Confessions of a Recovering Blue Belt

Dear Blog, it has been 206 days since my last entry.
I’m finally ready to tell you why.

Bless Me Suzy

Two nights ago, on Thursday, I got the first stripe on my blue belt. There was something strange in that timing, getting that recognition the same day I had earlier decided that it was time for me to start writing again.

My last post was about how grateful I was to have amazing training partners at WNY MMA. And honestly, that’s what this post is about too. But I have a different perspective at this point.

Being injured sucks. Like, seriously, sucks. It affects your body. It affects your mentality. It affects aspects of your life that you didn’t even know were connected in any way to your injury.

Injuries Suck

I have spent the whole first stripe of my blue belt figuring out how to deal with my injury. How to deal with the feelings of embarrassment and, frankly, incompetence that accompanied that injury.

That imposter syndrome I felt when I got my blue belt somehow seemed to be confirmed by being hurt. I looked around and other people seemed to handle their injuries so coolly and with such confidence that they would be back on the mats after X-weeks or could simply train through the injury.

But for me, I didn’t have that certainty and training through was scary. I felt like it was inevitable that I was going to reinjure myself – because that’s what kept happening. Until I had a major realization.

I realized that I couldn’t handle this on my own. I needed help. And that was really hard for me to admit.

I need help

Anyone who knows me at all is going to be absolutely shocked when I tell you that I’m an incredibly independent person. I’m a trained researcher. I can find answers to problems. I can come up with solutions. That’s what I do.

But I couldn’t fix my injury. And that hurt. A lot.

Since then, I’ve had to reach out to and ask help from many people. I got a new primary care physician who does sports medicine (which I mentioned in the last post) but, when I went in for my visit, I didn’t even see the actual doctor. I did get a script for PT though.

My PT is a good friend and she helped me figure out what was actually wrong. Some disc stuff. Some muscular stuff. She worked on fixing some things and gave me exercises and stretches. PT was expensive though and wasn’t a something I could do long term. And, even though it was helpful, I still felt like I was sliding backwards down the recovery hill. I still couldn’t confidently roll or lift or run.

Anxiety got me like

While I could go to classes and participate in technique okay, I was constantly afraid when I rolled, which led to a ton of anxiety about going to class. Not being able to work out (plus, among other things, the stress from my job search and the stress from Nate’s potential, and then actual, job change) did not make for a great combination with my tendency towards emotional eating. Between inactivity and bad activity, I ended up putting on around 15 lbs.

For anyone who has gained weight from an injury (or other equally frustrating circumstance) you know how terrible it feels when you realize that it’s now Fall and none of your pants fit, the belt that tied around your gi fine before seems to have increasingly stubby ends, and whatever muscle definition you had seems to be disappearing faster than any progress you manage to make.

I tried going vegan for three months in the hopes that it would make me feel better physically (and alleviate some ethical anxieties that were compounding all the other anxieties). But, even as I liked a lot of things about plant-based eating, I experienced a lot of unanticipated social pushback about eating plant-based and, on top of that, there didn’t seem to be any tangible forward progress.

Plant-based tasties

It was extremely frustrating and demoralizing to be constantly trying all these different approaches and not finding the one that was actually going to help.

And that’s the reality of recovery: sometimes it takes more than one try. Sometimes it feels like two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes, one step forward and two steps back.

Around Thanksgiving, I finally broke down and told Nate that I needed to do something differently. That this wasn’t working. I wasn’t feeling better.

Progress

When I had been having knee pain in Cleveland, I worked with a personal trainer for a few months and that had completely eliminated the pain and the source of the problem. Plus, he’s the one who made me fall in love with deadlifting. So, Nate and I decided that was worth trying.

We knew a bunch of people at LA Fitness, so in spite of how…corporate…that gym is, we joined and I started working with an amazing trainer who totally understood my issues, was also into BJJ, and instilled in me complete confidence that we could tackle this injury. I felt practically high with relief.

But then, two weeks after I started training with him, all the people who I knew at LA Fitness got tired of the corporate bullshit and left. And I was locked into a training contract. Cue re-entry of all those dark dismal clouds.

