So, about the MLA

It was here, this year.  Though I knew plenty of people attending, both blogger people and people from my various former institutions, I didn’t contact anyone to do anything.  And no one contacted me, so there ya go.  Because I read so many academic blogs, particularly those in Rhetoric and Composition and in other English fields, the conference has been in the back of my mind.  When it was here three years ago, I went and wrote about it in two very different ways.  First, I was apprehensive.  And then, I was over it.  I attended that year for two reasons.  One, I had a job interview, which I couldn’t write about back then but which is the meeting I referred to in that second post.  And two, I was technically a grad student and could afford the fee.  Though I wrote more confidently about my experience there in the second post, I remember it still being awkward for me in all kinds of ways.  I did, indeed, run into old grad school friends and we had coffee and talked and it was really enjoyable.  But I also caught a glimpse of my former advisor, whom I dumped and of whom I have awkward memories.  When I saw her, she was taking one of my friends around and introducing her to people, something I am not entirely sure she would have ever done for me.  In part, perhaps, she knew my heart wasn’t in my subject before I did, before I switched to Rhetoric and Composition and switched advisors.

I felt generally awkward as I wandered the halls and lobbies and did not recognize a soul.  In part, of course, it’s because the conference is ginormous.  Even if I knew people, it would be hard to find them.  But I felt lost in a sea of unfamiliar faces, no one I could stand with and chat and have coffee between sessions.  I’ve been to sizable conferences like this in other fields, namely technology.  At those, there are cocktail parties and other events where one can meet people on a more informal basis.  Or, there’s the strategy of meeting the five people you do know and attending mostly the same sessions together.  The MLA seems to be so crammed with sessions, starting at an ungodly hour in the morning and ending sometimes at 9 at night.  Seriously, 12 hours of sessions, crazy!  There’s no time for gatherings or parties in all that.  And then there are the people conducting and attending interviews.  They don’t have time for such niceties either.

The interviewing is another moment of awkwardness.  The reports are pretty much on the money in terms of being able to pick out the interviewees, those in black suits, glancing nervously around, many of them spending their time hanging outside the “interview room,” a row of tables in a large conference space where people can overhear nearly everything.  On elevators and in hallways, one can sometimes hear them practicing their summary of their research or their teaching statement.  I, too, wore a black suit, pants, not a skirt.  But I was 10-15 years older at least than most of the interviewees.  Thankfully, I wasn’t relegated to the interview room, but still it’s weird to interview in a hotel suite.  It feels undignified, is reminiscent to me of prostitution, which isn’t far off the mark of how the market functions these days.  It’s hard to forget that toiletries and underwear lurk behind closed doors and drawers even as you’re discussing your pedagogical strategies.

Later that day, I walked into the lobby (as I describe in my earlier post, looking for a place to sit, maybe have a drink), and I run smack dab into the (now former) president of our college, whom I know quite well.  I’m in my black suit.  It’s probably abundantly clear that I am interviewing.  We say hello and thankfully, she is talking to colleagues and so hello is all there is and I go sit at the bar.

After that, things get dramatically better, but still . . .

New Kid wrote a nice post earlier this week about leaving academia.  I haven’t left it entirely.  After all, I’ll be teaching a class starting next week.  But I like the mish mash of work I’m doing that partly involves academia and partly involves other things.  As my post on failure notes, I’m on the fringes of this thing and feel like I can be more objective about it in some ways than I would be if I were in it.  I got that job I interviewed for at the MLA, but turned it down.  Every once in a while, I used to have pangs of regret for not taking it, but I really do like where I’ve ended up.  Had I taken that job, we might have had to move or I would have at least had a huge commute, a big teaching load with lots of papers to grade.  When would I have time for my family, my kids?  It’s tough to admit that the demands of that kind of work don’t fit with my desired lifestyle.  It feels selfish and wrong to reject full time employment on that basis, especially now when there are people who have lost jobs, who can’t find work.  Every other full time academic job I’ve considered applying for, I’ve rejected on that basis.  But I still like the teaching, the mission of education, especially for disadvantaged students.  I still like the intellectualism of academic life that is absent from a lot of other kinds of jobs.  And so, I keep a foot there, balancing it out with other kinds of work and with the rest of my life.

