Category Archives: Academia

Reflections on The Model Arab League Manual

CcdaDXRW0AIYtX2.jpg-largeToday, my dear friend Phil and I celebrate the publication of The Model Arab League Manual: A Guide To Preparation and Performance, published by Manchester University Press. This book has been in the making for over two years now, with our principle writing beginning in January 2014. At that point, I had been involved in the world of Model Arab League (MAL), a diplomatic simulation program sponsored by the National Council on US-Arab Relations (NCUSAR) geared at high school and college students that mimics the procedures of the Arab League, for roughly ten years. MAL fosters leadership, public speaking, and knowledge of the Arab world, with committees ranging from Social, Political, and Environmental Affairs to special topics on the Status of Women and Heads of State. If you had told me in 2004 that I would go on to be a national leader in this program, let alone coauthor the book on the program, I would have laughed. Hard.

“What’s Eritrea?” – this simple question began my involvement with the Model Arab League (MAL) program. A question that, I admit, shows my complete ignorance in the early days.

I began my studies of the Arab world in 2003 as a freshman member of Converse College’s then-called “Model League of Arab States” program. Unlike many of the illustrious women in Converse’s now almost 30-year program, my career did not begin as auspiciously as most. Having failed to secure a spot on our team during our tryouts, I was asked later to join the team by my adviser, Dr. Joe P. Dunn. I was thrown into a world of study that I now find myself defending my dissertation on, knowing as little then about the Arab world as most American freshmen. In that first academic year, I met some colleagues I still work with regularly, including Dr. Philip D’Agati, then just masters student Phil from Northeastern University, the former Secretary-General of the National Conference cum chair of the Ministers of the Interior (Political Affairs) Committee chair.

My position at that conference was glorified “gopher” for the secretariat, brought along with my team because we did not have a debating spot open. Instead, within minutes of the beginning of the conference, I found myself representing the entire delegation of Eritrea, splitting my time between Ministers of the Interior and the Arab Court of Justice. I had almost no time to prepare my country’s position and, I’ll admit, had no idea that my country even existed.

“What’s Eritrea?” has become a joke between myself and Phil, who, as the lead student for the Eritrean delegation the previous year, took it upon himself (along with a few other Northeastern University students) to brief me on everything I would need to know in the ten minutes he had to spare. Their willingness to step in to help a completely green delegate from an opposing delegation was my first experience with my MAL family. My head delegate, Josie Fingerhut (now Major Josie Shaheen, United States Army), told me to find Phil, whom I had never met before, and ask him about Eritrea. “What’s Eritrea?” was the wrong question to ask, which Phil pointed out immediately.

“It’s ‘Where’s Eritrea,’ and clearly we have a lot of work to do.”

Indeed.

That work, found in countless binders (this was before the days of laptops in committee and Wi-Fi access) that still grace my home office, has become a life’s project, and I still reference them when working on my courses and research. In fact, this program has touched parts of my life I never would have expected. When applying for my first job out of graduate school in 2010, the person doing my interview for a communications position at the First Presbyterian Church of Athens, Georgia saw Model Arab League on my resume. “If you thrived in that program, you can handle anything we’ll throw at you,” she said. The reputation of the MAL program, which as students we help to form through our involvement, exists outside of political science programs and university campuses.

I got the job.

The value of this program can be seen in the lives of both the students I matriculated with and those I have since advised. The MAL program, and NCUSAR, has afforded us all so many opportunities, including summer Arabic language study in the region and specialized two-week fellowships to individual member states. Alums of the program have gone on to work for the United States military, NGOs, the State Department, and yes, even to careers in academia studying the region. Upon attending the 2013 Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference, I was delighted to see so many nametags, mine included, proudly displaying “Alumni” ribbons.

While pursuing my Ph.D. at Virginia Tech, I began a small program with our political science undergrads, bringing two students, Rachel Kirk and Elizabeth Womack, to the 2012 Southeast Regional Model Arab League. Our fledgling partial delegation, which managed somehow to come in seventh when only present in three of the eight committees, led to the reestablishment of the Regional and International Organizations program at Virginia Tech, for which I taught the corresponding course and served as faculty adviser.

From 2003-2012, I held nearly every position possible in the world of Model Arab League: delegate, justice, vice-chair, regional chair, national Chief Justice, and faculty adviser. Only a few others from our student ranks can say the same, and in 2012, I was awarded the NCUSAR “Model Arab League Lifetime Achievement Award” – not too shabby for someone who still is not quite 30 (though one does wonder from time to time if one has peaked when achieving a Lifetime Achievement Award before even graduating from their Ph.D. program).

Virginia Tech Delegation at CARMAL

Virginia Tech’s 2013 MAL Delegation winning awards in every committee at the Capital Area Regional MAL.

If someone had told me freshman year that I would end up being the faculty adviser for a MAL team, let alone would receive an award for my service to this program, I doubt I would have believed them. It was only through participating in the Model Arab League program that I developed the skills necessary to hold this position, and for the experiences Joe Dunn, Dr. John Duke Anthony, and others have granted me, I am forever grateful. I cannot describe the pride I experienced as my students prepared for the 2013 Capital Area Regional Model Arab League conference, nor the utter joy I felt when  they earned their first “Best Delegation” award, sweeping individual awards in every single committee. This is why I sought to start a team at Virginia Tech—to help give students the same opportunities that have helped shape me into the academic I am now.

The Model Arab League Manual is the culmination of over decade’s joys and frustrations, all shared with one of the best colleagues I’ve ever had. Thank you so much to Manchester University Press, NCUSAR, and all of our former students and colleagues who helped us delve through mountains of paperwork, PDFs, and archival research to make this book a reality.

