The birth of a PhD student

It’s been almost a year to the day since I uprooted my life and moved to the Midwest for grad school. It’s been a grueling, wonderful, painful, freeing year. I needed this change, even during the parts where I wished I had stayed back home. Especially then. If I’d stayed, I’d still be working a soul-crushing job with miserable coworkers, growing more and more bitter each passing day, as I marked the years until retirement.

Leaving that job was easy. Leaving home, on the other hand, was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But growth doesn’t happen in the comfortable places in our lives, and I wouldn’t become who I’m meant to be if I’d stayed.

I still don’t know who that person is, that I’m going to grow into. I just feel that my time here is going to shape and change me in ways I would not have even dreamed of. It already has.

This past year, I’ve realized that I’m terrible at making decisions for myself, almost always deferring to the opinions and advice of others. I have low self-esteem, I don’t trust myself, I’m not great at communicating, and I’m prone to bouts of depression and loneliness.

Going through this PhD program has opened my eyes to these things, and even after the first year, it’s challenging me to change them. One of these days, I’m going to have to take ownership of my research project, deciding on the direction it’s going to take and carrying out the experiments. I’m going to get up in front of crowds of people and tell them about my science. I’m going to have to be confident enough in my choices and knowledge to defend my science to other experts.

I’m not there yet, but I will be.

It won’t be easy. It won’t be painless. But it will probably be the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.

I finished reading LAB GIRL by Hope Jahren today. It’s a brutally honest look into the world and career I’m getting myself into, but, like Jahren, I can’t imagine any other life. I might not have her stamina and reckless drive, but I’m willing to do what it takes to reach my goals, just the same as her. I’m glad this book found me at this particular moment. I’m glad I have Jahren’s voice, the voice of a woman who succeeded in carving out a place for herself in biology, to listen to when things get hard. She knows. She’s been through it all.

I love science. I love learning. I love passing on knowledge to others.

I need to hold onto those things, even when research gets hard and I think about quitting. My dream of teaching college will only have the change at being realized if I don’t give up. I need to learn how to push past my self-doubt, how to ignore the little voice in my head saying I can’t do it. It’s so easy to get bogged down when things aren’t going well. I need to learn how to pick myself back up over and over and over, even when it seems impossible.

This past year has flown by, but I’m grateful for every moment of it. Even the not-so-great ones. And I’m looking forward to another year of more growth, no matter how painful.

I can do this.

I will do this.

 

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Recent Reads

It’s summertime, and that means plenty of time for me to read without feeling guilty! Homework is a thing of the past (until September), so I’m enjoying the time to read for fun.

I’ve been reading a blend of new things and old favorites, and it’s been wonderful revisiting loved places and discovering new ones.

What are you all reading this summer? I’m always looking for new recommendations!

Recent Favorites:
STRANGE GRACE by Tessa Gratton
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This book tugged at my heart in all the right ways. It’s beautifully gruesome in the way only Gratton can write, and I loved every agonizing second of it. The most surprising thing about this book was the polyamorous triad that was so well done, I couldn’t see any of the characters without the others. Highly recommend this gorgeous book.

 

 

 

TECHNICALLY YOU STARTED IT by Lana Wood Johnson
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Full disclosure: I helped beta this book when it was still under construction, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. But even that hadn’t been the case, this is a fun, light read for the summer and it comes out tomorrow! It’s another beautifully queer book with both main characters discovering themselves and each other, and I just love these nerds so much.

 

 

Books That Missed The Mark:
THESE WITCHES DON’T BURN by Isabel Sterling
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I wanted to like this. I really did. Queer witches is usually a fierce SIGN ME UP, but the first 1/3 of this gave me anxiety because the adults refused to listen to the teens and the middle 1/3 was pretty forgettable. It was only in the last 1/3 that the book picked up and left me wanting more. (Which is good because this is the first book in a series, and ends on a cliff-hanger!) The queer rep in this was awesome, and I enjoyed the casual diversity in this. (Ex/ non-plot-advancing description of a little girl on the street with two dads!) Overall, not a successful book for me, but mostly due to personal preferences.

DISAPPEARANCE AT DEVIL’S ROCK by Paul Tremblay
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I was expecting paranormal horror, and I got some weird “maybe it is, maybe it isn’t” horror instead. If I hadn’t been expecting something different, maybe I’d feel differently. But I was looking for some creepy devil action, and all I got was the horrors that humans inflict on one another instead. Which is much more frightening, but not what I wanted when I picked this book up.

