Thursday, November 19, 2009

All about God, folks

Some things I need to share:

1. Mom should be finishing her 10th and last radiation treatment. Well, last for now. I have no idea what to expect when she goes to the oncologist next Wednesday. I'm just praying that he gives her any good news, since I don't know how any of us will cope if she gets bad news the day before her favorite holiday. God has been good, and she hasn't had any significant side effects so far with these last 4 treatments. But it's been a long time since we had any significant good news.

2. God was especially good to me today. You see, last night I woke up after about 90 minutes of sleep feeling nauseous at 2 am. I poured a glass of 7-Up and spent most of the night reading & listening to teaching online. I didn't fall back asleep until 7, and my alarm (well, phone) went off a 8. Somewhere around 5:30 or 6, I was praying about some stuff and asked something I don't think I've ever asked before.
**You see, the fact that I slept for less than 3 hours last night would normally mean that today I'd be stuck in bed with a killer, knock-down, drag-out, plunging nails into your temple kind of migraine. The kind that doesn't go away until I sleep for a good 8 hours, so not until evening. Considering that I was sick at the start of the week and missed two archive days, I didn't want to miss another day. So while I was praying, I asked God if He would honor the fact that I had turned to Him to pass the night, rather than to other things or people, and, by honoring that, give me the ability to get to work when my alarm went off.

I was at the archive by 9:15.

I am so thankful. I couldn't afford to lose a third work day today, but He was faithful. And, as of 4:15 p.m., I have yet to have a headache. I was horribly fatigued in the archive, and didn't last much past 12:30, but I made it. I got through another box of documents.

3. I'm spending a lot of time in scripture these days. Reading. Listening to it (my church gave me a free cd with the spoken new testament - I've listened to it at least twice all the way through). Going through studies via my Tucson pastor's sermons online. I'm still working on this whole "Cast all your cares upon Him" thing. I guess He's been trying to convince me for a long time that He really is sufficient, and that when no one else is around, He will give me what I need to make it through the day. That's good. I still wish I had people to really connect with on a daily basis, but it's good to know that even in some of my darkest hours, He is faithful.

4. Speaking of reading, I started a "through the bible in a year" thing back in August. I've never made it past 2 months before. Well, I'm in to month 3 now. The way it's set up is you read 2-3 chapters in the Old Testament and one in the New each day. So far, I've read the Torah, Joshua, am about 6 chapters into Judges, and finished Matthew, Mark, and half of Luke. I think the only reason I'm sticking with it this time is because God is really drawing me to Himself. I have a somewhat insatiable hunger for Him right now.

Don't get me wrong. I'm still awfully lonely, I still am sick more often than not. But through it all, God is good. I know He's with me. And that, my friends, is amazing.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Breast cancer basics

Yet another day I'm sitting in the apartment feeling like someone's beat me up. The nose isn't running, and I'm not sneezing as much. But it's all in my throat now. I've got very little voice, and the coughing fits are horrendous. They're bad enough that it's triggered a migraine. So today I have the great accomplishments of taking a shower, emailing my dad, and getting a Catalan-cuisine lunch: toast w/ 5 local cheeses and seasoned garbanzo beans w/ tomatoes, onion, and hard-boiled egg.

But while I sit here waiting for my migraine meds to kick in so I can bend over without passing out, and listen to a commentary track from LOTR, I find myself crying. Between the migraine, the frustration at having only 2 decent archive days in 8 work days, and concern for Mom and Dad, it's a hard afternoon. So to try to at least write something useful, here's another installment of cancer awareness.

Breast Cancer Basics, Part 1 (thanks to info from the American Cancer Society

1. What is breast cancer?
--A malignant tumor (cells gone wild) that grows in the breast, typically either in the lobules (glands that produce milk) or ducts (that carry milk to nipple). In men, breast cancer often occurs in the small number of ducts they have, since they have very, very few lobules.

2. Two Starting Points
--Breast cancer most often is a carcinoma: it begins in the lining layers of the breast, rather than in connective tissues (like muscles, fatty tissue, or blood vessels), which would be called sarcoma. Since both ducts and lobules are glandular tissues, breast cancer is usually considered an adenocarcinoma - cancer that starts in the glandular tissue.

3. Types of Breast Cancer
--There are multiple types of breast cancer. The least invasive kinds are in situ - either Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) or Lobular Carcinoma in Situ (LCIS). In these, the cancer has not spread beyond the tissue of either the duct or the lobules. Some doctors see LCIS as pre-cancerous condition rather than a true cancer.
--About 80% of invasive (spreading) cancers in both males and females are Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC). Cancer starts in the ducts and spreads to the surrounding breast tissue. Invasive Lobule Carcinoma (ILC) is much less common, accounting for only 2% of male breast cancer and 10% for women.
--About 1-3% of breast cancer is Inflammatory Breast Cancer. There is no tumor, but the breasts become red, swollen, warm, and the skin becomes itchy, hard, tender, or thick and pitted.

4. How Common is Breast Cancer?
--Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death for American women, behind only lung cancer.
--The American Cancer Society predicts that around 192,000 women and around 1,900 men will have been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.
--The ACS also predicts that around 40,000 women and 400 men will die of breast cancer this year.

5. What are the Risk Factors for Breast Cancer for Women?
--Female Gender - breast cancer is ~100 times more common in women than men
--Aging - women over the age 55 are at higher risk
--Genetics - researchers believe women who have mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have up to an 80% chance of developing breast cancer
--Family or personal history of cancer - Women with a close family member (sister, mother, daughter) with breast cancer double their risk of developing breast cancer.
--Race - While caucasian women are more likely to get breast cancer, African American women are more likely to die of it.
--Dense breast tissue
--Some Benign breast changes
--Early menstruation or late menopause - the greater the amount of estrogen, the greater the risk
--Earlier breast radiation
--Not having children or having them after age 30 - again, they think that perhaps having more menstrual cycles means more estrogen, which means a greater risk.
--Use of HRT (hormone replacement therapy - yet again, more estrogen
--Alcohol use - women who regularly have 2-5 drinks per day have 1.5 times greater risk
--Being obese, overweight, or not exercising

6. What are the Risk Factors for Men?
--Aging
--Family history
--Genetic changes - same genes as for women - BRCA1 and BRCA2
--Klinefeler Disease - congenital disorder where men have multiple X chromosomes, and thus more estrogen
--Radiation exposure on the chest
--Heavy alcohol use
--Liver Disease - yet again, leads to hormonal fluctuation and higher estrogen levels
--Estrogen treatments
--Obesity

7. What can I do to lower my risk?
--Maintain a healthy weight
--Limit your alcohol intake
--Exercise regularly
--If you are at a higher risk due to some of the above factors, do regular self-exams and get regular exams from your doctor.
--There are other, more extensive preventive measures, but they are fairly drastic: preventive "chemoprevention," preventive mastectomies, preventive hysterectomy

More will probably follow. I feel like all I can do is try to share awareness and pray Mom becomes one of the miracle survival stories.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

It's never what it seems

I feel bad - I haven't updated this site. I've updated in a number of other places, but not here. I'm so sorry about that.

Here's the short story:
On Oct 12 I left for Europe, planning to spend 6 days in London, Lille (France), and Paris with two grad school friends. I had slightly unpleasant flights to London after a bit of a fiasco with KLM (thank you, Delta, for saving my butt and my luggage) and spent 2.5 days in London with a coworker from my office, M. Saw some cool things, like Phantom of the Opera, and got lots of great pictures.

On the 16th, we took a train from London to Lille, France (near the Belgian-French border) to meet up with my very, very good friend, K. He was presenting his research at a big international conference, and that was the last day. So M and I wandered around until he was done, then we met with him and one of his coworkers for dinner. The next day, K, M, and I took the train to Paris for the weekend. Together, we went to: the Rodin Museum, Sacre Coeur church, the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Arc de Triomphe. We also took a river tour on the Seine. And K and I got to see the Eiffel tower lit up at night from the hilly region of Montmartre as we were leaving Sacre Coeur.

On Monday morning, we all left - K for the US, M back to England (where she's doing research), and me for Spain. Flights were fine, my hostel was fine, I met my future roommate and we got along great. Then I was sick all night, and for the next two days. Fever spiked, sick to my stomach, etc. So I spent my first full day in the hostel common room waiting for E, my roommate, to get off work so I could move in, and my second day in bed in the apartment. Today was supposed to be my first day out, but my body rebelled again and left me in excruciating pain for about 4 hours. So the cats and I bonded.

Now for the important thing:
In Lille, I got a call from my parents with Mom's diagnosis. To my great and utter surprise, it is not lymphoma or multiple myeloma (which I had expected after reading up on the two of them). My mom doesn't have a blood cancer at all.

She has Stage IV, metastatic breast cancer.

I was not prepared for that.


Thankfully, K stayed up and refused to go to bed (though he was utterly fatigued) until I had gotten the call, so he held me while I sobbed... and hyperventilated... and sobbed some more.

Mom has started treatment already. She immediately began hormone therapy - so I'm guessing that means her cancer has estrogen or progesterone receptors - and today was her first round of radiation. She'll have 10 days of intense radiation, and then they'll see where they are. They hope the radiation will shrink some of the tumors in her back and give her some relief from the constant, excruciating pain she's in 24/7. But the radiologist wasn't very hopeful....

