There’s No Such Thing as Free Wifi

I have a strange problem.  I feel very guilty when I sit in a coffee shop, using their high speed Wifi, without buying anything.  Growing up, I was always taught to buy something—water, a candy bar—from a gas station after using their bathroom.  This polite gesture now nags at me as I write these words, sitting in a local coffee shop, writing and drinking water.  But the problem becomes more complex when I add that I am on a diet and I’ve already had lunch.  I would love to buy a sweet treat or a smoothie, but I don’t want the calories.  I’d buy coffee, but I don’t drink it.  Or tea.  A year ago, I would have bought a glass of fountain Coke, but I’ve cut it out of my diet.

Much like a gas station bathroom, I am expected to buy something in exchange for sitting and writing in their establishment.  It’s an unspoken pressure I feel every time, causing me to write at the local public library instead.  But the library often has screaming kids that even my Sennheiser noise-cancelling headphones can’t block out.  There is a din at the coffee shop, but it becomes a low white noise with my headphones on.

While I love supporting my local library, I prefer the environment of the coffee shop.  Yet I can’t shake this nagging feeling.  To be clear, if it was a Starbucks, I would not feel guilty.  I have no moral problem ripping off a giant corporate company.  But this shop is local and only one of two locations.  It has a hipster aesthetic and good lighting.  I can spread out at a table or sit in a leather chair by the fireplace.  The bathrooms are clean.  What’s not to love?

So that’s why I feel so guilty.  I feel like I’m stealing from the owner.  I’d be happy to tip the coffee shop a few dollars for a few hours of peace, but I don’t want to waste my calories on a food item I don’t want.  This feels like the most #FirstWorldProblem situation I have ever been in, but it begs the question: Is there such a thing as free Wifi?


Update (May 2019)

Hello all!

The plan from here on out is to write more.

In order to do this, I’m setting up a writing schedule to resurrect my writing habit.  I’m be blogging more, with more content in the next couple of months.  My plan is to focus first on simple essays and then move onto revisiting my MA thesis around July.  I’m publishing this update to hold myself accountable to the vast void of the internet.

Look out for more content and possibly some stories and pictures from my recent travels to Europe!

New Beginnings

Now that I have everyone up to date [see previous post], I want to talk about this blog going forward.  I am in the process of moving into my new space in Central Iowa and my therapist pointed out that this time of change can be dangerous for my mental health.  In other words, I react badly to change and moving to another state is a big change.  So, I need to do what my therapist has drilled into me over the years: create a routine.  In order to stick to this new routine, I have decided to make it public as much as I can.  Using techniques from Cal Newport’s book Deep Work, I will plan out my day in blocks of time.  I have used this technique previously to pass my MA exams and it worked well for me then.  I have a few good habits that I plan to carry over, such as making breakfast for myself and meditating every day, and I plan to add in new habits, such as working out weekly.  [I worked with a trainer in my old town and plan to find a new trainer in the next few weeks.]  By making this schedule public, I hope that I hold myself accountable to it, as I have been known to start with good intentions and fall flat on my face.

As this blog will be my main focus for a while, my plan is to post weekly, if not more.  I know that this goal is ambitious, but again, citing Cal Newport, it doesn’t hurt to aim high.  In this blog, I plan to explore my passions and interests, as well as built up a portfolio of posts for future work.  My future is in flux as of writing, so things may change in the future.  Time will tell.

If you want to comment with words of encouragement or tweet me, feel free.  With this new schedule in place, I hope to interact with you lovely people far more often and grow a community.


Daily Schedule
Week: 2/18/19 Start Time: 8:00 AM
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
8:00 AM Wake Up Wake Up Wake Up Wake Up Wake Up Wake Up Wake Up
8:30 AM Garbage Day
9:00 AM
9:30 AM Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast
10:00 AM Writing Block Workout Writing Block Workout Writing Block Binge Day Offline Day
10:30 AM
11:00 AM
11:30 AM
12:00 PM Sort Mail
12:30 PM
1:00 PM
1:30 PM Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch
2:00 PM
2:30 PM
3:00 PM Blog Mant. Blog Mant.
3:30 PM
4:00 PM
4:30 PM
5:00 PM
5:30 PM
6:00 PM Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner
6:30 PM
7:00 PM
7:30 PM Read Read Read Read Read
8:00 PM
8:30 PM
9:00 PM
9:30 PM
10:00 PM

Bowling In the New Year


As I write my first draft of my first blog post in over a year, I can help but think how much I’ve changed. Where am I as I write this? Strangely, a bowling alley during the horrible Polar Vortex that has descended on America. The bowling alley is mostly quiet as I sit and type in a corner. Things surely have changed in the last year.

The year 2018 was generally terrible. The politics that constantly pervaded the air didn’t help lighten the millions of melancholy hearts in America. I don’t want to dwell on the Orange Puppet, but every day seemed to bear out a new and horrible bit of information tweeted by this idiot. It was frustrating and demoralizing, to say the least. But that is news that everyone knows and most shared a role in; what about me?