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Nerd Cred and Teaching with Ms. Marvel

Given my overall nerd cred (Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc.), the fact that I was nearly 30 before I really began to get into comic books might be surprising to those who know me. I would say that my first brush with Marvel came with a computer game my brother and I had called “Spider-Man and Captain America in Doctor Doom’s Revenge.” It came with a comic book, which I’m pretty sure is still at our mom’s house (along with a decomposing pile of 5 ¼” floppies). Regarding DC, Christopher Reeve’s Superman was on regular rotation in our VCR, and to this day if someone in our family says “I’ve got you!” the only response is “You’ve got me… Who’s got you??X-Men: The Animated Series was a huge part of my formative years, and my roommate in college had copies of Wolverine: Origin that I sometimes skimmed, but nothing ever sucked me in.

Nevertheless, comics are something I’ve always dabbled in cursorily. I know myself. Huge, overarching storylines, alternate universes for certain characters, intricate plots? Sign me up! So I avoided them. Harry Potter kind of burned me for Works in Progress (let us not forget the Three-Year Summer), so comics just seemed too… open-ended.[1]

When Iron Man came out, I wasn’t terribly interested. Eric Bana’s Hulk had been less than stellar, so when The Incredible Hulk came out, I responded much in the same way as I did when they announced the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man movies: Really? Again?? Right after Iron Man came out on DVD (blu-ray?), my cousin E. and her husband C. had me over to their house to show off an awesome new home theater system, and we watched it.

My interest was peaked. However, that might have been RDJ blindness more than anything else.

I really didn’t bust my butt to watch anymore MCU movies, though. On the DC, side, beyond the original Superman movies, I had seen Batman Begins and of course saw The Dark Knight (though to this day I still haven’t sat down and watched The Dark Knight Rises). Other encounters with Batman (go Keaton!) as a kid came edited for TV with commercial interruptions on TNT. My only brush with the Fantastic Four prior to last summer’s mishigas was season 4 of Arrested Development. I hadn’t even seen the X-Men movies until early 2015 (the rampant livetweeting of which led to several unfollows on Twitter and Facebook).

Mystery Men and The Incredibles, however, are still on my list of favorite movies of all time.

So why this lengthy confession? Well, things began to change in 2014. I barreled through the MCU in preparation for Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, both of which I knew I’d be seeing that summer. And I started watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and then Agent Carter (if I start something, I watch it all. Completionist/Perfectionist Syndrome). And then… Yeah, it became my go-to distraction when I needed a break from work.

But jumping into actual comic books from the movies and television shows was terrifying and daunting. It’s like jumping into Doctor Who: where do you start? From the beginning? From the most recent major event? And with which character? And what publisher? And will people judge you if you pick the wrong place to start?

The answer came in the form of G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel. Word had gotten around to me that the new Ms. Marvel was going to be a young Pakistani-American Muslim woman, and I was intrigued. I began to talk to others about Kamala Khan, and intrigue became genuine interest. It was a new series, and really all that it required was someone to basically tell me who Carol Danvers was and why this was a Big Deal.  So this summer, armed with my debit card and my super supportive partner, I began buying comic books.

The summer of the Secret Wars seemed to be a pretty good place to jump in. I picked up the first trade paperback of Ms. Marvel… and then several back issues… and then some Captain Marvel… and then Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps

It got out of hand. Not in a “I spent all my rent money on comic books” kind of way. More of an “I bought a box and dividers and bags and boards and now it’s all organized” situation.

Students at Roanoke College after our discussion of Ms. Marvel.

Students at Roanoke College after our discussion of Ms. Marvel, December 4, 2015.

The idea then came up to use Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal in the classroom. During Fall 2015, I taught a general education special topics course at Roanoke College entitled “Who or What is God?”  In it, we focus primarily on the history of God in Western religion. I try to incorporate media in the course each time (this year, the syllabus included An American Tail, Saved!, Doctor Who, and Ms. Marvel).

The first time you use a new resource in a course, you never know how it’s going to go. You, of course, bring your expertise to the table and pick what you hope are well-informed resources, but at the end of the day, you just never know how students will react. I used The Frisco Kid in a Judaism course once… it didn’t go well. Conversely, I’ve used Doctor Who several times at this point, which has been so successful I was able to publish an article.

A few days before the assigned day for Ms. Marvel, I reminded my students of the upcoming book assignment and asked how many of them had ever before read comic books. Of the fifteen students in the course, only one raised their hand. This got me even more excited—sharing a new medium and an awesome story is the kind of stuff of which teacher-dreams are made.

On a whim, I tweeted G. Willow Wilson to see what might come of it. Her kind words inspired me to share them with my students, who in turn were about as excited as you might imagine (read: super-super-excited).

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Not gonna lie. I got a little Kermit-the-Frog-Flaily.

The class discussion went wonderfully. We were able to tie in Kamala Khan’s story as a Pakistani-American woman to the inflammatory comments being made by Donald Trump regarding the Muslims of Jersey City after the 9/11 attacks. Most of my students are barely older than Kamala Khan herself and they, to, grew up in a primarily post-9/11 world. Overwhelmingly, they stated that they appreciated reading the story of a young woman from their world, representing Islam in a positive way. The last few years of teaching Islam have been some of my most rewarding—my students come in just wanting to know what they often call “the truth” about Islam, which generally refers to separating away radical Islamism from Islam. I think in some ways, this is influenced by the fact that every semester brings more Muslim students in my classes, so students are dealing with having Muslim peers more often than in years past. I was proud of my students this semester, especially for being so willing to check their biases at the door and consider the experiences of Muslims their own age.

