Friday, May 19, 2017

The Pseudo-Statistician's Lament.

During my last week of school, I distinctly remember telling my friends, "I cannot wait to take a break from school work." And yet here I am... taking Principles of Statistics (or How to Hate Life in 38 Lessons) through BYU Independent Study. This class is one of three prerequisites that I need to take for a new program.

I approached the class with immediate dread, which was only perpetuated when the introduction in the textbook read, "In statistics, the gain will be worth the pain." The PAIN??? Couldn't the editors just leave it at, "You will gain so much!" Of course, that would be lying.

I'm convinced that this class is impossible for English majors. The quizzes and exams are comprised of multiple choice and true/false questions. I analyze the questions extremely carefully and keep a list of poorly worded questions, so I can include them in course evaluations for my teachers' benefit. I'll quickly ascend to the top of my professors' favorite student list. On one particular occasion, I got a practice quiz question wrong, but I took a screenshot of the textbook that proves that I am, in fact, RIGHT. I would include these pictures, but there's no need to secure my reputation as a snot.

I also get really defensive when I'm working through my course. I talk to myself, even when I'm in the offices all alone. When the practice quiz practically taunted me and said, "You are incorrect," I bellowed in a most un-ladylike fashion, "LIKE HELL I AM!" And then I quickly repented because I remembered that I was on the Lord's campus. Oh, and one time, I got an 80% on a quiz. That was particularly soul-crushing. I haven't gotten an 80% on a test since the seventh grade.

Some of the concepts are difficult to wrap my head around. My brain is not wired for exactness and finite answers. After all, my degree has prepared me in interpretation and artful BS-ing. Anyway, I draw special diagrams to help me figure stuff out. Behold:

Note the outliers. Fassbender breaks the scale.

I've come across a term called "Discrete RVs." Of course, the last thing I think of is a random variable whose set of values is finite. Nope, I picture this:


There are only 27 lessons left for me to complete. ONLY 27 long, agonizing lessons. And I feel perfectly wretched for complaining so much. I tell my students on the first day of class that I detest complaining and that if they get a B or C, it's not the end of the world. But I will heretofore alter my first day lecture by excluding all math classes from such rules.

By the end of this class, I fully expect to look like this:

Another outlier for the "ATTRACTIVE SCALE," yes?
Love—the Ever Pessimistic, Pseudo-Statistician,
Bekki

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Top 3.

1 - For my early American print culture class, we went on a field trip. We visited Reid Moon where he showed us his incredible book collection. He's a collector but not the self-declared-I-think-I'm-impressively-literary-book-collector. Moon collects rare books, particularly LDS books, documents, and letters. For instance, I believe he has seven first editions of the Book of Mormon. While listening to his stories and looking at his books, I felt like my heart would burst from my chest. I touched the books that belonged to Marie Antoinette, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and even Adolf Hitler. Here are just some of my favorites:
  • The original manuscript of Section 11(?) from the Doctrine & Covenants
  • King James's copy of the King James Bible
  • Joseph Smith's vest pocket copy of the Book of Mormon
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin signed by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • Common Sense, published by Robert Bell (the first publisher)
  • Shakespeare Folio, 4th edition
  • And though I cannot stand the movies, I held the One Ring to rule them all used during filming
With all of the books and other treasures in the room, I felt like I was breathing the very air of my literary heroes. I got home and called my parents to tell them about my experience. And I still talk about it with them. People get high on drugs; I get high on really old books that smell like antiquity, feature brittle and yellow pages, and are signed by dead people. 

2 - This same class (an amazing class) went to a chocolate shop to workshop our papers. Our class is really small, so we have the luxury of going anywhere for class. And miraculously, we're still productive, even with amazing food and the best chocolate. This little store is called Taste, and since our class meeting, I have been back to the shop too many times. It's gotten so bad that all of the employees know my name, they know what I study, they know what I order, and they know how I like my table set up. The chocolate is so rich and amazing, but I get tons of work done in this shop because they have no wifi! Thus, I am forced to grade batches of assignments, and I draft fairly quickly. So if I one day leave this shop looking like a small, French pastry cart, at least some good scholarship comes out of it. But I flatter myself by thinking that if I type on my computer faster, I will actually burn all of the calories that I consume. 

