The Sound of Sanity

This week has felt like neither spring nor break. It has been comforting to be home and see family, but my days have been devoted to research, not relaxation. I'm experiencing a new level of anxiety as I try to wrap up my research project and my professional project this semester.

I thought I'd share the Spotify playlist that's helping me maintain some semblance of sanity. It's a mixture of the old faves that got me through college and the new faves that I've played on repeat during the most wearying weeks of grad school.

It's 40+ songs that remind me that grad school is not that important, that I will live, that God is in control. Robbie Seay Band, Jimmy Needham, Audrey Assad, Needtobreathe, Shane & Shane, etc. This list is ever growing, so feel free to share other songs that belong on here!

You Are So Welcome

I once read that the single greatest predictor of a child's intelligence is the education level of his or her mother. On days like today — when my to-do list looks impossible and I'm trying desperately just to keep my head above these grad school waters — I think, "YOU'RE WELCOME, FUTURE CHILDREN," and somehow it keeps me going.

*I don't know where I read this or whether it came from a peer-reviewed scholarly journal. #gradschoolproblems

Be Not Dismayed

Yesterday I printed this verse and slid it into the plastic sleeve on the front of my research binder. Then I saved it as my desktop wallpaper. I need to be forced to look at it every time I stick my head in my research.

I should rephrase that last sentence. It makes it sound as if there are times when my head is not in my research. In actuality, the back of my brain is chewing on my research even when I'm not conducting or transcribing or coding or comparing interviews.

I've finished five interviews at this point, and I have four to go. I need to nail some of those down this week.

I recently read a BuzzFeed post about the differences between undergrad and grad school. No point resonated with me more than this: "In college, your main job is to consume knowledge. In grad school, you're supposed to the one PRODUCING the knowledge."

That so accurately captured what I'm wrestling with right now. I know how to absorb knowledge, to distill knowledge, to summarize and synopsize and synthesize knowledge. But this whole producing knowledge thing? Yeah, not so sure how to do that.

But that's the whole point of this research project. At the end of it, I'm supposed to come up with a theory. A theory, people.

When I'm not worrying about the theory that I haven't yet developed, I'm actually pretty fascinated by my research. I think that's how I'm supposed to feel. I'm interviewing brand managers from nonprofits, and I'm basically just getting to pick their brains. I ask about their experiences and challenges and successes in developing and articulating their brands. The same issues come up in every conversation: How do we tell the stories of the people we have helped? How do we articulate to the public what it is that we do? How do we justify using donors' dollars on marketing? How do we ensure consistency? How do we help staff members and volunteers recognize that they are stewards of the brand?

These are not just the questions I'm asking. These are the questions that the interviewees themselves seem to be dealing with. It's a competitive charitable market, and everyone who's doing this for a living is, to some extent, just trying to figure it out.

Is this fascinating to anyone besides me?

I'm supposed to develop the theory by noting relationships among concepts. So I print each interview and go line by line, making a note for each concept that comes up. I have like three pages of concepts already. Brand voice, differentiation among audiences, confusion among nonprofits, reasons for financial support, etc. etc. etc.

Am I really going to end up being able to piece these concepts back together into a theory? I don't know yet.

I wish my final report could just be a list of things that I still don't know. "Well, I conducted nine interviews. I pored over the transcripts. I mulled over the concepts. I mentally stuck them together and pulled them apart like a 2-year-old with a new box of Legos. And what I discovered is that I have a thousand more questions."

It's amazing how my feelings about whether I'll be able to get this project done change regardless of my actual progress. I can shift from a sense of competence to one of utter fear and dismay in the course of a few hours. Let's not even talk about the way I feel about my research when I wake up in the middle of the night. It's like SHEER TERROR.

I'm hoping that seeing that Bible verse a hundred times every day will help. I am not alone in this. My feelings and my fears do not represent reality. It's not all up to me. Or, rather, it's not up to me at all.

I don't know how to wrap this post up tidily. Fortunately, blog posts — unlike research projects — are not about producing knowledge. I can end them with a big, fat I don't know if I want to. I haven't gotten it all figured out yet, and that's okay.

Silly Me

I have a phone interview in approximately 35 minutes, and I am inordinately nervous about it. I'm not even the one being interviewed. I am the one conducting the interview.

I have 40 questions already written out — which, by the way, is way too many for a 60-minute interview. But I have a tendency to overprepare.

This interview is the first of nine that I'll be conducting with brand managers at nonprofits for my master's research project, which is called, unsurprisingly, A Look at the Brand-Building Efforts of Nonprofit Organizations.

I think my nervousness stems from my sense that I don't know what I'm talking about. I have this expectation that I'll be halfway through my interviews, and my interviewees will realize that I know nothing and that they can provide no more information to someone whose frame of reference for this sort of thing is so very small.

Never mind that I have literally spent months doing background research. Never mind that the whole purpose of research is to learn more about something that you don't know enough about. I am lacking in experience, and WHAT IF THEY CAN TELL? Or what if I don't glean any useful information? What if none of my interviews can be tied to each other in logical ways? WHAT IF NO PATTERNS EMERGE? What if I interview and transcribe and code and categorize and compare and can't come up with anything!? WHAT IF NOBODY ELSE COMMITS TO AN INTERVIEW AND I DON'T GET ENOUGH DATA!?

