A Little Life Update (Because It’s Been So Long!) | Novel Ideas

Posted December 21, 2016 by Tara in articles, Novel Ideas /// 10 Comments


Hey there.

I figure that I’d give y’all an update on my life and what I’ve been up to outside of my reading world. I used to talk about life all the time in my Novel Ideas feature, but the past two years of grad school have been fairly boring (at least in terms of having something to talk about each week). But I know some people have asked how I’ve been, so I thought I would give a little peek into my life with three major things that have happened over the past year.

Thing 1: I passed my comprehensive exams and decided on a dissertation topic

I wrote my comprehensive exams for my doctorate last fall, and successfully defended them in January. In my program, this means writing 2 25-page articles in six weeks, getting feedback from a committee on the papers, and then defending them in an oral defense. One of my papers was on digital research methodologies and ethics, and the other was on identity and Discourse. My friends had told me horror stories about their own comprehensive exam process, but I was pleasantly surprised that I actually enjoyed it. I made a writing plan, stuck to it, and managed to finish everything with only one minor freakout. I learned that I’m really good at sticking to daily reading and writing goals when I’m on an actual deadline.

After my exams, I started the process of writing my dissertation proposal. I’ll be doing an ethnographic study of BookTube for the actual dissertation, so my proposal is a 30-ish page document outlining exactly how I plan to do that. I thought this would be the easiest part of the process, but it has turned out to be the most difficult. I struggled through this in the spring and this fall largely because I’ve been in my own head about it. I will sit down and rewrite sections, and then completely delete what I’ve written. I’ll ignore writing for days. I’ll convince myself that the reason this is so hard is because I need to read more in my weak areas to strengthen my knowledge base…and then get lost in reading as a way to avoid difficult tasks. It’s basically been a nightmare. I spent many nights crying when I wrote my original draft because I had no clue what I was doing, and I’ve spent many days this fall yelling because I’ve learned how much I hate revisions.

However, I’m closing in on finishing this stage (I’m on, like, round four of revisions and things are starting to solidify) and I hope to defend in February. I’ve learned a lot about myself in this process, especially about self-care when tackling difficult tasks and pushing through my mental blocks. I’m convinced that writing my actual dissertation will not be as difficult (part of my block has been with writing about what I’m going to do, which is so much harder than writing about what you did do). These struggles have also been a huge reason why I haven’t been reading or blogging…I think some part of my denied myself my favorite things as punishment for not making progress on my looming proposal. I think I’m finally allowing myself to move past that and find some balance.

Thing 2: I got married!

Did I even tell anyone here publicly that I got engaged? Oi. So much to catch y’all up on. In October 2014 I met Austin, the greatest guy on the planet. We fell in love fast and hard, and were pretty much inseparable after our third date. This is pretty unusual for me, as I’m all about my personal space, introvert-y time, and keeping an emotional distance from people. I was all like, “I’d have to date someone for at least three years before getting married” because I’ve been in so many long-term relationships that fizzled out after the second year. But after fifteen years of dating (god, I’m old) I knew “the one” when I met him. It was the easiest choice I ever made. We waited a year to get officially engaged in September 2015, and said our vows on October 8, 2016 (our two year anniversary).

Our wedding was certainly eventful. It was held at a science museum on the weekend that Hurricane Matthew hit North Carolina. It almost got cancelled at the last minute (like, when we walked in the door for our first look) and they tried to cut the whole thing short so everyone could get home safely. I cried through my wedding photos because I thought we’d be having a ceremony, a quick meal, and then it would be over — no dancing, no celebration. But things got better at the last minute and we ended up getting to have the whole thing as planned. There was even a break in the rain for our sparkler send off!

With getting married we also had to do the whole “wedding planning” thing for a year because we both really wanted a traditional wedding with all the family. We also had to do the whole “moving in together” and “selling my house” and “merging the cats” thing, which consumed my life for the past year. We’re also still doing the whole “get my name legally changed” and “write thank-you notes” thing. But it was all perfect and worth it and we’re so, so, so happy.

Oh, and my wedding had a definite literary theme to it, so I might do a post later on those touches. There were also dinosaurs involved, so I’ll talk about that, too.

Thing 3: I loved my summer job!

I wrote in my summer hiatus post that I was taking a job that would consume much of my time and energy over the summer. I’m no stranger to summer/seasonal work and how intense it can be. I worked for Duke TIP (Talent Identification program) as the academic coordinator of their program at Davidson College. I lived in a dorm with my 27 staff and 250 kids for all of June and July. My job was to supervise the teaching staff (instructors and TAs) for thirteen courses by leading staff training, heading weekly staff meetings, keeping everyone on top of deadlines, managing inventory, and visiting classes to provide feedback.

It was pretty much the best summer ever and I had a blast. My staff were exceptionally smart and generally easy to supervise (imagine a staff that generally turns in everything you ask for, on time, with minimal reminders! A dream!). I enjoyed working with the program so much that I have already accepted my position for 2017 to return.

What have YOU been up to?

So that’s what I’ve been up to for the past year. The coming year has even more in store, for sure (and I’m not even talking about the horrors of our president-elect. Not looking forward to that.). I hope to share more about how things are going, and to share them more often. But I also want to know how you’ve been! If you follow me or are reading this, even if it’s been forever since we’ve talked, I’d love to know three big things from your life in 2016!


Tara is a PhD student studying education. Her dissertation will be on digital book communities as public pedagogy (ask her about it!), though she often takes a break from all of that to read books about oppressive governments and sassy teenagers. In a former life, she was a middle school teacher and middle school librarian. In her future life, she's a professor of YA lit. In her free time, she drinks a lot of coffee while planning her next grand adventure (there's always something).

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10 responses to “A Little Life Update (Because It’s Been So Long!) | Novel Ideas

    • Thanks! I’m very excited to jump into the study. Hopefully I’ll be able to post updates as I work on it. I hope you enjoy your holidays as well, and happy reading!

  1. Congrats on the doctorate and the wedding. Sounds like you’ve had an eventful year. I’ve just been working at the library, reading books, and conducting programs.

    • Aw! I miss library work so much. Even though my work is fun, it’s super stressful. Library work had its own stresses, but I loved working with the super-appreciative patrons and feeling like I actually did something every day. I hope you have some fun programs planned for the new year!

    • Thanks, friend! We’re still sorting through our pictures (of which we finally got the last few last week) so I’ll plan that post for January! But we definitely had a card catalog as our escort card holder and all the tables were named after our favorite books (which meant we had a table called “The Stinky Cheese Man”…haha!).

  2. Tara, so much amazingness! I also imagine stressful, but it sounds so great! I love your wedding photos. Congratulations. What a successful and celebratory year! I’d love to see a wedding post. 🙂

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