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Writing and Running the Distance

Let me tell you how I made it from Los Angeles, California to Denver, Colorado, why I left, what I’m doing here, and the major transformation happening before my eyes.

As a dissertating mother-scholar, reading, writing, and editing is my full-time job. But, it’s complicated because as we know and live it daily, we have many shifts of labor. We are mothers, writers, profesoras, administrators, editors, runners, housekeepers, committee members, sisters, partners, lovers and so on so forth.

My summer was pretty much spent coordinating, organizing, and preparing logistically to move my little familia to Denver, Colorado from Southern California. I’ve always wanted to move. If you personally know me, you may have heard me vent about how much I struggled living in West L.A.. Since the day I moved into UCLA family housing, I was unhappy. I needed windows where fresh air, sunlight, and hummingbirds could visit. But I was stuck in the bottom floor of an apartment neighboring the 405-freeway with invasive pollution and dark debris of the dirty air pushed towards our housing complex by the ocean’s breeze. Family housing was the best choice for our family, the rent subsidy was helpful and my partner and I could pay that rent. UCLA was close for baby’s drop off at daycare and close to where I held three of my jobs as a doctoral candidate. West L.A. was also close enough for my partner to drive into Boyle Heights where he was doing his research on gentrification. Our local UCLA community, our homes both in Pacoima and Carson were close to us as well. Despite my dissatisfaction of the location, I had everything. I had my community, daycare, coffee shops, my comadres, familia and access to good ramen and sushi. However, the opportunity to leave came through for our family and we had to make some hard choices.

My partner was a doctoral candidate a few months ago. He had been on the job market and applying to postdocs. He studies gentrification as a racial project and has been pushing this work in different avenues with blogs, publications, book chapters, and conferences. Late last year and early this year (his soft year- as they call it) he applied, received interviews, but no offers. He continued applying to jobs and postdocs, had a few interviews and finally landed an opportunity and was offered a two-year IRISE postdoc at the University of Denver. Witnessing his journey while completing my data collection, was painful. The feelings that come with rejection and acceptance to fellowships, postdocs, and the job market feel like a whirlwind for both of us. They can be harsh and rapid, and we try to celebrate the small victories in the chaotic order of things. “I think we should go,” I would tell him. My only request in negotiating his offer with my own needs to complete the dissertation, was the hope of getting my last year of doctoral studies funded. I had been turned down from multiple fellowships and held up to 3 jobs on campus. Without funding, I would have remain in California and continue working the little over part time- not quite full time jobs. If I received the funding, I could move to Denver. I would leave my graduate student researcher positions and focus on finishing my dissertation, as well as recentralizing my health, my heart, my body, and my spirit in a different state. This decision deadline coincided with me hearing back from the Dissertation Year Fellowship (DYF) at UCLA. I received the funding! We are going to Denver!

I am a fond believer that the universe will make sure things fall into its place, and it did. I would have to build bridges with my community back home to make it in Denver. I began to practice a few things that have proved effective these past few weeks. I prepare in setting a schedule for writing, editing, running, and resting. I am writing my dissertation with the help and labor of my community at home and I am training for a half marathon. For me, I have to schedule both dissertating and running on my academic and personal agendas. The writing the dissertation plan and training for a half marathon consist of the same kind of discipline related to the bodymindspirit. To this, I nod at the work and conversations of my colleague Dr. Cindy Fierros who views both to be similar. She’s an amazing scholar and runner and in my journey towards both, I now see their similarities. It takes a lot of self-motivation, discipline of the mind and body, and the spirit or ganas to reach those goals. Granted, I am not a trained dissertation writer or marathon runner. I am simply a student of both, conducting research for both, trying my best to do both without severe injury. You have to prep before the run and before your sit-down to write. What are your goals? What will be your pace or writing timeline? How do we celebrate the accomplishments? When will I rest because fatigue for both are real. How do I make sure I do not hurt my already injured knees from the impact on the floor? How will I take care of my back from sitting for multiple hours of writing and editing?

For my writing, I have done the following at a distance: I have a writing accountability “contract” with a few of my closest comadres (you know who you be boos) in California. I send a text message to my comadres and say, “I am clocking in!” Mondays through Fridays. They will do the same according to their time differences. Once my partner and I drop off our son, we sit down for work. Ya nos conocen at the local coffee shop, we are part of the “regulars” now and probably the handful of people of color who frequent this spot. I use the Pomodoro (1) method both on my computer and on my paper agenda. There are times when I accomplish all of my Pomodoro and there are times I don’t. But I get things done and my goals are accomplished even with a slow pace. There are times I sprint and produce so much and I celebrate both with stickers or an ice cream scoop from the local nieveria. I have to imagine my dissertation completion, and I already have an internal deadline. Can’t share it yet. You’ll have to wait and see.

For my running, I have done the following to run the distance: I am motivated by my fitbit to reach my running and step goals, so I compete with friends across the western U.S. on step goals and movement. I also found a running calendar using a ten-week training plan on Runners World and printed it out and pasted it alongside the family calendar. This plan provides a mile per day calendar. I add my running goals on my academic calendar to make sure it is part of my Monday through Sunday schedule. I try my best to maintain a plant-based diet and on occasion we will implement lean meats into our menu like bison, turkey, or fish. Diet and hydration have resulted effective in my running training and it helps maintain a healthy running goal. Denver is 5,280 feet in altitude, exactly one mile above water. The higher the altitude, the more dehydration one will experience. Coming from sea level, hydration is critical for me as I train for both the dissertation and half marathon. I am taking my vitamins, collagen for my joints, spirulina, and turmeric. I also drink pre-and post-vegan drinks and home made smoothies. I now pace myself, self-talk in affirming ways, and push myself. I’ll say, “Come on momma, you can do this, one more mile… 0.25 kilometers to go. We can do it”, “don’t stop at the mile mark, if you can go above it, let’s do it!” I go, go, go…

For both, I am learning to pace myself, be gentle, and be okay with my writing and running goals and I try my best to not give up on my set writing and running goals. I have to do both and if I am fatigued, I give myself permission to bring in a rest day. There are days I do not want to write. There are days I want to bust out crying pushing my body onto the next mile. It is humbling to do both. It is a privilege to read, write, run, and be with my little familia in Denver.

This journey and transformation has been to centralize myself, and believe me it has been hard to leave California. This past Labor Day weekend, I wept a little, I miss home, the barrio noises, handmade tortillas, my people. I have currently exchanged them for fresh air, cottonwood and oak trees, local coffee, and green space everywhere. My spirit is sad, I cannot deny missing home, but my spirit also knows that it was time to get rooted and complete the big task at hand— my dissertation and my health— to grow onto the next best part of myself.

(1) Pomodoro is a time tracking method or technique to train and assist individuals with productivity. It was created by an entrepreneur, Francesco Cirillo in the 90s, naming it after the tomato shaped timers used in the kitchen when cooking. It allows individuals to tackle big tasks in a series of smaller tasks and taking short breaks in between.

Christine Vega is a PhD Candidate in the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies (GSE&IS) Social Science and Comparative Education at UCLA. Born and raised in Pacoima, she is proud scholar-activist merging academia, activism, and spirituality. Currently, she is working and organizing with Mothers of Color in Academia de UCLA and our collective, Chicana M(other)work. Christine is also an AAHHE Fellow and has short stories, poetry and theoretical publications about birth, pregnancy, and ceremony in UCLA's Regeneracion Tlacuilolli and InterActions. She is an artist, runner, avid foodie and coffee buff. Janitzio is her best teacher and they spend time reading libros, playing catch, and taking care of their tiny plants.

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