Tag: grad school

Fall 2017 goal review

Mr. McNutterpants, from my short story “A Lesser Man” on Medium

Every 3 months or so, I take a look at the goals I’ve set for the year and then write about how little progress I’m making on them. Here’s the update for this fall.

1. Finish something every month – short story, novella, novel, anything.

I have several chapters done on a novel, and I’ve finished a couple shorts. I’m hoping NaNoWriMo will spur me into action next month.

2. Publish at least 4 things – again, short story, novella, novel, anything. Either with my publisher or self-published or in a magazine, doesn’t matter where.

I’ve started posting stuff on Medium. Three things are up so far – two are stories that have been published elsewhere, and one’s a new story, “A Lesser Man,” that’s pretty damn hilarious. You should read it.

3. Finish the draft of a nonfiction book that’s good for my career.

My academic timeline is about a semester behind where I want to be. But, most importantly, I passed my comprehensive exam and am now officially a PhD candidate! All I have left is my dissertation (and several classes for a master’s I just tacked on), which is my focus right now. My timeline right now is to have my proposal mostly done by Christmas break, so I can still theoretically crank out this nonfiction book over break.

4. Do more live events – readings, book fairs, etc. Again, it’s about getting my name out there.

As I mentioned last time, events are turning into a major waste of time. I’m doing a solo reading tonight, and then I’m done with live events for awhile unless they have a proven track record for women’s fiction book sales.

5. Travel more internationally – and Canada doesn’t count.

Sadly, this isn’t happening – this year. I’m headed to India for 2 weeks in January and Thailand with my kid for a month next summer – but for the rest of this year, it looks like I’ll be staying more domestic, with upcoming trips to Boston in November and hopefully Duluth in December (weather-dependent).

Sadly, now that I’m working again I have money to travel but no time for it.

6. Read 100 books.

I’m at 52 right now – 25 behind schedule. I don’t think I’ll be able to make this goal this year, but I should be able to get closer once a couple approaching academic deadlines pass and I have time to read again.

Overall

I think I’m in denial about achieving my goals. I’m going to keep trying, but it seems there’s a lot popping up that’s taking up my time (unexpected overtime at work due to kiddos in crisis, opportunities for academic projects that I don’t want to pass up, etc). Things are settling down, I hope, so I should be able to focus on writing more.

If you’ve set goals for yourself, how’re they going so far this year?

Summer 2017 goal review

Every 3 months or so, I take a look at the goals I’ve set for the year and then write about how little progress I’m making on them. Here’s the update for this summer.

1. Finish something every month – short story, novella, novel, anything.

I’ve finished several chapters of a novel, plus a short story. So, about halfway there.

2. Publish at least 4 things – again, short story, novella, novel, anything. Either with my publisher or self-published or in a magazine, doesn’t matter where.

I’m two behind now on this.

3. Finish the draft of a nonfiction book that’s good for my career.

My academic timeline was pushed back a couple months, but I’m still planning on writing this book this fall.

4. Do more live events – readings, book fairs, etc. Again, it’s about getting my name out there.

This will never be a goal again because live events, at least the ones around here, are a waste of time. The only people who came to the last event were friends and family of the writers. And as much as I appreciate my grandma stopping by to say hi, she can buy books from me any time. That said, I’m doing a presentation in a couple weeks at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (okay, so not THE Iowa Writer’s Workshop, just a writing workshop at the University of Iowa, but whatever) that may be interesting. Then a couple local-ish events in August, a reading in October, and nothing else unless it’s free to participate and I don’t have anything else going on.

5. Travel more internationally – and Canada doesn’t count.

A research assistantship position ended this spring, so I recently got a part-time job as a youth residential counselor. While I’m enjoying it so far, it doesn’t leave much time for travel. I went to Michigan a couple times in June, and I’m heading to the Pacific Northwest and Canadian Rockies in a couple weeks. No international travel other than Canada, though.

However, I did book tickets just this week to go back to India in January! I’m taking my kid with me, and we’re hitting the Taj Mahal before heading south to work on a project. I’m super excited about this trip.

6. Read 100 books.

I’m at 43 right now – 7 behind schedule. I caught up a bit earlier this summer, but I’m falling behind again. Still, I think I can still catch up and make this goal this year.