In other comments, first-generation students in the class were able to tie in their experiences with those of Kamala Khan–being stuck between two worlds and not being quite sure of their identity. As a whole, the students appreciated the different representations of Muslims they saw in the comics, from Ms. Marvel’s concerns over the modesty of her clothing to Kamala’s brother Aamir’s more pious observance as compared to her parents’ traditional values. Many students were able to compare Kamala’s experiences to religious affiliation in their own families, religion and denominational differences notwithstanding. The title of the trade paperback might be “No Normal,” but much of the conversation revolved around how Kamala was “just like them”: from secretly writing fanfiction to being tempted to eat bacon to getting caught having snuck out after curfew. This is why I love using fiction to apply course concepts—students find themselves and their own experiences in a text, and their empathy with “the other” kicks into overdrive.

I absolutely will put Ms. Marvel on my syllabi in the future (in fact, I already have–I’m using it in my course on Islam this semester).  My only regret with the assignment was that I did not assign a written component to our discussion. I would have loved to hear even more of what they thought. I definitely will be assigning a journal or some sort of responsorial writing assignment in the future.

The students brought many questions to the table. But by far the best question that I got at the end of class?

“Are there more comics, Ms. Jordan? About Kamala?”

Yes, dear student, absolutely.

[1] PS: To my dear buddy MW, I still blame you for getting me to start Game of Thrones without telling me that only four (at that time) of the books were out…

For forays into using sci-fi in teaching, see my post The Impossible Pit:  Satan, Hell, and Teaching With Doctor Who.

The Apple Watch Sport and the (sort of) Perfect Month

If you had told me this time last year that half my laundry each week would be in the form of workout clothes, I would have laughed hysterically.  For me, exercise is something that often goes along with avoidance behavior.  Don’t want to write an article?  Jump on the elliptical (it’s work/productivity)!  It is also something that I tend to say I’m going to do starting around January, and by February, I’m sleeping in again.

The last two years have been a time of transition for me.  2014 was definitely the year to Get Happy.  And 2015 has turned out to be the year to Get Healthy.  Since last January, I have been keeping an eye on food and exercise in a way I never have.  And it shows.  I feel stronger and more flexible than I have since college, which is really my goal.  I haven’t been “dieting” or “cutting carbs” or anything–just eating slightly less, cooking at home, and making sure I move around more.  And yes, I’ve lost weight, but in healthy, consistent ways.

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The Activity app gives you achievements.  They’re like Xbox achievements, but with less Cheetos and more going outside.

I’ve had an Apple Watch (38mm Space Gray Aluminum Case with Black Sport Band) since June and have come to appreciate many of its functions.  Without question, my favorite feature is getting navigation steps on my wrist rather than having to look down at my phone while driving.  But the apps I use most by far are the Activity and Workout apps.  For the first several months, I kept myself aware of the parameters it was monitoring–Move, Exercise, and Stand–but I really didn’t care too much about them.  But with the increasingly shorter autumn days and the lack of sunlight making me crabby (and knowing that exercise really helps), I made the decision to shoot for a perfect month in November:  290 calories of movement, 30 minutes of exercise, and 12 hours of standing/moving each hour for 30 days.  Looming holiday weight gain was also another motivating factor (last year’s for me was about 4 pounds).

First, some statistics:  I’m 30, 5’0″, and my basal metabolic rate is roughly 1352 calories per day (I’m currently shooting for 1200 calories of food a day if I don’t exercise).  I set a goal of 290 calories of additional movement per day–a goal that was totally doable on days I went to the gym (a “normal” gym day plus my normal movement gets me in at closer to 385 calories) but slightly difficult on days off.  These parameters allowed this 30 day challenge to myself to actually be a challenge.  Luckily, I had friends along for the ride to keep me on track (thanks, B, B, S, and T!).

And now, Some Things I Learned About Myself and the Watch in November:

  1. I don’t move enough when I’m working – the Watch, if you enable the feature, reminds you to stand up at the :50s of every hour if you haven’t moved around.  Standing is not enough–you’ve got to move around a little (or, as I learned, do 30 squats).  If I’m really focused on writing or grading, I apparently can sit in place for 3-4 hours straight.  Everything I’ve ever been told about working at computers (or working in general) states that you should take small breaks every hour to move around and focus.  Having a reminder to do that (and a daily goal of 12 hours of standing) really helped me to realize how sedentary graduate school can make me sometimes.  And I’ve found that at the end of a day of writing where I move around appropriately, I’m far less stiff at night.
  2. Lazy Sundays really are lazy – by far, the most difficult day each
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    The Activity app gives you achievements.  They’re like Xbox achievements, but with less Cheetos and more going outside.

    week for me was Sunday.  My gym access is at work, which I’m at MWF.  On TTh, I generally walk downtown to work.  On Saturdays, my brother and I usually run errands and I do stuff around my apartment.  Sundays are total slug days, meant for catching up on TV, grading, and general lack of changing out of pajamas.  There were days that I had to exercise for nearly an hour at night just to make up for how little I had done during the day (and getting motivated to do that at 7:30 p.m. wasn’t always easy).  Luckily, I had friends keeping me motivated when I couldn’t find the motivation myself.
  3. It’s possible to psych out the Watch – The first three weeks of this challenge were hard but doable; I would exercise before bed if I had
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    I was in the car from noon to 7:30. You can totally see my once-per-hour-fist-bump-for-stand-goal in the exercise chart.

