I Love College

I have a clear memory of starting college and feeling as if I had been waiting my whole life for that experience. My first night in the dorms was specifically memorable because I had a near death experience. I went to college in Madison, Wisconsin and there is a sizable homeless population there. The homeless people are known in the community and at times are not so happy with the college population. Our first night of college we had left piles of boxes outside the dorm and it is unclear if it was on purpose (hopefully not) or maybe just a stray cigarette, but all of the sudden there was a small fire that spread to the dorm. In my first night in my dorm I woke up to my new friend down the hall opening our door and telling my roommate and I, “You have to get up! There is a fire.” Then we realized that an alarm had been going off (I think in our sleep we tried to ignore it initially and hoped it would go away). We all ran to the stairs in our PJs and slippers and could already smell the smoke (even though we were ten floors up). I remember trailing behind someone and just hoping as we made it down a level that we weren’t going to encounter the fire on the next stairwell. We made it out safely and all stood outside laughing to ourselves (and maybe half searching for some adult supervision that was not there). However, the scars of that night have stayed with me as I always think I can smell smoke and don’t like living in an apartment on the top floor. That is the thing about college, even though its not your most “formative years” developmentally, my college years had probably the biggest influence on who I am today.

I am thinking about college so frequently because I basically live in it everyday. For the past few years while getting my master’s and now getting my PhD, I have taught yoga to undergraduates and been a teaching assistant in undergraduate political science courses. On the first day of class when I sit in the lecture waiting for the professor to arrive I like to think to that I blend in and that they can’t tell I am the teaching assistant. I enjoy eavesdropping to their conversations and wondering what I would be thinking and feeling in their position when I was in college. From the outside these students seem so much more knowledgeable and self-confident than I was in college.

Part of me still feels like a college student, from that excitement for learning, doubt about one’s path, the desire to succeed mixed with insecurity, and the earnestness. When my young girl students come talk to me about classes or want my advice on career path I see myself in their questions and hope to guide or inspire them in some way. When I teach undergraduate students about international relations, I call on the quieter ones and force them to share their opinion or encourage the type A over-achievers to relax a bit. It is like talking to past versions of myself, but at the same time I realize that I am no longer that person. I now somehow the person these students ask for advice and who potentially looks from the outside like I have it together.

Recently, a professor I had in college came to speak at my grad school. When I took his class I remember I sat in the front row and never said a word. I think I once forced myself to attend his office hours, but neither of us really knew why I was there (now I am an office hours pros always coming with questions and knowing how to guide the conversation). I sat in the first row listening to his talk and tried to take myself back to being that 20-year old girl in his class at college and never knowing I would end up in a PhD program studying what he was talking about. I remember one time after his class I told a friend his career path looked appealing and that maybe I should be a professor and he said, “Well it’s really hard…” At the time I accepted this and thought that meant I couldn’t do it.

After this talk at my grad school I purchased his book and dutifully stood in line feeling to get it signed, feeling more confident and adult than last time I saw him speak. He gave me a look of recognition and when I shook his hand I told him I was in his class he said he knew I looked familiar. He seemed delighted that now I was in grad school pursuing my PhD. I left feeling as if I had won some sort of award. I am not sure why it meant so much for me to be recognized. I think I had felt I was invisible in classes in college, even though the classes had an enormous impact on my life. I also realized that this professor’s excitement at seeing how I had progressed after his class was the same gratification I feel after advising a student.

At times it is hard being on college campus all the time and feeling so on the outside of things. There are days when I look at the students and think how lucky they are to be in the midst of what was such an exciting time for me. Is my desire to be a college professor a form of Peter Pan syndrome? Is it just that I never want to leave the place that made me so happy – where for the first time I felt excited to learn, where I could learn whatever I wanted, and had the independence and freedom I was ready for since I was 10 years old? Hopefully it is the better alternative and I am just hoping that after taking my class, some young girl, who isn’t quite sure of herself and thinks it might be too hard to be a professor, takes the risk.



Graduating college…(the first of many graduations)

*Not what I am writing about, but always thought this was a catchy song.


