AT and KonMari
First and foremost, thank you all for your words of support and encouragement as I came off the trail (Temporarily Benched). I was unhappy, even knowing the necessity of the decision, and your confidence, shared anecdotes, and general outpouring of goodwill went a long way towards keeping me calm and helping me push forward towards recovery.
Speaking of recovery, it’s going well. I’m still working with the lovely and talented Rachel Maynard from Inspiration to Movement and I cannot praise her and her work enough. It turns out that massage therapy is a.) sometimes painful and b.) absolutely no joke. Combined with PT, Rachel has me back in regular shoes (no inserts!), standing straighter, walking properly (ok, we’re working on this one), and even back to work where I’ve been able to stand and move comfortably for (almost the totality of) six to eight hour shifts! My restart date is 15 July and I’m counting down with a great deal of anticipation!
From the time I left the trail for a week off the first time to my restart date will be just a touch over six full weeks. That’s a really long time. But it’s also not. It’s not enough time to get a new job, move out of an apartment you dislike, or make significant changes to your life plan (except to wander around telling everyone you’ve signed on for the CDT in 2018 because it absolutely must be hiked in the near future). However, it was enough time to tackle some of the things on my “list.”
What’s the list?
When you hike 1,000 miles with someone you get to know them really well. You sleep at the same campsites together, wake up looking (and sometimes feeling) like hell together, you struggle up mountains together (well, I struggle up mountains and sometimes Beast will hang out with me – I’d like to meet the mountain that slows that man down), you eat town food together, experience trail magic together, and drink boxed wine together. At some point in all this togetherness, you talk about pretty much everything. Past relationships, education, jobs, family, family feuds, how curly your hair gets when its humid, how your beard oil (to be clear – Beast’s beard oil) spilled in his pack and made everything smell funny, UTIs, pets, gear . . . am I painting a clear picture here? You talk about everything. Included in this, at least for B and me, was the question, “What do you want to change when you go back?” In answering that question, with both reasonable and unreasonable responses, we created our lists.
So what’s on my list?
The list is a work in progress. Like my hike, it’s not finished. However, I did put some big things and some little things on the list before I had to come off, figured – meh, no time like the present!, and accomplished some of these things during my sojourn chez moi.
- To academia or not to academia. Stick with me through this one – it’s a little long. If you look at my bio for this website, you’ll notice I’m a straight up academic. Never done anything else, don’t know how to do anything else, didn’t think I wanted to do anything else, thought that was where I’d be forever. Except, problematically, I was living an adjunct life and as much as I love (most of) my students, it’s not really a sustainable lifestyle. If you’re unaware of the adjunct crisis, it breaks down something like this. Upwards of 2/3s of college classes are now being taught by adjuncts. Adjuncts are paid in the range of $2,000-6,000 per class – and a class can easily have 30-45 students in it. Adjuncts have no job security; they sign semester to semester contracts for individual classes taught. Adjuncts have no benefits; we pay for health insurance out of pocket – think about that. If I pay about $270 for health insurance each month, if I teach one class during a four month semester and am paid $2,000 – I shell out $1,080 in health insurance. Even if I’m taking home all of that $2,000, I’m now left with $920 to pay rent for four months, buy food for four months, and put gas in my car for the hour long drive (one way) I make three times a week for 15 weeks to get to my adjunct position. If you’re following and you know me, you now know why I have not one, but four jobs.
So why do we all adjunct? Why are so many people will to do it for so long? The reasons are myriad and personal – but here are some I see.
-You garner experience teaching. This ostensibly bolsters your chances of getting a tenure track (TT) job.
-You network. Kind of anyway. This also ostensibly bolsters your chances of getting a TT job.
-You stay in your field – that means you can more easily stay up to date with research, work on your own publications, continue to go to conferences, etc. I guess that’s good for getting a TT job too.
-You’re using your degree. You spend four years to get a BA, two to get a MS, and another four OR TEN to get a PhD, you kind of want to use those degrees. It’s hard to just hang up that piece of paper, shrug your shoulders, and then say, “Meh, did that. Moving on now.”
These reasons were no longer acceptable to me (but please know I do appreciate all the adjuncts out there fighting the good fight to educate students and secure a better job situation for people like us!). There are too few TT spots opening, too many newly minted PhDs being poured into the system, and something about my TT applications just isn’t jiving with the academic world. So part of my list – I promised myself I would no longer adjunct. Now, to level with you, there is one particular small school that I love very dearly and which takes excellent care of its adjuncts and for which I would love to continue working if I can. But in general, it is time to stop paying universities to hire me as a teacher. My resolve was indeed put to the test upon my arrival home. I was offered not one, but two adjunct posts. All I had to do was not go back to the trail. Be proud dear hiking community, be proud dear hiking partner – I stuck to my list and turned down the adjunct positions. I’m currently actively exploring new, exciting career paths and can’t wait to move into this next phase of my professional life.