Overall

I’m still in the game. This past semester kicked my butt, and while I’m pretty much recovered, my new job is consuming a lot of my time – plus (fingers crossed!) I’ll be starting my dissertation in the next couple weeks. It doesn’t leave a lot of time for writing, but on the plus side, my new job has given me a lot of story ideas that I really need to write to help me process working with this particular population. Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ll come pretty close to meeting my goals this year.

If you’ve set goals for yourself, how’re they going so far this year?

Types of trauma – which does your character have?

facesI’m currently in that fun part of the doctoral student process where I’m writing my comprehensive exam – a big 75-page paper that demonstrates I’m an expert in my field and deserve to stay in the program. My focus is on trauma-informed care and education.

Trauma-informed care basically boils down to 2 things: realizing people have experienced crappy things in life, and then giving them the benefit of the doubt. It is NOT about making excuses for behavior, but rather finding an alternative way to get the same results you expect for everyone else.

There are quite a few types of trauma. Each one has a different cause, although they can all have similar results.

BIG CAVEAT: Not everyone who experiences trauma will react to it the same way. Some people are affected and some aren’t. It basically comes down to resiliency (although my argument is that if so many students have experienced – or are experiencing – trauma, why don’t we just change how the education system reacts to it, rather than telling kids to suck it up or get over it – which is kinda what teaching resiliency comes down to).

Anyway….

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration focuses on “three E’s” of trauma: event, experience of the event, and effect. Specifically, “Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”

Within that definition, there’s a lot of room for variability.

  • Acute trauma – one single event. A house burning down, getting mugged or raped, witnessing your parents’ murder in an alley when you’re supposed to be enjoying the theater.
  • Chromic trauma – exposure to multiple events. Interesting fact: chronic poverty has the same neurological effect on kids as combat does on military personnel.
  • Complex trauma – exposure to multiple events over time, but of an interpersonal nature. Domestic violence and child abuse falls into this category.
  • Identity trauma – trauma that effects an entire group, because of how they identify (also known as historical or collective trauma). The Holocaust falls into this group, as does genocide against the Native Americans. It often manifests in cultural stories, practices, and beliefs.
  • Continuous or ongoing traumatic stress – chronic or complex or identity trauma, but it’s still happening and there’s no way to escape it. For example, people trapped in a war zone with no way to escape it.
  • Secondary trauma – the response to witnessing or hearing about someone else’s trauma. A huge issue for caregivers and teachers, especially if they’re not prepared for it.

Writers love to throw trauma at their characters, and readers seem to love it too. What types of trauma do your characters face? What types do you prefer to read about?

Spring 2017 goal review

sand castle

Much needed self-care at Coronado Beach, CA

Every 3 months or so, I take a look at the goals I’ve set for the year and then write about how little progress I’m making on them. Here’s the update for this spring.

1. Finish something every month – short story, novella, novel, anything.

If you count chapters, I’ve almost done this! I finished the first two chapters of a novel I’ll really excited about, tentatively titled Waylaid on the Road to Nowhere.

2. Publish at least 4 things – again, short story, novella, novel, anything. Either with my publisher or self-published or in a magazine, doesn’t matter where.

I’m not there yet, but I have several longer short stories that are in the pipeline, and I hope to have at least one done by May for an event I’m doing.

3. Finish the draft of a nonfiction book that’s good for my career.

I have to take a dissertation class next fall but since my dissertation proposal will (fingers crossed!) be done by then, I plan to work on a draft of a research how-to book for the course instead. Don’t expect updates on this for awhile.

4. Do more live events – readings, book fairs, etc. Again, it’s about getting my name out there.

I’m on fire here! Kind of. I’m signed up for the Rock Town Lit Fest in early May, the I.O.W.A. book fair in August, and a Read Local event in October. I’ll try to add more events as I hear about them.

5. Travel more internationally – and Canada doesn’t count.

Due to some stupid international relations stuff, I’m not sure how feasible this’ll be. I’m in the planning stages for a trip back to India around Christmas. I was in San Diego a couple weeks ago and wanted to hop the border to Tijuana, but we didn’t have enough time – although if Canada doesn’t count (I’m planning a trip to Banff over the summer), then maybe Mexico doesn’t count either?

At the very least, I’ve been able to travel a lot recently. Three weeks in India at the beginning of the year, a road trip to Savannah and Raleigh-Durham over spring break, and a week-long conference in San Diego. That comes out to a trip a month, so I’m doing pretty good.

