to do it,” maybe there’s some truth in that no matter who said it.

I’m also grateful for the small break I gave myself this year. It was nice to have some personal time. It’s amazing how many books I can get read and TV shows I can watch even with slightly limited resources.

I thought it would take me months to get through the backlog I had going on Netfl!x. It took a few weeks, if that.

I feel like this past semester was a turning point of sorts for my studies and for my life in general. Yes, the spirit of transition is alive and well practically every day. It’s not always pleasant to wake up to but it’s always there so I’m taking it in stride, or at least trying my best to.

I’m driving into the next semester (and preparing for the summer, yes already). Not because I’m 100% ready, but because the opportunity is here, right here right now.

Pumping The Breaks

To avoid an accident, particularly in the winter, you’re supposed to pump the breaks. The idea is that you’ll slow down enough that the car will stop.

A long time ago I was watching a TV show when I learned that “pump the breaks” was also a term used in skydiving, and it’s used in the worst possible situation. If your chute doesn’t open or if the lines get tangled, or maybe both, I honestly can’t remember. You’re supposed to “pump the breaks” in the hope that you’re able to land safely, or at the very least, as safely as possible.

I think about that TV episode whenever I feel overwhelmed or if I’m headed toward some kind of less than ideal outcome.

Do I need to pump the breaks? Is it even a possible option?

Soon I’ll be starting my 3rd year of grad school, and the novelty has worn off. I’ve gone from being surprised that I was accepted to back into academia to wondering when I’ll finish (if ever).

I haven’t taken a break in my course work since the 1st day of my 1st class. I’ve taken as many classes as I’ve been able to, until now.

When I sat down to make my course plan in the fall I had intended to take an intensive class between semesters. But it just didn’t feel right for many reasons.

I took it as a sign that it was time to pump the breaks.

To work on projects I had intentions of working on this summer. To enjoy my family and spend time with friends. To take a break. Then I had a relaxing vacation only to arrive home to fight off sickness.

A confirmation of my decision to pump the breaks.

My laptop died a quick, yet anxious, death within hours of my getting it up and running after unpacking.

Yet another confirmation, because there’s no way I’d be able to complete any classwork of any quality on a tablet.

I had 2 separate follow ups with two different specialist about my nagging hip injury. One of which I’ve been putting off for a year, because I didn’t think anything would come of it so why bother. At least that was the plan.

Both appointments were on the same day with doctors in the same department, although different subspecialties, so it was booked as a “complex appointment.” Although this may not seem like a positive development it’s been something I’ve been trying to organize for years. It’s much nicer to have consulting doctors down the hall from each other or a phone call away rather than waiting for notes to be transcribed or emails to be answered.

Even though there was a level of excitement about finally having the luxury of a complex appointment I was uneasy, emotional, and in a bad funk on the drive up.

Another sign that I needed to pump the breaks now rather than later, when it probably would’ve been too late.

Good news is one doctor has bowed out of consulting on my case since it’s not his area of expertise. However I thoroughly questioned him on why, potential differences, and when if ever he would come back into the picture. I’m not happy that he doesn’t have an answer but it is nice to have one less opinion to take into account.

Not so great news is I’m still in a trial and error phase with potential treatments. However I appreciate her honesty (not to mention her ability to see though my vague answers to her questions).

The timeline for my movement and exercise restrictions was increased. Although I negotiated that down to a shorter period, for my own physical as well as mental state. I think the fact that I’m more inclined to lower impact sports helps. The hope is that more rest will yield more and/or longer lasting benefits.

Even people who have no idea what my day to day life is like are telling me to pump the breaks.

So here I sit fighting off germs, writing away on a tablet while on a steady plan of ice and pain killers, and trying not to feel so restricted.

One Word: 2016

This is my 4rd year choosing one word for the year. Why one word? It’s easier than keeping a list of resolutions & failing to keep them (and then feeling like crap because you didn’t keep them). Last year I had a hard time picking my word (Providence). This year my word came to me early, as in 6 months ago, early.