    not met my goals by the end of the day.  But by week four, holiday travel got in the way, and there were times that I simply could not stand up each hour (being stuck in the car for 7.5 hours on the Sunday after Thanksgiving will do that).  Fist-pumping raises your blood pressure and moves your arm around enough to make the watch think you’re moving (in some cases, it also gives you exercise minutes).  Bumpy car rides also psych it out–according to my Sunday statistics, I was moving around a little bit all day on Sunday.  So you might be asking, how accurate are the metrics?  When used normally, the metrics seem to be very accurate.  But as with all new tech, it’s not perfect yet.  So technically, did I have a Perfect Month? No…  But I did stay mindful daily of taking care of myself, so in that way, yes, it was perfect.
  4. Aristotle was right about habits – Several things kept me motivated this month:  not letting my friends also doing this 30 day challenge win/beat me (this was a huge motivator), wanting to continue this year of positive life-changes, wanting to stay ahead of the winter blues.  By the end of this month, though, I found myself feeling ooky on days I wasn’t moving around enough.  And consistent exercise every day made gym goals (including increasing weight at my BodyPump class) come easier.  I find myself breathing easier during cardio and feeling less fatigued after 30-45 minutes of hard exercise.  Many people say it takes 21 days to make something a habit (though others argue that depending on the difficulty of the habit, it could take longer), and on some level, I think that was part of what made that last week so hard–getting over that hurdle.  While this month (and all of my life changes this year) weren’t about losing weight, I did find that this consistent movement helped me break through a weight plateau I’ve been waffling around since May.  But I’m less concerned about weight and more about strength, and I’m definitely stronger now.

So what does that say about the coming month?  I’ve already been challenged by my peers to keep going (and, conversely, to keep supporting them of course), but with all of the upcoming travel I have for Christmukkah, I worry that this will cause more stress than good (plus, not gonna lie, it’s gray and gross outside, and I just want to stay on the couch).  But the voice in the back of my head, augmented by writing all this up, is reminding me just how much better I’ve felt this month.  So yeah, I’ll probably try.  Plus, the app is already peer pressuring me in continuing…

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That 12/2015 showed up out of nowhere. And I wants it…

Road Trip 2015 Entry 5 (Day 3 – MO to TX): Everything is Bigger (and Weirder) in Texas

As promised, I’ve got some more thoughts and stats about Day 3.  Between a lack of internet and sheer exhaustion, I’ve gotten behind on this blog.  Luckily, I took trip notes.

I-40 went on forever... and ever...

I-40 went on forever… and ever…

Left Springfield and made it to Oklahoma within the first hour or so.  I was immediately surprised by the speed limits on many of the state routes and highways.  I don’t believe I’ve ever driven on roads were the posted speed limit was 75 mph.  (I have, however, driven I-85/I-285 in Atlanta hundreds of times, and while the understood speed limit was at least 75, it wasn’t, exactly, legal.)  My mileage was definitely affected by going this quickly, but it was completely worth it.

As I mentioned before, Oklahoma looked nothing like I expected.  I think we get this impression growing up on the coasts that the “middle” of the country is just open, brown, and boring.  Oklahoma was anything but boring.  Rolling hills out of the Ozarks morphed to wide open spaces full of trees.  I only really got to the prairies I was expecting toward western OK going into Texas.  Tulsa was kind of a weird city to drive through.  Both kind of cooly modern while simultaneously weirdly dappled with casinos.

Me and my Aunt!

Me and my Aunt!

Stopped in Shawnee, OK to have lunch with my awesome Aunt T.  She’s my aunt in the sense that she is my mom’s oldest friend/maid of honor.  While the trip that day wasn’t particularly long mileage-wise, it was nice to have the break in the middle to catch up (I hadn’t seen Aunt T. since high school) and have some Pho at the brand-new Shawnee Pho (I’d link to it, but that’s how new it is).  Got that selfie in for Mom (how adorable are we?) before hitting the road again for Amarillo.

Leaving Shawnee began the long trek across I-40/Route 66.  Once I passed Oklahoma City, the road completely opened up and it began to get flatter.  The cross into Texas  was exactly what I expected.  Lots of oil fields and refineries.  The largest free-standing cross in the Americas (complete with matching late 90s style website!).  The prairie got more scrubby and desert-like as I went.  Absolutely stunning.


Got to Amarillo right before sunset for my second night of Couchsurfing.  While I still completely recommend it, I was a little wiped by the time I got there.  I get unusually (for me)  introverted when I get tired/stressed, so as lovely as Angela and her family were, I found myself struggling to be sociable.  Luckily, she and her kids seemed to get it and let me sit there watching Full House and Fresh Prince with them without expecting all that much interaction with me.  Went to sleep relatively early, as Angela needed me to get out of the house by about 6 a.m. (kids had to go to school), which gave me the opportunity to get going on my longest leg of the trip pretty early.

At this point in the trip, I’m at 1514 miles, so over halfway.  Definitely going to need an oil change once I get to California.

More posts coming up in the next few days.  Don’t want to rush this.  Luckily, all of the tech I used on this trip (and the actual handwritten notes I took) are allowing me to reconstruct this pretty well.

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Genius playlist based on “Everlong”

Trip Stats:
Starting OD (Springfield, MO):  214830
Ending OD (Amarillo, TX):  215407
Stop 1:  277 miles (Shawnee, OK)
Stop 2:  Some Miles (Somewhere near Texas?)
Stop 3: 299.3 Miles (Amarillo, TX)

Gas:
Fill-up 4:  12.263 gallons @ 2.36/gal – $29.05
Fill-up 5:  10.217 gal @ 2.37/gal – $24.20

MPG Day 2:  Tank 1:  27.23 mpg.  Tank 2:  27.11 MPG.  75 MPH highways had a lot to do with this.

