Category Archives: PhD

Crossroads

So, Saturday (the 6th) was my birthday. My – god help me – 38th birthday. I don’t usually get too affected by birthdays, and truth be told I’m not that affected by this one. But for whatever reason, 38… it just seems really old. Far older than I actually am. And it also feels like time is running out for a lot of major life decisions for me, whether that’s an irrational fear or not. To give you a small glimpse into my neurotic fascinating mind, I’m having trouble with 38 because I’m now closer to 40 than I am 35. And for some reason that bothers me.

On the way to my birthday dinner (which is always an evening commanded by Murphy’s Law, no matter what I do), we got turned away from one restaurant because our party was too large, and were driving to Plan B (Carrabba’s, btw… and if you read all my blog entries, you know why. 😉 ). On the way to the second restaurant, we were stopped at a red light. The light turned green, and Chris went to make a left turn. Except that a driver came up on our left, doing probably at least 60mph, and obviously hadn’t seen the light change. There was a split second where we weren’t sure if we were going to live or die. That sounds very melodramatic, but… it really was that dramatic. For a split second, there was nothing we could do. Chris slammed the breaks, but when a car is coming up that fast, there’s nothing to do but sit, wait, hope they swerve, and try not to pee your pants. The car did swerve at the last millisecond, missing us by inches, nearly hitting yet another car, and then continuing on his/her way. But that feeling of terror lingered.

As we drove on, we attempted to compose ourselves. I was shaking, our daughter (who is 3) was crying and asking why a car wouldn’t stop when they’re supposed to, and Chris was seething with such a potent mixture of fear and rage that he could barely talk. And in those few moments after the incident, I had a few profound thoughts, as people who have near death experiences are wont to do. The first is that being upset that we had to change restaurants is officially ridiculous and I could let that go, because even if we’re inconvenienced, having everyone together is something that I should – and am – extremely thankful for. The second is that… I think I’m on the right track with this whole life thing. I didn’t have that “OMFG REGRETS REGRETS” reaction that I definitely would’ve had ten years ago, and probably would’ve had five years ago. I’m happy in my marriage, I’m happy in my abilities as a parent, and I’m happy in the path that my career is taking. And that was one hell of a nice surprise.

But while I’m content right now, I know there are some big decisions that have to be made. And they have to be made soon.

It’s easy to be content with my current career, such as it is, because right now my career exists entirely of going to school to get my PhD, and writing my dissertation. Going to school is what I am good at, and is firmly in my comfort zone. I have finally, in my mid 30s (yes, dammit, I’m still saying my mid-thirties), found a community that I love, and a topic of research that I love, in fandom. Those memes that you see online that ask you when was the last time you felt truly alive, and how that’s where you know your passion lies… for me that’s at sci-fi cons, talking about fandom and mental health. I LOVE it. And in writing my dissertation on it, it’s been given validity in terms of being something that’s truly worthwhile and professional. But turning it into a post doctorate profession isn’t as easy.

I am getting ready to start my research, as opposed to just talking about, as I’ve been doing for more than two years now. It’s time to get real. And it’s also time to start thinking about graduating and no longer being Dr. Fangirl, PhD (almost) and actually being Dr. Fangirl, PhD. But… what happens when that happens? I know what I want to do… ish… but how? Do I go the route that most PhDs take and go into academia, to become a counseling or psychology professor and study fandom on the side for my publish-or-perish projects? Do I try something else entirely and attempt to get a job as a researcher somewhere, researching whatever I’m paid to research, even if it’s something like glorified market research, just to get my feet wet? Is there a market for academics in con life, to where I could work with sci-fi conventions in some capacity? I would love to moderate panels and ask some real questions… feelings based ones, like a Geek Oprah. But is there a market for such a thing? I’m sure it can’t be a full career. So, to supplement that (if that’s even a thing, which is a long shot), should I find a way to research on my own, and perhaps write books about it? And/or do more blogging and maybe podcasting? Give talks at conventions/conferences?

Whenever I talk to people about my research, the response I get is excitement. People want the research I’m doing. They want to understand fandom for themselves, as participants, and they want some validation for their excitement and dedication. I’ve gotten that reaction from other fangirls and fanboys, but also from academics who know what I’m talking about and want the information to be able to help their clients. I’ve found my niche. I’m beyond thrilled. But… what’s the next step?  I know I’d love to give more academic talks, as I greatly enjoyed the ones I gave at SkydogCon and NolaCon. But how do I find places to let me talk? And what would I talk about? If I write a book, what would it be on, precisely? And how would I research it? If I did a podcast, what would be my primary topics or prevailing themes? Can I do any of this while I’m writing my dissertation, or do I have to wait until that’s done? What can I do with the information from my dissertation after it’s published? How am I going to pay my bills immediately upon leaving school? And who in the world would I even turn to to ask for guidance on this kind of thing, since very few people in academia know what I’m talking about when I discuss fandom?

This week I read the book Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton for the first time. I cannonballed the whole thing in a day. It’s sort of an autobiography but in pseudo-blog format, and focuses on the time in his life when he decided that he would leave the career that for him was mainstream and obvious (acting), and instead embark on something different and much scarier (writing). The book was written in 2004, and obviously Wil has done pretty well for himself since then, so I’d say that whole career change thing worked out in his favor. He certainly figured out a way to make fandom work for him while also making it awesome for us. But he’s Wil Freaking Wheaton, and I’m… me. His book was inspirational, and exactly the kind of thing I need to read right now, but the fear and anxiety are still real.

Meanwhile, there are other major life choices that I’m working on. I’m 38, but the possibility of another kid is still on the table. I have two step-daughters, who are both older (teens/20s… yes, there is a human on this earth in their 20s that calls me “mom”… no wonder I’m having age freak outs this year!), and my bio daughter who is 3. I had always envisioned having two kids, but circumstances in my life have always been nothing if not convoluted and challenging. I’d resigned myself to having one biological child, and for a while there I was comfortable with it… but I have never fully been able to shake the feeling that my family isn’t yet complete. But nor can I shake the feeling that if I have another child now, I may not get the career that I want (insert feminist rant here). Which is, of course, a feeling made even more frustrating by the fact that I’m not even precisely sure what that career will be! People have two kids all the time and make it work, and I think I’m a fairly high functioning individual who would also be able to do so, but trying to carve out my career niche while starting over with an infant is daunting. There are so many what ifs about the scenario (what if there are pregnancy complications, what if the kid never sleeps, what if she’s totally chill and I can easily manage her while doing other things, what if my relationship with my current kids suffers, what if my marriage suffers, what if this child is exactly what we all need, and I’m too scared…), but I guess the best and most applicable advice I could get could be borrowed from my favorite author, Karen Marie Moning:

Hope Strengthens, Fear Kills.

I try to repeat that to myself as often as possible. Because I really do believe it.

Overall, the kid decision is a decision that will be made by me and my husband, but with this latest birthday, the kid stewing has set up shop right alongside the career stewing, and so my brain is in hyperdrive. I’m 38 and ABD*. As my Papaw would say, it’s time to shit or get off the pot. I guess I just have to find the pot.

 

*All but dissertation – a description of someone who has completed all of their coursework for their doctorate, but hasn’t yet completed the dissertation to formally get the degree.

