Well, that was a longer pause in blog posts than I intended. Goodness. I think the last time I posted was nearly a month ago. I certainly didn’t plan to be post-less for so long, but, well, life and work and various and sundry “things” conspired to keep me from sharing my thoughts in this space.

And wow, I missed it. Even if I am just putting these thoughts out into the ether, and no one is reading them, there is something cathartic about writing posts about what is on my mind. It’s different from what I write in my personal journal, and I am finding that I really value both.

All of that to say, it’s good to be back. And today it’s going to be a hodgepodge of randomness, because it’s Monday, technically a holiday here in the US, and I honestly don’t have a more thoughtful, composed (ha, I almost typed “composted”) post in my head. So, here we go…

  1. Work stuff. Oof. The last post I had here was right before the end-of-semester grading frenzy. We are on a hard deadline for that so I was prioritizing that for several days. Fortunately, my students’ papers were pretty darn good (points to me for building a lot of feedback into the writing process) so there were fewer papers that made me shake my head and despair for the future of my profession than in past years. πŸ˜‰ Tomorrow marks the start of the summer session, and I’m super-nervous about the course that I will be teaching for the first time. Ooof, again. Let’s just say the person who taught it last year was not, um, forthcoming with information/support/resources. I basically reconstructed what they did by downloading and reviewing the files and the course website. The first class is tomorrow afternoon – so here’s hoping it goes well. (I do still need to do a more in-depth read of the articles assigned, too…) We also have several PhD students at time-intensive points in their programs, so I have responsibilities related to that, too. In other words, summer has started but other than not having any standing meetings (hallelujah, since they’re mostly on Friday afternoons, something Kae can sympathize with now…), it’s pretty much the same pace as during the academic year. Not uncommon, but let’s just say that last week’s break was desperately needed.
  2. And on that note, life stuff. Specifically, travel and vacation stuff from last week. It was wonderful to see my parents and get some down time during the all-too-brief transition from spring semester to summer session. We spent time on the (very windy) beach, I read at a speed I can only maintain when I have no other responsibilities (I did read the hardback version of Codebreaker, about the development of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing and the women who made the discoveries and connections needed to support its development in… 2.5 days. It was nearly 500 pages. When I’m passionate about something – and have the time – it’s good to know that I can still be the reader that I “used to be” before life took over…). I got more quality time with my parents than I had had for years. And then, well, there were some downsides. I got a skin infection related to the health issue I’ve been having for several months now. And then, my dad’s “allergies” turned out to be… COVID. So, yeah. I see my parents for the first time in a year. And one of us gets COVID. Sigh. This meant that I wound up sleeping on the couch (not super-comfortable, but at least it let me get horizontal) for three nights, so that my dad could isolate and my mother was not sleeping on the not-super-comfortable couch. Let’s just say my hope for deep, restful sleep was squashed when he tested positive. Fortunately, he is much better now (his symptoms were relatively mild), and neither my mom nor I seems to have contracted it. I’ll know for sure when I test later today. (Fingers crossed, as that would complicate tomorrow’s class a bit…) (OK, edited to add, overwhelmingly negative, which means my immune system actually functioned properly for once! Woohoo.)
  3. There are other life stuff things, but moving on… I have a crazy long list of personal to do’s to go along with my work related ones and can I just say that while writing them out helps (classic brain dump style), it is really overwhelming to look at everything, all at once. Also, I haven’t updated my work to do lists in weeks and I’m dreading doing that. Whine, whine. I am grateful to be busy – otherwise, I would be bored – but some days it’s just overwhelming. I know we all have these challenges, so I also know that I’m nothing special when it comes to long to do lists. πŸ™‚
  4. We are finally – FINALLY – having more seasonal weather here. It’s supposed to be hot as blazes here today, then more normal the rest of the week. Well, except for the severe storms. Tomorrow. Likely when I’ll be walking from the parking ramp to my class – because that’s how it usually goes. πŸ™‚ Despite the more normal temps, though, I am feeling distinctly under-inspired regarding any plants/herbs for my mini balcony. I usually at least TRY, but this year? I’m just…. not into it. The idea of getting some potted herbs, repotting them, putting them on the balcony… it’s pathetic, but it just seems like a lot right now. (I think part of the reason I feel so pathetic is that my dad is like super-gardener-man, and… while I love it? it’s not a key part of my identity, the way it is for him. I’d rather be reading, thanks.) So maybe, in the interest of not adding *one more thing* to my to do list, I’ll just… skip it this year.
  5. I have so many blog posts clogging up my brain… so I hope to show up more here in the next few weeks. It’s going to be an interesting summer – 2 more trips, both involving family; teaching a new course; getting 4 manuscripts out the door; and prepping for another busy academic year ahead. Already. Ha. Oh, and while I *thought* that our work meetings were all going to be virtual? As in, I thought it had been decided? Um, yeah, no. Apparently it was too far down the agenda for the last governance meeting of the year, and so now, the decision will be made by 4 people. We were all able to weigh in – and nearly everyone voted in favor of virtual only or hybrid – but I worry that 2 of the 4 people will hijack the process because they are strongly in support of in-person meetings. So until I hear otherwise, I’m going to fret about this. Of course. It’s me, I fret. It’s what I do. Fortunately, one of my closest friends at work is one of the four, and so a) I know she will speak up on my behalf, and b) I also know that she will tell me what the outcome is as soon as she knows. But still. Unnecessary and dumb stress. (Also, seriously, who wants to sit in a crowded conference room that never has enough seats on a FRIDAY afternoon at 3 pm? Particularly when we have experienced the joy of online meetings for the last 2+ years? Sighhhh….)