I thought I was prepared, but I wasn't. So here we are. Mom and Dad are dealing with all of this. And I'm 5,000+ miles away, supposed to be caring about what some no-name Spaniards did almost 100 years ago. I have no motivation right now. All I want to do is go home (to my parents, that is, not back to my desert, which I refer to as home).

So there we are. My roommate is very nice, her cats have already adopted me - they spent most of the day getting comfort from me during a huge rain storm - and I have seen all of about 6 blocks of Barcelona so far. And I could care less. All I want is to go be with Mom. It's going to be a very, very long 8 weeks.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Cancer awareness

I have such a great urge to *do* something, to volunteer, to be an advocate, anything. And I don't know what I can do, since I'm leaving in less than 3 days. So here's me being a tiny bit of an educator:

According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society:
* Every 4 minutes, someone in the US is diagnosed with a blood cancer: leukemia, lymphoma, or myeloma.
* That adds up to an estimated 139,860 new diagnoses in 2009. My mom's one of those.
* An estimated 53,240 blood cancer survivors will lose their fights this year. That's around 146 per day.
* Stem cell treatment is a common tool for these patients to try to spark the creation of new blood cells after chemotherapy.

Lymphoma
* An estimated 601,180 people in the US are living with lymphoma - cancer of the lymphocytes - either Hodgkin or non-Hodgkin's.
* Hodgkin lymphoma is considered one of the most treatable and "curable" of all blood cancers - with 5-year survival rates currently at around 92%.
* Hodgkin lymphoma is most common in young adults in the 20s and 30s.
* Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is actually a catch-all term for approximately 20 different kinds of lymphoma.
* Lymphoma symptoms include the swelling of a lymph node, but most other symptoms are common to many other, minor illnesses (like fever, weight loss, & weakness) and it can be difficult to realize that something is truly wrong.

Myeloma
* Myeloma is the cancer of plasma cells, and most often leads to bone deterioration.
* Myeloma is difficult to "cure," with 5-year survival rates only just recently moving up to a high of between 37-40%.
* For reasons researchers don't understand, myeloma is much more common in the African American community than any other. Males near or over age 70 have the highest incidence rates.
* Myeloma begins with damage to the DNA of one lymphocyte cell destined to create plasma. Doctors do not know what the potential causes are.
* Myeloma cells secrete a substance that triggers other cells to dissolve bone and triggers others to grow in its place.
* Myeloma patients often present with no symptoms, but bone pain is usually the first sign of any problem. [Definitely true for my mother.]

And since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, some facts courtesy of the Susan G. Komen Foundation:
* Both men and women can get breast cancer. It is not a women's disease alone.
* In women, 85% of breast cancers begin in mammary ducts.
* The primary symptoms of breast cancer are:
--- A lump, hard knot or thickening
--- Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening
--- Change in breast size or shape
--- Dimpling or puckering of the skin
--- Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
--- Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
--- Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
--- New pain in one spot
* This year, an estimated 192,370 women and 1,910 men will have received a diagnosis of invasive breast cancer.
* This year, an estimated 40,170 women and 440 men will lose their battles with breast cancer.

Know your body. Do self-exams. Know when your body changes. Get tested. Get treated.

And support cancer research wherever possible.

Fin.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Urgent prayer

My mom was just told that she has cancer in her back. Please be in prayer for her and my dad. I leave the country in a week. We're in shock...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

36 and 30

Not my age, nor any other significant numbers that might have crossed your mind when you glanced here.

Those two numbers represent God's faithfulness to me. His faithfulness in revealing Himself when I seek Him, in drawing near to me when I draw near to Him, in never forsaking me, even though I'm an idiot and screw up more than I get things right.

36 days ago, God began a restoration and a renovation in my life, beginning the morning of August 16th, when I opened up my bible in the kitchen since I was in too much pain to drive to church. Since then, I have been spending at least an hour every day in scripture and prayer. Sometimes much longer. Some of the initial euphoria is gone, but it still has been my daily comfort.

30 days ago, I began a journey that will hopefully take through the entire bible in a year, with the goal of seeking what God says about who He is as I go along. With the plan that I chose, I have finished Genesis and am now at Exodus 24 and Matthew 21. I also have over 3 pages (single spaced) identifying things God is showing about Himself. My hope is at the end of the year, I should have a massive file on my computer that is a passing glimpse of Christ.

I am still struggling intensely with loneliness and depression - thanks in part to the migraines that screw with my mood all the time. I'm slowly learning to cry out to God and to "cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7).

"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13)

"Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you." (James 4:8)

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you." (Deut 31:6)

"If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever--the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." (John 14:15-18)

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows." (2 Cor 1:3-5)

"May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight." (Psalms 119:76-77)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Invisible Chronic Illness: Turning the Tables


For most of my life, I've been the one with the invisible illnesses in my immediate family. My dad also deals with invisible symptoms, but when it comes to pain, I've held the monopoly in our 4-person family. That is, until four months ago.

While I was abroad doing dissertation research in May, I got an email from my dad saying that something had happened to my mother and she was in severe pain for an unknown reason. After a number of weeks and multiple doctor's and ER visits, she was finally diagnosed with sciatica - a very painful inflammation of the sciatic nerve, leading to burning pain in the lower back, buttocks, and legs. By the time they determined what it was, she was almost 100% immobile. Dad had to pack an ice chest with everything she needed while he was at work every day, and she couldn't walk across the room to go to the bathroom without help.

The doctors kept giving her pain meds and telling her that it would improve with time. Four months later, she still has virtually no mobility, won't walk without a walker or canes, and is in a severe depression. She's on meds, in physical therapy, but things aren't going well. This morning I was awakened after only 3.5 hours of sleep by a phone call from my dad, who was at his rope's end.

I must admit - being on the other side of the table is strange. My mother has never been sick in her life, beyond the occasional allergy flare-up or headache. It's strange being the helpless one, the one who wishes more than anything that they could take the pain on themselves to spare their loved one. It's given me the utmost respect for caregivers - those who, for years or decades, do whatever they can for their hurting loved one.

From our very limited experience, here's what I've learned about being a caregiver:

1. It's hard. Probably the hardest thing anyone could ever do. You have to be strong when you want to collapse. You have to be compassionate even when you are frustrated.

2. It's a true labor of love. If you don't truly, honestly, deeply, unconditionally love the person who is in pain, with a God-given love, I don't know how you will ever survive. But that love gives you strength when you both are weak, hope when you both want to despair, and joy in the worst of circumstances.

3. Caregivers need just as much care as their ill family members. We often forget that these people give 200% of themselves in being caregivers. They need support, too. Depending on how bad things are, they might need even more support than the person who is ill.

Celebrate the caregivers you know. Be there for them - offer to run errands, or give them time to rest by being there for their cared-for one. Be understanding when they're having bad days, or when they give in to despair once in a while. Let them know that they are loved for who they are. Pray for them constantly.

Care for the caregivers as they care for others.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Joy in invisible illness


Over a period of ten years, from the time I was 14 until I was 24, I was repeatedly told that I had chronic illnesses or chronic pain that could never be "fixed" and would most likely be with me until the day I die. First it was learning of the structural problems with my ankles (7 different structural issues), then my knees (5 structural problems there), then the "loose joints" that leave me with chronic tendonitis in all of my major joints, then the 24/7 allergies and chronic sinusitus that, thanks to genetics, doesn't respond to treatment, and finally chronic migraine disorder.

I'd be lying if I said that all of these piled on each other didn't leave me feeling hopeless and depressed. Many nights I would cry myself to sleep, not sure I could handle all of the stress that came with these things on top of all the regular stress of life, especially with grad school and teaching thrown in the mix.

Especially after being diagnosed with chronic migraines - where, without preventive and abortive meds, I was in constant pain for weeks on end - I had to learn how to find joy through the pain. So here's my list of things that bring me joy - because chronic illness doesn't mean we have to lose our joy. It might dampen it once in a while, but we don't have to lose joy.

1. My faith - bar none, my joy comes from God. He gives us joy in abundance, because He loves us with an everlasting love. Without Christ, I'd be so lost, I don't think I'd ever recover.
The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.~Psalm 126:3
Unless the LORD had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. When I said, "My foot is slipping," your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul. ~Psalm 94:17-19

2. Music - on days that I feel great, singing and playing music on the piano or guitar are great sources of joy. But even when I'm at my worst, and I can't function at all, I listen to music. I take comfort in the beauty of the notes, in the passion of the lyrics, and let it move my soul. Some of the artists whose work is comforting to me, either because of the sound or the lyrics, are:
*Loreena McKennitt - her music is soulful and often quiet, and I love the international flavor
*Alison Krauss - the part of me that is amazed by bluegrass music loves her fiddle playing, but her lyrics are also often contemplative, which is often what I want when I'm feeling badly.
*Randy Travis - I am head-over-heels in love with good baritone and bass voices, and so I could care less what he sings about, just as long as he goes low. :-)
*Jaci Velazquez and Legado - the latter a Christian latina duet I found in the mid-90s, this gives me my Spanish kick, but both are primarily about worshiping God.
*Michael W. Smith - his worship music is some of my favorite, for it's always annointed.
*Gin Blossoms - my friend Kevin gave me their cd from the mid-80s, and I love it. A little rock, but not so hard that it hurts my head.
*Sarah Bareilles - silly pop music, but I love the piano arrangements she has, with just the right amount of attitude for when I'm a little annoyed at my body.
*And most of my Broadway soundtracks, Lord of the Rings soundtracks, and any other worship music I own.