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Filed under Journal, Mental Health, PhD, Research

Wizard World Louisville 2015: The Stuff of Legends

Author’s Note: I am horrified that it’s taken me almost two months to get this written up. However, since leaving Louisville in November, my life has consisted of hospitals, holidays, and one illness after another (combined with dissertation deadlines, which was super fun). So, I’m sorry this took so long to get up, but hopefully it will help us get through this last week of hiatus, as well as to infuse some happy into an otherwise tragic week.

To Alan Rickman and David Bowie, I hope you’re having an amazing time wherever you may be. We miss you both already, and will continue to do so. Always.


The trip to Wizard World Louisville started as so many do – a road trip, caffeine, drive through food that’s terrible for you, and some music (in this case, my husband’s newly found interest in Chipmunk’s music that’s been slowed down to sound like 80s sludge rock. No joke). Chris (the husband with interesting musical tastes) and I rolled into Louisville about 3pm that Friday, immediately hitting the convention floor while I proudly 20151106_210157364_iOSsported my Stephen Amell VIP badge that I was incredibly stoked to have. As this was my first con since finding (read: becoming completely obsessed with) Arrow, and was going to be my first time meeting Stephen, I was already having some nerves. But Friday was lovely because I was able to walk the con floor, shop, chat with people, and know that the majority of the Arrow cast hadn’t shown up yet so there was no pressure or concern over trying to get to a certain place at a certain time. On Friday I had just planned to look and see what kind of fun fandom things were on display and being sold. But instead, I ended up buying so very, very many things because the art at this con was outstanding. Jewelry, wall art, vinyl stickers, Christmas ornaments… this place had it all. I felt slightly guilty about buying so much the first day, but I didn’t want anyone to sell out of the things I thought were awesome, and so I bought some stuff. And I have no regrets. 😉

Friday after con Chris and I went out for dinner at this gorgeous Old Spaghetti Factory across from the convention center. As we have a 3-year-old and very busy lives, it was incredibly nice to be able to go out and have an honest to god date with good food and even *gasp* an alcoholic beverage. We also checked out the unofficial after party at Bourbon Raw, and while there didn’t seem to be much going on that we could see, it was still nice to hang out at a bar like a grown up for a change. After an all-around lovely day, we headed back to the hotel and I prepared for Saturday.

Because Chris didn’t have VIP, and my VIP was for Saturday, I knew I was going to spend most of Saturday on my own. I got up early and got meticulously ready in my previously planned outfit (even though I brought three alternative outfits just in case – I mean, I’m a nerd but I am a girl) and got to the con by 9:30am. I didn’t want to be first in line for Stephen’s first autograph session, but I did want to get there fairly early to make sure I 20151107_143448331_iOSwas able to get in the first group at least, so that I could do photo op right afterward, and then be able to focus on panels for the rest of the day. This ended up being an amazing life choice for a variety of reasons. After they let us onto the con floor, I ended up in line by two incredibly awesome people (HI STACEY AND CLAIR!!!), and in an incredibly awesome place to see eeeeeverything that was going on at the table before the line started moving in earnest. Stacey, Clair, and I got to know each other while standing there waiting for Stephen to get there, because none of us could hold the fangirling in at that point! Also, chatting with them helped me manage the insane nerves I get every damn time I meet an artist/actor/singer/writer etc whose work has been super meaningful to me, which I will forever be thankful to them for.

Stephen arrived just a few minutes past when he was stated to appear, and security walked him right past us (!!!) to his table, with the long line of fans cheering the sight of him, myself included! I will say at this point that the only experiences I have to compare this to are that of meeting David Tennant at Wizard World Raleigh and Philly. David – and those of you who have met him can confirm this – puts off this aura or vibe or whatever of just – ENERGY. Pure, crackling, pump-you-up, better-than-coffee energy. He exudes it, and it is catching. And while I love – deeeearly love – being around it and just the overall feel of it, it doesn’t help my nerves much. I’m pretty sure I’ve sounded like a complete idiot every time I’ve met David because my brain is going a mile a minute and I just… literally can’t even. Stephen, however, was kind of the counterbalance to David’s high energy. He was every bit as present and engaged and clearly excited to be there, but Stephen exudes this sense of chill that I wasn’t expecting. It’s hard to describe accurately, but once he walked in, I felt like I could breathe a lot better, which was… unexpected, to say the least. But also absolutely awesome. What I had brought for Stephen to sign was a dummy title page of my dissertation, which I just recently got topic approval for. My dissertation is on how science fiction fandom involvement through social media can affect mental health, and as Arrow is one of my primary science fiction fandoms and has been very motivational for me in many ways, I wanted to have Stephen’s autograph on the title page to hang in my office. After sitting and just… watching him for several minutes (I didn’t take any pictures, because the Wizard World staff was VERY vocal about not doing so…), the line eventually began to move, and we weren’t able to see him until we were at the front of the line. When 20151107_155657226_iOSit was my turn to meet him.. well, I know for a fact I can’t tell you exactly what happened because as zen as his vibe was, I was still pretty concerned with trying not to sound like an idiot, which took most of my brain power. I can say that he gave me his full attention, and actually read the paper that I put in front of him. He seemed to really listen when I told him what I was writing my dissertation on, and seemed to think it was pretty cool. He signed it, with his customary arrow underneath, which I was excited about.. but then he paused, thought for a minute, and then added an A+ at the bottom of the paper. It’s such a silly little thing… such a small gesture. And yet it meant so much to me, touching two things that are so near and dear to me: fangirling and academic perfectionism. 😉 At that point, all of my energy went into not tearing up and looking ridiculous – and then Stephen reached out to shake my hand. I’m proud to say that I was able to put my paper back down, transfer my bag from one hand to the other, and shake his hand while looking him in the eye, without tripping, dropping anything, or saying anything I later regretted. Hot damn. 😉 Overall, the autograph session was simply amazing. New awesome friends, a positive experience with Stephen, and an amazing piece of paper to hang on my wall to motivate me through the rest of this dissertation process!

Directly after the autograph session we had to make the decision on where to go next. The original information we had said that the photo op was at 11:30, so we assumed we could line up right after autographs (we were done by probably 10:45), but once we got there we were told that the line didn’t form until 11:30, and photo ops weren’t until 12 or 12:15 (I can’t remember). As Stacey, Clair, and I were still hanging out and fangirling over our autograph sessions (and the fact that we actually all spoke English and didn’t do anything embarrassing, much to all of our amazement!), we decided to hang out by the photo op in the line-for-the-line that was forming. Since we had such a long wait, I decided to go track down a water fountain and a bathroom (I was still too nervous to eat – happens every damn con – but I figured I should at least hydrate if nothing else), and then come back to the line. By the time I got back, the official line had started far earlier than we were told, so I didn’t get to hang out in line with Stacey or Clair, but by this point we had found each other on social media to keep in touch, which was great! The line for the photo op was pretty uneventful, but did move quickly once Stephen came over (he was running pretty well on schedule, which was impressive). When it was time for my photo op, I was nervous again. The photo lasts forever, but the photo ops themselves happen SO FAST that when IMG_2360-0you have anxiety like I do, the fast paced high emotion environment can be a little overwhelming. I had all these plans for how I wanted to stand to look my best, head up, hair back, blah blah blah. But when I got up to Stephen, despite the fast paced nature of the operation, he put his arm around me and pulled me in TIGHT. It was so unexpected that all of my plans went out the window. All I could do was smile! So, the picture is not one that I feel is terribly flattering of me, but… when I get frustrated looking at myself in that picture, what I will remember is being VERY happy, and being held VERY tightly! As well as the fact that I finally, finally got to look Stephen in the eye and say “thank you” – and while I’m sure he thought I was just thanking him for the photo op, in actuality I was finally thanking him for all of the joy he and his show have brought to my life, as well as his positivity and his encouragement for us to live Sinceriously. The picture of me was less than awesome, but the experience itself was amazing.

