Thursday, June 09, 2005

Confessions of a structure junkie

Well, my academic career is over. At least for the foreseeable future. Two years ago when I started taking classes after a leave of absence for illness, I managed a good productive six months or so catching up on incompletes. Then last year it was one health crisis after another and aside from a bit of reading and publishing a couple of book reviews and a review essay, there wasn'’t much progress.


Though by this winter I was feeling better and thought maybe it was time to dive back into the thick of things. So, I registered for some classes thinking that the interaction and structure of the classroom would help me back onto the path of academic accomplishment from which illness had led me astray.

Yet, as I recounted in the "“school girl pt.2" post, I was pretty damn tired by the end of the first week. After dropping a class and just focusing on the one, I struggled along for a month. However, by May I was bedridden and began to finally face the painful truth: it's over. Over after six and a half years of stubbornly insisting that I was going to get better and get back onto the academic fast track I spent my undergraduate years and first year and a half of my MA program doggedly pursuing before surgery and blood clots in my lungs and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome reared their hideous heads. I cannot push my body anymore. And frankly, I can'’t push my brain anymore either. At the end of the day, my illness takes all the intellectual energy I have that would otherwise be spent on examining how a series of Christian historical fiction novels about the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 reflect and shape a collective memory among American Evangelicals.

Aside from the gaping hole in my personal identity with academia taken out of the equation, the big issue for me in finally giving up school was that I would have no structure. I found myself becoming depressed each morning when I woke up. What would I do today? Not that I've had much structure for the last year and a half. But that was supposed to be temporary. I always had something hanging over my head waiting to be done. Now it was gone. What on earth was I going to do from now on? What was there to wake up to?

School has always defined my goals. It was what provided structure growing up when there was none at home. I hated summers. Summers were this excruciating ordeal of housekeeping and television. There was some reading and writing. But, without a teacher and an assignment and a deadline, there wasn'’t anything to make sure I really accomplished anything. By the beginning of August I was always jittery with school withdrawls. Need...structure...{leg bouncing while reading old textbook} must...have...assignments... (Funny episode of the Simpsons where the teachers strike, and Lisa gets out her emergency school kit--that was so me.).

Sure, I did read my share of books. But, I wanted so much more. I wanted to learn more. To be pushed more. Obviously my spanking fantasies converged with this and still do. When I read Mija'’s and Haron's punishments a few months back for not working on their respective dissertations, I was rather envious. And when I read Claire'’s description of enacting a "sixteenth-century boarding school"” regime to get some of her work done, all I could think was, omg, I soooo want that.

Have always wanted that.

Of course, all the punishment in the world wasn'’t going to change the fact that I wasn'’t getting much done. But I wanted it to be something a good spanking could cure.

School in real life was not nearly that draconian, even if I wished it was. And the threat of getting anything less than a perfect grade was far more motivation than spanking would have been. Though there were moments. There were teachers who would give me "A" minuses for work they would give other students "A"”s. My undergraduate French professor (who I think was a spanko and at the very least was a nun sans habit) was the most egregious in this respect. She often pushed me much harder than the other students in class. At first I thought she just didn'’t like me, and I certainly wasn'’t too keen on her. Indeed, she almost made me cry in class once. It wasn't until that summer I learned the truth when a friend of mine pointed out that this prof only pushed me because she liked me. And you can even say there was even a bit of corporal punishment when, at a wine and cheese event we both attended, I made a comment to her that my Arabic was taking over my French and she smacked me on the arm--only half playfully. By that point I took it as the highest form of affection she could have shown. :)

But, even if school life was hardly that of Tom Brown, there was structure. Goals to accomplish. Degrees to pursue. Schools to get into. Courses to take throughout the summer. I liked doing homework outside in the sun.

And now that I can't handle assignments and deadlines, life feels like one very long August.

Okay then, if I am to be the patient, I will find structure in that. Create structure for that. And I have a boyfriend who likes enforcing structure, so surely something will be accomplished.

So, I tried to set up a daily regime. Ride my exercise bike. Do some yoga or qi gong, as well as forty-five minutes of meditation. Eat a low sodium diet. Write in my journal every day. Take all medicine and supplements every day. Do the moxa and massage every day. And physical therapy exercises every day. And...and...

