On Habits

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about working out daily, wherein I promised I would wake up early and work out before going to class. This may come as a surprise to you, but I totally failed to do that. I started waking up earlier, but instead of going to the gym, I used that extra time to work on homework. Yep. I chose homework over gym time. That says a lot about me, doesn’t it?

The thing is, it wasn’t a bad choice. I started getting to campus early enough to work on homework and projects before class. In fact, I finished a project five days early because I could work on it before and after class. The Max was less crowded earlier in the morning, so the commute was less stressful. Waking up earlier meant going to bed earlier, but I’ve been getting good amounts of sleep nearly every day and my sleep schedule better matches that of my fiancé. We now go to bed together somewhere around 10:30pm. He’s able to wake up at 6 to make coffee and mentally prepare himself for his workday, and I can wake up a little after him and see him before we go our separate ways.

Did I manage to keep my word and work out every day? No. But was I able to develop a good habit anyway? Heck yes! It’s nice to see my fiancé in the mornings and talk with him. On my old schedule, there were days where I wouldn’t speak at all until ten or later. Talking in the mornings with my fiancé helps me prepare for commenting in class. Some days I have a lot of social anxiety, which makes speaking up in class difficult because I flounder about or lose my train of thought or talk too quietly—or I just don’t make sense. But that doesn’t happen when I wake up early. Or, at least it doesn’t happen as much.

Now, if there’s one habit I want to have, it’s writing every day. I haven’t had a regular writing schedule since early high school. I wrote often enough in college, thanks to my writing classes, but I wasn’t ever able to write daily, or without someone imposing a due date on me.

Habits, apparently, take 21 days to form. If I could write 500 words a day for three weeks, I’ll be that much closer to being a good writer. Clearly, Elizabeth Bear writes every day—or at least, she did for a time. Brandon Sanderson and Jim Butcher write every day, I’m almost sure. Producing content is harder for me than editing it, but it wasn’t always that way. If I could find that part of me that can write with abandon, that can turn my editing mind off… Well, I’d feel a lot better about myself.

National Novel Writing Month is coming up, and while I seriously doubt my ability to write 50k words while also in grad school, I’ll try to write daily from now until December. I’ll check back in with you all in 21 days to let you know how I’m doing.

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It’s a Week into Grad School

…And it’s been one heck of an experience. From navigating multiple five-story buildings with mezzanines and skybridges, to learning how to cross the city streets (it’s different in Oregon! Jay-walking is legal!), to working with professors who stumbled into academia rather than pursued it and have industry jobs…. It’s been a little crazy.

Some things haven’t changed, though. Students still rush to their classes; there’s just more of them. The food in the student market is overpriced, but at least there are more choices. And the professors? As expected, they’re really cool.

It’s more than an understatement to say I’m having some culture shock. I’m not used to the huge buildings and giant lecture halls—or elevators, for that matter. The largest class building of my undergrad had a basement and three floors, one of which was barely accessible to students. The largest class I ever had personally was just over 60 students. We barely had any classrooms that could hold that many people. That’s not the case at PSU. They seem to have an excess of large rooms. My current largest class, with an occupancy of about 40 students, occurs in an auditorium with 200+ seats. It’s kind of nuts.

But more than that, the campus itself is simply huge. It spans 50 acres and more than 30 city blocks. The Portland streetcar runs through the campus—literally traveling between the bookstore, the student rec center, and a cluster of restaurants. There are at least three Starbucks on campus. I’ve barely begun to explore my school and already the scale overwhelms me. Part of it is that I’ve never spent much time in cities; I’ve lived in the suburbs all my life. But now I take the Max light rail into Portland four days a week and spend anywhere from four to eight hours each day away from home. And I’m sure that once my classes pick up, my time on campus will increase dramatically.

I still feel good about my decision to pursue a graduate degree at PSU. I might say that I’m more excited about the program now that I’ve started it than I was a week ago. But there’s a huge part of me that hasn’t adjusted to it yet—which, I know, is totally normal. Undergrad was such an easy transition for me. I was ready to leave home, and the classes were pretty much what I expected after taking as many AP courses as I did in high school. I could walk from my dorm to my class in five minutes. Now my commute is sometimes more than an hour each way (granted, it’s on the Max, so I can read or surf the internet while I travel). Most of my new friends in the program live across the city from me. On a campus of almost 30,000 students, a lot of times, I feel solitary in a way I never did in undergrad.

I know, I know. I’ll get used to it eventually. I may even come to love the sprawling campus after my two years are up. But, for the time being, it’s an unexpectedly difficult—yet also exciting—transition. And I look forward to seeing how it all turns out.