Grad School: The 1st Summer After

It’s the first summer of my post-post-grad life. The summer of dreamed of for years has come and is almost over. No, I’m not going back to school, at least not yet. Things haven’t gone how I thought they would. I’d be lying if I didn’t say keeping up this blog is getting harder and hard to do, not because of lack of time, but lack of motivation.

I thought not having school would free my mind, give me the free time I missed, etc.

Lucille Ball was quoted as saying, If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do.”

I think there’s some truth to this, although not the total truth.

I feel like I could get more done in a day then than I can now, even if I can set my own schedule more often these days.

If you follow me on Inst@gram or Tw!tter you can probably guess what I’ve been doing with my self-controlled schedule.

Perhaps getting back into everyday life is more than I bargained for. Perhaps my brain just needs to rejuvenate and heal, yes heal.

Maybe having more to do meant that I had more to write about.

Whatever the reasoning it’s caused me to reevaluate my blogging and social media practices, again.

I’ve been trying to put together my post-post-grad life, because it’s not something that just falls into your lap, unless you’re incredibly lucky, it’s something that needs to be built, and then crafted.

Things have been changing in my life and it only makes sense that other things will follow. It doesn’t matter what I thought the long game would be when I have to take into consideration what the long game looks like it is now, rather than what I wish the long game looked like.

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The Matter Of Discernment

The matter of discernment puzzles me.

I was 20 before I even heard the word discernment, and then I heard quite regularly at that. It didn’t take long before “discernment” sound like the magic word for some secret society. It annoyed me to no end for a long time.

I’m not much closer to discovering what discernment really means ten years later. Although I have been told on numerous occasions that it’s not a “get out of jail free card,” so I should really stop treating it like one.

Yeah, I’ll get right on that.

It’s one of those necessary evils of life, especially if you’re Catholic, if you ask me.

There seems to be an implication that one cannot possibly find their vocation without some sort of discernment.

While this is more or less true I don’t think it can be expressed in such a cut and dry fashion if people are really going to understand discernment.

I understand that there’s no definite “right” or “wrong” way to discern.

However I’m not sure I’ve ever done it “right,” or at least the best way for me.

I have, however, done what everyone else has done.

I’ve gotten up for the sunrise masses and before class rosaries (mostly).

Gone to prayer groups and Bible studies.

Rarely ever, and I mean ever, missed fellowship or adoration.

Made every retreat possible, even a yearlong SEEL retreat that included spiritual direction.

I even joined a discernment group (albeit for other reasons, at least initially).

And they’ve had great success, although a different definition of success than the secular.

I have the dubious distinction of being a religious sister’s prayer partner for a few months during our junior year (during her final pre-nun years). Just to give you an example. I like to tell people that I helped facilitate her discernment process, because that’s how things happened in my head.

It took me a while to really get that discernment has no timetable. Although it eats on my nerves when people say they’re discerning something and you know for a fact that they’ve been doing it for years. Talk about using discernment as a “get out of jail free” card.

Let’s not even talk about the people who are so certain of their plan because they’ve discerned it within an inch of their lives and then after a day (or what feels like a day) they do a complete change of direction.

Because the mysteries of discernment go both ways, and every which way.

Discernment’s never been my thing, at least not in the same way swimming or encountering unpleasant people seem to be my things.

It would be awesome if God would just speak very loudly and very clearly after a period of prayer and self-reflection.

Unfortunately, discernment doesn’t work like that either, at least not for most people.

Discernment is important. It’s also becoming a lost art in some aspects. Just don’t ask me for advice on it, because I have no idea what I’m doing.

*A similar version of this post was written on August 6, 2014

Telling The Story You Have Ownership Of

During my Q&A in my capstone presentation I was given a piece of feedback that is still sticking to me, like flypaper.

“It would be nice if you incorporated more stories in your website like the ones you just shared with us.”

This wasn’t the 1st time this was suggested to me, so I responded appropriately (or what I felt was) inside I was like this:

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I understand stories need to be told but if they don’t belong to you, you have little, if no right, to tell them.

Although I read it all the time, it makes me uncomfortable when stories are told about someone, a child, sibling, spouse, etc is being told without their consent. I wonder what they would think if they knew?