Wet again

After trying to tell me that my trainer had been promoted to a different location (seriously? of course, that person isn’t there anymore…) LA paired me up with another trainer. I was not excited about this. I was tired of being shuffled around. I was tired of feeling like reaching out to other people for help was pointless. I was tired of feeling like garbage.

But this new trainer was enthusiastic and empathetic and didn’t mind if I texted him my workout summary every time I worked out, even when we weren’t working out together. We’ve been building up reps, building up weight, and turning that corner back in the direction I want to go. His real desire to help people balances out the corporate awfulness that turned me off about LA Fitness as a chain.

In the meantime, I forced myself to be more honest with people on the mats. I went to class but didn’t do positionals or roll. I stopped trying to pretend that I felt okay when I didn’t. And I did my best not to feel embarrassed about it. I had a choice: I could stop training or I could train as much as my injury would let me.

I help you

As I became more honest, I also talked with other people who were or had been injured. And that helped. They’d ask how I was doing and mark the little milestones with me. I appreciated the lack of judgment they expressed as I slowly worked my way back to where I was a year ago.

Because, essentially, that’s what’s happened. It’s been a year—more really, if we count the off and on leading up to when things got serious. I wasn’t writing because I was embarrassed, because I felt like I didn’t have a right to talk about training if I wasn’t training hard. And that’s not really a good answer.

So what the heck is the point of this post? Why I am writing again?

Get to the point!

I’m writing again, especially this post, because I don’t want someone else to feel the way I did. I don’t want someone else to feel like they are less valuable of a teammate because they can’t train as hard as they want to. You just need to train as hard as you can. And, as someone told me, to heck with anyone who isn’t supportive of that.

The point is that injuries (and other bad shit that happens) can make us feel like we’re alone. We feel isolated, tired, demoralized. We feel frustrated that we can’t train the way we want. We maybe even feel like others are judging us for not training hard enough.

Teammates hang together

But we aren’t alone—that’s the point of being part of a team. If we feel isolated, we’ve got to be honest with the people who care about us. And we need to pay attention when people we care about might need some extra support. That’s what it means to be part of a team.

Recovery, for anyone who has had to walk that long road in any of its many forms, rarely happens exactly as we envision. But, motivated by empathy, we can help each other and then (to put it as elegantly as I can) at a minimum, when shit sucks, we aren’t alone.

Last night, I rolled for an hour at open mat for the first time in nearly a year. I’m back to doing positionals and rolling after class, and—while I’m still careful—I’m not carrying the same fear that I was. I’m back to feeling happy on the mats.

The last post that I wrote was an effort to find a silver lining, to stay positive, and to convince myself that I was okay. Some things take time though. And help.

Every time I put on my belt, that first stripe is a reminder.

Bluebelt Stripe

Wrestling with Partners, Not Pain

Last night I was feeling pretty high after my first wrestling practice since May. Today I’m feeling a little bruised—and a lot grateful.

Kristin's a beast in the cage!

Kristin’s a beast in the cage!

I cannot say thank you enough to Andrea, Kristin, Nicole, and Izzy for being such amazing training partners last night.

Great Training Partners

It takes a lot of trust to be able to do a wrestling class with a recovering neck injury and they somehow managed to help me train hard without putting too much stress on my neck.

Awkward Turtle

Even being careful, I know that I can get hurt but I have to find a way to train within my own limitations, otherwise I’ll never get to train. Being 30, I have to balance all the years that I still have to train with all the years that make me more likely to get injured and to recover more slowly from those injuries.

Stout Jitsu

Not having Don coaching last night was a little weird. I definitely missed him. He’s the one who made me realize that in spite of not knowing anything about wrestling, I could in fact still learn things. He was always willing to break things down to the most fundamental level. But he never made you feel like those fundamentals were so basic that you should have already known them.

There is no doubt that the few months that I trained in Don’s classes made me a better grappler, made me more confident in my ability to defend and be aggressive in close physical proximity, and helped me push towards a competitive energy that in so many aspects of my life I have worked to temper.

No-gi

Even though I’ll miss Don as he moves on to other exciting opportunities, Pat Mix stepping in to coach the wrestling classes is a fantastic opportunity for us to train with someone who absolutely dominates in competition. This kid has an insane work ethic and I’ve loved training gi with him. He has a ton to share as a coach and I’m ready to learn as much as I can.

