Life Update, November 2020

Although it feels like the rest of Texas has “gone back to normal” in the past couple of months, we have not. I continue to work from home. My husband teaches only half of his classes in-person, and those are reduced, distanced, and masked. All performances are outdoor. Our children won’t be going back to childcare until May or June 2021–we’re lucky enough to have family to help us, and lucky enough to have kids too small for school.

It’s very difficult. Everyone is bored, everyone longs to socialize, everyone conversely longs for time when they aren’t with other people. The paradox of the pandemic, for us, is that although we’re isolated socially, we’re always with family, and that wears on you in its own way.

There was a lot of backyard water play in the summer. Halloween was actually fantastic–our neighborhood did a great job of making it safe and fun. Thanksgiving, which is tomorrow, should be nice. My father drove here from Florida after isolating for over a week (he is quite isolated anyway, but he didn’t even go on his usual weekend bike ride with his best friend). My father and brother will be here for Christmas, all without flying.

I’ve thought a lot over the past several months about how lucky we are to be financially well-off, to have a nice house with a safe yard, to live in a safe and beautiful neighborhood, to have our own transportation. All of that has enabled us not only to stay safe, but to stay relatively happy.

Now I’m going to move on to some more trivial things: what I’ve been doing for entertainment when I’m not working, parenting, or sleeping.

Doing

A few weeks ago now, I bought an exercise bike (no, not the ubiquitous Peloton). We aren’t returning to OrangeTheory any time soon, and running so regularly was starting to affect my knees. Both of my parents have had knee surgery, so I decided to back off and do what my dad did: start spinning.

I love the bike. I do a Global Cycling Network workout 5-6 days per week, weight training 1 day per week, and take 1 day off to just walk or do nothing. No knee pain and I find it easier to push myself on the bike than while running.

Watching

I’ve watched a lot of “comfort TV” recently, which for me means British detective shows like Midsomer Murders, Morse, and Cracker. But I’ve also got into Coronation Street, an excellent British soap that updates in almost real time on BritBox. Highly recommended for some engaging but easy-to-watch TV.

Because my oldest son is obsessed with bikes, we started watching the Tour de France when it began in August, and this has evolved into a near-daily habit of watching cycling. Because of the pandemic, the season was heavily condensed, so for the past few months there has nearly always been an event to watch in the mornings, or to catch up on the following morning. To my surprise, I’ve become very invested in cycling and have been following it very closely. I’ve always loved watching the Tour–since 2010 when I worked at a bike shop–but this is the first year I’ve really followed all of the road events.

Reading

In that same vein, I’ve been reading cycling books. First The Secret Race, then The First Tour de France, then Slaying the Badger, and now The Beautiful Race. All great.

I also finally read Portnoy’s Complaint.

Listening

Cycling podcasts. Food podcasts. True crime podcasts. And I’ve been rediscovering a lot of older Bob Dylan albums after listening obsessively to Rough & Rowdy Ways for a while.

Back in Texas

I can hardly believe it, but we managed to move our family of four + dog from Provo, Utah to Plano, Texas. We’re settling into our new house, and absolutely loving being back in Texas.

Let me just say that buying and selling homes simultaneously is not for the faint of heart. I thought that buying a house was difficult, but it’s nothing compared to the complex timing processes involved when you have to sell one, too. We had three (three!) sales fall through before we finally landed a solid buyer for our place in Provo. Luckily, we ended up with an amazing, hardworking agent in Texas who managed to get us a rental contract on the house we wanted to buy, which gave us a cushion when our third sale fell through. We only ended up renting the house for two weeks before our purchase could go through, which felt great. We’re homeowners again!

The best things about our new place are that I have an office, we have a fenced yard, and we have few multi-use spaces in the house. By this I just mean that our house is divided up like most modern homes: there’s a garage, a shed, a laundry room, etc. Our old place, because of its age, had a ton of multi-use spaces. The driveway was also the shed and the garage. The master bedroom was also the office. The laundry nook was, well, a nook, so the living room was also the laundry room. For someone like me who loves to be carefully organized, the new house is a huge improvement. We all have plenty of space. Plus: closets! I had to be without them to truly appreciate them.

Right now, in September, I’m trying to take a deep dive back into digital minimalism. I’m re-reading the book (by Cal Newport) and attempting some changes. I’m realizing that our move will enable me to enact many, many more of the “high quality leisure activities” aspects of Newport’s digital declutter plan. I have more opportunities to socialize here, for one thing, but what really stands out to me is that I have space to pursue some hobbies that were recently crowded out of my life, partly by the new-baby phases and partly by the lack of space we experienced in Utah.