3. My friends - I don't have many close friends, but those who have stuck by me, through the depression and the pain, are pure blessings. Even if I can't spend as much time with them as I'd like, I treasure any time I do get to be with them.

4. Cuddling with my cat - sounds silly, but I have such a skittish cat, and he's so stand-offish with everyone else in the world that just the fact that I can cuddle with him and that he sleeps against my leg every night brings me untold joy. It's nice knowing that this little creature trusts me completely. And his purrs can make even the worst day better.

5. Cycling - I never thought, with all of my health problems, that I'd be able to engage in any sort of strenuous exercise. But almost a year and a half ago, I bought a bike and was determined to become a bike commuter so I could escape public transportation every day. It took a lot of effort, and a lot of practice to figure out how much my head could handle, but after a year, I have biked well over 1,000 miles. When I'm biking, especially for recreational rides on the weekends, I feel free. Other than when I'm singing or playing piano, it's probably the only time that I don't feel like I'm living with chronic illness. I feel almost normal for the time I'm on the bike. It's been one of the biggest blessings in my life.

6. Writing - Whether on my blog or in a private journal, I've found that one of the best ways to move through the pain is to write. Sometimes it's just saying how I feel. Sometimes it's writing poetry or songs. Whichever it is, it helps me to name the bad stuff and the good stuff so I can celebrate when the good things happen.

7. Cooking - I don't always feel well enough to cook, and I confess that I rely on fast food probably too much - hazards of living alone and dealing with tons of stress and pain. But on the days that I do feel good, I absolutely love to cook. I rarely use recipes, and prefer to just experiment. My ultimate joy comes from when I feel good enough to cook for someone else. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, I am so incredibly happy.

8. Sunsets - Living in the desert, we have amazing sunsets. Even on my worst days, the desert twilight is enough to make me get out of bed, with ice pack on my head, and stare out the window. To me, sunsets are like a small glimpse of the glory of God.

All of these are just part of the little things that I can sometimes overlook when things are bad. But they all are sources of great joy. Over the past 14 years, I think one of the greatest lessons I've learned is to let yourself revel in the little things. Even if they seem tiny to you (or to someone else), every joy is a victory.

To end this very long post, a poem I wrote in the midst of pain:
There is beauty in the world
~Can you see past the ugliness?
There is joy in the world
~Can you feel past the pain?
There is love to be given
~Can you receive it through your hurts?

I want to see beauty, feel joy, experience love
And yet something holds me back
The pain washes over me like a flood
And my heart shatters once again

How do you move beyond the pain?
How do you see past the ugliness?
How do you feel when it hurts so much?

There is beauty, joy, and love in the world.
Can you see it?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

30 Things About My Invisible Illness



Teri Robert of MyMigraineConnection had recently posted this on her blog, From Teri's Keyboard, and asked all of us who follow her to participate.

Here's what Teri said on her blog:
Anyone who has Migraine disease or another headache disorder knows what it's like to live with an invisible illness. People can't see our illness. There are no outward signs. No physical scars, canes, wheel chairs, or any of the other outward signs that can alert people that a person is living with an illness.

Invisible illnesses are easy for "healthy" people to ignore. Unfortunately, so are the difficulties of those who live with these diseases. This adds to the burden of disease and makes lives even more difficult.

Each year, National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week is observed to educate the public and raise awareness about invisible illnesses. One of the blogging activities this year is a "meme," 30 Things About My Invisible Illness You May Not Know.


So here we go:

1. The illness I live with is: Migraine disorder (including Chronic Migraine and Migraine Without Aura), migraine-related vertigo, chronic allergies and sinusitus, and multi-joint chronic tendonitis. Thanks to the migraine disorder, I struggle with depression - yay, mood fluctuations. This meme will focus on the migraine disorder.

2. I was diagnosed with it in the year: 2005

3. But I had symptoms since: At least since college, maybe earlier; I always thought I just had really bad sinus headaches. It was only when I collapsed at work at my MA program that they diagnosed me with migraines.

4. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is: having to say no to things and people I really want to say yes to because I'm in too much pain, or the environment has too many triggers.

5. Most people assume: that I "just have headaches," and I must not be doing enough for them because I'm in pain so often.

6. The hardest part about mornings is: eating breakfast. I'm often nauseous first thing in the morning, no matter how I feel the rest of the day.

7. My favorite medical TV show is: ? I've watched House occasionally.

8. A gadget I couldn’t live without is: probably my computer. I've lived for a months without a phone, but I'd go nuts without a computer.

9. The hardest part about nights is: the dizziness, especially while laying down, and the inability to get into a comfortable position for my back/neck/head, which means I'm usually in a lot of pain when I am trying to sleep.

10. Each day I take: at least two medicines, sometimes up to five.

11. Regarding alternative treatments I: am open to them, though some are out-of-reach in price. I relied on massage therapy for three months to survive my doctoral exams. And I pray a lot - not quite meditation, but it does help to calm down and not tense up so much.

12. If I had to choose between an invisible illness or visible I would choose: Probably visible, so I wouldn't feel like people thought I was exaggerating or faking half the time.

13. Regarding working and career: It's hard a lot of times, but working is one of the ways (along with playing piano or guitar and singing) that I get to take my mind off of health issues for once. I've gone to class, taught class, graded exams and papers all with full migraine attacks. Teaching is my passion, and I'd do most anything to keep doing it, no matter how I feel.

14. People would be surprised to know: that I have pain of some sort every single day, and don't remember what it's like to wake up without something not working correctly.

15. The hardest thing to accept about my new reality has been: the realization that there is no cure, apart from God's miraculous hand.

16. Something I never thought I could do with my illness that I did was: get through my 2-week marathon of PhD written exams.

17. The commercials about my illness: are ridiculous, and partly the reason why everyone assumes a migraine is just a headache that you can't handle, rather than a complete genetic neurological disorder with multiple stages and more symptoms and triggers than you can imagine, and that can actually get ten times worse if you just throw painkillers at it.

18. Something I really miss doing since I was diagnosed is: the ability to be spontaneous.

19. It was really hard to have to give up: going to do things with friends late at night. I get worse in the evenings.

20. A new hobby I have taken up since my diagnosis is: Hm. I guess guitar is new. And blogging was new at diagnosis, too.

21. If I could have one day of feeling normal again I would: go cycling and hiking in my desert without worrying about the heat, the sun, dehydration, fatigue, or pain, and enjoy being with my friends.

22. My illness has taught me: to be sensitive to other people's pain, especially when they "look fine."

23. Want to know a secret? One thing people say that gets under my skin is: "No word from the doctors yet? Why haven't they fixed it?" I know they mean well, but, in reality, for people with chronic migraine, I'm actually doing extremely well. I don't have to go get rescue meds at the ER every month - in fact, I've only been to the ER for migraine once, and that was when they diagnosed me. I don't have to take really high dosages of our meds like some that I know. I'm not at home on disability- I can still work. I haven't been discriminated against at work, or laid off because of my health. For us, I'm in the top percentile.

24. But I love it when people: give a simple hug. Some days that is more powerful than any words.

25. My favorite motto, scripture, quote that gets me through tough times is: "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." ~Romans 8:37-39

26. When someone is diagnosed I’d like to tell them: There is hope. You don't have to die inside; you can still enjoy life. Educate yourself as much as possible, and do what you can. You're going to have really awful days, but you'll have bright spots, too. Enjoy every moment you can.

27. Something that has surprised me about living with an illness is: the isolation.

28. The nicest thing someone did for me when I wasn’t feeling well was: sitting with me until I fell asleep when things were awful.

29. I’m involved with Invisible Illness Week because: I have the ability to speak, and many who live with invisible illnesses don't.

30. The fact that you read this list makes me feel: like people will soon truly educate themselves about these kinds of illnesses, and that maybe my friends who are much worse off than I am will receive more compassion and understanding as a result.

Friday, September 4, 2009

I feel like I'm on a very tall roller coaster lately. I have experienced intense highs, and just as intense lows. Some days, they come within 30 minutes of each other. I'm very slowly learning how to deal with the lows. I have been taking refuge in scripture and singing when things get bad.

I'm seeing God's faithfulness daily. He's teaching me more about myself each day, and about Himself as well. Some of it has been a bit hard to take, but I know it's good for me. I've also had the joy of seeing Him use me for someone else's joy this week. I had forgotten how that felt.

Tonight, I sing with the psalmist:

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.
The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord: "O Lord, save me!"
The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.
The LORD protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me.
Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you.
For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living.
I believed; therefore I said, "I am greatly afflicted."
And in my dismay I said, "All men are liars."
How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.
O Lord, truly I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant; you have freed me from my chains.
I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord-- in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Dissertation talk

I might be radically changing my dissertation. I might be crazy. The two are only tangentially related.

The original idea: looking at Spain's two major world's fairs (1888 in Barcelona, and 1929 in both Barcelona and Sevilla) to see how they were defining and creating images of Spain as modern, with the hopes of seeing how these definitions were played out in urban transformations after these fairs.

The problems: This is an overwhelming amount of work, especially since I don't have grants and have extremely limited time to be in Spain. I have no idea how to do this, especially given the HUGE amounts of material in even one collection - and this would require pouring through no less than 5 collections: 3 expositions and two cities' urbanization activities. I cannot seem to get a good handle on modernity that doesn't sound like I'm just parroting some awful theorist who doesn't make sense.