Mostly I wonder what a child will think about their parent telling everyone about their lives before they ever knew what they were doing.

I understand that stories need to be told, I won’t be a writer if I didn’t, but where’s the line?

I feel like anyone with a keyboard can call themselves a writer these days.

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It sounds great, but what’s the real price tag?

At what point does sharing information become exploitation?

There’s an argument that true journalism is dead. I wonder if blogging has contributed to this. These days it seems like everyone has an agenda, meaning impartiality is gone.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t tell stories. What I’m saying is that you should tell your story, especially when it comes to blogging. A child, for example, is under your care but when they grow up they’ll have to handle what you’ve said about them, because if it’s on the internet it’s quite possible that it won’t go away.

Tell the stories that you have full ownership of, yours.

When Dreams Become Anything But

By this time last year I was dreaming about what my life would be like without school.

I was literally dreaming of being able to pick up a book or watch a TV show without time constrains, journal, and look for more meaningful long-term employment with more intentionality.

Now that I have the time to fulfill this dream it’s more akin to a nightmare than a dream.

I won’t go as far as to say I miss being in school, but it did provide me with a certain amount of structure I’m struggling to create on my own.

The congratulatory messages have slowed down, but have not stopped completely, which adds to the complexity of my situation. The questions of “what’s next?” have followed, and I feel utterly stupid saying “I have no idea,” even if it is the honest truth.

I have an idea of what I’d like my “next” to be but that doesn’t mean it will happen, at least not right out of the gate. It would be nice if that happens but age has taught me to be more realistic than optimistic.

I check job sites every day and sometimes submit 3 resumes, complete with individually written cover letters. I have gotten interviews, so that’s one step further than I had been getting in the last few years, but nothing past that.

Nothing.

I knew looking for a job wouldn’t be dreamlike. I was pretty sure it would be pretty much the opposite. But I was hoping the other things I had on the back burner for years would give me a sense of balance, not getting a job would be offset by being able to read a book at will.

I see how ridiculous this sounds, but I believe it, well believed.

I have read a fair number of books in-between writing cover letters but it’s not as dreamlike as I would have thought. The reading books part, not the writing cover letters part.

It’s a weird experience to write about yourself. You become incredibly analytical of yourself, every shortcoming gets magnified and every strength gets minimized, at least if you’re me. Then you’re left wondering, “is this really me?” “Is this really my best self?”

It’s really not the best place for your mind to be in when you need to be on your game, but you make do.

Now instead of dreaming of what my life may look like a year from now (or even any shorter window of time) I’m managing my expectations, not putting all of my eggs in one basket and not getting my hopes up most of all.

Life isn’t turning out the way I thought it would in post-postgrad life but what does?

By this time last year I was dreaming about what my life would be like without school.

I was literally dreaming of being able to pick up a book or watch a TV show without time constrains, journal, and look for more meaningful long-term employment with more intentionality.

Now that I have the time to fulfill this dream it’s more akin to a nightmare than a dream.

I won’t go as far as to say I miss being in school, but it did provide me with a certain amount of structure I’m struggling to create on my own.

The congratulatory messages have slowed down, but have not stopped completely, which adds to the complexity of my situation. The questions of “what’s next?” have followed, and I feel utterly stupid saying “I have no idea,” even if it is the honest truth.

I have an idea of what I’d like my “next” to be but that doesn’t mean it will happen, at least not right out of the gate. It would be nice if that happens but age has taught me to be more realistic than optimistic.

I check job sites every day and sometimes submit 3 resumes, complete with individually written cover letters. I have gotten interviews, so that’s one step further than I had been getting in the last few years, but nothing past that.

Nothing.

I knew looking for a job wouldn’t be dreamlike. I was pretty sure it would be pretty much the opposite. But I was hoping the other things I had on the back burner for years would give me a sense of balance, not getting a job would be offset by being able to read a book at will.

I see how ridiculous this sounds, but I believe it, well believed.

I have read a fair number of books in-between writing cover letters but it’s not as dreamlike as I would have thought. The reading books part, not the writing cover letters part.

It’s a weird experience to write about yourself. You become incredibly analytical of yourself, every shortcoming gets magnified and every strength gets minimized, at least if you’re me. Then you’re left wondering, “is this really me?” “Is this really my best self?”

