Category Archives: Self-reflection

National Heroism and the “New Cold War”

It took seven months of living in our Moscow apartment to finally figure out how the cable worked (it came pre-installed). And once we did, we figured out that 1) watching Adventure Time in Russian is even trippier than watching it in English, and 2) watching dubbed episodes of Storage Wars is a great way to practice recognizing numbers.  We’ve also been exposed more and more to Russian television, though we like the advertising more than the actual shows sometimes.

On March 9, Channel One marked the birthday of the deceased Yuri Gagarin with a rather lavishly produced and thoroughly engrossing biopic with visuals that were stunning enough to make up for the almost total (for us) incomprehensibility of what any of the actors playing Soviet engineers were saying on screen. A number of things about this film have stuck with me. First, the fact that most of Russia was basically in the nineteenth century at the time when Gagarin became the first man in space in 1961. When he falls back to earth (and a big part of that fall, by the way, was done in the manner of skydiving–no protective shuttle pod encasing him once he’d cleared the upper layers of the atmosphere), he falls into the middle of a field, where a farmer is leading his horse under a traditional harness. It’s a region not unlike the place where Gagarin grew up in the village of Klushino. One of the final images of the film is the remains of the spacecraft lying in a similar spot surrounded by a military barrier, the Space Age aesthetic of the Vostok a stark contrast to the timeless agrarian idyll surrounding it.

And then there were the shots of students pouring out of Moscow State University–students for whom the unparalleled suffering of WWII was still a living memory–and heading toward Red Square, where the film cuts between shots of the actors and actual newsreel footage. And as this sense of celebration and idealism builds to a climax, with young people shouting “В космосе!” the thought that kept going through my head was, “And on the other side of the world, America collectively shits its pants.” It’s not saying anything particularly new to observe that what for the Soviet Union was a moment of triumph not just for the USSR but for humanity was a moment of both terror an humiliation for the US. Because the Soviet Union got there first, and if the Soviet Union could put a man in space, it meant they could likely put a nuclear missile in Los Angeles or New York.

A while back, I posted pictures of a visit to the All-Russia Exhibition Center (ВДНХ) and the Monument to the Conquerors of Space that sits outside of it:


One of my Facebook friends asked me to remind him of the name of the guy who scared the crap out of his parents’ generation, and he was talking about Yuri Gagarin. And here’s the thing, in the film, Yuri Gagarin looked like this:


And the real Gagarin looked like this:


He was freaking adorable. In the US, Yuri Gagarin would be played by a young Tom Hanks (there were a number of parallels between this film and Apollo 13). And while the end of his life is an utter tragedy, what he accomplished was without question heroic. And what the Soviet Union did in putting him in space was both a centerpiece of nationalist propaganda and a triumph for humanity. That the narrative in the US tended to lean toward framing it as an act of military aggression is an artifact of the zero-sum stakes of the Cold War and mid-century ambivalence about technology’s erosion of boundaries that traditionally kept us at least feeling secure (a theme which is also subtly explored in this film).

As commentators increasingly point (irresponsibly, I would argue) toward the beginnings of a New Cold War, the stakes have once again become zero-sum, and the conversation is once again tainted by a pervasive sense of paranoia and a tendency to treat as naked, calculated aggression acts that are probably in reality far less rational, far more motivated by immediate local politics, and far more self-defeating than they are portrayed to be.

I need to back up for a second. People keep asking me questions about how I’ve experienced the Ukraine crisis in Moscow, and some family members have asked why I haven’t blogged about it. And the reasons why are as follows:

  1. Like pretty much everyone in the States, I’ve been following the Ukraine crisis via television and the internet. It’s impact on my day to day life has been negligible aside from the daily fluctuations of the ruble and occasional emails from the Embassy reminding Americans to stay away from public demonstrations.
  2. My opinions change almost daily.
  3. The American expat in Russia finds herself in a tough spot, ideologically speaking. Because on the one hand, you want to defend Russia against the more sensationalistic and divisive parts of the American media while at the same time not appearing to be a Putin apologist.

It’s that last one, naturally, that is the thorniest. Because to have a nuanced opinion on what’s going on means having to resist a lot of false equivalencies: comparisons to what is going on now and Hitler’s Anschluss are not helpful, but neither are comparisons to America’s incursion in Iraq (on the one hand, we didn’t annex Iraq–on the other, the Russian army has yet to fire a shot). And while the spin you see in American media is depressing, it is not the same thing as what the Kremlin-backed Russia Today is doing.

But if there is one equivalency that can at least be roughly sketched it’s that for all the very important ways in which they are different, Russia and the US love to frame themselves as heroes on the historic stage. For a good swath of the population here, the annexation of Crimea is not an act of aggression, it is an act of rescue. And yes, the words “greeted as liberators” have crossed my mind.

But even if I’m avowedly skeptical about that rhetoric, I’m also skeptical about any framing of the issue that positions the US as hero, particularly when it involves double standards and overt hypocrisy. While I most certainly prefer American-style democracy to whatever we’ve got going on over here, what the zero-sum game of the Cold Wars, old and new, enables is a narrative of American righteousness that stokes a similarly problematic nationalistic fervor and precludes any kind of honest self-reflection about the nature of American or Western privilege.

Here’s an example. Back during the Sochi Olympics, this image came across my Tumblr dashboard:


It was framed as an act of unparalleled courage. Said Scott Wooledge on Twitter, “Tourists attempting what Tilda Swinton did in #Russia are subject to 15 days in jail. #Courage.” On Tumblr, it was accompanied with the message, “Tilda Swinton risked her freedom to stand up for LGBT rights in Russia.”

But here is the thing, Tilda Swinton was almost certainly at no risk when she did this. Why? Because she is Tilda Swinton. And this was the middle of the Sochi Olympics. And Moscow officials are almost certainly not stupid enough to arrest an international movie star–who brought her own photographer with her–at the precise moment when Russia was trying to make a splash on the international stage. Yes, there is a certain kind of bravery to what Swinton did here, but whatever danger she was in was not the same as what the actual activists here–who get little to no notice from Western media unless they are two very specific former members of Pussy Riot–face on a daily basis.

