Reading Fatigue: Pulling Myself out of a Literary Rut

By Erika Nelson

Every month, the Goodreads newsletter pops into my inbox. These emails taunt me by singing the praises of newly-published books: colorful rectangle covers lined up into neat rows by genre; enticing blurbs draw me in. I used to pore over these newsletters and make library holds based on book suggestions, but now emails from Goodreads just evoke guilt.

I love to read. As an English major, I think that goes without saying, but I love to read more than the average person. I’ll read pretty much anything. Fiction and nonfiction. Science texts and sci-fi novels. The latest poignant, “deep” literary triumphs alongside “comfort food” stories from childhood. A few years ago, I consumed the New Yorker cover-to-cover in an evening.  I read a book (or more) every couple weeks. More recently, however, my “to-read” list has grown longer and longer, my Goodreads account sits in stagnant silence, and I rarely read for fun anymore. Why?

College involves a lot of reading, and majoring in English involves even more reading. I read so much for school every day that by the time I have some free moments the last thing I want to do is pick up another book. Instead — and I hate to admit this — most of my spare time is spent glued to my phone. I keep up on news articles and current event pieces online and off … but when it comes to reading for the sake of reading, anything longer than 280 characters doesn’t have much of a chance.

Reading fatigue is fairly common in academic circles. In a recent discussion post on D2L, I asked classmates if they had any ideas to wake up from my word fugue. People commiserate and several expressed the same problem. They had some great ideas for combatting reading fatigue: reading while sipping my morning coffee, having a specific reading space, and reading in bite-sized pieces. From their suggestions, I’ve decided to set myself a New Month’s Resolution: read one non-school book a month for the rest of the year.

I think this is a reasonable goal, if I can manage to tear myself away from my phone more often … this is where self-discipline comes in. However, I’m going to allow myself some grace if I fall behind — after all, life happens, and instructor-assigned reading comes first. I’m excited to get started! Step one: Look over that email from Goodreads.

The Best Beverage: In Praise of Coffee

By Erika Nelson

On any particular day, my morning routine always begins with coffee. It’s a stereotype: the college student who runs on coffee. But in my case, it’s true.  I. Love. Coffee. My morning coffee is the simple indulgence that kicks off my day; a form of self-bribery to hoist my tired body out of bed instead of pressing the snooze button. 

One of the little ways I show affection for my partner is by making coffee. We have an Aeropress, which is like a French Press but FASTER, meaning less time to wait for that caffeine jolt! I add a splash of cream to mine, and we sit and watch the news together before getting on with our respective days. If I’m at my place, I either brew a pot of drip coffee or trot down to Starbucks for the frothy goodness of a Grande Nitro cold brew. On days when I’m having trouble working up the motivation to study, I head to one of my favorite places on campus, Park Avenue Café. A mocha and an almond biscotti while I study? Heaven. 

Enjoying a caffeinated beverage (or two or three) in a place where I can have alone time, yet experience a fair amount of background stimulation while I work, is where I’m most productive. The concept of “productivity” is a double-edged sword that seems to go hand-in-hand with coffee culture: social media is saturated with pictures of espresso next to laptops, attached to hashtags like #onmygrind and #butfirstcoffee. Being busy (and the tasty brown beverage that gets you through the busy-ness) is glorified in our society, and some people criticize “busy culture,” pointing out that it can lead to burnout and feelings of inadequacy. 

I’m no stranger to burnouts and feelings of inadequacy. I’ve had depression and anxiety since I was a kid, and was recently diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 27. My ADHD diagnosis has led to a new perspective on my own habits and productivity. Like others with the same concurrent conditions, I’m in a weird spot: common wisdom for the depressed and anxious is to avoid caffeine to prevent exacerbating symptoms. However, coffee’s mainstay stimulant helps many people with and without executive function disorders sharpen their focus. Many people with ADHD use coffee instead of (or in addition to) prescription ADHD medications for this very purpose. 