I learned a lot my 1st summer of grad school and I made a lot of friends. Most of them were further along in the program than I was so I knew that there would come a point, or rather summer, when they weren’t going to be around for wine & cheese nights anymore.

What I didn’t realize was just how soon that was going to be.

That same summer one of the 1st friends I made joked that she was appointing me the new social director. A plan that promptly flew out of the window when word got out (from me) that I would be arriving after everyone else; also there was already at least one wine and cheese night in the books before my arrival was announced.

That’ll show anyone and everyone what happens when I’m appointed to anything (and never do it again).

After everyone left I had the chance to explore campus. Alone.

I took the time to visit the places people had told me about but had no need to visit. I took pictures of all the things

That’s when I found my word and it was only solidified by the last week of on-campus course work, because when people start asking you the same questions you asked other people when you first showed up it’s pretty clear you’ve taken on a new role in your life, whether you want to or not.

Therefore my word for 2016 is:


I think this year will be easier to tackle if I just call it what it is from the get go, rather than being in denial for an unspecified period of time.

I’ve also been putting things off the irony is, not all of them are hard things, just things I haven’t gotten around to. I’ve been “too busy” among other things. Really I’m just being non-committal about a lot of it. That’s what happens when I approach a transition I’m not ready for, I flop around and make up reasons why I can’t do something right now.

I get excited and look forward to being able to do something, like reaching a personal goal, but as soon as I’ve reached it, or sometimes I just had to come close, I tend to back away. It’s almost like I became so focused on reaching that one goal that creating a new goal and moving on from the achieved goal creates a greater fear than never being able to reach a goal in itself.

This will be my year of transition, and as exciting as it is it’s just as daunting.

Is there anything you do to help yourself deal with or go through transitions?

When Normal Is Nice

If you asked me 6 months ago if I thought I’d want to be in a celebratory mood when December came around I would’ve had some kind of major emotional response, and it wouldn’t have been pretty.

The last year, particularly the last 6 months have been almost unreal. Aside from my (un)usual course load and near insane travel plans there has been a lot of navigating uncharted territory, and little of it was pleasant, or good.

I tried burying myself in work and school but it didn’t always work. There were sleepless nights, lots of questions, and even more tears.

One of the more notable things being sitting next to someone’s hospital bed rather than being the one in the hospital bed, normal people would consider that a good thing but coming from the point of view of a professional patient it was uncomfortable.

I was in uncharted territory.

I’m much more comfortable being the one in the bed than next to the bed. I think family, friends, and medical professionals would prefer it that way too. I’m pretty much a pain in the ass when I’m the patient but I’m insufferable when I’m the “family support” (and the fact that I can recognize that should tell you something).

I’ve had those uncomfortable conversations that people like to avoid, all over again, because if I’m ever back to being the one in the hospital bed. I want everyone within a 20 mile radius of my room to know what my wishes are, right down to how I’d like to be dressed, in the event I cannot speak for myself.

Then things changed, again.

What started as relief turned into a whole other series of questions, in the end I had to recognize that this was “the new normal” that people talk about so often; another uncharted territory that required exploring, and then accepting.

I thought I knew where I stood on a multitude of issues, but I was forced to reexamine my motives and change my position on more than a few things.

For example, I never understood how people could say that a loved one was “still there” after suffering a stroke or being diagnosed with dementia. Now, I’ve read My Stroke of Insight and many other books on neuroscience. Intellectually I understand that someone isn’t completely gone but I couldn’t grasp it on any other level, until I encountered it up close and personal.

And it’s amazing to witness (although, admittedly, not always easy).

Like so many others I’ve focused on the quality of my life over the quantity of my life (and then proceeded to project my thoughts onto others silently as well as out loud). It’s not so black and white. There’s a whole lot of grey in the in between that needs to be acknowledged, questioned, processed, and then accepted.

Allowing yourself to able to live in a normal, even if it is a “new normal” is nice, if you let it.