I no longer feel the despair and self-loathing that probably colored that 2006 MLA conference.  And I really didn’t feel it much then, just in moments when I was immersed in it as much as I was at the MLA.  When all I could see around me were reminders of the path I could have taken, it was hard not to feel some regret for not taking it.  When I look back over my life and consider the moments when I could have plunged in and really taken that path the way my colleagues from grad school did, I can’t see a moment where taking it would have given me everything that I have now.  I would have had to give up living with my family at least temporarily or perhaps even permanently if I were completely careerist about it.  I wouldn’t have gained the technical skills I have now.  I wouldn’t have time for a lot of the things I do now that keep me sane.  Maybe I wouldn’t have needed them, but I doubt it.  Yes, there are things I don’t have because I didn’t go down that path.  Maybe I would have more published, maybe even a book.  But that doesn’t seem like much to give up.  I have the phrase “our paths choose us” resounding in my head.  In part, I think that’s true.  I think we make decisions that we think will make us happy and those decisions take us down a path we can’t see yet.  We can only see it as we look back.

And so it ends

Dove Series 2
Image by lorda via Flickr

Tonight is the last night of our vacation.  Tomorrow, we will get up early and move through the routines of showers and breakfast, lunches and carpools.  When I took all the decorations off the tree, I felt a tad bit sad at saying goodbye to the holiday.  I really do love this bright spot in the middle of a dark winter.  When I took a bath yesterday, I looked as usual out the window at the one oak branch I can see.  Often, there are one or two mourning doves that huddle there in the nook of the L-like branch.  They are gray and brown like the tree and blend in perfectly. Yesterday, there were 5 or 6 of them, huddled together against the cold.  Suddenly, just below them, there was a shock of red against all the gray.  A red-headed woodpecker had joined them and was pecking away, trying to get a snack.  I called to the kids and Mr. Geeky to come see, but they thought I was crazy.

Today was cold and windy.  We turned on a fire.  I nursed a small hangover, eating a bologna and mustard sandwich.  I went to the grocery store, did the rest of the laundry.  Mr. Geeky graded.  We fell into the routines of everyday life again.  I like the routine like the birds lined up on the branch.  Like them, we huddled together for most of our winter holiday, but we’ve also enjoy some bright moments, lights, good food, and shared laughter.  I’ll miss that, but will be looking for those bright moments to get me through the long winter ahead.

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Motivational Swings

Warning: This post may be whiny and self-indulgent. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

It’s either the weather or the hormones, but I’ve struggled the last couple of days to do anything productive. Just Tuesday, as I was walking back from Starbucks, I was feeling quite proud of myself. I was thinking, damn, I finished a writing a section of a book and started the next section, and no one paid me to do it. There was a real spring in my step.

But then Wednesday, for some reason, I couldn’t get up the motivation to do anything. I wrote a couple of blog posts, one for another venue I’m experimenting with. And then I felt kind of sapped.

As is my usual habit, I’ve been analyzing the reasons behind the lack of motivation in order to figure out what to do about it. I could just blow it off, go play WoW and return to working when the mood strikes again. But my protestant work ethic won’t let me do that. There’s writing to be done! There’s laundry to do, floors to vacuum! You’re not making any money, you have to do something productive to contribute to the family! And there’s the rub. It’s not the only rub, but it’s a big one.

While we’re able to cover our necessities, there are some things we want to do that we can’t really afford right now, but that we could easily afford if I were working. Both Mr. Geeky and I have acknowledged this. And I’m torn in multiple directions on the career front. On the one hand, I could put considerably more effort into my consulting work. On the other hand, I could hold out hope for the writing to pay off, but that’s very long term. On still another hand, I could just get another job. My worry is that doing either option one or option three would detract substantially from the writing and it would never get done. Because that’s where I’d sacrifice the time, not on the family side of things, which are mostly positive right now and I’m getting a lot out of being with my kids more.

And then there’s this reality. I am doing 80-90% of the housework. And I really hate housework. I actually had the kids clean the bathrooms yesterday, but I folded 4 loads of laundry and made dinner. Mr. Geeky cleaned up and this morning took the garbage out. But I’m picking up socks off the floor, school papers off the coffee table and dining room table, and generally keeping in my head the various chores that need to be done. It sounds more even when I type it out here, but it doesn’t feel even and that’s the problem. And I’ve discussed this problem with the family, and well, no one’s really got a solution yet. And frankly, I kind of feel like no one but me cares about the house.

