Grad School: The First Summer

The fall semester starts today.

That means I’m probably in some sort of panic already and I should give you a summer update.

If you followed me on twitter in June you probably had a good idea of how things went. And if you’ve been a reader for the last few months, or longer, you know about my extended trip shenanigans and that rather unfortunate incident in Concourse F.

But in case you don’t (or didn’t) here’s a rundown.

I didn’t sleep very much Sunday night, although I did try. I kept thinking I’d miss breakfast or sleep through class. I’m not a breakfast eater and Chicago is an hour behind my day to day time zone (my natural time zone is pacific, in case you were wondering). It’s safe to say I was slightly nervous.

I packed Monday full of activities on purpose. I read the majority of that day’s reading on the flight out (very unlike me) knowing I would be busy then I’d like, even if I did do it to myself, and I didn’t want to fall behind, if I could help it. I went to breakfast, then class, said hi to friends from last year, went to lunch, met with my formation director, did some homework/watched Burn N0tice on Netfl!x, went to a fellowship group, then dinner.

After all of that I basically passed out. Between my natural tendency to be more introverted, lack of sleep, and the adrenaline crash I was pretty shot. I also managed to not make a huge fool of myself, something I consider to be my biggest accomplishment of the day.

As much as I told myself I wanted to pack light I also wanted to make sure I didn’t run out of anything. My not-so-trusty & nearly new highlighter bit the dust fairly quickly. My pen didn’t even last until the first break on the second day. Thankfully I had replacements for both buried deep within my bag. Yes I was that person that goes rummaging through their belongings during a lecture.

After class I attended a welcome lunch given by the formation department for distance students before diving in to the reading for the next day. I’ve never been one for campus activities. I was far from being on the planning committee of anything. However I wanted to “suck up” as much of campus socializing as possible since I spent my 1st semester feeling so disconnected from any sort of community.
I may be a little biased but I think the community of distance students is one of a kind.

Typically I’m ready to wrap things up by the half-way point but I was wishing I could stay another week. In fact I even looked into the classes being offered the 2nd & 3rd weeks to see if it would be possible to add another class. I asked around for advice and arranged to meet with my advisor as well before I made any final decisions. In the end we agreed that it would be better if I planned to take more than one class next summer.

Thursday marked the end of my first summer session Theological reflection. I couldn’t wait for this day to get here at first but I learned to like the lay formation process. I thought it was something I’d have to put up with in order to get my degree, but I think I’m really going to like having a formation program while I work towards my degree.

Friday was more of an official wrap up. Class ended, I met friends for lunch or dinner most nights (a tradition I plan on continuing), I said good bye to friends I won’t see until next year.

There was a blessing dinner for those graduating this year. It was a great time, although I’m sad that I won’t be seeing some people next summer. I sat with people further along in the program than I am during dinner. I was able to get all kinds of advice from everyone throughout the week. I’m glad I put myself out there to try to make this experience more enjoyable, not to mention manageable.

After dinner most of us got together in the lounge to socialize. I learned pretty quickly that this is a distance student tradition. It’s a good one if you ask me.

I took part in the day retreat on Saturday before packing up and heading to the hotel for touristy things. It was a nice opportunity to spend more time with my newest group of friends, and meet a few more.

I’m already counting down the days until next summer (although I think I’ll be making other meal arrangements). I keep telling people the week was “like summer camp for adults, with homework,” it’s really not but it’s the best description I could come up with on the spot.

When my advisor asked me how the week was I said, “This is the best experience I’ve had in school.” It took me a few seconds to realize I was the one who said it.

It didn’t take me very long to notice that most of the distance students measure their time by summers, for whatever reason. For this reason it’s not uncommon to ask or be asked, “How many summers have you been here?” Thus this was my first summer instead of 2nd semester.

There Was Some Botox Involved

I’ve had a challenging few months (actually it’s been more like a year) so it’s been past time for a PM&R follow up. I was scheduled for early June so it worked out that I could get my “ducks in a row” before leaving for school/family time/vacation.

I don’t always schedule things so close to trips, in fact sometimes I prefer not to schedule anything a few days before or after, but sometimes it’s a better idea to do so (like getting refills etc).

The appointment itself went OK. They can always be better, they can always be worse too. Once a year or so there’s usually a curve ball…….(you can probably guess by the title what this was).

I haven’t had the best track record with Botox injections. It hasn’t been the biggest letdown ever but it’s another reminder that I really shouldn’t buy into the hype, especially if it’s related to CP.

You can just imagine the look I gave my PM&R when he suggested trying it again.

My doctor likes to take into consideration what someone will be doing around the time Botox is supposed to start to take effect, just in case, and since I’ve had rounds that have been “over shoots” as well as rounds that have been “undershoots” this is a legitimate concern.

