Grad School is everything and nothing that I expected

The first two weeks of grad school are finally complete. And thankfully now we’ve got a 3-day weekend. It’s much welcomed.

Things they do not tell you, or at least do not stress enough so you actually believe it: this is the most exhausted you will ever be in your life until you raise kids or go for a PhD. For real, guys, I am so tired. Part of it is that my glasses prescription is old and I am very due for an eye check up (something that I hope happens this weekend). Getting that updated should help. There are just constant readings. I’m only in 3 classes (one is only 1-credit, so it barely counts), and I just have so many pages of readings to do all the time. And you have to keep up. You hear often “this is grad school…” as their level of expectations for you. Lord do they mean it.

Yet to counter that, you’re a grad student. You likely wouldn’t have gotten in if you weren’t academically competent enough to keep up. (I say likely because I do have a bias right now that I’m not going to get into.) But getting through articles and books and being like, this makes sense — it just feels amazing. Yeah, imposter syndrome settles in for a lot. You wonder when someone is going to call you out for not knowing enough, but the thing is, we all feel that way and hell, we’re still just students. (And frankly the professors even feel that way.)

So while my classes are kicking my butt simply because I need to make some adjustments in my time management to keep up with my homework… I love it. I really really enjoy classes, even if neither of them are in my focus area. Having an office on campus is great. I love the faculty here — they are amazingly supportive and just fun people. Our current department chair, who is a woman who scared the poop out of me previously, is actually a really funny person and getting to see her joke in class is great. I feel incredibly lucky to be pursuing something I love and enjoy.

However. Unfortunately… There was an incident that happened this week. Due to it I no longer feel safe. I had a panic attack the morning after, and was trapped in a bathroom for a while until a friend could calm me down. I really can’t say much about what happened — mainly because I’m still processing it, but also because it is going through the appropriate channels in the university for mediation. My department is working with me as best they can. I am in counseling now. And I have a good support network of friends. I am physically unharmed in any way — ok, minus the fact that I have to make myself eat (and 90% of the time when I do eat it’s junk/candy). But emotionally I’m kind of a wreck. As much as I shouldn’t have had to experience this, it is ok for me to be not ok given the situation.

So while I was on such a high for these first two weeks, things are pretty rough for me right now. I want my life back. Or rather, I want my academic life back. I want to say I’m hopeful. But I’m still extremely nervous regarding the situation. I might talk to my psychiatrist about going on anti-anxiety medication if next week doesn’t improve. I’m just trying to do what I can for self-care and hoping the university side of it moves quickly. The very last thing I want is for this to taint my grad school experience, or harm it in any way. (Which it’s starting to; I’ve missed 8 hours of work and two courses.)

If I could take the last 52 hours away, I would be telling you that grad school is the best thing in my life. And in many ways it still is. Yet… Like I said, it’s really hard for me right now. Hopefully we’ll meet with the Title IX coordinator soon and handle this swiftly. Some changes are happening in the department, but still a long way to go until I feel safe again. Right now I’m going to focus on myself, not care if I had AirHeads for lunch, and distract myself as best I can this weekend so I can maybe have the strength to go to my classes next week.

My new job is going to spoil me. Or make me fat.

So if you’ll remember, back in May I took a temp job as a receptionist at a doctor’s office to help out until his retirement. Well, the end of June came, and the doctor retired. Thankfully, I was able to secure another job — which started the very next day after ending the first. (Ok, technically it started the Friday before, because I had to do HIPAA training. And OMG those laws are so serious.)

My official title is Medical Records Tech, I think. But really what I’m doing is taking all the of paper charts from the retired doctor and scanning into the new practice’s digital records. It’s a lot of sorting, un-stapling, and attempting not to break the scanner. I’ll admit, it’s sort of monotonous. As my officemate says, sometimes you just zombie-out after hours of scanning. 3:30pm gets sort of hard. You’ve got to get up, walk around. It definitely makes me wish I could consume caffeine.