6. Read 100 books.

So far, I’ve read 21 books this year, which leaves me only 4 behind schedule. I had a lot of time to read in India (I’m not looking forward to the ereader ban on flights through Abu Dhabi or Doha, the two airports I’ve flown through in the past – what else do you do on a 28-hour trip??), plus I’ve been sneaking in books as a break from my overwhelming schedule this semester.

Overall

I’m actually in a good place regarding my year’s goals. Part of it, I think, is because I’m so busy, not in spite of it. When I don’t have projects and deadlines, I tend to procrastinate, but when I have to be careful about my time management, I get more done.

If you’ve set goals for yourself, how’re they going so far this year?

Why I get political on social media

protest picOne of the strongest suggestions for authors is to avoid politics on social media so you don’t offend your readers. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll notice that I do not follow this advice. Here’s why, in no particular order (as well as why I won’t stop):

  1. Professional obligations. I’m currently in a social work PhD program. Although I’m not currently a licensed social worker (hopefully I’ll have time to take the test and get my LMSW this summer), I still follow the National Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics, which calls on us to advocate on the behalf of our clients. When crappy things happen that adversely affect my clients, I’ll speak out about it.
  2. Personal impact. This goes along with #1. A lot of politics affects me personally – like when the Iowa House did away with collective bargaining for state employees (including graduate students), which means that there’s a good chance I’ll lose my tuition scholarship and healthcare for next year. Politicians listen to their constituents, at least at a local/state level. Speak out for me and I’ll speak out for you.
  3. Client, friends, and family impact. Here’s another anecdote – a Sudanese woman in my grad program went back to Sudan to visit her dying mom over Christmas break. She made it back to the States two days before the travel ban went into effect. Had she not been allowed into the country where she’d lived for the past ten years, she would’ve been separated from her husband and three kids. I share issues that effect the people in my life, because chances are they’re affecting the people in your life too.
  4. Setting an example. My son loves politics and history. By speaking out, I’m showing him that it’s possible to change the course of history through your actions.
  5. Lack of awareness. Lots of people aren’t aware of what policies are being enacted and repealed, as well as how those policies are being followed. By letting people know what the issues are, hopefully they can help find a solution.
  6. My book content. I write about a lot of social issues. The Futility of Loving a Soldier is about veterans’ issues. Yours to Keep or Throw Aside deals with domestic violence. “A Place to Die” focuses on end-of-life care. “Us, Together” touches on the impact of poverty on children. If you’re offended by my posts, chances are you wouldn’t like my books either.

These are just a few brief reasons I’m political. And until the bad hombres in charge get their acts together and stop taking away needed programs and infringing upon our rights, I’m going to keep posting. And writing about it too.

* * * * * * *

What are your thoughts on authors getting political?

Using stuck points to build your characters

guy in bottleI write a lot of character-driven stories, and so I’m always on the lookout for ways to focus on characters’ motivation and thought processes. I’ve recently come across a term, stuck points, that really fits with my works.

My research focus in my PhD program is trauma’s role in education. As such, I’m taking a lot of classes and workshops focusing on a trauma-informed perspective – realizing that there’s a good chance anyone you meet and work with has experienced some kind of trauma that affects their perceptions and behaviors, and therefore changing your own perceptions and behaviors to meet them where they are.

One of the methods used to treat trauma is cognitive processing therapy (CPT), which focuses on reframing people’s perceptions of what they experienced. And a major component of this is stuck points.

Stuck point = a thought that keeps someone from recovering from a bad/traumatic experience.

Often times, stuck points develop because someone’s old way of thinking doesn’t fit with what happened to them. It builds on the just world theory that bad things only happen to bad people – so if something bad happens to you, you must be a bad person.

Stuck points are often a black and white exaggeration, using terms like “everyone” or “no one,” “always” or “never.”

Stuck points can focus on the past – “If I’d done X, then Y would’ve happened instead of Z” – or they can focus on the present – “No one will ever love me” or “I’ll never be able to trust again.”

My novel Yours to Keep or Throw Away is driven by MC Andrew Adam’s stuck points:

  • “My parents split up because I was a bad kid.” – focusing on his crappy childhood
  • “If I’d been a better partner, my relationships wouldn’t have ended badly.” – focusing on past relationships
  • “If I’d trained my soldiers better, they wouldn’t have been killed.” – focusing on his military experience
  • “I don’t deserve to have a happily ever after.” – the summation of all his other stuck points.

Sometimes there’s truth in stuck points. For example, if Andrew had been a better partner, maybe his relationships wouldn’t have ended – but maybe they still would have. What happened wasn’t entirely his fault, and he shouldn’t keep beating himself up over it.