I hope you are all well. I have missed this space, and interacting more regularly. May was… well, it was kind of a cluster, to be honest. Here’s hoping June smooths out a bit? Maybe?

Aiming for this: “I will be calm, I will be mistress of myself.” (Thanks, Jane Austen…)

An ordinary life

***Thank you all for your absolutely lovely comments on my last post. It took a lot to post that, and it took a lot out of me, to be honest. Reading your comments, and the support your offered me, made such a difference. So thank you. Again, I am grateful beyond measure for the community we have built. <3***

I’ve noticed a bit of a theme in the quotes and passages that I have saved in the last few weeks… the idea of striving for an ordinary life. That not all of us are meant to be extraordinary, shining stars, brilliant points of light in the Universe.

No, most of us on this earth will live perfectly ordinary lives.

And that is perfectly fine. In fact, it may even be better than being pressured to become extraordinary, and then to stay that way. At least, in my opinion.

Because, really, what is wrong with living a (mostly) ordinary life? I think most of us want to be fulfilled in our daily lives, to feel like our time here on earth is worth something, that it contributes to the long arc of human history. But you can do that while living a lovely, ordinary life. You don’t have to be exceptional to make a mark on the world, or to touch the lives of the people you encounter throughout your life.

There is some comfort, for me at least, in being one of the masses. One of the legions of people out there living ordinary lives. Obviously some ground rules apply – treating others well, not committing crimes, etc. I hope that for most of us that’s obvious – and easy to achieve. But if you treat others well, if you live your life on your terms without hurting others, or infringing on others’ rights, if you make some contribution to society, take responsibility for your actions… you may be living an ordinary life, but you are contributing to the collective good that keeps our society and our species moving forward (at least for now).

I’m ordinary. And you know what? It feels good to be ordinary. Removing the pressure of being “the best” (for me, especially, in my work life), and knowing that my ordinary life and work ARE contributing? That is enough for me.

“But the more I grow as a human, the more ordinary feels like the most true, most relieving, most human kind of life to find ourselves in… I think we lose sight of our humanity when we prioritize winning over everything, success over contentment, the Next Big Thing over feeling at peace in what we’re doing, followers over connection, and a continual upward trajectory over being present with what we already have/do/are.” Lisa Olivera

I’ll have no trumpets, triumphs, trails of glory.
It seems the woman I’ve turned out to be
Is not the heroine of some grand story.
But I have learned to find the poetry
In what my hands can touch, my eyes can see.
The pleasures of an ordinary life.

Judith Viorst

On photos, or the lack thereof

NOTE: This got super-duper long, and I don’t expect anyone to read through to the bitter end. It was just important for me to put this out. πŸ™‚ Also… this was a really vulnerable post to write, which I’m sure you’ll realize when (um, if) you read it.

Something that has become increasingly clear to me – whether others have noticed or not – is the fact that I share very few photos on my blog. If you engage with me on Instagram – and follow me, especially – you may have noticed that the same thing is true over there. Of the few photos I have shared, none are of me, as far as I know.

This has become glaringly obvious as I read multiple blogs that I love, in part, for the pictures, and as I connect with the same people on IG.

Even if you haven’t noticed, it’s been bugging me that the difference is so obvious, and so this post is my attempt to explain that. Before I even get into it, I do want to say that this was a very vulnerable post for me to write, as it touches not only on practical reasons why but also some highly personal ones.