There are more issues, but those are the ones that made me most nervous. So I was doing a bit of research on Thursday, looking at some related dissertations. I started reading one on urban spaces, cosmopolitanism and the Jazz Age in Spain. The author made very strong claims about Primo de Rivera, but never cited anything. It made me start thinking about the Primo Regime, my sources (thus far), and how much I had been struggling to come up with a narrative structure (or, outline, as some call it) for the dissertation. As I started thinking, a new idea came. I started writing out the changes it would mean, the problems I saw with it, the benefits it held, the questions it would ask, the sources it could use, everything. And by 6p.m., I had a 7-chapter basic outline.

The new idea:
1. Drop the 1888 exposition except to use in the first narrative chapter as a discussion of the exposition in Spain, and precedent. Instead, I'd focus solely on the 1929 Joint Exposition. From my previous research, I know that the planning for these expositions began around 20 years earlier (1910 for Sevilla).
2. The main focus, then, would be on the competing visions of the expositions - and thus visions of Spain - put forth by the committees of the two expositions. But it would also consider how these interacted with and contested the vision issued by dictator Primo de Rivera (after he came to power in 1923), and perhaps by visions put forth by the public press.
3. The primary questions would still deal with the construction of Spain, but it would be placed in the context of the local-national negotiation of ideas. It would question the nature of the relationship of the dictatorship with these two expositions, and, by extension, with these two regions - Andalucia, his home, and Catalonia, the up-and-coming industrial center of Spain.
4. It would still also question how these two very different regions - differing in culture, history, language, economy, and politics - created connections and worked together to ultimately create a joint exposition to present the best of Spain to the world.


As I said, within hours, I had a basic dissertation outline, complete with at least some ideas of where I could use certain kinds of sources, and what I'd be looking for in each chapter. I sent the idea and outline to my advisor, with the hopes that we can talk on the phone after he's looked it over and thought about it a bit. I really hope he's on board. I think my other committee members might be a bit confused... and a bit disappointed at what I'm cutting out. I'm hoping that he can get everyone on board and excited for me.

We'll see. I've been really excited, though. I hope it works!!!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Working in my heart

Today was kind of a cruddy day, up until about 7 p.m. Again, long story, involving family stuff, grocery shopping, an over-zealous, psychotic advisor, a migraine, and somehow screwing up cooking pancakes (that were supposed to be dinner, but were a train wreck).

But after dinner, I was in Google Reader, catching up on the blogs I follow (mainly those of friends, but some re: migraine stuff, some church stuff). I was reading the blog run by Beth Moore - a teacher and writer of amazing bible studies - and her daughters. [I have the chance to attend a simulcast of one of her conferences this weekend - she'll be in Green Bay, and over 700 locations will receive the live broadcast. I am so excited! Friday night and Saturday morning will be filled with worship and teaching.] So the cool part. One of her daughters had posted an update about the simulcast, including a very dorky promo video Beth did (complete in cheesehead). At the end of the post, she had a p.s. that said Beth had told her that she'll be teaching on Psalm 37.

So why is that a big deal? Well, 10 days ago, when this renewal of my spirit began, one of the first verses that started really working in me was Psalms 37:4 - Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.

It was this that made me take a serious look at my desires, my priorities, and decide that they had to change. Not because of the promise at the end, but because I know that my priorities were skewed. I felt so overwhelmed by the desire to change, that I went and bought a journal to try (again) to be consistent with journaling what God was teaching me. On the front of the book is Psalms 37:4. And now, at the end of two weeks of commitment and study, I'm going to get to hear one of the most amazing bible teachers I've ever heard teach on this scripture.

I have no doubt that this verse is becoming a heart verse - one that, in the darkest of times, brings comfort. Two others for me are Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future"; and Romans 8:38-39, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nothing to do with the dissertation at all

This week, I've rediscovered a hunger I haven't felt in a terribly long time.

Sunday morning, I was in a bit too much pain to go to church, but I got out my bible and spent some time reading. I started a bible study on the book of Esther, and ended up spending about an hour studying, pondering, and praying. And it was glorious. Monday morning, I got up, went to the kitchen table, and did it again. And I did it again on Tuesday and again today.

I know, I know - four days is not much to rejoice over. I've had migraines almost that long. But I am rejoicing. It's like someone opened up my heart and things are pouring into it, out of it, through it. Well, upon looking at that last sentence, it's not "like" that - it *is* that. God opened up my heart and is pouring himself into it and I am overwhelmed.

I never quite understood that part of the beatitudes that said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled." Or when Christ said that he is the bread, or living water. I'm all for metaphors, but I didn't ever get it. I think this week, I can say I know what it feels like to hunger and thirst - not for food, but for the presence of God. I've been ravenous.

"Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him." ~Psalm 34:8

I haven't done anything on my dissertation this week, and I'm sure my advisor is getting anxious because I haven't sent him anything substantial. But for the first time in... well, honestly, I can't remember how the last time... I am taking time to work on me - me and God. I'm not being unproductive because I don't feel well; I'm actually taking a break to feed that part of me that has been slightly dead for a long time. I've had hints of it over the past few months, but this is by far the most profound desire I have ever felt.

I know it probably won't last - at least, not in this ravenous stage. But I want to enjoy it while I can. The past two days, I've felt like I have been in a semi-constant state of prayer. I've been reading a great deal. Just not about work. I've read 2.5 books since last Wednesday, because I crave their teachings.

"Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." ~John 6:35

"The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life." ~Revelations 22:17

I am thirsty, truly thirsty. And you know what? It's wonderful.

"Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun." ~Psalms 37:4-6

Friday, May 29, 2009

Sevilla, far too much to say

The city:
1. Is gorgeous. It's modern and ancient, crowded and spread out, lost in time and plunging into the future all at the same time. It's glorious.

2. Is filled with Americans. I don't remember hearing English very much when I lived in Madrid; here, you're surrounded by it (as well as German, I've found). It can be a bit unsettling, when you are deep in Spanish thought only to be interrupted by a lovely southern drawl saying, "I wunder what they cawal thayat?" :-)

3. Is relaxed. In Madrid, I always felt like I had to be somewhere; here, though I have far less time to work, the culture is much more laid back. It likes resting. It also appreciates the notion of eating helado (ice cream) for lunch and dinner (sometimes with nothing else!). I appreciate that!

4. Is communal. Don't believe me? Go check out Plaza Alfalfa around 8p.m. any night of the week. Or Plaza del Salvador around lunch time, especially on a Sunday. These people *get* the idea of community. Maybe that's why they have so many plazas - yes, they're pretty, but they - as well as all the sidewalk tables are partly designed for people to be with each other. Isolation is seen as a strange thing here. You go to a restaurant alone? Go to the bar; at least then you'll be next to others who are alone. You really want to see the community, watch a funeral procession. I did. It cuts straight to your emotional core. It involves the entire community - it can't not.

5. Has bells ringing constantly. This is partly because there is a mass going on pretty much every hour, because there is a Catholic church on almost every other street. And before every misa, you'll hear their bells ring a good 20-40 times. The church I tried to go to rang its bell 41 times to announce the beginning of mass. Then, of course, it had to ring the bells for the hour.

6. Has captured part of my heart, yo creo. I've been here for only 11 days, and already I know it very well. Twice I have been mistaken either for a local or for someone who has been here often. I think my heart will be here for a little while...


The worst part of hostel life:

1. Obnoxious roommates - the ones who come in at 3 a.m., turn the lights on, TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS!!!, slam the doors, eat, and talk without regard to the fact that you have been sleeping for three hours at that point. And then leave the room a certified disaster area later in the day.
2. Flooding showers - due to the fact that some roommates cannot figure out how to use handheld shower heads, my room has been flooded at least 5 times since I got here. I'm a little tired of mopping up after them.
3. Bad hostel songs. I've been keeping a list. So far, the worst offenders have been:
*Hungry Eyes (at least twice)
*It Must Have Been Love (but it's over now)
*Maneater
*All Girls Just Want to Have Fun
*I'll Be There for You (the song used as the theme from Friends - and I didn't even watch that show!)
*The Show Must Go On - very bombastic version
*Rod Stewart, Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
*Madonna - Like a Virgin
*Ska version of Don't You Want Me, Baby?
*Reggae version of I Got You, Babe
*Reggae version of Come on, Baby, Light My Fire

The best part of hostel life: Meeting interesting people, such as:
*Guy from US who runs a hostel in Portugal and was here doing research on management
*German woman who came to Spain to work a horse farm in Cadiz for 3 months before starting PT training back home - we saw flamenco together.
*Austrian woman working as an Au Pair for a very rich Spanish family at their hacienda
*A Brazilian historian and a British historian, both working on the 16th century, using the Archivo de Indias
*Junior from Penn St. here to do a study abroad before returning home to finish her studies in Speech/Language Pathology - we went to the Catedral together.
*German woman doing language studies in Valencia here on vacation
*Two Argentineans with whom I watched the Barcelona-Manchester United futbol match
*Three women travelling together - one from Greece, one from Romania, and one from France, though I've no idea how they all met
*Two college kids from TN (though they go to college on the West coast) who just borrowed my Mac plug since they didn't bring a proper adapter for theirs)

My favorite archive tidbits:
*Constantly having to write the name "Mr. Cow-face" (translated) in documents and not laugh.
*Reading the heated exchanges in the press when a reporter dared insult a member of the Exposition Committee; their exchanges went on for a good month!
*Reading these awfully written letters from manufacturing companies in the US to the Expo Committee in 1911; their grammar, in English, was worse than most of the Spaniards. And these were Americans writing to offer their services! My favorite was Avery & Co. offering the use of their "Dump Spreading Car" that would assuredly "give satisfaction." Ay!


