Tag Archives: academia

Got my Pumpkins, But not my Life Plan

Every week is different, but they’re all pretty interesting… what makes them so is the combination of different projects I’m working on at the moment. Project one is the babies. Project two is teaching, and trying to maneuver behind the scenes to turn that job into a full-time position so that I can stay in academia without leaving Houston.

More than a year ago, before I came down with a case of “the pregnancy”, I submitted a journal article. I got back the usual “revise and resubmit”, but I actually hadn’t opened the feedback until now, a year later. I was too tired and overwhelmed.

The reviews are hilarious. One recommended immediate acceptance and gave it the highest possible scores. The second went on what sounded like an emotional rant about what a piece of garbage it is, and gave it the lowest possible scores. The editor was like (….) but wrote that if I managed to garner such extreme reactions I must be doing something right. Kinda cool. Anyway, I must revise some bits to address “angry reviewer”‘s gripes.

I am also toying with taking on freelance projects- this happened by accident. A design firm in town got in touch with me out of the clear blue and asked if I’d do a three week project for them. Then, after my hopes skyrocketed, they flaked- said they’d decided they could handle the project in-house after all. But I got a taste of the money, and I must admit, I liked the idea of actually getting to pay down my debt.

Speaking of, my first choice academic publisher wants to talk to me about my book- in person. How do I explain that I don’t have the money at the moment to fly to conferences at which I’m not presenting because their call for papers happened when I was birthin’ the twins? (Plus, I don’t know whether they’re even worth the investment right now!)

Oh, so much life confusion.

Ok, so some random things:

I can hear little C2 babbling upstairs- the little dork has only been “napping” for an hour, but he slept through the night last night (Sweet Jesus yes) so he’s forgiven.

After seeing how much baby food for two growing twins is costing us, I am back on the “making baby food” bandwagon (not an affiliate link- I don’t have my act together enough for that). I may be behind on all other crafting and planning and tidying and exercising, but the baby food thing is happening. You’ll see.

After my friend K got me to go to two in-person classes with her, I tried the online Bar Method classes yesterday. How are they? I have no idea- a minute into it, the twins started fussing and crying, and they didn’t let up until I forlornly turned off the video and gave them my full attention.

Being only the stepparent, I had no idea Monday was a day off for A and C. Made me wonder whether I have the day off from teaching too. But nope, it’s the usual routine. I got a fun primer on the sins of Columbus from C this morning – as we say in Texasland, Happy Fall y’all.


I Should be Job Hunting

But instead I am using the maybe ten minutes of time I can cheat from today to write in here. Because I need some unwinding, now! It’s really been a crazy day, and also a crazy couple of months. To the point where I can’t tell if the house being covered in my hair is postpartum shedding or stress shedding. Because I do the stress thing, but the postpartum thing happens to most women (I hear).


What can I write about here without getting into trouble or getting anyone else here into trouble? Ok, not going to talk about the M’s ex-wife situation because that’s going to lawyers and mediators soon. How about my ex-roommate suing me for moving out early (because I got pregnant and engaged)? Nope.

I never needed a lawyer before this year. Now I need a really good one, and a friend willing to start a successful gofundme (or ? site?) campaign to make that happen. Because I won’t beg for money even when I need to beg for money.

Adding to that issue, I got laid off this past Weds. (Hang on, crying baby…. Ok, back.) I guess I’ll tell you about that.

Since returning from maternity leave to find that all the senior management at my company had been laid off, I felt like my days there were numbered. I mean, they never really had any work for me there. I did mostly busy work, and that’s not what I got a PhD for.

But before maternity leave, well, I was super (duper) pregnant and not really up to job hunting, beyond academic job apps. The problem with those apps is that I was too tired to (Hang on, crying baby…. Ok, back.) get it together after a long work day and publish the articles I need to be publishing / write the book proposal I need to be writing… So I wasn’t a compelling candidate for a tenure-track position.

Anyway, I honestly tried to bust tail on the aforementioned busywork. Occasionally I was thrown tasks that I had zero background in and qualification for, and that would trigger massive anxiety. I was getting f’ed with a lot there, and would often find myself pacing the hall, furious, or trying not to cry.