I sometimes wonder: is it the caffeine, the taste, or the ritual that makes me love coffee so much? Maybe it’s a combination of all three: caffeine helps me concentrate, coffee is yummy, and a morning cup of Joe signals my brain that it’s time to sit down and get things done. Whatever the reason for my coffee obsession, I don’t see myself switching to decaf anytime soon. 

I could probably stand cutting back to one cup a day, though.

The Case For Zoom

By Erika Nelson

When PSU announced that the coming spring and summer terms would continue to be remote, I had conflicting feelings. On one hand, I’m happy that PSU is looking out for students, faculty, and staff by minimizing physical contact. It’s comforting to be part of an institution that values health and safety. On the other hand, I (and every other Viking I’ve spoken to on this topic) am disappointed that after a year of remote learning, we still won’t the inside of a classroom for at least the next few months.

I have an edge over “Past Erika” in March 2020, however – I know what to expect. I’m used to living remotely now. I know the ins and outs of Zoom … at least in theory. For instance, I didn’t know that there was a shortcut to “raise hand” (“Option” + “Y” keys) until this week. Although I miss traditional learning, I’m pleasantly surprised at how well Zoom classes work for me. Don’t get me wrong, in an ideal world, I prefer the classroom format and wish we could look forward to non-remote terms sooner than this fall. But by using Zoom, I’ve learned a lot about myself and my learning style.

The Zoom format provides the schedule and structure of regular meeting times, which is helpful to people like me who struggle staying organized and on-task without a timetable to hold them accountable. I’m much more engaged on Zoom than in classes that are entirely on D2L, because having faces and personalities to match to the names leads to more lively discussions (at least in my experience.) In classroom settings, I struggle a lot with social anxiety and self-doubt, leading to stumbling over my words or declining to share my thoughts at all. In virtual classes, there is the added buffer of seeing the instructor and classmates through a window, lending me more confidence to speak up and share comments verbally … and if I’m still feeling shy, I can always type out my take in the class chat.

The benefits of Zoom don’t end with me. Zoom classes have helped make the class dynamic more accessible to students with special circumstances; those who’d like to attend classes in person but can’t always make it there. Life sometimes presents obstacles that make regular attendance difficult —for example, becoming ill or injured, being your family’s only source of childcare, a lack of funds for regular public transportation, or having mental or physical disabilities. Being able to learn remotely during the times you can’t make it to class has made education more equitable — instead of worrying about piling up absences and missing crucial material, students can focus on learning.

Perhaps as we move forward through the pandemic and beyond, schools and colleges should consider ways to offer Zoom classes alongside solely-online courses and traditional in-person lectures. This idea might seem silly, but consider the ubiquity of online-only courses — even pre-pandemic, it was a rare college that didn’t offer a selection of online courses. Critics didn’t think it would work, but online learning is now undeniably part of academia alongside traditional lecture halls. Maybe Zoom is the happy medium that blends classroom and keyboard, creating a more flexible way of learning.

Above: A handy cheatsheet I made to help me remember Zoom commands (those little doodles on the “OO” are supposed to be glasses.)

My Journey So Far: Reflecting on My First Year at PSU

By Erika Nelson

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been at PSU for a year now! The last 12 months have brought more changes and challenges than I could have possibly imagined, both in my personal life and the world at large. Since I first became a Viking in September 2019, I’ve switched jobs, broken up with a long-term partner, changed my major, found a new partner, had a major medical emergency, spent almost four months out of town because of the pandemic, and moved apartments … wow. That’s a lot of drama to squeeze into one year. 