Music:
Walk the Moon – Talking is Hard
Genius Playlist based on Foo Fighters “Everlong”
Jimmy Eat World – Futures
Kongos – Lunatic
matchbox twenty – Yourself or Someone Like You
MuteMath – Armistice

Road Trip 2015 Entry 4 (Day 3 – MO to TX): Brief Edition

Apparently this is the Largest Cross in the Western Hemisphere...  East Coast, take note.

Apparently this is the Largest Cross in the Western Hemisphere… East Coast, take note.

Made it to Amarillo, Texas in one piece (though I am a little scarred already).  This is going to be a brief update, as I don’t have access to wifi at the house I’m surfing at today (I’m using my phone’s hotspot).  I’ll do something more extensive later today or tomorrow.

Oklahoma was far greener and prettier than I could have possibly imagined.  Apparently, there has been a ton of rain in the last couple weeks, so it was unseasonably green.  The rolling hills of Eastern Oklahoma slowly blended into the flatter plains and scrub of Western Oklahoma right as I dumped into Texas (I’ve finally made it to I-40 y’all).

Couchsurfed with the lovely Angela, her two daughters, and three dachshunds.  Got my own room and everything, so I feel very spoiled.

Today’s goal is Laughlin, NV (via Route 66).  Who can say no to a $15 hotel room ON A BOAT??

Like I said, I’ll do a far longer post later, including trip stats.  Music yesterday included Walk the Moon, Foo Fighters, matchbox twenty, and MuteMath.

Peace, Love, and *cough*Signal Boost*cough*!

Road Trip 2015 Entry 3 (Day 2 – KY to MO): I Crossed the Mississippi And None of My Oxen Died (with Couchsurfing!)

Day two was pretty amazing.  I’m currently importing all of the photos from the GoPro, and I can’t wait to see this timelapse (This might be delayed, y’all.  It’s really big).  Kentucky continued along with rolling hills until Illinois (which I was in for all of about 10 miles).  Torrential downpours from the end of KY through the beginning of MO made the trip a little gross, but when the sky cleared up.

So you know how you know something will happen but you don’t know it because you just didn’t think about it?  Yeah, totally had that moment crossing the Mississippi.  To be fair, it was pouring and I’d just crossed several other rivers.  But there was definitely a “oh hey, look at that!” moment.

Crossed into Central time at some point.  Have no idea where.

Missouri was beautiful.  A little flatter than I expected at first, but then I entered the Ozarks.  Best part of the Ozarks:  passing all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder stuff while simultaneously passing Amish buggies on US-60.  For a hot second, it felt like being in an episode of Little House on the Prairie.  With cars.

Stopped in Poplar Bluff, MO at a Harps grocery store for a homemade hoagie.  Totally worth the stop.  Am starting to think I’ll stop at grocery stores instead of fast food joints from now on (except Taco Bell.  Please.).

Made it into Springfield in early evening and met up with my Couchsurfer hosts Melanie and Holly.  If you’re looking to do this same cross-country route, I highly recommend them as hosts.  Holly and Melanie, their two dogs, and one super fluffy cat made me feel quite at home.

Beer Mac and Cheese.  OM NOM.

Beer Mac and Cheese. OM NOM.

After arriving, they took me to downtown Springfield, which has a wicked cool college town vibe.  After dinner at the Springfield Brewing Company, we popped over to this amazing townie bar, the Patton Alley Pub, which was having a tap takeover by Mother’s Brewing Company, a local brewery out of Springfield (beers I tried:  McJagger Irish Red, Ruby).  Another friend of theirs, Devin, joined us, and we had a fantastic time.  At the end of the night, we returned to their place to marathon HIMYM and have a few more beers.

Congrats, Melanie and Holly, you have set the CS bar way too high.  I look forward to seeing if my next couple stops can compete!

Today I head to Amarillo, TX by way of Shawnee, OK (where I will be having lunch with my awesome Aunt!).  Leave me some love!

Trip Stats:
Starting OD (Fort Knox, KY):  214326
Ending OD (Springfield, MO):  214830
Stop 1:  176 miles (Paducah, KY)
Stop 2:  114 Miles (Poplar Bluff, MO)
Stop 3: 191 Miles (Springfield, MO)

Gas:
Fill-up 3:  11.187 gallons @ 2.59/gal – $29.08
Should have done Fill-up 4 before I got to my host’s house…

MPG Day 2:  25.65 for first tank.  Not sure what the second one is.  Given I was averaging in the 30s before I left, I’m going to blame weight and the untested cruise.  Other suggestions would be welcome.  This is making me angry.

Music:
Grouplove – Never Trust A Happy Song
Fall Out Boy – Save Rock And Roll, Folie A Deux, and Infinity On High
The Heavy – The Glorious Dead and The House that Dirt Built

Road Trip 2015 Entry 2 (Day 1 – VA to KY): “Sister” Time and Childhood Lies

The first part of my trip was relatively short and pleasant.  I met my college best friend (and “big sis”) in Lexington, KY along with her family before a quick jaunt to Best Buy (I’ll explain) on the way to Fort Knox, KY.