So anyway, a week ago this past Friday I was assigned a task that was in no way finishable in one day. And obviously, I was supposed to do it in a day. I froze. I had a panic attack. After a weird convo with my boss, I ended up closing the day unsure whether I should be trying to finish it over the weekend. But that was no easy feat, because we have four boys of different ages in the house who need caring for, and just Martin and I struggling to stay on top of the chaos. I did check in on the task (twice), but heard no reply.

On Monday I was asked to do it by Weds. I cracked my metaphorical knuckles and (Hang on, crying baby…. Ok, back.) came up with a plan to get it done. And Mon, Tues, and Weds I missed pumping sessions, skipped eating and drinking and peeing and… finally at 3:45 pm on Wednesday, I finished. 15 minutes before I needed to pick up the twins.

Boss called me into an office in the back- one of the laid off senior managers’ offices. He checked my work, told me it was complete, and then told me I was laid off.

I almost drowned in the weirdness.

Despite my boss’s suggestion, I didn’t want to go awkwardly out into the main room (the “bullpen”) and say “Hey guys, I got laid off. Nice working with you. Love you, bye!” I’d rather march into the main room with my pumping bra still up my shirt and accidentally drop it on someone’s foot. (Happened once.)

I opted to slink out and leave most of my stuff (including the day’s pumped boob milk) behind.

I was reeling. On one hand, I saw that train coming a mile away. On the other hand, I was ashamed to be laid off, and furious, and sad.

M and I stayed up until midnight drinking wine and postmortum-ing the whole scenario on our back patio.

I am holding a lot of details back (Tangent: I just shed a few hairs on my computer), but I’m not a total idiot- anyone could read this. I’m just mostly an idiot.

Onward with figuring out what to do with my life at 37 with a PhD!


The Body Will Deal With What the Mind Won’t

So I mentioned I contracted the flu, right after Christmas. And unfortunately for me, I then had to drive the car my parents gave me cross country (well… North to South, not cross). I told you guys all of this. Anyway, when I went to see my shrink last Wednesday, the day my divorce was finalized, I was still coughing in the morning. That night I wound up meeting a guy I know who’s also going through a divorce (and with whom I have a lot of sexual tension, but I’ve told him I just need to be friends). We drank beers, and I bummed two of his cigarettes but didn’t really inhale. No really, I’ve been doing the “just suck it into my mouth” thing since I actually bought my own packs of cigarettes (age 18-19), and so I didn’t think weed did anything for me because I… never actually inhaled it. Like Bill Clinton.

But I digress.

The next day my chest felt a little tight, and I felt really low energy, but I chalked it up to staying out late and drinking three beers. And I went to a 90 minute, intense hot power yoga class. With a live DJ, even. They wanted us to hold wheel pose for 5 minutes, and I just couldn’t. The next day my chest was hurting even more, but I again went to yoga and felt like everything was much harder than usual, like the instructor was deliberately torturing me. By Saturday I felt as though my body had been stuffed with bags of sand, and the pressure in my chest was intense. It felt like someone was pushing down on me, hard. Like anxiety, but deeper in my chest cavity.

Having not received the necessary documents from J, I had no insurance of my own yet. And actually, I was surprised to find that I’d been off his insurance since Dec 31. I was stuck- with the pain growing worse, I searched for an urgent care clinic, cancelled my evening plans, and drove to a strip mall clinic that turned out to be closed. I sat for a while in the parking lot searching for anything open and nearby, and though the Bellaire ER didn’t have any statements on their website about accepting uninsured patients, I desperately made my way over there. I was the only patient in the entire building that Saturday night.

I had to turn down an X-ray, because it was just too expensive out of pocket. Without that, the doctor guessed that I have pneumonia, or bronchitus. Or bronchial pneumonia. A jolly nurse made me pull down my pants, so she could give me a steroid shot in the butt (IN THE BUTT!!), and I was left in the examination room for a while to drink my free Keurig coffee and contemplate how I’d gotten sick AGAIN. Or never really gotten well, I suppose. From not being sick for years, I descended into a string of bad colds and other ailments around when J and I decided to divorce, and I haven’t been able to go more than 1-2 months between illnesses since then. A short time later, while I waited for my antibiotics at the 24-hour CVS, (rather than going to watch movies with B), I contemplated whether this was my body’s way of forcing me to confront an emotional pain that I otherwise compartmentalized, and only dealt with in those brief moments when my sorrow managed to get away from me, to leak from beneath its lid.