If I could go back in time, I’d change a lot of things (first off: warn people about COVID-19, obviously). However, I’ve learned so many lessons and found a new strength and sense of accomplishment from everything I went through. When I feel down on myself, I try to remember how much I’ve grown in a mere 12 months …

My newfound sense of direction

Last autumn, downtown PDX’s urban sprawl seemed like a labyrinth. I was constantly getting lost, relying on Google Maps to get to classes or do errands. Today, I move through the neighborhood on instinct and have all the street names memorized. (“Are you looking for Starbucks? Do you want the one on 6th in the Urban Center, the one on Jefferson inside of Safeway, or the one on Broadway and Clay? Don’t bother trying the ones on Jackson or Montgomery; they’re temporarily closed.”) I’m starting to feel like a local!

A new passion for wellness

A year ago, I was a brand-new suburban transplant who rarely walked anywhere for necessity, much less for fun. A lack of endurance made simple trips to the store a sweaty ordeal. Now, I’m so accustomed to walking every day, I get cabin fever when I have nowhere to go. In addition, I started running regularly and attending workout classes (before social distancing, that is), and started paying closer attention to what I ate. I did end up losing weight, which I’m proud of, but I feel better, which is so much more important than a number on a scale. 

Having faith in my journey

My first term at PSU, I was a Business major — while aspects of the field interested me (and still do), I was only on that track out of fear — what if I couldn’t find a career to make money majoring in the humanities? However, I soon realized that I needed to take a chance and major in what I loved; what felt right. Now, I’m a happy English major and I’m exploring the idea of law school. I love literature and challenging myself to find connections and interpretations in various media, and applying those ideas to real life. I had to take a few steps back in my graduation timeline (changing my major as a junior means I’ll be at PSU a couple extra terms), but I’m happy where I am. It’s better to take a leap of faith than always wonder “what if?”

It’s easy to focus on all the ways life sucks … and let’s be honest, life sucks for pretty much everyone right now. Life is complicated even in the best of times, and we’ve all had our lives disrupted by this virus — it’s ok to be angry, sad, scared, or anywhere else on the spectrum of emotions. Yet it’s also important to pause and reflect on the good. I’m not someone who subscribes to the tenet of destiny, or says “everything happens for a reason,” but I do believe there’s lessons to be learned in every situation: good, bad, and in-between.

Now Is Not The Time For Silence

Version 2 By: Anna Sobczyk

Had you asked me a year ago what my last blog for PSU Chronicles would be about, I would’ve said my upcoming graduation. Instead, the recent protests and riots against police brutality and racism that have rocked our nation have completely occupied my mind and heart. 

When I moved to Portland from Idaho, my eyes were opened to my privilege and the many racial injustices embedded in the criminal justice system. I have spent my years here listening and learning as much as I can. In those same years, I also allowed the fear of saying the wrong thing strangle me into silence. Once I realized my silence enables an oppressive system, I felt even more shame. A broken system can only find true long-term reformation if we fight for change in the system and within ourselves.

I have witnessed many who speak, “Well, in my experience…” in an attempt to use their personal reality to disregard the experiences of communities with identities different from them. In order to change, we need to let go of defensive tendencies that manifest themselves in phrases like “not all cops are bad” or “All Lives Matter.” Defending the reputation of good cops is not the priority, focus, or issue; police brutality is. Black Lives Matter because as a white person, I will never understand what it feels like to fear death by the very hands put in place to protect me. 

Just to feel anger, horror, and outrage at the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others is no longer enough. As the protests and riots unfolded, I thought to myself that “this time feels different.” But why? Perhaps, for the first time, I understood that in order to help make any difference that I can’t simply feel outraged or listen and learn from afar; I must join the discussion. We all must so that when our nation finally undergoes the changes it needs, no individual will allow it to fail again.

Making Do

By Erika Nelson

Recently, I wrote about my experiences under lockdown in student housing. Although being alone in quarantine was weighing on my mental health, I said that crashing with family or friends in Southern Oregon was not an ideal option for me. Since that post, I tried really hard to make the best of my situation —  I went through every coping skill I could think of: working out, journaling, playing computer games, texting friends and family, virtual therapy, throwing myself into homework — but I cracked. Living alone became too much to bear—so when the opportunity to fly down to Medford arose about a week ago, I took advantage of it, and set out for the Rogue Valley by way of a very, very lonely PDX.