My favorite moments in the past 11 days
1. Biking across the Puente de Isabel II into Triana, and viewing Sevilla from the other side of the river
2. The view of the city from the top of La Giralda
3. Sitting in Plaza del Salvador on Sunday afternoon, just enjoying the crowd and watching little kids teaching their little brother Fabio how to throw a ball
4. Looking out from the second story of Plaza de España and taking in the view
5. Sitting in Parque Maria Luisa and listening to the birds, the fountains, and nothing else
6. Standing in awe of Francisco de Zurburán in the Renaissance hall at the Museo de Bellas Artes
7. Wandering through Barrio Santa Cruz without a map, and not caring where I was
8. Accidentally ending up in the Jardines de Murillo during that wandering adventure!
9. Listening to flamenco, for free, at an awesome club at 11p.m. at night with my German roommate
10. Wandering into a fairly well hidden plaza by the Catedral where, during the week, they sell goods made by the convent
11. Eating helado in Plaza Cristos Burgos and watching the little kids play on the playground
12. Finding the coolest book ever for my friend Adam at the bookstore, Beta - a book in Spanish on Rome, Carthage, Iberians, and Celt-iberians: War in the Peninsula (he studies the Roman empire and warfare, and wants to look into Iberian warfare)

Tomorrow I'm going to try to make it out to Italica, out in Santiponce - this was the old Roman city where Hadrian & Trajan were born. Supposedly, you can tramp around the ruins of the ampitheatre that held like 25,000 people. I'm going to try to take tons of photos for Adam. Woot!

So, after almost two weeks, that is how I feel about Sevilla. Four more proper days in Sevilla, then I travel to Madrid on Wednesday, and then it's the long trip home on Thursday.
Fin.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Plan?

I might have a plan for the rest of the year. I'm not sure that I'm entirely happy with it, but it looks to be one of the only logical answers. So here goes:

May 17th - head to Sevilla, Spain, for 19 days to do research at the Archivo Municipal, and try to get as much as I can done

June 4th - head back to the US

June 8th - teach my summer course

July 11th - turn in final grades for summer course

July 31st - move out of my apartment (hopefully with help), put most belongings in storage here in town, and drive East to my parents' house

August - live at my folks' house, hopefully doing at least part-time work somewhere, and doing dissertation research (either secondary sources or analyzing whatever I get from this upcoming trip), and prep for heading back

September - head back to Spain, hopefully to Barcelona, for as much of the 90 days my visa will allow, as long as my money holds up. Do research at the Arxiu Administratiu and other sites around the city

December - back to the East coast, perhaps offering an online class during winter session, if I can design one and my department thinks it's a good idea

January - ideally: head back West to Home, find a new apartment, and hopefully have a teaching position in the department for the spring semester. Work on analyzing sources from research trip, working with my committee and figuring out what I still need. And, of course, begging for more money from people.

Sometime in the late spring - head back to Spain to do more research.

Academic year 2010-2011 - hopefully find some sort of funding, and write the dissertation here in town

Spring 2011 - hopefully graduate, and find a job.

That's the plan. I am not thrilled with the idea of being away from home for 5 months, esp since I don't have any support system back East. Most of my college friends are not still in that area, and my parents' house hasn't been "home" for 10 years. The pros to this plan are: 1) not having to pay rent in August and December, though I'll be paying for storage here; 2) my folks are working away from their house, so it is possible me and my cat would have the run of the house for a while, so I'd actually have some privacy; 3) I wouldn't have to send my cat on a plane back East, and I could plan my flights to/from Spain from the East coast, cutting out most of a day's worth of travel like when I have to fly from current Home; 4) My parents' house is available, and I'd have my own car.

The cons are the isolation, especially from my church here, my bible study, and the couple of friends I spend time with. But it seems like the only logical solution. I don't have a paycheck after July 12th, and so I can't afford to pay rent for a month or two without income. I can't get another job for a month, knowing I'd be leaving. And this way, hopefully someone can come out and help me pack up the apartment so I can move out. My hope is that I could then come back after Christmas and find a decent apartment for January, before the undergrads come back.

I'm not sure if I like the plan, but it seems logical.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

ABD

ABD. Three letters. Just three letters. Three measly letters that mean *so* much.

Over a year and a half of readings for comps.
Four years of doctoral studies.
Six years of graduate work - including a Master's Thesis.
Ten years of undergraduate and graduate work.
Twenty-two and a half years of being a student.

And more prayer, tears, stress, and doubt than I ever thought possible.

But ABD now belongs after my name. I had my PhD oral exams today. Three hours with five professors in one small room. I had no idea what to expect, or how to prepare, and so... I didn't. Last night I made K go get ice cream with me after my advisor told me I wasn't allowed to study. :-) The only thing I did was skim over my written exams this morning once I got to work. And prayed a lot.

It was actually enjoyable. I had a few times where I honestly had no idea what to say, and floundered on a few questions, but overall it was fairly easy to answer their questions. One of the other profs in the department, Dr. M (whom I love; it's hard not to love her, honestly) had seen me before and after the orals, and said she was impressed with how calm I had been. (So not like me normally... I can only speculate that all the prayers I had coming my way were being answered.)

After the three hours, they signed everything, my advisor gave me a huge hug, and we went to lunch. And I got at least two more hugs. :-)

And, finally, I am ABD. It feels kind of good.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Uncertainty

I have finally finished grading all of my students' papers and midterms. In fact, despite the fact that I was out of commission for 2.5 weeks taking my written doctoral exams, I have finished grading exams ahead of 3 of my coworkers. Hm.

Anyway, today I'm taking the day off from work. The only thing I need to do is plan for my class tomorrow, but I needed a day away from the office. Unfortunately, by 8 a.m. I was already fretting over finances and the future. This next year after June is all completely uncertain right now. Here's what I know:

1. My lease is up at the end of June.
2. My paychecks stop as of the middle of July, once my summer course is over.
3. I have no grants so far and need to fund dissertation research in Spain on my own.
4. The likelihood of getting any substantial support from my university is slim to none.

I have estimated the likely costs that I'll incur over the next year, between tuition/registration/fees at the university, health insurance (not counting my $20 per pill prescriptions), living costs in the US for six months, and living costs in Spain for six months. My not-so-scientific estimate is that all of this combined might add up to around $28,000.

Keep in mind that I have never made more than $13,000 per year, and after July I will have no paychecks coming.

The very sketchy plan is that I would head to Spain for up to 90 days sometime after July, come back to the States and work through the spring (at least for another 90 days, until I can return on a new visa, but also will have to find more money to go back), and then return to Spain in the late spring or summer for another 90 days, then come back for good.

Problems with this plan:
1. As of right now, I don't have the money to do any of this. Even with loans, I'm not sure how to get up to $28,000...
2. I would have to either move out of my apartment or get my landlord to extend my lease after June until I can leave for Spain.
3. When I would return from Spain, I would have no place to live.
4. I have absolutely NO idea what to do with my cat for these 12 months. One negative of being constantly alone and having virtually no support system in town is that there is no one who can take care of him here, and shipping him off to live with my parents is less than ideal for many reasons. But I have no other real options right now.
5. When I would return from Spain, I have no idea if there would be any job available. Because my department is 97% dependent on state funds, they're cutting GTA funds, and since I have already had 4 years of funding, it is possible that they will be unable to give me any financial support (in employment or otherwise) for the rest of my doctoral program. The economy stinks here right now, and I am not sure what, if anything, would be available for a 28-year old, A.B.D. European history expert who has been in academia for the last 23 years and has a number of physical limitations on the kind of work she can do.
6. When I would return from Spain, I am not sure if I would have to rent an apartment for more than 3 months - would I have to be paying rent on an apartment while also paying for research in Spain in the summer? I am not sure if it would be easier or harder to do it this way.
7. If I send my cat off to my parents' apartment in the fall, could I bring him back to live with me in the spring? If so, would I have to ship him away again in the summer? That seems awfully traumatic for such a scared and untrusting creature. But could I live for 12 months completely without him? He's my baby. He's my only companion many days.

I'm sure there are more problems that I'm not thinking about. Things like dealing with my medicine, trying to apply for grants while in Spain, trying to *find* new grants to apply for that haven't already rejected me twice, etc.

Everything is just so uncertain. It's awful, but for a brief minute I wished I were married. Most of these problems would either not exist or would at least be lessened if I weren't having to do it all alone. I wouldn't have to worry about a place to live, wouldn't have to try to fund everything myself despite no job, wouldn't have to worry about Dominic... I know that's awful. Married couples have just as many if not more concerns. But sometimes it gets very old being one of the only single people in my office. Almost everyone I work with has a partner to go through all of this with, while I... I have to deal with chronic migraines and fatigue and all the physical crap, plus the work, and the funding issues, and everything else alone.

So yeah, with all of this (which I worked through between about 7:30 and 10:30 this morning), I'm taking the day off. I'm stressed out.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Comps questions

Comps are over. I finished all 9 exams and submitted them at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning. (And no, I haven't been resting, since I came home to my Fulbright rejection letter and now that my plans for the fall are utterly crushed, I'm reeling. But that's another post.)