Despite all this tolerable stuff… there are some really fun perks, ones I was aware of, but never really got to experience: Drug Rep Lunches. Only it’s not just lunches. There are drawers filled with various flavored Oreos and pretzels. Every Tuesday our department gets free Starbucks. Few times a week we get breakfast. Yesterday we got 2 breakfasts and lunch.* And of course the lunch. Sometimes for the whole practice. Sometimes it’s just for our department.  *And sometimes it’s for another department and you crash it anyway.

For three days in a row, we had fried chicken from three different reps. Thankfully, on the second day there was also another meat option (meatloaf) so that was nice. I skipped the third day because that’s just too much for my system. Instead I had leftovers from the breakfast brought to us. (There was so much food brought to that breakfast. We had a whole tray of pancakes untouched, only one person had any grits, and there was a whole box of biscuits left, along with about half of every other dish.) We did get these tiny, adorable little syrup bottles for our hotcakes. And yes, I totally kept mine.

Tiny little syrup

It’s hard because my brain (and stomach) are all OMG FREE FOOD. And it’s even harder when there’s sweets like cookies or brownies. It’s that competitive nature that says you’ve got to grab one before they’re all gone. FOMO rules these meals so much that people (myself included) actually go before our lunch breaks and make plates so we can have them just a mere 30 minutes later. But wait too long and you might miss out on all the good stuff…

My officemate was laughing that pretty much everyone gains at least 10lbs. I have no intentions of letting that happen. Though depending on what they keep bringing each week, that might be tough. My goal is to take advantage of the fruits and veggies as much as possible. But I don’t want to 1) outgrow all the scrubs I just bought, and 2) gain back the weight I’ve lost.

At least for now, this job is temporary. I’ve got good coworkers and seem to fit in pretty well with everyone. Who knows, maybe they’ll want to keep me and can figure out a schedule to work with my classes that doesn’t make me go batty. Right now I’m just happy for a reliable source of income, and well, to save a little money on lunches.

No Spend Week: because sometimes being an adult isn’t fun

After finally sitting down and working on my calendar — which, is a lot harder when you don’t buy a planner or even a wall calendar to map things out on — well, I noticed something not so awesome.

Thanks to the knee injury, and then throwing my back out.. my hours aren’t just what I’d normally log at work. Thus meaning a slightly meager paycheck coming up. And it’s the rent paycheck. So all of my money from that check will be going toward rent — and what I have left in my account right now, well, it’s got to last until the following paycheck after this one.

That’s just under $125 to cover 3 weeks’ expenses. Excluding rent, of course. So, since I can’t completely neglect this whole adulting thing, I decided what I needed to do was try at least to go the next week without spending any money.

No Spend Week

No spend challenges aren’t new. Heck, some people try this for a whole month. But I just want to try a week and see how it goes.

The rules I’m setting up for myself during this No Spend Week are:
1) Unless it’s an automatic bill pay, or cash I already have on hand, I am not spending a cent until next Saturday at the earliest.
2) No guilt for failing this challenge.

I’m pretty sure I can make it a whole week without any spending. All my major spending is done. I think the only upcoming bills are for Hulu and Netflix — which are autopay bills that I already budgeted for.

Also, I tried to really think through my groceries a bit better than I have been lately. Lately I’ve barely eaten lunch and mostly eat junk food for dinner. Crackers for lunch, chips for dinner. It’s a rockstar life, y’all. Hopefully this No Spend Week will sort of force me back into a better eating habit.

I have some chicken breast and pork loin, which may end up staying frozen. But I also bought supplies to make a black & white bean and rice bowl, and also chicken noodle casserole. The best thing about these dishes are that they make great leftovers.

For lunch, which seems to be the biggest struggle, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, as well as lettuce I had already for salads. Oh, and what I’m really excited for: watermelon & feta salad! And the aforementioned leftovers.

