travel time is thinking time

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in thought over the last few weeks.  Lots of alone time opens up the reflective process, I guess.  Lots of alone time on various planes, busses and trains helps even more, perhaps.

I don’t have any definitive conclusions out of all this thinking yet, but I’m working on it.  Because I’ve had plenty to think about on professional and personal levels. I’m not sure I knew there was so much to ponder but that whole alone thing really opened up the floodgates.

Where do I want to go with my career?  Where do I want to move my research and writing focus, given that I have the opportunity to make a shift?  What would actually make me happy, academically and professionally?

What do I actually want? To have, to do, to be?  Have I ever really allowed myself to answer that question?  How can I shift my thinking to “this is what will make me happy” instead of “this is what I should do” when I’ve been stuck in the latter for so long?

What would happen if I finally accepted “single” as a status? How can I learn to let go of my past relationships as a judgment on my worth as a person?  Would I be happier if I stopped trying to find something that may not exist?

And that’s just for starters.

love, love, love

I love Australia.

This is the most amazing country.  Utterly amazing.  There is so much sky; you stand under the gorgeousness of this immense blue canopy and realize how small you truly are. There is so much beauty – in the rust red earth, the dusty red rocks, the dark and light and silvered green leaves, the green and azure and turquoise blue water.  It looks different, it smells different, it feels different and I love it.

I spent the day in Darwin, exploring the WWII history here, which I absolutely loved (and I fell in with a couple from Canada who were absolutely delightful – as Canadians are – so my day was also spent in pleasant company).  Yesterday, I spent a few hours on the water, taking in the beauty of Katherine Gorge.  The day before, I spent a few hours walking in the Outback near Alice Springs.  The day before that I was leaving Adelaide after a really great conference.

Can you imagine taking a 54 hour train ride over 1800 miles? Truly, one of the most incredibly experiences of my life.  From Adelaide to Darwin, I sat back and watched this vast country flow past my window.  One morning, we stopped and clambered off the train in the dark.  As I stood with my back to a bonfire and a mug of tea in my hands, I watched the sun flood across the horizon and I thought, This.  This is something I will never forget.

I am so glad I made this trip.

conference: completed

In what is truly a momentous event, I have finished a conference feeling like an accomplished academic.  This never happens!

Seriously: this conference has been a huge boost to my professional self-esteem. And I can honestly say I needed this.  Not that I was feeling particularly depressed about my academic potential but I’m always harboring feelings that I can’t really cut it in professional circles.  I won’t say that I’m suddenly feeling like the second coming of Socrates but I definitely feel better about my academic self.

I was invited to speak at this conference, a complete first for me.  How that came about is sort of random but, in the end, that doesn’t matter: they asked me to come, they asked me to give two talks, I said yes.  Knowing this, of course I didn’t do my talks until the last minute.  I’d been thinking about them for months but actually sitting down and putting them together: yeah, we all know how that goes.  Part of my problem was the simple fact that I’ve never presented at length before.  Doing a 20 minute research talk takes a little prep but, in general, I can kind of wing it.  Doing a 45 minute keynote isn’t something I can pull out off the top of my head.

You can imagine the nerves.  But maybe that helped, because I really worked on these talks.  For all intents and purposes, I wrote two papers.  And I just checked: one was 4600 words, the other 4000.  That’s pretty substantive, thank you very much.  Talks are different, of course; you don’t need to present the arguments as formally and you cite in completely different ways but you’re still writing a cogent consideration with lots of support.  And one of them even included quite a few videos.

The first one was pretty good; the second one was great – if I may say so.  I had some compliments on the first one, which was offered to a decent sized audience (about 130) but I got the feeling many of them were offered for politeness sake.  And that’s fine.  I was talking on a topic tangential to the day’s main theme; some people really appreciated that but I’m sure it seemed lightweight in comparison to the others.  The second talk was the winner.  I had about 250 people there, the largest audience I’ve ever had for a talk.  People were really interested in what I was offering; I had some good questions at the end of it; people were laughing at loud at some of my witty attempts.

I think I’m a pretty good speaker, and I think I’m a pretty good writer.  I don’t always think I’m a good academic.  I’m not a heady thinker kind of person; my thinking is more of the “what can we do with this” type.  I understand theory, and I can use it when I need to, but I don’t always do a good job with it.  I suppose part of it is not playing the game very well.  I know how this works: quoting the right people, using the right buzzwords, striking the right academic tone.  Choosing not to do that is a indeed a choice to put myself outside the inner circle.

