Cracks begin to show

>> 16 November 2015

Friday: Today I got so overwhelmed by my work that I ended up curled in a ball, crying and shaking in a corner of a stairwell. It felt like my entire body was breaking into pieces that I had to physically hold together. My soul feels like it has come completely unmoored from the rest of my existence. Nothing I do is ever good enough, fast enough, smart enough.

Sunday: I've taken a couple of days away from it all and I still want to throw up every time I look at the document that I must complete and resubmit as soon as possible. Every little delay increases the risk of a potentially life-altering failure. James keeps telling me to focus on the product and not the process. He is worried about me. He is worried about my health. He is right to worry. All my hopes are fading, I can see my goals and my timelines slipping away from me, and I don't know why I'm doing any of this any more. Nothing matters.

It's Monday morning now, and I'm re-reading the two paragraphs above. I'm feeling a little better today. I've finished and re-submitted that awful paper, but not before I cried over it twice, spent 6 hours on a single page of revisions, and wondered how much further I could push myself before I would break again. James doesn't understand why I'm so hard on myself, and it is extremely hard to explain. I'll try again when this semester is over.


Hell in Paradise

>> 11 November 2015

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who has been in Honolulu for the last few months for a leadership training institute. I asked him how Hawaii had compared to his expectations, and he very carefully said that he had described it to friends back home as "hell in paradise" and then he looked at me and waited. I was stunned. I'm not sure if I've ever heard such a perfect description of this place. Simple, elegant, accurate.

Friends on facebook are fond of posting things about the 'seasons' of their life- #seasonofblessings #seasonofwaiting #seasonofgrowing, etc. If I'm in any kind of season right now, it's a #seasonofpain. The last few months have been the hardest, most agonizing and disappointing of my life. I've seen my therapist a lot. My capacity for emotions has shrunk considerably- I feel like I have 3 basic emotions these days: irritated (varying degrees), exhausted, and cat (which is the brief feeling of lightness I enjoy when I see a cat/furry creature). Very, very rarely, I take a deep breath and feel a twinge of contentment as I exhale, but it only lasts for a breath.

Today is a holiday in the US, which means an entire day to catch up on work and not talk to anyone/shower/leave my room. My to-do list:

-Revise and resubmit Qualifying Paper 2
-Summarize dissertation in 2 pages
-Compile application for the next 3 semesters' funding
-Write paper on graffiti and language attitudes in a neighborhood of Oahu
-Put together presentation on this paper ^
-Grade papers and lesson plan for tomorrow's class
-Read and comment on student's scholarship application

I decided to start with the last item and I'm so glad I did. I read this same student's application for the same scholarship last year (he didn't get it). His writing, his command of English, and his understanding of his social responsibility have matured so much over the last year that I was nearly moved to tears while reading it. For the first time in months, the tiny voice of the hope I've had long-buried whispered through the bleakness, "this is all worth it."


The loss of my office.

>> 24 August 2015

I have been crying a lot in the last few weeks, because for all my travel fortitude and unreasonable love of sitting on planes, I don't actually handle transition well. The blog has been quiet because I made an early and unannounced exit from Dili under happy but rushed circumstances. I've been back in the US for just over a month, and I miss Timor every single moment of every single day. I don't want to be here. I want to go home.

But that's another story. Today's story is about the worst blow I've suffered since I've been 'back'. People in Dili asked me, "Melody, what are you looking forward to when you get home?" and I usually said "my office!". Most people say things like: hamburgers! traffic laws! white people! streaming internet! my family/friends! Mexican food!, but not me. I felt like I had enough of all of that in my modest life in Timor already. With enough preparation, I could and did make any of my favorite dishes: chili, carnitas, gumbo, biscuits and gravy, all my favorite curries, pot roast, king ranch chicken, anything! My friends and coworkers became as close and complicated as family. I felt like I knew where I was and who I was and what I was doing. For possibly the first time in my life, everything was exactly the way I wanted it and I was happy.

Fast forward to the last couple of weeks. I've been in Honolulu, the bad manners and racist capital of what has come to be my world, attending a two-week orientation to a school I have already been attending for 4 years. My friends and my partner have left- I am alone. I live in a 4ft x 7ft x 14ft container, sharing a bathroom and kitchen with 50 other people. I have no transportation, and everything is even more expensive than I remember it. But, I knew it was going to be this way. I was prepared for all these things, and they didn't matter, because I still had one safe haven to come 'home' to. One constant in the back of my mind upon which I pinned my hopes for a productive and calm semester. I had my office.

My office is perfect. It has a perfect L-shaped desk, full of perfect office supplies (left over from a retired faculty and painstakingly organized by me), with a perfect chair, and a perfect window, and two perfect bookshelves on either side, and a perfect filing cabinet behind. All of my things have sat neatly organized for the last year, awaiting my return. And when Dili was too much for me, I thought of that bright, quiet, clean little place and that was all I needed to find my own refuge and to be ok. "Soon," I thought, "I'll be back in my perfect office and no matter what else is wrong in my life, I'll have my calm center of the universe."

It is perfect.

And it is no longer mine.

The details of the circumstances frustrate me too much to articulate, but I cried for a solid, inconsolable hour when I found out. And then I cried two or three more times for good measure, once in front of the office staff when they took my keys, and once in front of a faculty member for no reason other than that I was still upset about it. I hate this place, I hate this university, I hate being in grad school, and I never, ever feel better.