And there’s the kid activities, which I really am glad I’m able to let them do, but which is more work on my part also. Yesterday, I went to the farmer’s market at 2:30, came home, unloaded, then went to Geeky Girl’s field hockey game. I didn’t go to the last one and just picked her up from school afterward and GG complained that she was the only one whose mom wasn’t there and could I please come to her next game. For the record, I was at Geeky Boy’s soccer game. Sigh.

Yesterday, I was overwhelmed with the feeling, once again, of being completely disconnected from my community. When I got to the game, there was a group of moms standing watching the game. I walked toward them and stood near them, but didn’t say hi or anything. I only knew a few of them and just didn’t feel comfortable just walking up to them. They were kind of huddled together talking and they either never saw me or chose to ignore me. And I know this is more my problem than theirs, but still, I just felt awkward. A majority of my social interactions are coming through the Internet, which is not a good thing, but I have few ideas about how to fix that, at least on a regular basis. We are having people over later this month and going to a party next week, but day-to-day or weekly at least, I think I need more face-to-face connections. I miss that about work.

And then there’s the walking/exercising, which has slowed down considerably. The weather has been uncooperative and it takes a lot of time. I might have to work on a better schedule for it at least. I’m sure it would help with the mood issues. Geeky Girl has promised to go on a longer walk with me on Sunday if the weather holds out. It’s a nice show of support.

I’m feeling pulled in too many different directions and none of them feel comfortable for different reasons. I like writing the best, but worry about its financial viability. Playing the role of sahm is rewarding for the time I have with my kids, but isolating, lonely, and somewhat thankless (especially on the housework side of things). Starting a new business is liberating and exciting, but proving difficult in a down economy in an industry that doesn’t tend to look outside its walls for support. And thinking about a regular job feels like giving up, but would bring in much appreciated income. I know I will work through all of this eventually, but it’s a lot to process. Thanks for giving me the space to process it in. If you made it this far, you deserve a gold star.

She would be 38

Today is my sister’s birthday. Some years, this day goes by like any other, coming as it does so close to the hustle and bustle of the beginning of the school year. Many years ago, I wrote about my sister in a post that captures most of what I remember about her. I’m so glad I wrote that stuff down. Those memories seem to fade with every passing year.

One thing I didn’t write about is how much her death changed who I am, in some good ways and in some bad ways. Right after she died, I keenly felt how short life really was and how important people were in that life. I cherished my friendships more, then, and made more time for them. In part, I’m sure, I needed to not feel alone. In part, I saw that each person in my life was there for a fleeting moment. I also threw myself into my work, finding a source of creativity and for good or for ill, a rich topic for my poetry. I felt confident in my work, took charge of my future, and felt ready to face the world after college.

But once I got past college, some of that confidence and those humanitarian feelings began to fade. People, it turns out, are not always magnanimous spirits and can be hurtful and rude. I had difficulty explaining why I didn’t have any siblings. So, I started saying I didn’t. Which felt very wrong. One thing about siblings is they often tell it like it is, but they also just listen–at least my sister did–and so you knew you always had someone to turn to and complain about life to. I no longer had that. And, to this day, I haven’t quite found someone who could replace that. Sometimes you need someone to talk to about your parents, your husband, your job. And though I have some people I can talk to about these things, it’s never felt complete.

I miss her at the oddest times. Holidays, to be sure, but also the kids’ birthdays and on visits to my parents. I’m about to go on vacation to the beach we went to as kids, where it was always just the two of us, having adventures, entertaining each other. I always think of her then.

It seems odd to think she’d be middle-aged by now. Would she be married, have kids? Would we live close together, far apart? Would we spend holidays at each other’s houses? I will never know, and it’s often that thought that makes me most sad, that I lost someone, sure, but that she lost a whole potentially happy life.

