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So the place we are suppose to move into isn’t ready. The folks who run this place are very informal, so they just said “plan on this weekend.” Well the guy who is vacating the place hasn’t moved out. I seriously doubt he will be able to move and they will be able to clean by this weekend. Classes start tomorrow at the Big Ag. U.

In other news I desperately need my thesis to be completed so that I can apply to PhD programs in far away places, but I don’t feel in I’m in a good state of mind to be working on it while everything is so up in the air. I’m so frustrated.

I have been pouring over the websites of other programs, looking for likely advisors and comparing program stats.

My case of impostor syndrome has never been worse. It sounds strange, but I haven’t experienced feeling this way often in my grad classes here, but now that I’m applying to “real” programs, I’m super conscious of the ways my record doesn’t measure up to a stellar performance.

Things I need to do in October…
Take the GRE (again.)
Contact possible advisers and suck up.
Make serious progress on my thesis.
Get some actual work done at my job.

None of these things feel possible if we don’t move soon. I know there is nothing really stopping me from doing these things…I mean life goes on, even when your relatives are crazy. It’s just that its difficult for me to concentrate on intellectual work when my living situation feels icky and unsafe. Writing, to me, feels like an art. I don’t think people make good art when they are in distress, although sometimes artists make good art about their distress. Currently my thesis work is set up on my home computer, but I’m considering taking the file back to the slow computer in my adviser’s research office. It would be slow and frustrating, but I would feel less anxious.

The point is that my “generalized anxiety” symptoms, which I had mostly under control are back with a vengeance. I have trouble sleeping, my stomach hurts, I’m restless and always in search of activity, but not able to produce anything useful. Through therapy I have learned that I have to give myself a break when this happens, do things to relax and decompress. The problem is that when I feel so uncomfortable in my living situation its difficult to decompress. My uncle hasn’t been around in a while, so the problem is mostly in my head. I’m anticipating the next bit of drama and can’t relax because I know it could happen at any moment.

I’m driving Beorn crazy because he doesn’t see what the big deal is. Intellectually I know things could be a lot worse, but emotionally I’m a wreck. Frankly, I don’t know how grad students who are short of money live on ramen for weeks, that would drive my bonkers. The point is I know my problems aren’t that big in the scheme of things, but they are big for me, for my life and I want them fixed.

Now! Now ! Now! (stomps feet)

1. We got a call back from an apartment today just as I picked Beorn up from campus, so we went to see it. It will be ready in a week and a half. It’s fairly inexpensive, reasonable deposit, no cat deposit, and they seem eager to get someone moved in. It’s also in Ag Town, which means that we wouldn’t have to drive to campus. Might be too good to be true, but I’m crossing my fingers. As we drove up I noticed a friend from work with a hose in her hand. We chatted a little and I introduced Beorn. Running into her seems like an auspicious omen.

2. My therapist is so great! Talking to her today really helped me accept that as much as I would like my family to love and understand me, they can’t and so I’m beating my head against a wall when I seek approval from them. (Only she said it in a much nicer, gentler way.) I also talked to her about how to get through the next little while that we have to stay here. She brought up that I could spend time talking to grandma, and listening to her stories. I had completely forgotten that this was one of the original pluses to the idea of moving in here. It sounds strange, but in all this stress I might have missed that opportunity.

I know that Yoda says “there is no try,” but I think trying and imagining a different state of mind comes before attaining that state. Tonight I’m imagining a mental place in which I wouldn’t be focused on how messed up my family is and pitying myself for being born into this dysfunctional mess. Instead I would be grateful for all of my supportive friends, my health, my wonderful partner, and having the luxury of pursuing a career that I’m passionate about.

Ever since we moved into my grandmother’s house I have been profoundly uncomfortable. I just haven’t felt like myself. I’m not sure how to describe it, but I have felt like I don’t know who I am anymore. It’s a feeling that emerges from deep within my childhood, a feeling of being invisible.

Last night Beorn and I watched Denzel in “Deja Vu.” Denzel, in a classic sci-fi plot, travels back in time to change the sequence of events that leads to a disaster. It’s eery for him to interact, in the past, with people he knows are dead. My life seems to have taken a similar sort of Twilight Zone feel to it. As if I had woken up one day and my normal life had been replaced by some nightmare.

Another sci-fi example? (Sorry folks who aren’t sci-fi fans.) “Frame of Mind,” The episode of Star Trek TNG in which Riker starts hallucinating that he is in an asylum. His consciousness keeps switching back and forth between the reality of the ship and the reality of the hospital. While he’s in the hospital the doctors and attendants insist on telling him that there is no ship, that he isn’t who he thinks he is. My family is like that. They can look at me and completely miss who I am. It’s like they are talking to someone else. I can try to talk to them, but they only hear what they want to hear.

If I spend enough time around them I start to think that I am the person that they say I am, that the world is the way they say it is.

Today I had lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, who was in my entering cohort. She seemed eager for me to move out of my grandma’s house when I explained the situation. While I do agree with her, she seemed a little confused as to why I was moving. It’s not that Beorn and I can’t help out with my grandmother, it’s just that my uncle threatening physical violence makes the situation intolerable. I started to wonder though, is having a caring relationship with an extended family impossible during graduate school?

