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Wishing you…in 2019

1 January 2019 by Lisa Melonçon

On the top of my foot, I have a tattoo of what I call a medieval diagnostic device. Now, the old manuscripts and books (ca. 1375-1575) that I’ve studied and obsessed over for years would not call it that, but when the image is places in context and parsed, it is definitely a diagnostic tool. It also encapsulates the oddities of time from that era.

My tattoo has parts that symbolize the day of the week when I was born and the phase of the moon and of course, the zodiac, which helped to bring in another body of medical knowledge based on the time of the year of I was born. And during this era, it is also a fairly accepted idea that what folks called a moment was equivalent to about 90 seconds. Time has always been a key marker in our lives, and in modern times, we all live by the clock in various ways. Keep in mind that our Our modern conception of time with it’s minutes and second and hours and years and time zones didn’t get standardized until 1847.

But I want to unsettle that it a bit. While I have been working on a scholarly project about time for a while, I want to focus today—on this new start to a new year—on an increment of time that has always been in the consciousness of humans: the moment.

The moment has always been more flexible than other modes of time because it is often the increment that we think of our lived experiences. Go ahead: take a moment to think through 2018. What likely flashes through your memory are a series of moments, both good and bad, that marked you in some intentional way.

Even Facebook and instagram has the best nine pictures. Those “best 9” are the moments captured in film. But what happens to all the other moments, more mundane moments, that aren’t captured? Those that remain out of sight or more quiet or more personal are likely the ones that will remain in our consciousness, driving us and soothing us, for time to come.

Last year, I wished you joy. This topic was brought on in large part from my own attempts to find joy in a world and in a life that had ceased being joyful. The difficulties of 2017 just expanded into 2018 as I struggled in most every aspect of life. By the middle of fall, though, I felt, finally, as if I would no longer snap in two from my own physical frailty and grief was still present but not as hard to carry. And in the final days of 2018, I reflected that there were many instances of joy were joyful and instances where memories of joy carried me through. But the joy was quieter and smaller and much more personal.

They were moments.

Those moments were filled with the meaningfulness of the mundane and of simply, being and becoming. There are so many clichés about living in the moment and being thankful for the moments. I cannot deny the power of those and what those words can bring at different intervals in our lives.

So my wish for each of you for 2019 is to that you have the focus, patience, and courage to live the moments, to embrace the moments, to be intentional in the moments.

Wishing you peace, health, and joy!

Be easy

by Lisa Melonçon 16 December 2018 

Stop! Be easy. Just be easy.

This is a phrase—well, a version of a phrase as translated to English as I can get it—that my grandmother used to use all of the time. As she remains one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, I have returned to this phrase (and so many other) time and time again. The way this phrase is ported in American popular culture as “go easy on yourself.” As should be obvious, but worth saying out loud, the message in this phrase is that we are often too hard on ourselves. We set the bar for excellence or productivity or success way too high so that often we find ourselves disappointed in our own performance. 

The slight difference in the two versions are important. The use of “be easy” as opposed to “go easy” signifies the Cajun stance of becoming and as an act of becoming a better version of yourself. The more Americanized version focuses on an action that you do to yourself. The becoming part is vital because it suggests perpetual change and growth. That you are becoming more yourself when you are still. French (both Cajun French and French) is a nuanced language so “easy” has at least five different options in French. This particular phrase uses tranquille, which connotes two meanings simultaneously, still and easy. Again, this is an important distinction because it encourages a stillness that is necessary to think and to contemplate, which is the only way change can happen. 

This little Cajun French lesson has a point. We need to be easy on ourselves, to cut ourselves some slack and not be some critical of our lives and our activities (or perceived lack thereof). 

The winter break is one of the worst times of the year for this to happen. We often look to the break as a time when we can “caught up” (there is no such thing link) and can do the work “that matters” to us (it all should matter link to work). And when you add in the fact that many of us have family obligations during the holidays or that the holidays are an especially fraught and emotional times, you get a recipe for a break that is not a break at all. 