It’s Thursday, and I’m done the course of antibiotics, but my chest still aches and my limbs feel heavy so I have gone almost a week with no yoga class (SIGH). I’ve been so exhausted and ill that I’ve spent most of the week on the sofa, convalescing. If this is my body’s way of healing my “soul”, then so be it. But considering how long this particular illness has been dragging, I hope it gets everything out of me for good this time.

(On a hippie friend’s advice I bought this sub-lingual B vitamin stuff at Whole Foods. Taking it is like pounding a shot of espresso, since I don’t usually drink caffeine. But even through the manic-hyperactivity, I feel the chest pain lingering.)


I just started reading the newest book by my former advisor. I put it off as long as I could, but I need it for my dissertation. I find it unbearable to read him, so GOOD is his work. He makes me want to give up, convinced that there must be enough brilliant anthropologists in the world already. I mean, good work seems good to me in a way that I cannot access; I have trouble remembering things- names are a particularly sticky spot. Names plus their major theoretical contributions are even more difficult. I’m good at imagining. I’m good at wordcraft. But I’m not good at details, just like my mother.

I am impatient with people in my daily life who think they’re smart because they haven’t really had to test it by matching wits with the absolute smartest in our society- no, the world. I’ve actually gone on a few first dates with such people this year. Accustomed to walking around feeling smart because of the company they keep, they have no idea how tired is their logic, how thin their justifications, how stupid they really sound. And I’m NOT a jerk, I’m not. I don’t let on that I’m thinking this (maybe that’s still being a jerk?), but try to gently challenge their arrogance. I don’t have the luxury of arrogance, unless I’m self-deluded. Honestly, I don’t know how anyone manages to be arrogant in academia anymore. Maybe it’s just personality. Maybe it’s that everyone is just deeply insecure and arrogance is the default posture of some.


In his acknowledgements, my ex-advisor thanks the woman he met around the time I first met him, and who became his wife. She’s an artist/art prof. There is something about the way he thanked her that made tears well up in my eyes. I want that. I want a creatively and intellectually stimulating partnership grounded in the fiercest of love. I might have actually met that person recently… he’s a playwriting/theater professor. I dream of writing some heartbreaking homage to him, (or if not him, someone else), when my dissertation becomes a book.

Because that’s what happens to braggers

NHK quiz show

I like this shot because I captured a great “derp face” on the left. Incidentally, T and I both got this question wrong.

T and I were playing along with a Japanese TV-quiz program. And the first question was on the history of the Sumidagawa fireworks festival (hanabi matsuri- not the question in the photo). I immediately chose A as my answer- of course the original festival was a Shogunate sponsored event “back in the day”. T decided that it had to do with honoring the dead. When we saw the on-screen tarento’s answers, not a single one had chosen along with me, so I immediately started up with the boasting: “Look at me, a foreigner. I know more about Japanese history than all of you. I study this stuff for a living, you know.”

T, as usual, let me sit around with my chest all puffed out and spew a whole bunch of hot air, before the quiz revealed that he had been correct, not me.


T was kind enough not to say a word. He didn’t even look at me sideways. At the end of the program, he actually commented how awesome it was that i was good enough at Japanese to participate in the show. And he meant it. I’m laughing at myself as I write this.

I have moved on to mocking the Japanese accents of some tarento on the next program he recorded, mostly out of jealousy that they’re truly fluent and I am not, and this brings me to another point:

Comparison is the root of suffering in my life.

I met a guy today who’s a PhD student at one of the Best Universities in Japan. He’s my age. He has lived here a long time. While I spent most of my 20s teaching graphic design/art in the U.S., he came here, worked in the industry that I’m now studying, and became fluent in Japanese over time. He’s married to a Japanese woman, and has a kid. The kid is no sweat off his back, because she does all the childcare. (His words, not mine.) So often nicer to be an academic man than academic woman… sigh.

He seemed so happy….

In the U.S. I only play the competitive game with women (sigh), but in Japan it’s “me vs. all Americans”. I don’t feel threatened by foreigners, male or female, from any other country (even you, Canada).

