Work In Progress: Focus

At least weekly, I tell myself to work on concentration and focus. Just like today. I’d had it up to here with myself and my Internet usage. I confess, I am a multi-window-opener. If I see an interesting story, article, picture or what have you I click on it. Before I know it, I have up to 10 tabs open and I’m seriously distracted!

I’ve found that I do this when I’m truly avoiding work. School work, real work: pretty much anything that seems productive results in a venture into the vortex of the Interwebs. Today’s experiment was keeping less than two tabs open, which seemed to work well to getting stuff done. Wonder of wonders.

I’m going home to Houston this weekend, spending some time with my mom. And to keep me company: three chapters and three 20+ page articles. I guess we’ll see how well my distraction techniques work in real life.

I’m also on the look out for a good fall trip. Problem is I hate the cold and all places above the Mason-Dixie are already “cold.” So where to go, where to go. I think I’ll get some inspiration from this great post on Clutch Magazine “11 Black Women Inspiring Us to Travel.”

Party of Two, My +1 is the Couch

“You will feel isolated. You’re not alone.”

That statement, spoken to the assembled students at the graduate orientation just weeks ago, didn’t really strike me until today. Today when I made the first of what I’m sure are many social sacrifices for the sake of couch riding with my textbook, my computer and my trusty ballpoint pen for notes.

I should clarify I’ve been moving away from the party life for the past almost four years. The thought of stumble bumbling around the club in four-inch heels, swaying to the bass and trying to one-eye drive my way back north of town just no longer has any appeal to me. Nowadays, give me two drinks for the night, some techno to jump around to and the enjoyment of being in bed by 2, not being in line to get my car at 2:30. Just the standard evolution of life I think; can’t be the party girl forever. You get a reputation, Dallas is kind of a small town that way.

So when I found myself texting my friend, pulling the “rain check” card and then getting comfortable with a plate of Soba Tofu takeout and Chapter 4 (The Communicator & Sociopsychological Tradition), I knew it got real. My two sources of knowledge on the grad school pledging, I mean education, process are my older sister and work associate turned confidant Armando. I distinctly remember my sister telling me to get all my fun-having out this past summer, because once classes start the graduate student guilt will prevent me from being able to enjoy a night out, knowing I have dozens of pages of reading waiting for me when I get back, all fuzzy-head and good times. But I didn’t want to believe fat meat was greasy (shout out to my mom for that useful phrase), thinking to myself “Bump that, I’ll be able to hang.” Fast forward to sleeping on the couch because it’s comfortable and a lifelong dislike of waking up early, leading to late  nights at work, and I’m rethinking my approach to how I spend free time.

I conquered part one of Chapter 4, which thankfully is a much more tolerable reading than last week’s brain drain. Tomorrow, the only outside time I get is the gym. Then it’s part two and three, as well as those lovely 20-page journal articles. Did I mention I’m an avid note-taker, making this process nearly twice as long as just reading?

Since we’re talking school, the first test is here and gone. Midterms in a month or so. All in all, I haven’t jumped off the roof yet but there’s more to come.

Romance Versus Realism – The “Carrie” Syndrome

I’ve somewhat prided myself on not being one of the “girlie girls.” You know, the “can’t go to the corner store without my face beat for the GAWDS” kind of woman, for whom spending time and money on hair, shoes and makeup is a requisite, and not a nice add-on, for personality. Included in my definition of “girlie girl” is an undying love of all things Carrie Bradshaw, she of “Sex and the City.” Now don’t get me wrong. I was tardy for the party but I have definitely enjoyed just about all six seasons’ worth of episodes of the show. I’m speaking of the women who subscribe to the “Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha or Miranda” character in their lives, using these limited ideas to shape their narratives in love and careers. The idea of forming my reactions to a dynamic, constantly shifting concept like relationship communication based on the static fictional characters was always a laugh.