Coins, Money and Banks

Polish Złoty and Euro CoinsImage by schoschie via Flickr

Every day Mr. Geeky comes home from work and puts his keys and wallet in a little secretary that stands by the front door. He also puts any change from his pocket into a jar. When the jar got full, I suggested taking it to the bank. Not yet, he said. He needed to check for “valuable” old coins first. He added another jar. That jar got full. I made the suggestion again. Again he protested that there might be coins worth saving in there. Months passed. He didn’t move on to a third jar. By this point, there wasn’t room. Finally, I insisted, suggesting that the kids go through both jars and set aside anything they thought might be worth something–old coins, foreign coins, gold doubloons. So, they sat themselves at the dining room table. When they found their first old coin, they got pretty excited. Geeky Boy has books that hold old coins that he hasn’t looked at in years. He got out those and filled a couple of slots. Geeky Girl remembered she had a state quarter set. She got the folder for that and began filling out that collection. All in all, they only found 10-15 older coins, but they’re going through another container we found in hopes of finding more. They’ve been returning to the project periodically without my having to ask. Geeky Girl, especially, having not paid much attention to money before, exclaims when they find something unusual, something she’s never seen before and listens patiently when Geeky Boy explains what the D and the S mean on the coins.

They filled a medium-sized bowl with coins suitable for taking to the bank. Yesterday, I filled a bag with about half of the coins and trudge to the bank on my way to the farmer’s market. The bank lets you estimate how much money you have and if you’re close, you win a prize. As I poured the money into the machine, I saw mostly pennies. So, I estimated about 7.50. When it was all said in done, I had slightly over $52 in coins. Mostly dimes, it turned out. I’m really bad at estimating, especially now that I rarely handle cash, much less coins. All my cash is digital, exchanged either via electronic transfer or similarly, using my debit card. I used to keep tips in a mayonnaise jar on my dresser, saving up for the deposit on an apartment in graduate school town. I know about how much was there, in part because I knew how much I made in tips, but also because I dealt with cash all the time.

I spent a little more than half of my new found cash at the farmer’s market. Even though I always take cash there (most of the vendors don’t take other forms of payment), I felt a little giddy at having such a large amount, created, it seemed, out of thin air.

Money now does seem to come out of thin air, arriving in bank accounts without anyone having to touch anything. I used to work at a bank during the summers. One summer I filed loan applications, the 3 attached parts left after everything was signed off. Another summer I filed the checks people deposited into their accounts, checks that were then sent to other banks to be filed and then placed in an envelope to be sent to the customer with her statement. Even then, the real transaction happened electronically, with a machine reading routing and account numbers, a human inputting the amounts, which were then coded onto the check to be read by another machine. For a brief time each summer, it was my job to count money coming in from the vendors at the annual summer festival. Bags of coins and dollar bills showed up at the bank and I stood behind the tellers, counting it all by hand, recording amounts on deposit slips, amounts that were later entered into computers while the money itself went into the vault, to be redistributed to banks or to customers withdrawing money.

Geeky Boy asked the other day if people still traded things. I said, sure, happens all the time. But money became more convenient at some point and then banks became a place to store that money and now, they are the place where most of our financial transactions actually occur. And they make their own money off of those transactions. What a weird little system we’ve created, making banks the middle man for our exchange of goods.

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Time for reflection

One of the lovely things about being in the locations I was in on my vacation was that I was pretty much off the grid. I could use my iPhone a bit while still in the country, but once we got to France, we had little contact with the outside world. Although we could have purchased an English language newspaper, we didn’t and we watched a bit of French news which was mostly about the Tour de France. We did manage to find out about Michael Jackson, but mostly we had no idea what was going on. And we didn’t really miss it. At least I didn’t.

I spent time just appreciating my surroundings, but also thinking about where I am and where I’m going. And this extended to Mr. Geeky and together, we reflected on our lifestyle–what was good, what we didn’t like, etc. Overall, I’d say, we like where we are and how our life has turned out, but there are things that we’d like to be better. Just before we’d left, I’d commented on how I felt our lives here were sort of rushed, that it was fast-paced and it seemed difficult to slow down. In essence, I feel like this is part of the culture here. This would probably be true of any major metropolitan area where commute times (both to work and to shopping, schools, etc.) eat into time to spend alone with a book or with family. I also think there’s an element of our own rushed tempo with our careers in technology that move at the speed of light. I think we have been influenced both by the locale and our careers to feel the need to do everything quickly.

Another element that feels problematic to me is the lack of connection I feel to my neighbors. I have plenty of friends, but they are far flung, living in the city or in other suburbs. I’ve made a real effort, though, in the last few months, to make those connections. It takes time and effort. I think improving these connections might help slow things down a bit, and make us feel like we have ties that support us.