Because my life is in such shambles right now (in some ways. I must maintain perspective), I find myself extra vulnerable to this unproductive mental game-playing. Hearing someone is married, hearing someone is married enough to have a kid… these things send me into a downward spiral. And if they’re better at Japanese than me on top of it, I can spend a good 8 hours in a deep depression.

I’ve been trying to snap out of this thinking for years, but it’s time to really get on top of it and give thanks for my blessings, focus on the positive like it’s my job, etc. I’m a really dark person, prone to depression, and so this runs counter to my instincts and nature.

What snapped me out of it today is learning that a 52cm box is around $130 to mail from Japan– via cheap freight shipping even. I need to mail two 60cm boxes, at least….  I am kicking myself for not mailing my winter clothes back separately and sooner, and bringing so many books here! Now granted, I’ve -read- them all so it wasn’t a waste. And they were all books I needed to read for research. But I could have just checked them out of the university library in Tokyo, maybe. Lessons learned about how to handle moving abroad for 15 months. I’ll need to plan better for my future long research trips to Japan.


So yeah, once again money worries snapped me out of my depression and sent me into anxiety-land (which shares a border with depression and has terrible border-security).

And it led to the same kind of ungrateful thinking as before: “oh if I only had money I could just mail what I need to mail home with no worries, or dump it and just buy new copies of these books/new winter clothes/shoes in the U.S.” Guess that’s a lot of money.

I suppose I’ll go back to mocking the American on TV, because he probably could afford to send these boxes. He’s not attractive, or particularly charismatic, so I wonder what choices led him to where he is. Fluent Japanese + foreigner + talent agency member + not entirely hideous –> get to be on TV in Japan.

In a lot of ways I don’t really want to leave Japan. Considering how much my Japanese skill has improved since I moved here, I’d love to see what another year could do for me, and am afraid of backsliding in Houston. Also, Tokyo is just amazing in so many ways, and I’ll really miss the friends I’ve made here.

T is sleeping on my shoulder, which means he’s officially not watching the special on Kobe beef and I can turn it off. Poor cows.

We Need to Talk

When I started this blog, I thought I’d be funny. I thought I’d be my usual snide self, and create a running commentary on the craziness of my daily life, just to make myself laugh. But I wound up timing this thing with my falling into one of the darkest periods of my life, and certainly the one I’ve had to face in the loneliest fashion.

I feel so often that depression and anxiety have robbed me of the ability to really live so many chapters of my life, to be present for them in any meaningful way at all.. my time at the University of Chicago was one- I nearly had a breakdown there because I was putting -so- much pressure on myself, and things weren’t right with J… my time at Middlebury was the same because I stopped sleeping and quickly reached the limits of my capacity to cope. Here, it’s hard to blame myself, because of all of the genuinely bad things that have happened to me. I suppose in none of these cases should I blame myself per se… that line of thought isn’t very useful, is it?

It is really hard for me to talk to J. I almost always become hysterical these days, asking why he doesn’t want me anymore. When I learned that he wasn’t coming with me to Tokyo, I remember how horrified I was… on my own I almost always fall apart. How am I supposed to live on my own in the future then? I’ve had the support of this one person my entire adult life…

When you’re waiting for people to reach out to you, I’ve learned, you can wait forever… the more depressed I get, the more I withdraw. And my own family isn’t really writing to me.. my mailbox seems mostly to be spam these days. I load it from the train and look sadly down at my phone… feeling like a ghost. I often these days feel as though I’ve died and don’t know it.

I was in the hospital this week, and am still recovering… on strong antibiotics and other assorted pain medications that made me groggy.

While walking today (slowly, as I am still not well), I was listening to This American Life and thinking how much I loathe stories a) about animals and especially b) from the perspective of animals. To me it’s all shitty art, and TAL is best when it’s doing a kind of anthropological life-storytelling… not using content from “Planet Money” or letting fiction authors read their moose stories. Another kind of writing I loathe- “origin of mankind/evolution of the world” fiction pieces… so yeah, that’s for you Radiolab. Someday I’ll write more fiction. That’s what I had intended to do before I got distracted by academia and non-fiction writing, big egos, and endless unproductive competition.

God, I want so badly to talk to people, especially J, but I don’t feel like I have the words right now.