Which is why when I came across “Mr. Big Syndrome Ruins Lives” from Luvvie Ajayi on Clutch this morning, I gave a huff and a shrug to the idea that seeking any kind of male character type from this show would be in good form. In her post, Luvvie addresses the likelihood that the successful but relationship-challenged Mr. Big types will leave you high, dry and broken-hearted. Personally, any woman past the age of say 24 that believes in a man that clearly has ulterior motives and back-burners you on a consistent basis needs to have her head examined.

The only person who I’ve known who could believe the best in a guy I would write off as a louse is my best friend from college, Chané. She was one of the most ever-cheerful people I’ve known, especially when it came to love. Despite the follies of relationships, and the inevitable disappointment of many of the men we dealt with as undergrad students and then wet-behind-the-ears 20-somethings, she never gave up her belief in that “can’t breathe it hurts so good” kind of love. I’ve never believed in that, being far more pragmatic about human relationships. But in instances like the dissolution of my first serious investment in the male species, she was the positive light in my den of negativity. And it didn’t  hurt that she had a squeal/scream (squeam?) just like Sarah Jessica Parker gave her legendary role.

Well, since I can’t be a Carrie Bradshaw, nor am I bitter enough for the Miranda, lustful enough for the Samantha or desperate enough for the Charlotte, I will continue to balance the desire for the damn near unattainable kind of passion from shows like Sex and the City and movies like The Notebook with the reality of the facts: sometimes men just don’t do passion. They do pragmatics, they do the tangible. But that concept (see, bringing in some of my research class terminology in this one!) of “soul mate” eludes them. So you must decide your strategy, and for the love of all things Carrie, stick to it!

That First Step is a Doozy

OkayI know I said that the next post would be a review of my shiny new book; all I can say is that it’s in draft. And that book is data and fact filled. So I’m not rushing myself, I decided to veer a bit and talk about my first day of class! (Cue shifting of backpack straps and pushing up of glasses.)

The class of 2013, as I suppose we’re classified, is pretty small. About 13 people of various ages, experience and background. It’s a relief to meet new people and hear their stories and how they got into communication. Theory class on Monday gave a basic overview of what we will be doing during the semester. Based on the reading schedule, it has become very clear that the trope of “Grad school is not undegrad” holds very true. We’re talking on average three to four peer-reviewed articles per week. However, it came back to me that the reading, exploring theories and the application of those theories was what made me so excited about studying when I was 20, 21. At 26, I’m excited to get back to that love.

Now research, that’s going to be a challenge. I’m not the most analytical person and this course will challenge me. We are exploring qualitative and quantitative research, and I’m looking forward to the cumulative two or three-person project for the semester. Of course, now I have to scope out my classmates and, as I told my sister in the Bat Cave, “figure out who is smart but not so smart I have to manage their ego.” Folks in academia can live in ivory towers, as my theory professor said, and I don’t want to aid and abet this attitude.

So far, so good. Some reading to do, I have to get back in the studying frame of mind. More than anything I’m excited to get back to what it is I love…education.

Defining My Limits With Social Media

Today I read two stories that brought to mind the self-placed limits on what I share and how I interact with digital content.

First up: Facebook has done away with Places…as we know it. When this feature, which at the time was mobile-only, debuted I immediately put the kibosh on it. I’m of the mind that if I wanted you to know where I was, you’d be there with me or you’d get an invitation. And the fact that other people could check you in, without your approval, was borderline creepy. As soon as I found out what privacy toggles needed to be changed to disable the feature, I jumped on it. Now you’ll be able to add location to photos (love that idea!) and status updates, like when you’re planning a vacation or running to brunch and want a friend to join you there.

The second story: Magazines are increasingly adding digital tags in their stories and ads to drive readers to supplementary online content (video, photos, coupons). I pretty much gave up on magazines as I saw the prices increase but the amount of pages with content relevant to me decrease. I mean, how many ways can I learn about how to put on mascara and how to please my man? Neither here nor there. According to the article, a study found that in a survey of 100 magazines on the newsstand this June, there were 373 digital codes compared to 88 in January. That’s quite an increase, and advertisers are paying attention and paying up.