Grad School: The Second Summer

This was my 2nd summer as a grad student.

I was looking forward to this summer because last summer was so amazing. I’ve never been a school person but the idea of spending 3 weeks immersed in school was so exciting. I wished there was a fourth week.

By the time I actually started the third week I was more than ready to go home (it was my 3rd locale in a week, who could blame me).

Truthfully I had a minor meltdown when I got to my room and realized how quiet it was. My brain just couldn’t take it, CNMC just shoved my brain into overdrive and it stayed there, I guess. I begged friends to stop by for a quick visit but they were too entrenched in coursework (as I should have been) to oblige.

Have you ever seen an introvert in desperate need of alone time when they finally get it? It’s not always pretty. I think I spent 10 minutes trying to decide what to put in the bathroom and what to leave on the dresser (and trying not to cry about it).

I also missed the blessing dinner for the graduates. This year it was a lunch which I just couldn’t fit in with my over packed schedule. The blessing of the graduates was a highlight for me last year so I was disappointed to be missing it this year. I also have a lot of friends graduating this year so I wanted to say good-bye to them. Luckily I ran into the ones leaving the next day later that night so I got my wish, just not in the way I pictured it.

I knew the 2nd week of classes was going to be the most challenging. Not only was I taking 2 classes but I was registered to fulfill the 2nd part of my formation requirements for the year.

It basically boiled down to 12+ hour days Monday & Tuesday. I wasn’t running on steam before the week was half over, but let me just take a second to publically thank God for great friends and equally great study groups.

I was feeling better about Wednesday. I think because the first two days were so packed and stressful I just let things go. I did what I could the best I could and left it at that. I didn’t worry about not getting to read Humanae vitae or whatever. If I needed to read it, I’d get around to it.

Also after living through my 1st ever tornado warning, complete with sirens and please take cover in the hall, my nerves needed a break.

Funny story behind my history with Humanae vitae, I’ve read it twice previously for fun none the less but I couldn’t remember a single thing about its contents. (Please tell me you find that funny, and not incredibly sad.)

I was also down a highlighter and a pen in spite of bringing more supplies with me this year. I’m thinking this might just become par for the course during the summer.

Wednesday night I ventured downtown with a small group of friends for Symphony Night in the park. Who wouldn’t want to be able to say they’ve heard the Chicago Symphony live, and for free?

I was feeling much better about Thursday and Friday because it meant I had survived the roughest part school wise. At the same time I was getting closer to having to say good-bye to more friends.

One of my classes many graduating friends in it, more than I realized actually, in fact when we were heading to class the first day one said, “oh we’re in the big room.” Not only were we in the biggest classroom available but we filled to maximum capacity, at least comfort wise.

I knew most people don’t stick around for the 3rd week but I was hoping to be surprised, in a good way, by the number of people who did. In the end I think 5 distance learners, my self-included, stayed for the 3rd week (one of whom I never saw so I have no idea if she was even there).

A group of us went out Friday night for one last gathering before departures began first thing the next morning. It was a wonderful time of relaxation and fellowship, and I discovered I do in fact like Thai food and it does like me (although I’m not sure it would ever be my 1st choice).

Basically week two ended with a lot of good-byes followed by self-imposed seclusion over the weekend. Not only was I tired but I needed to take the time to allow a new reality to set in. I was basically alone on campus for two days. It gave me time to reflect, which I needed in order to fulfill my retreat requirement, but it was also very lonely.

I greeted week three with guarded optimism. I was looking forward to class because I’d wanted to learn from this particular professor since I heard him speak at a conference 2 years before. (And people claim I can’t be a patient person?) But I was preparing to spend much of my free time living as a hermit (and finishing Burn N0tice), which I basically did.

The environment of week 3 was so different compared to the first two weeks it took some time to acclimate to; although I’m not sure I can say I ever fully adjusted to it. There was much less socialization between students so I spent time with the girls in the recruitment since we share some important interests.