But there were also medical appointments to attend. Transportation to coordinate. Case workers to meet with. Housing options to figure out and applications to fill out. Insurance denials to appeal.

And, of course, get some rest. Something my body was as determined for me to get as I was about creating structure in my academy-less life.

When I announced to my boyfriend that I was going to start sending him a schedule again with my new illness-related to-do list, his response felt tepid. When I then promptly forgot to send it to him and he didn't say anything, I figured he wasn't too keen on the idea. Granted, I think he just hasn't been in the mood to be much of an "enforcer"” but as I was exhausted with anemia by that point, I decided to forget about it. Not because I wanted to but because I was just too damn listless to discipline myself to do much of anything.

But I could be doing so much more as a patient. I should be...

A few nights back my godfather and I were talking. He is only a year older than me but was my sponsor when I became Catholic five years ago and in the Byzantine rite that makes him my godfather. He feels closer to me than just a friend and has a paternalistic streak about him that makes him feel very godfatherly sometimes. At one point as I told him about all the bureaucratic shit I'’ve been having to deal with in addition to being sick and all that I was doing to deal with being a good patient, he stopped me. "Do you remember right after I came out and I kept calling myself a ‘faggot’ because I was angry at myself for being gay?"” Of course I did. He was a good Arab Catholic boy who was supposed to marry a good (hopefully) Arab Catholic girl and have lots of good Arab Catholic babies, except that he finally realized he was attracted to boys. I knew the rejection of his Church and culture were agonizing for him and it was agonizing for me to watch him reject himself. "“And remember how you said to me, '‘have mercy on yourself?'’ Well, now it's my turn. Michelle, have mercy on yourself. You'’re dealing with so much right now. Please be kind to yourself. All the other stuff will come in its own time."

Yes...yes, it will.

So, in addition to letting go of my academic career, I'’m also trying to let go of my incessant need for structure. It'’s funny because the stereotype of the top/bottom relationship is of a control freak and passive submissive. In reality, I'm the one who is the control freak and has tried to use spanking as a way to control my world (again, see "school girl pt 2"). But I think for right now, I'’m going to just rest. Quit trying to impose structure on myself and just be. And let the structure rise up on its own, however long it takes and in whatever form it takes.


Paul said...

Natty, I can barely begin to guess how you must feel. In some ways letting go of my PhD was easy - it felt somewhat like setting down a burden - but in other ways terribly hard. I'd never really planned an academic career; I'm too much of a dilettante. But the emotional investment I'd made was nevertheless huge. A good deal of going back to do a PhD was about proving to myself that I was capable of it. And maybe I wasn't capable after all. For me it wasn't about losing structure so much as purpose, and I don't think I've got that back even yet, several years afterwards.

The big consolation was to realise that although the academic credentials wouldn't follow, I could still carry on the work in my own time and, especially, in my own way. Even when I was a PhD student I was a loner, to my supervisor's profound frustration.

But it was me that killed my academic life. To have yours seemingly thwarted by so much that's out of your control is hatefully cruel. Goodness knows I'm hardly qualified to give advice, but you're still the same person you always were, and though being outside academia takes away a great deal of freedom and opportunity, it can also provide some freedom and opportunity.

Good luck, anyhow. You deserve lots.


Mary said...

Dear Natty

While I never could handle college, I did attend trade school for bus management, ::Grin:: but got most of my journalism from hands on I started when i was a kid literaly following a reporter around ::grin:: who to this day is my "big brother" to his assignments and carring his camera bag giggle I know it sounds silly to most people but it was such a great and wonderious thrill for me...