The LGBT-rights situation in Russia, like the Ukraine crisis, has often been covered by Westerners in ways that are disgustingly self-serving, opportunistic, and ignorant. The conversation about the Swinton photo, I would argue, isn’t really about LGBT rights in Russia. It’s about the heroism of one Western (Scottish) actress. Note also that the above-quoted tweet says nothing about what actual Russians face for similar acts but what tourists in Russia face. LGBT Russians are nowhere in that image or the conversation around it. It’s an opportunity, rather, the celebrate how Westerners are both more free and more courageous.

Likewise, those demanding that the US intervene militarily in Ukraine seem less concerned with actual Ukrainians than bolstering an image of American strength that will somehow bring Russia to heel, as if the past twenty years of foreign policy have been all about breaking the resolve of Russia rather than integrating it into a productive international dialogue. Some would argue that that has in fact been the case.

For all of the talk about anti-American or anti-Western sentiment in Russia, I’ve experienced none of it so far. I don’t see Americans with cameras about their necks being taken aside in the metro and asked to show their papers. I do see that happening to people who look like they are from the North Caucasus. The Western expat–particularly the white one–enjoys privilege here but is not particularly special. Which is why I am troubled by any attempt by Westerners to make this “about them.” Like the attempt to put the first man in space, it kind of sort of is, but in a much bigger sense, it really isn’t. Russians, based on what I’ve seen, don’t spend a ton of time really thinking about Americans. Like most people, they spend most of the time thinking about themselves.

Mountain Climbing for the High Functioning Depressive, or What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

From left to right: North Apostle, Ice Mountain, West Apostle
From left to right: North Apostle, Ice Mountain, West Apostle

This is the penultimate week of my research fellowship here in Boston, which means that my summer of nomadic living will soon be drawing to an end as I head back to my parents’ house in Dallas for a few weeks to pack up for Moscow. Since the sale of our house was completed in early May, I have not stayed in any one place for more than two weeks, having visited five states and covered thousands of miles by airplane in a little over two months.

Included in this farewell tour of the US was a visit to Deer Valley Ranch near Buena Vista, CO, an establishment owned by long-time family friends and site of annual visits for my family for over twenty years. It’s one of those family vacations that makes you happy to be amongst a crowd of introverts, as our family of nine adults (and one toddler) can easily pass an entire afternoon reading and only occasionally talking for an entire afternoon (or for as long as the toddler is napping). In the evening, me, my sisters, and our spouses play Settlers of Catan, a ritual that very often sends us to bed hating each other but doesn’t stop us from starting another game (or two) the next night. (Josh, my sweet, infinitely patient missionary-kid brother-in-law is the most quietly ruthless player and regularly makes us feel like complete assholes for telling him where he can shove his Monopoly card. Anyway).

That level of competitiveness tends to bleed into more athletic pursuits as well. Five of the nine of us play tennis, and I suspect that if I were one of those, no one in my family would speak to me again. Ever. I don’t really excel at sports but do like intense physical activity, particularly hiking. This means that at the end of our week, I typically join my dad and now the aforementioned brother-in-law on an all-day mountain climb with Actual Mountain Goat Bob Marken. If you have never attempted climbing a Colorado peak, let’s just say that they are called the Rockies for a reason and with altitudes over 14,000 feet present a significant challenge for anyone who spends 51 weeks out of the year at sea level.  For that reason, the rest of the family, my spouse included, tends to opt for spending the day sitting on a deck looking at the mountains rather than scrambling over them. My other BIL, a Colorado native, swears that the next time he’ll climb one of the state’s famous “fourteeners” is when the Goths invade. And as my dad says, the two things required for this sort of adventure are a high threshold for pain and a bad memory.

The first major ridge we had to climb.
This was one of the easier parts

I’ve been up a half dozen or so fourteeners and other local peaks, and this year, our intrepid guide proposed what he called a “more interesting” thirteener. At 13,860 feet, the North Apostle is just 140 feet shy of the prestigious 14,000 but sits on the same ridge as two other thirteeners that present one of the greatest challenges in Colorado mountaineering. The mountain doesn’t have to be high to completely kick your ass. The North Apostle is the easier of the three in the sense that the climbing is non-technical and no special equipment is required. However, unlike the many Colorado mountains (including the most trafficked fourteeners), there is no trail for the last half of the four mile hike up, at which point the elevation gain becomes so precipitous that you are basically climbing a ladder for about 2000 vertical feet.


This is my way of explaining why, even though I made it to the summit, this mountain basically broke me over its knee Bane-style and has left me to painfully recover at the bottom of a sunken prison while it destroyed everything I loved. Not that I didn’t help it or anything. The day before, I neglected to get on top of my hydration and, not wanting to get stomach cramps, I didn’t eat anything on the trail until we’d already gone almost three miles. What this meant is that by that point I was dehydrated, hypoglycemic, and hyponatremic (salt-deficient), and throughout the day, my body would never really be able to catch up. 1400 vertical feet from the top, I got a calf cramp that made me see white. This is honestly probably where I should have stopped and waited for the rest of the group to pick me up on the way back. But no. I pressed forward even though my body was screaming at me not to. I was able to stretch it out, but in order to keep it from happening again, I had to take an unscheduled food and water break, and slow down and ease up my pace each time I felt my muscles start to seize up.

Summit Ridge
Summit Ridge

This meant that I fell considerably behind the rest of my group and therefore never got to rest with them, even at the top of the mountain. Getting to the summit was exhausting enough, but after I snapped a couple of pictures and wolfing down half a sandwich, the sleet started, which meant we needed to face what I had been trying not to think about all the way up: climbing back down the steep rocks, which were now wet.

F*** this
F*** this

Anyone who has done a significant amount of hiking can tell you that the descent is often worse than the ascent. For one thing, you have no choice about it. While summits are optional, getting off the exposed peak before the lightning shows up—not to mention getting home—is not. For another thing, if you have terrible knees—which I do thanks to heredity, dance, and high school track—walking down a flight of stairs is way worse than walking up. And these stairs were slippery, uneven, and constantly moving around under me. About 500 feet from the top, on the way down, with 3.5 miles still to go, in addition to dealing with knees and sleet and burning quads, I hit what runners call the “wall.” I had completely burned through my glycogen stores. And I was still dehydrated. So, around 1000 feet from the top, I was not only physically running on fumes but had lost the ability to make good decisions about where to put my feet. Mountain climbing is a mental challenge as well as a physical one, and if your brain is basically just buzzing inside your head, then the physical side of things starts getting much harder as you slip all over the rocks, struggle to right yourself, and thereby make yourself more and more tired than you would be otherwise. At one point, my father had to start hiking right in front of me so that I could just step in all the places he was stepping.