It’s really not the best place for your mind to be in when you need to be on your game, but you make do.

Now instead of dreaming of what my life may look like a year from now (or even any shorter window of time) I’m managing my expectations, not putting all of my eggs in one basket and not getting my hopes up most of all.

Life isn’t turning out the way I thought it would in post-postgrad life but what does?

People, Not A Project

Although I did my capstone project on persons with disabilities it was to prove that people with disabilities aren’t a project for the Church to do but rather people who could contribute to projects within the Church’s purview. While I was concentrating on the Catholic Church in particular it isn’t a uniquely “Catholic problem.”

 

It seems like a simple problem with a simple fix. However, it’s more layered than that.

Buildings aren’t accessible, the most obvious reason, but not the only reason.

Sometimes people are led to believe that they don’t have anyone who has a disability that attends their church, that is not true. There’s at least one person, and there are many more who wish to belong to your church but don’t for obvious (and not so obvious) reasons.

Decades of inspiration porn is another reason, it’s so engrained in the culture of so many churches that people can’t help themselves for wanting to put someone with a disability on a pedestal. “People with disabilities are more united with the sufferings of Christ,” “God chose them to be different to show us the beauty of life,” and such.

One might think it’s nice to be thought of in such high regard but at its core it separates those with disabilities from the able bodied.

If the goal is equality than the “special projects” and the pedestals within our churches need to be put away and everyone needs to look for ways to start the path to inclusion, because it won’t happen overnight.

I wish more people would recognize this problem within all churches. We’re people who want to work alongside people to complete a project, not the project itself.

Arming For The Future

One morning I woke up and got dressed, it’s what I do most days, but this morning in particular was different.

I was planning this outfit for at least a week.

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It wasn’t fancy by any means but, for me, it was more important than any fancy dress (or anything else). It was part of the most important presentation of my life (at least so far).

One of the last pieces of my master’s degree was completing a capstone of some sort. Originally, I was going to write a paper. I had been planning it since the beginning, and I wanted to be able to pull something I had written off a shelf in the library at a later date. I pictured future students finding my work and incorporating it into their own, just as I had done, but one sentence changed my mind.

“If you did a project it will have the potential to reach a greater audience.”

I thought back to the final projects I’d done in other courses. What could I use from any of those, if any.

I decided to do a project, but that would mean enrolling in the seminar rather than working by myself (a method I prefer, or at least I thought I would).

Before my project would be finished I would have to workshop it with a small group and then present it during the seminar.

I was, to the best of my knowledge, the only student in my class born with a physical disability. So, I didn’t just have to present my project. I also had to give everyone a crash course in living with a disability.

I put thought into every detail, over and over again. Knowing everyone would go back to their everyday lives I wanted them to come away with more than what they came with, other than how good my project was.

Mainly I wanted them to know that people with childhood disabilities grow up and become adults, that we’re probably not what they thought, that the disabled aren’t looking for pity or continually bitter. I wanted them to see disability from a different point of view.

The outfit was only the last piece of my part of arming my peers for the future.

Get A Job!

At the beginning of my last year of formal education I faced a similar predicament as most of my peers. I had determined pretty quickly that graduate school was not for me; the only post-graduation conclusion I came to faster was religious life was most certainly not for me. I had one choice left.

I needed a job.

A task I failed in such spectacular fashion that it’s only by the Grace of God that I can tell you that there’s hope (and a happy ending) for everybody.

I made the decision to put off applying for jobs until my final semester, something I don’t recommend as a general rule. I knew I was heading into a world of low paying jobs regardless, so why not live in ignorance for a little longer?

I had every intention of going into the entertainment industry, or arts ministry. Neither of which are areas in which your average college career services office can help you with. I think I set foot in career services twice.

Most arts related departments know that they have to fill in the gap. That’s why they have this thing called “lab” or “practicum.” a time when most of the department gets together and discusses work, what you’ve done, what you’re doing, how to do what you want to do. You also spend a lot of time doing seemingly self-centered things, like discussing head-shots and monologue choices (these things do have an actual purpose).