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Morton Travel Plaza, WV

The trip started pretty frustratingly.  My plan to use the GoPro for the trip was (nearly) foiled by a firmware update.  Went to update the Hero3+ Silver for the first time in (probably) months, and for some reason, it wouldn’t turn back on after the install.  Several bad words later, I left for breakfast with the brother, the brother’s roommate, and the brother’s roommate’s dad.  After a brief respite from the camera stress, we went back, hoping that it had magically fixed itself.

It hadn’t.

Angry, I made my last stop on the way out of town, gassed up at the University City Kroger, and headed out.

IMG_3519Not going to lie, I was super bummed about the GoPro.  If you’ve never done it, the drive up US-460 West to I-77 North/I-64 West through Charleston and Huntington, WV is some of the most beautiful driving on the East Coast.  I’ve done the trip a few times (though never past Charleston prior), but never in bright, green spring.  Nearly every time I drive through West Virginia, some well-intentioned person always warns me about being “safe.”  “Hillbilly” prejudice drives me nuts, especially given I was raised in WV for many years (and I’m related to half of Keyser, WV…).  It’s a bias that just grates on me.  Not having the video of the trip to show people just how lovely one of my homes is is going to be one of my biggest regrets of the trip.

IMG_3651Yesterday was my first time in Kentucky.  Fun fact:  the grass is not blue.  It’s not.  At all.  I feel lied to.

Once I crossed the WV/KY border, the mountains died down, and I was driving through gorgeous piedmont.  I don’t know why I assumed KY would be more mountainous.  Probably because elementary school geography was over twenty years ago… (my G-d).  The drive was stunning.  I cannot wait to see more states I haven’t seen before!  Plus, the roads seriously opened up the second I entered KY.  If this is any indication about how driving is going to be in “the middle part of the US,” I’m really looking forward to the pace.

Made it to Lexington with relatively few problems (springtime roadwork is going to destroy me on this trip, I think).  The cruise control has kind of a weird relationship with my throttle, but I’m getting used to it.  Ate at the Cracker Barrel in Lexington (I seriously hadn’t eaten there since college.  It did not disappoint.) before swinging by Best Buy.  My awesome partner ordered me a new camera for the trip (we’re not 100% if the other one is fixable.  It’s being sent off), so we did manage to get video from Lexington to Fort Knox.

This was set to take photos every 5 seconds.  Let me know if you have any suggestions on changing that.

Today is a chill day in KY with J.  Watching The Fast and the Furious 1-4 (relationships make you do funny things…) and staying in on a truly miserable rainy day.  Tomorrow I leave at the crack of dawn to drive to Springfield, MO.  Looking to Couchsurf across the country (Yes, it’s safe.  No, don’t yell at me).  Any suggestions for stuff to do in Springfield if I get there early?

Remember, please signal boost if you’re enjoying these updates!

Trip Stats:
Starting OD (Blacksburg, VA):  213894
Ending OD (Fort Knox, KY):  214326
Stop 1:  108 miles, 2 hours (Morton Rest Stop, 77N/64W, WV)
Stop 2:  201 miles, 3 hours (Lexington, KY)
Stop 3:  119 miles, 2.25 hours (Fort Knox, KY)

Gas:
Fill-up 1:  8.18 gallons @ 2.09/gal – $17.17
Fill-up 2:  11.335 gallons @ 2.69/gal – $30.59

MPG Day 1:  27.6mpg.  Terrible, given I’ve been averaging over 30 since I had all the work done.  I blame weight (my entire trunk is full with clothes and books) and mountains.  We’ll see how this goes now that I’m in flatter areas.

Music:
Beck – Mellow Gold
Broken Bells – Broken Bells and Meyrin Fields (EP)
Kelly Clarkson – Breakaway
Lieutenant – If I Kill This Thing We’re All Going to Eat For A Week
Plain White Ts – All That We Needed
Silversun Pickups – Seasick (Single)

Please, Stop Calling My Friends Lazy

Disclaimer: These ideas are half-baked.  That’s how (in my mind) blogging works.  I look forward to a healthy discussion, and I am completely sure that I will rewrite on this topic in the future having learned from y’all and amended some of my points.  Flamers gotta flame, and I know that.  But try going into this assuming that if something I said sounds off that maybe I just didn’t state it well and give me the opportunity to try again before you decide I’m a horrible human being.  I also fully admit that I am writing this from an incredibly privileged I-actually-got-to-go-college white-cisgendered-straight-female East-Coast-American point of view.  My peer group, my friends, and the “we” I refer to throughout this article are not many people’s “we.”  Writing from experience got me yelled at in philosophy classes and probably will get me yelled at on the internet, too.  Just try not to stray into Godwin’s territory.

It has been ten years since I matriculated at Converse College, full of dreams of a career and a love for learning that often got me in too deep with extracurriculars and 18 hour semesters.  I went to a fancy private school, and I have the student loans to prove it.  I have a top-notch liberal arts degree and graduated an honors student.  I went on to get a MA from the University of Georgia and am now working on a PhD at Virginia Tech.   I wanted (and still do) to be a college professor.  I still don’t think it was a bad goal.

My parents helped when they could, but I have had a job in some capacity since I started college (and even before) in 2003:  federal work-study, cashier at Target, adjunct at far too many colleges to name.  I have always had a job not because I wanted to – being a full-time student is already a full-time job – but because I have had to.  TA stipends are all publicly accessible, so I know I’m not spilling any secrets, but my stipend at UGA for my MA was $10,000 a year, plus full tuition remission, for a 2/1 teaching load.  Pros:  in theory, one should not have to take out any student loans (and if you add out-of-state tuition to 10 grand, it’s not bad) and would end up with a valuable degree.  Cons:  the 10 grand was only a 9 month stipend (summers didn’t count) and you didn’t qualify for food stamps.  Roommates were a necessity.  Second jobs were discouraged by the department but were absolutely necessary.

