Recovering from the PhD: Part 2: Caffeine and the PhD

Caffeine consumption has been a huge after effect from earning a PhD. This piece reflects on recovering from caffeine consumption's impacts.


Before entering doctoral work, I liked and drank much caffeine. During and after doctoral work, my caffeine consumption reached incredible depth, breadth, and extremes. Over the past two weeks, I've slashed consumption to one cup of coffee in the morning. Going through this process, I've reflected quite a bit about the impact that substance, specifically coffee, can have on professional performance, personal identity, and scholarly productivity. Most important, though, is caffeine's impact on my sense of well -being.


I love caffeine. Loved it as I have always loved my addictions. Addictions were fun, fulfilling, and branded to my sense of self and identity for years--until things went south, I crash banged in my relationships with others, and hurt people I care about. [Just to be clear: when I write "hurt" or "crash bang" I refer only to verbal interactions with others.] Verbal snaps. Lashing. Cheap shots. Reading kindness as a cutting comment. Ugh. Invariably, caffeine, sugar, and chocolate led me to that same place: synapses riding excitation eventually crashed and enabled my stupidity to take the helm. Then my inner tool wanted the helm. It took the helm. I don't like being a tool. From others' responses, they don't like that version of me either.

Since I've slashed my caffeine, I have been far less difficult. This I know.


Look closely at my post-defense picture in Lubbock and you'll see me holding a smoke in my hand. I wasn't supposed to be smoking. I'd quit--theoretically. When I was in Lubbock, though, I allowed myself the luxury of tobacco and huge quantities of caffeine. Extreme volumes of caffeine. Smoking was the "privilege" I'd earned for enduring having to live in Lubbock [that's another story]. Vices, like caffeine, in my experience invariably shifted from limited "rewards" for behavior to daily, regular usage. All that needed was a weak justification, and that enabled the pattern to start.

End Flashback

Smoking eventually puttered out--not by choice buy by necessity--while caffeine remained. Coffee, tea, soda. No matter what I was doing--reading, writing, applying for academic jobs or funding--caffeine sat in a cup, bottle, or mug next to me. When I was in a park, there was coffee. When I watched videos, there was soda. Rarely, if ever, was I without caffeine. It was my one remaining vice, and I embraced it completely.

In Fall 13, I took a stunningly stupid next step. I tested out energy drinks. A sip turned into a soak. That was an intense emotional experience. After ongoing consumption for several weeks, I stepped out and ricocheted emotionally for several more weeks. Even though I was back to just coffee and not the energy drinks, I still felt frantic and frayed. Several follow up tests later proved that yes, indeed, when I consume energy drinks my emotional responses and insecurity go on hyper-alert. It's like an internalized paranoid security state manned by a Master of Insecurity.

Entertaining and engaging it was. Fun it was not. 


A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I used to like coffee for coffee, tea for tea, and soda for the different flavors. Now, sometimes, when I am considering a drink the flavor comes to mind. But, to be honest, the drinks are just about jacking up my synapses. Why? Because, in decades of experience with reading, writing, and caffeine, I have found that consuming caffeine often appeared to lead to thinking, reading, and writing breakthroughs.

  • Need an insight: drink another cup.
  • Want to read quickly: drink another cup.
  • Need to hybridize some Continental theorist with a daily materialist practice and sound sexy: drink another cup.

It's as if, subconsciously, I externalized my faith in my ability to perform smart, interesting, and unique thinking onto caffeine containing fluids. Oversimplified, perhaps, but that's my reading.

Prior to the past two weeks of caffeine downsizing:

1 97% of the time, I never sat down to write without coffee or soda.

2 If I'm feeling low, slow, or stupid, I go for coffee because I feel like it will make me smarter, sharper, or--at least--less dull.

3 Coffee is as integral to my self-image as a scholar, academic, research, and thinker as my glasses and word processor. I just can't "see" myself without coffee. I'm still struggling with it.

Caffeine & Academic Productivity

Caffeine is not just a thing. Caffeine is not just a substance. Caffeine was my totem for smart-thinking power. Caffeine significantly impacts my emotional and physical bodies. I long ignored these impacts in lieu of the perceived cultural capital that successful caffeine consumption would generate: publications, blogs, and writings.

