Tag: grad school

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.


  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


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?”


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.

Weekend Writing Warrior 1/10/16 #8Sunday


Rangoli at a Tamil Nadu ashram

Ever have one of those times where you plan to work on a project, but then you find yourself working on something else instead? Yeah, that’s me right now. In light of that, I think January’s Weekend Writing Warrior posts will be random excerpts from random stories, at least until my brain is able to focus on one project for an extended length of time.

Today’s excerpt comes from “Dust,” a short story I wrote while taking a class in southern India a couple years ago.

* * * * * * * * * *

Dust is everywhere; it blankets the streets and sidewalks, stray dogs and trash. Dust is disturbed by passing buses and motorbikes and rickshaws, mixing with their exhaust to form a perpetual haze throughout the city. Dust, along with the odors of garbage and spices and a million people crammed together, is inescapable.

Gheeta, a creature of the streets, has been surrounded by dust for so long she no longer notices it as it cakes her bare feet, decorates her sari and hair, and flavors whatever food she is lucky enough to obtain.

She hobbles along a street near a bazaar that attracts both tourists and locals. A tumor on the bridge of her nose has rendered her nearly blind, with just enough peripheral vision to avoid vehicles when she crosses the street. They wouldn’t intentionally hit her – too much bad karma – but to be safe she follows groups when she can, groups like the one approaching now, made up of Westerners. Perhaps they’ll be generous and give her many rupees, not knowing their value in her country.

“Feed Gheeta,” she keens as she approaches them, pantomiming scooping food to her mouth.

They continue walking.

* * * * * * * * * *

Post a link to your eight sentences blog entry, or join the fun at the Weekend Writing Warriors website.

If you’re a writer, sign up to be a Friday Five author, which gets you and your latest work featured on my blog.

And then sign up for my mailing list to get a FREE ebook short story, “A Place to Die,” about a guy in hospice who’s in denial about his illness.

Writing as a career vs writing as a hobby

I just started a PhD program this fall, and I love it.

When it comes to my career goals – eventually, I intend to be a research analyst at a national thinktank, looking at education policy as it pertains to low socioeconomic status and minority students – I don’t mess around. I’m strategic. I know what I want to do, and I evaluate every class I take, every relationship I form within the school, every decision, with respect to whether it’ll get me closer to my goals. If it doesn’t, I don’t do it.

Since classes started this fall, I’ve identified three possible research organizations I could work with next year AND talked to people involved about getting on with them. I’ve narrowed down faculty I could do research with, both for my research practicum next fall and for a research assistantship. I’ve made a list of classes I plan to take, as well as how they’ll fit into the generic schedule given to me by my advisor (not surprisingly, I’ll be taking extra classes because at this point, I definitely know what kind of courseload I’m capable of). I’ve looked at the job qualifications at places I’d love to work someday and compared my skills to the list. I’ve gotten the go-ahead to do my own research projects and I’m in the process of putting together a team of master’s students to help me.

In short, I’m focused.

When it comes to writing, however, not so much. I know what I want to do – I have a list of goals for the year – but I don’t do much to reach this goals.

For example, I set myself the goal of writing at least two hours a day while I’ve been on fall break from my school social work internship. I’ve probably spent two hours total over the last two weeks.

I know a lot of writers who are very focused on their writing. They treat it as a career – and I think that’s the reason I’m not putting as much time into it as others, because for me, writing isn’t a career. I love what I do, in the field I’ve chosen (not to mention the huge cost in terms of dollars and time in getting several advanced degrees). I have no intention of quitting my day job to be a full-time writer.

At the same time, I want writing to be more than just a hobby.

If you’re a writer, is it a hobby or a career for you? If you’re like me and love your career, how do you balance time for writing as well?

Back to school

As you may know, I’m currently in grad school. Next May I’ll be getting my MSW with an endorsement in school social work. This fall I start a PhD program in social work, with a concentration in education policy and program evaluation.

Last Friday was my last day at the day job I’ve had for the past eighteen months, because on Tuesday I started a year-long internship in a local school district. I’ve only been doing it two days, but it already feels great to be back in the schools. I lucked out and got a placement at the alternative junior high/high school and another school with a high refugee population – exactly the kids I like working with.

Another plus is that I might actually have some free time! My internship is three days a week, and my classes (two content courses and 2 every-other-week seminars) are only on Mondays and Wednesday evening. I’m teaching three sections of a computer lab one day every other week, leaving me a whole day free every other week.