In any case, I’ve been lucky.  I have generally been able to find work when I’ve needed it, and I have been able to teach (and not work retail) since I completed my MA.   My one not-academia job between my MA and my PhD was actually (sort of) in my field.

But I do refer to myself as lucky intentionally.  I have worked hard.  I haven’t done my very best every single day (who does?) but my overall trajectory has been upward.  Yet many of my peers have worked just as hard, if not harder, and find themselves so incredibly lost.  People with MAs still only able to find part-time work.  Incredibly brilliant women from Converse who still only make $10/hr (on at least their 6th job) after seven years on the job market.  Friends who have managed to make it, but only by leaving behind what they have studied and finding a job completely outside their field (You studied accounting? How about being a photographer.  Journalism?  Yeah, why not work at the Apple store.  ROTC?  Oh, well, you actually got a job in the Army.  Good for you).  Some are happy.  Many are not.

We graduated at the peak of the last bubble.  Some of us got lucky and managed to get jobs just prior to the burst.  Others are still drowning years later.  And yet, we are called entitled.  We took out student debt we couldn’t afford.  Because we banked on getting jobs we were told our entire lives we would get.  So we worked hard and believed what we were told (teachers and parents aren’t supposed to lie, right?).  And now, I don’t know of one friend right now that isn’t on loan deferment or income-based-repayment for their loans.  Not because they don’t want to pay their loans, but because they can’t.

I was talking with my best friend from undergrad tonight, and so I will admit some of these ideas are hers.  But overall they got me thinking.  We are told we are the entitled generation.  But most of us have caved, crumbled, given up on dreams.  We’ve not necessarily accepted our fate of being less secure than our parents’ generation, but we are trying our best to work within the “new normal.”

I now have multiple friends who have resigned themselves to not having children.  When I was a kid, we were told (by often… well-meaning(?) adults) that people who chose not to have kids were “yuppies” that “chose not to have children” so they could “travel” or “buy things” or “have a life.”  How heteronormatively classist.  I’ve come a long way in understanding, I hope.

Now, I have friends who would be brilliant parents electing to stay childless.  Not all of them, but many, are making this decision not because they don’t want children, but because they know they aren’t financially stable enough to responsibly bring them into the world.  My parents have always told me “you’re never truly ready to have kids.”  I’m sure on some level, that’s true.  I don’t know that I’ll ever be really ready to be responsible for a thing that can’t even support its own head for months (is it months? Or weeks?  I have no idea.  Maybe this is why they have parenting classes), but if that time comes, I’ll hunker down and figure it out as best I can, as every parent should.

The difference is that these friends who are now electing childlessness aren’t being paranoid.  They truly understand that they can’t afford to have children and raise them responsibly.  Hell, many of them cannot even afford retirement plans for themselves, let alone rent without roommates (as married/partnered thirtysomethings).  So where are college funds for 2.5 kids, when college is more expensive than ever and you really need a masters for any job of “value” (massive sarcasms/scare quotes here.  And let’s not bring up the fact that graduate students cannot get subsidized loans any longer), supposed to come from?  These very real issues don’t just “work themselves out on their own.”

I’m not an economist.  I have tons of friends (or, at least two) that can claim that title.  But I do know that I had friends slightly better off than we were (Enlisted Navy Brat here, y’all) whose parents had way nicer and newer stuff than we did. And bigger, nicer houses, that their parents owned.  And looking back, I’m sure most of it was on credit that places like Wells Fargo gave them with limits they could not truly afford.  But everything was good, right?  The economy was booming, and everyone could have new, shiny things.

My generation is now dealing with the aftermath.  The good news is that medicine is getting such that we can have kids later and later.  The bad news is even with that, many of my friends who want to still may not be able to.

So what is this rambling rant really all about?  I’m not trying to advocate having kids, or buying things you don’t need, or a return to “the way things were.”  I’m just sick of daily hearing at least one of my friends lamenting a situation that in many ways is not their fault, which they are made to feel guilty about by some of the very people that got us here.  And I’m also not trying to say that our parents and grandparents are terrible people.  Most of them had no idea of the big economic picture (and if they did, I would hope would have made different choices).

Here is (finally) my thesis:  My friends are not lazy (yeah, there are exceptions, but generally speaking, my generation is not plagued with a do-nothing disease).  And we are quickly losing our pie-in-the-sky ideals (high-paying jobs, houses, cars).  We are definitely far more pragmatic than we are often given credit.  I still drive the 1997 Subaru that I inherited from my parents.  I currently have three jobs to make sure I’m not going into (much) consumer debt to survive.  I help proof job letters and resumes for my friends whenever I can.  I watch my friends list jobs on Facebook from their companies to see if they can help others find a job.

If anything, it is our parents that are still living with certain assumptions.  That everyone ends up with a house, and a car (or three), and 2.5 kids.  That we make more than $18,000 a year in professional jobs (I’m talking teachers, y’all) ten years out of high school.  Why not? They did.  And that was in the 80s/90s, when $18,000 went quite a bit farther.

I’m not trying to toot my own horn, and I’m certainly not saying that we Millenials are perfect.  But please, stop calling my friends lazy.  Stop firing my friends or reducing their hours so you don’t have to give them health insurance.  Stop telling them they have to work harder if they really want to do better financially only to nag them about why they haven’t had kids yet.  Stop expecting us to own homes when our student loans are $600 a month for loans you co-signed on while telling us we would have no problems paying them off.  I know you’re trying to give us advice, but you’re only adding to the emotional burden.  Most of us really are doing our best.  Please, just stop.  You’re only making us feel worse.