But starting with the practical… there are 2 main reasons: 1) my desire to keep my work and personal lives as separate as possible, and 2) the fact that I live in, well, a not-very-scenic area of my town (and the immediate area around where I live is where I, of course, spend the most time). As I’ve mentioned on the blog, I work at a public (state) University. I’m easily Google-able if one knows my first and last name. I have always viewed my work life as being completely separate from my personal life. People at work only know as much about me as I want to share, of course, but that really isn’t a whole lot. I do share some things (e.g., where I live, if people ask, although I’m a bit vague about the exact location) but nothing that I consider very personal. I do have a couple of close(r) friends from work who know a bit more, but they are closed books when it comes to sharing with others, so I know that anything I do share will stay with them. That’s important to me, so I don’t plan to change it.

And re: where I live, well, it’s the truth! I live in what can’t really be classified as a true urban environment, or a true suburban environment. I think of it as “built-up suburbia”? And I think it’s a unique type of environment that occurs more frequently in towns – like this one – with highly transient populations (in this case, University students, staff, and faculty). I live in a boring apartment complex. My apartment “view” is of another building in the complex. I don’t have ready access to a true nature trail unless I drive to another location – the trail by my apartment goes along some very not-scenic train tracks. And my pictures would reflect that. I know that I can find beauty anywhere, but honestly, there is very little natural beauty (or even interesting neighborhoods, sadly) near me. So yeah, lack of supply of nice photos –> no photos for the blog. Or IG. (Note that I DO share photos when I happen to be in a lovely location that lends itself to beautiful photos… however, you know, COVID. So that hasn’t really happened recently…)

And that brings us to the personal reasons. Oof. This is harder to explain and the more I think about it the more discombobulated I get. So I’ll try to make this logical and understandable… The main reason I don’t post pictures of myself is I dislike – intensely – my physical appearance. Before you go down the road of body dysmorphia, or imposed societal expectations, know that the primary reason I feel this way is how different my appearance is from how I looked most of my life. If you compared a photo of me now to one from 12+ years ago, you would be hard-pressed to say it was the same person.

There are multiple reasons for this change, but the primary ones are medical, related to several acute issues I’ve had over the last decade+ as well as the (as yet undiagnosed) chronic condition with which I live. Some of the changes have resulted from behaviors I’ve changed over time, but most of those are also related to the acute and chronic medical issues.

So when I look in the mirror (which I try very hard not to do, to be honest), for a second, I don’t recognize myself. I don’t see “me” in pictures – I see someone else. And I don’t like how she looks – particularly when I think about why I look this way. It’s been a long (medical) road for a decade+ and I’m always, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I never know when an acute event will occur, with additional ramifications for my health AND my appearance. I never know if new symptoms (often affecting my appearance in some way) are just temporary, or related to my chronic condition. The unknown is one of my least favorite things, but I try to accept it because I don’t really have a choice.

The physical manifestations of my whatever-it-is also make me look (I hate to put it this way) not normal. Different. Unusual. They are things I can’t control, no matter how hard I try, and because they are physical manifestations, many of them are visible to others. And of course they show up in pictures, too. So I not only don’t recognize myself in pictures, I’m also confronted with external evidence of the medical issues every time I look at one.

That is why there are no pictures of me on the blog or on IG. Oh, and there is one other completely stupid reason. I cannot take a selfie. I literally have never, ever been able to take a reasonably decent selfie. I end up being all forehead. I know this is related to phone angles and how I hold the phone and the lighting and etc. etc. etc. but I’ve never been able to figure out the right combo!

Wow. This got long. Lots to unpack here. Let me first say that while I dislike how I look now, I do NOT dislike myself. I love who I have become over time. I love my stubbornness, my insistence on creating my own unique path, and of finally embracing my differences and weirdness.

I have no idea how to end this post. If you read this far, well, you have greater fortitude than I would have had in the same situation! While this was a hard post to write, I felt it was a necessary one, and so, in my quest to have Courage this year, decided that it was time. As I work towards at least accepting – if not loving – my body and face, I find comfort (as always) in some of Mary Oliver’s words (from one of my favorites, Wild Geese):

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting β€” over and over announcing your place in the family of things.