 

 

Book In Progress:
THE LUMINOUS DEAD by Caitlyn Starling
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I. LOVE. THIS. BOOK. I’m halfway through, and I’m enjoying every terrifying second of this book. It hits on a bunch of things I love: caves, horror, and character-driven sci-fi. Wonderfully written, engaging, and suspenseful. Highly, highly recommend you don’t miss out on this one.

 

Interview–Lana Wood Johnson

Hi everyone! I’m super excited to welcome author Lana Wood Johnson to my blog today! Her debut YA book, TECHNICALLY YOU STARTED IT, comes out June 25th from Scholastic.

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When a guy named Martin Nathaniel Munroe II texts you, it should be obvious who you’re talking to. Except there’s two of them (it’s a long story), and Haley thinks she’s talking to the one she doesn’t hate.

A question about a class project rapidly evolves into an all-consuming conversation. Haley finds that Martin is actually willing to listen to her weird facts and unusual obsessions, and Martin feels like Haley is the first person to really see who he is. Haley and Martin might be too awkward to hang out in real life, but over text, they’re becoming addicted to each other.

There’s just one problem: Haley doesn’t know who Martin is. And Martin doesn’t know that Haley doesn’t know. But they better figure it out fast before their meet-cute becomes an epic meet-disaster


Hi Lana! Thanks for joining me on the blog today. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m Lana and I’m a giant nerd! People sometimes don’t entirely get how deep it goes when I say it, but I’ve got the cred: my first memory is Star Wars A New Hope in theaters, I met my best friend 24 years ago in an online roleplaying game, and I initially flirted with my husband by shouting a meme at him in the year 2000.

Wow, your nerd cred is impressive! Your debut novel, TECHNICALLY YOU STARTED IT, comes out this summer. Can you tell us a bit about the project?

Haley and Martin are also just as nerdy in their own way as I am, (although Martin’s a bit cooler than either of us.) Told entirely through their text messages, it’s Haley’s story of falling in love with someone whose physical body she doesn’t really recognize but who she knows better than anyone else around her.

What inspired you to write this story?

After a hefty round of full rejections on my second book, I found myself volunteering on a crisis line for a local youth shelter. That’s where I discovered my skill of connecting with people via text messages is actually kind of special. I realized that like the youth I was talking to, I used the internet to connect with people and I decided to channel that into a story.

Very cool! In addition to the nerdiness, this book is also really queer. I’m super excited to see it hit mainstream shelves. Can you tell us a little about those themes and what you’re hoping people will take away from them?

My biggest hope is that people will take away that even though it’s m/f it’s two queer characters connecting in their own ways. And while it’s not about their identity, and the coming out they do is incidental and contextual to the situations, the story wouldn’t be remotely the same if they were straight characters.

As I started revising, I realized how important it was to me that the story stay in their text messages. By keeping it there, it made Haley’s perspective on the relationship the center and I realized showed better what it was like to fall in love with the person inside the skin.

What media (books, movies, podcasts, etc) are you enjoying right now?

I’ve just started drafting again which means my tendency is to go back to old, familiar stories. That said, I just discovered My Favorite Murder and as the completionist I am, I’m working my way through their archives. There’s a LOT of archives tho!

Any favorite writing snacks or drinks?

I don’t need anything to write, but I love writing at a fancy bakery nearby my house. They have miel lattes which is made with honey and the FANCIEST pastries. I think one of their bakers also watches Great British Bake Off so I get to taste some of the weird things they make on the show. That’s where I first had a kougin amann which is an excellent writing food.

That sounds delicious, and I’m hungry now. That’s a good place to leave this conversation. In closing, where can people find you online?

I am on Twitter and Instagram, and on my website.


TECHNICALLY YOU STARTED IT will be released on June 25th. You can preorder it from Indiebound, Barnes and Noble, Target, or Book Depository!


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Lana Wood Johnson was born and raised in Iowa in the time before the internet but has spent the rest of her life making up for that. After years working in wireless communication for companies of all sizes, she now works doing the same for a local youth shelter. Lana lives in Minnesota with her husband and their English bulldog. TECHNICALLY, YOU STARTED IT is her debut novel.

 

World Poetry Day

Happy World Poetry Day!! I don’t usually share my poetry, but I thought that in honor of today, I’d share a poem I wrote a few years ago. I’m not the world’s best poet, though, so please be kind.

What are some of your favorite poems?


Moving On Is Not Forgetting (2013)

Your pictures are hidden deep under floorboards in the attic
buried under seasons of clutter and dust
lying unseen and half-remembered in the darkness.
I need no photos to remember your laughter like rolling waves
and yet I struggle to trace your lips in the sand.

How strange it is to have memories
of a different kind of warmth beside me as I sleep.
Not the gentle ember
of the man who lies there now,
but raging forest fires and the dying hearts of stars.

