Baby Steps

This semester in Writing 220, we as a class have gone through a lot of similar journeys. We all created our three experiments and projects, searched for the right topic, genre, and figured out how to best approach and tackle each component. Each person’s decisions may have been slightly different, but the process was generally quite similar.

However, one journey I am reasonably confident was distinctly my own was the process of recovering from my knee surgery. For about the first month and a half, my knee was wrapped tight in my brace, and I had to use crutches to go anywhere. In fact, for the first week I was still fresh off surgery and couldn’t even live on campus. I stayed at home, and was only able to go to classes because I live pretty close to campus, and my dear mother was nice enough to drive me to and from my classes. After I was finally able to move in, some parts were better, but there were still plenty of challenges.

This was far from my first time on crutches; I sprained each ankle playing soccer in 9th and 10th grade (one at a time), and in 8th grade I broke my left one skiing. Recovery for each of these required at least some time non-weight-bearing, so I have spent plenty of time crutching around so far in my life. This injury, however, was substantially worse than any of my previous ones (I tore my meniscus and lcl), and I had to keep my leg locked straight in the brace early on, which added its own difficulties.

This was the first time I was on crutches while living alone, and I was also more limited in the recovery than I had experienced before. Things that are so minor, like getting up to go to the bathroom at night, or taking a shower, were much more difficult. I had to carry a chair into the shower to sit on, because it was both dangerous and difficult to shower without it. When shaving, I had to stand on one leg, which would quickly become tired. As I’ve mentioned in class, I’m not much for cooking myself and have relied heavily on the dining hall—except when I was NWB on crutches, I needed both hands to move anywhere. This meant that I couldn’t carry my own plates, and thus always had to coordinate trips to the dining hall with a willing friend, so that I could have them carry my plates for me. I was late to a fair amount of classes, and until I started walking again my underarms were constantly irritated from the rubbing of the crutches.

I don’t mean to sound whiny about this journey—there were challenges, yes, but overall, it was a very humbling and gratifying experience. It’s amazing how much we take for granted on a daily basis. I constantly thought of how difficult it would be to be wheelchair-bound, and developed an immense appreciation for those that go through physical challenges on a daily basis. Plus, for me it was only for a specific period of time that always had a light at the end of the tunnel—I have infinite more respect and admiration for those who have permanent conditions and overcome these sorts of obstacles on a daily basis.

I also think this time allowed me to grow as a person, too. I was able to focus a bit more on school, and I needed every bit of my newfound “free” time and more, as I took 17 credits this semester—including an ULWR, three upper level PoliSci classes, and the last class in my other minor, Latin 409. I also had to embrace a slow but steady grind for the recovery, and have gone to physical therapy twice a week, for about two hours each, something is still going on presently and will continue until I leave for Amsterdam in late January.

I had to constantly try to make miniscule improvements in mobility and strength. It was very reassuring when I was able to see consistent progress in gaining muscle back in my noodly left leg and in  regaining full range of motion, especially early on. However, after I was able to walk for a few weeks and , I appeared generally normal outwardly. This part was much more difficult in the recovery because while I still went to PT and everything, signs of improvement became much less obvious. I still haven’t even started jogging yet, and probably won’t be able to resume sports for a few more months.

On the whole, I am actually grateful for the experience of the injury, if not the injury itself. I did not like many aspects of the recovery process, and I missed out on a lot of things. But I was also able to realize many of the things that are most important to me through this journey, and have a newfound appreciation for many of the smaller things that were challenging with one functional leg. One of my professors even said to me on the last day of class (paraphrasing), “I’ve never seen such growth from a student over the course of the semester before—you literally came into my class not being able to straighten your leg, let alone walk, and now I could not distinguish your walking abilities from any other student’s!” Here’s to a smooth rest of the recovery process, and although I was serious about being grateful for the experience, I do hope I will be able to resume full physical activity so that I can enjoy all the fun activities Europe has to offer next semester.

What does it take to be most efficient, productive, or effective?