Fall semester of my senior year I had a full load of drama classes. I was also helping put together my classes answer to the Oscars. I was up to my ears in drama, with a capital D. It’s a drama major’s dream, until you’re actually living it.

Living your life at an eleven isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. (Spinal Tap, anyone?)

I decided to put off any auditions or arts related jobs for a while, so I focused on long term service applications, until I printed out a couple. I was finishing my passion project and putting together a production. This “job thing” could wait until after graduation.

Right?

Yes and no.

I think you should know your limits. If you can’t devote adequate time to something you need to let something go. I like having a full plate but I’m not a fan of getting a bigger plate when the one I have is full.

However, my putting things off until I had more time turned into an unintentional gap year; there’s nothing wrong with a gap year, but when you do nothing productive with it you’ve gone from having a full plate to being stuck in a big hole.

I should have taken the advice given to me. I should’ve taken the help that was offered as well. I should’ve taken advantage of the resources around me while I had them.

I should’ve (at the very least) made a resume!

That disability support services office I had a love/hate relationship with? I shouldn’t have had such an “I can do it myself” attitude (emphasis on attitude) when they inquired about my plans for the future.

I went into the job search process assuming everything would all work out, and eventually it did. But people should learn from my missteps.

I should probably also tell you that I’m not that great at interviewing (I’m even worse with auditions) so I could’ve used the extra practice. Yes, I’m saying I should’ve applied for job I didn’t want/didn’t think I’d get just for the interview experience.

Getting a job (& keeping a job) with a disability should be no different than the non-disabled population. Now that I’ve said that, that doesn’t mean that the process is the same.

There are “extras” to consider during the search & application process:
Can I get there?

-If you don’t drive don’t assume that there are transportation options, even if there are they may not be reliable.
Can I perform the duties asked of me with no (or minimal) accommodations? This Includes “other duties as assigned.”

-The ADA outlines reasonable accommodations but I’m leaning “reasonable is up to interpretation. Therefore, look for jobs that keep accommodations to a minimum, as close to none as possible.

Is the workplace accessible for me?

-My current workplace is not accessible for most people with disabilities. When I used a wheelchair full time post-op I had to rely on my coworkers for a lot. We had to set up a mini office downstairs for me to get any work done some days. There are still days when things aren’t accessible for me, but I make do.

Can I handle the workload?

-If you’re prone to fatigue this is something you have to consider. Can you still do your job after a bad night’s sleep? And all that goes along with it?

Is this a job you see yourself in for the long term or the short term?

-If this is a position you see yourself in for the short term don’t stop looking for the long term. That short term may end up being a long one.

Should I disclose my disability?

That’s up to you. There are situations where you should or shouldn’t (as in don’t need to). Don’t lie. Most importantly whatever decision you make don’t let it be motivated by fear.

The ADA has done a lot for people with disabilities but there’s still a long way to go. You may feel like you have to work twice as hard to get half as far as a coworker. That may be true but you’ll be making it easier for the next person who comes in the door.

A similar version of this post first appeared on an old blog on March 5, 2013

 

When Liturgical & Secular Collide

Last year (in particular) I had to juggle multiple schedules. The concept isn’t a foreign one, everyone does it every day, at least in the majority.

Although I doubt a liturgical calendar is one people rarely consult, unless they’re Catholic.

However, it’s one I had to basically live by, not counting the fact that the Church also lives by it.

There’s a certain amount of freedom that comes with not having to worry about commitments tied to a calendar (and then having them be graded) and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was enjoying it, especially when the following post started appearing on social media:

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For those of you not familiar with Lent things can get complicated when the liturgical period overlaps with secular holidays, and even birthdays.

My birthday fell during Lent during college, my 21st birthday no less, my roommates planned a party for me (due in part because I was the only 1 of the 4 of us who had a birthday during the school year). It seemed like it was going to be a huge party, at least in terms of what I can handle for a big event, but it was during Lent.

Lent is a time when people tend to give something up (or do something enriching) for 40 days. My friends gave up drinking or sugar and/or took up a stricter practice of personal prayer, so the party ended up being more like an open house for all our friends. Whoever wanted to stop by did, and I took calls from friends apologizing for not coming by, but it was Lent, and they made a commitment.