I don’t object to Botox injections. I started out as a healthy skeptic; once they weren’t helpful to me I didn’t see them as a viable option (for me).

I was days away from leaving for Chicago so I thought I had a good way to get out of it (and it wasn’t like I’d be making anything up).

“If you don’t do this now then we’ll have to wait until July.”

Then we remembered I don’t need pre-approval from insurance.

5 minutes later I was getting Botox injections.

Of course I did ask what would happen if we didn’t get the desired effect around day 4, or 7, or longer. I would be half way across the county, and basically alone. I wanted to be absolutely sure I wouldn’t have issues, even with a wheelchair.

I did mention that I’d probably be using my wheelchair more than usual to get around since campus is located on a street known for the occasional accident (or so I was told) so “we” settled on the “if anything else I’d be more comfortable sitting” plan. I was more excited about that because I’m having more difficultly sitting comfortably in my chair.

I really wasn’t expecting any of it to work. It hasn’t yet, so why should it start now? I did start to notice a difference somewhere between day 5 & 8 but I thought it might’ve been a fluke since I tightened back up after arriving in North Carolina. I think it was from travel stress, not Botox gone badly.

A few weeks ago I had a follow up to see how or rather if, this round of Botox was successful.

I wouldn’t say that this one worked 100% since I’m still having some trouble (well more than some) but it has been more helpful than previous attempts. In fact we’ll probably be trying again in a few months. (Long time readers; please try to contain your shock)

I’d really like for this Botox setup (muscle groups, dosages, etc.) to work out, or work out well enough that it won’t feel like guessing anymore.

That’s actually a half truth, I’d like Botox to work well enough that there’s some kind of surgical alternative (read: permanent solution) to look to so I won’t have to go thought the hassle of Botox upkeep. I realize most people prefer syringes to scalpels, but I’d rather do things once and more along.

I’m still searching for my silver bullet, if there’s one to be found.

For now I’ve gone back to PT (in place of the gym, for now). No, I will not be talking about that, because I’m not ready to.

Writing Process Blog Hop

My friend Mary, of Finding Joy In All Things, invited me to participate in a blog hop. I’ve more or less given up on blog hops, for obvious reasons, but I’m making an exception for this one.

For 3 reasons:
1) I consider Mary a good friend, it’s a JV/FJV thing, and it’s really hard to say know to a fellow FJV, even if you have yet to meet in person (and that’s only a matter of time). Plus she happily agreed to guest post & it’s about time I return the favor.

2) This is far from your typical blog hop.

3) The end of summer session is staring me in the face & I should be further along in my coursework than I should be. As in I should’ve done more work in June, like I had planned on, in between lengthy naps.

The point of this blog hop is to answer questions about my writing process. Then I’ll introduce you to other bloggers who I hope will participate in the blog hop.

What am I working on?
Blogging: Admittedly this is the one area where I’ve dropped the ball, at least compared to how much attention I used to devote to it. I used to think blogging was my outlet, until recently. I still like blogging but things have shifted for me. These days I go for quality over quantity. I’m finding it more worthwhile to grow in other aspects of blogging & the outreach involved rather than simply pumping out weakened content at an alarming rate and wonder why no one is reading it.

Speaking & Other Ventures:
My hours at my job (the consistent paycheck) were cut back a few months ago. As much as I miss (and depend) the money I was hoping that the “free time” would allow me to work on this area as much as I’d like to. It’s been going well and I’ve been booking more talks than ever before. It’s more overwhelming than I thought (there’s paperwork no one tells you about, for example) but so much more exciting and fulfilling than I ever thought possible.

See reason number 3 above.I’m devoting most of my time to school these days, even as a part time student. It’s taking up my life full time, but not in a bad way, in fact it’s quite the opposite. I’m really enjoying learning (HUGE for me), even with the unpleasant things like midterms and papers.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My work differs from others because I don’t think it fits into just one genre. I talk about a few topics, special needs/disability, faith/religion, and most recently life as a grad student. Let’s not forget about those times when I write about whatever comes to mind.

I’m probably not the only disabled Catholic who’s also an advocate and theology grad student (to name a few things) out there, but I’m sure there aren’t that many of us out there.

Why do I write what I do?
I started writing because a friend asked me to & I needed an outlet. These days I write what I do because there’s a need to have differing opinions, especially in the special needs/disability community. I also write because I don’t have the attention span to write a book. Also let’s not ignore the fact that I find myself in situations that you just can’t make up. I can’t not tell people about them either, I’ve tried, and it doesn’t work.

How does my writing process work?
There’s no process in my process, especially if I’m left to my own devices. Seriously.

As intense as HAWMC is it’s a lot easier for me in a sense since there are prompts for each day. I try to have a plan when I know I’m going to be posting more than usual. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I make a plan and change it last minute.