- Buy a piano. Yes. I did that. There’s no long explanation required for this item on my list. I’ve played since I was 5. My college teacher tried very hard to take all the joy of playing away from me, but failed and I continue to love playing whenever I go home to St. Louis. I finally decided that I love playing enough that I should take some of my hard earned savings and put a piano in my own home. A week into recovery, I found a lovely spinet on Craigslist which is now happily installed in my living room. Despite how out of tune my new baby is, I’ve played every day and can’t wait to tackle some new music when I get home from the trail in September.
- Minimalize. My pack (Baby Deuter) weighs less than 30 lbs with 2L water and 6 days’ worth of food. That means that my gear weighs somewhere in the vicinity of 20lbs. That’s gear with which I can hike through heat, wander through rainstorms, and sleep in snow and ice. It turns out, you really don’t need all that much to meet your basic needs. My amazing friend Angie always asks her children, “Do you need it or do you want it?” I heard that question reverberating in my head on the trail as I contemplated the full closets and under bed storage I had left behind me. I also thought of my friend Mike who lives in a van near his kayak and couldn’t be happier owning two shirts and some neoprene. Finally, I thought of my sister Kat who recently read and described to me The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. In this book, Kondo describes her (self-named) Kon-Mari method. Minimalize by category not room. Keep it if it “sparks joy.” Get rid of it otherwise.
So I got the book from the library. Devoured it. And then went for it.
In a big way.
I started with my clothes. I took 8 bags to Volunteers of America and trashed some unsalvageable items.
I went from 48 pairs of shoes (yes. I love shoes.) to 15.
Kraig and I no longer have doubles of all kitchen appliances, pots, pans, and utensils lurking in the basement from our pre-combined household stashes.
Old computers, an old TV, old lights, a functional keyboard that is never played – gone.
Six boxes of books sold for $80
That Japanese pop someone gave to me four years ago and all the other food that accumulates but no one touches – gone. Why hang onto the oily dregs at the bottom of a mixed nut butter when you haven’t eaten it in a year and know you never are? Toss it.
I’m not done applying the KonMari method to my life, but I can tell you that I do not regret the massive donations, the sale of the useless electronics, or the purging of unloved books (yes, it is possible to have some books you do not love. This one was hard from me – but so worth it). I like my apartment more – I’ve been able to free significant space by getting rid of excess furniture, so it feels lighter and bigger. I like my clothes more – I only have things I wear and feel good in. I like my organization more – Kondo stresses that every item must have an easily accessible place in the home. If items are stacked vertically and/or otherwise inaccessible, she suggests you still have too many things. Adhering to this principle, I have looked critically at all my ‘categories’ – from hand towels to bath towels to nail polish – and winnowed them down to everything that sparks joy and which fits comfortably in the storage spaces I have.
I have less stuff. I kid you not though, I’ve been doing more – even in recovery when my mobility is limited. Kondo warns that as you rid your space of unnecessary items, tasks which are necessary or activities in which you want to participate will become more clear. My newfound productivity reminded me of an anecdote from The Soul of a Chef in which author Michael Ruhlman recounts a chef instructor vehemently cleaning a student’s work station, saying that your work station reflects your brain. Keep it uncluttered and it will work wonders. Clog it up with peelings, scraps, and refuse, and it will bog down to the point of inutility. While not going Mike-crazy and moving into a van (and at the risk of sounding trite), I am seeing and living the sense of this wisdom and am thoroughly enjoying having less and doing more.
So now what?
I looked at leaving the trail like a prison sentence. I’m far away from my trail family and they’re further from me everyday. I’m losing ground on summer and I’ve fallen out of the hiking groove. However, by tackling this initial part of my list and focusing relentlessly on PT and rehab, my trail exile has actually flown by rather quickly. In a few short days, I’ll be back to my thru-hike and happily at home again on the AT. I’m pondering what 1000 solo miles will look like and what it will feel like to reach Katahdin. I’m looking forward to returning to the comparatively stress-free environment of the trail created and maintained by the elimination of 1001 tiny decisions we make everyday (How should I wear my hair? Is my make-up melting off? What time do I need to leave to get there on time? What skirt length is appropriate in this situation? Did I clock out at work last night? Did I leave the door unlocked? Is the oven on?). In this environment, I know I’ll be ready to begin contemplating Phase 2 of my list. How do I maintain the happy, (relatively) stress-free life I’ve come to know and love in the wild while juggling the stressors of the ‘real world’ once I’m back home for good? And what, if anything, can I add to my life to enrich it after this journey? Some answers are starting to present themselves – perhaps a one person scull because, while kayaking is fun, I dream about the flying feeling only rowing creates. Perhaps it’s time to invest in a guidebook for the CDT – it’s never too early to start researching. Other answers are less apparent right now, but I cannot wait to go find them on the trail.
If anyone else hiking or at home has a list, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section!
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