And of course I have snacks too, because I am a creature of habit: chips and dip, doritos, triscuits, goldfish crackers… Should be definitely enough to make it through the week, especially if I make real meals for dinner.

So with all of this set, and a fully loaded transit card, I think I’m pretty well off for accomplishing this goal.

Have you tried a No Spend challenge before? How’d it go?

Full speed.

For all this wanting and excitement of turning 30, it’s hard to believe it was only 1 week ago.

Little of this has to do with me actually turning 30. It was a great birthday — relaxing, filled with love, and spend with a few people dear to me. But since that moment, that whole zero-to-sixty thing happened, and my life has sort of been going full speed.

There is so much happening at my job right now. I would say it’s overwhelming, but it’s manageable. There’s just so. much. to do. I have a feeling this upcoming week is when my fear of things falling through the cracks is going to kick in. I’m also preparing myself for another week of long hours. This past week I didn’t work any less than 10 hours each day — a lot of that was not spend at my desk. And though this is my last full weekend until August (because starting next weekend I have to work Sundays), I’m still going to be putting in some time to get some supply orders in.

I haven’t gone grocery shopping, outside of getting some snack foods because I’m barely eating dinners. (Ok, so I ate leftover cajun food from my birthday weekend for a few days, but after that it was chips.) I’ve barely played Mario Kart 8. I haven’t done laundry. And if it wasn’t for my family’s visit last weekend, I wouldn’t have cleaned the apartment at all. I’ve been nodding off around 7:30pm — forcing myself to stay awake until at least 9pm — and waking up around 5am (and then checking work emails and such before going to the office). I haven’t even started working on my resume, because this wonderful job sadly ends in late August and I will desperately need employment come September.

But throughout all of this, the chaos and busyness, I feel amazing. I simply don’t have the time to let small things bother or worry or consume me. And through all this chaos, somehow those small wonderful things have a chance to shine brighter, because in those moments we pause to take a break, we slow down, it is a spectacular opportunity to remember just how amazing and beautiful and sometimes weird life is.


Visiting scenic “St. Boldt’s beach” after my birthday brunch with Sam, Ela, and Sharon.

*** Also: YAY! This is my 800th post! What a crazy journey it has been. ***

Drone Day – aka: I love my job.

So, as some of you know I work for a department in a large university that does a prestigious summer program for extremely talented youth. And it has been phenomenal. I love my office. I love my job. I’m good at what I do. And yes, I stare at a lot of spreadsheets all day and research products and have to manage order/shipment schedules…. But it’s great. (It’s also why I’m not online as much, especially as things are starting to get crazy busy.)

Best thing is: my office lets me geek out. In fact, they support it and join in with me. Case-in-point: Drone Day.

For one of our 4-6th grade programs, we are ordering drones. Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Power Edition quadcopters to be exact. Five of them.

This is pretty exciting. Drones are still fairly new as far as consumer products, though their prices are dropping. And even though there’s some controversy with the FAA regarding drones, well… I mean, they’re drones. It’s freaking cool.

So when I found out that not only was I buying these for our program, but I’d be the one to get to test them out? I definitely nerded out a bit.

Drone preparing for flight time

Also: Yes, my desk is tiny and pretty much always covered post-it notes.

On Drone Day, I got the batteries charged and was prepping everything for our flight time. The Power Edition comes with 2 batteries, each with about 30-36 minutes of flight time on them. No, that’s not much, but it’s much much much better than the standard edition.

And since this was for a class, I didn’t customize it with the interchangeable colored propellors. The kiddos can choose that stuff.

After lunch, the office went out to a nearby soccer field, gathered around, and I scared the crap out of them when I hit “take off”. We left the indoor haul on it (the rounded quad-thing you see in the picture above), rather than the exposed outdoor one. With this being our initial flights, I didn’t want to risk the propellers.

First off, these things can be noisy. Not distractingly so, but it definitely makes you understand why there’s no mic on this thing — just the two cameras. Also, it does produce a good amount of air underneath it, like you see from regular helicopters but on a smaller scale of course.