Pat Mix

Now, having the chance to train wrestling and no-gi with all of these awesome people, I feel a level of excitement that I wasn’t sure I was going to have coming back from being out. Who has time to feel self-conscious when you’re too busy with pummeling drills into takedowns? Not this girl.

Pummeling and takedown

Needless to say, this first week back had me feeling nervous initially. I always have a sense of anxiety coming back if I’ve been out because I hate feeling like I haven’t been working as hard as other people.

But my training partners and coaches have been so supportive and understanding that I have had nothing but positive reminders why I’ve committed to a sport that takes more than a decade to progress through the ranks. And in which the ranks are only the beginning of the lifelong journey into what Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has to offer.

WNY MMA
P.S.
If any of this sounds cool to you (and it is!) you should definitely come check out an open mat or a free training session with one of the coaches at WNY MMA. We have a fantastic contingent of girls training, plus tons of awesome guys as well. And you could train with me!

Valociraptor – Gladius Flyweight Champion!

Winner Valociraptor!

Huge congratulations to Valerie “Valociraptor” Masai-Aspaas for her impressive (and decisive) win on Saturday!

For those of you who missed the fight, I wanted to post a video version. In typical Kate fashion, I couldn’t just post the original version. (Hey they don’t call me super library girl for nothing! But more on that soon.)

Watching Fight Video

So check out this little video that I made on my phone. I promise there will be a video down the line made on the computer and with a tripod (or at least two hands on the phone). But in the mean time, I think this is pretty fun.

Feel free to share the video and if you or someone you know wants to get on the sponsorship bandwagon early on as Val aims to go pro…there’s no better time.

Valociraptor and her belt

 

Valociraptor Up Close and Uncaged

Valociraptor

What does it take to be a top MMA fighter? Some people would tell you that it takes a serious commitment to balancing training with the all the other aspects of your life. But for Valerie Masai-Aspaas, better known as Valociraptor in the cage and on the mats, there are no other aspects of life except those that support training.

Training Philosophy

Part of what I want to do with this blog is feature some of the amazing women in the Jiu Jitsu community and share their stories. For Val, her story is one of stumbling into a competitive martial art that she fell in love with and, ultimately, decided to dedicate her life to pursuing.

To have a Golden Girls moment, Picture it – Hawaii – 2009, a young girl from East Aurora, NY steps off the boat and googles ‘martial arts near me’ only to end up at Grappling Unlimited with veteran MMA fighter Egan Inoue.

Picture it, Sicily - no - Hawaii

While some people are born into BJJ loving families, most of us have some element of chance in finding this art. For Val it was the same thing. She had dappled in other martial arts as a teen but it was Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that won her heart—and convinced her that she wanted to be a competitive fighter.

Val explains that she had no intention of ending up where she is. “After about a year of training, my coach offered me a fight. I wasn’t necessarily even ‘looking to fight,’ I was just always interested in the competition aspect of martial arts. After my first MMA fight, I was hooked.”

IBJJF New York Open

Since then, Val has competed both on the Jiu Jitsu mats and in the MMA cage, most recently taking double gold in no-gi and double bronze in gi at the IBJJF New York Open. She’s fought in the cage 8 times, with a 5-3 record (though two of her fights are not listed in her online record). When you ask her about her goals, she holds nothing back in her answer.

“My long term goal is to be the best female fighter in the world, and to be world champion in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. First at purple belt, then at brown belt, then at black belt. Are they lofty goals? Yes. But why sell myself short? Why settle for anything less?”


Val and her homies

In order to achieve these goals, Val chooses to make a lot of sacrifices in her personal life. When she is training, she doesn’t go out or spend time with friends. Conveniently, her husband Toru and her cat Bu live with her so she at least gets to spend a little time with them. And Toru is an amazing chef who makes everyone on Facebook entirely jealous of Val’s fight diet.

Fight Diet

“My life IS training, there isn’t a lot of balance. I work and I train, and if I didn’t have to work, I would just train all the time. Typically, I train for about three hours a day, six days a week.  I keep a planner to track what kind of training I do, so that I can keep it balanced between BJJ, boxing, Muay Thai, wrestling, and sparring sessions.”