Ice Mountain from the NA Summit.
Ice Mountain from the NA Summit.

Along the way, I ate the rest of my sandwich, a bunch of chips and other snacks (yay salt), and drank three bottles of water, but as a testament to the fact that my body was using every available resource for cell maintenance, I didn’t have to relieve myself once the entire day. By the time we got back, I was clearly in ketosis (which some extreme dieters and athletes try to induce but really doesn’t feel good). It took me an hour longer to get down than it had to go up, and in the car, I was too tired to talk and couldn’t eat anything without choking because I was so dried out. When we arrived at a gas station, I did what I never do and bought a 16 oz. full sugar soda and almost instantly felt better (protip: have these waiting for you in the car next time). But I was so physically defeated that getting to the top of that mountain feel like a pyrrhic victory. It’s been five days, and my legs are still a little bit sore. I also immediately came down with a cold, and there were a few other physical after effects of extreme exertion that are a tad too personal to mention here.

You could argue that the views are worth it. I'm not going to right now.
You could argue that the views are worth it. I’m not going to right now.

Mountain climbing is the source of a number of self-help clichés that I could no doubt spend another thousand words listing here. There’s the one about what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And the one about taking everything one step at a time. A journey of a thousand miles. Humility while standing before nature’s grandeur. None of those are the epiphanies I had while I was barking my shins repeatedly on boulders. No, the persistent thought I keep returning to—that I’ve actually been turning over in my head all year—is that there may be something really wrong with me. Because this flogging myself up a mountain even though I know that it’s probably going to wreck me, that I am probably going to embarrass myself while climbing with three men over six feet tall in top physical condition (there are plenty of female athletes who could have breezed right past them, but I am decidedly not one of them), is pretty characteristic. I am ambitious, competitive, challenge-seeking, and I see stuff through to the end no matter what. Those all sound like strong qualities. They are without question the reason I got a PhD, why I am moving to Russia, why I double-majored and graduated with enough credit hours for two degrees, why when I was thirteen, I went to Honduras for a month to lay concrete with a crazy fundamentalist mission group. While basically a home-body and not much of a risk-taker, I have a tendency to push myself in ways that get me things I want but that also know can become maladaptive.

For example, panicked about money and my job search, over the course of my last year in Austin, I was working no less than three part-time jobs at any given time. For a few months, I was working four. Granted, one of those jobs got me the job I have now, but piling on that many commitments is inadvisable if you are also supposed to be writing a book.

On that note, there seems to be no project so difficult that I can’t find a way to make it even harder. My dissertation project should be strong enough for publication with some straightforward revisions and the addition of a new chapter to replace one that no longer fits the book’s scope and methodology. Having spent almost three weeks in an archive this summer, I’ve come up with ideas for another two chapters and two articles with little clarity about how to prioritize what I want to do.

Again, all of this sort of sounds like good stuff. Having more ideas than time to write them is a high class problem. So is having more paying gigs than you can possibly juggle. And it sounds like all of this could be waved away with “work smarter not harder,” and “give yourself a break,” but this is as useless to a high-functioning depressive (which is what I am) as the advice to not worry so much is to someone with an anxiety disorder (which I have). But the truth is that this past year (the past few years, really) has taken me to absolutely terrifying physical, emotional, and spiritual lows that I might blog about one day if I’m drunk enough. And because I do not behave in stereotypically depressed ways, because I get out of bed in the morning and generally get shit done—whether or not I have to go cry for an hour in my office after teaching class—my particular form of depression is very difficult both to acknowledge and to treat. What it costs you to get to the top of the mountain and back again isn’t as significant to most people as the fact that you got there.

So, rather than write for another 2000 words on what should by now be the obvious similarities between mountain climbing and academic high-achieving (both are endurance games, both require mental toughness and very high tolerance for discomfort, etc.), so instead of that, I’d like to take a paragraph or two to recognize the wisdom of doing to reverse of making it to the top. Sometimes it’s ok to bail out. Sometimes it’s ok to not make the climb in the first place.

Critical to making those choices are enough self-awareness to know why you are doing what you’re doing. I am at the point where I can recognize what itch I’m trying to scratch but don’t quite have the will-power to stop myself. I attempted a hike I knew would be very difficult under circumstances that were less than ideal because I enjoy challenges, yes, but also because I was mad at my body. Moving around a lot has meant falling out of a regimented workout routine, usually only getting to it 2-3 times a week, and between that and new medication, my weight has creeped up bit. As someone whose all for body positivity and HAES and all of that, I’m a bit ashamed that that sort of thing throw off my equilibrium so much, but I live in the world, and sometimes it gets to me.

Likewise, I think some of us tend to pursue our academic careers, pursue a PhD or a particular job or tenure because of the feeling that it will fix something that we think is deeply wrong with us or because it will prove something about you. I defended a year and a half ago and spent the following two weeks in a post-partum fog expecting to change color or something, expecting some external sign that I had arrived. As anyone who reaches that milestone can tell you, it never really comes. You don’t suddenly become a different person (just as you don’t when your body changes, much as the diet industrial complex would like to tell you otherwise). And of course in a career like this, the goalposts just keep moving, so there’s always something new on the horizon to be neurotic about.

And finally, what it costs you to get something really does matter. I’m not just talking about the consequences of putting off family or neglecting friendships or whatever. There is a personal cost to everything that—especially if you are a very sensitive person—can be very, very real and long-lasting. And that is a thing that is worth weighing any time you are facing a difficult endeavor. Deciding that the terrible, never-ending scrutiny of grad school is just not worth it is not cowardice. It’s wisdom. And deciding that a job that is less prestigious or *gasp* not even academic is more amenable to your lifestyle preferences is knowing yourself, not selling out. I’m lucky in that I really do enjoy what I do and can’t imagine really being happy in other line of work (one of the things I learned from the multi-job clusterfrack of the past year is that I hate, hate, hate working in a normal office and love the fact that my schedule completely changes every few months). It’s also true that when the challenge is well-matched to my level of conditioning and acclimation, mountaineering is really fun. But with the work ethic of a Puritan and a masochistic streak, you can sure find a way to make it torture.

What does “failure” mean to you?