On the material side, with my leaving regular work, the plans we had for improving our house to gain space and make it more our own have been put on hold. Moving out a ways might gain us some space, but it adds to the commute, uproots the kids from their schools and disconnects us from the few connections we do have. But there are small things we can do–painting, smaller improvements–that might make a big difference. And really, we don’t care that much about our physical accoutrements.

One thing I’ve been thinking about is trying to not be so hard on myself. I’ve spent much of my life comparing myself negatively to others, and although I’ve mostly stopped doing that, I find it sneaking in occasionally, making me feel that who I am and what I have is not good enough. But it is. I really have few complaints. Those I have can be fairly easily remedied. So I came away from my vacation much more appreciative of what I have and the life I’ve built, but with an eye to continue working on the things I want to be better. And I hope to slow down and appreciate it even more.

90% Satisfied

People still constantly ask me if I’m happy with my new situation. I am, as my dissertation adviser used to say, guardedly optimistic. In terms of day-to-day life, things are pretty damn good. I do a little bit of work in all the areas I need to–teaching, business, and home life. I don’t feel like a hamster on a wheel, trying to respond to email in the short term and at the same time, make mid and long-term plans. I have time to eat a leisurely lunch if I want. I can even take a bath in the middle of the day. Being able to determine when I work is, quite honestly, heavenly. I end up working about 5-8 hours a day. And I’m increasingly not really paying attention to the number of hours, but to whether what I wanted to get done on a particular day actually did get done.

The guarded part has to do with money. Right now, I have the part-time teaching gig that brings in a tiny, tiny income, but it’s something and it’s something stable. We haven’t completely adjusted budget-wise to the loss of my higher income. In theory, we should be fine. In practice, shit happens. Car repair, taxes, unexpected kid expenses. We have less of a buffer for those in our income. We have savings to draw on, but ideally, we’d leave that alone.

Part of what I do every day is look for work. I have emailed people and I’m working on ways to get business for myself, but it’s slow work, especially when you don’t have much of a budget. I’m pretty flexible at this point about what I’ll do. Consulting has a kind of high-minded sound to it, and certainly I would love to serve as the adviser on a big technology project or be the inspirational speaker at a campus retreat. But, I’m also willing to get my hands dirty and do some of the grunt work that’s often necessary for any educational technology project. And, I’ve done things that are not that related to my business plan just for the money and the experience. And, honestly, the variety is good for me. I like looking at the big picture and getting involved in the details (maybe not at the same time, though). Sometimes it’s nice to be able to work on the innards of a blog site rather than think about blogs more abstractly. To me, the two are related, but it’s a difference between what parts of your brain you use.

I believe eventually, I will find business and that I’ll start getting paid, and I’m not freaking out over the fact that I don’t have a steady paycheck (yet!). I’m enjoying what I’m doing, what I get to think about every day so that the money doesn’t much matter. My satisfaction level would certainly rise to near 100% if I had more steady income, but I think 90% is pretty damn good for now.

Do what you love, not what makes you look good to others

I’m thinking about mantras, things that I can live by and that I can remind myself of whenever I find myself in a rut. It’s inspired by The Happiness Project. I’m kind of working on my own project, but I’m not sure how prescriptive I want to be. Gretchen has 12 commandments, and this is along those lines. It’s a phrase that keeps coming into my head lately. And I’ve actually written about this before.

I think I finished the Ph.D. this time and not the last time because I loved my topic. I had always loved it, but I didn’t realize it until I started working on it. I had chosen my former topic because people told me I was good at it and because I thought it would land me “a good job.” Once I realized there were no good jobs really, I just did what I wanted.

I have done many a thing in life because I thought it would make me look cool or look better to a particular group of people I was trying to impress. And most of the time it made me miserable. I’ve learned to recognize when that’s happening, of course, but there are subtle ways it often comes back into play. I feel like I ought to do things a certain way, read certain things, or watch certain shows. And now I’m stopping and asking myself if I’m doing something because I want to or because I think it makes me look “right.”

Now, I’m not eliminating doing things that I ought to, but don’t want to do–like eating well, exercising, or cleaning up–but I focus on what I want to obtain out of those things, not those things themselves or what they say about who I am. For example, long ago, I wanted to be seen as “the kind of person that exercises,” so I started jogging, tried to take up sports, etc. It. did. not. work. I am not the kind of person that exercises, but I can exercise if my goal fits something I really want for myself. Right now, I really do want to look good in a bathing suit, which I know sounds vain and all, but seriously, that’s what I want.