Zumba is my new anti-depressant  

Lately I have been in a bit of a funk. I have battled with bouts of depression since college and while I am not feeling as bad as I have during those other periods I have been feeling down a lot and lonely. I think this is a December thing for me. I already wrote about how I often get a case of the shoulds during this time, but December is also a time of transition which tend to be tough for me. December was frequently a tough and boring time for me as a Jewish kid in the suburbs whose friends were celebrating Christmas. I was often bored at home imaging what Christmas must feel like. At least that part is now over since I get to celebrate Christmas with Shaun’s family!

As a perpetual student December is also a time of breaks and transitions. In the past my transition has been pretty clear though, transitioning to a new semester, and being able to count how many semesters I have left. Now I am still a little fuzzy on what my career will look like in the near future. This is a bad recipe for me – unstructured time, alone, with lots of questions about my future, during a transition.

I have always known exercise could help with my mood, but I think I found a mood booster that is more than just exercise. Some sort of happiness blog or column I read recently suggested trying new things that you might not be good at. In this spirit, I decided today to try out my first Zumba class. I have actively resisted Zumba classes for years and have been unable to avoid picturing what I would look like in the class. I took jazz and ballet as a kid, but my mom said I didn’t quite have rhythm and she would occasionally have to stifle laughter while watching me. I am also a huge klutz so that also did not make me feel confident in my potential Zumba skills. When I texted a friend saying I was going to the class she said, “I would pay someone a lot of money to be a fly on the wall for that.” All this in my mind, I decided to try out a Zumba class at my gym where I don’t know any other members and felt anonymous. Even if I was embarrassingly terrible I would probably never see anyone in the class again.

When I showed up there were four other women in the room all over the age of forty and with seemingly little Latin dance expertise. I told the woman next to me I was a first-timer and I was nervous and she assured me to just “keep moving” and I would be fine. When the adorable Latina instructor came in with her sparkly white high tops I felt even more nervous. She also did not seem to plan to give many instructors since she blasted music and had no headpiece speaker to guide the class. She starts signaling with her hands to start.

I started the class timid and would not take my eyes off the instructor.  I worried that if I looked away suddenly the class would be spinning in one direction and I would be jumping up and down. This also had the added benefit of avoiding watching myself in the mirror. I started out nervous and rigid in the moves, trying to treat it like a science, move hip left like instructor. I would not shimmy matching the instructor because I was not sure if this was “part of the sequence.”

After twenty minutes I realized I could just forget trying to look like the instructor and could just move my own way to the music. I started moving my hips and actually dancing along to the music. I was probably jumping up and down like a crazy person, but when I got sight of myself in the mirror instead of being embarrassed I just smiled. This was fun! I would scan the room and see that no one else was that good and maybe I could actually be okay at this. By the end of the class I was shaking my hips, shimmying and adding in my own flair to the sequence. I even got distracted near the end planning whether I should start taking salsa dance classes and perhaps this was my real calling. Or maybe it was just that I should have done dance classes as a young child that were exclusively with middle age women who were not concerned about looking cool and just wanted to get their work out in.

From what I know about many Latin cultures, dancing is a big part of the culture, and maybe many Latin people are so good at moving their hips because they have been socialized to just try it out and let go. During class I felt that that people in many cultures in the US have been deprived of this joy. Why shouldn’t I dance more and move my hips even if I don’t look quite cool yet? Maybe eventually I will (wishful thinking), but even if I don’t there is something powerfully cathartic to just moving and having fun. We can’t all be Shakira, but why shouldn’t we all get to give it a shot? You won’t know if your “hips don’t lie,” if you never try. If you end up looking like an idiot (or Elaine from Seinfeld) at least you got some endorphins flowing, listened to good music, and smiled.


Sick Days

Today I am “taking a sick day” (or since I am on school break and work on my own timetable maybe I should just call it a “do nothing day”) and recovering from a stomach bug. It wasn’t the worst stomach bug I have had, but I was pretty miserable last night and now am trying to rest and drink fluids. Its 1:45pm and I have already finished one movie. I am starting to feel better as the day goes on and starting to feel my usual guilt about spending the day on the couch not doing anything “productive” (even if that means going to the grocery store).