If you have been trained to pursue an academic career–or trained for any highly specific career path, honestly–then it’s easy to feel like a failure if that doesn’t pan out. But there are many reasons why people wind up choosing Plan B (or C or D or M), and oftentimes it has little to do with incompetence. I have a sibling and an uncle who each studied piano performance. One is a VP at a major tech corporation you have definitely heard of and one is an SEO specialist at a Madison Avenue firm and lives in Central Park West. Neither of them are playing at Carnegie Hall right now, but both of them are winning at life by every measurable standard.

By going international, I’m stepping a bit to the left of the traditional career path for someone in my field and have been told by one colleague that it could make things additionally difficult if and when I try to get an academic job in the U.S. However, in many respects, I am pretty much living the dream. I am get to teach literature and will have time to do research. But it certainly looks different than the dream I had in mind 8 or 5 or even 1 year ago.

So as trite as it is, I think it’s important to remember that success and failure are contingent categories, though often our training teaches us to adopt a very narrow understanding of what success actually constitutes, implying that anything that deviates from that is failure. But failure, I think, really depends on what you want to get out of life. So here’s what it would constitute for me:

  • Failure is being in a job I hate even if it provides security.
  • Failure is staying in Texas (no offense to Texas, but I’ve lived here 26 of 30 years, and I’m ready for weather that sucks in at least a novel way).
  • Failure is not growing as a human being.
  • Failure is continuing to beat myself up over shit that doesn’t matter.
  • Failure is never getting relief from depression.

It would have been possible (and seemed, actually, very likely if I had gotten this one job I interviewed for) to have gotten the golden ticket–the tenure track offer–and still “failed” myself on all four counts. This is getting awfully self-helpy, so I’m going to cut it short, but with all the job market and post-job market angst, it helps to remember that the whole point of job searching is to create a life for yourself that you enjoy living and that allows you to contribute something to the world. And it’s possible to do that without the title “Professor.”


When I tell people I’m moving to Russia in August for a minimum of three years, I find I often have to spend the remainder of the conversation taking care of them. I’m not talking about my family. For the most part, they have been like, “That sounds like something you would do.” I’m primarily talking about strangers, like the guy who notarized a copy of my diploma for apostille purposes, who looked at me as if I had a fever. “Do you speak Russian? Have you ever been there before?” people like this usually ask, assuming, I suppose, that this person they have known for 30 seconds can’t possibly have thought this through long enough. The truth is, the answer to both of these questions is, “No,” which makes it sound like they are probably right.

Some of this is, of course, brought on by the word “Russia,” which I think most Americans learn about from action movies. “I just rewatched Air Force One,” one of my sisters said the other day. “I think you should reconsider this whole thing.” (She was kidding, but I there are people out there who agree with her). Moscow is about as exotic as you can get while still telling people you live in Europe, but it is still almost at the exact opposite end of the world from where I live now.

It’s hard listing off the reasons why this whole journey seemed so appealing to me in the time it usually takes to wrap up a conversation with a retail associate (“I’m moving to Russia” is now my go-to excuse for why I can’t sign up for loyalty programs and store credit cards. “I’m currently homeless” is another one.) I can tell people that my husband and I have always wanted to live abroad and travel together and that the job opportunity (with a school I have worked for before, albeit briefly) is excellent. I can talk about my romantic ideas about cold, snowy weather, that I think another August/September in Texas might literally kill me. I can tell them that in academia you go where the job is, but I don’t usually like to give off the impression that this is something I defaulted into out of desperation. Even though it’s sort of true (the job market: it is as bad as you’ve heard), it was also a conscious choice. None of my advisors or colleagues would have faulted me for turning the offer down. But I sent the application in the first place–never dreaming that this was the one would pan out–for a reason even though it’s difficult to nail down.

The truth is that even though I live in a city that–like Portland and Denver and Brooklyn–most people consider a final destination, I can feel myself rotting here. Based on anecdote, I’ve come to understand that this is common among people who are finishing up grad school. Even though it’s been the center of your life for the better part of a decade, it’s difficult to feel sentimental about a place that has been the scene of what I can only describe as so much trauma. Don’t get me wrong, I would do it all over again, but as with any mountain climb, I’m glad it’s over and I’m ready to get the caked mud out of my socks.

But if I had to summarize why this all appeals to me in one word, it would be “surrender.” Relocating to a new country is an enormous undertaking that involves navigating the bureaucracies of two immense nations, unloading of most of your worldly possessions, re-homing your pets, and flinging yourself into a culture that is almost completely alien and where you do not speak the language. In other words, it involves reversing what is usually thought of as the prescribed trajectory of adult life, which typically involves the accumulation of competencies and things. Everything I own now fits in a 7 foot POD, which means that we are leaving Austin with less than we brought (and will be leaving the US with even less as most of it is family keepsake stuff that will be left in my parents’ attic). My list of big adult responsibilities, like maintaining auto insurance and buying pet food, is diminishing. And having made my proficiency with the English language my bread and butter, I will now be headed for a place where that means precisely dick when it comes to buying groceries and finding a mobile service provider. I will become a hapless foreigner. Having trained to become a professor, I will find myself in the position of learner once again.  And yet this is a role in which I find myself most comfortable.

And I know many people wind up seeking or stumbling upon the transformative possibilities of helplessness at many points in life. Some find it in having children. Some find it in moving from the suburbs to the city or changing careers or going to graduate school. In many ways, it probably was this same impulse to be awed in the face of what you don’t yet know that drove me and many others to graduate school, though grad school has a weird way of both cultivating and crushing that out of you. The realities of academic labor are such that words like “marketability” and “job security” occasionally crowd out words like “discovery,” and while I’m now hating myself a little bit for saying that so cheesily, at bottom I’m trying get at the fact that in the face of the academic career trajectory and its immense challenges, it becomes difficult to sustain the kind of curiosity and even risk-taking that got you there in the first place. A PhD does not promise a secure middle class existence, but I’m starting to think that while we should be fighting for better working conditions for grad students and adjuncts, there are some appealing alternatives out there to tenure, though they demand a kind of faith that is often difficult to muster.

I guess this is my long-winded way of saying that I am simultaneously terrified and thrilled about what I am preparing to do. It is like cresting the first hill of a roller coaster and waiting, breathless, for the drop.