Don‘t misunderstand. I totally understand that this time between terms is a great time to do some writing and reading and to move projects along. The point is twofold:

  • Be realistic about what you can actually accomplish 
  • Ensure that you have some balance that is just about you and not the work

Setting realistic goals for the break is especially hard. We always overestimate our zeal for returning to a project we want to work on, and we underestimate the fact that our minds and bodies need this time to rest and recover from a long term. These two things are incompatible, and we end up setting the bar way to high, then we get disappointed and then we start the cycle of being way too hard on ourselves wondering why we can’t get anything done. 

My rule for summer planning is to make a list and then pick the top three things. My rule for winter break is make a list and pick one thing. Yup. Just one cause likely that’s all the time you’ll have. When I refer to one or three these are larger sorts of tasks such as finishing an article length manuscript or completing a big report for a committee. I recognize that the break is also filled with smaller tasks that can likely be accomplished in a couple of days. That is, you can set aside a day to do an IRB application or do those reviews that you agreed to do or start the prep for your spring courses (or fully complete an update of an existing course). All of these smaller tasks along with your big task need to be realistic within a schedule that allows time for balance.

The surest way to set realistic goals is to start with some balance that includes giving in to your need to rest and relax and do something that is not at all associated with work. This is part of being easy on yourself too, accepting that you can do other things outside of work and not feel guilty about it. (yeah, I recognize that the guilt thing is tricky to overcome. Practice helps.)

we need to do a better job of putting ourselves on our ow to do list.

I’ve probably written ad nauseum about balance, but it’s one of things that I find we need to be reminded of, to be reminded that we are more than our CV and we are more than work. These are habits that should have been built in grad school, but they are habits that can be built at any time. Please do not misunderstand. Ours is job that needs dedication and attention. My point is that it is a job that need boundaries  so the job doesn’t become all that you are. Doing things that balance work with the rest of life is one of the best ways to enact going easy on yourself.

On Tuesday of last week, our grades were due. The next day I sent a message to the grad students in our program. Here is part of that message:

With the end of the term officially here, this is a reminder that the time between now and when school starts is a time for you.

Please do not feel obligated to put everything you wish you would have gotten done over three months into the next four weeks. It is vital for your physical and mental health to be slow, to think, to rest, to find time to be joyful, and to do some of those things that you enjoy that are not work related.

So I leave with you the same words, and I hope that you can find a way to put part of them into action to yourself, to do those things (whatever they are) just for you during the break.

And please, when you’re about to make decisions, try to stop yourself thinking about the work you “need” to do. That’s the biggest aspect of learning to go easy on yourself, that is, not over thinking or thinking you should be working when you goofing off and napping and hanging out and being with your family and/or friends, or doing whatever it is you’re doing that isn’t work.  

Be easy on yourself

One more time for those in the back: Be easy on yourself. 

Wishing you health, peace, and joy during this holiday (winter break) season.

Snowball effect

14 October 2018 by Lisa Melonçon

The silence on this blog (as well as others that I write) has been due to a whole host of circumstances, and those circumstances are the subject of this post.

I’d like to introduce a term in higher education—the snowball effect, which is a cumulative intersection of events that negatively impacts a person’s schedule so that everything piles up at one time, and a defining characteristic is that often, one doesn’t even see it coming until you’re buried underneath it.

In survey research, there is a sampling technique referred to as snowball sampling. The purpose of this technique is to build up research participants like a snowball rolling down a hill; the snowball gets bigger as it rolls and collects more snow. In snowball sampling, researchers rely on participants to help recruit other participants for a test or study. So if each study participant forwards a request to five other people and those five people send it to another five people, eventually a whole of people will h

In this case, however, the snowball effect isn’t a positive effect, but it works in the same way. While July is a cruel time, October is a painful time. This time of the term means all sorts of things start to accumulate and require attention: different types of letters due; often due dates for collections or special issues are due at this time; job market folks feel this time intensely as the first round of applications are due; the first round of student papers and projects are due; committee work intensifies; advising has to be done, and on and on. All of that is on top of the usual schedule of things such as keeping momentum on your writing projects and as importantly, keeping some balance in your life.