After the photo op, I had a bunch of time to kill before the panels. Since my hotel was right around the corner I decided to head back and drop off my autographed paper so that it didn’t get bent in my bag, to also try to eat something, and then go back to the con and just hang out in line for the panel at 2:15. Finding where to line up for the panel was a slight adventure, but with the help of con volunteers and a flock of other fangirls (of all ages, I might add), I finally made it to the right place… and was ultimately able to get front row/center seats for the full cast Arrow panel itself, which was incredibly unexpected! I’m used to DragonCon and other cons where lines for panels go around city blocks. Being able to walk right into the front row was amazing! I also ended up sitting next to a fellow Arrow/Whovian/academic (HI LANA!) who I’m fairly convinced I was separated at birth from. You can read her blog about the weekend here!

Sidenote: Lana is a River Song cosplayer, to the point that it’s her Twitter handle and clearly a very important part of her life – which I think is awesome! However, there is one character in Doctor Who that I’m really not a big fan of, and do you know who it is? River Song. I mentioned this to Lana, and it didn’t matter at all. She and I still chatted and fangirled, and still loved and appreciated each other’s devotion to Doctor Who and bonded anyway. So, it is possible to have strongly differing opinions on characters, and yet still get along and bond over love of a show regardless. Take note, Arrow fandom!

The Arrow panel itself was outstanding. In attendance were: Stephen/Oliver, David/Diggle, Willa/Thea, Paul/Lance, Katie/Laurel, and Barrowman/Malcolm. A few things were very clear from the panel: 1. The cast truly is a family and are all completely comfortable with each other. 2. Stephen is their leader. And 3. They give him a lot of (good natured) shit for being their leader. 😀 Watching them all interact was absolutely fantastic. They seem to have an amazing time together, and you can tell that they really, really appreciate all of us and they seem to really feed off our energy. I’m sure that by now there is tons of video out there of the panel, so I won’t bore you with tons of details. However, notable moments would be: Barrowman giving a very naughty “ride” to Katie and Paul to bring them up on stage, the reenactment of Barrowman’s FABULOUS dance move to mess up Stephen on their first day of filming (so freaking much awesome…), and David Skyping with his son during the panel (sooooo cute).

The next panel after Arrow was John Barrowman’s solo panel. I should note that somewhere in here while waiting for a panel to start, I was able to see and hug my girl Court, who I was SO excited to see! My one major regret if this con was that we did not get any time to hang out and talk. I intend to fix that at a con in 2016! Since I had a Stephen VIP and not a John VIP, I had to leave my front row center seat *sniff*, but was still able to find a reasonably good seat off to the side. However, once John got on stage, he recognized that there were a fair amount of empty seats, and so encouraged us to all move up and squeeze in. So we did, and I was back in the front row. 🙂 If you’ve never been to a panel of John’s, it needs to go on your bucket list immediately. He is so open and so fun and so… HIM! His panel consisted of him walking around the stage, taking questions and talking about things that are important to him. He told (complete with acting out the scenes) about the huge number of takes it took for him to kiss James Marsters on Torchwood, which was so hysterical I could barely breathe. At one point he told the story of when he and Scott got married after gay marriage was legalized here in the States. What was beautiful about the story was not just his own ceremony, but the feeling of camaraderie and love that sprang up between them and the other gay couples there also getting married. John and Scott apparently were witnesses for several, and also took video of many ceremonies so that those couples could have those memories. He capped it off by singing a beautiful song (which I have video of and will upload when my phone stops being a jerkface). 🙂 He also took questions from the audience, and gave some advice to teens, which was to not take shit. If someone does or says something that’s not nice, say something back. You don’t have to take things just because you’re young. Stand up for yourself and fight back. I thought it was excellent advice and wish to hell someone had told ME that when I was a teenager.

The other part of John’s panel that was memorable was his story about David Tennant on the set of Doctor Who that I hadn’t heard before. He said that they were filming a scene together and were hungry, so they got some chips (French fries) and decided to eat them in the scene which they thought was a fabulous idea! Well, they had to film the scene multiple times and from a ton of angles, so three hours later they were STILL eating chips, and hating their lives. LOL. John’s facial expressions while describing their feelings about still eating chips were freaking hysterical, and it wasn’t hard to image 10 and Captain Jack sitting around bitching about eating more chips, but putting on their typical cocky smiles for the cameras.;) 

The next panel that was again in the same room, making #conlife that day exceptionally convenient, was Bruce Campbell. My husband is a MASSIVE Burn Notice fan, and so he’s been wanting to see Bruce Campbell for a long time. I, too, love Sam Axe, so I was happy to stay and check the panel out. Bruce definitely ran his panel differently than I’ve seen before… he had a cosplay contest of Ash’s from the Evil Dead, and then had all cool cosplayers come up to show off their costumes. He would randomly give people $1 if they did something he liked, and totally trolled anyone that was actually able to ask him a question (which he took from people at the mics, but also just yelled out from the audience). Overall, it was entertaining, just definitely different. 😉

The next and final panel of the day was Stephen himself. Since I was VIP, I was again able to get a very nice seat without having to leave the auditorium (again near Stacey and Clair – yay!), which was amazing. Stephen’s panel was probably the most low key of them all – it was him and the moderator and they just sort of sat and chatted, with the bulk of the panel being questions from the fans, which I thought was awesome. Stephen talked about how he met his wife (he Googled her after seeing her on Mad Men), how he got into acting, his thoughts on Oliver, including his future and his past, and his feelings on Olicity which made a packed auditorium all swoon in unison *dreamy sigh*. My very favorite part of his panel, however, was his answer when asked what the weirdest fan interaction he’s ever had was. I’ve heard a lot of funny stories from a lot of celebrities over the years, because people get a little crazy when celebs are involved. But Stephen’s answer was simple and sweet: He doesn’t consider any of the fan interaction’s he’s ever had to be “weird” or “bad” because he knows that everything the fans do comes from a place of joy. It was just the most beautiful answer. I still get teary thinking about it. So for all of you out there concerned (as I was) that you may make an ass of yourself in front of him, apparently there’s no such thing for him, because he knows you’re there because of your love. What a perfect thing to say.