There are a lot of factors that play into my productivity and level of performance on a given day. Of course, as I’ve grown older and experienced the pain of many all-nighters, I’ve come to better understand the importance of sleep. It was always something that my parents and the internet told me was vital to productivity, but I mostly brushed that off because I knew that when push comes to shove I could pull off marathon grinds to finish my work. But as my schoolwork requires more consistent diligence, I increasingly realize just how much better I feel and how much more productive I am when I am well-rested.

Having better nutrition habits is one of the bigger changes I’ve made this year, and after eating much more consciously this semester, I believe it has paid dividends. This is especially true when I have to write papers, which is frequently, and usually occurs in longer sittings where the heavy feeling I get after eating unhealthy food often makes me tired. Staying hydrated is crucial to preventing headaches, and the wonderful drug that is coffee helps keep energy levels up.

Also, I find that when I take care of even smaller things that might seem trivial, like making my bed, remembering to shave, and making time to get at least some sort of exercise in, especially in the middle of a hellacious grind, these little acts make me feel much better than I used to think. And as Deion Sanders so eloquently said, “If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good. If you play good, they pay good.”

Furthermore, the more I am interested in the work I am doing, the more likely I am to become fully invested in it, and the less I will lose focus on the task at hand. In truth, though, nothing quite gets me going like a deadline. My fear of failure is substantial, and it accelerates the work process. However, I would add a caveat to this, as sometimes having the freedom to fail allows me to be more creative and attempt new things, which makes me much more likely to produce my best work.

In short, a healthy combination of all of the above create conditions in which I have found allow me to be most productive, efficient, and effective.

Censoring The Government

In recent news, and as I’m sure everyone is aware of, the House passed two articles of impeachment last night, one for abusing the power president and the other for obstruction of the congressional investigation of his actions. This is only the third time a president has ever been formally impeached, and the first time it has been done in any president’s first term. No one really expects Trump to get convicted by the Republican-led Senate, which would require a ⅔ majority to convict, but this is nonetheless quite captivating.

However, as interesting as this all is, I will admit that I got a bit caught up in following the vote last night, which resulted in me being off task for a few hours. After all, I am a poli sci major. Nevertheless, I still have several papers left to turn in before school’s out, and this time is already dearly missed. It’s hard to block out something so historically significant to keep working on papers that are decidedly less so, but censoring the happenings of our crazy government is the task I am faced with until the end of the day Friday. Also, I had to delete twitter because there is a lot of quality content on there which is also very distracting 🙁

Russia Does It Again

In my project, I discussed performance enhancing drugs in a fair amount of detail. I talked about a few examples throughout, but I didn’t elaborate too much on Russia’s history of systematic cheating. For one of my earlier experiments, I outlined a podcast series in which one of the episodes (but not the one I wrote a script for in the sample excerpt) was designed to talk about the country’s history with state-sponsored doping and cover-up evidence of PED use by Russian athletes. Some of you may remember that IOC sanctioned Russia for the 2018 Winter Olympics, and Russian athletes that were determined to be unaffiliated with the scandal were specially cleared and allowed to compete under the designation “OAR”, or Olympic Athlete from Russia. The country of Russia was officially not allowed to participate, and athletes could not fly the Russian flag.

However, there was an agreement reached that, if RUSADA (Russia’s anti-doping program) could prove it had turned a new leaf, Russia would be permitted to enter in the upcoming Olympics and other world championships. However, recent WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) investigations revealed that Russia was still not in compliance with its standards and placed further sanctions on the national athletic programs. This time, the ban on international sport is for four years, which means that Russia will not be able to officially compete in the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020 or 2022, as well as the 2022 World Cup and many other sports’ world championships. Russia has announced that they are appealing the ban, but their history and current proceedings indicate that the appeal will not be successful.