I mean... how could anyone resist?
3 - And of course, I graduated from BYU with a Masters of Arts in English. You are now hereby permitted to call me Master Bekki, or Master Hood, or even Hood Master. Just kidding. The actual convocation is not exactly my cup of tea. I consider it a formality that is interminable and inconvenient. We stood outside the Marriott Center in the freezing cold, just so I could walk on stage, shake a bunch of sweaty hands, and collect an empty diploma book. The graduation gear, for example, looked like it got tossed in a garbage truck. My gown was frayed, and wires from the hood were sticking out and stabbing my neck. It was like the poor man version of acupuncture. And the cap doesn't look great on an Asian, blockish head. 

But I don't mean to sound ungrateful. I appreciated the experience, and I actually loved one of the speeches given at my graduation. He talked about the importance of a degree in the humanities, even when everyone seems to make jokes about it. This degree opens many doors in the world. I especially loved when he said that this degree makes us a well-rounded human. I needed to hear this. At the beginning of the week, I spoke with a staff member to get more information about the Masters of Social Work program. She said, "Well, this is certainly a useful degree!" After letting that slip, she blushed and quickly apologized. I laughed it off, but it's been bothering me for a while now. When I told one of my professors about it, he cheekily said, "Well did you slap her in the face and flip her desk over?"

What she doesn't realize, however, is that studying English makes me a better person. Reading and writing makes you more compassionate, more empathetic, and more informed about the world. And I think that is what will make me a good mental health counselor. That is, if everything works out in my brain (which it never does)!

Needless to say, I am grateful for my program, for my degree, and for everything that I have learned. I loved school, and I loved my professors who cared so much about my scholarship, my life, and my future. Even though I have learned so much during this program, I don't feel two years older and wiser, too. I still feel like a dork, so I guess I'll keep shopping around for Masters degrees until I stop feeling like one. 









Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Top 4.

My top 4 for the month, besides the defense of course.

1 - About a month ago, I purchased a 3-month membership to the Provo Rec Center. It's been fantastic, especially since I've been getting bored with running. I discovered that I love zumba classes even though I'm terrible at dancing. My lack of coordination is spectacular, and I've face planted twice. My sister and I did an aqua zumba class last Thursday, which is perfect for her pregnant-ness. I accidentally kicked her in the butt, and I stepped on her foot.

A few weeks ago, I attended a pilates class. 15 minutes in, however, I thought, "There is no way this is a pilates class." It was actually the P90X workout from hell. I couldn't leave the workout because it would be too conspicuous, so I suffered 55 minutes of agony. The other people in the session practically glistened when they sweat. I looked like I was dunked in a river. They were able to hold conversations comfortably. I sounded like a squeaky toy was lodged in my throat.

2 - Two weeks ago, I attended the Phi Kappa Phi initiation dinner with my parents. Apparently, PKP is the nation's oldest honor society and NOT a virus that crashes your hard drive when you open the "Congratulations!" email. The evening was delightful, and the highlight was the keynote speaker who made so deep an impression that I forget her name. But really, she was funny, authentic, spiritual, and intelligent. She gave practical advice that wasn't riddled in the Mormon cliches that I'm not particularly fond of. My other favorite part was when my parents swapped out poached pears for chocolate cakes from other people's place settings. Instead of the arrangement of cake, pear, cake, pear, cake... my parents made it cake, cake, cake, and dumped the pears on the other side of the table.


3 - BYU hosts an annual English Symposium every year. I presented a paper in the—wait for it—"Graduate Panel." This panel was basically for the papers whose themes didn't fit anything else in the conference. We were the residual dregs of the submission pool. Again, my mom was a sweetheart and came, but I think my presentation interested her. I presented on Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" (it's that Fantasia scene where volcanoes erupt, and dinosaurs die). This paper was extremely fun to write; I loved incorporating the ballet and the score into my research, and I felt like a winner when people were not only awake but chipper during my presentation.



4 - This happened today. When your Electronic Thesis Dissertation is successfully accepted by the Graduate Studies department, you get a chocolate bar, and you ring a fancy bell. This might not seem like a big deal, BUT IT IS. This is like the cherry on top; the amen at the end of a sermon; basically a thumbs-up from Jesus. And I had the pleasure to share this sweet moment with my friend Nicole, who finished her work at the same time. The pictures tell it all.