About a week ago I realized that added to the normal ebbs and flows of the term, I was way under the academic snowball effect. When a number of things that should have been done have lingered into the fall and where all the things that are normally due in October are still due AND there’s a whole slew of things that I am still having to deal with, well, I am not the only one experiencing this phenomenon.

It truly feels like I am under a 1000lb snowball. I have written and talked a lot about the need for balance  in our lives where we need to not work all the time. Included in those conversations, however, is the reality that sometimes life will conspire and things will happen where you have to work more than you want or should.

Sometimes these things are unavoidable. It’s a good moment to remind everyone that even the best laid plans go awry, and unfortunately, sometimes there is just no way around it. And keep in mind that I am sitting in a privileged position with few true real demands on my time. But I feel this way because I continue to be an active researcher with lots of collaborators and lots moving parts in my administrative, service, and teaching life. All of those factors have combined to bury me under the proverbial snow.

So here is how I am getting out the snow drift and trying to reclaim control over my own life:

Take a step back and reevaluate

If you’ve been keeping a schedule and trying to be realistic, it will still come as a surprise when you realize that you are buried. Even with the best laid plans sometimes you cannot control all the variables and after a week or so of things just not going right, the next thing you know you are in scheduling hell and completely buried.

It is possible to dig yourself out. This is a painful process because you have to be honest with yourself about the real priorities are and you have to be honest with yourself about what is realistically possible to accomplish.

Do the priorities

Let me give you an example. I have been working for over two years with a group of folks. The writing portion of that project morphed from one manuscript to two and then it was delayed for all sorts of reasons and then we were given a hard due date (which are dates that when not met negatively effect a whole of people and can hold up production of printed things). Since we all still believe in the project, but also need it to end, we agreed that it needed to be a priority.

So this research project was the focus of my research work, while I also looked to prioritize all the other things. What’s an example of other things? Students is the answer. This is the time of the year when students need to be advised to prepare them to register for spring. Graduate students in particular need an intense amount of time not only for the practical specifics of registrations, but also to continue (or start) conversations about how to think strategically about their careers, discussions about next steps and interests, and on and on.

Other priorities are anything with firm due dates. Look at ALL of them and then figure out if it is possible to manage them or if you need to professionally back out or ask for more time. See next section.

 Everything else can wait. Even things that mean a lot to you.

 Let people know your status

The propensity in higher education is to just ignore the hard things and not tell folks what is going. There are so many jokes about never answering emails that it makes my professional heart hurt. Please do not misunderstand; I know EXACTLY how things happen where it takes a year (a literal year) to respond to a message. But when the snowball effect arrives, not letting people know just adds to the stress and compounds the problem.

So take a deep breath, and send those message or make that call. You will likely be surprised how supportive and understanding people are. I just did this the other day and lo and behold found out that most contributors were having their own snowball effect so we’ve all agreed to a new timeline.

Ask for help and/or delegate

Asking for help or delegating tasks is the most variable of the suggestions because it is hard to provide specific examples because of the diverse nature of our jobs and the diverse nature of the causes of the snowball effect. But I included it here because sometimes just talking through all the things you need to do will help you see the full picture more clearly. That is an easy way to ask for help.

Other suggestions in this category include potentially bringing on a collaborator to a research project (particularly if it is someone you trust who will be a help rather than a hindrance); asking colleagues to step in and take on discreet parts of service roles; conferring with your chair about a fuller understanding of priorities and responsibilities; and simply letting some things sit until the snowball effect passes.

October is hard. This is job is hard. But it can be made easier when we take the time to reflect, re-set our schedules and priorities, and try to be as efficient as possible. And it’s time to sort of re-start again.

It’s a good thing to remember that October will pass, and the snow always melts.

Wishing you health, peace, and joy.