Book Count

I’ve recently noticed that many people see the number of books read in single year as a badge of honor.  Instead of reading to enjoy the act, they rack up books how Michael Myers accumulates a body count.  When I’m reading a book, I feel this urge to rush through it to add it to my yearly list.

But I realized I hate this idea.  I am a slow reader and I was late to reading in general.  For years, I saw reading as a chore.  I rarely found pleasure in it.  Grad school made the idea of ever reading for pleasure again seem impossible.

It took many months before I read a book for fun after I graduated.  I’ve been allowing myself to read whatever interests me in the moment.  I’m avoiding a long list of books “To Read” nagging at me.  That would put me back in the mindset of being forced to read a book out of some unknown obligation to some imagined idea that a book list matters.

I find bragging about book counts to be misguided.  It isn’t’ quantity but quality that matters.  I feel the same way about other media like shows, movies, etc.  It needs to stop. Who care that you read 100 books in one year if you didn’t learn or grow from the experience?  Even academic reading should achieve some level of pleasure, of expanding one’s mind.

So I’m going to continue to read at my usual slow pace, allowing myself to savor a book like a fine wine instead of a cheap beer.


The Workspace Fallacy

During this pandemic (and even before), I’ve been severely struggling to create anything new.  Although this struggle cannot be pinned to only one factor, it doesn’t help that I have a fixation with creating the perfect workspace to produce my writing.  I have detailed opinions about lighting, chair height, and desks—I have so many nitpicks about the perfect desk.

After some deep thinking, I realized that my quest for the ultimate workspace is only causing me to put off writing.  It doesn’t help that I’m still, after 2 years, recovering from burnout after grad school.  But that aside, my focus is in the wrong place.

I confess, I hated my desk from grad school that sat in my home office.  It was worn and the edge was sharp where the two composite pieces met, tearing into my wrists as I typed.  I recently ordered a custom desk from a local woodworker after waiting months and not writing at my old desk or laying out my work at the wide dining table in my open concept dining/kitchen/living area.  My new desk is here, and I still find myself resisting sitting down in my office.  Why?  My lighting is great.  My new desk is exactly what I wanted, down to every detail.  My chair is at the right height.  Why did I resist the siren song of my favorite pen and a fresh sheet of yellow legal notepad paper?

Simply put, I was aiming for a goal that I would never achieve.  My perfectionism was blocking me from seeing my priorities clearly.  There is no perfect place or workspace to write if you can’t bring yourself to just sit down and do the work.

Today, I sat down at my new desk and I made myself focus on the act of writing.  I pulled out my old college tricks—Pomodoro timer, noise-cancelling headphones, background music—and I wrote.  In fact, I wrote this post.

A persistent myth about writing is the false idea of “waiting for my Muse.”  Instead of having a Muse, I aim for achieving the Flow State where time is meaningless, and ideas seem to flow freely.  It is very difficult for me to slip into the Flow State, especially after burning out.  Although I hate to admit it, I have better focus if I know I have a looming deadline.  The time crunch forces me to get down to work.  This fact helped all throughout college and grad school.  With a lack of deadlines, I don’t do my work.  I put it off.  Then, the pandemic hit and my mental health tanked, so I didn’t find solace in the idea of creating.  I felt only urges to move, to work with my hands, but not to create.  TO be fair to myself, this is a weird time for everyone; the normal rules do not apply.

In my restlessness, I sought to craft the exact workspace that would bring me quickly into the Flow State.  It was something physical and tangible for me to focus on.  I kept talking about writing, but I didn’t.  I set up an accountability system with a friend who is also a writer, and I still didn’t write.  I promised myself “tomorrow” when I deleted the day’s set hour for writing from my Google calendar. But today I somehow felt different.  I didn’t want to write, exactly, but I knew I needed to write.  Much like a tough workout, I always feel better after a good writing session.  I just have to set myself up—drink, headphones, lighting, etc.—and do the work.  If sweat is a sign of a good workout, a calm satisfaction is the sign of a good writing session.

No environment will ever be perfect.  Writers will always come up with some fault.  In college, I put off a task until the start of the hour.  If my clock read 10:05 am, I would tell myself I had 55 minutes to mess around before I definitely had to start the task at 11am on the dot.  Writing is a struggle against silence, and if we do not write, we are silencing ourselves.

My Breaking Point – Health and Fitness

Brief context: Harry Potter as a series of books has always been important to me since they entered my life at age 11.  But I never expected how they would affect my life when it came to my weight.

During October 2018, I flew with a few friends to Orlando to go to Universal Studios and see the Wizarding World in person.  I’d been to the version on the west coast in California and didn’t deeply enjoy myself because of the heat and having a toddler in tow.  So I was excited to say the least.


Diagon Alley, Gringott’s Dragon

The first day we headed straight through the main park at Universal and all the way to the back to enter Diagon Alley.  I was pumped.  I had a butter beer and was amazed at the detailed world around me.  Then I went to sit in a test seat for one of the rides.  I didn’t fit.  I was too big.  I was pissed and super sad.  I hadn’t thought about it, but my weight had gotten out of hand and now I couldn’t enjoy myself on vacation.

When I got home, I knew I needed to make a change.  I’d been seeing a trainer for over a year and nothing had come of it.  I didn’t push myself and he didn’t insist that I push myself.  I had started working out when I was in grad school, but I still ate a ton of garbage food.  I didn’t watch my diet and I didn’t exercise outside of our sessions.  I wasn’t taking care of my body while I enlarged the scope of my brain.  I didn’t feel like the workouts were helping and often cancelled when I just didn’t feel like leaving the house.

I was deeply depressed and isolated myself after I graduated in May 2018.  I would go days without leaving the house.  So I had been looking forward to my Orlando trip.  But I came back depressed and sad again.

I ended up looking for a new house in a new town four hours away.  I saw this move as a chance to make a dramatic change.  I looked into local gyms with professional trainers nearby.  After another bout of depression post-move, I sought out a new trainer in my new town.

I met Joel when I was 293 pounds and very out of shape.  During our first training session, I squatted into position and found myself stuck in an odd crouch.  I couldn’t get myself up and was left to sort of roll/fall to my side to get out the position.  This deeply embarrassed me, and I thought about giving up.  Joel asked me about my goals, and I told him about being upset in Orlando because I couldn’t fit on the rides.  He understood and set me up for 3 workout sessions per week.  I had only done 2 per week max before.  But I knew I had to get serious and I took him up on the challenge.

The first month or so was the worst, mainly because I didn’t to build the habit of driving myself to the gym.  My anxiety was often high, and I postponed or outright cancelled a few sessions.  But eventually I made it a habit, which helped dampen the anxiety.  I began losing a few pounds and I grew strong.  I saw actual progress, the kind I had never had before.

I was told long ago that I would not lose weight because of the medications I was on.  I resigned myself to be unhappy in my body forever.  I worked on my brain and didn’t look in a mirror.  I felt uncomfortable in my own flesh and I deep hated myself physically.

But then I lost 10 pounds.  Then 20.  And so on.

As of writing, I have lost a little over 40 pounds.  My first weight goal is to be 200 pounds.  My ultimate goal is around 175-180.  For the record, I am 5’9” tall.

Although it felt like shit in the moment and for months after, I have Harry Potter to thank for kicking my ass into gear and starting my weight loss journey.

And yes, I bought a cloak.


Oct 2018, 293 lbs



Sept 2019, 40 lbs lighter

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.