The controls were not completely intuitive, even though I did watch a whole lot of tutorials and read the manual numerous times. And we had a little wind to deal with. But you get the hang of it quickly.

I absolutely wish I could have more time with this machine to really master the controls and navigation. It was so much fun to work with. And I can’t imagine it in an indoor setting where you’re not fighting the wind.

I was zooming it around, we took off the altitude restrictions… and I got it to do flips. Such fun!

And, of course, a quick little office selfie from our back porch. Eventually it’d be nice to just know where the photo button was so I could take one without having to stare at the control panel on my phone.

Drone Office Photo

At the end of our fun, one of my colleagues turned to me and said, “man, we really picked the right person for your position this year!” I am so grateful to be a part of this office, not even for the drones, but just for the amazing people that I work with.

That time I was a line cook for 2 days…

I’m pretty sure I can completely blame this on TV, but the idea of working in a professional kitchen always seemed sort of exciting and fun. I mean, yes it’d be stressful, but adventure of cooking would outweigh that. And I’d never really work in a high-end restaurant’s kitchen, so how bad could it really be?

Well… I actually got to find out over the weekend.

A burger joint in my neighborhood was hiring, and really only had openings for line cooks. Now, this wasn’t like fast food… I mean, yes, it’s burgers, but somewhat fancy burgers. (As far as burgers can be from a walk-up counter.) So I got a tryout…

The first day I went in, well, I wasn’t prepared to actually start that day. I thought the owner was just calling me in to talk to the manager to work out some scheduling. Nope. I was starting that day.  4 ½ hours of making angus hamburger patties. You know, as boring as it sounds it really wasn’t bad. The worst part was that I was in my good clothes and didn’t have the proper shoes for it.

The next day they had me start at 10:30am. I did so much that day. I portioned chicken, washed a lot of dishes, made more angus patties, washed more dishes, learned how to cut bacon and lettuce, learned how to bread chicken, chopped a whole lot of onions, learned how to work the fryer, prep the rice dishes, and then got to top it off with a lot of cleaning. In there I got sort of a break, but not really a break, to eat some food they made for me… (Which was really good.) …  But the day wasn’t over until 11:30pm. 13 hours with barely a break.

By about 7 hours in, I was tired and beginning to get sore. 8 hours in, I was fighting off back spasms.  11 hours in, my legs were shaking and I had a hard time getting up and down to clean things. By the walk home, I was crying.

The thing is, the work wasn’t really that bad. But 13 hours of it without resting… well, not ok. (And possibly not legal.) The talk from the other working there was that an actual lunch break is odd, long hours are the norm, and “you’ll get used to it.” Not likely. Even if I was healthier and stronger, that’s a lot of abuse for a body. Six days a week even.

I like the owner — he’s nice and I enjoyed learning from him and talking food. And my coworkers weren’t bad, even if they were crude at times. And well, though I shouldn’t eat burgers all the time, I really did like the food. (Philly egg rolls!) But “part time” is still six days a week, and about six to eight hours a day. That’s… well… it’s still a lot for that type of work.

I’m glad I gave it a try. Part of me wishes it could work out somehow… But I’m too old to deal with that sort of physical abuse for barely more than minimum wage. I get that food jobs are hard, but nope. This isn’t for me. Not like this, anyway.

I need a job, one without all the dread.

So it’s been 5 months since I was laid off. And while during this time I have decided that I want to return to school — and thus further refined what I would be going for — it still doesn’t change the fact that right now, I don’t have a good source of income.

Yes, I’ve been looking for jobs, and applied to a good number. But, even the jobs I know I’d be great at — these really awesome academic administrative positions — they sort of fill me with a little bit of dread. While I know I would enjoy these jobs to a point, it’s just the idea of someone else dictating my schedule, which then in turn would effect other areas of my life, possibly keeping me from things I really love… that’s what fills me with dread.