Identity Crisis

So, it’s been a while.  It is customary, when a blogger returns from a long absence, to explain one’s absence and give an accounting of one’s whereabouts.  I am not sure I have a good one to offer, except that, around the time when I stopped posting, a lot of really good things started to happen in my life, and blogging–which began as a therapeutic exercise–got boxed out.  At some point, last Spring, I fell in love with my dissertation and was writing so much that I had little energy left for blogging.  In addition, I had two articles accepted by excellent refereed journals. I won a fellowship that allowed me to spend the summer at an archive finishing my dissertation.  I also got funding that relieves me of my teaching responsibilities this semester, and as of three days ago, my defense was scheduled for mid-November.  I am putting the finishing touches on the final draft and poring over a list of 60ish job openings and postdocs in my field.

In short, I am in a very good place right now, and that, frankly, is a little terrifying. I have always, frankly, had a modest estimation of my own abilities as a researcher, writer, and academic in general.  I realize now that, in a way, that modest estimation has been a form of psychological protection. It’s going to sound really obvious, but if I don’t expect much of myself, then I can’t be disappointed.  Success, therefore, is more than a little scary. Though I don’t think of myself as superstitious, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.  It hasn’t yet, but there’s a long, bleak job hunting season ahead of me and plenty of time for the universe to take its revenge.

Does this little bout of navel-gazing presage a return to blogging? I am not sure.  I am, however, impressed that this site continues to get a few hundred hits a day.  You people have patience.

Why Did My Calling Have to Be This?

So it’s time I come clean and just say it:  I took a stab at the job market, and nothing happened.  It’s really ok.  I have a year of funding left, which means a luxurious 18 months in which to turn a merely defensible dissertation into an awesome dissertation, send off some articles, and generally get my house in order while taking another stab at the market next fall.  I made a promise to myself this summer that I would spend no more than two years on the academic job market before looking for opportunities elsewhere, and I am, for the most part, still committed to that.  At this point in my life, I am ready to leave the “student” qualifier behind and start making grown-up money.  I am not in any way enamored with the prestige that a university job confers, and I am open to considering a number of different career options in and out of education.  On some days, I’m even pretty sure that a high-powered academic job isn’t for me:  that the politics of university department are too oppressive, that jumping on the tenure track treadmill will require too many sacrifices, that I’m not sure how much longer I want to wait before reproducing, etc.

Then weeks like this one happen.  After an awkward first day, my class gradually begins to warm up.  They start asking interesting questions and propose provocative topics for their first writing assignment.  I spend an hour after class discussing Dante and C.S. Lewis and fantasy literature with one student.  Meanwhile, I’ve been emailing back and forth with an archivist at a research library that I want to visit this summer as she helps me identify holdings that I can reference in a fellowship application.  On the bus Monday, I got an email from her notifying me that the papers of a 1900’s female journalist I am interested in have just been made available to the public, and I think I may have squealed audibly, as this was quite possibly the most thrilling news of my month.  As I complete the funding application, I find that I am fantasizing–a little prematurely–about spending day after day walking to this library and devoting hours to perusing its holdings.  I can’t think of a single thing I would rather do this summer, and I’m sure that a little part of me will die if I can’t pull it off.

In short, I fucking love what I do.  I don’t love the low pay, or the uncertainty about where my career is going from here, or the students with shitty attitudes, or the colleagues with the shitty attitudes, or the ridiculous pressure to tailor research topics to the frustratingly narrow standards of “marketability,” or even the prospect of starting the tenure clock.  But during weeks like this, suddenly it all really seems worth it.  Maybe it’s just that I’m coming off a fellowship, where it was pretty much me and my computer in a daily staring match, and I’m remembering how much I love really working, how much I love my on-campus routine and just the experience of being at a university all day.  But all of a sudden, I’m sort of feeling like, “Dammit, I would really miss this if I did something else.”

When I read Historiann’s post on graduate school as a form of self-mortification with quasi-religious implications, the part of me who wrote this post last summer goes “Yeah,” and another part of me goes, “No, that’s not really it at all.”  In some ways, I am sort of attracted to the aura of sophistication that an advance degree confers, but in many other ways, I am just a huge dork who loves this crap and actually believes that what she’s doing is sort of important, even if no one ever recognizes it.  So in some ways, the analogy with religious vocation works.  Both academic and monastic life are about committing oneself to a belief, something you are willing to sacrifice a tremendous amount of personal comfort for.  And yes, there is a certain degree of masochism in that, as well as a certain degree of smugness.    But ultimately it is also about a kind of guileless love and naive belief and a willingness to put up a whole lot of bullshit in order to make that love the center of your life.

It’s a kind of sincerity that isn’t always easy to own up to at a time when irony seems to be the default mode of looking at just about anything, and as someone who has always prided herself on being responsible and pragmatic and adult about things, I’m hating myself just a little bit.  I’m reminded of an application essay I read recently in which the student talked about her complex relationship with her parents.  Her father was always the practical sort who was happy having a normal middle-class job and spending time with his family and taking pleasure in stability.  Her mother, however, was a former Navy pilot, skydiver, and documentary film maker who frequently sacrificed sleep and mental health in order to pursue her interests and follow her dreams.  The student always identified more with her father, having witnessed and resented the ways in which her mother’s aspirations impacted her life and always vowed that she would pursue a practical, remunerative career path.  Then she discovered that she loved acting, that she was outrageously good at it, that she never felt more at home, more herself than when she was on stage, and she went “Well, crap.”  Because there is nothing certain, nothing practical, and for most people, nothing remunerative about pursing acting either in college or as a career.  And yet, she writes, she feels she has to take it as far  as she possibly can.

In some ways, I’m not sure that we really choose our vocations or our dreams.  To a certain degree (mediated by biology, cultural background, family history, economic status, etc.), they choose us, and there is something profoundly weird about realizing that your vocation conflicts, to a certain degree, with your notions of what constitutes a healthy, productive, and socially responsible adult life.

Meditations on a Mock Interview, Part 2

You guys are awesome.  The comments on and responses to this post were fantastic, and I wanted to follow up by letting everyone know that the crisis of confidence did come to an end.  In some ways, just writing about it and coming to the realization that this is a pretty common experience helped resolve those questions about my qualifications and temperamental suitability to academic work.  There are two Very Important Lessons that I took away from the experience (aside ways to perform better in an interview), and I thought I would share them here.

1.  My constant need for reassurance and approval from others probably stems from my unwillingness to perform that service for myself.  Yeah, that’s sort of Therapy 101, stuff that I covered in the first year of counseling, but it’s a surprisingly difficult idea to apply to one’s life.  But the simple truth is that I am an intelligent person with more than an average share of common sense.  I understand what the qualifications for doing this sort of job and living this sort of life are.  I am capable of weighing my strengths and weaknesses, and I am capable of saying, “Sure, some aspects of this path I’ve chosen are really challenging for me, but I do actually belong here.”