When I finaly got my own job working at CN as office manager/Asst. Editor I was thrilled that nothin could shake that, or so I thought.... and than when i became Editor for six months WELL damn.... I was flying higher than a kite... even though i was workig like a dog literaly... it was only a temp position until my friend came into the job. ::grin:: and we made an excellent team, he treated me like an equal and we worked great for a year like that... and than it all fel apart...

he left for another job, and I got sick... I had been sick for years but always pushed myself. I have been legaly blind since I was a kid. and I never let that stop me from doing anything so having Fibromyalgia and thus CFS was certintly not going to stop me.... Well it didn't... until the migrains came that started to rob my sight and cause seauzers came agong. they took from me the only things in life that made me happy... My job, my indepdance, my freedom, my ability to leave my home, my ability to read my books. oh how I love to read giggle even as a kid i would beg my mom to let me stay up past my bedtime just to read to a book giggle she would say ok and find me in my bed sometimes hours later so emersed in the book that I didnt' even hear her or my father enter the room giggles

It has taken a year literaly almost to the day for me to get the migrains under control to where I can leave my house again. and not live like a vampire LOL or scare of poor unsuspecting DHL drivers by having seazures when i forgot and opened the front door one day giggles that poor man he freeked when he saw me go down like a sake of potatoes and tossed the package at me and took off my front porch, the last thing I saw was this terrified look on his face and him high tailing it out of there... ::grin:: I can laugh about it now... but when it happened I naturaly was depressed and extremely upset about it.

I too am one who loves structure in her life, consquences and rules, needs them craves them. but I too have found that the past year has been a wonderful year of dixcovery for me as a person.

When I discovered your blog, and yes I am patheticly UNTECHY giggles it was like a whole new world opened up for me... and I found that blogging could become my new creative outlet and could fill the missing void that I missed so terribly when I had to leave work.I can not work full time any more and it damn near kils me, especialy now.

I have no idea where I am going with this except I guess to say that I do understand excatly what your going through but in a diferent way with me it was work, and journalism and not school, and I feel for you and well want to send you a huge hug.::HUGS::


Tarte said...

Another very brave post to write, Natty. I think you're gonna do ok!

What about long-distance learning? Have you definitively given up finishing your MA thesis? I thought that there were provisions for technically disabled students to write from home and "attend" classes online. If not school, what WILL you do to occupy your mind?

Paul's right that you're still the same person, and with or without the academic program, you can continue investigating and writing on what interests you, if you please. I know very well how you feel about going to school all your life and suddenly finding yourself in a void without that.
It's as much about a sense of identity as it is about structuring your time.

I wish you the best of luck with whatever you decide to do, and good/better health to do it with. Please keep posting this summer and keep us informed of your activities (and those of your neighbors, of course). :-)

Natty said...

Thanks, Paul. :)

Yeah, a lot of the loss has been one of identity, probably even more so than the loss of structure. I've known since the end of high school that I wanted to be an academic and it does feel like this gapping hole at the moment. In a fit of terrible self pity a few weeks back, I remember thinking quite arrogantly that I'm too smart not to have a PhD or even a Master's Degree. Of course, there are plenty of people without them who are at least as smart as I am (with the converse being true as well). But I think in many ways this has been healthy for me spiritually to realize that, as you point out, I am still me, regardless of what degrees I lack.

And yes, now that I've done a lot of the grieving, I'm realizing I have a lot of freedom (well...sorta -- as much as my body will allow). I can read novels if I want -- and good ones, not the horrible ones I was deconstructing for my thesis. It also means that as I get to feeling better I can focus more on some non academic writing that's been crying out for attention. Which, can provide a bit of the structure I'm lacking without academia. But, not until I rest for a good long time. :)

Natty said...

So know what you mean, Mary, about pushing yourself and not letting anything stopping you. We figure I've probably had Fibromyalgia since I was 11 or so, and so most of my life has been about dragging my body along when it didn't want to go. It worked (generally) until the surgery 6 years ago with all the complications. Even then I never really grasped that life had changed and kept on pushing. For me the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back" was vertigo, and even then I still pushed. Just told my body "sorry, you're just going to have to get better because I don't want to be sick ." By autumn of 2001 my health collapsed and it's been up and down since. It started getting better in 2003, so I started back to school and since then it's just been steadily declining with the exception of a bit of a lift this winter.

Yes, blogging has been a great outlet. Indeed, I think I'd have really gone crazy being housebound without the Internet. It's not the same as teaching, which I miss a great deal, even if college freshmen and sophomores don't understand the difference between a sentence fragment and a complete sentence. ;) But I've been making great friends with blogging, and I think it's a nice discipline to write for a public audience on a regular basis.

Thanks for the hugs. :)

Natty said...