Here’s a link for a brief overview https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/dec/19/russia-confirms-appeal-against-four-year-world-anti-doping-agency-ban-athletics

It is important to note, however, that this ban on Russian participation is not, in fact, a full ban on Russian participation. The sanctions are meaningful—they can’t host international competitions, such as the planned 2022 Wrestling World Championships, and Russian athletes may be likewise prevented from competing in international competition. However, in an attempt to dissociate the state’s transgressions from individuals who may not be involved, WADA will allow athletes who can prove they have not been implicated or affected by the state programs that initiated the ban to compete under a neutral flag, as in the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. So in reality, although Russia is officially banned from international competition, many of its athletes will still be permitted to compete over the next four years, just not under a Russian flag. As a result, the sanctions are regarded by some as more of a slap on the wrist than anything, and not actually doing much, if anything, to punish Russia or compel them to start complying with WADA rules. It will be interesting to see what percentage of Russia’s athletes make the cut to compete under the neutral flag for upcoming events, and whether we will ever see a RUSADA that fully embraces WADA’s requirements or if they will continue the pattern of organized deception that has plagued their reputation for years now.

Nice Guys Finish Last

Having the last final of all your friends is tough. Finals aren’t easy for anyone, but when you have to go home to a house that gets emptier every passing day, and one by one lose study companions until it’s just you and you alone, well, that’s lonely. I live in a house with seven other guys, and needless to say there is always somebody making noise somewhere. That is, until now.

You don’t appreciate things like coming home to your housemates hanging out in the living room, playing FIFA or watching It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, beckoning me to join. Things like eating and studying with friends, even when you don’t talk to anyone, provide a sense of companionship and support. The short walk home from the library after a long day of studying is far longer with no one to talk about arbitrary everyday struggles and happenings.

I recognize these truths the most now, having walked alone into a silent house, after studying and eating alone. But then I also realize that someone always has to have the latest final, someone has to be the last one done. And whoever that is has to deal with the same circumstances, so maybe it’s ok that it’s me and none of my friends have to face these circumstances.

Which brings me to my final conclusion—Michigan should align the deadlines and exam dates of students with those of their friends, so we can all finish together and nobody has to finish the semester alone. I feel like we pay enough in tuition for them to hire someone to do the logistics on that, right? Until that day comes, I suppose there will always be someone left behind.

Putting the DEAD in DEADline

As each progressive deadline passes and I submit one final paper (or series of papers) after another, I increasingly become a bit closer to winter break. Yet until that moment comes, I also become a little more dead inside, a result of deteriorating sleep, eating patterns, and social activity over the course of the last few weeks. Most of my friends are done with their finals and have gone home for break, and our house grows increasingly quiet as each one goes. But I can’t let that get to me right now, all that matters is remaining focused until the last submit late Friday afternoon.

Each submission brings its own little adrenaline dump, as I furiously insert my last edits in and deposit my work into Canvas. After every single one, I am quite antsy as I put it in, even if there’s plenty of time left before the deadline. It’s just something about the significance of large papers, and I think also a component of the sheer time put into each. Through the process of outlining, drafting, and editing, the hours add up, and it’s like a part of me is taken into that Canvas submission box with each final draft. These factors all contribute to a continual depletion of energy and spirit, and I have little doubt that when I am done there will be little left of me. At the same time, I suppose if I put everything I have mentally into final papers this would be the result, so maybe it is not so bad after all.

Your focus needs more focus

Today, while working on my remaining final papers, I got two emails that totally took my focus away. One of them informed me of my housing for next year—I will be living in the Student Hotel West, in northwest Amsterdam. This was good news, as the Student Hotel was my top choice of housing over the Maassluisstraat (yes that’s spelled correctly, double-a double-s double-s double-a) apartment complex, although to be honest I don’t think they’re all that different.

The second email informed me of my courses. The program administrators selected 5 course for me based on my top 15 choices that I ranked during registration. I think I got some decent classes, but to be honest I’m not really sure, because I had to base my rankings on course descriptions on the Universiteit van Amsterdam website, which is similar but also very different from Michigan’s LSA course guide.