Jiminy Cricket from Pinnochio
Kind of like this but a lot less adorable

Why don’t I do this for myself?  Some it probably comes from growing up female in an environment where being uppity or over-confident was a liability.  Some of it just comes from being a former teenager and fearing the social repercussions of thinking too well of myself.  In therapy, I was introduced to the concept of the Inner Critic, which is that voice that basically tells you you suck.  In many people with depression, the Inner Critic can be pretty abusive, but in a healthy person it actually performs an adaptive person.  Your Inner Critic is there to tell you when you’re being an asshole, when you need to work harder, when you’ve crossed a line or done something that isn’t in your best interest.  I guess it’s sort of like that concept of Conscience.  It’s there, ultimately, to protect you.  There have been certain situations in my life where I counted on my talent and the quality of my work to get me something (into my first choice college, for example), and I was blindsided when it didn’t work out.  So, my Critic is sort of trying to make sure I’m never surprised like that again and consistently reminds me of my slim chances for success in anything.  Basically, I have an abusive boyfriend living in my head.

I find it interesting that no only do I require explicit affirmation from other people but that in the absence of any other information, I tend to infer disapproval.  It’s a sucky way of entering the world and trying to interact with others, but ultimately it’s also a way of externalizing my Critic, of taking all of the shit I say to myself and putting it in mouths and minds of others.  Then I can sort of blame them for the fact that I feel terrible about myself.  It’s my sister’s fault that I hate my body.  It’s this professor’s fault if I hurt myself later on today.  It’s my parents’ fault if I’m too scared to interact with people.  Etc.  Perversely, it sort of makes me feel a little better, like my depression is totally the fault of everyone I’ve ever come into contact with, but that’s a huge burden to displace on another person.  My sweet partner tells me I do this thing where I fight with him in my head before he even enters the room.  Usually, it’s because I’m feeling insecure about something–the cleanliness of the house, my lack of productivity that day, whatever–and I decide that he’s upset with me about it, and proceed to chew him out for being a demanding jerk.

2)  Sometimes a little external validation helps.  My Inner Critic knows that I require affirmation, and he thinks that makes me a weakling and constantly polices my behavior for anything that smells of “fishing for compliments.”  That makes a pretty logical and simple task like taking my advisor aside to talk about a shitty mock interview more complicated, especially when I’m afraid that I might cry.  At some points, my Critic sounds a lot like Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, saying “there’s no crying in academia!”

I need a Rosie O’Donnell or Geena Davis type to remind my Critic that he’s an abusive has-been drunk.  Anyway, I happened to run into one of my co-directors yesterday afternoon, and he could tell that I sort of had something I wanted to talk about.  So, we went back to his office, and I explained what had happened (without tears!), and he was completely and totally sympathetic.   When he found out who had conducted the interview, he informed me that one of those people is notorious for giving blistering critiques in defense and writing groups and committee meetings department wide, that she is pretty thick-skinned herself and therefore didn’t have a great bedside manner with vulnerable grad students, though she is a brilliant scholar and a rising star in the field.  Furthermore, four other faculty members had approved of my job materials, which meant that the poor reaction of one of these interviewers was probably an anomaly.  Not everyone is going to respond to every item in a job letter the same way.   You can’t please everyone.  This makes perfect sense.

So I wound up getting my affirmation anyway, and I did not suddenly become lazy or arrogant or entitled after hearing that yes, I belong here.  Furthermore, it would be insulting to the faculty members who have supported me throughout the process to suggest that their good opinion doesn’t count, that their investment and confidence in me was misplaced, just because one other person–no matter how brilliant–had a problem with me.

I’m getting there guys, but it’s a process.  Thanks for reading.

Meditations on a Mock Interview

Three minutes into yesterday’s mock interview, I knew it wasn’t going well.  Admittedly, this was something of a surprise.  I had crafted and honed my job materials, showing them to three faculty members over the course of a month and diligently following their advice on rewrites.  I had created one-page handouts demonstrating the range of courses I had taught and could teach.  I had been talking about my dissertation with friends and family, preparing to explain my project to the interviewers.  In the car on the way to campus, I was rehearsing eloquent explanations of how my research enhanced my teaching.

So, it was shocking to sit down in the room with two faculty members I have known for years, open my mouth, and hear a stream of incoherent blather come out.  I started my explanation of my dissertation the way I had intended, but I tripped over the first few words, the witty remark I had planned for the beginning didn’t land right, and in an effort to get my audience where I wanted them, I beat a particular point to death, and after that, I was just lost.  I could feel myself flaming out spectacularly as it was happening, mortified and yet unable to get back on track.  It might have been better if I had simply asked to start over, but instead they just stopped me and asked to move on.  The rest of the interview was sort of a blur.  I know I said a few things I was proud of, but for some odd reason, I changed the subject when asked to talk about an aspect of my teaching experience that I was actually very proud of, and clung to a particular idea so tightly that I sounded one-dimensional.

We wound up stopping the interview early just to talk about what was going wrong.  Everything they said was reasonable–I need to get to the point, be more confident about my pedagogical philosophy instead of trying to please everyone, offer very general summary statements instead of inundating them with the minutiae of my research project–but I was still emotionally wrung out with a gigantic lump in my throat by the time the whole thing was over.  But before it was over, they eviscerated my finely wrought job letter and c.v., documents that two other professors had declared “very strong.”  Granted, the task of writing job materials isn’t an exact science, and there is a great deal of disagreement on what should be emphasized and what shouldn’t be addressed at all.  My advisor had insisted that I spend a full page in my job letter talking about my dissertation, and these two wanted that cut to one short paragraph.  Even in that meeting, the two faculty members conducting the interview quibbled over how I should present my participation in various outreach programs, with one insisting that those were special credentials and the other arguing that it made me look like “a grad student who just signs up for stuff instead of being a leader.”  That sorta stung, especially when she read a few sentences of my letter out loud to in a “what was she thinking?” sort of voice in order to make her point.  That stung.