So, this time, I played the game but on my terms.  I used my big words; I incorporated theory; I quoted a few experts.  But I also did things my way: I included stories, I made things personal, I used the academic stuff to set the foundation and then I built my own house.  And, for once, it worked.

It helped immensely that I was speaking to teachers.  The other professors in the room: they were nice enough but the earth didn’t move for them.  And that makes sense.  I was offering things they already knew in language that they use everyday – nothing too exciting there.  But the teachers really liked it; today, they loved it. Honestly, I was overwhelmed by some of their comments: that they had never considered the topic that way before, that I was inspiring, that I had given them lots to think about, that they had enjoyed my talk more than any other in the conference.  I was talking on the subject connected to my book (how awesome to say that) and several people told me they’d bought it in the bookshop.  One woman asked me to autograph it: seriously, someone asked me for my autograph!

I won’t lie, it was nice to have people say such nice things.  They stopped me in the hallway, they came up to me at lunch, they tweeted.  I’m not that kind of academic; I don’t get recognition like that.  It was flattering and I really appreciated it.  But more than anything, it was gratifying to feel like I’d offered something meaningful to people. Having adults you don’t know stop you to say they had really learned something from what you had to say: that’s pretty heady stuff.

I’ll never be a rockstar in academic circles – the paper rejection received today confirms that – but I can take what I know and make it accessible to teachers and students.  It might hurt my ego to think I’m not taken seriously by my peers as an intellect but, in the long run, I think it might mean more to make a difference to the person I once was – a classroom teacher, an undergraduate student – than the person I struggle to be.

not exactly the start I was hoping for

Well, I made it to Australia and, although I’ve not seen very much of it at all, I love it. I’m sure no one in this country would appreciate my saying so, but it’s just British enough to make me feel comfortable and yet different enough to be exciting. I’m not even to the amazing parts yet (although Adelaide is perfectly nice) and I find it fascinating.

However, my excitement is tempered somewhat with feeling pretty crappy.  I walked around yesterday; since it was raining, most of my time was spent in local museums, so I learned some South Australian history, which I quite enjoyed.  About halfway through the day, though, I realized minor discomfort was turning into major illness; a delicious bowl of pho for dinner was helpful but even comfort food can’t stave off bacteria.

And here’s why I already love this country.  I called the front desk to ask about a local doctor; they found an appointment for me this afternoon.  I walked over, filled out some forms, saw a doctor within 10 minutes, peed in a cup and had the lovely GP confirm what I suspected: infection.  I went straight to the pharmacy a block over and left 10 minutes later with antibiotics.  Total: 45 minutes of my time and about $100. Obviously, I’d prefer not to spend money on something so decidedly un-fun  but I’d also prefer not to be sick, so it seems well worth the cost.

In addition to practical healthcare, they admit to their racist past in their museums, with clear explanations of their horrible treatment of native peoples and non-white immigrants. The US should take a page from that playbook.  And they let people meet you at the gate at the Adelaide airport.  Seriously.  That’s pretty cool.

So, yes, I’m finally in a country I’ve wanted to visit my entire life.  I had a day to enjoy myself and now, in addition to feeling like shit, I’ve spent the day attempting to work on my presentations.  Tomorrow will be more of the same, with high hopes that I’m feeling much better.

on the plane 

When you’ve slept about 4 hours in the last 24 and you’re still dealing with jet lag from the last trip, getting on a plane to Australia sounds about as appealing as chewing glass. 

I have some leg room since I’m in the bulkhead. I may ask for another blanket to get a little more comfortable. I’m going to force myself to read for an hour or so before trying to sleep. I’m going to pray that the guy at the end of my row stops talking, although he seems like the kind of person who would talk to a wall and wait for it to answer. 

I already feel grimy. Yuck. 

The highlight of the day was meeting a friend for dinner. I got to see a bit of LA and, more importantly, catch up with someone I just love: the little brother of an ex-boyfriend. He assured me he hadn’t given up on the two of us. Jokingly, of course, but it reminds me of how much I loved that family. 

quality airport time with the emotions

You know what happens when you read misread your flight information? You end up with a 15-hour layover in LAX.  sigh

How I did this, I don’t know; part of me really wants to think the airline modified the itinerary (…there was an update at one point…) but I’m pretty sure it’s just my own stupidity.  I’ve been flying how long? And yet I don’t notice the AM flight is actually a PM flight, which resulted in me getting up at 3:30 this morning to make a ridiculously early flight that I could have taken about 8 hours later. And I didn’t realize it until we were on our way to the airport, so I didn’t have a chance to change it – I didn’t even notice when I was getting my boarding passes!

