Category Archives: Health


While I’m on the subject of health, the Environmental Working Group just updated their Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides. Since we’re all on a budget, especially these days, it’s good to prioritize organic buying habits:

Dirty Dozen: (most contaminated nonorganic produce)

peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, strawberries, cherries, kale, carrots, nectarines, pears, lettuce, imported grapes

Consistently Clean: (least contaminated nonorganic produce)

onions, avocados, corn, pineapples, mangos, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwi, cabbages, eggplants, papayas, watermelon

Back and Neck Pain

My last post about eye health got me thinking about some of my favorite remedies for back and neck pain:

1) herbal packs, or as we lovingly refer to them in my house, herby things. After a couple minutes in the microwave, the herby thing will cure what ails you–migraine, neck or back pain, menstral cramps, etc. I’ve literally bought one for almost everyone I know.

2) I just discovered a new exercise that helps my back. It’s billed as a “wait whittling exercise” on (there’s a version in the ab and waist videos on their page), but I’ve found it helps the muscles parallel to my spine, in between my shoulder blades. Basically, you stand with your feet shoulder width apart. I think it works best with my elbows pointed out (parallel to the floor). Then I twist back and forth slowly, keeping my hips still. In other words, try to keep the movement in your ribs. Suck your stomach in a little. I do it 50 times (25 on each side). It feels good on my back in the moment, but I’ve also noticed a decrease in back pain generally since I’ve made it a daily habit. Actually, I do the exercise while holding a warm compress over my eyes because I’m efficient like that.

3) bikram yoga. I’m sure all kinds of yoga help backs and necks get stronger, but bikram yoga has been particularly effective for me. It lasts 90 minutes (and always consists of the same series of exercises) in a 105 degree room. Bikram yoga also helps me sleep better and it helps all kinds of body aches. It’s also very challenging, so can make you feel good about yourself in spite of any work problems you may be having. Because it requires a lot of physical and mental focus, it’s helps ease anxiety, too.

4) another stretch that feels especially good to my body is to lay with my back on the floor, pulling my knees toward my chest. I hold my knees by crossing my forearms over them and then rock from side to side.

Eye Health

I’ve been having eye issues lately, and after a few trips to the eye doctor I thought I’d pass on some eye care tips:

1) the warm compress. Wet a washcloth with hot water and hold over your eyes for a minute or two. I do this twice a day, and it helps more than the eye doctor’s prescribed drops. It’s relaxing in general. Gently massaging the eyes feels good too.

2) artificial tears. I’ve started carrying these around with me (I like the Optive brand, which comes in a green bottle). But it’s especially helpful to use eyedrops right before bed.

3) avoid using your phone/mobile device in the dark. The combination of the bright screen and the tiny letters on that screen makes my eyes noticeably fatigued after a couple of minutes.

4) I have a great herbal pack especially for eyes. It has lavendar inside it. You keep it in the freezer. Since it’s cotton and herbs, it doesn’t freeze, it just gets nice and cool.

Pieces Left Behind

I’ve been discussing grad school’s affect on one’s personality with a friend today. We’ve been speaking in terms of the pieces of ourselves left behind as we got/get closer to a degree.

Some of this is necessary. In order to write a dissertation, some parts of your life have to shrink a little. Your interests have to narrow, at least to a certain extent.

I miss the way I sought out new cultural experiences–ethnic restaurants, Broadway shows, museums of every kind, lectures on subjects I knew little about. Now, if I don’t have to go to an event on campus, I am overjoyed to be at home.

I also miss my sense of being an efficient person, very quick to solve problem. Even efficient dissertation work is still not efficient in my old sense of it.

I can’t totally blame this next part on grad school, I think part of it has to do with getting married, too–but I miss having nearly unlimited social energy. I ate every meal with someone else, hung out with multiple people in an evening on a regular basis, and sent ridiculously long e-mails to far-away friends. If I indulge these kind of behaviors now, I don’t have much energy left for my dissertation.

Some people outside of academia complain that they’ve lost the way they used to think deeply about things, so it’s not just a matter of finding the perfect job that complements all parts of yourself.