I had so much guilt when I was younger about everything. I always was in fear of breaking some moral code. When I didn’t feel well I would agonize over whether I should go to school and if I was really “sick enough” to stay home. I was worried that what if I started feeling better everyone would think I had been faking. Meanwhile, my parents or school authorities knew me pretty well and never thought this, but I still felt like it was violating some moral code to take a sick day if you weren’t deathly ill.  I think this was also tied to the fact that in order to feel like I was taking a sick day I couldn’t have any pleasure and should be miserable the whole day.

I have no idea where this feeling came from and I was surprised to realize it has still stuck with me. I feel wary of being taken care of because I expect the person taking care of me to to say, “oh come on you are fine.” For some reason thinking that I only can be taken care of when I am in the worst situation. Forgetting that I am happy to take care of the people I love and they are happy to take care of me – in all levels of “severity”.  In line with my idea of being content. I am trying my absolute best to just be. I can feel happy I am feeling better and not worried that I am overreacting by laying on the couch all day. Furthermore, it is quite amazing that I am sick at a time when I have no pressing obligations and can lean into it.

Some people advocate for taking sick days every once in awhile to let your body just rest and recover from life. Maybe my body would rest, but I would really have to work on getting my mind to shut up. Some parts of my uncomfortableness with taking a sick day result from the fact that I think I should spend all my time doing something productive. Despite the fact that I do know there is value in just resting and reading a book. The other part of my difficulty with taking a sick day is that I function by routines and plans. When my plans change I often feel out of sorts. Again, something else I know I need to work on because I have learned that no matter how amazing I am at planning, there are too many things I can’t control.

I am going to look at taking a sick day as practice for me and part of my process of growth. Maybe I keep coming down with bugs because I need to figure out how to slow down and learn how to rest and relax (either that or my weak stomach). And if I am really all about following directions, guilt was not part of the doctor’s recommendations.


Here is little Phoebe in her business woman outfit who was very concerned when she took sick days


My power phrase

In yoga teacher training we all had to come up with our “power word/phrase.” It was supposed to keep us motivated and focused. We would repeat it constantly and often yell it out (it seems weirder describing than it did to do it). In yoga teacher training my word was “growth” and I really did embody that idea throughout the process (even if it meant accidentally basting myself with toasted sesame oil). I might have grown throughout the process without me yelling the word in a circle at my fellow trainees, but perhaps staying focused on it helped the growth process.

My phrase for the past six months that I continue to try to focus on when I feel anxious or down is “be content.” I wrote it on the whiteboard in my office and try to keep reminding myself of it. I need this reminder because I hear my thought process and often feel like I am personifying the phrase that the “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” When I was so busy in the fall studying for my comprehensive exams for my PhD program I dreamed of being done with my exams and “free.” Now that I am “free” I feel like I am floating in the program and don’t know what I should be doing. I know this is not how I want to live my life, but I am working on breaking the cycle.

The idea of being content does not mean that I need to always be happy. It is the goal of being okay with what I am doing in a particular moment. This is in contrast to the feeling that I should be doing a certain thing at a certain time. Even when I am trying to take a break for a week (like this upcoming Christmas break) I think about what that should look like and try to plan it out. Then when it doesn’t meet expectations because for example I remember I hate DIY projects and crafts (as mentioned in my last post) or I am really not able to focus on reading that non-fiction book that I “should” read, I feel disappointed.

The times I especially need to work on being content are in moments of stillness or unstructured time.  I occasionally experience FOMO (fear of missing out) when I am not a part of certain social events (either by choice or circumstances) but my issue is mainly “Fear of the Shoulds” (#FOTS?).  If everyone is at holiday parties and busy this week, should I be doing those things? If everyone is studying for finals should I be busy doing school work even though I don’t have finals (luckily)? It is unclear how everyone can both be at parties and in finals, but rationality easily gets lost in the should.

My mom has always told me to take should out of my vocabulary. What if I didn’t even let my brain go there? It is in line with the idea that sometimes the more options you have the worse off you are. I could reduce my options by not thinking about what everyone else is doing or what I envisioned I would be doing and just be present in what I am actually doing in that moment.