When drinking coffee, caffeine helped me feel precious and special. Actual material production was about 15% of what I expected it to be based on how the coffee helped me feel. After years and years of feeling like I should be producing at level X, it's depressing to actually generate 1/12th of X. 

If I remove the caffeine and restore some accurate judgment, I realize sanely that I'll never produce at level X. That's cool, but it takes a while to adjust to that sense. Frankly, there's no point for me hating on myself for not accomplishing as much if/when my standards of what I need to accomplish were generated in caffeine intoxicated moments.

Caffeine & Professional Self-Image

When I felt like a dork or academic wanker/impostor and needed to feel peer-like, I consumed caffeine to boot me up to non-dork self-image status. That's what I told myself when I bought and consumed the caffeine. Might have even felt that way for several minutes. However, that false promise usually devolved into heightened states of insecurity where I felt like even more of an impostor than I did pre-coffee. Caffeine is a fuel that fires whatever's burning.

From what I can tell--anecdotally as well as from some research--lots of colleagues experience the impostor syndrome. Given the rates of caffeine consumption in academia, I am pretty sure I am not alone in experience the short-term-halo and the longer-term self-doubt-impost smack. 

The Problems of Caffeine Consumption

There's a problem: like most fun substances, stable, flat use results of coffee usually results in decreasing impacts. Thus, for a strong continued impact, increased consumption is needed. Like capitalism: must slowly, but surely increase intake. I was up to about three pots a day.

Problem two: once you escalate to a level and attempt to reduce your consumption, you face multiple pressures. Pressure one: the headaches that may result from cold turkey. Pressure two is more insidious: it's all the people around you who also consume caffeine and wonder, "Why are you quitting? It's just a cup." Friendly social pressure. I've pimped coffee to more colleagues than I can count. Not my proudest reflection. Pressure three, general cultural pressure: even when alone, trying to find decent non-caffeinated or non-sugary drinks can be a challenge. So it's often water that's left--unless you have planned ahead.

Problem three: externalizing actual skills and abilities onto caffeine devalues the work I've done and, frankly, contributes the impostor syndrome and insecurity. Then the caffeine just fuels that. By cutting caffeine and remaining productive, it proves that I actually have the skills and removes fuel for impostor/insecurity.

Sidebar: Emotional not Intellectual

Much of this may seem obvious, or, "Duh, yeah. How can you be so stupid?" Intellectually, I already knew almost everything I wrote above for years. It's not new. However, emotionally understanding the impacts that the above had on my world and the people in it is a completely different matter. Praxis is also a different matter. Knowing the above but continuing to consume huge quantities of caffeine proved that I did not know how to actively apply my knowledge--or that I lacked the will to do it. One of the critical points in making academic work and exercises valuable is in applying that understanding and demonstrating it.


If I am not able to apply my own skills to my own life, if I don't live my values, live my theory and philosophy, and control my own thinking, responses, and life, then what am I? An impostor. 

Autonomy. Self-regulation. Thoughtful application. These three things are what comprise my vision of an impressive and socially valuable academic. In my experience, caffeine corrodes all three by increasing dependence upon external forces, by fueling impulsive or thoughtless responses, and by focusing on potentials, could-bes, and the glamorous future instead of the writing-your-shit-down-now.

Recovering from the PhD

A year or two ago, a colleague I adore and respect were chatting. At one point she expressed interest in how I have adapted to life post-PhD. I've been thinking about that question for a while. Over a year, actually. I don't know how well I have adapted. I used to think I was fully adapted. Wrong. Then I think I have not assimilated at all. Wrong. This is probably something that you can never tell until you are years out from the process. Right now, if I was an egg, I'd be soft boiled. 

In January, 2009, I started my online PhD process. Eight months later I was in Lubbock taking classes full time. December, 2011, I received my PhD. Fast, intense. As I prepared to graduate, I thought it would be easy to stay at 80% of that work pace when I went into Academia.

Wrong. Totally wrong. Oh so frigging wrong. The pace that I created has stuck with me. That is a metric by which I judge my success. And, frankly, that stinks.