However, I find that I’ve yet to scan these kinds of tags. At a recent conference I attended, we brought this technology for attendees and were recognized for it on the Microsoft Tags blog. As these kinds of add-ons become standard for magazines and events, I’m sure I will be part of that second wave of adopters, the ones that have to see that other folks are doing it and it’s worth my efforts. Until then, I’ll keep flipping physical pages only and limit my online sharing to the great salad I am enjoying for lunch, not where I’m at as I do just that.

Push (Compel) and Pull (Impulse)

The other day, as I slowly delighted in half of a homemade brownie, I immediately fought with my inner desire not to get the other half. I distracted myself with work and then began to think about impulse control and the lack of it. I managed to quash the “need” for baked goodie and started looking into the science of why it’s so hard to stop at just one chip, cookie, kiss, etc.

Apparently, impulse control is influenced by an imbalance in serotonin levels, which also affects anxiety, depression and panic. I’ve always thought it as more mind over matter and self-discipline but then again that’s why I’m not a scientist. I can almost get it. You know that ping you get when you walk down the snack aisle and you want to sweep your arm across the entire Lay’s display. You feel like you know better but there is a larger part of you that is charging you forward to the undue behavior.

At the opposite end, instead of trying to not do something, I often find myself struggling to find the compulsion to do things. Must-do items like write and exercise, things of that sort. Now that I no longer have the luxury of work-sponsored gym membership or apartment amenities, I joined the nearby 24 Hour Fitness. I know exercise is good for you and all that jazz, but I truly find balance when I’m active and physically expending my frustrations.

So the note I keep in my head: don’t be so hard on your impulses, even if they do involve cupcakes, and compel yourself to three times a week in the gym, especially when you’re paying for it!

About making it happen for yourself

I’ve been sitting on the suggestion from my mom for a few weeks: start a blog. For years, she’s been telling me that my sister and I should blog based on our conversations alone. Over the four years since my older sibling has been in London, living the life of a blipster ex-pat married to a lovely Brummie, and I’ve been out of school working full time, we’ve had what we lovingly call the “Bat Cave.” In reality, it’s Gmail chat, who is a moody wench sometimes (depending upon our topic of conversation). These hours-long discussions of literature, culture, fashion, t-shirt ideas, love and loss and all things Kanye have been a lifeline for both of us. Although we weren’t close growing up, (despite our mom’s many calls down the hallway at our rumblings that “you only have one sister!”) we have created a bond that sustains us through twice-a-year (thrice in the good years) visits on one side of the pond or the other. However, I know that if I shared a Roni-and-Leisa only blog with people, it would be met with raised eyebrows and mutters of “How many 80s movies are they going to reference?” So that idea was vetoed.

After a recent heart-to-heart with my mom, she gave me advice that I’m sure I’d heard before but somehow came through my fog and funk louder than usual: “Make your own opportunities, because no one is going to hand you anything.” It is so true, especially in these times, that making something out of nothing, a dollar out of 15 cents if you will, is the way of the world. Jobs are harder to come and my prediction that the bachelor degree is going the way of the high school diploma in terms of must-have-to-be-considered status has come true. I made an agreement with myself about two years ago: new job or grad school. At the same time that I wrote essays and requested transcripts, I placed resumes and hit up contacts. In April 2010, I came to the job I have now and put grad school on the back burner, knowing that desire would come back. Lo and behold, I applied for school in January of 2011 and decided upon University of Texas at Arlington.

But I still feel the need for a challenge. So my mom’s advice to create my own wind behind my sails manifested itself in the idea to start a blog. I don’t consider myself the best writer in the world but I enjoy people’s stories. It’s why I studied communications; it’s why I enjoy working at an association. And I hope it is what keeps me going as I continue to share on here. And so ends my first post!