Ah, I'm brave am I, Claire? :)

Actually, my boyfriend, when he read a draft of this post before I posted it, said something about it seeming quite personal. As I thought about it a bit, made me wonder if perhaps blogging is just one huge act of exhibitionism. So, maybe not brave, just very sick and twisted. LOL

Yes, there are certainly ways to go to school without actually going to class. I've been doing it for a year and a half, though it's been because pretty much all of my coursework is done (most of it was done 6 years ago when I had the surgery that so affected my health). My most recent forays back to the classroom have been about getting to know faculty I might have used for my thesis committee since the others who were going to be on the committee have died or moved. But this year I will not have finished one single credit hour -- thesis hours or otherwise. I've been down this road before, and I think I've just come to the point where after 8 years -- 6 1/2 sick and really incapable of getting much of anything done -- it's time to call it a day. Frankly, I've found that I really don't care about my thesis topic anymore. Illness has a way of changing priorities and topics that engage the mind.

So what will I do now? Well, rest for awhile. There have been a number of writing projects either halfway done or knocking around in my head, and as I rest I'll spend some time figuring out what I want to do with them. But, as I just told Paul, I think now that I'm getting over my initial grief, I'm becoming more excited to realize I have some freedom.

And no worries about the blog. If nothing else, once I rest a bit, I'll probably go back to posting every other day or so. :)

Tarte said...

Natty, there are a number of unknowns (coursework still lacking, administrative restrictions, etc.), but I want to play the devil's advocate. Before all those years of work are sacrificed, have you investigated the possibility of switching topics & directors, working with someone else (mainly through email) who inspires you? That person could look after finding other readers. You'd be surprised how many exceptions can be made to accommodate a student intent on finishing a degree! Also, time alone is often responsible for putting you off a topic. Once I finished with my topic I COMPLETELY lost interest in it.

I also moved to another country, got married, had two kids, corresponded with my director infrequently and only via snail mail, and took seven years to do it. Academia is a bitch!! but it still seems a shame to throw all your effort away if there's any way of salvaging it.

On the other hand, if you've really come to peace with your decision, then the plans you've announced sound more than enough to keep your mind busy. I think assembling the Allie saga would be great (popular topic and therapeutic to do). Blogging of course is pleasant: you gain a sense of community and feedback. But IMO it's even better psychologically to get your book out there and know it will rest on someone's shelf and give people pleasure.

Blogging exhibitionist?!? you think? hehehehe. It's ALL ego-stroking. If it's twisted and sick, then think of all the twisted, sick pervs in the world who have taken to blogging as if to mother's milk. Why has it become a major phenomenon now, just in the last two years? Now THERE'S a topic for you!!!

Anyway, rest up and I look forward to your more frequent posting when the time's right.

Natty said...

I always love playing devil's advocate and listening to others who do. :)

I think the reason I put at the beginning of the post that my academic career is over "for the foreseeable future" is because I can't rule out a return completely. Indeed, there are still moments when I think, well, maybe I can pull off something really half-assed this summer to get back into financial and academic good graces. But, I'm noticing that doing so comes at a cost to me physically that I'm tired of paying at this point (and not sure I could this time around anyway). However, a few years down the road if my health does improve for longer than just a year or so, then perhaps I might return to this subject at another program/school in which it would fit better than my current department. Or it may be that I chose to go into an entirely different discipline. Having spent a lot of time dealing with existential issues like how will I buy medicine if my insurance won't cover it? or Where will I live if my social security won't cover my rent? or Why do I have to live with chronic pain? I find that I'm just not all that interested in my academic topic aside from here and there when I have the energy to be, which hasn't been all that often over the last six years. And as you point out, as time passes the more interest I lose. :)

It's interesting that you mention the "Allie saga," as the other day I was toying with taking that up again after 14 years. Though, the novel I've been working on 250 words at a time about getting to know my biological father would probably be the more likely book to get done first as I'm about 200 pages or so into that. I've also been wanting to do some sort of memoir about my relationship with my body and medicine weaving comparisons between Western and Chinese medicine and some of Michel Foucault's thoughts in Birth of the Clinic -- but that one will definitely have to wait until I have a lot more cognitive energy. ;) In the meantime, I think I'll focus any creative juices into cliched spanking stories. ;)

"If it's twisted and sick, then think of all the twisted, sick pervs in the world who have taken to blogging as if to mother's milk."

