Tuesday, November 15, 2011

When the Walls Go Up, How Do You Avoid Getting Down?

(I'm taking another little birdwalk from student-professor communication to talk about some life "stuff". Many of you tackle so much while you are in college. Does it ever feel like while you have the best intentions to "do school", and do it well, life just keeps threatening to get in the way? If so, read on... and enjoy my first inclusion of pictures!)

As I sit here in my dining room writing this blog post, there is building pandemonium just feet away from my window.

I never knew that banging could come in so many different rhythms:

Machine-gun:  Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch, ch-ch-ch-ch-ch, ch-ch-ch-ch-ch

Steady cadence:  Tap... tap... tap... tap... tap

Intermittent:  Pound (extended pause). Pound-pound (another pause). Pound. (You get the picture).

Baby tap:  (light) pop-pop-pop... pop-pop-pop

Impending disaster: KABOOM (Please let that be a piece of wood, and not one of the construction folks!)

A little back story:

I've lived in Seattle, Washington for seven years.

I live high on a hill next to an empty lot (See pic below. My first picture included in my blog--so exciting! Okay, I digress...)

B.U.M. (Before Ultra-Modern): The view of Vashon Island from my front door. Most of our windows face this direction.

The view from my front door now.

My house is on the left.

A.U.M. (After Ultra Modern): My house is still on the left. Ultra-modern has one more level to go.
My husband and I went into this home knowing darned good and well that at any given time, the lot next door may be sold. Sure, the owner (ironically, the son of the original owner of my house) tried to get us to buy it, but my husband and I didn't have an extra $200k just hanging around.

Really, most of the time we've lived here, there's been zero activity. Just an empty lot with raspberries by summer, snowman crafting some winters, and incremental young kid exploring in all seasons.  

Then, this summer, the lot was sold.

We learned that an ultra-modern house would go in. Although more of these homes-made-to-look-like-small-office-buildings are going up in our 'hood, the style really doesn't fit with its complexion: basement ramblers, Craftsmans, and "old world charm" abodes.

Something else about this ultra-modern house:  It's going to be an ultra view killer for us.

I am not writing about this to incite pity, by any means. I know about perspective:  I have two good friends going through cancer treatment right now and one friend losing a home.

Those are crises. Losing a view is not.

However, it is a shift, a change, an adjustment from the physical and emotional comfort I'd grown accustomed to in my home. We did not buy our house for view; we liked the fact that it was newer than other houses we'd seen. I do love the light and airy feeling from 10+ windows on that side of the house.

Right now, I'm looking at the ceiling of a first floor... and workers standing atop of it. Soon, I will be looking at a fixed structure. A large and tall fixed structure.

I had been surprisingly calm about the building, figuring there's not one damned thing I can do about it (and that's totally NOT like me!).

My husband woke up last night with bad heartburn and said, "I'm thinking about the house" (and that's totally NOT like him!).

My 8-year-old had a meltdown over the weekend. "Tween angst", I'm surmising, but at the end of her diatribe, she said, "...And they're building a house next door!" (and that's totally JUST like her).

My 3-year-old seems to be the only family member not only unfazed, but utterly enthralled! Really, how often does a little guy get to see Bob the Builder happening right outside his front door... diggers and all?

So, between the bangs, I'm supposed to be finishing my book. I'm on paid sabbatical this term for that. Of course, there was no way to know that during my sabbatical, this would be going on.

There have been a few days that admittedly, I've stared at my laptop screen for longer than I should have. I try to filter and ignore what's happening next door, but suddenly the audio and visual reminders are thisclose.

While I'm staring, I'm also fighting the anxious messages that inevitably bubble up in between hammer slams and  buzzsaw bzzzz's:

"How will this structure affect our home?"

"Will our minds forget 'the way it was' and simply adjust to what is?"

"What if we're terribly uncomfortable in our house after this modern monstrosity goes up? The market is not great right now... we wouldn't be able to sell. Then what?"

(As you can see, there is no end to the mental chatter spiral... Can anyone relate to this?).

I realize by now you are asking yourself, "What on earth does this have to do with college?"

For the first time in my authoring of this blog, I actually wondered that, too. But then I thought about the various distractions that I know many of my students live with every day:

-People coming in and out of their houses at all hours
-Unstable places to live
-Parents that suddenly resurface and "move in"
-Originally supportive family members who changed their tune now that they realize what you're being in school means for the disruption of the household and their lives
-And, of course, external, environmental noise... just like what I'm dealing with right now.