I thought a lot about whether I would divulge that I fled Portland — I’d made such a big deal about staying put and weathering the lockdown on my own. Surely I can just pretend to still be in the dorms? Who would know the difference? Do I want people to think I’m weak? Besides being embarrassing to admit I broke down, I had traveled when not absolutely necessary, and still feel rather of ashamed about that. But I ultimately decided to be vulnerable in these vulnerable times, and share my experience.

The truth is, it’s ok to be overwhelmed, and it’s ok to make do with the resources you have. Like making do with frozen vegetables instead of fresh ones to avoid a trip to the grocery store, we are all making do in other ways with the resources available to us — mentally, physically, socially. It’s ok to break. It’s ok to be strong one week and a sobbing mess the next — because these are uncertain, scary times. 

I’m making do with what I have, and I am filled with so much gratitude that I have support available to me. I was lucky to get that flight to Medford. I’m lucky to have a family to take me in. I’m lucky that I went through the gauntlet of air travel without bringing disease into my home (well, as far as I know. I really hope that my next post isn’t written from a family member’s hospital bedside.) 

Many students are still alone on campus, and don’t have any other option but to stay. I feel guilty leaving them behind. Part of me feels like I should be there in solidarity. Another part feels justified that I did what I had to do to take care of myself. Maybe those opposing feelings aren’t mutually exclusive. 

To those who are struggling under the weight of lockdown, whether in isolation or not, here are some resources that might help:

PSU Student Resources: https://www.pdx.edu/unst/student-resources

Multnomah County Crisis Hotline: 503-988-4888.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233

Lockdown in Student Housing

By Erika Nelson

In March, Housing and Residence life sent out a mass email encouraging those of us in student housing to move if feasible. By doing so, we’d be lowering the amount of interpersonal contact in the buildings, and therefore lowering the chance that COVID-19 could spread among us.  The result was a mass exodus of student residents. For the last few weeks of winter term and throughout spring break, students hauled boxes and furniture out of their apartments. Many people abandoned their belongings altogether — and common areas quickly became littered with discarded microwaves, bedding, and half-used bottles of hot sauce. At first, the refuse left behind was annoying. But then the custodial staff removed it all, taking along with them any items that residents used to socialize and bond, such as the puzzles left out on tables for everyone to work on. This served only as a stark reminder of the tenants’ absences.

There are some perks that come from living in an almost-empty building — solo elevator rides save time, and I have yet to have to wait for access to a washing machine. The sheer emptiness of the building is palpable — instead of hearing music and muffled conversations when walking down the halls, there is a conspicuous silence. Common areas are empty. There are no more University Success events in the lobby. Even though those of us who remain are still in our rooms, typing on our laptops and having Zoom classes, it’s hard to ignore that the absence of so many residents is a symptom of the larger changes in the world.

I don’t have family close by. I wasn’t lucky enough (or unfortunate enough, depending on how well you get along with your family) to be able to crash somewhere else while still remaining in Portland’s orbit. Sure, I could pay to rent a car and haul all my stuff back to Southern Oregon, and there’s no doubt that I miss my friends and family … but Portland is my home now. I’ve set up roots, and I’d rather try and stick out the pandemic locally rather than going through the added stress and expense of moving back and forth. 

There are times when I regret that decision. Being cooped up is weighing on me emotionally. I miss my loved ones. I miss socializing. I miss human touch. So many of the things that made me fall in love with the city, like restaurants and the county library, are closed for the foreseeable future. The truth is, no one knows how long this lockdown will last, and if things will ever go back to normal. Public officials are cautious about ending the stay-at-home order too soon. Not knowing a timeline and being able to count down days is disheartening. However, I have hope that we will all get through this and be stronger because of it. Even though the building is lonely, I know I’m not alone in feeling alone.