Still, it’s useful to think about how to care for those parts of yourself that are not getting constant exercise. One thing I’ve successfully reclaimed is pleasure reading. And a few weeks ago, I went to a tap-dancing show, and while it didn’t blow my mind, it felt good to give it a try. That’s what the old me would have done.


My husband gave his brother this advice:

If you’re going to build boats for a living, don’t just do it because you think building boats would be fun. Try to build boats greener, or faster.  Have a reason to build boats.

In many ways, I think I ended up in grad school because I thought school was fun. Lately, I haven’t been finding research that fun–so I’m wondering if I really want to be a scholar.

The only thing that can sustain research, as far as I can tell, is an honest question–really wanting to find something out, having a reason for doing it.

Lately, I have been asking myself whether I really and truly want to graduate. Since I’ve been filled with self-doubt in the past week, in many ways it’s not a good moment to make a big decision. Still, I’ve been thinking about whether or not I have reasons to stay.

My questions about poetry are, in this moment, not that pressing. But I have a very good reason for writing my blog: I want to address the problem of graduate students feeling isolated, worthless, and/or unproductive. And while I don’t seen anything inherently shameful about quitting, I don’t see how I can keep writing my blog unless I continue to pursue the degree. Also, I’ve recently had a big idea for a project relating to alternate careers for doctors. While I could do this project now, I think it will be much more credible authored by a Ph.D.

These reasons are not directly related to my dissertation, but they’ve helped ease my anxiety. I really do not want to feel trapped in grad school. It’s hard enough to be here when you have reasons. If I get to the point where I don’t have any left, I’m outta here.

Identity in Grad School

Seeing yourself as more than just a graduate student is crucial–the dissertation should not be the core of your identity.

I have always been thankful for the weekly poetry slam in Austin, which allowed me a chance every week to meet people outside of academia, express myself in a non-scholarly way, and generally have a life outside school. This was particularly important my first year in graduate school, when I was single and in a new city.

Like any other kind of worker, graduate students are entitled to regular days off, a family life, and hobbies.

During our first year of grad school, one of my colleagues actually said to me, “I’m not here to make friends.”  We later became good friends, and seven years later, I can’t imagine her repeating this sentiment.

“You’re a human thing,” as the Be Good Tanyas sing. And as a human, scholarship cannot be your only priority.


brains As discussed in my previous post, I’ve had some problems with self esteem lately. This post secret card was not created by me, but it brought tears to my eyes.

I had a couple really interesting conversations with 22-year-old men yesterday that I’m still mulling over.

My brother-in-law, who works as a line cook, took a leave of absence from his undergraduate work to think about what he wants to do with his life. He took the cooking job as a way to make money in the meantime.

The way he described his job fascinated me. He explained how he knows he thinks very differently than the other people he works with, and he’s made many small changes in the kitchen to increase its efficiency. All day as he works, he thinks about how to be more efficient, how to make the food taste better, how to make it look better, how to make the jobs of everyone in the kitchen easier.

He described feeling like one part of a well-oiled machine. Every person in the restaurant has a unique skill set and unique personality that make them suited to their job. They depend on each other, but within their own stations they also have control over their own work.

What struck me in his description was that unlike graduate school, which seems to gradually tear people down, make them question their worth, and feel irrelevant and ignorant–working in the kitchen was actually building my brother-in-law up: it was making him realize his own skills and learn how he’s different from other people in a good way. He offers the workplace his gifts, and he sees their tangible effects on other people.

When I talked to my own brother later, I told him about the restaurant conversation. My brother told me that all the things my brother-in-law desribed were the exact reason he spends so many hours playing World of Warcraft. He hasn’t found another situation where he can work as part of a team, get a lot of praise for his actions, and feel confident about his unique skills.

I’ve always considered myself someone who doesn’t work well with others, who would prefer to be doing my own project. But my brother-in-law is very introverted, and he said he was suprised by how satisfying it is to be part of the kitchen.

Universities are anything but well-oiled machines. So I’m trying to figure out how to get this experience of a job that builds esteem. If you have ideas, dear readers, I’d love to hear them.