As characters grow over the course of the story, they can move past these stuck points to become a healthy character (or go from a healthy character to having stuck points). Either way, it makes for a great, character-driven story.

What stuck points do your characters have? Are they able to resolve them?

Fall 2016 goal review

After All cover

Hey look, a shiny new project!

Every 3 months or so, I take a look at the goals I’ve set for the year and then write about how I’m not making progress on them. Here’s the update for this fall.

1. Write at least 30 minutes a day.

I’ve been averaging about 30 minutes per week, not per day – unless you count writing for school stuff, in which case I’m hitting my goal. But we’re not counting that, so I’m not doing so well at this goal.

2. Finish something every month.

I would probably do a lot better at finishing something if I’d stop starting new things. I have at least 50 stories started at this point – if I could just sit down and write, I could probably finish some of them.

3. Publish at least 4 of those finished things.

So far, all I’ve published this year is “A Place to Die” in January (which you can get for $.99 at Amazon or free if you join my mailing list). I have several things mostly done, just gotta sit down and write and I could probably still meet this goal for this year.

4. Continue the focus on increased marketing.

I’ve fallen behind on this lately, but my publisher will be running Amazon ads soon so that should give me a boost. And as soon as I have something new published, I’ll be promoting that like crazy.

5. Read 100 books.

I’m currently at 58, which Goodreads informs me is 18 behind. I’m holding pretty steady on this one.

6. Continue the focus on being healthy.

I discovered the cambus (campus bus) at school, so I’ve been taking that instead of riding my bike. But I also discovered a really nice local farmers’ market and have been buying a lot of fruits and veggies, so there’s that. Which will win out? Stay tuned!

Overall

Basically, it comes down to one thing – making myself sit down and write. Fortunately I’ve taken on a bunch of new projects this year, plus gotten permission to take my comprehensive exams a semester yearly so I can start on my dissertation in the spring and graduate a year early. The way my mind works is that the more I have to do, the more I want to work on other stuff (ie, writing). So I should be writing a lot coming up, instead of doing what I need to for school.

(This TED talk is a great look at my life.)

If you’ve set goals for yourself, how’re they going so far this year?

The importance of self-care – and how to do it

My cat's self-care involves sleeping on the floor all day.

My cat’s self-care involves sleeping on the floor all day.

It hasn’t been the best week. One of my former students was killed over the weekend in a horrific, preventable accident. She was 24 and one of the most genuinely nice people I’ve ever met.

Everywhere I look on the news, I see stories and videos about Terrence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott and Tyre King and Korryn Gaines and hundreds of other people who are also killed in horrible, preventable ways. And I see videos of their families and friends, and thousands of people supporting them (as well as thousands actively not supporting them). With each new death, I grow more fearful for the junior high and high school students I’ve taught, as well as their friends and families, because really, it seems to be only a matter of when, not if, that their names will be all over the media as well.

It makes me tired.

As a social work PhD student, my focus right now is on trauma-informed care, which is a perspective that emphasizes a gentle approach to clients because there’s a good chance they’ve experienced a traumatic event in their lives or vicariously experienced it through someone they know, and that exposure manifests itself in a stressful physiological fight-or-flight response that wears you down. Social workers aren’t immune to this either; we experience our clients’ traumas every day, and it can take its toll.

Fortunately, part of a TIC approach involves self-care. I attended a workshop on the topic today and thought now would be a good time to share what I learned, because I’m guessing there are a lot of other soul-tired people out there right now too.

Pre-trauma:

  1. Identify your patterns by thinking about what your triggers are – situations that will negatively increase your stress.
  2. Identify as well what your reactions to those triggers are – do you shut down? Cry? Lash out?

During/after trauma:

  1. Remember that you have choices – this situation is different from the past, and you can choose to respond differently than you did to pass situations where you may have felt helpless.
  2. Use comfort objects – something small and manageable, like a wedding ring, that can ground you in the present and help you focus.
  3. If possible, go to a previously-identified safe spot: your couch, a friend’s couch, somewhere where it’s okay to let your emotions out.
  4. Focus on the senses – listen to soothing sounds, try deep breathing, maybe splash cool water on your face or hands.
  5. Have a Plan B for your job situation – is it okay if you go home for the rest of the day or take a couple days off?
  6. Rely on peer support. Reach out to your friends and family. Let them know your self-care preferences so they can better support you.
  7. Understand that what you’re feeling is normal, but that everyone has their own reaction to their own stimuli. What you’re feeling, and how you go about caring for yourself, is normal for you, and that’s what matters – YOU.