I am currently blogging on a Tuesday night, while some friends are at holiday parties, other friends are studying for finals, and other friends are finishing at their jobs. I am doing my best to not judge which options or better or worse or what I am used to and feel okay with blogging away. Anyway, I should stick to my goal of blogging more regularly anyway…

Creativity is so in

Creativity is so iLately, everything I read and listen to discusses the benefits of creativity. Maybe it is self-selection and I am just absorbing podcasts, books, and articles about the topic, but I think there is something in the air.

I don’t know if I would describe myself as a creative person. I am not very good at art although I would very much like to be. I get frustrated doing any sort of artistic DIY project and have given up slash half-heartedly attempted knitting, scrapbooking, and all the other trendy artistic related hobbies people say will benefit your life. I also stopped playing guitar which is one that still bothers me.

Although I am not artistically or musically creative I am beginning to broaden my definition of what creativity looks like. I was certainly a creative child, not the artistic kind, but in the sense that all my childhood memories involved some type of imagining. My mom used to say that I sounded so convincing talking to my imaginary friends when we would drive somewhere that occasionally she would look back in the car to confirm there was no one there. I had imaginary friends, worlds, and detailed plot lines. I used to sit in the wardrobe in my room and convince myself that it felt cold and I was going to be able to walk into Narnia. I talked to a magnolia tree in our backyard (likely due to lack of friends) and would sit on the big branch singing and talking to the buds.

As I got older my imagination had to invent new ways to keep busy (since it was no longer acceptable to talk to magnolia trees) so it got busy imagining drastic situations occurring that had no basis in reality. This was problematic because my imagination is so convincing it was easy to forget that it was inventing its own stories about the future. In an effort to keep that imaginative child alive and keep my adult imagination busy on positive things I am determined to try out this whole “creative lifestyle.”

Writing has always been my creative outlet. I remember when I was around ten I wrote stories about this character Izzy and her large family. I feel happy thinking about how much I loved it. I have also always loved writing letters and emails. One of my favorite gifts was when my mom made me a binder of all of the emails I wrote to her from my study abroad in Argentina. I wrote detailed emails about loneliness, uncomfortable situations, new friendships, and exciting adventures. I think about it now and realize that students who study abroad no longer have that excitement because everyone has wifi and it is too easy to just connect anytime. They do not have the feeling of waiting for the computer in a youth hostel with such excitement simply to read and write emails. I am fairly certain I almost got in fights with people who took “too long” when I was counting down the minutes to hear from family and friends in the states.

For my second big adventure abroad instead of long emails I wrote blog posts. I had the same fulfillment in being able to write about my embarrassing moments, the people I was meeting, and again the loneliness.

So even if no one reads my posts and I am not sharing adventures from Manchu Picchu or a safari in Kenya I will keep blogging. I will refrain from judging what I write and whether people will like it and remember that this is not a chore or a job, but is something I need to do to keep being me.

Creative inspiration:

  • The New York Public Library Podcast, “Moth on the Power of Storytelling” (made me smile and gave me goose bumps – my favorite quote, “stories are magic”)
  • Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic
  • Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast of the same title
  • Tim Ferriss Interviews with BJ Novak and his one with Rainn Wilson (guess he was on an Office tribute?)


A Wedding in Review

One of my closest friends and bridesmaids has urged me throughout the wedding process to “write a blog post” about events from the bachelorette party to the getting ready process on my wedding day. I have struggled thinking about how to capture an event as momentous as a wedding in a neat blog post. Instead, I am going to be a hypocrite by doing the thing that annoys many people throughout the planning process and give advice.

But, first a few thoughts on my wedding. I don’t often use the word perfect because I think it sets a ridiculous expectation that can never be met. However, for me and Shaun, and our families, our wedding felt perfect. The weather was spectacular and our venue looked exactly how I pictured it when we picked it. I felt beautiful and comfortable and loved. One of my favorite moments from the day was during my LONG walk down the aisle (it felt like a mile) right before we reached the crowd over the string quartet playing “Somewhere over the Rainbow” (my all time favorite song after dressing up as Dorothy for Halloween for ten years) my mom said, “Isn’t this everything you had dreamed it could be?” That is when I started to get choked up and took in the magical moment and even though I didn’t have a detailed vision of my wedding this felt like what I would have dreamed about.

