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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Guest Post-Ceillie Simkiss

LearningCurves

Hey everyone, I’m really excited to welcome Ceillie Simkiss to my blog today! Her new novella LEARNING CURVES is available for pre-order now and will be released on August 16.

Keep reading for a guest post where Ceillie talks about her inspiration for the novella!


LearningCurvesCoverElena Mendez has always been career-first; with only two semesters of law school to go, her dream of working as a family lawyer for children is finally within reach. She can’t afford distractions. She doesn’t have time for love.

And she has no idea how much her life will change, the day she lends her notes to Cora McLaughlin.

A freelance writer and MBA student, Cora is just as career-driven as Elena. But over weeks in the library together, they discover that as strong as they are apart, they’re stronger together. Through snowstorms and stolen moments, through loneliness and companionship, the two learn they can weather anything as long as they have each other–even a surprise visit from Elena’s family.

From solitude to sweetness, there’s nothing like falling in love. College may be strict…but when it comes to love, Cora and Elena are ahead of the learning curve.


INSPIRATION FOR LEARNING CURVES
BY CEILLIE SIMKISS

My first burst of inspiration for Learning Curves came from the place that almost all of my best ideas came from: my dreams.

I regularly have absolutely ridiculous dreams, from murders to romances to entirely implausible science fiction. Once, I dreamed that my dad decided to run for President, and I got so mad because he would be a terrible President. In the dream, I was so upset I decided to run against him and hold a press conference on our front porch. I never learned how that election turned out, but it couldn’t have been any worse than 2016’s.

This dream was a little bit different. I dreamed about a girl driving from Chatham, Virginia to Greensboro, North Carolina, and talking to her girlfriend the whole way there about the new family member she’d discovered she had, and the store she’d inherited. I woke up with a pretty good handle on who Elena and Cora were, what they looked like, all of that, and started writing it.

Now, even if you’ve read learning curves, you won’t know anything about what I’m talking about with that dream. See, I started writing the story that became Learning Curves in October 2016, but it was a novel that I lovingly called “The Gift”.

About midway through the month of working on it, I wanted to write a flashback scene of when Elena and Cora met. And then one thing led to another, and instead of finishing the novel that I had intended to write, I wound up with a mostly finished draft of Learning Curves by July.

I still haven’t finished that novel, and now that I’ve written Learning Curves, I’d have to rewrite probably two thirds of the 15,000 words that I had written. It turned into something completely different, and I love it for what it is.

The other two pieces of main inspiration for this story were my friend Taylor, and my family. Taylor graduated with her Master’s degree in Social Work from NC A&T this spring, and I’m incredibly proud of her for all the work she put into getting there. I knew full well that if I had ever tried to get my Masters in social work, I would’ve flunked out after the first internship.

Much like Elena turned out in the book, I get way too attached way too easily to be an effective social worker, and that’s okay. But I built on that knowledge that there were other ways to help kids that are just as important as social work is to get Elena to where she was.

And of course, I would not be anywhere near the same person if I had a different family. My family is a lot like Elena’s, except the extended family tends to be much less accepting of anyone other than themselves. My mom is one of nine kids, and I have so many cousins that I lost count around 20. Until a few years ago, all of my maternal family lived within a 3 hour radius of my grandmothers house. I grew up at my grandparents’ kitchen table surrounded by people and noise and joy. I wanted to share that joy with Elena, but also allow her to have the supportive extended family that I wish I had.

All of that put together help me create Learning Curves. I’m incredibly proud of the novella that I’ve put into the world. I hope that you will love all of these pieces that I have cobbled together into the happy, fluffy romance that is Learning Curves.


IMG_1705Ceillie Simkiss is a queer writer of all stripes based in southern Virginia. She is also a blogger, public relations professional, and freelance writer. She has bylines at sites like Culturess, Global Comment, and Let’s Fox About It, in addition to her self-published novella Learning Curves

She started writing fiction as an escape from her day job as a small town journalist, and has been at it ever since, with the support of her partner, her dog and her cats.

If it’s safe, say yes

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The view from Devil’s Den, Gettysburg

Ghosts. Spirits. Hauntings. Whether you’re a skeptic or believer, you probably have some strong opinions on the subject, but I’m not here to convince you of anything. I’m just going to relate a story.

When I was in college, my dorm suite was haunted. Other people might have explained it away, but my roommates and I believed that the creepy things that were happening weren’t caused by living humans. We believed so much we had my friend’s father, who is a Russian Orthodox bishop, come to the school and bless our suite. After that, the activity stopped and that just solidified my belief.

I spent this last weekend in Gettysburg, PA at a paranormal conference organized by a company called Strange Escapes. It was a weekend full of ghosts and theories, battlefields and talks, and wonderful camaraderie. It was soul-filling in a strange way and I got to see my writing friend, Christie, which just made the weekend even better.

The most eye-opening talk for me was given by John Tenney. I’ve been mulling over two things he said since Sunday.

The first was that he doesn’t like the word “paranormal” because these experiences are shared by so many people that they are more normal than not, but most people talk about them in whispers. This was mostly just an interesting tidbit that slightly realigned how I see things.

The second he said was that if someone asks you to do something crazy, and it’s safe, always say yes. And he proceeded to tell us amazing stories of things people have asked him to come see.

My life has been pretty routine lately. Work sleep work sleep ad nauseum. I haven’t been saying “yes” to many things lately. Maybe this one line spoken from the front of a crowded lecture room in amongst the weird ghostly happenings of the weekend, is the thing I needed to take away from this conference. I need to hang on to the sentiment and learn how to say “yes” more.

I’m back in the “real world” now and it’s a little jarring. There’s a definite lack of magic in the way I carry out the humdrum of my daily life and this conference really showed me how unacceptable that is.

I want to live a weird, wacky, amazing life. And acknowledging that is the first step, so I think I’m on the right path.

I’ll write more about the actual conference at some point, but this has been what I’ve been thinking about since I left yesterday.

Writing Spaces

Recently, my friend and I, being the nosy people we are, attended an open house at a historic home for sale in our town. There was a room in that house that would make the perfect writing room.

I managed to snap a crappy picture of it with my phone.

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The room was bright and airy, looking out on the well-kept garden. It was a soothing place and left me wishing I had $180k and the desire to settle down.

Currently, I write slouched down on my couch amidst the clutter I haven’t picked up in weeks. This beautiful, decluttered room makes me long for a dedicated writing room.

Where do you like to write?

Inspiration–Writing Workshop Sunday

One of the most common questions writers are asked is “where do you find the inspiration for your stories?” Personally, I find this question difficult to answer because inspiration can come from anywhere.

My first book is based on a weird dream I had. The dream swirled around my mind for a few weeks before I decided to write it down. A few words turned into a few pages and before I knew it, I had a novel.

My second book’s storyline is not so clear-cut in its origins. Several separate ideas percolated in my mind for months before a coherent plot emerged from the individual parts. In this case, I can’t point to one event, like my dream, that led to being inspired.

I do know, however, that I draw heavily on my life for inspiration to write. This is especially true when I write poetry but also holds true for some of the characters who show up in the fictional stories I write. And, unfortunately, that inspiration is sometimes born from being treated poorly by people I interact with.

As Anne Lamott said: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. IF people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” This quote is a favorite of mine. I really need to print it out and hang it above my desk to remind me that it’s not my responsibility to censor my writing based on other people’s feelings. If I have something to say, especially since I write fiction and people would be hard-pressed to find the real-life inspiration, I should not feel bad about saying it.

It’s not my fault if people treat me in such a way that the inspiration I draw from them is less than flattering. And I will never feel bad about incorporating the ideas they give me into my writing.