My 2018 started off badly. I had a set of very important exams and I totally bombed them. Like—Completely, Fully, Horribly BOMBED! These written exams determined if I could earn my MA in English. Failing them would mean no degree and nearly three years of wasted time. But I had another chance at them in April. While I had felt prepared for these exams my first time around, I knew better the second time. With the help of a few key people and great advice, I buckled down and focused incredibly hard on preparing. I wrote mock practice exams and timed myself. A professor of mine then graded them and gave me feedback. (I’m extremely grateful for this person.) I read more books on the reading list, but I also included works that I had to read anyway for my classes. I thought deeply about themes and how they I could connect various, seemingly disparate, works. I also asked for help with the environment I would be taking the exams in. The first round had been in a room with several other test-takers and the noise and distracted had not help me when it came time for me to focus. I didn’t have headphones or anything that could block out the noise. I contacted my university’s disability services and they accommodated me with a private room (nothing fancy) and an hour of extra time for each exam. These accommodations, while they may seem trifle, were of great help to me as I had more time to think and didn’t feel rushed and anxious.

Guess what? I nailed them the second time around. Okay, there was really no “nailing them” because that’s not the kind of exams I was taking but I did pass. I was able to complete my degree.

I also completed the other element of my MA degree, which was writing a 70+ page thesis. I had been thinking about this thesis for years, but I didn’t really think I could use that material as a thesis. I have been writing and journaling for a while now, on topics like my mental health and my family. I didn’t imagine anyone wanted to read these stories but when I pitched the idea to my thesis chair, she thought it was a good idea. While there are stories about mental illness in the world, it doesn’t hurt to add one more voice to the group. I could add my unique tale to the list of writers who have come before me and opened up to the world. I was nervous about writing such personal things that would then be analyzed by my professors in my thesis committee. I started my first draft with shallow nonsense that didn’t get to the essence of what I wanted to tell the world. After much debate and immense hesitation, I threw that draft out (well, I buried it in my computer files). I started to brainstorm events from my life that would be a good story. I managed to fill 72 pages and I still have more to add. I just need to work on the structure of the manuscript, which for me is the hardest part. I wrote essays about my life experiences and purged a lot of sadness and anger that I—who is fairly self-aware—didn’t realize I had in me. It was great.

Then the day came to defend my thesis in front of my committee. I felt sick and nervous. I didn’t do my statement correctly, but I did pass the defense. I just had to resubmit my statement and I would get me degree. After looking up templates and examples online and actually reading the requirements from the student handbook, my statement was approved. I then submitted the whole thesis for registration at the Library of Congress.

Then tragedy struck. My Aunt Judith was diagnosed with cancer and she didn’t have long to live. I rushed back to my hometown to see her and say goodbye. But I had to go back to my college town, as I hadn’t done my retake exams yet. I was torn but didn’t have any options but to stay in South Dakota and take my exams. I regret this decision, as I missed her funeral and my chance to grieve with my family. I still feel like she isn’t gone sometimes. Like she’s just on vacation and will return some day. I had trouble with tenses when I speak about her. She was my Mom’s eldest sister and the two of them were very close. My Mom moved back to our hometown to care for her after she had cared for their mother for over twenty years. There is a hole in my family now and it cannot be filled. This is the second sibling my Mom has lost, not included those who did not survive childhood. My aunt was a figure who loomed large in this town and she was a presence to be reckoned with. She had a great personality and a caring heart. I didn’t tell her this but after my grandmother (her mother) went senile when I was a toddler, I always thought of my aunt as more of a grandma to me. Her own grandkids are my age and, although she was my aunt, she was always grandmotherly to me. I wish I would have told her this—I thought about it while driving the four hours between South Dakota and Marshalltown, IA. But I didn’t. I held her hand that seemed so small and she winked at me and I said goodbye. It was the first time since losing my grandma Louise that I felt a piece of me fade away. (Even as I write this, my eyes are watery and my mouth tastes of salty tears.)

I graduated in May and walked at the ceremony with a few fellow MA students. One of my friends (a PhD student in English) took pictures from the audience. My family and friends cheered me on as my name was called. I thought of everything it took to get to this point and all the people who were there for me along the way. But I knew that I couldn’t continue to stay in South Dakota for much longer after Judith passed away. I needed to be closer to my family, who were mostly all in central Iowa. With my parents both nearing the age of 70, I realized that my next step would be to move to Iowa.

Despite being born in Iowa, I didn’t actually grow up in this state. I lived most of my formative life in South Dakota, on the very edge of the south-eastern part of the state. Although I consider myself an Iowan, I’m fibbing only a little. Where I grew up was a 10-minute drive from Sioux City, IA and everything that we did took place in this city. The mall, the arcade (inside the one and only mall), and the sports were all in Sioux City. Any movie or concert was there too. So, although I told people I grew up in South Dakota, it was more like an offshoot of Iowa that happened to be located in the state of South Dakota.

The Best Laid Plans…

Well, my plans for this blog did not come to pass.  I didn’t post book reviews or post weekly.  Life got in the way.  But I have new plans.  While weekly posting was a high order for a novice blogger, I will try to post a few times a month, from important items to essays to anything I damn well want to post.  I want to share my life and my travels on this crazy blue orb with the world, but I can’t do it if I don’t make a habit of it.  So I have set myself as task to write something–anything–daily.  That doesn’t mean I will post daily.  I will edit the best of what I write and generate my posts from there.

A new year (although it is almost February) is a fresh start.  Let’s kick this off!