And I'm quite happy and proud to be a sick twisted perv sucking at the blogging teat. :D

"Why has it become a major phenomenon now, just in the last two years? Now THERE'S a topic for you!"

Ah well, actually Rebecca Blood ( looked at just that, and the history is a bit longer than just the last two years. :)

Alex Birch said...

Natty, I hardly know you except as someone who writes an incredibly stimulting blog and who helped me a lot when I first got started, yet I feel you are a friend and I felt so sorry for the health situation you are in when I read your blog and that all your academic hopes and aspirations appear to have dissolved.

Then I thought..its OK to feel sorry but this is a young woman of great talent who has so much to offer and the most important thing is for you to remember that and for us all to be there bolstering you!!. It must be so depressing for you at the moment that your body doesnt want to respond to the pressures you are putitng it through but I urge you, Natty, dont give up on acadaemia and all the hopes you have which drive you on.

By all means take the rest your body needs, do all the right things, take all the right medicines and seek physical and emotional sustenance from those who can provide it by the bucket load. Listen to the voice of reason but don't be driven by doubters or those who tell you you have no hopes of reviving your aims and aspirations.

If it means reviewing and revising those aspirations a little then fine and take every opportunity and avenue provided for the disabled to assist you to accomplish your goals.

Claire made the point about long distance learning/correspondence courses ..whatever aids you can get..which allow your brain to remain focused and your body to have some time to rest and cope.

Most of all Natty, dont give up on your hopes and aspirations. Its always good to be driven by goals and sometimes life kicks you in the teeth while trying to achieve them.

If you do decide that your original objectives are beyond your health capabilities that would be cruel indeed but sit down, try and get over the disappointment, and work out a new positive path for your life.

Most of all, Natty, dont give up. You have a stack of friends on line , most of whom you will never have met, all willing you to succeed in all you attempt. Its not much I know but the feeling of wanting to help in any way we can through support and encouragement is paramount.



me said...

Hi Natty,

I was sorry to read that you are having to take a hiatus from something you've worked so hard for. Being another structure junkie, I understand how things like school/work/family life can act like anchors for a life -- and changes to them can be so disorienting!

It is hard at times to realize that the body/mind has limits and those limits become imperatives. At this point, you are truly doing what you should be -- and letting the body/mind recover.

Please know that I send you all the positive energy and encouragement for whatever directions you are going -- you are truly so very brave in many ways!


poiesia :)

Natty said...

Heya Alex, :)

Well, just want to assure you that even though I've given up on academia for the time being, I haven't given up on living. :) I'm actually past the point of depression and at that last stage of grieving: acceptance. Not resignation, just a realization that this isn't the right path for me now. Indeed, I think there is a great deal about my illness experience that could benefit from my talents and skills. I'm able to give voice to what it's like to be sick and poor in American better than I suspect a lot of others can.

But it's sweet to realize people who read this blog ostensibly to read about spanking also care about the non-spanking part so much as well. On my vanilla blog (which I'm hesitant to link to because it's so totally NOT anonymous) they've been reading the day by day account of my illness and sorted politcal rants it and my research field often inspire, and so I guess I come to expect their concern and offers of casserols. While I do talk about my illness as it relates to my spanking kink and do include spanko friends from online among my r/l friends, I guess I've been pleasantly surprised that the demise of my academic career in its current manifestation has affected readers at this blog. It's wonderful to feel so cared about beyond how I get my ass spanked. :) And certainly the aspect of blogging that I find the most rewarding.

Thanks for your hugs and concern. And don't worry or feel too sorry. I'm not. ;)

Natty said...

Thanks, Poiesia, for your encouragement. Yeah, disorienting is a good word. I think having academia taken out of the equation is a bit like having vertigo. And just like the bouts of physical vertigo I deal with, I've learned to just appreciate that it's there and wait until it passes. This form of disorientation will pass and then I'll be able to see again where I should step down. Thanks for the hugs and positive energies. I can certainly use all I can get! :)

Tarte said...

I can't bring over a casserole (hee, hee), but I offer this for your perusal:

Maybe you've seen it already. When I have a little more time I'm going to check out that Rebecca Blood article--thanks.