With that little perfect fairy tale at the same time I was still myself throughout the wedding weekend. During the party I still wanted to make sure the tips were handed out correctly and had a moment of worrying that the band was not playing enough or that the night was ending too soon. However, I am trying to realize that these human moments do not sully any idea of perfection in my mind. Perfect for me is the way I felt walking down the aisle or at our first look or watching Shaun get choked up during his vows or laughing at the toasts or dancing with my nieces and nephews. Sure we got lucky with the weather and I felt proud all my planning from the band research to menu planning paid off, but at the end of the day perfection isn’t about the weather or how you look it’s ultimately about how you feel. (Although I am pretty sure that great weather and a beautiful venue don’t hurt in helping you feel good).

With that in mind as former anxious bride (phew it feels good to say former) I know it is hard to keep that in mind. Here are my words of wisdom:

  1. Pick the aspects of the wedding that matter to you both and put them above everything else. This piece of advice can probably be found in bridal magazines (buying these was admittedly my favorite part of the wedding planning process), but it still bears repeating. This also does not have to be one thing, but can instead be a tone to the wedding. For Shaun and me we wanted our wedding to be warm, casual, and fun. That meant we spent tons of time researching a band that would keep our guests on the dance floor the entire event and played the time of music that we loved. We did not want people sitting at their table having a seated formal meal so we had a buffet where we wanted good comfort food. I felt like everything from the food, band, and even alcohol (kegs from a local brewery) reflected who we are as a couple.
  2. Remember remember remember what the day is really about. The ceremony was definitely one of my favorite parts of the wedding. I loved sharing our relationship with our family and friends in the funny and intimate way we chose to. Sure you want a great party, but you are really doing this whole thing to commit to each other and share your love with the people closest to you. Try to keep reminding yourself of that throughout each wedding planning annoyance as hard as it is. (I would also recommend the book A Practical Wedding which does an excellent job advising on how to keep this in perspective throughout the process).
  3. Create your own traditions and buck some traditions. A big part of Shaun and my relationship is our rituals together. Every year we bake Christmas cookies (and make ourselves sick eating them), when we travel we always buy a magnet, and other silly little things like that. Wedding planning is a fun place to create new traditions. For us we promised no matter what to always open our presents together (usually with glasses of red wine in hand) and make that a special time we set aside to do something together. It was challenging at times when one of us was away and there was a huge box in our living room, but for the most part we stuck to it. I loved creating our own wedding traditions like this, but I loved even more bucking traditional wedding rituals. I am not sure what sparked this, but I just decided I definitely did not want to wear a veil. When the woman at the bridal store tried to pressure me and say things like “No one thinks they are a veil person” or “this is the only time you will wear one” I still stood firm. I think she thought I was a little crazy when I declared it was because I am a feminist. I did not throw a bouquet, do the horrah (mainly because of fear of falling), or anything that did not feel important to Shaun and me. This tradition of bucking tradition continued when we got the top layer of our wedding cake from our caterer the day after our wedding and realized there was no way we would be able to transport it easily back to our apartment. Instead of eating it on our one-year anniversary we decided we would eat it on our one-day anniversary. We took forks to the beautiful red velvet cake and it was delicious. (We barely ate any of the cake at the reception and it definitely tasted better that day then it would after being in the freezer for a year). cake
  4. There are all sorts of expectations that it is extremely hard to shake, but even though you are a “bride” (yuck) you are still you! If you hate to be the center of attention it is okay to hate being the center of attention at wedding events. If you make jokes at serious moments it is still okay to crack a joke during wedding meetings. If you get anxious about decisions (ME) it is okay to hate being asked questions!
  5. And finally – filter the advice people give you even my wise words. No one knows your relationship with each other, your family, and your friends, better than you!