Training

Work (that catch-22 detraction from training that incidentally pays for training) gets scheduled carefully to optimize the rest of her day. Lunch shifts during the week mean there’s time to work out before and after work, and dinner shifts on Saturdays opens the morning for training.

Of course, waiting tables carries its own challenges, with Pearl Street’s tasty non-fight-diet fare a constant temptation. Val laughs when she says, “Let me tell you, cutting weight while working at a restaurant is torture, and a very strong test of willpower.” But even as she jokes, you know there is nothing on Pearl Street’s impressive menu that Val is hungrier for than a win on Saturday.

Photo Jul 25, 4 17 56 PM


Val’s last fight was November 14th of 2015, a fight that she took on three days’ notice. There are a couple pieces of advice that Val has for fighters and one of them is that last minute fights like this aren’t necessarily a good idea, even though it can be really hard to turn down a fight.

The fight in November did not go at all the way Val had envisioned. When she tells the story you can feel her disappointment, her frustration, and, even more, her absolute dedication.

In the first moments of the first round, I had my opponent in the wrestler’s head-and-arm position; I went to step back to shuck her down to the mat. Instead of my opponent, you could say my knee got shucked instead—it dislocated and I collapsed to the mat with my opponent on top of me. 

With my corner next to my ear, I somehow managed to keep my head in the game. I thought I would just survive through the end of the round, that the doctor would come in and check me out and take me out of the cage.   

Something happened when the doctor came in to check out my knee, though. I heard the crowd booing and felt my heart thundering in my chest and I felt that this was my home, the cage. This was where I belonged. This was my world. Why would I ever want to leave it? 

“I’m fine,” I lied to the doctor. 

He pressed on my knee, “Does this hurt?” 

I lied, “No, it feels fine. I’m fine. Let me fight.” 

The doctor left, and I stumbled to my feet. Severely handicapped, I finished the rest of the fight—two sloppy, limping rounds. It was a bit of a war. My opponent won the decision. 

My corner carried me out of the cage. The rush of the fight gone, I was in excruciating pain. I swore that I would never fight again.

Hospital

_better today best tomorrow

Well, we all know how long that vow lasted. Given that Valociraptor’s mantra is, “I thrive in chaos,” it’s easy to see why she couldn’t keep herself away from the cage. After surgery and a careful recovery and return to training, Val has not just the doctor’s okay to fight but the certainty that she has prepared her body to be able to handle the long road ahead, beginning with Saturday’s fight on the Gladius 22 card in Cortland, NY.

When I asked Val what she was most looking forward to this weekend, her response was so visceral and certain that she struggled to find the words. She finally said that it boils down to “just getting back in the cage after thinking I would never fight again. The rush of just being there, in that moment. I can’t describe it well enough. All I can say is that it’s where I want to be more than anywhere else in the world. That it’s where I belong.”

Thrive in Chaos


Tickets for Val’s fight are available through her for $35. There are also a handful of Team Valociraptor t-shirts left for $20 each. Tickets are also available through Gladius Fights online and may be available at the door. But your best bet is to buy them from Val with a Raptor MMA t-shirt designed by Toru!

Raptor MMA Shirt

 

Adding Insult to Injury

Blanket Statement

While, generally speaking, blanket statements are dangerous, I think it’s pretty safe to say that nobody nowhere ever likes missing an activity they enjoy because of an injury. “Hey, I’m so glad that I can’t go to training today because I accidentally severed my spine!” said nobody ever.

Photo Jul 12, 12 21 36 PM

Also, I think it’s fairly safe to say that not many people get super excited about missing because of shitty things in life like, for example, your basement filling with sewage. Those kinds of shitty surprises are, well, for sure shitty.

Pretty much everyone who trains jiu jitsu has some kind of ongoing injury (or, at a minimum, little injuries that happen along the way) that they have to figure out how to manage. What days do you push through and what days do you back off?

Photo Jul 12, 9 22 33 AM

For me, I deal with neck issues. Every couple weeks I torque something so that I end up not being able to look left or right, or up or down. For a while, just resting it or getting it massaged (plus obviously stretching and such) would help it get better within a few days to a week.