What approaches do you take for self-care?

Postmodernists, postpositivists, and truth vs Truth

gal7cropped

Found this on a Galveston beach. Is it an alien lifeform? Inflated plastic? Postmodernist storyteller me says both are plausible!

I’m on a quest to take as many research methodology classes as I can while getting my PhD, and this semester one that I’m taking is qualitative. I’m a quantitative person, so this is a major thinking shift.

Qualitative is case studies and interviews and ethnographies and telling the story one person or group at a time, while quantitative is surveys and statistics and applying your findings to larger groups.

One of our first assignments is a position paper, in which we explain which paradigm we follow, relate our history that brought us to that paradigm, and then explore our biases that will affect our qualitative research. I’m stuck between two: postpositivism and postmodernism.

Postpositivists think that the objective Truth is out there, but our methods of seeking it are flawed by our biases.

Postmodernists think everyone has a truth, and your truth isn’t any more valid than mine because it’s all relative.

Basically, the two are on opposite ends of a spectrum (well, positivism and postmodernism are).

(Fun story: I went to a Catholic high school, and my junior year we had to take Apologetics, which we defined as apologizing for your faith but is actually defending it. I routinely argued with our teacher, a poor priest right out of the seminary, that all religions were seeking the same end goal – peace and love and happiness in whatever comes next – but just had different ways of reaching that goal. Kinda like a bunch of people climbing a mountain, but from different sides – they all want to get to the top but are each taking a different route. The teacher strongly encouraged me to sleep or read in class so that I wouldn’t constantly pull apart the course material.)

As a researcher, I want to find Answers. As a social worker and social justice warrior, I want underrepresented voices to be heard so that we can bring about change to unequal systems. As an author, I want to tell my character’s story and make it just as valid as anyone else’s.

My question tonight: If I have my perception of the truth, and you have your perception of the truth, and everyone reading this and in the world has their perceptions of the truth, how do we as researchers decide whose truth is most valid? Applying a postmodern perspective, can we even decide that someone’s truth is invalid, and how does this fit into our role in “mitigating against epistemic injustice in educational research?” When is it okay to judge a culture or individual as “wrong” or “bad” when its members are doing their best according to their beliefs?

Bathrooms, zombies, and second grade semantics

beware bathroomsToday I chaperoned a trip for an after school program. We took about 60 elementary school kids to a local art museum. My duties basically consisted of making sure 10 K-2 graders quietly paid attention to the docent and had adequate bathroom breaks.

I’m pretty sure most of the kids didn’t actually need to use the bathroom; they just wanted to go because they weren’t interested in art, and because they couldn’t let their friends use the bathrooms and not them.

(Side note for people not familiar with children: M = N3, where M = chaotic mess and N = the number of kids. In order to keep the mess to a minimum, you make them do things one at a time, even if it takes longer.)

The bathrooms at the museum were “weird,” as several kids told me. You walked through a door with a man/woman sign on it, which led the kids to think they were using the wrong sex’s bathroom. This door led to a room with drinking fountains and two more doors, one for the men’s room and one for the women’s. Through these doors was another room with sinks and another door. Through this door, finally, were the actual toilets.

One little girl told me, as we walked through each door, that she was scared. While washing her hands, she told a woman in the room (not part of our group) that the bathrooms reminded her of The Walking Dead. She then described the plot, but reassured the woman that she prayed, so it was okay that she watched the show. The woman agreed that prayer was powerful – although if I’m ever confronted with zombies, I’m not relying on prayer for survival. Double tap.

Zombies are a pretty popular topic with kids, so I wasn’t surprised when this little girl brought them up later. Several other kids chimed in with their views on zombies, which led to the question, “Would you rather be dead alive or alive dead?”

Huh?

Dead alive, as they explained, is when you’re dead but still alive. Alive dead is when you’re alive but you’re dead.

Before I could answer, I had to calm down a kid who was crying because a classmate had rolled her eyes at her (“Next time, just close your eyes and don’t look at her.” “But I’ll still know!!”).

Either way – dead alive or alive dead – I can see a great horror movie coming from this:

Night at the Museum 4 – Ben Stiller trapped in a museum with two dozen 1st graders who can’t be left alone, can’t use the bathroom together, and they all think they have to pee. Zombies optional.

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