A tangent: In case you were curious, scrunchies and fanny packs are both still totally acceptable in Tokyo. This city gets a rep for being so very fashionable, and indeed people are generally immaculate in their dress… buuuuut the scrunchies run rampant and so do the packs de los fannies (I don’t know what language that was) in prices ranging from cheapo to designer.

I got a haircut to make myself feel better, but my haircuts do nothing but confirm everyone’s impressions of me as a lesbian- not necessarily a problem, except someday I suppose I’ll want to start attracting men again?? If I’m ever less traumatized and manage to get home without offing myself (not being flippant there).

I feel like the loneliest person in the world most of the time, and really have on and off since I came here. Why I thought anthropology was the field for me is occasionally a mystery, although I’m sure other anthropologists hate fieldwork too.

Haven’t even finished the big arm tattoo and already am fantasizing about a forearm tattoo… except I told myself I wouldn’t get anything that I couldn’t easily conceal during the summer in Tokyo without dying of heatstroke (i.e. short sleeves)

Get your naval-gazing b.s. right here

One thing that sucks about being me, or perhaps about being most humans, is “situational shyness.” Now, having an anxiety disorder, if I am awake, I am anxious, but certain situations paralyze me, while in other contexts I can be truly fearless…. right now I am sitting at one of my field sites, and I wrote and printed out a survey that I’d love people to answer, but I am terrified to hand it out. And I’m not sure why. I’m afraid of bothering people, afraid nobody will answer it, blah blah. I mean, “nothing ventured, nothing gained”, as my mom would say… or as my friend Kats would say “you need to GLOAF” (give less of a fuck).

I need to correct one thing I wrote, two entries ago. J and I had a misunderstanding about support, the house, and all of that. So I know he’s trying to do as right by me as possible, but I still go into a stress spiral every time i read an email from him. The last was about whether the dogs would be okay in Tokyo. They eat high-quality dog food that might not be available here, he argued, and Mei has prescription eye medication. Plus, they’re quite anxious and he doesn’t know how they’ll do on the plane ride. Maybe they’ll die.

My parents also really don’t want to take them in. In the whole world, I feel like the only person with any love for these neurotic beasts, and I actively want them with me. J’s really skeptical of that, and won’t let go of the idea of my parents taking them. All of this led to me torturing poor T on his day off with “Everything is going to be okay, right? We won’t go broke, right?” Etc. I made him reassure me about 10,000 times. He said “we have friends who love us and will help us.” But who’s going to help us with money if we need it? Seriously… “Hi, my dogs need a haircut. Can you spare 8,000 yen?”

I am terrified that by meeting T I am giving up my dreams of being a professor…. I have no evidence that he wouldn’t support me/us moving outside of Japan, but I’m just afraid. It’s weird how attached I am to academia considering how miserable it makes me 50% 80% of the time. I guess I figure it to be the only way to get to do the research I want to do, and publish as I want to… although getting paid well for my expertise would be nice. And I’m a recovering academic snob, always skeptical of people who didn’t choose to remain in academia, while jealous of those who have already succeeded in it.

Most of these people haven’t met a wonderful man who doesn’t speak English and is thus terrified of the U.S.

And T really is awesome. I am more impressed with him every day. When I go into a freakout, his face is amazing. It is so kind, and so loving, and so patient. His eyes crinkle at the corners as he looks at me, and reassures me that if we work together everything will be okay. It’s very odd to be simultaneously actively mourning the loss of one relationship while celebrating a new one.

But to get off my tangent, I’d probably be much happier being a freelance writer~ contemporary academia really sucks. Or maybe I wouldn’t. I should really cross that bridge when I come to it, eh? Maybe finish the ol’ dissertation first and then see how I feel? In the meantime, I also should gain more competence in Japanese. I can’t tell you how much rapport building and conversational contents I’ve missed out on by being stuck in this intermediate rut. Last night over cheese-fries and non-alcoholic beer (tastes like… shitty beer) with friends, I found myself thinking “I am THE MAN at Japanese.” Indeed, a friend’s wife started berating him because he’s lived in Japan for 6 years, and I less than 1, and he speaks almost no Japanese.

“See, Liz can do it! If you were less lazy…” she started in. “Why haven’t you learned Japanese yet?”

I mean, I think T and J are both incredibly lazy at times, but I never say so…. especially not in front of other people.