So, here I am, sitting in an airport lounge, thanks to a one-day pass, whiling away the hours until I leave.  I’m trying to work but I’m so sleepy that I can’t keep my eyes open.  Between getting about 4 hours of sleep last night and the jet lag from my recent trip, I am all out of energy.  Maybe this means I’ll sleep on the plane but that’s probably optimistic.

Yes, I’m off again, this time to Down Under.  After a month in the UK, I had three days at home to regroup and catch a plane to the other side of the world. The impetus for the trip is my speaking at a conference (two talks, actually, neither of which I’ve written); getting there gave me the platform to stay and see some of the country.

People keep asking me if I’m excited and I feel like a jerk when I have to fake the enthusiasm.  Yes, I am excited; I’ve always wanted to visit Australia, even before I could find it on the map, so this is really a dream trip for me.  I’ll have two and half weeks to travel, in addition to the time spent in the conference city, and I know I’m going to see amazing things.

I’m also tired; I think I have been for a very long time, given how little I’ve done to get ready for the trip.  I was booking a place to stay during week 2 last night – seriously, the night before I get on the plane.  I have a rough itinerary in my head but nothing is really set in stone – well, except for the train trip I booked a month ago, which should be amazing.

Yes, tired.  And evidently discombobulated.  And overwhelmed.  For lots of reasons, some front and center, some percolating quietly in the back of my head.  I’ll admit, I’ve been distracted by my relationship with Rockford, choosing to spend time with him that should have gone toward so many other things that needed my attention. Living in the moment is all well and good but it isn’t a recipe for success as an academic.

I don’t regret it, no; I’ve really enjoyed the last almost-9 months with him. He’s made me happy and that’s been a nice space to inhabit.  It’s coming to an end, though – at least it feels that way.  Various things have happened recently that confirm what I’ve suspected for awhile: I don’t figure into his life the way he figures into mine.  Dealing with that realization the last few days has been difficult for me, silly as that may be. We’re still dating, at least for the time being, but that’s all it is and that will end when I leave for my fellowship, if not before.  I hate it.  So much.  That I can’t just enjoy the moment and that I let myself get attached and that I always want more from people than they can give.

Regardless, I’m off on an adventure now. It’s been some time since I’ve traveled completely by myself, so this will be an adventure in other ways, too.  I’m looking forward to it, the solitary time and the chance to recharge and the opportunity to see things I’ve only ever read about.  Yes, I’m excited; it’s just tinged with so many other emotions.

always an imposter

Does the imposter syndrome ever go away?  I’m thinking not.  And that just sucks.

I know I’m an intelligent person.  I know I’m an educated person.  In most situations, I speak well and write well.  I’ve been tenured and promoted.  All signs point to me being a fairly accomplished academic.

But, man, do I feel like an idiot when in the company of other academics. And it really feels like they think that, too.

It’s like I lose all that intelligence and education as soon as I’m having a conversation with someone at a conference.  My contributions seem trite and unformed compared to theirs and add exactly nothing to the conversation.

My formal contributions seem to fall flat, too.  I’m a pretty good presenter, I think; I know how to engage an audience, I have visually appealing slides, I usually get eye contact and nods of the head.  I can hear myself, and I’m fairly well-spoken, even off the top of my head. I clearly know what I’m talking about as I present and I know how to connect the pieces into a coherent whole.

But when it’s all over, I don’t feel like I’ve added anything to the discourse.  I’m good at presenting but I’m not sure I’m saying anything worthwhile.  No one seems to be walking away thinking, huh, I hadn’t thought of that before or wow, she makes a good point.  I feel like I’m a fluffy academic, someone who cleans up well and keeps things relatively pleasant but doesn’t offer any depth to the conversation.  Basically, I feel like my peers think I’m a light-weight, that while I’m nice enough, they don’t respect me as an academic.

Maybe that’s why I enjoy teaching.  I know what I’m talking about in the classroom, I have the chance to demonstrate that I am an intelligent person and I can tell that my audience is taking something away.  Because I sure don’t feel that way anywhere else.

I’m not having a pity party, by the way, just musing as I sit in the hotel before my flight home tomorrow.  I’m not sure there’s much I can do about this.  I’m 10 years into my professor life; I’m not suddenly going to turn myself into a rock star academic.  I’ll keep plugging along, doing the best I can and struggling through the waves of ineptitude as they come.