Since the wedding weekend has ended I keep waiting for the disappointment that it is all over to sink in. The wedding was everything I could have imagined and so I have no real desire to do it all over again (“perfection” is best left untouched). I do feel some sadness that our family and friends will not be in one place again, but that feeling is overcome by gratitude that it all worked out so well in the first place and that we have these wonderful memories. Part of the joy of the wedding has honestly been looking back on it with Shaun and my family and friends. It never gets old hearing people tell you what a wonderful time they had (I am still holding out that I might get featured in a wedding blog – yes this is slightly humiliating to admit). As I expected I do feel a huge amount of relief to be a “normal” person again and not a “bride.” At the end of the wedding weekend you get a spouse and that is a pretty amazing prize. Instead of disappointment I feel excited about the many more memories and monumental moments I will share with my new husband and our families and friends.



Trying to Connect

Hi, my name is Phoebe and I am addicted to podcasts. I must admit before I began my addictive tendencies I tried to have several people explain to me what podcasts were. I am not sure what seemed so unclear about them to me, but it almost seemed too simple of a concept. So they are just a radio show?

Like any good addiction mine started with a gateway drug. I heard lots of people talking about the podcast Serial and figured a “hit podcast” could be my way into this podcast world. Serial kept me company during long car rides and I would start to look forward to getting in the car.

I am no foreigner to car ride entertainment as I grew up listening to “books on tape.” I continued this well into my life and just thought it was something everyone did. I realized this was one of my nerdier habits when I started driving to visit my college boyfriend and when his friends would ask me how the trip was I would say, “It was great I listened to a book on CD the whole time so it flew by.” Their reactions made me realize that perhaps not everyone spends long car rides listening to a book read to them. One summer Shaun and I were doing a lot of traveling and I suggested we listen to a mystery book on CD. Despite my initial frustration that he needed to hear every detail and I had to rewind it if we missed something this experience made the car trip so memorable. Throughout the vacation we would talk about the characters and try to solve the crime. We even contemplated sitting in the car to listen to the rest of the book because we did not have a CD player at home. Woo Wyman, the main character of the book, is still something we reference in conversations. For the record, I think it was a pretty bad book, but it made a regular long car ride an experience and an adventure.

But back to my addiction, the topic of Serial was fascinating, but what really drew me in was the narrator. I felt drawn to her and the way she was so easily able to talk to anyone like a friend. I brought Shaun into my addiction and he would fall asleep listening it. Then I introduced my sister to the podcast and got frequent texts proclaiming the innocence of the main character. Shaun and I listened to the final episode one night on our couch. Neither one of us could quite figure out where to look during that hour.

After Serial I expanded my podcast repertoire. Now my iphone is too full because I can’t stop subscribing to new podcasts. I listen to advice podcasts (“Dear Sugar”), comedy podcasts, inspirational podcasts (Tim Ferris), and now my newest find is health podcasts. There is something so comforting about being talked to and feeling like someone is speaking to exactly what you are thinking, reading, or questioning. The voices of these “podcasters”(?) give me such comfort. I can tell it seems boring as an outsider to watch me just listening to someone drone on while I doing the dishes or painting my nails on the porch. Some of the podcasts are people talking about the most mundane things. However, this new art form is able to reach me in a way that I am always searching for. The feeling of connecting with someone which I search for in literature, movies, and tv shows. I am always searching for the new “romcom” or “chicklit” book because for some reason I am able to connect with these genres better than any other art form.

Maybe the podcast is retro. It is like listening to radio programs decades ago. But this time there is a plethora of choice. The amount of podcasts out there is overwhelming. It makes it hard to listen to one too long if you feel bored. Additionally, you start to feel like you have relationships with the podcasters. You learn their history and routines. I even listen to one comic who I don’t even know if I particularly like, but I am so comforted by the familiarity of her voice and her honesty that I can’t pull myself away.

I have always had some source of comfort in stressful times. Whether it was the days when I would watch Sex and the City on repeat and my mom got used to hearing the theme song reverberate through our house and knowing it meant I needed soothing. Or the books and memoirs that I read because something about the main character made me feel like I could relate to them or their lives. Or just because I felt like they were speaking to me as a reader.

I recently took a visitor to my childhood home which of course makes you notice the little things you never gave much thought to. I noticed a quote from Catcher in the Rye that I had up on my wall since high school. Salinger writes,

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”