But the last time I did this was 2 days before the Buffalo Classic tournament and by the end of training week following my blue belt test (5 weeks later) it had only gotten worse. I had to face facts that this was more serious than I wanted to admit (even as I had already known that it was keeping me from training the way I wanted).

Health Insurance Family Guy

Trying to get in to see a doctor when you don’t already have one (and haven’t had a primary care doctor in maybe 8 years?… and you’re switching insurance companies…) well you know how that goes. Fortunately, the Facebook hive mind helped me find a primary care physician who also does sports medicine and, after weeks of circles, I have an appointment for August 1, the day the new insurance kicks in.

and-there-was-much-rejoicing

And, in the mean time, someone recommended a fantastic Chinese reflexology place, which did wonders in terms of alleviating the immediate pain. Which means I can get back to training after having been out nearly a week and a half! One more session this afternoon with a friend of mine who does massage therapy and we should be back to working condition. Yay!

Praise Squirrel!

As if being out of training right when you most want to be rolling isn’t lousy enough, to add even more insult to injury (literally), we had to clean a ton of shit out of our basement.

The basement reno is a story for another day but, while down there working on sorting all sorts of shit as part of an effort to downsize what we (I…) have so that we can get some furniture from Nate’s dad and finish the basement, I noticed it occasionally smelled…foul.

Foul fowl

Naturally I thought Nate or Stout were just crop dusting the area to make my job more pleasant but eventually I realized that wasn’t the case. It was definitely the sump pump that smelled and it definitely smelled worse every time water flowed into the pit. Forget the fact that it was sunny outside with no rain water to be flowing into the pit….

Long story short, after pulling the top of the sump pump off and testing some things (which included dumping half a bathtub full of water and watching it flush a good bit of sewage into the sump pump) we realized that every drain in the house was flowing into the sump pump. This meant one of two things: either it was plumbed incorrectly or we had a break in the main sewer line. Either one could cost thousands of dollars.

Sewer Camera

We ended up getting damn lucky. Turns out the sump pump was connected to the floor drain, which was connected to the sewer. The plug closing off the sewer was the wrong size, so when the sewer backed up, everything overflowed into the sump pump. We were able to have the line cleaned and then run a camera to make sure that none of the lines were broken and there were no major root blockages. Some inexpensive preventative measures, plus a new plug for the floor drain and we’re talking low 3 digits rather than the 4 or 5 it might have been.

Needless to say, sometimes shit gets in the way of training. It’s frustrating but, at the same time, it also doesn’t worry me. When you have long term goals—like a Ph.D. or developing a healthy life or training BJJ—it has to integrate with your life.

Pretty much everyone deals with injuries and pretty much everyone who trains also has to figure out how to balance training with life. Family commitments, work, fixing your car or motorcycle, cleaning shit out of your basement (figuratively and literally). The key is knowing that this is okay. Knowing that you don’t have to quit just because you needed to take some time for your body or other things. Just get back on the mat. It will wait for you. And to hell with anyone who gives you a hard time.

Speaking of long term commitments, all of mine are made easier because I have an awesome partner. We’re celebrating 8 years together and 3 years married today. I’m not someone who thinks that marriage is for everyone or that it makes anyone better than anyone else. I’m just eternally grateful to have someone to share my life with who is as wonderful, supportive, intelligent, sweet, and—let’s be real—good lookin’ as Nate.

Kate and Nate

So if you’re training and you hit a snag, it’s okay. If you’re trying to finish school and it feels like freaking forever, it’s okay. If life seems determined to add insult to injury, it will be okay. This is why we have friends and support networks. And also cute pictures of dogs.

Cuddle Stout

Red, White, & Blue (Belts)


When you write, you should have a reason for writing. For a long time, my reason was a Ph.D. That was my goal, my identity, the central piece of my life around which everything else revolved.