The Night of the Dissertation Proposal Defense

For most people, nightmares include intrinsically scary elements.  Your second grade teacher suddenly becomes a T-Rex and disembowels all of your classmates Red Wedding-style as you stare on in horror.  Out of nowhere, you’re in your dorm, and MONSTERS! Scary MONSTERS! show up and all you have to fight them with is your stupid Red Devil pitchfork from your “sorority.”  In most nightmares, something “scary” happens, and you have no control.

For me, nightmares are dreams I cannot wake myself from.  I’m a very lucid dreamer.  If a T-Rex shows up in one of my dreams, I can conjure a dinosaurs-obliterating asteroid to land on its head.  If scary MONSTERS show up, I can turn that plastic pitchfork into a flaming sword.  A nightmare happens when i 1) don’t realize I’m dreaming and thus 2) cannot wake myself up from it.

The worst is when it happens ALL NIGHT.  I swear, every time I did manage to wake up (I’m an end-of-REM-cycle-wake-up-long-enough-to-roll-over-and-flip-a-pillow-sleeper), I’d fall back asleep into the same hell:

My dissertation proposal defense.  Which is today.  For which I will probably look like this:

This was yesterday.  Note the bugged-out eyes and size of the mug.

This was yesterday. Note the bugged-out eyes and size of the mug.

I really don’t know if it was the heavy dinner (which was amazing) that my brother made me last night, or if my brain-phasers were set to AHHHHHHH!!!!!!, but I think I just had an 8 hour proposal defense the night before my 2 hour proposal defense this afternoon.

So, in an unprecedented foray into my psyche, I give you the list of things that *could* happen in my defense today, apparently:

  1. Non!Stoner!In!Real!Life!Classmate brings roaches for all of my advisers (including advisers I’ve never met), who then toke up during the defense and get the giggles.
  2. All of the Converse memers (thanks Caitlin) show up and live-meme my defense, complete with loud color commentary throughout.  I then kick them out for being bad Connies.
  3. A professor I don’t even know calls me out for referring to Star Trek: Enterprise in my bibliography (note: while I do teach with ST:  Enterprise, it appears nowhere in my MS) as Star Trek: Enterprise instead of just Enterprise (I made some sort of BS reply about how it went from ST: E to just E when Berman died, which isn’t even remotely true in Real Life).
  4. Another professor I don’t know, apparently a Known Defense Troll, shows up and starts asking long, detailed questions about her podcast as it relates to my research.  Newsflash: it doesn’t.  Even Stoned!Committee!Chair can recognize that, which he states before forcing me to still answer the question.
  5. My mom shows up, and whenever someone asks me a hard question, interrupts and asks why they’re trying to make me cry.
  6. The defense literally goes for 8 hours, during which time I manage to make it 2 sentences at a time into my prepared 5 minute speech only to be interrupted for issues of “clarity.”  We never actually finish.
  7. In reference to the speech in point 6, I have no idea what the hell I was reading in the dream.  It was like a few sentences from every single paper I have written in the last 10 years of college, put together, and I kept insisting the entire time that “No, trust me, it all comes together at the end and if you would stop gorram interrupting me, you’d know that!
  8. One committee member shows up 1.5 hours late, but it doesn’t matter, because I’ve only gotten through 2 paragraphs of said speech.

All of this became a nightmare, and not hilarious, simply because yeah, I didn’t realize I was dreaming.  In good news, I’ve already defended for 8 hours, so what’s the worst that can happen now?  Pretty sure that none of this is going to happen today.  Except maybe point 3…

ETA:  The high of the day today is 28 degrees F.  I’ve read enough of my Dante to know that the lowest levels of hell are frozen.

The Underwhelm of Academia

Adapted from a FB status last night (and added onto significantly):

All achievements in academia seem to be underwhelming. You write and write waiting for that moment of validation (“send it on to the committee”), only to feel completely underwhelmed when it actually comes through because you’re so emotionally exhausted from the entire process. Are all jobs like this, or are academics just weird?

This has happened to me before.  I remember finishing up my MA and defending my thesis and just feeling kind of… numb.  I think we bank for some sort of epiphany/life-changing feeling to wash over us when we hit those milestones, and when it doesn’t come, it’s just… well, it’s nothingness.  Maybe it’s because I graduated in the summer, a year after my original cohort, but I felt absolutely no motivation to even walk in that ceremony.

You work for years and years on a degree.  Other than an 18 month “break” from academic work (though I did still adjunct during that period), I have been in school since 1989.  I’m set to earn my Ph.D. in 2015.  26 years of school.  That’s longer than my father’s military career.  Will the end have that “payoff” feeling?  I joke with people all the time that the only reason I’m getting the Ph.D. is for the cool hat, but what happens on that special day when all I feel like I have is a cool hat?

Luckily, I have my head far enough out of my ass to be able to say this:  it’s not all underwhelm (yes, I’m coining this as a noun).  There are moments of such pure joy when a thesis finally comes together, when a colleague gets into that cool conference/journal/job that they’ve always wanted, when your students really *get* something.  They’re little joys that keep you going along the emotional rollercoaster.

But it is a little crummy when you anticipate an emotional payoff – that joy you will feel just to hear your adviser say good work, your proposal is ready – and when the moment comes it’s just… blech.  Because you can’t find it in you to just pause and enjoy that moment.

You’re already onto the next step, the next thing to stress over.  The next labor of love.