I smell you in the ocean air at daybreak,
I hear your voice on the breeze at twilight,
I feel your hand in mine as we walk the darkened dunes at midnight.
But these are only in my dreams
and in the morning I sigh, wistful, and avoid questioning eyes.

He knows of you,
the one who stepped into your place in my life
but not in my heart.
He does not mention you, though,
as if the mere utterance of your name would be enough to resurrect your soul.

But I know better than he does
that I do not need your physical presence
to feel you all around me,
but I love him deeply in my own way.
He’ll never replace you, and he keeps the darkness at bay.

Dating by the Book — Review

71im--6M06LIs love just something you find in books?

Six months ago, writer and bookstore owner Maddie Hanson was left at the altar. Since then, she’s had zero interest in romance—despite the fact that she runs a book club full of sexy eligible bachelors. But when her latest novel is panned by an anonymous blogger who goes by the name Silver Fox—and who accuses her of knowing nothing about passion—she decides to prove her nemesis wrong by seeking a romance hero in real life…
 
There’s the smoldering rock musician, the bookish college professor, and her competitive childhood friend who may want to steal her bookstore more than her heart. Even Silver Fox is getting in on the action, sending Maddie alarmingly—and intoxicatingly—flirtatious emails. And that’s not all. Her ex wants her back.
 
Now Maddie is about to discover that like any good story, life has twists and turns, and love can happen when you least expect it—with the person you least expect…


I’m not usually one for enjoying romance novels (*waves in asexual*) but when I heard the synopsis of DATING BY THE BOOK, and the author put out a call for reviewers, I wanted to get in on the fun. I received an ARC several months later in a hot pink polka dot envelope, and I knew I’d made a good decision.

The main character was real and I identified with her living life with her head in the clouds and her nose in a book. I really enjoyed her character arc from expecting people to behave like book characters to really seeing the reality of what was in front of her. Her growth and self-actualization were great to see. I never identify with the sexual pining in romance novels (and is often why I don’t quite enjoy them), but there was enough other plot going on that the pining was sort of secondary, which I appreciated.

One major thing that was really jarring was the subplot regarding the online book reviewer whom Maddie (as a debut author) writes a scathing email to while drunk after the reviewer only gave her 3 stars. It’s quite taboo in real life for authors to respond to reviewers, especially after a real-life author stalked and confronted a reviewer at her home after a bad review. The beginning of DATING BY THE BOOK made me deeply uncomfortable because of how badly this plays out in real life, so I had to keep telling myself that this is fiction (and romance at that!) so everything was going to turn out okay. And it did. But if you’re sensitive to this type of situation, you may want to skip this particular book.

Overall, this was a fun story with characters I enjoyed. I will definitely be picking up Mary Ann Marlow’s other books!


DATING BY THE BOOK will be out June 25. You can pre-order it here!

Shameless: A Sexual Reformation– Review

This post is going to contain discussions about sex, Christianity, and asexuality. If none of these interest you, that’s okay. Just wanted to be upfront.


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When I heard that Nadia Bolz-Weber was writing a new book, I was really excited. I loved her first two, PASTRIX and ACCIDENTAL SAINTS, so I knew that her next one would probably be just as powerful. SHAMELESS takes a hard look at the church’s teachings surrounding sexuality, gender, and the role sex should have in Christians’ lives. Bolz-Weber’s anger at the harm done by these teachings is palpable throughout the book, and she offers the start to a much-needed conversation around changing how Christians talk about and teach sex.

It’s a powerful book with a powerful message, and I hope it reaches the folks who need to hear Bolz-Weber’s loving words the most (mainly allosexual people who were raised in evangelical churches). The book isn’t prescriptive, and doesn’t offer any lifehacks for becoming more comfortable in one’s own sexuality, but it does offer the beauty and love of being seen not only by a Christian minister, but also by God who, as Bolz-Weber reminds us, doesn’t make mistakes. Bolz-Weber does a great job of grounding sexuality and spirituality in the human body, not just as airy concepts one might aspire to, and she also constantly comes back to the idea that God made humans this way. That sex isn’t a moral act any more than shopping or eating are (and that all can be used for pleasure or for harm, depending on the situation).

As I noted above, though, the book read to me like it was written for allosexuals in mind. While Bolz-Weber acknowledges that asexual people exist, she doesn’t seem to know what to do with us, or really, to understand what asexuality is. There’s a footnote on page 143 that says:

“…Some people are truly asexual, in that they do not have a desire for genital contact, and yet they are still sexually embodied people who can and do experience pleasure and connection in other ways…”

So, she’s essentially equating asexuality with the act of sex as many people do, and which is completely and utterly incorrect. In addition, she equates sex with universal human experience in several places in the book, which also shows a lack of understanding of asexuality and an exclusion of asexual folks.