I am very excited to study abroad next semester in the Netherlands and am trying to use it for motivation through this last few days, although to be honest it’s bringing a lot of distraction. I still have three papers to turn in on top of final edits to my 220 project, so tunnel vision is critical for the next two days—these sort of emails are very counterproductive because they are so exciting. I know that I will be able to look at my schedule and figure out more logistics as soon as I am done with the semester, but waiting is hard. I guess I’m just like so many little kids on Christmas Eve, I so want the waiting game to be over.

Trust the Process

Over the course of this semester, I have began and completed the processes of the three gateway experiments and a variety of essays for my other classes. In doing so, I have found quite a few similarities between them, and also a few differences.

In the beginning, there is only a prompt. Sometimes it is specific, sometimes less so. Of course, for our experiments the only real prompt was to explore a form a writing in the topic which I chose, and to create an outline and excerpt of this experiment. There was lots of freedom, which proved to be both helpful and challenging at the same time. I learned the value of just getting my thoughts down on the page, even if I knew they would all be deleted later, because you just have to get the ball rolling. For my various poli sci papers I have had prompts on many subjects and with different degrees of specificity. One asked me to “forward [my] own assessment of the nature and extent of judicial power/impact in the Guantanamo decisions” using policies put forth by the Bush administration and related Court decisions, while another asked for a six page paper themed around “Sport and Modernity”. As a general rule, I have had an easier time beginning the process of papers that have more narrow prompts than those with more leeway, but once I fully dive in, I usually end up enjoying the work of papers in which I can write more about my interests.

In outlining and writing both essays and experiments, I would try to get a sense of what I wanted to write about mostly through a sort of trial and error, where I wrote ideas and rewrote them until I liked them. This process was considerably shorter in the experiments, not for lack of time spent but because I had a much harder time even getting to the outlining stage. I spent a lot of time just staring at a blank screen, trying to decide whether to make a podcast or speech or another form of writing. And once I did, the format of the experiment allowed me to mostly just get to work, putting my thoughts of research and content into the genre analysis section or the sample excerpt itself. In contrast, my process of writing essays for my political science classes involved creating very detailed outlines of my arguments, thesis, evidence, and of course the essay structure itself. I would then write each paragraph separately, often rewriting sentences and even full sections before placing them all together on a separate document at the end.

In editing and reviewing, the processes were quite similar. I had gone through the various stages of creation for the experiments or paper, and now needed to take a step back and see if it made sense as a whole and whether the individual pieces work well together. This part usually took much less time than the previous stages, but was very important to each work’s overall coherence and general quality. I made many changes, no doubt, but to me revising is a much easier process than creating. This, combined with the fact that I was usually making these final edits as the deadline approached, allowed this portion of the process to largely have fewer hiccups than the writing and planning portions.

Which is better? I’m not sure. In a way I like the guidance of some more traditional essay prompts because they make it easier to just get down to it and knock it out. But the freedom of deciding what topic to work on and what format to work in, as long as I made good choices, made for a more engaging product.

The Dilemma of the Last Finals Push

Since the first time final exams began to require a fair amount of effort, the semester’s last deadlines have brought about a weird sort of dynamic in my mind. There is a sort of dilemma that arises where I can’t wait to be done, but at the same time, I dread the rapid approach of each class’ final deadlines.

The end of the semester, of course, means freedom! Who doesn’t love winter break? No looming assignments, sleeping in past noon, more free time than I know what to do with, what’s not to love? After working and stressing hard about school for months, finally I get some time of pure, unadulterated relaxation.

On the other hand, there are deadlines of final exams, papers, and projects. To be sure, I have been preparing for these the entire semester. But it is also because these are often the culmination of the semester and quite significant grade-wise, they are probable cause for fear and stress. During this last stretch, I want to do well so my break won’t be plagued with guilt over not working hard enough, but these big final assessments are often exactly that—big. They require the most work, and thus in an ironic twist, I actually dread the impending deadlines. Now I want them to remain as far away as possible to make sure I can adequately finish the last of my schoolwork (yes, I am aware that me wanting time to slow down or speed up does not actually have any influence on time, but the train of thought is what’s important here).