Gradually, however, I began to realize that my degree and my dissertation were not actually what I wanted my life to revolve around. After a life altering death in the family, and what seemed like the parade of deaths that followed, I began to make some important shifts in how I lived my daily life—but the reality is that the degree and the dissertation were still the reasons why I wrote.  
Every day the mantra was, “Shut up. Keep writing.” I wasn’t writing poetry. I wasn’t writing fiction. I wasn’t writing creative non-fiction. My intention to start a blog fizzled because I couldn’t answer the questions: why are you writing? for whom are you writing? And any basic composition class tells you that you need to answer those questions.

So the other day, when the wonderful Charis—who was my very first friend at WNY MMA—asked me to start a blue belt diary, it got me thinking. Now that my dissertation is over, what am I writing and why? What do I have to offer?


Certainly what I have to offer isn’t BJJ technique or tips and tricks for being a gold medal winning rock star on the mat. But I do have some writing skills, a creative and analytical mind, as well as a sense of empathy that helps me feel connected with other women interested in jiu jitsu.

I’m also part of an amazing family of swing dancers who are directly contributing to Buffalo’s economic and cultural resurgence. I would love to have an outlet to share some of the wonderful things going on in that community.

And, now that the dissertation is over, I can re-find these other reasons for writing and reconnect with a bigger audience than just my dissertation committee.

There is certainly a part of me that says that I’m not qualified to write about jiu jitsu—that there are people way more knowledgeable than me—but that’s the kind of self-doubt that we (women especially) need to quiet. It’s  easy to say, ‘Oh I’m not there yet.’ And maybe we aren’t ‘there.’ But for sure we are here. For sure we all have something to contribute.

So, hopefully through humor, honesty, and a continual desire to learn and grow, this blog can do something to help support women in BJJ, while offering some other fun and insight along the way. Thanks for bringing something to this community.

Congratulations to the new blue belts at WNY MMA: Kristin, Manz, and Kyle! 

The Stuff of Nightmares

Picture it, your dissertation glowing innocently on the computer screen as you painstakingly pull sentence by sentence, word by word from the abstract confluence of your mind and the subject texts at hand.

You’re probably three paragraphs from the end of a roughly 50 page chapter. Your mind is in that space in which it isn’t so much keeping tabs on what it has written as trying to focus on what it’s going to write. You type a word – it’s not the right word – so you press the backspace key and the little vertical bar that usually stands as a beacon of your text’s futurity gobbles up the incorrect word. And then the next word behind it. And the next. And the next. And…you pull your finger back from the key as though you’ve been bitten, only to realize your finger wasn’t on the key.

Word after word disappear. You gasp audibly. You turn off the bluetooth keyboard. You stare in horror as the words continue to disappear. You turn the keyboard back on. Try to type something. Nothing but more text disappearing into the ether. Your roommate appears in response to your dismayed cry and a look of terror spreads over his face as he too watches line after line disappearing.

“You saved this recently?” he asks, grasping for a straw of hope.

That straw broke under the camel’s stomping foot as you tell him, “Scrivener auto-saves every two seconds.”

You minimize the window. You open it. You minimize it. You try another program. Another file. You can’t even open the file because the backspace key keeps sending you to the previous set of folder options. You minimize that window. You stare hopelessly at your roommate, telling him you’ve seen this before. Your keyboard occasionally has a mind of its own, usually preferring the letter “t” and, at some unanticipated moment, deciding that it is going to take over your documentttttttttttttttttttttttt

Hard reset. It’s the only way. I admit that. Because actually, this wasn’t you. It was me. Watching my words disappear from my Scrivener document while my roommate stared horrified, trying to come up with an alternative to what I knew was inevitable: reopening the document after restarting the computer only to find that all of the text in that section was gone. Deleted. Disappeared into the ether of imagination that, at will, both giveth and taketh away.

It was a shitty paragraph that got deleted. But as soon as it was gone, it felt like I would never be able to rewrite that piece or to write what needed to follow. What ensued was a seemingly eternal endeavor to figure out how to recover that text. My hope is that perhaps my hard learned lesson will benefit you in some way, whether your text loss is caused by sticky keys or otherwise.

My first thought was to try to recover the text in Scrivener but since I hadn’t taken a snapshot (I couldn’t have even if I had realized this was an option because that still would not have captured the already deleted text) which meant that I couldn’t use Scrivener’s revert to earlier version feature. The snapshot feature is great if you are planning to make edits that you may not like, but it doesn’t necessarily work as a back up for unexpected losses of text.