Halfway through the week I had had my fill of the same theologians and then I realized my classes had some overlapping qualities. You’d think this would be a good thing, but when you’re not 100% of anything you’re learning it can create some worry.

I joked, although not really, that I was going to end up writing my papers all wrong, or I was going to come up with some brilliant insights that were going to change the study of Theology as we know it.

I’m not sure where I ended up with that one; maybe a little of both?

I can hope, right?

Week 3 ended with another good-bye dinner, which I coordinated. Thus making it my 3rd good-bye dinner in 3 weeks (too much, way too much) but I’m glad I got the chance to have time with such good friends, no matter how exhausted I had become.

With that my summer classes ended, but as someone said (and I happen to agree) the work was just beginning.


3,300 Miles, 22 Days, 4 States

3 Classes
2 Conferences

And a partridge in a pear tree.

Where do I begin?

I knew this summer was going to be busy. The structure of my degree program has made that very clear until I have that diploma in hand. My summers are spoken for, even before you add (in no particular order, at all) a job that pays the bills, a still-budding career, family & friends commitments, sacrament season that occurs just before summer, and that eating and sleeping thing.

I knew in January the calendar year was full, so full that my commitment fearing- self, sat down and wrote out a calendar. I filled in what I could and left a list of “items needing to be dated” in another column.

The Catholic New Media Conference (or Celebration) was at the top of that second list. I had such a good time during the last one (essentially being baptized by fire) that I knew I had to go to the next one. I just needed a location and date.

I prayed like hell that it wouldn’t fall around my proposed course schedule, or worse, right in the middle of it.

It ended up being the Sunday before classes started. Did I really want to spend a full day learning and socializing and then go directly to class first thing the next morning? Not really, bordering on “no.” But I checked the proposed summer courses schedule again and found a slim chance to make all of this work.

Not wanting to do anything stupid, unintentionally, I emailed my academic advisor for the “OK.”

I would go to CNMC and then head to campus to fulfil my “in residence” requirement for the year.

But that left a few free days; which left me wondering what I should do with them, going home for a few days didn’t make much sense and as much as I would’ve liked to stay in Atlanta, it just wasn’t in the cards.

So I headed to my dad’s for a few days since it’s so much easier to get a direct flight from Atlanta to my dad’s than it is to get to my dad’s from the closest major airport to my home. Ironically I’d have to fly to Atlanta and then change planes to get to my dad’s.

The plan was for the rest of my books to be delivered to his house to avoid any hiccups in the delivery. The rest of the plan was to do copious amounts of reading to get ahead of myself and hopefully avoid a few late nights. I’m happy to say that plan half worked, because every other time I’m made a similar plan I’ve blown the plan to bits in the worst possible ways.

During preparation for all this travel I happened to mention that I wished I could go to the Abilities Expo this year since the dates fell just so and I would be in the area. Suddenly I wasn’t going to be traveling to Chicago alone anymore, much to the delight of my already overloaded suitcase.

As my initial departure date got closer I realized how insane this whole plan was. I’d be away from home for three whole weeks, for one thing. I’d basically be embarking on a mini national tour for another. There were so many details that I didn’t think about initially that kept driving me to fits of panic.

What if I can’t repack all of my stuff?

What if I get sick?

I’m probably not going to have time to go swimming for 3 weeks.

What if I get a flat tire?

I’m going to be sleeping without my pillow.

The last three items on this very short list were the most concerning.

I was adamant that I was going to be “carry-on only” but I let that one go fairly early & quickly once I started packing like I was preparing for the apocalypse in addition to needing to pack books (not kidding).

In the end I had to break the trip into sections ad pack according to those sections. But it all boiled down to “just manage to get to Chicago with as little trouble as possible,” and it worked, mostly.

Now that I’m back home (and back to reality) there’s decompressing to do, papers to write, items to respond to, among so many other things.

Too much travel is more disorientating than I bargained for. Now I know why celebs appear to be so high maintenance.