I’ve found a similar dilemma before, which occurs I’m watching sports. When, say MSU and OSU are playing football, in theory I would want both teams to lose. However, as I well know, this is not possible. This leads to a problem of me not being sure who to root for in watching (because I am always naturally inclined to root for one team or the other). After a weird bit of back and forth, I always end up realizing that my rooting for either side does not, in fact, hold any weight in the outcome of the game, and thus all I need to do to resolve this completely made-up dilemma is stop thinking about, and simply watch the game. I use this logic to resolve my parallel school dilemma—stop thinking about this made-up problem of which direction I want time to be influenced towards, and just get to work. In fact, it was precisely this train of thought that led me to this blog post, which appears to be the first time that this edition of my overthinking has managed to be productive.

Woe Is Me

As finals season dawns upon us all, exams and final papers loom, and there is palpable stress throughout the entire campus. Final season is rarely easy for UofM students, and only gets more difficult as we progress to higher level classes. People deal with stress in their own ways; as for me, I am a complainer. I don’t think my complaints are entirely unfair—last semester I had four exams in three days for both midterms and finals, and it’s even worse this year—but I am fully aware that I did in fact sign up for this and I am only a victim of my own doing. It’s just a way for me to deal with the stress of it all, and I am willing to concede someone thinking a bit less of my character and mental fortitude if it helps me deal with stress and do well in school. This semester I am taking the biggest course load yet in my academic career, and my next week of finals is accordingly daunting. So allow me to have a quick gripe over the week that lies ahead of me, and send sympathy cards to my temporary home at the Shapiro Undergraduate Library.

On Monday, I have an exam. It is a two-hour exam for my political science 319 class on Supreme Court power in landmark cases, in which I will have to write an essay on one of two prompts. We were given these prompts about two weeks ago and I have time to prepare them both, but there are high stakes, and writing an essay covering themes from the entire course for two hours in a blue book is never easy. Factor in the importance of the exam (30% of the final grade), as well as my current position of barely hanging onto an A, and I am fairly stressed.

On Tuesday, I have an exam. This one, however, is a take-home exam, a series of three essays, for my political science 386 class on sports and society. Two of the essays are ~1000 words, and the third is ~1600. I do have the luxury of doing it in my own time at home as opposed to the in-class essay format of the first exam, but this brings with it a considerably higher standard for quality, especially with evidence and citations. Additionally, the prompts were only released one week prior to the due date, making it more difficult to get ahead. True to form, my current grade stands right on the divide, and a strong performance on these essays is massively important.

On Wednesday, I don’t have an exam. Great, right? Well, I’ll still be in the library all day grinding for the rest of the week, because I am not even halfway done.

On Thursday, I have a final paper due. This one is for Latin 409, the last class I have to take to finish my Latin minor. It is a research paper comparing themes and literary techniques in Horace’s Ode 1.18, which I have translated and examined extensively, with a combination of his other poems, contemporary poems, and the analysis of other scholars on these the poem. It’s interesting, but entirely different in genre from my other class papers, and requires a considerable amount of research and, most importantly, time.

On Friday, I have an exam. This is another take-home exam, a series of two essays, for my political science 355 class on democracy and development in Africa. These are ~1000 words each, and require evidence from a variety of sources we’ve used in class and some we haven’t. These prompts were released just a few days ago, and because of the other deadlines earlier in the week I will likely be very pressed for time in completing these. As you may have anticipated, these are fairly important to my final grade.

Furthermore, as you all well know the gateway final project and blog posts are due on Friday. Being myself, although I have done a lot of work on it, I do have some finishing touches I want to put on it, and have procrastinated several of my blog posts until the end of the semester.

Our grand total amounts to seven essays, the gateway final project, and my remaining blog posts. I thank you all in advance for your sympathy, and empathize with those who are stressed for this last week of finals. May we all find our own ways to destress, and power through this last stretch of the semester with grace and vigor. 🙂