And OF COURSE you're more than just a spanked ass to your readers!!! :-)

miss kitty said...

Natty, I will essentially second everything that Claire and Alex said. I wish you strength and hope and inspriration to continue on whatever path you are supposed to be on... I've been trying to finish my degree for 10 years and am actually (really) almost done.

Don't give up on yourself: let your body rest but send your spirit wandering out in the world. If you are creative and disciplined enough to do two blogs, then you have skills and talent to spare!

Natty said...

Ah, don't worry about the casserole, Claire. Meals on Wheels has got me covered. Red Jello included. ;)

Thanks for the Chronicle link. Health aside, I'd be the student in the first paragraph. I *was* the student in the first paragraph until that fateful surgery 6 and a half years ago and have tried to be that student since then. Except, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is like having the worse flu virus you've ever had and it never goes away. Achy joints, head, and lungs. Feeling feverish. Groggy. Dizzy. Add to that several chronic pain issues and in this last year since returning to school just via by-arrangement, several bacterial infections. Most of the time I just want to curl up in bed and watch a movie. Well, actually, I curl up in bed with my laptop. :) But even that I have to take frequent rest breaks from as I have a hard time porcessing sensory input like lights and sounds.

I wanted a PhD because I love research and I love teaching. I even enjoy the fact that I can play the petty games academics play really well. But, two years ago I was approved for Social Security (after a two-year bureaucratic and legal process) because, based on my history of illness, even with my education level taken into account, there are no jobs for me in the national economy. Even if I plug away at my research reading or writing a couple of paragraphs a day (no joke, that'd be all I could handle), I still wouldn't be able to get a job because I can't show up anywhere on a regular basis. Just grading papers 5 hours a week for a term last year was enough to strain my nervous and immune systems to new depths.

I've been sick for six years now. They have no idea what exactly is going on with this illness so they have no way to really treat it. If/when it goes into remission or they do figure out what's wrong and how to treat it, I'll be right back in the academic game. But for right now I have to accept that it's not going away and let my career go, as have many other fellow CFIDS victims. Learn to live with nothing hanging over my head. To just be and nothing else.

Oh, and yes, I know I'm more than just a spanked ass. :) I guess what I meant is that I sort of assume people read this blog primarily to read about my spanking life. At times like this, the more poignant aspects of my non-kink life intersect with my kink life and so I write about it. But I don't necessarily write about my everyday life -- getting MRIs and having them stick me four times before finding a vein for the contast dye IV, or how after spraining my ankle a year ago I still can't walk well on my foot because of tendonitis that Medicaid has refused to pay for physical therapy for three times now, or my priest's reports from Rome during the pope's death and the selection of the new pope -- because they don't really have much to do with spanking, and I figure that's not really the point of this blog. That's the stuff I put on my vanilla blog. But this thread has definitely made me appreciate how, one, people read this blog to hear about me as much as about my thoughts on spanking, and two, separating my kink and non-kink life makes me feel too compartmentalized. Sorta the separating myself into the Michelle-me and the Natty-me thing. I've toyed with linking to my vanilla blog, but as I have no anonymity there I can't help but worry I'll regret that. Or just do a single blog that is more anonymous. I dunno. Maybe. Guess it's something I'll be wrestling with for a bit.

Thanks for wanting to push me here. This hasn't been a rash decision. It was something I was feeling in my gut all last year as my health declined and finally verbalized to my boyfriend at Christmas. But it took this last term to force me to truly confront it in all it's agony. Once I made the decision last month, it was sort of a relief to have finally made it, or rather, recognize reality. If that reality changes, you'll be seeing a variety of articles based on my MA thesis in several journals. :)

Natty said...

Thanks, miss kitty. :)

Like I said to Alex, I'm not giving up on myself, just recognizing that whether I like it or not, I have certain physical and cognitive (yup - CFIDS affects that too!) limitations because of my illness. While I do journal about my life on two different blogs and also contribute to two others, that's far different than summarizing Maurice Halbwach and integrating that with Edward Said or Eric Hobsbawm. And blogging does take a toll on me, though the creative outlet and connection with other people when housebound I think evens it out -- emotionally at least. :)

Thanks again.