OK, I’ve had a few questions circling in my head for a week or so now, and think that you all might be able to help me. Any insights/answers/suggestions to the following would be much appreciated…

  1. Can you wear black and brown together? I’m dead serious – I have no idea. I’ve alluded to the fact that I have, quite literally, no fashion sense. My clothing is one of the least interesting things about me. I grew up somehow thinking that one cannot wear black and brown together. But I’ve done it once or twice recently (note: not when I am in public, this is usually when I am working from home) and it seems like… it is okay? Thoughts from the more fashion-conscious out there?
  2. Earbuds/airpods/wireless headphone recommendations? Do you have some you love? Why? I would like to get some that work with both my phone (iPhone 10XR) and work computer (Dell laptop). I’m having a lot of difficulty with my voice recently (long story) and so having earbuds/wireless headphones that will help pick up my voice while not tethering me to the computer would be nice. And for the phone/apps, too, of course. Right now I do a lot with the phone on speaker and that drives me bonkers.
  3. Has anyone ever come across a recipe for a *savory* muffin/granola bar that they like? Long story on this one but I am looking for something non-sweet, portable, that I could add protein to in some way (e.g., flax meal, hemp hearts). A baked good seems the best option but I’m not finding much out there.
  4. This is a vague request but… I’m always seeking inspiration/guidance from books. I’ve been trying to find my next “inspirational” read but I’m having difficulty landing on one that speaks to me. To provide some context, in the past I have really enjoyed Brene Brown’s books (and do have her newest one on my TBR, so that could be my next read, I suppose). I also enjoyed a few from Martha Beck (of Oprah show ‘fame’). My other favorite source of inspiration is books of poetry – primarily Mary Oliver and David Whyte, right now. So, my request/question to you is, what is your favorite/most treasured book for inspiration/guidance/helping you see beyond the borders of your life? I’ll note that while I am not a religious person, I am not averse to reading books with a religious orientation. Is there one that you recommend over and over? Or, a particular author?

I always figure that the people we know are the ones we should ask when we have these types of, well, completely random questions. After all, the people you affiliate with likely share some characteristics with you, so it’s likely that any information/insight they provide will work for you, as well. So, thank you in advance for sharing your wisdom (particularly on the black and brown together thing; I’m doing it again today and wondering if I am committing the world’s biggest fashion faux pas and don’t know it…).

I’ll be back later this week with some thoughts on courage, and having the courage to show up as myself. Let’s just say that conference last week was good – I saw so many people I know in such a short time, and it was lovely to see them in 3-D – but it also brought up some really interesting thoughts and issues for me. Ones that, handily enough, align with my word of the year, and my intentions for the year. Isn’t it nice when life works like that?

Heaviness and Courage (of course)

Oh, friends. Despite my best efforts and intentions, it seems I can’t get here to write more frequently than every two weeks or so. I guess that is what will have to do, for now. I have so many things that I think of sharing with all of you during my days, and they never make it to the screen (and, perhaps you should be grateful for that, as my mind is truly a Random Idea Generator).

As so many have acknowledged on their own blogs, the world is just so heavy right now. War, the pandemic, ongoing political… um… let’s go with ‘messiness’ and leave it there for now, here in the US, and on top of that all of the individual things we all deal with on a daily – sometimes hourly – basis.

It’s a lot. Being human is hard (I had a “sometimes” here and then realized that, no, really, being human is hard). Being an empathetic, caring human who thinks about others, and worries about the world, is even harder.

And yet. I have to believe that somehow, some good will come from all of this. I believe that because to think otherwise would mean giving up on our future, on our ability to eventually shift the currents of life so they lead to a better world. If I didn’t think change was possible (again, eventually), I don’t think I could get out of bed in the mornings. It’s been hard enough as it is – with the tail end of winter reminding us northerners that we’re not quite done with it yet.

Your blogs give me hope. Knowing that there are people doing good things gives me hope.

Yet I struggle with the smallness of my own life, and wonder whether I’m putting enough good back into the world to eventually shift the balance. I am still having trouble finding the courage to put myself out there. I am struggling with finding joy in my daily life. The one element of my 2022 intentions that is going reasonably well is the “be kind” part and, well, that’s just sort of who I am, so it’s kind of a gimme. (Is that cheating on my intentions, if I use something that I generally do anyway? I am going to say it isn’t…)

Life is about to force my hand, though. Thursday morning I am driving 4 hours round trip to present a poster at a regional conference. I thought about attending the whole conference but the monetary and time costs were prohibitive. Still, though – I’ll be with hundreds of other people for the first time since you-know-when. That might chew up my courage reserve for the month! But oh, there will be joy in once again sharing science and friendship with people I’ve met through the years.

I feel a bit like I am going from 0-60 in terms of seeing and interacting with people. From hermit to conference. I’m sure it will be fine – I just hope that I remember how to talk in front of a large group!

As Brene Brown said… “You can choose courage or you can choose comfort. You cannot have both.”

I guess it’s time for me to really choose courage.

I hope that you are all hanging in there amidst the uncertainty, the upheaval, the challenges that Life These Days is presenting to all of us. Knowing you are all out there, dealing with the same things (in addition to many other things I don’t have to deal with in my own life!) helps tremendously. I hope it helps to know that I’m here, too, trying to put some good back out into the universe.