In-between projects

I’ve been seriously grumpy lately. There are many reasons for my grumpiness, but one of the main culprits is that I haven’t been writing as much as I want to. Yes, I write a column and articles for Women in Higher Education. Yes, I wrote a lecture on the artifacts of white supremacy that I gave at the College of Charleston. Yes, I wrote up a survey about why you should all move to Florida like I did.

And yet, I feel like I’m still writing less than I want to.

What occurred to me today is that I’m writing less because I’m currently stuck in-between two projects. Months ago, I finished all the writing I had to complete for my forthcoming Grace Period (Killing the Buddha press), a collection of essays about my slow transition out of academia, the loss of dreams, and the long process of  learning how to manage where I happened to land. I’ve only been editing what needs to be edited. Now, the soon-to-be book is in the hands of my excellent copy editor while I worry about everything else that needs to be finished and my strategies for book promotion. (more…)

On Quitting

It all started with a parenting newsletter in my inbox. This particular newsletter focused upon what to do when your kids want to quit an activity, sport, or extracurricular. Like much of the advice on quitting, the newsletter cheerfully suggested that you shouldn’t let your child quit, even when their misery appeared in slumped shoulders and frowns on face. Instead, parents, you should encourage your child to stick around, in spite of their misery. Quitting, it seemed from the newsletter, could only be read as failure. And the implication was that parents surely don’t want their kids to be quitters or failures.

As I read the newsletter’s parenting advice, I got angrier and angrier. I promptly deleted the email and almost unsubscribed (is that quitting?). I couldn’t quite pinpoint what made me so angry. Then, it occurred to me that the assumptions about quitting and failure bothered me. The newsletter assumed that quitting was somehow bad and sticking around was somehow good. Sticking around signaled success, but quitting could only be failure. This is a terrible way to imagine quitting, but it’s a remarkably common one.

People equate failure with quitting all the time, and I really hate when they do because quitting isn’t inherently a failure. Quitting is but one choice out of many. We make many, many choices about our lives each day, but quitting is one choice that is consistently presented as a type of failure.

Claiming that quitting is only failure misses the fact that quitting can be so much more. Quitting has many possibilities. (more…)

The Artifacts of White Supremacy

As I type, I’m sitting in the Atlanta airport waiting for my flight to Charleston, SC. I’m on my way to College of Charleston to visit some classes and give a public lecture, “The Artifacts of White Supremacy,” about the Klan’s use of material objects to promote their version of white Protestant nationalism. As I’ve noted before, it’s a weird time to be a scholar of white nationalism and white supremacy. It’s hard to feel good about what I’m writing when our present moment resonates so much with the historical moments I study.

As I was writing and revising this talk, something gave me hope: The stories the Klan wanted to tell about their objects and their vision of white Protestant nation were contested stories. The meanings that the order attached to their objects were not necessarily the stories that won out. What a powerful reminder as I watch folks offering up counter-narratives of what America is, in spite of the Tr*mp’s administration’s attempts to control the story.

The Klan hoped the robes and fiery cross told one story of their white Protestant nation, and now, those are symbols of racism and hate. The story that you want to be THE STORY doesn’t necessarily become the story we remember or tell. It’s a good reminder to all of us that we don’t have to assent to dominant narratives. We can challenge them, we can offer different stories, and sometimes, we can win. (more…)

Boom project

Over a year and a month ago, a typo in a tweet that turned into something unexpected. In the airport waiting for a plane, I decided to tweet a bit about my short stint as a visiting writer at Elizabethtown college to process what had happened. But mostly, to process what I had said to students who asked me for writing advice. I can’t remember if I was typing quickly on my phone or if I was blissfully careless on my laptop. Either way, I ended up typing “boom” instead of “book.” That typo, the “m” rather than the “k,” became significant. At first, I didn’t realize my mistake. A couple of  lovely folks on Twitter tweeted at me to ask what a “boom project” was, and I reread my tweet and found the error. One person wondered if “boom project” was a new publishing term that they hadn’t heard of yet. No, it was just a mistake. Or was it?

I had been tweeting about a confession I made to a group of students (and two of their professors). In the Q & A in a class, a student asked me about how I write books and what new projects I was working on. Before I could stop myself, I admitted that book projects still frighten the bejesus out of me. The students looked at me and each other with varying levels of bewilderment and a nervous chuckle or two. I kept talking when I probably should have stopped. I wanted to be honest, so I explained that long projects, like books, still frighten (read panic) me. This fear remained strong, even though I’ve already written two books. Books are a long commitment for a writer, and long commitments often appear scary at the outset because who knows how they’ll actually turn out. Boom or bust. Luckily, I didn’t say the previous lines aloud. (more…)

Albums 21: Jesus Freak

Jesus Freak

Richard Newton

 

I wanted this essay to be about a different album, Pearl Jam’s superior sophomore effort, Vs. (1993), Zach Braff’s masterful Garden State soundtrack (2004), or Metallica’s beautifully risky S&M (1999). The playlist in my head shuffled through all of these, but none of them stuck with me long enough to write this essay.

The problem wasn’t the music. For a decade those albums have had a secure place in my rotation. Their lyrics always inspire. I’ve talked about all of them with complete strangers.  Simply put, I don’t need a reason to listen to them.

But this essay needed to be about an album I’ve struggled to listen to. This essay is about the songs I can’t stand  because they know too much about me. This essay is for the record that saw me through the times I could never forget and thus, choose not to return.

This essay’s for DC Talk’s Jesus Freak (1995). (more…)