I’ve come to really love the freedom that I have right now. And while that might change down the road, it’s something that’s important to me now. So, I’m starting to consider that I might have to rethink freelancing. I don’t really mind web development, but not so much interested in the design aspect. (Which, I know, those two aren’t mutually inclusive.)

Here’s some of the freelance services I’m thinking about:
» Ghost writing
» Blogging (I know, we all wish, right?)
» Personal Assistant
» Administrative Assistant (as a freelancer, I will hopefully have more leeway with my schedule/location)
» Educational Consultant
» Desktop Publishing
» eBook designer/developer

It would be amazing if I could make a living as a brand ambassador and merch manager… but that just doesn’t seem feasible. So now I’m going to be trying to figure out how to make one or more of the above work for me so I can hopefully not be as broke as I currently am. Whenever I think about freelancing it always makes me chuckle a little… all this indecision and confusion means that I’d likely never add “life coach” to that list… (Though I will say I make a pretty great personal cheerleader. Now to just redirect that towards myself.)

surviving unemployment

Unemployment can definitely be scary. I’ve been here before, so I sort of knew what to expect. The first time I was unemployed, I had no benefits. It’s the unemployment that ruined my credit. I was buying food from the dollar store, which was hard to ration because it would go bad in a matter of days. Luckily, after three months, I found another job.

The second time, the company I was working for went under. I had benefits, but I left my unhappy living situation and moved in to my dad’s home. There were 9 of us in a three bedroom, two and half bath house. 6 girls sharing one shower. Three months later I was back in Chicago and attending the portfolio school.

I’ve now hit the three month unemployment mark, and well, things on the reliable source of income front haven’t changed and don’t readily seem like they’ll change. I mean, yes, I have a plan: Grad School. In 2014. One year from now. But I’ve got the here and now to worry about and unemployment can be down right daunting. You need a plan, otherwise you’ll just go crazy.

1) Figure out what you want to do with yourself.
Seriously. It may take you months to figure it out, or maybe you already know, but take some time and really think about what’s important to you. What do you want to do? What do you want to pursue? Explore every possibility. You may not figure it out during your unemployment, but at least you gave it thought and made an effort to doing something that matters to you.

Of course for me, it’s been grad school… But once my applications are all sent off, I can’t just sit and wait.

2) Give up the idea of a dream job falling in your lap.
Ok, now, don’t call me a pessimist, but you do need to hold on to some shred of reality here. If you want something, you’re going to have to work for it. But I’m not about to get all life coachy on you. Sometimes you take the “ok” job because it’s a job. It’s a paycheck that’ll help you get by. Just because you took the ok job doesn’t mean you have to stop working towards the dream job. And you never know, that ok job may turn out to be a great job, and may send you in a direction you never thought you’d go. (I mean, if you can help it, don’t just settle for any job… but remember there’s no shame in taking something just to pay the rent — a lesson I’ve learned a few times now.)

3) Get dressed.
Chances are you’ll spend a lot of time at home. And while it may seem nice to stay in your PJs all day long… well, I found it’s starts a bad cycle of laziness. I’ve made a rule that I have to at least put a bra on. And now I’ve moved on to loose tees and leggings as pants. So figure out what it is that makes you feel motivated to do something other than go right back to bed.

4) Make a schedule.
It’s super easy for the days to blur together when you’ve got nothing to do and no where to go. Every day’s a weekend, but you probably shouldn’t treat them like they are. I spend an hour each day from Monday through Thursday on my online courses (when they’re in session). I’ve also been spending at least an hour each day on my grad school applications. Also: set alarms. I have one that goes off to remind me to certify for my unemployment benefits, and now another one to remind me of rent.

5) Find some good use of your down time.
You’re going to have so many hours a head of you… Probably shouldn’t spend them all on Netflix. I’ve tried. Mostly you just run out of shows faster and end up watching drivel. I’ve been reading a lot. Finished the first Game of Thrones book in 3 days. Also busted out my water colors. I had painted some in high school, and a little in college… but mainly acrylics or oils, and I was never serious about it.

water color painting, beating boredom during unemployment

They’re not super amazing, but it felt good to do something creative again.