I thought, just for posterity's sake, that I'd share what my questions were. Here are the 9 exams that I answered:

1. Describe what a social, cultural, AND intellectual history of the Enlightenment could offer a 21st century student who seeks an ethical compass for the future. How have these modes of historical inquiry segregated and unified components of ‘the Enlightenment’? How might Kant’s notion that ‘Do we live in an enlightened age? … ‘No, but we do live an age of enlightenment’ transcend the 18th century and be relevant today?

2. What defines “lieux de mémoire”? Choose three specific ‘sites of memory’ and discuss how they have figured into the political, social and/or cultural discourses surrounding collective memory in the twentieth century.

3. Write an essay identifying six works on your reading list that make particularly large or substantive contributions to the historiography of comparative women’s and gender historiography. Search widely for these books within your reading list, including theory, and with emphasis on Latin America and Imperial Spain, and drawing texts from a range of subfields. Then, place each book within its proper historiographical context, explain precisely why it is of such importance. In what way has it shifted or influenced scholarly debate? In what way is or was it new at the time of its publication? How have subsequent works built upon or diverged from this text? Finally, using these texts as markers or signposts of historiographical change, assess major trends in this scholarship. Where has the field come from, where is it going, and how have your chosen texts facilitated that transition?

4. Most of Europe underwent a movement of intellectual examination and secularization of thought known as the Enlightenment that was prompted, in part at least, by the so-called Scientific Revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. General histories of Europe focus primarily on the achievements of Scottish, English, German, and particularly French contributions to the cosmopolitan nature of the Enlightenment. Spain is, curiously but not surprisingly, left out of this history. Discuss the Spanish Enlightenment. How is it similar to Enlightenment elsewhere in Europe and how is it uniquely Spanish? What is the chronology of the Spanish Enlightenment compared to Enlightenment chronology elsewhere in Europe? Why should the Spanish Enlightenment be brought into the broader discussion and historiography of Enlightenment in Europe?

5. Revised in 1982, Raymond Carr’s Spain 1808-1975 remains a touchstone text in Modern Spanish history owing to the variety and depth of issues he raises about the ‘problems’ associated with Spain’s development during the nineteenth century that, in his narrative, led Spanish history directly to its problematic encounter with representative democracy (The Second Republic), a thoroughly tragic and modernization-retarding internal conflict (Spanish Civil War), and a long, brutally authoritarian dictatorship (the Franco Regime). Use your knowledge of the historiography of modern Spain to deconstruct Carr’s position and the relationship of his work to the current hypotheses about Spanish history. Be sure to point out where Carr is still relevant and where his formulations have been superseded by more recent work.

6. Historians and economists continue debating European women’s diverse experiences of industrialization. How have different scholars approached and interpreted these experiences over the course of the twentieth century? Which works marked major departures or revisions in scholars’ understanding of women’s roles and experiences? How have these works changed our view of the relationships among class, gender, and work?

7. Based on your readings, discuss the ways in which agricultural systems (choice of crops, techniques, labor systems) reflect the larger societies of which they are a part. In what ways are agricultural systems the front lines of political contests? Discuss moments when agricultural/land-use systems have changed radically. What are their causes and implications? What works speak to this question?

8. Many readings in world and environmental history try to address and answer the question, “How did ‘the West’ (Europe and its buds – the ‘neo-Europes,’ the ‘North,’ etc.) attain political and economic domination over ‘the rest’ (‘the South,’ ‘the Third World’)? Think back over your readings and discuss the crucial benchmarks and mechanisms of this process as identified by various authors. What are the strengths and weaknesses of these various explanations?

9. Design a syllabus for an undergraduate course in Modern European women's history. Specify and justify your chronology. What major themes would you emphasize and why? Which readings would be most appropriate for your students and why? Which themes would you omit and why?

After 14 days, 110 pages, and over 300 footnotes, I answered all nine questions and somehow am still alive. Now on to orals, grading, planning my summer class, and trying to figure out how to stay in school now that I have no real prospects for funding past July.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Comps day #2

Question #1 - my advisor's historiographic question - COMPLETE. (Well, I need to finish the last paragraph, but that's it.)

I wrote barely two pages last night and went to bed around 2:30 (though I didn't sleep until after 3). For whatever reason, I woke up at 7:30 and couldn't go back to sleep. I didn't start writing again until after 9, and basically wrote 14 pages throughout the day. Grand total: 45 citations, 15.5 pages, and most all of my energy.

I have been trying to take care of myself physically, so last night I made a really simple meat & potatoes casserole - just garlic mashed potatoes and ground beef, some mozzarella cheese, and some cayenne pepper on top. It was delicious, and so I ate half last night and the rest today for lunch. Tonight I made my mom's green bean casserole - french cut green beans, white corn, water chestnuts, mixed with mushroom soup and sour cream, with a dash of soy sauce and black pepper. It was delicious. I'm really happy that I made just exactly enough of both casseroles (neither of which I had ever made before yesterday) - I ate around half the green bean casserole tonight and will eat the rest tomorrow for lunch. It was delicious.

I also took a quick bike ride this afternoon when I needed to clear my head.... but that didn't turn out so well. I rode only 5.5 miles, but for over half of it the wind and dust was atrocious, and by the time I got home I had drunk my entire 24-oz bottle of water. I felt awful after that, and ended up with a decently bad migraine for about 4 hours. Ugh, so not fun.

I had hoped to be asleep by now, but I'm still trying to finish the conclusion to this essay. I am a little worried I'm not going to sleep well. My migraine meds often make it hard to sleep at night if I had to take them after dinner. I am not sure if I'm going to try to answer my second Spain question in the morning or if I want to switch gears for a day and answer the European women's history & industrialization question I outlined. I guess I'll see in the morning if I'm sick of thinking about Spain or not.

My plan for the rest of comps (migraines willing, that is) looks something like this:
1. One day of planning, to outline as much as possible 3 essays - that was Monday the 16th
2. Three days of writing the essays outlined - today was day (and essay) #1; so Wednesday and Thursday should be writing days
3. One day of planning to outline second set of 3 major field questions - should be Friday, the 20th
4. Three days of writing the final major field questions - Saturday through Monday, the 23rd
5. One day of planning to outline three minor field questions - should be Tuesday, the 24th
6. Three days of writing the minor field questions - Wednesday-Friday, ending the 27th.
7. Final three days to review and ponder, if needed, or to continue any problematic essay - Saturday-Monday the 30th.
8. Submit questions via email and in person as soon as the office opens on Tuesday, March 31st.

Monday, March 16, 2009

D-day

Today is the day. I have my comps questions in an envelope on my end table by the door. They're sealed. I haven't quite gotten the courage up to open them yet.

I slept hard last night - from 10:30 until 7:30. My nerves are through the roof right now.... I have no idea how to start... I think I'm going to get dressed, make some hot tea, and take the plunge by 9. I'm hoping today will be a planning day - a day to outline and try to figure out basically how I should start.

Two weeks. *sigh* I have no idea what I'm doing. God grant me strength...

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sevilla!!!

I made a leap of faith today. After reading dozens of reviews, consulting three good friends whom I trust, and my parents, and praying about it last night and this morning, I made the leap:

Within the last hour, I booked both my flights and a bed at the hostel so I will be in Sevilla from May 18th through June 4th. (I'll actually start the trip on May 17th, but you know - over-night flights and such.) I got to pick my own seats, since the flights are fairly empty right now, so I picked seats near the front of the planes and either on window or aisle seats (depending on whether I want to be able to lean against the wall or stretch into the aisle). For $597, I have a flight cross-country to Atlanta and on to Madrid, and back again in June. When it gets closer, I'll book passage on the AVE high-speed train from Madrid to Sevilla - you can't book more than 60 days ahead of time, which is perfectly understandable. Round trip, the train will cost around $180, which will still make this plan cheaper than flying directly into Sevilla!

So I'll get into Madrid in the morning, in the 9-o'clock hour. Then I'll have to figure out how best to get down to Atocha to get the train. [Just looked at the metro maps - it looks to be a 40-minute, 3-train ride. Not too bad, really. My trips to the AHN were about as long last time I was there.] Hopefully I can find one of the little sandwich shops I used to pass each day down there and grab a little something to eat. Or I think I can eat at the train station, if all else fails.

I'll stay at the hostel from the 18th through June 1st, and then I'll splurge and get a hotel for two nights in Sevilla. I'm considering taking the train back up to Madrid on the 3rd, staying at a hotel near a metro station and taking the metro to the airport the morning of my flight. So three nights in a hotel as reward for working for two weeks and putting up with other people. Not bad, right? And since I don't eat a ton, I figure if I cook/make my evening meals at the hostel (simple things - sandwiches, pasta & veggies, rice & veggies, etc.) I probably could get away with using only half of my grant money on lodgings and travel... which would be awesome!

I'm so excited, I can barely contain myself. I can't believe that, including the travel insurance I got with the plane tickets (for a whopping $32), my grand total for both lodging and transportation for two weeks so far to Spain have come out to all of $990. !!!!!!!!!!!

* * * * *

Now ask me if I'm getting any work done here in my office? Um, yeah. Right. :-p

A tale of comps, migraine, and Spain

So yesterday had the drudgery, the unpleasant, and the giddy.