So I’m trying to focus on that as I think about what I’m doing, what I’m going to do, and not be drawn to things that might garner great comments at cocktails parties, but that would make me really unhappy.

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A nearly perfect weekend

I haven’t had one of these in a while. I often feel like the weekends are either slug mode after which I feel horribly guilty or filled with so much activity, it may as well be Monday. It started with a night out with Mr. Geeky, a much-needed escape from the kids and the rest of our lives. I spent much of Saturday not doing anything, though I did manage a trip to the grocery store. I tend to do this many weekends–set aside a day where I give myself permission not to do anything. Sometimes this slides into the whole weekend, leading to, as I mentioned, guilt. And sometimes, it’s just not possible because there’s two birthday parties and a soccer game to manage. But this weekend, not so. I played more WoW than I have in a while, with a reasonable number of breaks away from it. And since I squeezed in a trip to the store, I felt completely guilt free.

Sunday, Mr. Geeky and I got up early and then walked over to our local breakfast spot. We’ve only been there a few times, but it’s a place with no menu and a random collection of family and customer photos everywhere. Over the grill is a whiteboard that always has either a Bible verse or a religiously-inspired message. Mr. Geeky and I noticed that behind us hung two photos of Obama’s inauguration. We found this interesting since it contradicted the political vibe we were getting from the decor and from the clientele. The food there is good, though not fabulous, and the business, thankfully, seems to be thriving. We’ve seen one local business close down already.

After breakfast, I threw myself into laundry and other household chores, recruiting Mr. Geeky and the kids as necessary. I had decided that I didn’t want to start Monday surrounded by dirty clothes and clutter. Many loads of laundry and some newly hung shelves later, I felt free. I prepped for class. I even made cookies. It was kind of wacky. Maybe it was all the coffee.


On another note, I’ve not been as engrossed in the news lately. I know there’s a stimulus package working it’s way through Congress. I’m actually pretty pissed about the whole thing, but have nothing intelligent to say about it. Mostly I’m tired of hearing a bunch of rich people complain about how the bill costs too much, doesn’t cut taxes enough, or whatever. I see future Tom Daschle’s there, not the working men and women whose lives are truly being affected by the crisis. And bleh to this Kristof column. He’s condescending to both scientists and women. And yet, the column is supposed to be about how banks need more women. It’s weird.

Although I sometimes wish I were keeping up with more, part of me feels like my stress level is better off without reading or watching politicians and pundits yell at each other.


I don’t think I’ve been so glad to see a Friday come around in a long time. This has been a rough week in Geeky land. Everyone was sick. I, too, got a cold and sore throat. I was so grateful not to have stomach issues like Mr. Geeky and Geeky Boy that it seemed no problem at all that I couldn’t swallow very well. But because I was relatively well in comparison, I ended up doing everything and that made me cranky beyond belief. I knew I was just cranky, but there was nothing I could do about it. I’m not good at being Florence Nightingale anyway, but add lack of sleep and a killer cold to that and you have a recipe for disaster. On top of that, I had a ton of work this week. In addition to prepping for class, I had a project deadline. I have another project that really I’d hoped to get done this week, but not going to happen. And a proposal due tomorrow. Plus, there’s just the regular stuff I’m trying to keep up with: bills, writing, etc. Despite not feeling well, I put in probably 10 hours every day this week. Sadly, for most of this stuff the payoff comes much later.

I’m looking at a fair amount of work today, but I think I’ve already postponed watching a movie for class until tomorrow. I just don’t think I can squeeze it in today since I have to go to the library to watch it. Part of me wishes I could just take the whole day off, but if I do, I’ll pay for it later. And I find that frustrating. Amazing that I quit my job and have become twice as busy. On the plus side, and what I keep reminding myself of, is that 90% of what I’m doing is stuff I want to do, that I’ve chosen to do. Part of why my days were so long was because I didn’t want to stop working, so that’s a good thing, but still exhausting. I think the only thing that kept this week from feeling completely successful was the illness. And there’s nothing to be done about that. Here’s to hoping next week pans out better.