There’s already a hobby taking up increasing amounts of my free time: tending to plants. We have a large yard here, and the front is very nicely landscaped, which takes maintenance. The back I want to landscape better, which will be a fun project. And, most interestingly, the house has a fairly large atrium in the center, brightly lit by a skylight. Right now it just contains two boring ferns, but I have plans for two large hanging planters and a collection of herbs and succulents on plant stands on the floor.

An upcoming challenge that my husband and I will take together is to watch less streaming television, too. Our youngest child is now sleeping much better than he used to, which leaves us free to stay up a bit later after dinner. That time has usually been filled with TV, which we often talk over. But now that we’re less tired, I want to fill some of the evenings with board and card games. We have a big collection, some of the board games completely unopened, and it would be really fun to do something interactive together even when we can’t leave the house due to sleeping kids.

My personal biggest challenge at the moment is cutting back on podcasts. Don’t get me wrong: podcasts and wonderful, and I love listening to them while I drive the kids to preschool or fold laundry. But I’ve reached a point where I want to be listening to something all of the time, even when I’m working in the yard or taking a walk, and it’s super distracting. I’m not actually “multi-tasking,” I’m just filling silence. It’s encroaching on the small amount of solitude that I do get to experience.

Here’s to some positive progress in September!

Digital Minimalism Weeks 11 & 12: Reset

I haven’t written anything here since April, and for good reason! We have been incredibly busy figuring out the logistics of a huge change for our family: We are moving to Texas! Starting in August, we’ll be in the Dallas area. My husband has a new job, and I’ll be keeping my current one and working primarily remotely (although we do have an office in Plano).

Unfortunately, the logistics of a move like this with a family of four are insane and ongoing and very stressful. And I’ve found that the stress has made me turn to social media, which distracts me but doesn’t actually reduce my anxiety.

So I’ve publicly announced a social media break and gone back to reading Digital Minimalism. I never actually took 30 days off of social media when I read it last time, and I think that now I can. I have plenty of stuff to occupy my time over the next few weeks: packing, work (that doesn’t stop!), financial arrangements, and even a couple of quick trips to Dallas to look at houses and daycares.

This is probably the first time since I finished my dissertation that I actually don’t have time for social media. I could always be doing something more helpful, or more relaxing (playing with kids, reading a book, exercising).

So here we go… navigating a stressful period of time without the mindless crutch of social media. This is a great opportunity.

Successfully Defended

I successfully defended my dissertation and am finished with school! It feels amazing to be done, and my defense went even better than I expected. My co-supervisors were Alan Friedman and Neville Hoad, and committee members were Mia Carter (who first introduced me to Christopher Isherwood), David Kornhaber, and Michael Charlesworth (from the Art History department).
Photo Oct 20The defense was much more like a conversation than like a question-and-answer session (or a roast!), which made it relaxed and enjoyable. I wasn’t given any significant revisions, but I was given some amazing ideas for adapting this project and turning it into something bigger and more interesting, which I’m very excited about. Even though I’m probably leaving academia—or at least not making a career of it—I don’t want to put this project completely behind me. It has been too interesting and too influential to be left behind.

I also got to spend a few days in Austin catching up with my grad school friends and with my college friend L.A. Fields, who I hadn’t seen since 2012. She lives in Dallas now and came over to Austin to see me.

The best thing about completing my PhD is the feeling of getting closure on the “school” phase of my life without leaving behind the relationships I built at UT or the project that made me want to finish the degree. What I’m most looking forward to now is adapting my dissertation and reading more! I want to revisit my favorite Isherwood works without the pressure of the dissertation, and I want to start reading my London Reviews again, not to mention catching up on the backlog of fiction and non-fiction books on my “to-read” list!

Dissertation Defense Scheduled

My dissertation defense is scheduled! I am so excited to be

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Japanese Gardens at the Huntington, 2015

wrapping up this interesting chapter in my life. I haven’t updated much about the process of completing the project because I’ve been so busy with work, a new house, and a new baby.

I’ll be in Austin for a couple of days, and I’m looking forward not only to wrapping up my grad school experience but also to catching up with my friends and professors. I haven’t seen them in person since April 2016 when I flew to Texas for a brief visit.

Wish me luck!