(I’m also not sure what the whole “asexual people are still sexually embodied” means, so if you have some insight into that, I’m very interested in hearing your thoughts.)

The church has and continues to harm asexual people in addition to other queer and generally non-Church-sanctioned Christian people, and I wish that Bolz-Weber had recognized that in a more nuanced way. She does say in the opening to the book that she can’t cover every scenario within its pages, but she could have at least gotten the fundamental definition of asexuality correct (which always stings, especially when coming from someone who seems to be open, understanding, accepting, and kind.)

Overall, though, I really enjoyed the book, and I hope that it will help open up a long-overdue conversation about the Church’s relationship to sex. I didn’t see this work as the final word, but rather an invitation to talk.

Cover Reveal: Anyone but You

I am incredibly excited to help reveal the cover for Chelsea M. Cameron’s newest book ANYONE BUT YOU!

Without further ado:

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About the book: Things are going great for Sutton Kay, or at least they were. Her yoga studio is doing well, she’s living with her best friend, and she just got two kittens named Mocha and Cappuccino. Sure, she doesn’t have a girlfriend, but her life is full and busy.

Then her building is sold and the new landlord turns out to be the woman putting in a gym downstairs who doesn’t seem to understand the concepts “courtesy” and “don’t be rude to your tenants.” Sutton can’t get a read on Tuesday Grímsdóttir, but she can appreciate her muscles. Seriously, Tuesday is ripped. Not that that has anything to do with anything since she’s too surly to have a conversation with, and won’t stop pissing Sutton off.

Sutton’s life gets interesting after she dares Tuesday to make it through one yoga class, and then Tuesday gives Sutton the same dare. Soon enough they’re spending time working out together and when the sweat starts flowing, the sparks start flying. How is it possible to be so attracted to a person you can barely stand?

But when someone from Tuesday’s past shows up and Sutton sees a whole new side of Tuesday, will she change her mind about her grumpy landlord? Can she?


Are you excited yet? I know I am!

I don’t know how I’m going to wait until March 19th to read it! In the meantime, we can console ourselves by adding it on Goodreads.

And if the blurb wasn’t enough to peak your interest, here’s a sneak-peak!


“You’re attracted to her.” I made a sputtering noise like a car trying to start in the winter before I was able to formulate any words.

“I am not!” I said and my voice squeaked on the last word.

Zee cackled and scared the kittens, which were on the floor rolling around with some new toys that had come.

“You totally are. I mean, I read between the lines and figured out she was hot, but your little obsession with her is telling me that she’s really hot.” I pressed my lips together because I didn’t want to say anything that might incriminate myself and lead Zee to think their theory was something that it wasn’t.

Okay, fine. Tuesday was stunning. Gorgeous. Hot. Sexy. All of those. But that didn’t mean anything. I saw hot people all the time; I ran a yoga studio. Her attractiveness had nothing to do with anything.

“Ohhhh, this is very interesting,” Zee said, stroking their chin and staring at me as I glared back.

“Stop it,” I said, pointing my finger in their face. “Stop it right now.” They laughed and shook their head.

“No way. She’s mean and hot, which is a deadly combination. You’d better be careful. Pretty soon she’s going to ask you to ‘help paint’ and there will be no brushes or paint involved. Unless she’s into that kind of thing.” I stood up from the couch.

“I’m leaving right now unless you stop talking about this immediately. And I’m taking the babies with me.” I scooped up both kittens and held them to my chest as they wiggled, angry I’d taken them away from their new shiny toys.

“No, don’t leave,” Zee said, falling horizontal on the couch and reaching for me dramatically. “Come backkkkkk.”

I turned on my heel and pretended to flounce, whipping my hair around.

“Come back and I’ll let you have the rest of the ice cream,” they said. That did it. I went back and dropped the kittens in her lap. They made cooing noises at them and gave them kisses as they meowed.


About the Author:

Chelsea M. Cameron is a New York Times/USA Today/Internationally Best-selling author from Maine who now lives and works in Boston. She’s a red velvet cake enthusiast, obsessive tea drinker, vegetarian, former cheerleader, and world’s worst video gamer. When not writing, she enjoys watching infomercials, getting brunch with her partner, tweeting, and playing fetch with her cat, Sassenach. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Maine, Orono that she promptly abandoned to write about the people in her own head. More often than not, these people turn out to be just as weird as she is.

Where you can find the author: Twitter    Facebook   Instagram   Patreon   Website