Reflective Thinking

I feel unsettled, not necessarily by anything occurring around me, but by the amount of time I let pass before deciding to write something new for the blog. Part of my purpose in creating this space was to challenge myself to keep up on my writing and reflections, even as I have managed the multiplicity of tasks surrounding my Ph.D. work. It’s been easier said than done. I last wrote a piece in June, not far removed from a winter season that seemed to drag me (and everyone around me) into the depths of a frozen ennui. Today – heh – Jaxon and I could barely bring ourselves to walk the dogs on this frigid November Monday, when I can’t help but wonder if summer really happened.

Yet, I know it did. On multiple occasions, I meant to write about some key occurrences, each hitting an existential note in some way. To sum up: 

  1. We restored our backyard (about which I have written in the past) from a depressing hellhole of bad decisions by prior owners to a haven of relaxation and merriment. We reused about 70% of the materials that we had been able to salvage, and with help from some lovely friends we made it better than ever.

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  1. We lost our handsome and precocious cat, Wylie. A young neighborhood vagabond who adopted us when we bought the house in 2007, the Wylie Guy was the unofficial block captain, defender of the porch, mighty conqueror of birds and mice, and brother /best pal to Zuzu, our dog. It was a sudden and jarring death in late August, when I came home from a run to find him in distress and unable to use his limbs. He’d shown no previous symptoms (even as recently as an hour before), so likely there was an underlying problem that no one could have detected. The prognosis was grim, and we made the heartbreaking decision to say goodbye. In so many ways, his jolly personality felt synonymous with our house and family. Even though we’ve adopted Bella- a bounding ball of energy otherwise known as a bluenosed pit puppy- I still feel an ache in Wylie’s absence. Sometimes I think our animals are better humans than we are, and I miss the graceful ease with which he enjoyed being a cat.
Photo credit to Vanessa Cambier

Photo credit to Vanessa Cambier

  1. The Randy Shilts project (mentioned here and here and here) remains on track, even as I wait for word about a fellowship that would give me funded post-dissertation. I met his two surviving brothers this fall and learned more about their family—smart, quirky, Midwestern people with a dark sense of humor that rivals my own. All I wanted was time to introduce myself, let them get to know me, and hopefully build some rapport for down the road when I am collecting interviews. They graciously welcomed me, for which I am grateful and hopeful.
  1. My dissertation is turning a corner. I’m right on the verge of getting back to writing. It’s been about a year and a half of data collection, transcribing, coding, and dealing with the internal politics of a very interesting organizational case study. The repetitive, day to day or week to week tasks I took on kept my head down in a rabbit’s hole, to some degree. It’s a practice that I think contributed to my lackadaisical efforts to write for this blog on the side. The human brain (or mine at least) doesn’t seem to like switching from a set of several small but rapid-firing tasks to the long, deeper thinking that I prefer when writing. Interestingly, as I prepare to get back to academic writing, I can feel myself mentally shifting into that gear. For example, I always listen to music when I work. Most of the time, it’s whatever eclectic stuff is playing on The Current, or an occasional stream from the Internet. Classical music has always been my preference, though, when I am going into deeper writing. I’m getting the urge for classical again. My desire to start writing for the blog, I think, is a sign, too. This whole research process for me has involved taking in volumes of tiny bits of evidence, classifying them in ways that made sense to me, and now (as I switch gears) reassembling them into a larger narrative. My excitement for this task is starting to rise back up, especially because I tend to hate—hate!—doing small, repetitive tasks. I like big thinking, and I like building big concepts by putting pieces together. All the groundwork, though, drives me to distraction. It’s time to go big again.
  1. I started running for the first time in my 37 years this spring and have gotten up to about five miles, three times a week. People ask if I like it. “Like” is a strong word. Do I need to do it? Yes. Have I benefitted from doing it? Yes. I’m lucky to have a friend who goes with me, but even on my own I still seem to find the motivation. It’s no mystery that I’ve had ups and downs with my weight before. After focusing on changing my diet and building strength for over a year (and losing weight in the process), I just felt like running was the next logical challenge, and my body responded. In the process, I gained something that I never had before, with respect to exercise: confidence. For a long time, I’ve carried with me plenty of past hurts and regrets—gaining weight as a child, being teased and taunted, having unsympathetic gym teachers with no insight on how to build a kid’s self-confidence up.

Taking on a routine of this nature came with a boatload of misgivings, not the least of which included drawing attention to myself in public and having complete strangers say unkind things. It never happened. No one has given me grief for not being in optimal shape. No one has pointed out my less-than-top-dollar running gear. No one has stopped me to say, “You’re doing it wrong and you need to do it this way.” All of those anxieties sat with me for a long time. Now, in the middle of a cold snap and still nursing a twisted ankle (thanks to a wayward puppy toy), I miss it and am looking for affordable indoor sites to run, as Minnesota winter descends way too prematurely. Running can be repetitive, certainly a little boring at times. Still, even when I go alone, my thoughts seem to sort themselves out. Time slows down, and at the end of each run, I feel like I accomplished something.

I titled this post “Reflective Thinking” in part because my hope is to get back to doing exactly that—thinking reflectively—and then putting those thoughts down in a way that I actually want to share with anyone who reads this blog. Looking back at these passages, I’m not sure if I accomplished it. I hate reading things that sound like an annual Christmas letter (“we did this, and then this, and then this…”), but on the other hand, I needed to write something that gets me back up to speed. I guess “Reflective Thinking” then is in fact a new charge to myself to stay engaged with my thoughts, share them, and hopefully gain some insight along the way.

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