The drudgery - first, I biked to campus a little before 9 a.m. to try to do some prep work for my meeting with one of my committee members on Monday. I printed out most of my notes for her list, organized them in chronological order within each section, and put them in a notebook so I can just flip through and see my notes on each source if I so choose. I'm trying to do this for each list if I can, just because sometimes I like having things in my hand. A decent number of things on this list were from my seminar with this professor, and I didn't re-read the books, so I had to find my precis for each book and decide which ones I needed to print. I had hoped I'd also do some more work on those lists - finding patterns and such - but since I have no idea what kinds of questions she's going to ask, I didn't even know where to begin.

I then realized I had forgotten to send my rent check, so I had to trek to the post office down the street and send that. I called my landlady to let her know that it was in the mail but probably wouldn't get to her before Monday. She confirmed that she is quite incompetent.

After that, and lunch, I read a book for this prof's list. Now for the unpleasant. Then evil beast migraine returned, and returned insanely fast. K had mentioned that he was staying home, so I called and asked if he could possibly pick me and my bike up so I didn't have to bike home with a migraine for the second time this week. He immediately agreed and came to my rescue. Me, the bike, and 1,000 pounds of books (okay, maybe 5 pounds) got a lift and I got medicine and an ice pack and lay down for an hour.

Now comes the giddy part. I started looking again at flights to Spain for May. I have grant money that I need to use, and I need to go to Sevilla to use it, since that's what they gave it to me for. I have been looking at flights during my last two migraines, and have found some amazing deals to flew to Madrid or Barcelona - we're talking in the $600-$800 range (including taxes). If I flew in to Madrid, I could take a high-speed train and get to Sevilla in 2-3 hours. I kind of like this idea, because I could take the train round-trip for under $200, and I'd get the chance to see the countryside. My hope is that it would be a little less stressful, too...

Then I started looking for places I might be able to stay. Eventually, I found a hostel that, from all the reviews, seems to be quite clean and safe, and has good amenities - breakfast, free wi-fi, 24-hour security and reception, a kitchen, laundry room... but the best part is its location. I saw its basic location on the map and thought it looked somewhat close to the archive I need to work in. So I went to Google maps and put both places in. It couldn't give me the distance in miles because the hostel is located 375 FEET from the archive!!! It's literally around the corner and two buildings down. I about fell off the couch. You're telling me that for around $450 I could stay within a 30-second walk of my archive for 2 weeks?

I emailed them to ask if they allowed smoking (since that would be a deal-breaker), to make sure of the location and proximity to the archive, the proximity of markets/stores, and the noise at night. I'm guessing the guy on the night shift at reception was bored, because he replied within 30 minutes - at 3 a.m. his time! They don't allow smoking in the rooms or anywhere on the premises, they really are that close to the archive, there are 4 supermarkets in walking distance, and they have some rules against noise after a certain time.

It sounds almost too good to be true. I've looked at reviews on probably a dozen sites, and most of them are really good. So now here's my dilemma: do I go ahead and book flights and the room, which assumes that I will pass both my written and oral exams... or do I hold off and wait to see if I can figure something else out after comps?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Busy week and Ridiculous Students

Comps
This week has been insanely productive. Starting from Saturday, I've read the following:

A. Owen Aldridge, The Ibero-American Enlightenment
Alice Clark, Working Life of Women in the Seventeenth Century
Richard Herr, The Eighteenth-Century Revolution in Spain
Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918
Lloyd Kramer, "Intellectual History and Philosophy," Modern Intellectual History (2004)
George Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology
George Mosse, Nazi Culture
George Mosse, Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism
Thomas Munck, The Enlightenment: A Comparative Social History, 1721-1794

I also had a good meeting with my advisor talking about the Herr book and the Enlightenment in Spain, and then had a really positive meeting with another committee member yesterday morning about my intellectual history/collective memory list. She doesn't think I'm completely useless, and can tell that I am doing better. She was in a really good mood, too, so I didn't feel half as intimidated as normal.


Teaching
Only 3 of my 40-odd students decided to write this first paper on Rousseau. At least one of them is probably going to get a D, if not lower, since the only citations are from wikipedia (after I expressly told them not to do that, and said the only citations should be from Rousseau, the textbook, and class lectures), the paper is 2 pages too long, and most of it is simply a plot summary (which I also told them not to do). Ugh. Not good.

Today I made my students compete a little and debate whether 1789 brought more change, or if continuity was in fact more prominent. The first two classes did brilliantly. Both sides came up with a ton of examples for their case, and even debated each other sometimes over the grey areas. I was so proud. The third class, though... oy. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I love them, but they're probably going to fail. Three of the 10 did wonderfully, and really put in a ton of work. The others... either just followed along or honestly knew nothing. My Continuity group in that class couldn't figure anything out on their own. They obviously had done no work... I was really disappointed with them.

* * * * *
Oh yeah - one of my students who failed my class last semester has sunk to new lows. From what we can figure out, it is highly likely that the student forged my advisor's signature in order to add our class to his schedule *last Friday*. The story has been complicated more and more, but the story as we know it right now is that he originally was in another freshman-level core class - one not run by our department - but was administratively dropped. (The only reason this would happen would be if he didn't attend the first two weeks' classes.) Then he *claims* that he signed into "Section 16" of our class. But we don't have a section 16. The class with the same number and a section 16 is another course run by our department - but I spoke with some of the grads who teach that class, and they never saw this kid, either. Then the kid *claims* that he signed into section 25 of our course, and that my advisor signed the drop/add sheet last Friday. So the numerous problems with this last statement are:

1) My advisor has made it a policy not to sign in anyone for the course. Since there are 5 graduate TAs and 15 sections, he didn't want to screw with our rosters without our OK. Therefore, he has been sending any and all students who would like to come into the class to us, and gives us full authority to decide whether or not to allow anyone else in to the class. So the claim that my advisor "signed him in" is bogus.

2) My advisor... whom I know very, very well... doesn't come to campus on Fridays. :-)

3) Finally, we asked him, and he denies signing any forms.

So now the department is in the process of trying to get the form from the Registrar's office so my advisor can see for himself what the signature looks like. And then... well, in my mind the Dean of Students and the police should probably be called. But we'll see....

* * * * *

We also had a student come in to the office today looking, generically, for "my ta..." We asked whom she was looking for - she didn't know. She vaguely knew that her class was about Latin American, so I knew which 5 people it could be. But I wasn't in the mood to deal with oblivious and ignorant students, so I just sat there. She finally said it was a guy, and she thought he "might" be Canadian. There's only one guy who fit that, so I asked if it was him - first name, then added his last name after a pause. She asked, "Are those two different guys?" "No," I replied, "that's his name: ___ _____." She just looked dumbly back at me. The the other grad asked what her TA looks like. She hemmed and hawed and finally said that he had darkish hair... and was tall... He also asked if her TA wore glasses, and she said no.

At this point, I just started to laugh. The girl - still completely oblivious and a bit vacuous in her responses - didn't seem to understand. I finally said that we don't have anyone in our department who fits that description - tall, dark, un-bespectacled, and Canadian. The other grad was chuckling, too. I explained that the person whose name I had offered is Canadian, but he is short and wears glasses. He's maybe 5'5", if that. The girl still didn't understand. She continued to say that her TA is quite tall and doesn't wear glasses. She sat down to wait "in case" whomever she was waiting for showed up. I couldn't take it - I finally said that the next time she came it probably would be helpful is she could tell us the name of the person she wanted to meet. Her reply - "I've only been in class for, like, three weeks." [As if that explains it????} I gave up.

When her TA - the one whom I said it was to begin with - came in, she exclaimed that she had never noticed his glasses.... He remarked that she should pay more attention, since he wears them all of the time. From the rest of their conversation, I think she's been missing more than just what her TA looks like....

Gah. Students.

Monday, February 9, 2009

I learned this weekend...

1. That short-term study carrels rock. I practically lived in one this weekend at the library. You get it for 6 hours, and it is a really nice change from my office.

2. That reading three books about Nazism, Nazi ideology, and European racism is enough to depress anyone.

3. That the Enlightenment, if discussed in the right way, can actually be fun to discuss.

4. That Spain DID have an Enlightenment!!!

5. That the banning of a specific kind of hat led to the dissolution of the entire Jesuit order in 1767. Only Spain, baby, only Spain.

6. That I get a little frustrated when professors ignore my email for multiple days...

7. That I have the ability, if I'm not having migraines, to actually get work done. I read 5 books between Saturday and Sunday, and am reading a major work in my field today (and so am going slower because it is the classic work on the 18th century in Spain).

8. That weather shifts of 50 degrees are annoying. It was 80 degrees the middle of last week; they're predicting SNOW, even down here in the metro valley, tonight. Blah. I want my desert heat back.

Tomorrow I have another meeting with my advisor, and I was hoping that on Thursday I could meet with the one committee member whom I know doesn't think I'm doing well for her list. But since she hasn't replied, I'm not sure yet. I'm just trying to work as hard as I can. I have made it two weeks without migraines, and have basically been at work every day for those two weeks. Even on the last two Sundays, I've gone to church and then headed to work after lunch. It kind of stinks, but I don't have a choice if I'm going to pass comps.

One month. *shudders*

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I feel a little less stupid

I met with my advisor to talk about Spain, and therefore talk about comps, this afternoon. We haven't done this for a very, very long time. We're talking months. I was petrified. I walked in feeling like I knew nothing about Spain, and he was going to tell me that I have no right being here. Our meeting went very differently.

* He first asked me if I could talk about what I thought were recent trends in the historiography. So I thought for a while, trying to orient myself and put the large amount of crap in my head in chronological order, and finally started talking about questions of identity and complex relations between class, gender, regionalism, and the state.