If my family wasn’t so crazy I think living with my grandmother would be just fine. I don’t mind watching out for her, even if it’s sometimes unpleasant or frustrating. I strongly believe that an extended family situation is preferable to a “nuclear” family. Yet it seems to be difficult to work out in our individualistic, self centered culture.

Long ago, as an undergrad I had to read a book called “Learning from the Ladakh.” I strongly suspect the author, is presenting a romantized view of traditional culture in Ladakh, sometimes called “Little Tibet” yet there is something amazing about the stories she tells. She speaks about the people of Ladakh as being profoundly happy and satisfied with their lives, even though they live in one of the harshest environments in the world. Traditionally people in Ladakh have practiced polyandry, because it took the work of several men to successfully raise one woman’s children in such a harsh environment. Can you imagine a man and his brother marrying the same woman and learning to get along together? It sounds crazy, yet somehow this is what they did for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. They also ate a ton of yak milk and liked it. It’s amazing what you can get used to.

I have other friends who care for their children or their parents during graduate school (although I have yet to meet someone who has tried to do both.) It’s clear that engaging in this type of caring is detrimental to an academic career, but I’m not sure it’s completely incompatible. What do you think? Can you care for your family and be a grad student?

Thanks again for all the great advice. Beorn and I have agreed that we will probably have to move since my uncle is scary. We can’t risk the puppies “disappearing” since it would provoke him. None of his brothers (including my father) are willing (or able) to stand up to him. My father, as executor is responsible for her wellbeing, so he will have to figure out another way to make sure she is taken care of. It’s going to be a big financial strain on Beorn and I, but my mental health is important. I haven’t been sleeping well since the puppy drama came to a head. Last night my father and uncle got into it over the phone. Then my uncle called back and I (stupidly) answered the phone. He proceeded to tell me that Beorn and I were selfish “takers” and “welfare cases.” Then he showed up out here at Grandma’s house again, so when Beorn informed me of this I told him to stay in the attic. I don’t know my uncle’s opinions on gun control, but I’m not risking it. If I could just get my damn thesis written…

Today the puppies arrived along with my uncle, his wife and daughter, and my other uncle. When we explained that no one had asked us if we were willing to care for puppies, my uncle started yelling and threatening to call the police. I told him it was fine with me if he wanted to call the cops, but we weren’t going to be taking care of puppies. My second uncle stepped in and tried to say it wouldn’t be so bad to care for them and that it’s grandma’s house, she has a right to get them if she wants. At that point Beorn and I decided to get out of the house and went to dinner.

The problem is, Grandma has the mind of a two year old. She regularly pees her pants and doesn’t have the sense to change them afterwards. She would eat herself into a diabetic coma if we let her. There is no way that she can take care of those puppies. They just aren’t appropriate for her.

Jack Russell Terriers are fox hunting dogs. They are extremely smart and energetic and so go crazy with boredom if they aren’t given enough exercise. Here are some quotes off the web:

“Jack Russell Terriers can be difficult to deal with because they are true hunting dogs. They should be kept on leash when in rural/country areas, because if they take off after a ground squirrel or other quarry, they will not hesitate to dig and go underground. Terriers have been known to stay underground with their quarry for days, with no food or water.”

“The majority of dogs (in Russell Rescue) are unwanted simply for being Jack Russells by nature and behavior,” according to a pamphlet provided by the group. “Owners often find that they were unprepared for the care required for this feisty terrier and did not understand the nature of the breed and their instinctive desire to hunt.”

“Like most terriers, the Jack Russell is a digger and a barker; if not given enough opportunity to indulge these inclinations outside, he may dig holes in the furniture and bark at everything that moves.”

“Jack Russells who are not trained on a consistent basis, or are not exercised regularly, may occasionally exhibit aggressive or unmanageable behaviour, including excessive barking, escaping from the yard, or digging in unwanted places inside and outside the house. In America, several Jack Russell rescue networks have to work constantly to find temporary and permanent homes for JRTs whose owners could not meet these requirements for keeping JRTs as house pets.”

We told my uncle that we weren’t going to be caring for the puppies, but they left them here anyway, so the question is now what do we do? I don’t think it’s fair to the dogs to simply leave them here and not take care of them, but I don’t want my uncle to think he can get away with that kind of crap. Options I have thought of so far…

1. Beorn and I find a new place to live and move out.
2. We inform my relatives that they are going to have to find someone else to care for the puppies, particularly on the weekends when we are the only ones here to watch grandma. If they don’t take care of it we find the puppies a new home.
3. We let the puppies remain here, but make sure they stay in the dog run and have food and water.
4. We find the puppies a new home, and then when someone asks what happened to them we say, “we have no idea, they must have run away.”

If the puppies stay here the best case scenario is that they grow up to be annoying, untrained brats, more likely in my estimation is that they run away or get run over. Just to be clear, there is no fence around the property and cars regularly speed down the road at 70+ mph.