I understood, some of them I envied in fact.

Why envy? Because some were making and keeping commitments I knew (and know) I wouldn’t be able to keep (even all these years later).

There’s often talk, and concern of what Catholics should consider a higher priority, the Catholic world or the secular world. I understand it and don’t at the same time. It’s an issue of balance, and that looks different for each person, not to mention personal values and priorities.

I, personally, like to see what happens when Liturgical and Secular collide. I like to see what others do, or not. It’s fun for me, albeit in a weird way, and it helps me figure out my own feelings, priorities, and whatnot.

Grad School: The Final Semester

I’m pretty sure a lot of people never thought I’d reach this point, honestly, I had my own doubts at times.

As far as semesters go this one was fairly lonely, like my first one, except this time I was able to recognize the loneliness. I knew a few people in class but not well, and I really didn’t want to make any new friends (yes, I am that kind of person). I wouldn’t go back to last year if given the choice, but I missed comradery, much like last fall.

You’d think I’d have the whole studying routine down by now, but no, there were plenty of nights when I was clicking submit at the last minute. But there were times when I completed assignments a week ahead of time. So yeah, that time management thing went to both extremes.

Although there were times when I wanted to quit, no matter what semester it was, and return to life as a normal person now I don’t know what to do with myself.

I’ve caught up on Netfl!x, which didn’t take nearly as long as I would’ve thought. So much so that I’ve started and finished watching other things.

I’ve even read a book or two, which I swore I wasn’t going to do for 6 months, at least. And by book or two I mean I’ve read a pile or two of books.

I took a short break from swimming, but it was more of necessity than want. And I regretted it within 2 minutes of getting back in the water, the break from swimming, not the swimming itself.

People keep asking me “what’s next?”

Honestly, I have no idea.

Am I cut out to be a normal person anymore?

My face has been buried in books and writing papers for years. I’ve had to turn down more social engagements than I can count, I don’t care to, really.

School has been my excuse to not do things I don’t want to do, but didn’t want to just say no either, so it worked on a few fronts.

I’m sending out my resume again and seeing what’s out there. I’ve been doing it some in the last year but nowhere near seriously.

But that’s not the part that freaks me out the most, although it is daunting.

What will I do with my free time?

I’ve had projects on the backburner for years, but is it time to give them more attention?

That would require some shifting, for sure.

Should I pursue a career based on filling someone else’s shoes or should I continue to forge my own path?

12 Days Of Christmas, Kinda

There are so many reasons why I hate the start of the Christmas season, at least the commercial version of it. I’m not sure when it started but I was ecstatic in college when I was given an Advent calendar that included the Christmas Octave.

My cousin says it’s because I know too much, that may be the case now, but back then I think it was just an annoyance.

I hate having to buy Halloween decorations in early September, that Christmas movies run 24/7 on some TV stations from October 1st through New Year’s, and the supposed “war on Christmas, among other things.

I look for anything for an escape, at least until Gaudete Sunday, so imagine how I felt when my coach told the group about the “12 sets of Christmas” challenge.

I’ve heard stories about swim practices during holiday breaks, “Grinch week” or “hell week” are common terms, although mostly in younger groups. Usually time around the holidays is devoted to fun games that happen to double as technique work or some sort of cross training, so I thought the sets would be like that.

No.

It was going to be unpleasant, to the point where I would probably hate it.

I tried making the argument that it was Advent and not Christmas, at least at the time. I threw out the “Catholic card,” knowing it wouldn’t get very far but it was worth a try. It wasn’t totally bailing on the challenge, just putting it off. Anything that would buy me a few more days without time trials makes for a better practice.

However, the “12 Sets of Christmas” was to be completed in December. Thus, covering both the Advent and Christmas seasons, more or less. So even if my argument had held up it wouldn’t have been for long.

It did get me to focus less on Christmas and more on what I was actually doing, which is a good thing, and an essential for a 400-yard Individual Medley, for time, among other things associated with swimming well, or at least well-ish.

I survived Advent and Christmas, and the associated swim sets, actually, I think the swim sets helped take the edge off the intensity of the holiday season.

Although I think it’s weird that the Valentines paraphernalia made an appearance during Advent.