After Stephen then accepted his award from the mayor of Louisville (which he seemed mildly embarrassed about because he’d made some comments about things he’d change about Louisville if he were mayor, such as traffic issues around the Derby, as he had no idea the mayor’s office was there… LOL), then it was time to decide what to do with our night. I caught up with Stacey and Clair again, and we all agreed to go back to our rooms and freshen up, and then probably hit the official con after party at Bourbon Raw. I was starving to death since I hadn’t eaten throughout all the panels, so Chris and I headed back to the hotel and dropped off some of our gear, and then went out in search of food. We ended up at TGIFridays, and had some food along with a fair amount of alcohol. Obviously the hope was that we would run into Stephen and the crew out somewhere, but we caught no sightings. As we were eating, however, a friend of mine on Twitter tweeted a picture that she’d just taken with Stephen as he was out getting dinner with John (and the rest of the cast as I learned later from Paul Blackthorne’s pictures). Because I am a complete lunatic, we decided to walk around 4th street and see if we could see them, or find the restaurant it looked like they were in. I wasn’t going to approach them, since I’d already met him at the con, but catching a glimpse of them out and about would’ve made my fangirl heart pretty happy. We found the restaurant pretty quickly, but it seemed like they had left, so we headed back to Bourbon Raw to catch up with Stacey and Clair who were having dinner. And of course had more drinks, because why not?;)

Bourbon Raw was where the official after party was supposed to take place, but even the staff there didn’t know about it, so it was pretty uneventful. There was a back room (kind of) that we thought maybe was housing the party, so we slipped back there after they were done eating, but were immediately told it was for volunteers only. So, we decided to wander around a little bit to see if we could have any Arrow sightings, and eventually ended up at the bar at Stacey and Clair’s hotel, because we were about 90% sure it was the host hotel for the celebs and we’d be able to see them walk through the lobby if they came in, which again, would’ve warmed our little fangirl hearts. We had a great time hanging out and chatting… it turns out Stacey and I read a LOT of the same fanfiction, and follow a lot of the same people on Twitter. We chatted about Arrow gossip and fandom in general, and had just a completely lovely time. We were just saying that we should pack it in for the night when my Twitter alerted… Stephen had just tweeted about being at a dueling piano bar without Brother Sal. And I knew our night was about to get eventful, as we had passed a dueling piano bar just a few buildings down. Chris, being the amazing man that he is, offered to stay and pick up the tab (btw, he recounts the weekend’s events in his blog here) while Stacey, Clair, and I headed with great speed down to Howl at the Moon…. and we were NOT disappointed! Upon arriving at the bar, we paid the cover and went in, and went to the bar to get some drinks… and the entire Arrow cast was standing there, drinking, having fun, and being generally awesome with what looked like their organizers/handlers from the con. The smiles were large – both theirs and ours. An amazing day had somehow just catapulted up to legendary!

I will, at this point, stop to discuss my general thinking about meeting celebrities. I’ve discussed in another blog my level of social awkwardness when it comes to meeting celebrities. That issue tends to primarily come just from the fact that it’s such a high stress, quick meeting that I get anxiety and flustered (though I did pretty well with Stephen earlier that day and was feeling good about that). This was not the first time I’d seen a celebrity out in public, but the one and only time I’d ever approached a celeb in public was David Tennant, and I truly felt like I’d done the wrong thing when it happened so I was very wary of doing it again. In public, I feel like they’re just people on their own time living their own lives, and likely don’t want to be constantly interrupted by fans, especially when they’d been signing autographs and doing photo ops all day. So, I kept my distance because I didn’t want to bother them, but was truly very happy just being in the same place and getting to watch them interact. It should be noted at this point that I didn’t change clothes from what I wore to the con, so I was wearing Arrow jewelry and carrying a TARDIS purse, so my fangirl status wasn’t exactly secret even without me approaching anyone. But I ordered a drink rubbing elbows with Paul Blackthorne, and I smiled and said hi to Willa when she walked past me and made eye contact. And I drank my drink and sighed lovingly in the direction of David, John, and Stephen because…. well, they’re David, John, and Stephen.

My girl Stacey at this point decided that she had had enough alcohol to be absolutely fearless (god I’m jealous) and jumped right in with both feet. Within 20 minutes, she’d gotten a selfie with Willa and  John, had chatted with Paul, and all of them had been incredibly awesome and open, which of course made me reevaluate my stance on things, but I clearly had not had enough alcohol. 😛 (P.S. She managed to nab a selfie with everyone except Paul by the end of the night because she is a fangirling rock star). After standing at the bar near the cast and their friends for a while, I started hearing them talk about “9-5,” but I wasn’t sure what it meant. After a few minutes, suddenly everyone left, and I just assumed they were getting ready to leave the bar because they’d had long days and it was getting late. So I move up a bit to watch the dueling pianos from up in the bar area…. And suddenly I see John Barrowman on stage, talking to the pianist, and taking a microphone. My drink went down, and my phone came up. OMG. The details of my thinking get a little hazy here, because John got on stage and CLEARLY introduced them all as the cast of Arrow (so much for me thinking they didn’t want to be approached by fans!) and said they’d be singing 9-5. I swear to god I heard my fangirling brain break, and I’m quite sure I made some kind of embarrassing excitement noise, because I may be 37 years of age, a well-educated and highly responsible functioning adult, but HOLY SHIT THE CAST OF ARROW WAS GETTING READY TO SING ON STAGE LITERALLY RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. I challenge ANYONE to play it cool at that point! 9-5 was amazing (video below)… they all were reading lyrics from their phones, hugging and singing, obviously having a fantastic time. If I hadn’t known it before, this cinched it – these people aren’t just co-workers, they are truly friends. They were obviously SO comfortable with each other, were having a great time together, and being able to witness it truly felt like a gift. Then at the end of the song, Stephen takes a mic and talks to the pianist, obviously getting ready to sing a song of his own (more embarrassing excitement noises.. thank god for the loud bar). It’s amazing and epic, so here’s the video of both of those songs – trust me when I tell you you’re going to want to watch the whole thing. 😉

After their karaoke, it again appeared that they were leaving the bar, or maybe that was just my assumption. But they ended up staying and sitting/standing/dancing near some tables in the front by the stage. The real timeline at this point is definitely hazy because the night had already taken on a kind of dream-like quality, and add in alcohol and the whole thing was just completely surreal. Here are some details I can remember, in no particular order:

  • John and Katie are some naughty people when they get together and did some seriously dirty dancing, both on stage and off – they are definitely friendly. LOL
  • Stephen also did a lot of dancing and socializing, as well as a lot of singing and has an amazing voice.
  • All of them were drinking – shots were being done, plus mixed drinks and beer, though John, Stephen, and Katie seemed to be the heaviest drinkers that night and were definitely having a good time. 😛
  • David seemed pretty chill, and sat at a table for quite a while. My husband made it arounChris and Davidd to him, and David was happy to chat with him about the show, and Chris’ love of Diggle’s military background, and Chris’ own military background. David mentioned that he very nearly went into the Marines himself, and has tons of respect for military folks.
  • Somehow a drink got broken at their table, and David and Willa’s jackets got covered. Ugh.
  • Willa went out to the patio section of the bar to sit with some people out there.
  • Stephen and the rest all took pictures with anyone who asked, and were all super cool about it. I eventually decided I would start asking for selfies, since they were all so open about it, but could not for the life of me get to anyone. Just as I’d finally be able to get through the bar to one of them, they’d get up and leave. Sigh. Lol.
  • There was much dancing by everyone, both on stage and off. The house performers also pulled some people up on stage, and even I was up there at one point. Stephen wander20151108_055535232_iOSed up and was standing right in front of me on the floor as I danced on stage, and I finally worked up my nerve and asked him if I could take a picture. He seemed to think about it really hard (he appeared to be rather intoxicated… LOL) and finally said yes. So I jumped down…. And John came and whisked him away. SMH! I did, eventually, get a picture with him before they left.. and even though he was the only one of the cast I was able to track down, I was still one happy fangirl. 🙂
  • At one point Katie and John were dancing on stage in front of me, and Katie wanted a picture of her, John, and Stephen. She handed me her phone, and I took the picture, though Stephen had wandered off so it ended up being just her and John. I hope she liked it. 🙂
  • For the life of me, I can’t remember if it was before or after Stephen and John did their finale number (see below), but at one point John came up in front of us on the stage and began shaking his ass in Chris’ face. Chris, being the good sport that he is, began “playing the bongos” on John’s ass. John, being who HE is an20151108_054723389_iOSd needing to be as outrageous as possible (god I love him..), then pulled his pants down… and Chris continued drumming on his tidy whities! And so then John (who was drunk as all holy hell by this point.. I mean… not that he wouldn’t do this sober, but just saying.. lol) then dropped his pants entirely, and not only did Chris continue playing the bongos on John’s BARE ass, but at this point I really felt that I needed to get in there myself, and so I gave John a few swats of my own. 😉 #lifegoals P.S. John Barrowman has the smoothest ass I have ever felt in my life. I have absolutely no doubt that he moisturizes. 😉

