On Writing and Red Carpets

Last night Eric and had our first red carpet experience! It wasn’t exactly Hollywood, but it was so much fun–Caltech was screening the premiere of The PhD Movie, based on the beloved PhD Comics by Jorge Cham. The comics deal largely with grad school in the sciences, but there is a lot that is relevant for us humanists too. Jorge was there for Q&A (and was hilarious!) along with the entire cast and crew, since the film was made entirely at Caltech, with an all-Caltech lineup.

We met some really nice people while we were waiting (at the front of a line of about 1,000 people!), and we loved the movie. After the screening, there was a live band and party out in front of the gorgeous Beckman Institute. We ended the night with some fresh pie from local institution Pie ‘N Burger.

Aside from being a really fun evening, the movie was definitely provocative of a few things I’d been thinking about lately, mostly having to do with work and writing. I won’t spoil the movie for you, but I will say that one of the main ideas is that no matter how much you love your work, you have to find some kind of balance in your life; not only will it make your life better, it will make your work better.

This has definitely been a hard-learned lesson for me. When I was an undergrad, I was working something like 4 part-time jobs (not because I was so hard up, but because they were amazing teaching/tutoring opportunities that I really enjoyed), taking a full load of courses, applying to grad school, and writing an honors thesis. It. was. a. LOT. I used to live in my little scholar study in the library, and my sweet and persistent friends would skateboard over and throw rocks at my window every night at midnight to get me to come home and watch Naruto and eat Oreos with them. I don’t know what I would have done without them.

Ironically, when I got to grad school I left some of this way of life behind. Maybe it was being in new surroundings, or maybe it was learning that if I didn’t get enough sleep, I’d get migraines. I still worked hard, but it slowly became a part of my life (a big one!) instead of my whole life.

When we moved to Pasadena, I’d been wanting to start this blog for a long time, and Eric and I had been discussing layouts and strategies and content for months (because he is the best and most supportive partner ever), but I wondered if I should wait until I filed my dissertation (December 16th!) before I started working on it. Wouldn’t it be too distracting? Wouldn’t my committee members think I was a slacker?

Thankfully, though, I decided to go ahead and take the plunge, and it has seriously been the most fun thing I’ve done in a  long time. And I feel like I am slowly re-learning that lesson about balance again. I do really feel happier (about my work, and in general) when I am doing something in my free time that is fulfilling. It really does make everything seem more fulfilling. As of right now, I am somehow magically about 2 weeks ahead of the schedule I set for myself this fall for finishing my dissertation (not that difficult times aren’t ahead, but any kind of momentum like that just really makes it easier to tackle the hard parts when they invariably present themselves).

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about writing, and writing about writing, in the various ways it is present in my life. Because, as of right now, I’m blogging almost every day, I feel like there’s more of a macro mode to my writing, and I want to make sure I get some nice landscapes and panoramas in every now and again. I am settling in to the really nice practice of writing, both professionally and personally, on a daily basis, and I am really unspeakably grateful for that. It was only about a month ago that I was crying to Eric that I didn’t see how I could ever finish this dissertation, and he asked me what we could do to make it easier, what strategies we could come up with. I told him I thought I needed help in setting immediate and daily goals, and ever since then, he asks me every day before he leaves for work what my goal for the day is. Last week, he came back a few minutes after he’d rushed out the door, and I thought he must have forgotten a notebook or something, but instead he took my hand and said, “What’s your goal for the day? I forgot to ask you.” I feel like all the wisdom I have about writing has been slowly learned, and has to be continually re-learned, but I do really highly recommend daily goals, a supportive partner, and a creative or personal outlet to balance things out. I will probably be learning these things for the rest of my life, but it’s good to take a step back and consider them every once in a while. 🙂

I know that some of my friends and fellow bloggers are also grad students (Dining With Dostoevsky, A Russia of My Own, Tea Talk, Tenpenny Splendid), and I’d love to hear your thoughts on writing vs. blogging, balance, and any wisdom you’ve gleaned from your years on the job. Also, The PhD Movie is being shown all over the country (and the world!), and I’d encourage to check out a free screening if there’s one near you! It’s guaranteed to make you laugh, and it’s a great reminder that there’s more to life than the library (or the lab!) 🙂

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