I’m sure I’ll get busy, but as of right now, it’s looking like I’ll have more time for writing than I’ve had in awhile. Maybe I can knock out some of my annual goals before things get hectic.

Fall 2014 goal review

Every year, I set goals for myself, and every three months, I review my progress. After the hectic summer I had (working 50 hours/week, 20 hour/week internship, two classes, and researching for my thesis), I don’t know why I’m even bothering because I didn’t accomplish anything this summer, but here goes anyways.

1. Finish my third novel, tentatively titled On the Other Side, which will be a steampunk political thriller because, well, why not.

This not only didn’t happen, but On The Other Side has been pushed out of line by outlines for two other novels that I might write first. One is about five characters very loosely based on people I met while interning at a homeless shelter, and the other is a sequel to The Lone Wolf.

2. Write and submit at least one new short story every month.

I’ve had two submissions in 2014: one for a publication that went defunct, and one rejection. I haven’t finished any new stories recently, but I’ve been heavily mulling over plot points; all I really need is to make myself sit down and write them. And then submit them.

I’ve recently joined a local writing group that starts each bimonthly meeting with a short story prompt. I’m hoping to finish each story I write and get them submitted.

3.Get a short story collection ready for publication (not including The Futility of Loving a Soldier, which will be out this fall from Evolved – hopefully).

I have three stories with similar themes and tones, plus a couple more half-finished stories that would fit with them. If I can get six done, I’ll publish them like I did with Us, Together.

4. Self-publish at least two long short stories.

I’m currently working on three that should come out to be about 10-20k words. Depending on when/if I get them done, I’ll probably go through my publisher, Evolved Publishing, rather than self-publish, like I did for “Not My Thing.” The results have been awesome for that – it hit #1 in July on Amazon’s free literary short stories list.

5. Read 100 books.

I’m at 43 – 24 books behind schedule.

6. Learn a new language – either Spanish, Tamil, Arabic, or Icelandic – to the point I can carry on a basic conversation in it.

I plan to really hit this goal this fall. I’m taking a class on campus once a week, so I’m hoping to get some language CDs to listen to on the hour-long drive. It’s nice to decompress to whatever’s on my iPod, but I feel kinda guilt for not being productive during that time, considering how much stuff I always have to do.

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



Summer roadtrip #1

It’s not technically summer, but I am halfway through one of two weeks I get off from classes this summer, so yes, it is summer for me. I start an internship and a couple classes next week, so I thought I’d unwind this past weekend while I had a little bit of free time by heading to a remote, relaxing location: Washington Island, Wisconsin.




schoolhousebeach 100_3101

I may be feeling a little overwhelmed

At my university, you don’t have to pay extra for any credits beyond 9 semester hours. Free classes, right? So, in the spirit of insanity, I’m taking 5 classes this semester (although one’s about to end and another start, so it’s just 4 at the same time).

And then I got a full-time job (which I love; although it’s in a field that makes my soul kind of heart I get to play in databases all day) that has mandatory overtime half the year.

And I have family obligations.

Oh, and writing – I’ve decided to go through my publisher, Evolved, for the short story collection I’ve been trying to release for the past year, and it should be released this summer. And I’m trying to finish polishing my next novel, A Handful of Wishes, which will hopefully be released in December.

A fellow grad student tonight, in a similar overload position, described herself tonight as “whelmed,” to which I responded:

How do you keep from being overwhelmed?

Why did I write a book while you didn’t?

Last week in one of my classes, we watched a TED talk by Bryan Stevenson. Take a few minutes to watch it too:

So, I’m going to assume you didn’t watch. :D In his talk, Stevenson tells a story about his grandmother. When he was little, she took him aside and told him he was special and would do great things, he should never drink alcohol, and he couldn’t tell anyone about this talk because she was only telling this to him out of the myriad grandkids. Skip ahead to high school, and he was out in the woods with his brother and sister, who were drinking beer. Pressured to have some, he kept declining until his brother asked him if this was about that talk their grandma had with him, and everyone else in the family. To this day, Stevenson has never drunk alcohol.

The psychologist in me immediately wondered, you have two boys, both given the same talk. It inspires one of them but not the other. Why?

The same question applies to other fields. Upon hearing about bad stuff in the world, why do some people try to change it while others ignore it and go about their lives? Why do some people write that book, while others merely add it to their bucket list and go about their lives? What motivates the first group, the doers, and sets them apart?

Are you a doer or a dreamer/status quo-er? If it’s the latter, what’s stopping you from being a doer?

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