* He was happy with that as a starting point, and so asked what historical reasons there would be for that trend popping up when it did. I thought, and came up with an answer that seemed utterly too simple. As I thought, I finally said aloud that normally when I think that an answer is too simple and overthink it, David usually tells me that was what he was looking for in the first place. So I gave him my simple answer. And he said, "Absolutely!"

* Then he embarked on what should have been a very simple question, but he wanted to make it obtuse. So, of course, I looked at him like he was insane and had no idea what he was talking about. After about 3 minutes of him continuing to ask the question in different ways, I finally figured out what he was talking about, answered it - again, the really basic answer - and we went on.

* After that stop-start-stop-start beginning, we proceeded to talk for 2 good hours about the historiography. I found that I could legitimately talk about the holes in the field, why I thought some of the holes were there, where the major trends seemed to be, when the major trends seemed to pop up, perhaps why they seemed to pop up, etc.

* He also explained his thoughts on potential exam questions. Right now there are five potentials for writtens and orals:

--Historiography question - asking some broad question about historiographic trends, akin to what we did today, or perhaps focusing in on a more specific topic, not sure yet

--Teaching question - asking how to teach Spain in the context of either an Atlantic World or a World history course - so I would have to have a plan for how to design and teach an entire course, complete with readings and strategies in mind

--Eighteenth century - question on the Spanish Enlightenment and how it connects or compares to the Enlightenment in the rest of Europe

--Nineteenth century - perhaps a broader question on the Spanish 19th century; we talked about maybe giving me a broader question here to let me play with it a bit more

--Twentieth century - a question on the impact of the end of the Franco regime and the transition era - though he told me that he's not leaning toward this question. For which I would be glad. Though I did have to ask for more books if he has any hope of making me discuss the Spanish Enlightenment, because he neglected to give me any readings that so much as discuss it even a little. So, ack, I had to add more books today. On the bright side, he said that means I can cut out three books in exchange. Yay!

When I finally got out of the meeting, I actually felt *not* stupid about my specialization. Woo-hoo!!

So, maybe I do know something about Spain... Now I just have to get the other 4 committee members to feel this good about me (and vice versa).

Friday, January 30, 2009

My roster trumps your PDA

Today has been full of important things and not-so-important things. Some good, some bad, some frustrating, and some worthy of jumping up and down and yelling for joy (if that didn't hurt my head).

The Bad
My students either did not show up today or did not come prepared. Out of 46 students that should have been there, only around 30 bothered to come to class; out of that 30, I would say only about 4 were actually prepared for class. In once section, only two students brought their books, and only one person knew anything about the reading or lecture. I gave one class a pop quiz due to their lack of preparation from last week. It looks like next week every one of my classes deserves some punishment. Bah. It's awfully early in the semester for such awful behavior. It's only the third week of class!! This gives me grave doubts about their ability to survive the next 13 weeks....

The Funny
We have the ability to administratively drop students who do not attend class. My boss and the TAs decided that we would drop anyone who missed 2 out of the first 3 Friday sections. So this past Wednesday, I went through my rosters and ended up dropping 3 students from the lists - one from each class. I emailed the names and section #s to my boss just in case the students threw hissy fits and told one of the new TAs that I have never had a student who had been dropped actually show up. I spoke too soon.

I arrived at my first classroom and started unpacking and getting set up when a student I didn't recognize asked if I had a syllabus. The rest of our interaction went something like this:

Me: "Were you not in class the past two Fridays? I handed the syllabi out two weeks ago."
Student: "Nah, I wasn't here."
Me: [looks skeptically at student] "What's your name?"
S: "My name is _____."
Me: [recognizes the name as one that I dropped, but not from this class; the student had been registered in my 11 a.m. class, not the 10 a.m. class] "I'm looking at my roster, and you are not registered in this class."
S: "Yes, I am."
Me: "No, no, you're not. I'm looking at the official roster. You have never been in this section."
S: [comes over to me and whips out his PDA] "Yes, I am. See? This is my schedule. It's right here! So I have to be here."
Me: "That doesn't matter. You are not registered in this section." [Am logging into my rosters as he continues to shove his PDA in my face, as if the PDA trumps all] "Look - you are not on these rosters. If you were not here the first two weeks, you were administratively dropped from the class. But you were never registered for this section, no matter what."
S: "Well, I was registered for some class.... How do I get back in?"
Me: "You will have to speak with the professor." [Then ensued a few minutes of trying to explain the idea of "office hours" because he didn't understand that my boss is not sitting in his office every second of the day. Then he said that he's on the baseball team and can't go speak with the professor anyway. *sigh*]

When I got home this afternoon, I saw an email from my boss. The student, who did not know either my name or the professor's name, emailed him saying that had gone "to his correct section" and had been told he wasn't in the class anymore and wanted to know how to get back in. My boss explained kindly that he had explained the attendance policy in lectures, on the syllabus, and it had been explained in sections, and if the student had come to any of these he would have been aware of these facts. As such, since he had already missed so much of the course, the professor could not break his own rules and let him back in.

See? My roster trumps your PDA any day of the week! :-p

The Good
I went to a massage therapy session this afternoon. I have been in so much pain lately that I was getting desperate. I had to try something before I gave up. So after trying to do some research and getting no help from the health center, I decided to try a therapy place about 1/2 mile from my apartment. I researched the therapists there, and about 1/4 of them are members of the American Massage Therapy Association, and all of them are licensed and certified. They do all different kinds of work - deep tissue massage, swedish massage, pressure points, shiatsu, and about 5 others that I don't know anything about. So after work today, I came home and went there for a 30 minute appointment. It was a little weird at first, since I'm not used to being that not-dressed with anyone, but I was really comfortable with the therapist they paired me with. She's not much older than me, and reminded me a lot of the physical therapists I've worked with in the past. She even showed me some neck stretches to do for the tightness there. It was all very professional and very relaxing. I'm still really tight - as I knew I would be, considering how many migraines I've had lately and how tight I was to begin with. But it was really nice. I will absolutely go back. Soon. I just wish it was a bit cheaper. It's around $30 a session, which isn't terrible at all. It's just that I have no money. So we'll see. Maybe in two weeks I'll go back, to try to help me get through comps stuff.

The VERY Good
And, finally, the very good news... I got an email today and learned: I made it past the first round of the Fulbright!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Me = relieved beyond belief. If the email had been bad news, I would probably be in a little ball of stress trying to figure out what in the world to do with my life and how to survive financially once the paychecks all stop in May. So, yay, national committee for passing me along to Spain! Now comes the long, long waiting period. God's will be done.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Roughest of Days

Today has been a very hard day.

It started out far too early, waking up at 6 and feeling poorly, and then facing unpleasant weather (which only exacerbates my health problems). I drove to work and had a decent morning, my first two classes surprising me by coming fairly prepared and working really hard. I was feeling better when I went to lunch.

I rarely do this, but I got out my laptop while I was eating my sandwich in the union, and thought I'd check my email. I found an email from one of my old friends from my undergrad, asking if one of our mutual friends had passed away. She was asking based on comments being left on our friend's Facebook page.

Our friend Brooke, like her father and grandmother, had Marfan Syndrome - a genetic disorder that causes a whole host of problems, but can cause especially devastating troubles with the heart and circulatory system. Both Brooke and her dad had been suffering from aneurysms over the last five years. Her dad almost died from a heart aneurysm our freshman year of college, in 1999, and eventually passed away from another one this past year. Brooke herself almost died twice while attending seminary and working on her M.Div, and had told me that she had constant aneurysms and could die at any time if they didn't catch them in time.

I immediately looked at her facebook page and saw the messages that had alarmed our other friend, but was not able to do anything more because I had to go teach my third class of the day. On my way to class, I called my mom back East, knowing that she has been resting at home after pulling a muscle. I couldn't believe I was forming the words, but I asked her if she could get on the computer and see if she could find an obituary for Brooke in Kentucky, Tennessee, or Mississippi (the three states in which she had lived). I confess that I could have cared about teaching that next hour, but I focused on my students, and then as soon as I was out of the building again, I called Mom back.

She told me she had found what I feared. My dear, dear friend passed away yesterday after undergoing surgery for an aneurysm. Her surgery went well, but her one remaining kidney failed and she did not pull through. My dear friend, whom I love, joined her daddy last night.

Within 30 minutes, I had talked to both of my college roommates, gotten a call from my friend Bethany (who had gotten a call from Brooke's college roommate as well), and had contacted as many friends online as I could think of, sending them the funeral information Mom had found for me. Then I had to go sit in an hour-long meeting about the budget crisis and learn such depressing things like our department's budget comes 97% from state funds and other such stuff, so we are inordinately affected by any and all state cuts, etc..

I love you, Brooke. I will always think of you when I talk about Marfan's, when I speak in sign language, when I see anyone drinking from a bottle of Pepto Bismol, whenever I see any Heath Ledger movie, when watching Steel Magnolias, when admiring a beautiful painting (for your paintings were breathtaking), whenever I think of people who inspire me, and when think of friendship.

On the way home from work, I was struggling to not completely bawl. It was the first time that I had the chance to cry, other than when I sobbed in the bathroom before the meeting. As I was about ready to let loose, K pointed out a double rainbow in the sky. It was beautiful. For the entire ride home, I felt as if Brooke was with me. When I got home, I looked back at her FB page again, and saw one of her other friends' comments, which ended with the words, "You are my rainbow."

Yes, yes she is.