For all of us, the same truth exists:

We can't control what's going on outside of us. We can only control what's going on within us.

If I stop writing and waste this precious sabbatical (Not to worry, College. Won't happen!) and fail to finish my book, is that going to stop the building of this house? Is it going to stop the noise? Am I going to feel better about the situation?

No. There will be an ultramodern house residing right next door to my house and I won't have a finished book.

So what's the communication lesson? (Yes, there's one, even here...)

I am working with my intrapersonal communication. That's right: The messages within myself.

I tell myself that I have choices:  I can choose to work elsewhere while this building is going on, although working at home is most comfortable and everything I need is easily accessible. However, Seattle has enough libraries and coffee shops where I can take up residence. Students, you can do your work elsewhere, too. Give yourself permission to change locations if necessary, even to a quieter corner of your house, or the bathtub! Let's not forget that there are all sorts of quiet nooks on your campus.

I talk myself into continuing the things that get me out of my head... and this house for an hour and a half every day: Running, Zumba, walking with a friend. I'm far more productive when I return. Students, same goes for you. Be a little selfish. You can do something for yourself, even for :15 a day, that will get you through the day.

I talk to others: I haven't shared what's going on with my non-local friends, but I did start an accountability check-in with a friend who is also finishing a book. I have to report my progress to her every Friday. Students, if you are struggling to finish schoolwork due to external factors, tell someone else that you need a check-in, too. This will mean that regardless of what else is going on in your life, you have to stay accountable to your goal:  Your college education! (PS: Your prof may even be willing to serve as your check-in.)

I tell myself that while this is a very unsettling and unknown situation right now, it's temporary. The construction will end. My family will adjust to the changes, or we will make some new decisions. We've overcome far, far, far greater challenges than this.

Students, whatever is getting in your way of your studies is likely temporary, too. Rely on your past history of facing challenges to get you through the present challenge, and don't lose sight of your goal:  Completing this term! 

If you are dealing with a very new challenge, don't be an island. I bet your campus has free counseling to help you deal with obstacles threatening your education.

The walls are going up... still... as we speak. Bang bang. Pound pound.

I'm going to close this post with one of my favorite quotes from Randy Pausch:

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

I don't think this ultramodern house will have any bricks, but the sentiment is still the same. I refuse to let the literal and figurative "noise" of those walls get in my way! Who's with me?

Students... all readers... are there "walls" hindering you from reaching your academic goals? What strategies have you found helpful to "climb over", so to speak?


  1. Great perspective, Ellen! I have definitely worked through having workers in my personal space before. The basement on the last house we lived in was being finished and there were guys in our space all the time. We even woke up one morning and discovered the painters had covered our bedroom and bathroom doors with a plastic sheet and had "locked" us in! We ended up climbing out the window to leave for work. What can you do but adjust accordingly?

  2. I am both bummed (that your view is blocked) and inspired (by your perspective) in this story! What a great way to "re-frame' the new construction project. Very impressive! You continue to find lessons in everything and share your insights in ways that help people. I really admire that!

  3. As always, Ellen, fantastic post! Have you ever been so fixated on something that you have no idea what else is going on around you? I think that's the kind of focus and resolve we need to be successful. All of the things going on around us are potential distractions from our goals. I think we (students and everyone else) need to learn to do what we're doing when we're doing it. If we're studying, then we should study. It's all a question of what we're listening to. When we put our earphones in and start studying, are we listening to the words of the song or the words of the textbook. Real accomplishment happens when we are so immersed in our studies that we can't even recall the last 10 songs that played, so immersed in our books that we don't remember the last 50 cracks of a hammer. The walls come down when we stop caring so much that they're there.

  4. Sarah, thank you so much for your words. I can't imagine having to climb out my window (although now at least there would be a closer jumping point ;-). I am trying to adjust accordingly... particularly since just this morning, level three was erected. I will post another picture when it's finished! Ellen

  5. Chris, I really appreciate your thoughts (and the pun--"reframing"). Ironically, just this morning the third level went up, so we now have the full picture of what will be affected on our top level, too (which is all big windows). I know that this is so minimal, compared to the things we could be dealing with. So, I'm trying to keep the perspective. I wish you well! Ellen

  6. Hi, Doug,

    Thank you SO much for your thoughtful and inspiring words. I am trying very hard to channel exactly what you're saying. Some days, it's been easier than others. However, I feel like a big doof--I should be using my iPod a little more. Of course, it may be hard to write while I'm listening to Pitbull, but if I can scratch anything out, it would be worth it. I appreciate you.