If it wasn’t for my severance, this unemployment might be a lot different. I’m not worried about being able to buy food, or if I’m going to be able to pay rent. I still don’t have the lifestyle I used to, but I don’t have to be uncomfortable.

Three months have passed. Having the tours helped, but that was only a couple of weeks. The rest has just come down to me making the best of this situation. Hermit life is all right for a little while, but it grows old fast. I have to remind myself to get outside every now and then… It’s not perfect, nor is it easy, but you make it through one day at a time.

*Every time I wrote “you” I also, and mainly, meant “I”… or whatever form is grammatically correct.

no hair, no job, I’m going to Canada!

No Hair

I’d been growing my hair out for just over a year now. I’m pretty impressed with how fast it grew! It went from a pixie to resting on my shoulders in 13 months. Probably the first time I’ve had hair on my shoulders in maybe 7 years. But I’m terrible with hair and other girlie things… so I have/had no idea what to do with it other than ponytails. (And eventually pigtail braids once it got long enough.) I’d been itching for a change for a while… and Monday evening after work I took the plunge.

An hour, and basically 3 hairstyles later — being indecisive means you’re the worse hair client ever and I’m so glad my stylist was being very patient and didn’t scalp me — well… this is the result:

rini short hair 2013

No Job

Well. Got a big shock yesterday. I lost my job. I know my job has been stressful, but underneath it all I really did love what I did. It was through that job I really realized how much I love academic administration. Which felt weird to figure out, but hey, nerd for life. If I can’t be in school forever, at least I can run the place. I had wanted there to be restructuring at my work for a while, but I just figured I’d be a part of it. Anyway, I left on good terms, so there’s that.

Opportunity for new things, right? No clue what I’ll do next. If I could start my MFA this fall, I’d be on that. Something good will come up. It has to.

I’m going to Canada!

Yep. That’s right. Canada. … but only for a week.

Mucca is playing the Montreal International Jazz Fest. I’m absolutely excited about going. The fest itself should be amazing, and getting to be there with some of my favorite people ever? Exactly what I need right now.

So, I’ll be back in a week. Then it’s time to start that fun quest of what the heck I should do with my life!

breathing easier, and making plans.

I have a love-hate relationship with planning (and the phrase “I’ve got a lot on my mind”). I love it–it’s fun. But well, spontaneity and just going… awesome. Like many things, it’s all about balance.

I’m trying to figure out if I want to meet an upcoming application deadline. If I want to drop a lot of cash and go to Vegas with 59 other bloggers. Or if I want to drop cash and do a solo writing retreat in Baton Rouge. Or find someone to join me for a looong weekend of jazz (and some writing) in New Orleans. Oh. And I’m trying to decide if I want to stay in my current apartment, or switch to another in the building… or just go somewhere new.

We’re only 2 weeks into the year, and I already cannot wait to fill the pages of my new little planner*. Even if it’s the day after. Concerts and tours. Dinner dates. REAL dates. And a vacation of some sorts. And maybe even my surgery, assuming I still need it.

All of this is a little easier now. If you follow me on twitter or are a FB friend, then you already know this… but I was recently put on salary at work. Means I’m even more officially a staff member. It’s awesome. What’s more awesome is what it comes with: benefits. I now have health insurance. Not to mention paid sick days and vacation. I’m really enjoying my work, and I’m kind of rocking this job. My boss pointed out, after we shook on my new status, I’m less stressed. I’m hoping that’ll stay true for a while longer. In fact, I even told myself that tomorrow I’m going to have an “I can conquer the world!” attitude. Somedays you just need to tell yourself to be fearless, and then make it happen.

*As pretty as they are, I’m happy I saved my money and went with a whatever-brand planner from Target rather than get an Erin Condren one. Maybe one day.