The climax *cough* of the evening, however, came when Stephen and John got back up on stage, obviously getting ready to sing again. I have absolutely no idea about the timeline at this point in terms of what happened when or how, but I do remember that once Stephen and John were on the stage (and my brain started functioning again), my phone again came out, and my god am I glad it did. There’s no need for me to describe the awesome of their karaoke number of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” as my video of it is here. I suggest you watch it. Multiple times. No, seriously. 😉

After they were done on stage with that song, I think that’s when they were ready to leave. I tried to track down John for a selfie, but he was running around crazy so he wasn’t able to stop. Everyone got together in a group and they all left together, wandering through the cold night. Stacey, Clair, Chris, and I all left the bar at that point as well, and headed back towards our hotels (we were staying in different hotels, but wanted to walk Stacey and Clair back before we went our separate ways). The Arrow crew seemed to be headed in the same general direction as we were, but we maintained a respectable distance (I think/hope) so we didn’t seem like crazy stalkers. 😛 Ultimately, I think we all floated on air back to our hotels after seriously having the best fangirling night ever. To Stephen, John, Paul, David, Willa, and Katie: From the bottom of my heart, thank you. That night was the stuff of fangirling legend, and the fact that you were so open and fun with us meant the world!

After taking what was essentially a nap, we got up and ready for the next day (which included some pain relievers and loooots of coffee for sure). I wanted to get there early because I had already planned to get selfies at the table with Paul and David, plus I also wanted to get an autograph from John so that I could A. Be sure he didn’t mind if I posted the karaoke videos (and I knew there was no way I would be able to get near Stephen again to ask *him*), and B. I wanted John to sign my dissertation as well, since his passion and love for fandom has been such an inspiration for me. So we got there when the con opened, and I started staking out the autograph tables. Most of the cast were supposed to be there around 10am I believe, and strangely enough, by 10:30… not a single one of them was there yet. I can’t lie that this made me awwwwfully giggly. 😉 At one point I asked a volunteer if they knew why the Arrow cast was late (just because I was curious to hear what he’d say), and I was told that they were staying in a hotel that wasn’t nearby and had some traffic issues. And then I had to turn around and immediately leave before I laughed in his face. Poor guy. LOL

Eventually the cast did roll in. To my eye they seemed to be moving a bit gingerly, but of course they all looked as sexy as usual (seriously, it’s not fair that they can all look that good hung over… not… fair…) and jumped into their fan interactions with their typical gusto. At this point I decided to get in line for John first, since I knew he’d be the hardest to catch. Chris stayed in line with me, and when we got up to chat with John he was amazing, as always. I told him about my dissertation, and he seemed genuinely excited about it. We talked about how we both feel that fandom is an amazing coping skill and 20151108_185538464_iOSoutlet, and he of course clarified that I was going to prove that fandom is GOOD, to which I said that that’s certainly my hypothesis, but the research data will have to speak for itself when all is said and done. The fact that he was excited to hear about my research was so meaningful that I don’t even have words. I hope that my research ultimately does everyone in the community proud! As we were getting ready to leave his table, I mentioned that I had been at the bar the night before, and he got a funny look on his face… and then told me that he’d lost three hours of his life last night from the alcohol. LOL I told him that I had video of their karaoke, and asked if it was okay if I posted it. He said that it was my video, and so what I did with it was my business, which I countered with yes, but it’s your FACE. Ultimately he seemed not only okay with me posting videos, but excited about it and just asked that I made sure to tag him in them if I posted them on Facebook/Twitter. He did also then stop me for a second and ask if the karaoke was *good*…. which I assured him it was. How could it not be? LOL Just as we were walking away, Chris also mentioned that he’d “played the bongos” on John’s ass the 20151108_190320023_iOSnight before… John kind of got this “Oh god what else did I do that I don’t remember” look on his face… we all laughed for a bit and then ultimately took off. From there I believe we headed to David’s booth. While waiting for David (whose booth was right next to John’s), I saw Paul come over and start chatting with John, who was laying on the floor behind his booth. I watched Paul take a picture (I couldn’t see of what), and then start laughing and showing the picture to everyone around. I was dying to know what was in th20151108_193509226_iOSe picture since Paul always takes the best ones… I was not disappointed when he posted it later. 😉 Once we got up to David (after chatting with some lovely volunteers and fellow con-goers), I told him that he and the group had put on quite a show the night before, and he said “Oh yeah? Wait… do you mean here, or at the bar?” When I said the bar, he just laughed… and then we snuggled in for a selfie (where I would’ve happily stayed for several hours, but wasn’t socially appropriate…dammit…). We then headed to Paul’s booth, and this is when he was still deciding on the logo for his next t-shirt campaign, and had the two logos on his table for us to vote on. I told him that I LOVED the “Keep Rhinos Horny” design, and he got out his phone and went through his texts before he found the graphic that he was planning to use to show us. I told him in a was a definite winner and that I would fully buy one (which I have and it’s AWESOME), and we took a selfie and off we went. 🙂

After all of this, I had officially accomplished everything to make this the best con in the history of ever, but there was one last thing that I wanted to do. I had met Dr. Travis Langley earlier in the day at his table and chatted with him both about his writing and my own research. He has three books out: Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Night, Star Wars Psychology: The Dark Side of the Mind, and The Walking Dead Psychology: Psych of the Living Dead. As these are basically the coolest books ever, I wanted to go to his panel where he talked about the psychology of Batman. I was not disappointed. His 20151108_172103964_iOSpsychoanalysis of Batman was incredibly thought provoking, and made me sit down and really think about diagnostic criteria as they relate to some of my favorite fictional characters, as well as talking about Post Traumatic Growth (PTG), which is the idea that we can not only not be traumatized by something horrible happening to us, but we can also be better and healthier as a result of healing from it (something that I believe I have experienced). Applying that to comic book heroes was a major “EUREKA!” moment for me, as I see a lot of fictional characters – especially the Green Arrow – in very different terms now, and it’s spurred me to think more critically about the psychology of all the fictional characters I love, which has been a lot of fun for my psychology nerdy self!