I did my best to plaster a look of openness and eagerness in the face of their criticism.  I kept making eye contact and did not let my voice break.  I thanked them graciously, got 50 feet from the building, and promptly burst into tears.  And I was ashamed of my tears.  It’s horribly embarrassing, but I cry easily, not because I’m weak or because I manipulate people with tears.  It’s simply a physical response to being overwhelmed, to having nowhere else to go with emotions.  When I was a teenager, I used to get angry and yell at people.  Now I tend to turn all of that inward and vent it in private.

Still, it seems weird that flaming out during a mock interview would have such devastating emotional consequences.  I have a history of depression and a history of inflicting minor self-harm, and this sort of thing is particularly triggering.  I knew it would be that way going in.  Granted, these people were not in the position to offer or deny me a job.  They aren’t in control of my future in that way, but pleasing people in positions of authority, appearing competent and credible, have always sort of been life or death matters for me.  I have a preternatural fear of giving offense to someone I respect and an intense need to be told that I am acceptable.  And no, I wasn’t unloved as a child.  If anything, I was probably over-praised, told too often how special and talented I was, until I believed that being anything less than extraordinary was tantamount to failure.  I don’t think I’m spoiled, just intensely fearful, terrified of breaking rules I don’t know exist and convinced that at some point, someone is going to discover that I am a fraud.  This is more than the usual graduate student “imposter syndrome.”  I’m not entirely convinced that my existence is much more than a sham, that someone isn’t going to come along one day at take away my job, evict me from my house, dissolve my marriage, revoke my “adult” card, and send me back to high school.  I have nightmares about having to return to high school, actually, and they usually involve math tests.

In the competitive world of graduate school, that feeling is heightened by the ridiculously competitive atmosphere.  If you aren’t in this world, it’s sort of hard to explain, but every interaction with a faculty member or even another graduate student can be an incredibly fraught experience, an opportunity to prove that you belong or to unintentionally give away the fact that you don’t.  For five years, I think I’ve been waiting for someone to either tell me conclusively, beyond a shadow of a doubt, “you can totally do this” or to conclusively tell me “you don’t have what it takes.”  Perhaps that’s what I was looking for during that mock interview, a definitive statement one way or another.  Even hearing that I should just quit now might have been reassuring, because FINALLY someone would confirm what I feel like everyone thinks but doesn’t say, air the horrible secret that everyone has been trying to protect me from.  Late last night, in the throes of insomnia, I fantasized about them talking about how unqualified I was after I left the room.  Of course that’s ridiculous.  There are no verdicts to be handed down one way or the other.  Academic labor is just very hard, and getting a job is very hard, and it is in my best interest to get feedback from every possible source and trial and fail in as many low stakes situations as I can.  Prior to this, the Graduate Advisor had told us that a student who finished last year gave a miserable mock interview and went on to land an excellent job, so to a certain degree, their expectations were probably much lower than mine.

Still, I’m becoming even more aware of how much my need to be validated, my paranoid suspicion that everyone–friends, family members, colleagues–thinks I suck but just won’t say it out loud, could limit me personally and professionally.  It does even now prevent me from pursuing certain relationships or being totally open in the ones I have.  And it makes me less inclined to seek feedback or ask for advice until I think a project is “perfect.”  And it makes experiences like these the sort of thing that will set me back for a few days, unable to really work until I assimilate the experience and regain a bit of confidence.  As someone who likes, needs, to be constantly productive, I really hate this particular weakness of mine, but as much as I strive to improve and heal, I’m recognizing that learning to work within those limitation may ultimately be more productive than trying to stifle them.  Because truthfully, my innate sensitivity makes me a better teacher, a more considerate colleague, and a more benevolent giver of feedback.  And my desire to please makes me a harder, more efficient worker.  But it also means that I’ve lived with chronic depression for fifteen years, and that depression has gotten life threatening at least once.

I am immensely thankful for the people on the feminist blogosphere who advocate treating depression like any other disability, something that requires accommodation.  Moving forward today, in the aftermath of that experience, I am figuring out how to do what I need to do while restoring a modicum of mental and emotional equilibrium.  I got up early and put on clothes that make me feel confident and professional (this just happens to work for me–not necessarily for everyone).  I’ve sent those faculty members a thank you note, indicating how much I appreciate their support in this process.  I’ll be sending them a revised letter of interest later, but not this morning.  This morning, I’ll sit here in Starbucks and sip tea and read Tim Gunn’s book for the pure gossipy joy of it.  This afternoon, I’ll be meeting with other grad students to discuss our writing projects and probably dish a little bit about the suckitude of our mock interviews.  And I’m going to acknowledge that, today at least, I need to limit my exposure to grumpy criticism more than usual.

Note for Commenters: In that spirit, I’m going to ask that you refrain from dispensing advice, especially of the “you just need to X” or even the “you’re too hard on yourself” variety.  You are encouraged, however, to describe your own experience with interviews or any other aspect of job seeking or school or receiving criticism of any kind.  For the next few days at least, this is a space for venting, not for pontificating.

Basket Case Time

A button that reads "Don't Panic"Ya’ll, I have some good news, some bad news, and some news that may or may not induce bleeding from the eyeballs.  The good news is that I am over my temporary writing hump and have nearly finished another chapter.  I’m also about done with all of my job materials.  The bad news is that my brain is too wrung out for blogging, and if I have two good hours of writing in my system, I’m generally going to be spending it on more pressing matters.

The other news, though I realize that you can fit the people who really care about this into an averagely sized high school gymnasium, is that the JOB LIST IS OUT, YA’LL.  HOLY CHRIST ON A POPSICLE STICK.  This is my first time on the market.  I’ve been promised another year of funding, so I’m not desperate yet, but there is just no way that this won’t create drama in my life, because at bottom, I’m sort of a shy person and SCRUTINY.  IT BURNS.  The simple activity of begging professors to read my letters and writing sample and whatnot has aggravated my acute case of imposter syndrome already.  Mock interviews (starting next week) should be an absolute hoot.  I’ll try to blog about it when I’m not drinking myself into oblivion and/or sobbing into a pillow.

Photo Credit:  Jim Linwood

Being a “Real” Writer

comic frame from Hyperbole and a Half depicts a girl typing happily on her computer at 3:17 am
Eerily accurate portrait of myself at this moment.

Ok, so sometimes I’m late to the party.  I just came across this two month old post at Hyperbole and a Half, which hilariously depicts what happens when we try to get our lives together and act like “real adults” (cleaning the house, buying real groceries, going to the bank, etc.), take on way too many responsibilities, start to slip a bit, plummet into a guilt spiral, and wind up indulging in shameful, non-adult habits like surfing the internet at all hours of the night (ahem).