Even though it's been nearly three years since I received my degree, I am still not working at that pace, that rate, that insane mind grind I once had. I used to feel like an idiot because I was not at that pace. Three years of that pace set it as a standard, a norm, in my emotional sense of self. When I am not consciously alert to a sense of timing, I find that my TTU-work rate settles in as my default expectation. I did it for three years, so why not now? Obviously I am lazy, slacking, if I can't do that now. If that was not enough, then in my delusional moments I would generate self-disparaging dialogue and inserting my self-doubt-shit-talk into the voices of my former faculty. While it was relatively easy to silence myself, putting doubts into the images of people I respected was harder to fight. I still fight it, but not as often.

What is professional identity? I hate to think it is material-based: publications, positions, grants. But that does seem to be the core. That's akin to judging our friends on the stuff that they own: what type of house, car, shoes they have. While I respect and understand the importance of evidence-driven evaluation, it seems pretty harmful to us if we evaluate or base our sense of professional identity upon material goals alone. <This is so sadly similar to K-12 high stakes testing...>

I can still make a long bullet-point list of all the things that I have not done. I am more than aware of most of my errors--and that includes my hubris and self-centeredness. That list gets longer every day, every week. If I have moments of weakness and want to pull at emotional scabs because--just because that's what we with self-doubt often do--I can center my highly trained skills of obsession, analysis, and reflection on just how sucky things could or might be. Doubt. Questioning. Core parts of identity building or self-bullying.

These are just some of the costs I have paid in shifting from a doctoral program to faculty. On the PhD range, there are some fences and some dogs and herders to keep you on the range and, in most cases, away from the wolves. On the faculty range, there are far fewer of these--in fact, the freedom from them is what makes tenure track so incredible. However, it is incredibly easy to wander off, to fall into a niche of distraction, to stray away from your initial goals, or to invest time in things that don't require it. However, the worst thing seems to be just wondering about it.

I used to think that I could intelligently discuss recovery from the PhD process. Two years out I know that I don't have much of a clue.

Egg image credit/source:

Paying Respect to Prayer


Over the past twenty years, I have attempted to write about prayer's power and impact on my life. When I received my PhD, I was pretty sure I could make time to write a short e-book about prayer and how it helped me succeed in academia (not to mention the other parts of my life). No dice. It has not happened. Obviously, the book has not come out. Nor a monograph. Nor an essay. I've been reduced to a blog post, but I hope to achieve my goals with this post

Talking about prayer to colleagues--be they academics, staff, graduate students--has always been a bit odd or awkward. While wanting to share the incredible joy and relief which prayer facilitates, I do not want to be a preacher, fundamentalist, or downer. Similarly, by mentioning prayer, I don't want to hear others' ongoing chats and or rants; I do not need to be saved or converted, thanks. Then there are the people who are not religious and have no interest; some folks feel, understandably in my eyes, that the mention of prayer is an opening to take shots at organized religion. Having lobbed plenty of those stones in my past, I find them tedious and all too familiar. Usually mentioning prayer in an academic environment means I will end up noggin-nodding out of politeness. Navigating these landscapes is always interesting. Silence is usually the best approach.

Every now and then, though, there are completely amazing conversations. It is because of these and out of respect for those people--you know who you are--and the inherent power of prayer that I write this.

Rather than engaging with traditional representations of prayer as pleading with God for intercessions, as a public performance of humility, as purely symbolic communicative acts meant for human audiences, I understand prayer as emotional technology--a technology that connects us with the Divine, provides multiple perspectives on problems that appear fixed, and improves the quality of our lives.

But how do you open a dialogue to address this, to create decent, agreed upon definitions, and all while not upsetting folks and remaining reasonable and not zealous? I've not been able to do it. This frustrates me. I have generated hundreds of pages, dozens of drafts, and tens of thousands of words trying to address this moving space, this place. However, I rarely saw the key point: you can't tell people how prayer works. That's just not effective--it's inherently against the nature of understanding: an internal unfolding of awareness and insight that takes place in a multiplicity of unique ways. It seems like an act of hubris, now, to say, "Hey, here's how you can use prayer to rock your world--or at least to flush out the seriously sucky bits." 

I still feel compelled to write this text: that's why I'm writing this blog post. I want to publicly acknowledge and assert that prayer (which would take a bit to define) is one of the top three human technologies for living a good, healthy, and happy life. It is important to me, too, to acknowledge that almost every single positive aspect in my adult life after the age 23 has occurred because of prayer work, insights during prayer, or understanding achieved by prayer. This extends to health, happiness, reaching goals, writing content, earning degrees, financial aid, and so forth. It's vital tp pay respect and to honor things and people publicly, so here it is.