These are the thoughts in my brain — now 12 minutes out from my interview.

I can be really silly sometimes.

A bunch of little blog posts mushed into one.

1. Back in Missouri

Drove back to Columbia last Saturday after another tearful goodbye. My brother rode with me to keep me sane. It was dark by the time we pulled into town and still dark when I said goodbye to him at the airport the next morning. The darkness somehow exacerbated by sadness, and I was a mess until I got to church and remembered why I had loved this city. "I'm so happy you're back!" were literally the first words that greeted me when I walked in the door. And then I got a hug, and, oh, I could've just crumbled into it.

  Skyping with (most of) the fam on my first day back in Como.

Skyping with (most of) the fam on my first day back in Como.

The back-and-forth-ness of graduate school has done such a number on my heart. Being away from my family and Kentucky friends weighs on me so heavily, and so much of me just wants this semester to fly by. But I know that when it comes time to leave my Missouri friends in May, I will be an absolute wreck — a giant tear duct in human form.

2. Semester shock

Classes are over, so this semester I'll be occupied with my professional project (which is like a big internship, but we're not supposed to call it an internship) + my assistantship + my master's research. I would be excited if I weren't so anxious. I love my professional project so far. It's really the prospect of doing my research on top of it that sounds impossible. Let's not talk about it.

3. Sabbath

Speaking of not talking about it, my roommate, Bekah and I are taking Sundays off this semester. Shocker, right? I read this book over Christmas break, and it made me want to cry. Not because it is sad — it isn't — but because it reminded me of how tired I am and have been throughout my entire college and grad school career. The main reason I dreaded this semester was that I was so beyond worn out and beaten down last semester. I just couldn't do it any more. So, despite my uncertainty about how all my work will get done in the next few months, I've decided that none of it will get done on Sundays.

Oh, and I bought a "luxury sleep mask" at Walmart for $4. It is hot pink — fuzzy on one side and satiny on the other. It makes me feel very restful. And luxurious, duh.

4. Reading

Speaking of books, I have a problem, y'all. I have a problem with starting books before I finished my last one and then not finishing them. My bedside table is now host to nine books that I'm "in the middle of." A few of them are even from interlibrary loan, which means I went out of my way made a librarian go out of her (his?) way to get them for me.

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Maybe thinking I can finish non-school-related books in grad school is setting my hopes too high.

4. Smoothies

In the same way that I am the type of person to start a book and never finish it, I am the type of person who pins a lot of things to Pinterest and then never makes said things. But I saw this green monster smoothie pin last Tuesday, and I went out later that day to get the ingredients. I have made it three times since. I have a feeling it is going to be my new go-to meal. It feels indulgent, but it's oh-so-easy to make and oh-so-good* for you. The perfect combination!

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*What is the correct way to punctuate that? "It's, oh, so easy..." "It's oh, so easy..." Set off interjections with commas, right? But that looks so weird. Sticking with hyphens...

4. Running

Speaking of things that are good for you but also wonderful, I have been running more and more lately!

Er ... I wrote that sentence last week when I was all excited to tell y'all how much better my legs have been doing. Today I sat back down to work on the blog post I left unfinished, and that sentence is mocking me. My left knee has been hurting again. Aching hips are keeping me awake at night. Before this week, I was running great, and now I'm in pain again and trying not to be discouraged.

Here's to hoping this setback won't last long. I'd had at least two months of doing really well before this. Boo, you know? BOO AT PAIN.

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Apparently retailers think that people have already given up on their new year's resolutions, so they have discounted workout wear. Snatched up this cute pink running jacket for TEN DOLLA NO HOLLA last week. Talk about a score. Pictured right before I hit the pavement in 19-degree weather. I told you I love running.

5. Pop culture

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So much good stuff going on in pop culture lately, you guys. I have thoroughly enjoyed the return of Downton Abbey and The Bachelor, and I want to see Les Miserables approximately a thousand more times.

In related news, I want to marry a barricade boy. They're just so studious and masculine. I know Les Mis isn't primarily a love story, but the scene in which Jean Valjean basically passes the torch of protecting Cosette on to Marius made me swoon and long for times past. You know, times in which men were men and women were women.

6. Dating

Speaking of men and women being men and women, this article, "The End of Courtship" that ran in the NYT recently was totally singing my life with its words and killing me softly with its song.

"Traditional courtship — picking up the telephone and asking someone on a date — required courage, strategic planning and a considerable investment of ego (by telephone, rejection stings). Not so with texting, e-mail, Twitter or other forms of 'asynchronous communication,' as techies call it. In the context of dating, it removes much of the need for charm; it’s more like dropping a line in the water and hoping for a nibble.

'I’ve seen men put more effort into finding a movie to watch on Netflix Instant than composing a coherent message to ask a woman out,' said Anna Goldfarb, 34, an author and blogger in Moorestown, N.J."

I thought this was a problem unique to Christian culture, but apparently I was wrong. Read the article, marvel at its accuracy, and weep for our future.

7. Blogging

Look whose blog hit 50,000 views this week! Little old me. Thanks, everyone! Thanks for reading and putting up with the fact that I began four paragraphs in this post with the words "speaking of." You are all the best.

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