This is a cycle I also tend to go through with my writing.  I’ll have a backlog of projects (blog posts, prospective articles, dissertation chapters, etc.) that I haven’t been able to finish, so I start setting schedules.  Actually, what usually happens first is that I read something like this and feel terrible that I’m not churning out a certain number of pages or staring at a Word document a certain number of hours of the day.  Writing advice columns are toxic for me.  No matter how benign and common sensical that advice might be, my brain interprets it like this:  “There are people out there writing so much more than I am.  I WILL NEVER BE A SERIOUS WRITER OR ACADEMIC OR EVER HAVE A REAL JOB OR BE ABLE TO FEED MYSELF UNTIL I GET MY SHIT TOGETHER!!!1!1!1!!1111 My therapist and I are trying to sort out why this is.

So I then start making promises to myself about how I am going to rise much earlier than my body would like and begin WORKING in all capital letters just like that.  I will get wildly optimistic about what I can accomplish and even–because why?  I’m not sure–start bragging about my ambitious schedule to my advisors:  “Oh yeah, I’m going to have a draft of that chapter I still have to read 20 books for by the end of the month!”  God bless these people.  They seem to know that it’s delusion but indulge me anyway.  So yeah, I’ll plug away at my writing for several hours a day for a few days.  I’ll read and take notes on stuff.  I’ll organize my bibliography and format the margins.  Then eventually I’ll realize that the actual text isn’t really going anywhere and I’ll start to panic.  I realize that my self-imposed deadlines, which were ridiculous to begin with, are going to be blown.   Then I start falling asleep at my computer because my circadian rhythms are all screwed up.  So I sort of say “eff it” and start distracting myself with West Wing reruns.

Eventually, the chapters do get done, but it never EVER looks like the advice dispensed in those writing advice columns.  I always spin my wheels like for weeks on end working in fits and spurts with the best of intentions until I discover the Alpha and Omega of ideas, the idea that unlocks the whole goddamn problem.  Then I’ll spend two to three weeks in a kind of writing fugue state, churning out massive chunks of prose in record time, working 7-8 hours a day and forgetting to eat, waking up in the middle of the night to write some more.  During these periods, I don’t need “motivation.”  I need chemical sedatives.  Last April, an epiphany struck while I was casually reading on my way home from a conference and nearly had a panic attack when I was asked to please turn off my electronic device.  Then I’ll emerge from this process exhausted and worn out.  I’ll send that project off to someone for feedback and then indulge in some World of Warcraft or Spider Solitaire or whatever, since my brain is by that point a wrung out piece of mush.  Then I’ll start that process all over again (it’s conveniently timed for maximum productivity in the months of November/December and April/May, so at least it’s attuned to the academic calendar).

Part of me sort of hates this.  I wish I wrote more like writing advice columns told me to.  I wish I were able to keep a meticulous writing log or commit to writing between the hours of 8 and 12 for more than a few days at a time.  I like to think that I would be even more productive if I did, but it’s not working out, at least not yet.

Part of me also wonders if those bits of advice so ceremoniously handed down are, in fact, little fictions in and of themselves.  Perhaps, instead of the sort of “here’s how I write and how you should too because I get columns published in The Chronicle of Higher Education,” Moses atop the mountain, handing you the keys to the kingdom wisdom nuggets I imagine them to be, they are in fact stories about how the author would like to write.  Perhaps they document how they think other people write, the inflated expectations they impose upon themselves after selectively watching their successful colleagues only during their best, most productive moments.  Or, you know, maybe I just need therapy.

I’m considering the notion of embracing my own process and making it work rather than trying to adopt someone else’s.  That’s a little bit scary, because I have issues with self-trust.  I would start with acknowledging that there is something sort of valid about the way I do things, that I do, in fact, get writing done and that the end product (once that first draft produced during the fugue state rests for a little while and gets a thorough revision or six over the course of the next few months) tends to be good.  All I would like to do is speed it up a little bit.  So instead of shaming myself for being one of those people who requires a moment of divine revelation in order to really get a project going, I can study the conditions under which those epiphanies occur.  They happen when I’m reading, actually.  So I need to read and read widely, even stuff that doesn’t seem to be 100% relevant.  They also happen when I’m not feeling harried and exhausted, so I need to create the conditions for calm to the best of my ability.  And yeah, sometimes that will mean a West Wing episode or two.

But accepting my own process also means setting aside my fantasies about how other, more successful writers do things.  The truth is, it probably isn’t as neat as it looks on the surface.  And it’s worth noting  that I’ve never actually looked at the name of the author of one of these columns and said, “Oh yeah, he wrote that groundbreaking article on the theory of blahdy blah blah blah.”  The world isn’t made up of just good writers and bad writers, successful writers and unsuccessful ones.  Most of us are just writers, puttering along, trying to figure shit out on our own terms, sometimes doing well at it and sometimes doing less well.

It’s the same with being a “real adult.”  Most other people over the age of 22 aren’t doing it nearly as well as you imagine they are.  I’ve long been insecure about not having a “real job” yet, a real job being defined by me as an arrangement in which you show up at a workplace at predefined hours and perform Work (whatever that may be).  Then my sister told me about her “real job” at a major accounting firm, where she sometimes did client work (sometimes late into the night) but also spent an awful lot of time reading  She now has her own accounting business and recently told me that she does her most boring work on a dual monitor setup so that she can watch Glee on another screen.  She makes a  lot more money than me, too.  My other sister, who works the night shift on the reservations line for a major luxury hotel chain also surfs the internet between calls and is encouraged to bring a book to read to help stay awake.  In other words, I have learned that a big part of having a “real job” is showing up, performing the work that needs to be done but also just being there in case work needs to be done even if what you’re doing at any given moment looks decidedly not like work.

So yeah, I’ll own it.  I’m on fellowship, and my job looks an awful lot like vacation, especially to my father in law (therapy!).  But I can “show up.”  I can create the conditions that are likely to produce good writing.  I can learn more about how I write and potentially turn that knowledge into higher productivity.  And the thing is:  no one’s watching, not my parents, not the people who dispense trophies for being a “real writer/adult,” not the people who write the advice columns, and not even my advisors.  As long as the diss eventually gets done, who really gives a crap how it happened?

Image credit:  Allie Brosh