Not being able to find a solution in Scrivener, I turned to Dropbox, where all of my files are stored. Instead of a “My Documents” folder, I just save everything to the Dropbox folder on my computer. This has saved me a number of times (like the two times my hard drive crashed) and sure enough, it came to the rescue again today.

<Dropbox plug> If you don’t have Dropbox already, stop reading – right now – and go download it. Then invite a bunch of friends so you get more free space. Or, spend $100/year for 1 terabyte of space – read it: all of your documents, files, videos…. My partner and I recently decided that $100 a year was totally worth it for the peace of mind involved in having everything backed up, plus the convenience of being able to locate everything anywhere. Seriously, don’t wait until that moment when you say, “‘Oh, I wish I had backed this up on Dropbox…’ </Dropbox plug>

What I figured out in Dropbox is that for every document you can see the file save history and can revert to earlier versions. So I found my Scrivener project folder, could see a barrage of saves right at the time when the fiasco took place and, with anticipation-of-disappointment infused with hope-of-a-miracle, I reverted to an earlier version. No change. Still no shitty paragraph.

Ugh, quel nightmare. I tried an earlier version. Still no change. No matter which earlier version I tried, nothing actually changed. It took several minutes of mild despair-soaked-confusion to realize that the reason nothing was changing was because I was trying to revert the wrong file. That is, Scrivener uses the project file kind of the way your desktop uses a shortcut icon – it directs you to the necessary information but doesn’t actually store it.

Poking around a bit, I realized that the actual text was stored in ProjectFolder–>Files–>Docs, and that by opening one of the files in the Docs folder, I could actually see the text that needed to be reverted. The problem here though, was that the files are not consecutive or, if they are, there are so many different ones when you take into account text, notes, note cards, footnotes, all the other amazing things Scrivener lets you do… that it’s damn near impossible to find the piece you’re looking for. In nearly 700 numbered files, how on earth was I going to find the one that I wanted, especially since there was no text in the file for me to search in order to bring up the file?

Using as the sort criteria the most recently modified files seemed like a sure-fire way to find it. When I searched these files though, it was all sections that I had edited around the missing section, but not actually the file that I needed.

Then it occurred to me what to do. I typed “Test text” in the empty section in Scrivener, said a little prayer in the two seconds it took to autosave, and sorted again by most recently modified. A new number popped up at the top of the list. I crossed my fingers and opened it, nearly shouting to my roommate out in the hallway, “‘Test text’! It says ‘test text’!”

Looking at the revision history, I could see 35-33 minutes ago the file size changing as the text was deleted by the rogue sticky key. I held my breath as I reverted to the largest file, hoping for – and finally finding – the best possible outcome. (Well, maybe the second best. I mean, realistically, the best possible outcome would have been that the universe would have somehow magically morphed what I’d lost into a fully written dissertation as compensation for the anxiety suffered…)

Since the summer, my dissertation mantra has been that total crap can be revised but blank pages can’t.

Apparently Dropbox supports that mantra because, there, shining in beautiful black and white on the screen, was my shitty, shitty paragraph.

My first thought: wow, this really needs to be revised…after I hit the track and numb my beleaguered brain with endorphins. Many, many endorphins.

The First One: “The Last One”

For Super Library Girl’s debut blog entry I thought it would be appropriate to make the first one about the first one, which for me was the last one.

To say that less circuitously, I’m talking about W. S. Merwin’s poem, “The Last One,” which was the first poem of his that I ever read. It was this poem that initially sparked my interest in his work and ultimately led me to want to include him in my dissertation (which he has slowly been taking over…but that’s for later).

More accurately, “The Last One” was the first poem of Merwin’s that I ever heard. To have a Golden Girls moment, “Picture it, Sicily…” (actually Buffalo) “…1916…” (actually 2010) “…a girl, fresh off the boat, packs up her things and goes to Cleveland for her first year of grad school. That girl was me.” (Note: Ok, so I know it was Rose and not Sofia who headed off to Cleveland for fame and fortune, but, what can a girl do? At least the analogy isn’t as bad as these, shared courtesy of Thrity Umrigar.)