As a closing note, one of the best and most insightful approaches I have found to effective prayer--an approach that can fit in a variety of religious paths--is described in several works by Gregg Braden

The Tomato Cafe: Group Writing


The single best solution to not getting writing done is writing with others--virtually. So, while they are not in front of you to charm you with their smiles, distract you with their jokes, and chuckle while remembering something goofy from class, they ARE there via Skype or Facebook--which you can choose to silence--and you know they are with you.

For me, writing virtually is knowing my peeps have my back. Together we are all struggling for an end goal--creating text--but our texts are each unique and different. There's probably some like in here to multiplicities and collective construction of knowledge, but that's not how I approach it.

I approach my work problems, specifically my writing problems, holistically and embed piles of emotion in it. Why? Because that actually works. I need to feel good at the end of the day. I want to feel good at the end of the day. I don't want to feel like a prick, and I certainly don't like realizing that I have been one. So, instead, I look for ways to feel good about myself, my work, and my friends. 

Throwing down in a group write is one way to do this. If people slow or get unmotivated, someone or several people spike them up. If it feels like you are slowing down in your drive, you can find when friends are writing and commit to join them. It is a forward-moving momentum machine.

My writing people are not new to me. We've known each other for five years; all of us went through Tech's TechComm and Rhetoric program either online, on-site, or a blend of both. So, instead of trying to get a sense of people, we already know each other--we can slot into our relationships immediately. That is fulfilling in and of itself. So, we work towards keeping and supporting each other while, at the same time, we are all moving towards our own individual goals through the same core act: writing.

There's just something productive about knowing we are all working together for our own collective benefit. There's no final, shared deliverable outcome other than the group spirit, the esprit--but that's more than enough to want to participate. When the benefit of a deliverable is added, then of course it makes sense to participate and write.

Most of my colleagues are in the midst of high-stakes writing--completing their dissertations or chapters. This is grueling work as any of us who have or are writing a dissertation know. My writing is not as high-stakes: this blog post; drafting of other articles; research for articles to submit to peer reviewed journals.

As I mentioned in my last post, I needed something to drag me out of the spiral of low-motivated escapism. The Tomato Cafe writing group's really done that for me. They've helped me find a way to be productive and help people I care about while getting something done.

Meditation 87 on "Where did the time go?"

A caveat: I realize these are the problems of privileged white guy in a position of limited power in an institution of power. I don't delude myself to think that they compare to the multitudes' sufferings. However, these things do impact me emotionally and practically--in my work--and as such, I blog about them. Just wanna be clear on that.

The Meditation
I have many things to write about. I do. But, until this past week, I could not seem to get much done. There was an assemblage of attention-sucking destruction (if I want to frame it hypberbolically) taking my time. In fact, it was rather a wicked problem where one situation led and complicated another--life's events just seemed to pile on.

For example, part of my job has administrative duties. This means there's paperwork to fill out. When there's a nearly full ocean to bucket out--okay, we're a small school, so it's a swimming pool--and there are a few hours of time, what does one do? I could put all my time into bucketing out the pool. Sure. Then the pool would be full shortly. In the mean time, I would know that I had not achieved all of these other things, that I'd not got this important writing, reading, thinking done. Whatever. But because I perceive my time as having such great value, I attend only to the critical issues in the pool.

However, the guilt or worry about the rest of the pool--which is automatically refilling and generating other issues autonomously--restricts my abilities to write on the academic writing and research that I want to engage in. When I would try to work on my Moodle, Twitter, or InfoSec research, I'd hit a wall: guilt. "Gotta take care of the program; gotta look at the practica." Ugh. But I did not want to. Instead, I made a third choice: escape.

Frankly, this has been working for me for months, and it is not a point of pride. In grad school, I could crank at 120% for days. Never had the writing or attention problems like I do now. Even worse, while I used to use escapist media, over the past academic year, it's like struggling with an addiction.

Academic work/life balance questions are not the only source of stress driving me to Dr. Who or Netflix or Amazon Prime video watching. Complicating matters are issues of D's health. And, over the last couple weeks, searching for a house. It's like a perfect maelstrom where I can generate one of 97 different excuses about why I don't get my work done. Ugh.