Springtime in PDX

By Maya Young

It’s that time of the term again. Finals are right around the corner, assignment deadlines are looming, and the time slot to complete all of these tasks is decreasing with each passing day. Now here we are, nine weeks into winter term with only two more to go. For some of us, myself included, these upcoming weeks bring in an odd combination of stress and excitement as we look forward to the completion of a term but worry about the process getting there. To take some much-needed rest and decompress before spring term, here are some fun examples of what I like to do in Portland as it gets warmer.

1. Try new food

Portland is well-known for its food carts, and with so many to choose from, it is very easy to get out there and try new things. For me, I love some of the local food carts on-campus including Poompui Thai, Portland Gyro, and La Casita. 

2. Go to the Portland Markets

Portland has a large community dedicated to homemade goods, crafted products, and locally sourced ingredients. Two of my favorite markets are the Portland Farmers Market at PSU and the Portland Saturday Market down at the waterfront. For foodies who want to try new cuisines and get freshly grown ingredients, the farmers market is the place for you! The market at the waterfront is an excellent spot to listen to music, try new foods, and explore works from many local artists.

3. Take a hike

Portland has so many scenic hikes that are worth going on, and some are very close to campus! Take a trip to Council Crest, Washington Park, and even hike up to the Pittock Mansion. It’s great to take advantage of the nice Portland weather to explore what the city and surrounding areas have to offer.

Having a Pet in College

By Maya Young

In my initial years at PSU, I lived in the Ondine Residence Hall. With newfound independence of living “alone” (or rather with a roommate and not with my parents), I wanted to get a pet to keep me company. One of the major difficulties as an out-of-state student, however, is having to travel more to go home and visit family. Because of this, my parents advised me against getting a pet as I frequently took the bus to go home over long weekends. As this is my last year, I decided over the summer to finally get a pet; a little 10-week-old kitten named Bella. I have not regretted this decision and love her so much, but there are many considerations that should be taken before getting an animal.

For those who are interested, consider both your current and future housing status. The PSU dorms do not allow animals unless they are emotional support or service animals. Additionally, many other off-campus housing options do not permit pets either. This is a major consideration, as getting an animal may dictate your ability to rent in both the present and the future. 

Another factor in making this decision is the financial implications. Having a pet is very rewarding but can be very expensive. In my case, I adopted a kitten and had to pay for numerous shots and treatments that are necessary for them. In addition, it was quite pricey to pay for the essential items including a litter box, litter, food, toys, and more. 

Finally, do you have time for the pet? In my early years at PSU, I certainly did not. Pets, especially in their early years, require a lot of playtime and attention. This is definitely a major consideration as you do not want your pet to feel neglected.

While there is a lot to consider, having an emotional support animal has been very beneficial to me in my last year at school. Do what is best for you and your future animal.

Job Hunting By The Numbers

img_7471.jpg By Naomi Kolb

As graduation approaches, I find myself in the same boat as many of my fellow soon-to-be-alumni: I still don’t have a job or other obligation lined up for after graduation on June 17th. In the hopes of securing a job soon, I thought that I’d share part of my job-hunting experience. . . by the numbers.

  • Days since I submitted my first job application: 60
  • The number of applications that a Career Services Adviser told me was average to submit before landing an interview: 25-30
  • The number of applications that my coworker told me was average to submit before landing a job: 50-60
  • Applications that I’ve submitted so far: 15
  • Applications that I haven’t heard back about at all: 10
  • Positions that I’ve interviewed for: 2
  • Job offers that I’ve received: 0

Hopefully sharing my experience will help give my peers a better idea of what to expect when job hunting in Portland! Applying for jobs while still being a full-time college student is stressful to say the least and entirely unattainable for a lot of us. As many enter into our final days at PSU, I just wanted to say congratulations to all that are graduating and good luck on whatever your next endeavor may be, even if you don’t quite know what it is yet.