After coming out of Dr. Langley’s panel, I realized that John had been live on Facebook while we were in there (so not long after we’d left his table), so we watched the video. In it, he mentioned being hung over as all hell (LOL), the night before at the bar, and the fact that “some people” had said they had videos of their karaoke that they were going to post. After squealing and fangirling my behind off in the middle of a crowded hallway (god I love sci-fi cons… no one ever judges you), we set off to finish our shopping, get ourselves together, and head home. I was straight up emo about having to leave, as I had truly had the time of my life, but it was time to get back to reality. *pout*

As it happened, reality still got to wait for awhile, because on our way out the door, we ran into a couple that had interacted with John in his Facebook live video, so we stopped and chatted with them for a while about their adventure trying to get John the cool mug he wanted. 😛 We also got to see amazing pictures being posted by the cast as they were making their way back to Vancouver, as well as other people’s pictures and stories. I uploaded the karaoke videos to my YouTube on our way home, and had an amazing time sharing those with the Internet, as I knew that everyone in cyberspace would love them every bit as much as I did. The icing on the cake was when John Barrowman himself found my tweets of the YouTube videos and retweeted them… making my Twitter light up like a Christmas tree on steroids, and leaving a permanent smile on my face for a long time. 🙂

My experience at Wizard World Louisville was one of those weekends that I will remember absolutely forever, and that was a true game changer for me. The time I spent with friends, both old and new, was incredible and I could not be more thankful for the awesome people I got to surround myself with. The professional inspiration I got from Dr. Langley, and from talking to Stephen and John about my dissertation has already been inspiration enough to keep me going through some tough academic times, as well as inspiring me to reach higher and farther than I’d ever dreamt of before. And as for the Arrow cast… to be that close for that long to people whose work has brought me SO much joy… to see that they’re so open and thankful to be doing what they’re doing, and yet so damn much fun and so ridiculously talented in everything they do… it’s indescribable. Now that I have some perspective, I don’t think I’ll ever feel awkward or star struck or nervous around any of them again. I’m so thankful to them for not only doing what they do, but also being so engaged and positive with their fans. This fandom may have its oddities and its quirks, but this weekend solidified for me that the Arrow fandom is definitely where I’m meant to be. And while Stacey, Clair and I even still have a digital chat room where we take turns tantruming over wanting to be back in that glorious weekend of fangirling bliss, in being in such an awesome fandom, I’m pretty sure that even better is yet to come. And that makes me one happy fangirl. 🙂

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 Ending author’s note: I hope you enjoyed reading about my fangirling adventures! Please feel free to read and share. Also feel free to share the pictures, just use the typical fangirling code and give credit if possible/applicable. Thanks for reading! ❤

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Meeting Stephen Amell

This is just a quick purely fangirling post, because I met Stephen Amell today for the first time at Louisville Wizard World. Because I just recently got my dissertation topic approved to study how science fiction fandom involvement through social media affects mental health and psychological well-being, I printed a dummy title page for my dissertation for Stephen to sign. I explained to him that because he and his fandom were part of my inspiration and motivation, I wanted him to sign it. He said it was awesome, signed it, thought for a minute, and then added an A+ to the bottom. Just that little gesture was so meaningful, and seriously touched my little academic perfectionist fangirl heart. ❤



I also got my picture with Stephen. While the picture is less than flattering of me, which is disappointing, there’s a bit of a reason for it. I had all these plans for how I wanted to stand to look my best, but when I got up to Stephen, he put his arm around me and pulled me in TIGHT. And all of my plans went out the window. All I could do was smile! So when I get frustrated looking at myself in that picture, that is what I will remember… Being VERY happy, and being held tight! As well as the fact that I finally, finally got to look Stephen in the eye and say “thank you” – and while I’m sure he thought I was just thanking him for the photo op, in actuality I was finally thanking him for all of the joy he and his show have brought to my life, as well as his positivity and his encouragement for us to live Sinceriously.

Thanks again, Stephen. 🙂

-Chrisha

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What I Want to be When I Grow Up

Little Engine That Literally Can't Even

With my dissertation topic (which is studying the relationships between sci-fi fandom involvement, social media, and mental health) gaining recent approval from my school, and having SO many people on Twitter wish me well and be excited for me (*waves to Twitter*), I thought I’d write a little bit about what I’m actually doing for my dissertation, and what my perfect world end game is.

People have been asking me what I want to be when I grow up for as long as I can remember, as I’m sure they do everyone. The frustration for me is that, despite going through grade school, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and now even a doctorate, until the last year I really didn’t have an answer to that question. My strategy has been to keep going to school (which is something I’m pretty good at) and hope that something would eventually pop up. Interestingly enough, I think that strategy may have worked, if what I have found I want to do is something that I can somehow find a way to get paid to do.

People always tell you that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Well that’s fan-freaking-tastic if what you love is arguing with people (law), fixing people (medical, mental health), playing with numbers (accounting, business) or other such things that have a pretty direct career correlation. Well what about people like me whose passions involve fandom and traveling? Last I checked, no one is hiring professional fangirls to fly around the world to sci-fi cons. Sadly. I would be sooooooo qualified for that position. Also, the application would be amazing….

  • Current fandom:
  • OTP:
  • Currently watching:
  • Most frequented vacation spots:
  • Number of fandom cons attended (please list all con names/dates/locations/photo ops/VIP):
  • List at least three references (use Twitter handles please):

I digress. Anyway, I’ve never been able to figure out how to turn my passions into a job, let alone a career, and so I’ve always just accepted that I’ll have to do something for a living that’s at least tolerable, and leave my passions as my hobbies. Until the last year, when I had an epiphany. The way that Capella University sets up its doctoral programs is that all coursework is done online, but there are three in person gatherings (called colloquia) where you come together with other students and professors to begin laying the groundwork for your dissertation. These colloquia were the absolute best times of my doctoral program so far, hands down. And somehow, somewhere (I’m still not sure where I got the idea specifically), I realized that maybe… just maybe… I could write my dissertation on fandom. I got many crazy looks, and noooo one had much of any idea what I was talking about (that’s a whole other blog entry into itself), but through the experience of developing my research plan for dissertation I’ve realized something freaking amazing: there is science to be done in the field of fandom and mental health.

I think that we can all agree that fandom is here to stay. Social media has exploded, and people have taken to Twitter and Facebook (not to mention Tumblr and god knows how many other sites I don’t even frequent) quite literally by the millions to engage in fandom discussion and general fangirling/boying over our favorite pieces of pop culture. While fandom has been around since the dawn of time, social media has made it much more immediate and much, much more easily accessible. I’m no longer writing a pen pal about my New Kids on the Block obsession and waiting weeks if not months to get something back. Now I’m on Twitter meeting new fangirls/fanboys every single day and chatting about shows online in real time. There is scientific research backing up the fact that fandom is growing, and is becoming ever more powerful in bringing people together and in influencing the object of fanships (Obst, Zinkiewicz, & Smith, 2002a, 2002b; Recuero, Amaral, & Monteiro, 2012). There is scientific research backing up the fact that being part of a sports or music fandom can affect psychological well-being and even suicidal behaviors (Andriessen & Krysinska, 2009; Hirt, Zillmann, Erickson, & Kennedy, 1992; Stack, 2000, 2002; Wann & Weaver, 2009; Wann, 2006). There is scientific research backing up the fact that people can become addicted to their parasocial relationships of choice just like they might a drug (Rudski, Segal, & Kallen, 2009). There is scientific research backing up the fact that social media in and of itself can have a massive impact on wellbeing, both positively and negatively depending on the circumstances (Caplan, 2003; Davila et al., 2012; Giglietto, Rossi, & Bennato, 2012; Nabi, Prestin, & So, 2013; Sanderson & Cheong, 2010; Strano & Wattai Queen, 2012). So we know that fandom (especially online) is growing, it’s not going away, and it’s likely affecting our mental health and well-being. But that’s all we really know at this point.

