I Look Like A Professor

I don’t look like a professor, or so I’ve been told in my almost 13 years in, or adjacent to, academia. Usually, that message is sent indirectly: a casual comment in the hall, a smirk, or a nicer-than-nice question regarding my hair, clothes, or tattoos. Other times, the message is direct and clear.

At conferences, for example, faculty members and graduate students express equal amounts of disbelief and surprise that someone who looks like me managed to write the book they just read. Senior scholars, and on occasion deans, ask me what I’m studying — even though I finished my Ph.D. in 2008. With confused looks on their faces, my students double-check to make sure that I am the professor, not the teaching assistant. More disturbingly, I’ve seen members of search committees look openly puzzled that I — the body seated in front of them — could possibly be the qualified applicant that they selected for an interview.

In my previous department, when I arrived to interview for a lecturer gig, the secretary assumed I was a student and told me pointedly that the chair was too busy to see me without an appointment. I smiled and tried to explain that I was there for an interview. It took a few minutes to convince her that I was actually a job candidate. As I left the interview, I overheard her telling a faculty member that I didn’t look old enough to have a Ph.D.

Read more.

Carry On

I started writing my Grace Period series over two years. The first essay in the series was an accident really. I just wanted to let people (friends, family, colleagues, and the random readers of my blog) that I was taking a year off to figure out what to do with my life after quitting my job as a lecturer and moving to Florida. Someone kindly pointed out that post to the editors of the Chronicle of Higher Education’s new Vitae Project.

I received an email from one of their editors offering me a gig to write about my transition out of academia while in the hospital after the birth of my son. So, I started writing about my year off and my transition out of academia. My year turned into two. I cataloged how I felt about what I left behind and what was hopefully in front of me.

Last week, Vitae published my last essay in the series, Goodbye to All That. I expected to be sad, but I’m not. Sometimes, an ending is just an ending, a place where we stop to rest before moving on. I’m happy to have had the chance to write all of these essays and to rediscover the joy (and heartache) of writing.

So, here are the links to all my Grace Period essays in order. I hope you enjoy them.

1. My Post-Academic Grace Period

2. How to (Not) Avoid the Job Market

3. The Hard Business of Letting Go (followed by (Non)Toxic Dreams on my blog)

4. The Impermanent Adjunct

5. I’m Over My Discipline

6. The Manuscript Blues

7. Things I Miss

8. To Write or Not To Write

9. My First Postacademic Lecture

10. How You End Up Leading a Task Force on Contingency

11. Clean Slate

12. Maybe I Should Have Stayed in Retail

13. Goodbye to All That

Goodbye to All That

I slipped into a funk about my writing, especially about writing a book that no longer had a home, and about my life more generally. I decided that I hated writing, even as I continued to write columns, personal essays, pitches, and blog posts. I wrote and wrote and wrote. So maybe I didn’t hate writing; I just hated this manuscript and way it made me feel like an academic failure. I couldn’t get a tenure-track job, and I couldn’t finish a project I had started almost three years ago. What was wrong with me? I kept the cancelled contract in my desk as a reminder of this particular failure, but the mere thought of it left me teary-eyed. I decided to ignore both the manuscript and the returned advance.

I thought I was over beating myself up about my exit from academia. Apparently I wasn’t.

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Out for Coffee

“Coffee. Mama coffee. Hot. Burn baby,” my toddler says to me while pointing at my plain white mug. “Mama’s coffee,” I respond with a smile. He often pretends to drink coffee from his older sister’s pink Barbie mugs. My almost-two-year-old associates me with hugs, kisses, cuddles, and coffee. This is not a surprise really, because I always seem to have a cup of coffee in my hands. Coffee is an intimate part of our daily life, a constant presence. Drinking this beverage is my ritual to get through the day. Coffee offers me some comfort, no matter what the day might bring.

I read a couple of years ago that the appeal of coffee might not be caffeine, but rather the warm mug. Psychologically, the warmth comforts us; the caffeine emerges as an added bonus. When I read the study, I was drinking a cup of coffee, the fingers of my left hand wrapped around my ceramic mug as I read the article on my laptop. Scroll with the right hand. Clutch my coffee with my left hand. My need for the sensation of warmth is the reason I despise travel mugs. Their cool exterior tricks me into believing my drink is also cool. I burn my tongue. The travel mug deceives me while the ceramic mug holds truth.

In turmoil and chaos, I turn to a cup of joe.

Read more here.

TinyLetter

I started a TinyLetter in June. I’ve written two letters so far. I imagined that I might write a letter weekly, but my imaginings don’t often sit well with the reality of day-to-day life. Part of my slowness to write these letters is to figure out how they are different or similar from my other writing. I’m not sure I have a good sense of whether TinyLetters are a particular genre or not, so I’m treating them as tiny personal essays about two topics that dominate my thinking (and writing), bodies and books.

I’m writing to you, dear readers, because I want to write more and think more about bodies and books. Also, I would love for you to write back. Let’s have a conversation. Some of you have already written to me. Thank you.

For those of who haven’t subscribed, here are excerpts from my first two letters. I hope you’ll let me write to you too.

My first letter is on writing, motherhood, and Rebecca Solnit’s Faraway and Nearby:

When I first started reading The Faraway Nearby, I adored it. I read the book while I was still rocking my youngest to sleep for two naps a day. While he snuggled close, I followed along as Solnit pondered apricots, fairy tales, leprosy, Che, Frankenstein, ice, memories, empathy, and family. My eyes strained in dimly lit nursery. My Kindle glowed illuminating his chubby face and balled fists. I was drawn to Solnit because of her essay that spurred discussions of mansplaining. I hoped to mimic the lovely intermingling of personal essay and researched explanations. The baby nursed; I read. The close proximity of motherhood and writer’s aspirations felt meaningful. I could only read about writing while he slept. I could only write while my oldest was at preschool. I was pulled into two different directions, motherhood and writing. The tension felt distinct and inescapable. 

My second letter is about my anxiety about parenting and my attempts to let my children become who they want to be:

On the drive home, fear punched me in the gut. I just agreed to let my six-year-old go to the beach without me. I imagined everything that could go wrong in intimate detail. Sunburn. Drowning. Car accident. Drowning. Jellyfish stings. Drowning. My breathing became shallow, my stomach bottomed out, and tears rolled down my cheeks. Chris could tell something was wrong,  but, I couldn’t speak without making my sobbing obvious to our kids in the backseat. I took a deep breath and tried to reign in my panic.

What if something bad happened to her?

Here’s the link to subscribe. A new letter is coming soon.