I tend to go through “spurts” of blogging. I can write multiple posts at a time without any trouble and then I can go weeks looking for ideas or struggling to write one post. Let’s just say I thank whoever invented the ability to schedule posts on a regular basis.

I like when readers (or other people) have questions for me the most. They’re not always easy to answer as you would think, not because I don’t know the answer. It’s more of how to explain it. Sometimes my internal thought process is so automatic I don’t see how others may have questions. I like being able to break things down for people (and myself). Plus answering questions usually gets me thinking more. More thinking means more posts. Win-win.

Look ma, no process.

In closing, I’m passing the Blog Hop along to Emily, Tiffany, and Zach

The Matter Of Vocation

Discernment leads to vocation, typically. Vocation is another topic I’m fuzzy on, at least if you compare my understanding to my peers (but if you’ve new to the concept, I’m pretty much an expert).

Finding my vocation and my discernment process appear to be two distinct things, which I’m sure isn’t the norm. I’m also pretty sure there’s a connection between the two somewhere, just don’t ask me what it is because I haven’t found it.

I can sum up my vocation story in one sentence.

My vocation found me.

As in I did not go looking for it. I went looking for a vocation, but my vocation pretty much jumped up from behind me and then bit me in the ass.

I was busy doing what I thought would lead me to my vocation because I had been led to believe (or maybe I miss understood) that you should go looking for your vocation. So I went looking and waited for something to click as my “sign” that this was it.

All the while there was another gigantic neon sign behind me telling me where to go.

I’m sure God was saying, “Would you turn around already?”

I’m not going to say I’m “finally firing on all cylinders,” because I’m not. I am beginning to notice all of the seemingly pointless little things that have let me to now.

Just for the record having someone come up to you in the school cafeteria, after you’ve known them for less than an hour, and tell you they can’t wait to see where you’ll end up in ten years totally helps too (even if it is a little odd).

I will tell you though; it’s nice to feel like things are “clicking.” It’s not a stress free and easy existence, like I was fooled into thinking, but it’s been pretty amazing.

It’s nice to say to people, “This is what I’m called to do,” mean it and believe it for myself. It’s a new thing for me (and I hope it sticks around for a while; forever would be great too).

Granted I’m not going to run around shouting proclamations from high places. I’m not that confident in myself, nor am I that type of person. But a little extra self-confidence goes a long way.

I always marveled at people who just knew their vocation, especially at a young age. I didn’t get how someone would “just know” without a shred of doubt. How can you possibly “just know”?

I’m still not sure how you just know but I can tell you that you just know.

Now just what my vocation is; that will take more than one sentence. It could probably fill up more than one encyclopedia volume.


The Matter Of Discernment

The matter of discernment puzzles me.

I was 20 before I even heard the word discernment, and then I heard quite regularly at that. It didn’t take long before “discernment” sound like the magic word for some secret society. It annoyed me to no end for a long time.

I’m not much closer to discovering what discernment really means ten years later. Although I have been told on numerous occasions that it’s not a “get out of jail free card,” so I should really stop treating it like one.

Yeah, I’ll get right on that.

It’s one of those necessary evils of life, especially if you’re Catholic, if you ask me.

There seems to be an implication that one cannot possibly find their vocation without some sort of discernment.

While this is more or less true I don’t think it can be expressed in such a cut and dry fashion if people are really going to understand discernment.

I understand that there’s no definite “right” or “wrong” way to discern.

However I’m not sure I’ve ever done it “right,” or at least the best way for me.

I have, however, done what everyone else has done.

I’ve gotten up for the sunrise masses and before class rosaries (mostly).

Gone to prayer groups and Bible studies.

Rarely ever, and I mean ever, missed fellowship or adoration.

Made every retreat possible, even a yearlong SEEL retreat that included spiritual direction.

I even joined a discernment group (albeit for other reasons, at least initially).

And they’ve had great success, although a different definition of success than the secular.

I have the dubious distinction of being a religious sister’s prayer partner for a few months during our junior year (during her final pre-nun years). Just to give you an example. I like to tell people that I helped facilitate her discernment process, because that’s how things happened in my head.

It took me a while to really get that discernment has no timetable. Although it eats on my nerves when people say they’re discerning something and you know for a fact that they’ve been doing it for years. Talk about using discernment as a “get out of jail free” card.

Let’s not even talk about the people who are so certain of their plan because they’ve discerned it within an inch of their lives and then after a day (or what feels like a day) they do a complete change of direction.

Because the mysteries of discernment go both ways, and every which way.

Discernment’s never been my thing, at least not in the same way swimming or encountering unpleasant people seem to be my things.

It would be awesome if God would just speak very loudly and very clearly after a period of prayer and self-reflection.

Unfortunately discernment doesn’t work like that either, at least not for most people.

Discernment is important. It’s also becoming a lost art in some aspects. Just don’t ask me for advice on it, because I have no idea what I’m doing.