So what do I want to be when I grow up? I want to be a scientific researcher who applies science to the psychology of fandom. My fellow fangirls and fanboys, I think it is time that we recognized that we wield a tremendous amount of power. There is a massive world inside our electronic devices, and it is real. No longer should there be a distinction between “online” and “real life” because online IS real life (if you truly want to nerd out on this topic, check out Joseph Walther – his Social Information Processing Theory is one I plan to use in my dissertation, and is super relevant). But with great power comes great responsibility (sorry, I couldn’t resist…). We know that fandom has power, but science and good old fashioned common sense would state that there are likely both massive pros and massive cons from fandom participation. If it’s not going away, and it’s going to be a large part of our lives, then I feel it’s our responsibility to understand it and harness its power. We need research that discovers what the benefits of fandom participation are, not only so that we can feel justified in our involvement, but also so that professionals in mental health can understand it and so it can be used to help more people. But we also need to understand what the potential pitfalls are and how fandom can be used negatively, so that we as fans can recognize the warning signs in ourselves and others if people need help, keep ourselves safe and healthy, and also keep the objects of our fan-love safe as well. We have an amazing thing going here, but it’s critical that we understand it to the best of our abilities. Online fandoms aren’t going away. This is the New World Order. And now it is time that we understand what that means for us going forward.

So yes, this is what I want to do with my life. I’m passionate and excited about it in a way I’ve never been passionate and excited about anything before, not to mention determined. I want to meet all the fanboys and girls, and I want to understand everyone’s stories about fandom and parasocial relationships (I’ll write about those soon…). I want to dig in and see how fandom is both helping and hurting us. I want to validate our love for fandom, while also keeping us all safe. And yes, at some point it would also be super cool to discuss fandom from the perspective of the objects of fandom to understand how that power and responsibility affects them. And if that means I have to travel to all the Wizard Worlds and Dragon Cons and Comic Cons, then gosh, I guess I’ll just have to work through that challenge.;) But for the first time in my life, I can say that I have a deeper purpose in wanting to immerse myself in that world other than just to hope I can speak in full sentences to David Tennant this time, drink Nocking Point wine, and check out all the amazing cosplayers and fan art. I’m pretty damn excited about working on my dissertation, and ultimately digging in to this work that needs to be done. And you know I’ll keep you all up to date on my progress as I go through the process!

P.S. If anyone wants to hire a fandom researcher, definitely let me know. My desired career isn’t exactly mainstream, and I have yet to see any postings looking for fandom researchers on CareerBuilder, though I remain ever hopeful. 😉 @drfangirlphd @Chrisha_DWGrrl

References

Andriessen, K., & Krysinska, K. (2009). Can sports events affect suicidal behavior? A review of the literature and implications for prevention. Crisis, 30(3), 144–52. doi:10.1027/0227-5910.30.3.144

Caplan, S. E. (2003). Preference for online social interaction: A theory of problematic Internet use and psychosocial well-being. Communication Research, 30(6), 625–648. doi:10.1177/0093650203257842

Davila, J., Hershenberg, R., Feinstein, B. A., Gorman, K., Bhatia, V., & Starr, L. R. (2012). Frequency and quality of social networking among young adults: Associations with depressive symptoms, rumination, and corumination. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 1(2), 72–86. doi:10.1037/a0027512

Giglietto, F., Rossi, L., & Bennato, D. (2012). The open laboratory: Limits and possibilities of using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as a research data source. Journal of Technology in Human Services, 30(3-4), 145–159. doi:10.1080/15228835.2012.743797

Hirt, E. R., Zillmann, D., Erickson, G. A., & Kennedy, C. (1992). Costs and benefits of allegiance: Changes in fans’ self-ascribed competencies after team victory versus defeat. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63(5), 724–738. doi:10.1037//0022-3514.63.5.724

Nabi, R. L., Prestin, A., & So, J. (2013). Facebook friends with (health) benefits? Exploring social network site use and perceptions of social support, stress, and well-being. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 16(10), 721–7. doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0521

Obst, P., Zinkiewicz, L., & Smith, S. G. (2002a). Sense of community in science fiction fandom, part 1: Understanding sense of community in an international community of interest. Journal of Community Psychology, 30(1), 87–103. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jcop.1052

Obst, P., Zinkiewicz, L., & Smith, S. G. (2002b). Sense of community in science fiction fandom, part 2: Comparing neighborhood and interest group sense of community. Journal of Community Psychology, 30(1), 105–117. doi:10.1002/jcop.1053

Recuero, R., Amaral, A., & Monteiro, C. (2012). Fandoms, trending topics and social capital in Twitter. Selected Papers of Internet Research, 2, 1–24. Retrieved from http://spir.aoir.org/index.php/spir/article/view/7/pdf

Rudski, J. M., Segal, C., & Kallen, E. (2009). Harry Potter and the end of the road: Parallels with addiction. Addiction Research & Theory, 17(3), 260–277. doi:10.1080/16066350802334595

Sanderson, J., & Cheong, P. (2010). Tweeting prayers and communicating grief over Michael Jackson online. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 30(5), 328–340. doi:10.1177/0270467610380010

Stack, S. (2000). Blues fans and suicide acceptability. Death Studies, 24, 223–231. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/074811800200559

Stack, S. (2002). Opera subculture and suicide for honor. Death Studies, 26, 431–437. doi:10.1080/0748118029008676

Strano, M. M., & Wattai Queen, J. (2012). Covering your face on Facebook. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, and Applications, 24(4), 166–180. doi:10.1027/1864-1105/a000076

Wann, D. L. (2006). Examining the potential causal relationship between sports team identification and psychological well being. Journal of Sports Behavior, 29(1), 79–95. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.library.capella.edu/docview/215874095?accountid=27965

Wann, D. L., & Weaver, S. (2009). Understanding the relationship between sport team identification and dimensions of social well-being. North American Journal of Psychology, 11(2), 219–230. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=2009-08708-002&site=ehost-live\ndan.wann@murraystate.edu

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PhD Work/Life Balance: Does it Exist?

dissertation As of June 1, 2015, I have completed all my coursework and passed my doctoral comprehensive examination, and am officially ABD. All that’s standing between me and that fancy pants PhD is a dissertation. I’ve been working towards it for two and a half years, and now it is time. But in this unstructured time between comps and my dissertation term officially beginning, when I’m getting ready for this new phase in my life, a new complication appears: How in the world am I supposed to structure my time and manage everything? How in the world am I going to survive?

While I am currently not working, to say my life is complicated would be a bit of an understatement. I am in a transition period not just in school, but in a variety of areas of my life. My daughter is 3 and is transitioning into pre-school in the coming months. We are getting ready to put our house on the market and find a new place to live. My parents are working on moving from my childhood home to their new home in a new state, but are currently working through some health issues while preparing both houses for moving. My role as a step-mom is forever transitioning into whatever it is the kids may need at the time. And of course these are just the transitions I feel comfortable talking about openly online. While I feel like I am moving forward, I also feel like I have very little solid foundation from which to work, which is a terrifying prospect.