Worst part is: I know I can do my work. I know I have got time and I know that my topics are fascinating and worthy of publication. But I feel pulled and inexperienced in how to balance those demands. I look at my colleagues, and I'm in a very different situation and context than most of them. They have kids. They have complex situations. They have outside consulting. They have tenure. They're settled. So, in spite of examining their methods for balance, I have not found something that works for me

At least until the past ten days. Then I found a solution generated by my colleagues.

But you can read about that in my next post.

Hey Twitter, Hey Facebook, I'm Over Here... [some thoughts]

Moral of the story: I've been seeking types of satisfaction from Twitter and Facebook that apparently--for me at least--are not derivable from those SNSs. What follows is a bit of a mangling of ideas and perceptions--I'm still working through the ideas--on this topic.

The past couple months I have been struggling with my messaging and followers. I'm no international conglomerate, so I don't have to worry about bringing in cash with my messages. Good thing, I suspect, since I'd probably go broke. But, honestly, that's kind of what concerns me, too. If I actually have a solid and decent understanding of rhetoric, technology, and learners/users, then shouldn't I be able to effectively use multiple media to expand my audience? If I don't build my audience or increase responses/interactivity, then do I actually have a skill set that is worth much?

I don't know. And like many academics, it is very easy to navel dwell and worry about whether or not my skills actually match their label.

Having said that, I've noticed my writing styles and content are sloppy all over the place like a three year old tossing spaghetti sauce on walls. Twitter is a blend of security/IT, punk rock/class war music, scholarly/genre interests, and professional development. I also use it to spit out random mood updates. Facebook is for longer thoughts. More personal stuff at times, venting or frustration or happy happy joy joy success, and a bit longer. Neither interface, though, feels really effective for me and my thinking processes.

Twitter is solid for follows, for learning, for listening to other voices, and to get schooled. But my ability to interact on Twitter just seems to fail. Not sure why that is--guess I lack those skills. I know that interactivity is only one portion of the Twitter presence, but I feel like it should be interactive, like it should be play, but I've not managed to grok that process. When play and interaction does happen on Twitter, it is terrifically fun and enjoyable. And I want more of that, but I don't know how to make it happen. Complicating matters is that if I have Twitter up on my screen, I don't get work done. Some by not being present all the time I can't interact all the time. Having said that, if I was on Twitter all the time I'd not have a job. It's that addicting. Perhaps later I will find more balance.

In a similar fashion, I've reduced my time and emotional commitment to Facebook because it can be such a time sink. And, frankly, it is social media, and I'm not sure I want to be that invested in one venue. I can't give my attention there as much. I definitely feel like there are more deep emotional connections with more people on Facebook than on Twitter, but the level of spontaneity and play on FB is less.

All of this is framed within the larger context of my absolute media consumption binge. I eat pans of brownies while watching episode after episode of (name a BBC, thriller, or mystery series). The binge has been going on for months. Partial escapism from work, partial escapism re: D's health, partial not wanting to think. But this has left a chasm of not being creative--not being generative. Just consuming and shuffling others' texts has become tiresome.

In a cheap reference of Deleuze, others' text have been deterritorializing what I consider to be my identify, attention, and energy--and it's been flattening my experience. These other texts have power largely because they are battling for my time or my attention--they are not; I conserve my attention pretty well away from most commercial demands--in a realm where I trust them and where I have little to no resistance. For example, if I were in a public space, I would be less likely to sink into passive consumption/receptivity of messages and turn to gel. However, once I come home, I choose a passive consumptive role by going to Netflix. Once I am there, it's almost like a willing form of subordination to the entertainment--whether or not I actually want to watch media. If the media is awful, then I will switch to another piece of media--I rarely get out of Netflix.

In the midst of this tangled mess of concepts, self-perception, and media, what strikes me are these points:

  • I seek voice in social media outlets, but the types of voice that satisfy my needs/desire are not appropriate for those venues;
  • those venues/speech acts which are gratifying/satisfying require more investment than social media acts (in my case, short bursts of thought), and thus often do not occur because of my time spent in passive media consumption;
  • a pattern of passive media consumptions has repositioned my concept of what creation and participation is/are.