Saturday, March 11, 2017

Thesis = Defended!

I have made it! After almost two years of course work, research, and writing, I have finally defended my thesis for my graduate program. It feels amazing, joyful, surreal, and almost (almost) sad because it's suddenly over.

This semester at BYU (and my last) has been hectic beyond belief. I had a lot of deadlines to meet, and revisions for my thesis were frustrating. After my first revision meeting in January in which my graduate committee critiqued my work, I sat in the girls' bathroom thinking (bathrooms are good for thinking) that my writing was garbage, revision was impossible, and my life was over. (Did I mention that I have a gift for hysterics?)

But my committee gave me perfect feedback, and after working with me for over a year, they knew that I appreciated lots of support and encouragement. They were more than just teachers. They treated me like a scholar who had interesting ideas to contribute, and they gave me life advice as if I was one of their own children. I am so glad that I "proposed" to these professors to aid me in my research.

Revisions went well, actually. At first, the task was daunting. I understood exactly what they wanted me to change in my paper, but I had no idea how to actually fix it. I'm so glad that my dad was able to give me good advice, since he's been through this process many times. To be sure, this was the most stressed I've ever felt during my college career, and I was getting used to going to bed at midnight and waking up at 4:30am to get cracking on my work. But thanks to the grace of God, I still looked remarkably attractive when I went to school, I was relatively cheerful, and I didn't fail any of my students in spite.

The defense was cause for stress (and not the healthy kind). After setting up a date, I worried about the defense incessantly, and I definitely over prepared. I had been studying since January! I had a hard time sleeping, and I seriously dreamed about disaster situations during the exam. Everyone told me that I had nothing to worry about (and they were right, of course). I wish there was a "Don't-Worry-On-Off" switch in my brain.

The two-hour defense was surprisingly delightful. I don't think I ever settled down because I was always anticipating the next question. My palms were constantly sweaty, and I felt my face flushing. One of my committee members tends to pontificate (but not at all in a pompous way), and I think I half understood his questions. My professors' questions were challenging, but I still learned so much from their inquiries and the connections they were trying to help me recognize in my research.

My AWESOME committee! Loving Ed's hand-on-hip action.
One of my professors asked me a question that I haven't been able to stop thinking about... he asked about the genesis of my project. This question meant a lot to me, and I hesitated to answer a bit. I wrote my thesis on "The Yellow Wallpaper," a short story about a woman who is mentally ill and is ruined by her husband's inadequate medical diagnosis. When I first read this story in college, I jumped on the feminist bandwagon and praised the feminist heroine of the story who rebelled against the patriarchy.  But I read the story again in my last year of college... when I was experiencing a severe mental crisis of my own. From this perspective, I read "The Yellow Wallpaper" as a story of mental illness and wondered why many feminist scholars projected able-bodied characteristics onto a depressed woman.

This question made me reflect about where I was two years ago and where I am now. I feel confident and strong. Even though 2017 has been fraught with anxieties about my thesis, I have been happy. And I'm amazed that my experience with disability has given me an edge in research and writing. I was so flattered to hear that my committee loved the originality of my argument and that they gave me plenty of feedback to get the piece published.

After the defense, my family celebrated. I am proud that my parents could come and witness (thus far) the two most important hours of my life. We got curry, and we ordered a cake from Coldstone. When I looked at the cake, I busted out laughing and showed my parents the cake:

"Congraluations" — What a fitting inscription for the girl who passed an MA defense in ENGLISH. Anyway, the journey has been incredible, and it feels strange that I'm suddenly done the most significant part of my program. Everything has led up to this moment, and now... poof! It's over. But in case I haven't made it clear, I am beyond thankful for friends, colleagues, professors, and my family for helping me during school. I know that I've grown so much, and now I face the looming question mark that symbolizes my future!

Love, "Master" Bekki

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Real Adults Go to Conferences.

Finally.  My program is giving me a slight breather, and I can give some love to this blog. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the South Central Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies in SLC.  The abbreviation for the conference is SCSECS, but that's still a mouthful, and they might as well include all the other letters of the alphabet. I presented in the Gender and Domesticity panel about The Coquette, an early American bestseller.
I was actually dreading the conference. I just wanted to go home instead, and I couldn't imagine anything stuffier and more boring than a few days with a bunch of intellectuals.  Luckily, I had several friends attend the conference, as well.  AND I felt like a million bucks when I made a reservation for my first hotel room alone. I felt like a real big girl. That was probably the most anticipated thing... and food. The Radisson makes good cheesecake and scones.

On my first day, I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the panel presentations.  Some of them, as expected, were a bit dry, but others were engaging and interesting. I geeked out when a retired scholar passed around a second edition of a 1682 book.  It even smelled like antiquity.  I jumped on any opportunity to attend a panel in which American texts were featured and loved talking to those presenters.  The conference mostly attracted British literature scholars.  I saw several professors from BYU.  They introduced themselves to me and said, "How come I don't know you?" My response, "My studies are across the Atlantic," and then they would chuckle and walk away. Phhhht.

When I eventually checked into my room, I was excited.  The room was clean, big, and all mine.
I got lots of work done, and then my mom called me and asked how things were going. She casually asked me what my room number was, which I thought was weird.  And then she surprised me by knocking on my door and staying the night with me.  So as much as I enjoyed having a room to myself, I enjoyed my mom's surprise even more. (And she claims that she can't wait to get rid of me... ha. You bet your bloomers that my companionship is irresistible.)

The next day, I attended a few panels and went to City Creek for lunch with Mom.  I was excited she was there because she wanted to attend my panel.  I was afraid she would get in trouble because she didn't pay for registration, but nobody blinked an eye when she sat in.  She got a glimpse of what I do.  My presentation went well, I think. People were really gracious in their compliments, I didn't see any glazed eyeballs, and I held up really well during the Q&A.  The chair, Dr. Eyring, (and also my professor), asked the most difficult question.  After the panel, my mom said, "Honey, you did a really good job not answering Dr. Eyring's question.)

I am really happy with the experience, and I learned so much from scholars who shared their research and were actually interested (or pretended to be) in my studies. The BYU professor who organized the conference told me this week that I was born for this field, which only complicated the plans for my future even more.

And stay tuned for more about my thesis.  The game is on!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2016 — Top Ten.

When I hear people talk about 2016, they mostly discuss the people who died and the people who were elected.  And then they look sad, or angry, or disgusted, or nauseous.  But my year was great, and I loved everything that I learned, the good people I met, the new places I visited, and the time I spent with my family.  I especially loved the time I spent with my family.  Living in Utah has enabled me to visit my parents often, which is something that I've needed while trying to figure out my way.  But anyway, here's my top ten for 2016.

1 - Ditching the YSA ward.  Normally, I'm not an advocate of ditching any ward, and I prefer to think of myself as a finisher.  But this ward really wasn't my cup of tea, so I joined my family ward in Ephraim.  To say that the experience has been great is an understatement.  I love the leadership, and some of the people that I've met have become my best friends.

2 - Resuming counseling.  I've always been skeptical about counseling.  I've wondered if it has actually helped me, even though it's supposed to be the healthy thing to do.  When I first met my counselor, she said, "This is a safe place.  If you swear, I won't even blink an eye."  And then I knew things would be okay.  She's helped me realize that, for the most part, my life is clean and well-managed, but there are still some monsters under the rug that I've been ignoring.

3 - The book. My counselor also recommended this book: Weakness is Not Sin: The Liberating Distinction That Awakens Our Strengths by Wendy Ulrich.  The title is corny, and I don't frequent these kinds of books often, but I sing praises for this one.

4 - Disney.  My family went to Disneyland in April.  It was magical, of course, and seeing the parades even made me emotional, which is a big deal because I don't cry at the opportune moments, and it makes people wonder if my heart is made of coal.   

5 - M*A*S*H.  It's rare when my dad and I find a show that we can watch together.  If he happens to settle down to watch some TV, you can expect to hear snarky comments like, "How convenient that the bullets hit everything except the target" or "There is no way she could wear those inappropriate clothes in a professional environment."  Luckily, Dad likes M*A*S*H, and I like it too, and it's become a sort of ritual for us to watch a few episodes when I come home.

6 - Fishing.  I've taken up fishing, and I like to go with my Dad.  The first time we went, I caught a fish, but the hook was stuck pretty good in its mouth.  Usually, Dad can maneuver the hook out, but this time, he told me to close my eyes as he ripped the hook from the fish.  He neglected to tell me to cover ears, and the noise was so revolting that I immediately felt nauseous.  But I'm a pro, now.


I can't resist sharing this again.  Isn't that view just perfect?


7 - Road Trip.  In mid-July I visited Yosemite, San Francisco, the Redwood Forest, Lassen Volcanic Park, and Mammoth Lake with my parents.  The views were breathtaking, I got to spend time with my parents, we ate some good food, and it was determined that my music playlists are excellent.

8 - Elton John.  In October my mom and I drove to Las Vegas to see Elton John perform at the Colosseum.  This night had been highly anticipated for months, and I was not disappointed in the least.  He sounded great, his band members were great, and he wore a sparkly, pink suit coat.  I'm trying to convince my family to go again in February.

9 - Christmas.  It's not often that our whole family gets to spend time together.  Everybody came during Christmastime, and it was good to see the nephews and secure my standing as the greatest aunt ever. 

10 - Thesis.  Here's my plug-in for school.  I love my program and my research.  Working on my thesis has been stressful, to say the least, but so rewarding.  I told my chair that I've learned more about writing from my thesis than from all of the coursework I've completed.  This Christmas break, I've mapped out a writing schedule so that my thesis will continue to move forward.

Proof of my writing regimen.  And yes, that dog is real and sleeps like that. 
 And a former student sent me a brilliant meme that encapsulates my experience:



2016 has been a good year, and I'm excited and terrified for 2017.  I like having a plan, and last year, my plan was clear—to progress through my school program.  But 2017 means that I'll be graduating, and after that, my life looks like a large, blank space that mocks me and blows raspberries in my face.  Until then, I send prayers heavenward that God will just tell me exactly what to do and how to do it because sometimes agency is a bother. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Why I'm Not a Survivor.

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to my counselor about what we've euphemistically termed the "crummy days," the period in which I first experienced the symptoms of bipolar disorder, and they seemed to assault me with breathtaking ferocity.  These conversations always leave me feeling numb, vulnerable, and raw.  After our chat, my counselor asked, "Are you a survivor?" I responded with a resounding yes without thinking.

I haven't been able to stop thinking about her question, and now I wish that I could change my answer.  No, I'm not a survivor, and it's unsettling to think of myself as one.  I associate survivors with people who had a traumatic experience—people who survived terrible accidents or natural disasters, cancer patients who are in remission, people who escaped a life-or-death situation.  These people came out on the other side, and some were completely cured.  

With mental illness, though, there isn't a cure.  There isn't a moment where I'll come out on the other side, where I'll wake up in the morning knowing that my crisis was a one time deal, and it will never happen again.  Perhaps a full-blown crisis will not occur again, but I can expect small crises and occasional symptoms in the future.  Sometimes, that seems lousy, and I feel frustrated knowing that my life is forever altered.  It's not exactly comforting that this mental illness and I will always be chums, two peas-in-a-pod, wedded until death do us part.

So, if I'm not a survivor, then what am I?  I'm a bit too generous and prefer to think of myself as a fighter, a trier, or a charming gladiator—someone who is constantly engaged in this lifetime struggle.  Most of the time, my life is good, happy, and ordinary.  But when the small crises come, it's so much easier to approach these times from the perspective of a fighter, someone who recognizes that while these tough spots are inevitable, life will resume happily and beautifully shortly after.

And from the perspective of a fighter, it is helpful for me to remember that I wield some power and possess a degree of control over my illness.  I am the agent of the treatments for my health.  I utilize the resources and supports available to me, I thank God for the magic meds that I take, and I surround myself with people who destigmatize mental illness and help me feel grateful to be me.  I try to take active control over the things that I can control.  And when I do this, the desire for "normalcy" tends to dissipate.  Instead of including mental illness within the rubric of normalcy, I feel far more interested in understanding the disabled mind and in reimagining my identity as someone who is differently abled and astonishingly awesome.

I am glad that there are survivors and that people come out on the other side.  But I am also glad that I am not a survivor because I am consistently in awe of how much I learn and grow during this lifelong battle.  Society seems to perpetuate this desire for the end goal, the final state of being, or the ultimate result.  But I think there is glory in reaching, too.