When going into my comps quarter, I was excited at the prospect that if I completed comps and passed immediately, I would have two months with which to play with to get my personal life settled and prepare for dissertation. Time to have fun, and remember what my kids look like. Time to organize myself. Time to do something crazy, like read a book… for leisure. Time to just be. And yet, it seems every time I get some free time, some unavoidable crisis comes up to fill the time, stopping me from being able to manage the things that I was planning to manage. This week alone, my mother has gone through a (potentially unsuccessful) medical procedure, my 3 year old has gotten sick and has required me to take her to the doctor twice, my husband has gotten sick and has required me to take him to the doctor once, and I got a pinched nerve in my neck requiring medical intervention for myself. This is above and beyond the swim lessons that needed to be gotten to, and the pre-school that needed to be toured (which had to be rescheduled due to illness already). Not to mention the complete lack of sleep due to illness of the kid, the older kid requiring food three entire times per day, and attempting to keep up on laundry (much of which has been vomited on) and dishes so that nature will not reclaim the house, and my social worker friends won’t have to awkwardly report me to children’s services after visiting (though, let’s be honest, none of my friends are coming anywhere near this disaster).

tumblr_ltz2w3NJmK1qgavwyo1_500So, okay, perhaps this week is a fluke. Surely life can’t always be this insane. And yet every night when I go to bed and envision what the next day is going to look like, I wake up to a total curve ball. I was assigned my dissertation mentor close to two weeks ago now. I originally contacted her more than a week ago, and she invited me to call her at some point last week so that we could get to know each other and touch base on how to go forward. Every day I envision that the next day things will get back to normal, I will begin to organize myself, figure out what I need to do, and contact my mentor. And yet here we are. I feel like I’m drowning before I’ve even had a chance to begin. It’s disheartening. What if this is normal?

At this point in my life, I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve been a step-mom for more than 12 years. I’ve been a bio-mom for more than 3. I’ve worked as a therapist for more than 5 years. I’ve been a student for decades. I am no stranger to the wild balancing act that is life. But there seems to be something about lately, with so much in flux, and with so little of my time truly structured that I seem to be finding far more challenging than normal. I can’t tell my sick toddler not to be sick. And I can’t leave my sick toddler with my sick husband so I can organize myself (or, ya know, sleep). I can’t tell my parents that, though they’re drowning and can’t do anything but sink further into despair without my help that I’m unavailable when my mom is screaming in pain and my dad is having a panic attack. So what do I do?

The answer that we always hear in these situations is to set boundaries and then make the tough calls to do what you need to do for yourself. Well, sure. I have no problem making the tough calls. What I need help with is what to do after that. How do you deal with the consequences of the tough calls? The results? I know the standard therapist line that to care for others you have to care for yourself first, and I believe it with all my heart. I really do try to practice what I preach. But when you have an unstructured life… when you have no “boss” to tell you when you need to work… how do you set those boundaries? How do you tell people you have to work, even in an emergency, when they know damn well you’re the one that sets your own hours? How do you figure out how flexible to be, and how much of yourself to give to others and how much to keep for yourself?

I actually truly welcome any input from those of you who have been through this. I want to be the best student I can be, while also being the best mom, wife, and individual human I can be as well. I have goals that go beyond being a wife and mother and getting my PhD, such as finding a new place to live that I actually like, traveling to new and exotic places, reading and writing books, figuring out what I want to be when I grow up, and figuring out how to live in some of those exotic places I intend to travel to (as well as figuring out how to pay for that!). But when I can’t figure out how to find the time to pick up the phone and call my dissertation mentor, the rest of it seems completely unattainable. Will life ever calm down? What do I do if it doesn’t? How do I get my hands around the situation?

Anyone who wants to chat about this, feel free to leave a comment here, or tweet me at @drfangirlphd. I look forward to learning from the experiences of others dealing with similar kinds of crazy and shamelessly stealing and using your successful techniques for my own benefit! Just kidding, I promise I’ll give credit… just please take pity on me and throw some advice this way!

-Chrisha

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Allons-y!

allonsy

The first post always seems to be the hardest for me. Yet here I sit with my laptop in the middle of the night looking to get on with it. While academic writing has always been a strength for me, writing in a more informal tone is one that has escaped me over the years, though I used to enjoy it a lot. I am hoping that beginning this blog will have the benefit not only of helping me regain that skill, but also to document this rather unique time in my life: the time of dissertation, mixed with parenting a toddler, step-parenting two teenagers, managing a household, attempting to build a career, dealing with sandwich-generation issues, and attempting to not go completely and utterly insane in the process. No problem!

I do feel like I may have some interesting insights to offer regarding this whole PhD situation, as my situation is anything but traditional (if there is such a thing as a traditional doctoral student?). I am currently working on my PhD in Advanced Studies in Human Behavior (essentially a PhD in counseling) at Capella University, which is a program that is almost entirely online. With my understanding being that only a very small percentage of the population have their PhDs, my guess would be that those who’ve received this degree through an online format are even teeny tinier. The other thing that may make my educational journey a bit different than most is that, though most of my colleagues are writing their dissertations on things such as services for autistic children, care-giving for individuals with Alzheimer’s, or narcissism in teenagers (all of which are TOTALLY valid things to study, and are all dissertations I look forward to reading), my dissertation is going to be on fangirling. Yes, fangirling. My passion within the field has always been the relationship between psychology and technology. I am forever fascinated by how the Internet has changed the way we form and maintain relationships, the way we communicate, and the way we spend both our professional and our leisure time. I fall into the generation that remembers life before the Internet, but was young enough to enthusiastically embrace it when it became readily available. Forget experimenting with marijuana and lesbian relationships in college – I truly discovered the Internet in my freshman year of college. I was experimenting with chat rooms and list-servs! I have therefore always been intrigued and passionate about the online world, including communities and relationships formed there. In my dissertation, I plan to bridge the gap between fangirling, the Internet, and mental health, which hasn’t been done before. I want to know if fangirling, and specifically fangirling online, is good for you. And I can’t wait to get started finding out!

I have a host of ideas as to different topics for entries going forward. Even at this early stage in the dissertation process (I’m waiting for results on comps as we speak, and will formally begin dissertation in July, 2015 *knock wood*), I’ve had some interesting experiences with my topic. Doing research that is on a non-traditional topic brings with it is own set of challenges, as does conducting research that involves online components, as the research world is still trying to figure out how to handle the Internet in terms of ethics (despite me being in school online… ah, the irony). I look forward to sitting down and going into detail on some of these topics, as I believe they may be of help to others getting ready or currently going through similar avenues as I am.

Ultimately, what I’d love to get from this blog is conversation. If I write something you think is cool, please drop me a line and say so. If you disagree with something I said, or want to discuss things, same goes. The Internet is this magical place where having access to really smart and interesting people from all over the world is right at your finger tips. I love meeting new people and sharing ideas. I’m also well aware of the fact that while I have some decent ideas, I have loads of room to grow. Collaborating and discussing things with others I find to be all kinds of awesome, so please feel free to reach out! I look forward to getting my fangirl and my scholar on, all here in one centralized place. 😉

-Chrisha

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