I was just thinking more about academia- I mean, most of the time I space out during classes and conferences, as I find listening to people read papers mind-numbing. And I think most of the hot button issues in academia are tedious and irrelevant as fuck, merely intellectual games played in a closed circle. We do a lot of good too, and the world genuinely needs anthropology and anthropological knowledge. But we can be such eggheaded douchebags too…. the competition makes me miserable, the ladder climbing and endless obstacle course etc. I hate it all… but I love it too. At its best it’s creative work that allows me a tremendous amount of freedom, and I get to read, talk about what I read, and produce original knowledge…. but I often feel much less engaged with the daily bullshit than most people.

Plus, most of the worst people I have met in the world are academics. Miserable, egotistical/insecure, cruel, elitist, asshats. And some of the best suffer from all sorts of mental health problems as a result of(?)the hideousness of contemporary academia.

I feel as though I should let fate deal my hand here.. I’ll work my hardest as always, but this year has proven that even when I think I have everything tightly under control, I don’t.

As a doctor said to me the other day, after hearing about the last year “Wow. You are amazingly strong to be this functional. And with an anxiety disorder? I’m in shock.”

You know, I’m kind of amazed too. I feel as thought I’m much more okay than I have any right to be.

And I swear, I’ll go back to chronicling my daily exploits, narrative style soon and stop with all the introspection.

This is not a divorce blog

But today I need to break my vow of niceness only and f’ing rant. I am really upset with J, who has turned into such a cold jerk over the past few weeks…. my parents’ comments that I was naive to think we could split amicably are ringing in my ears.

His new girlfriend *grits teeth* doesn’t like being woken up in the middle of the night by my dogs, who are afraid of thunderstorms. Houston has a lot of thunderstorms, you see. J has been bullying me for months about how much he hates taking care of my dogs, and I wish so much that I could teleport to Houston and bring them back to Tokyo with me immediately. They’re my babies, and… I don’t want them to be with someone who doesn’t want them. To be fair, I extended my research stay by 2 months, but I -need- to do that for this project to work. And I know he has made sacrifices in order to take care of them. But they used to be -our- dogs, just as it used to be -our- life.

Anyway, he had asked me if I could contact my parents about taking the dogs, so his girlfriend can sleep and he can spend more time at church. My parents live near Philadelphia… so getting the dogs from Houston, Texas is no small feat. I told him it didn’t make sense for my parents to take the dogs now, as I’ll be back in August.

Before going to bed he left me with this bombshell… that he basically had changed his mind about his promise to support me while I write my dissertation, and he didn’t even want me in our house because we’re selling it so soon. This brief, bitchy email neglected the fact that houses take time to sell, and someone has to pay the mortgage while it is being prepped to sell, and then sold.

So why can’t I live there? Of course, with him cutting me off all of a sudden I may not be able to afford to… I dipped into my stipend from the U this year (which otherwise has been pumped into savings, as I am living on a research grant) in order to buy a laptop. I did this with J’s approval, thinking we’d still be married and sharing finances the following year. So now I have maybe $10,000 in savings…. not a liveable annual “wage”. He wants me to move in with my parents. Yeahhh…. no. I haven’t lived with my parents since I was 18, and I love them, but I am simply too proud. And we’d kill each other.

And no, I don’t want to work while writing my dissertation. There’s some stuff I am leaving out as to why, that I’ll get to later. We’ll see though… I am an inflexible self-centered girl at times, so I might have to bend on a lot of this. Still in shock though, so don’t mind me. I may really have to suck these things up.

So, this leaves fighting him on the house thing, which I plan to do, but otherwise, moving back to Tokyo to write up, and live with T. To be fair to T, I need to explain the $10,000 thing, that I’d be a parasite (apart from my radio show salary), and we’d live like crap in Tokyo until I finish the dissertation.


I am naive about people. I believe they won’t hurt me, despite so much experience to the contrary…  My parents, as I mentioned above, think I am naive, that everything is going to go south, and that I should have “lawyered up” yesterday.

Until today I was never angry, just sad… but now I am pissed. Between that and him telling his family that I’d run off with a guy, not that we had an open relationship and were both dating other people, and that it had nothing to do with the end of our marriage… yeah, I’m pissed. Coward.