It was my first year of grad school and I had discovered the beauty of filling my down time with academic podcasts and poetry readings. Driving from Cleveland to Buffalo, I was listening to the Caedmon Poetry Collection CD that I had borrowed from the Cleveland Institute of Art’s library, and it was there on the 90* somewhere between Cleveland and Erie that I first heard W. S. Merwin read his poem “The Last One.”

At that point I didn’t know that it was W. S. Merwin or even who W. S. Merwin was. All I knew was that, by the time I got to Buffalo, that was the only poem on the CD that I remembered well enough to go and look up online. There was something about it. There was something about the story, the narrative. Something about the portrayal of nature, the way that, on the one hand it reacted with a sense of agency and, on the other hand, resulted, in certain ways, in what seemed like very real possibilities. There was something about the language, the images, the shadows…yes, the shadows. And the way that the images, language, and shadows swallowed you up right until the very moment when the shadow actually swallowed you up. In short it was breathtaking.

Little did I know then, on that sunny but crisp aired drive, how influential Merwin’s work would become for me and for my work. That spring I took a theory class with James Kuzner and encountered for the first time ecocriticism, which is the study of literature (or texts) and the environment. It was the first time I had seen in academia a formal route for pursuing a course of study that combined two of the aspects of my life in which I was most invested: nature and literature.

When I discovered that there was a subfield of ecocriticism called ecopoetry, I was practically beside myself with the thought that perhaps this might be the key to unlocking the mystery of what the hell I was going to do with my academic career for the next four years. I had applied to grad school with the intent of studying Emily Dickinson. Dickinson clearly has interesting interactions with nature, which lots of scholars have explored, but could ecocriticism tell us anything different or reveal anything different about her engagement with nature? It was at this point that I began to mull over what since has become the core of my dissertation – but more on that another time.

While I was ruminating on Dickinson and ecocriticism, in the fall of my second year I took a 20th-century poetry class with Michael Clune in which I began to work with Merwin’s poetry in my first formal capacity. As a generally accepted ecopoet, Merwin was a logical place for me to start my exploration of ecopoetics.

As I began to explore Merwin’s poetry from different points in his career, I was struck by the changing nature of the nature-human relationship represented in his poems. In particular, I was fascinated by how I saw this relationship playing out between human figures in the poems and trees in the poems. My project that semester became to track the arch of Merwin’s career through the representations of the nature-human relationship as they played out between human figures and trees. A revised version of that paper became my first publication in the inaugural issue of Merwin Studies.

When I had managed to jump through all of the hurdles that constitute the Ph.D. qualifying exam (picture flaming hula hoops in constant motion) and it came time to start thinking seriously about my dissertation prospectus, I initially considered focusing primarily on Emily Dickinson and Mary Oliver. But the more I thought about it, the more logical the pairing between Merwin and Dickinson became in my mind. Consider their individually insightful approaches to death. Consider also their approaches to language, experience, and silence; but most interesting to me was the possibility of exploring the intersections between their respective representations of the nature-human relationship.

Enter stage right Gary Stonum, Michael Clune, and Sarah Gridley. With their patient assistance, I managed to wrestle the myriad ideas that I had into a moderately cohesive dissertation prospectus. But they all warned—or reassured?—me that my carefully laid plans were likely to change.

In the Introduction to Poetry Course that I taught this past spring, I was constantly encouraging my students to read as much as possible and listen to as many podcasts as possible. I tell my students that when they are listening to the podcasts they don’t necessarily need to be completely focused. Podcasts are a great way to utilize the time walking from your car to wherever, walking from your dorm to class, or even while you’re at the gym working out. Even if you’re in your car driving somewhere and you can’t follow along with a written copy of the poem or write down any notes, you just never know when you’ll hear something that sparks your interest and opens up a whole new realm of possibilities.

As for me, the next step is drafting my dissertation chapters. And my chapter on Merwin is the first one.

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*Yes, I can’t help it. I’ve internalized the Western NY habit of article-izing highways. If anyone can explain to me why this happens, I’ll give you a gold star, right here for everyone to see.