Thus, when I generate communication or content, it is rarely satisfying. When I consume most media, it is is only partially satisfying because I know that the acts of content generation--ones that require more time than my social media acts and would eat into my passive consumption time--feel much better.

So, once again, I am trying to shift/move my online identify--or at least a good portion of it--over to this blog.

Not sure how well it will work, but six to nine months of the other approach has not left me feeling solid overall. Sure, it's had peaks and valleys, but it is not sustainable.


Props the my sis Cheryl over at Library Tracks for the non-stop good music.

Now listening:

Fresh French Press: The Smell of Relief

This morning fresh French-pressed coffee accompanies relief. Numbers of financial tasks are completed; multiple small annoying start-of-term tasks have been dealt with; course/class prep is done for the day; big time-sink task is almost done, too. Better still: I have not added any more tasks to my pile.

I've seen multiple research projects over the past week--and I said no.

I have detected multiple ways to spend more time at work and in school--somehow I managed to keep my mouth shut.

I have come across multiple cultural objects and software that would be fun to explore--but I kept moving to my target.

While it is a small, simple thing, I have managed to dodge almost all of the rabbit trails and tangents out there. Instead, I actually worked on the things that have been stressing me out. And while I'm sensing and living the relief, the scent of fresh French press rises up from my cup.

Yeah, it's a good day!

Applying Work Skills while Avoiding Work: Selling Jack Kirby & Action Figures

The past term or two have been hurly burly. Up and down. D's health and breathing have been good and then totally problematic. Nothing like a lover being unable to breath to get your attention. Yep. Certainly re-prioritizes life and how I spend time.

Part of that re-organizing thinking is centered on a home. Getting a house. Finalizing debts. Closing storage units. Getting art up on walls and out. Reestablishing identify of who and what I am and who we are and why, for many reasons, we initially melded 20+ years ago. So it makes it a bit hard to focus on work. Fortunately, I only have one prep for two sections this term. So that makes things nice.

Back to my topic: in order to get centered and feel emotionally stable, the financial elements and house have to happen. Unlike most of the past 20 years, D's agreed to sell off a few of our investments (we do not invest in stocks or other sham paper-shuffling markets that increase the wealth of the ultra-wealthy). On the low end, this means moving Star Wars figures. On the higher end, this means moving original comic art like our signed Jack Kirby original comic art. 

Unlike using media and text to create learning and educational content, using images and video to sell objects is practical in a different way. I still make the video and shoot the images. The video, ironically, I gave more time to editing but I did not attend to the sound. The photos, while I took and tried to do them decently, I did not focus on trying to make them top notch. If I was making the materials for teaching, I would have focused more on sound and less on the editing/transitions. With the images, I would have focused on having as many; however, I would want a higher quality if possible. The end goal for moving product--at least in these examples--was providing as much exposure to the actual items so that buyers could assess the quality of the object(s)

My writing and description for the eBay listings were decent, but they somehow felt unmotivated. Part of me wants more personalized narrative to help make the sale. However, on these items, I am pretty sure the buyers know what they are looking for: comic fans and Star Wars folks can be pretty focused.

To support this work, I also created a Facebook ad to run during the Jack Kirby auction. Hopefully it will help. From what I can see, a single Twitter post brought in about 20-30 hits on the site. So that is good. No followers, but it's a bit early to expect that.

I'll be interested to see what kind of traffic, if any, the Facebook ad generates.

While it feels a bit sloppy or hollow in some ways, I am also glad that I am actually using my tools, software and education to potentially sell things that will get us into a home. Or at least take the edge off of the debt load.

Now listening to Faun:

Conference Going: Summer 2014

I have not attended any conferences this year, and I feel just fine about that. Needed a break. While I certainly miss my peeps, learning my new gig and how to keep balanced professional obligations in the face of health care challenges with my partner has kept me busy. Wow. That was a loaded sentence.

Still, I like to learn. But I do not want to travel too far. So, I plan to attend Computers and Writing up in Pullman. Pretty excited about that. I also want to attend OSCON 2014 in Portland. So on the road a bit in June and July. To be honest, I'm good with that. 

Deadlines for funding proposals are due on Monday, April 7th. I'd rather avoid the stress of last-minute writing, so I got my proposals in today. They're not brilliant but they are done. Now I celebrate by listening to Belle & Sebastian: