Today is the last day of 2015, which means I should probably reflect on the year and figure out my goals for 2016. What I know is that I’m not ready to do either quite yet. I’ve taken a break from writing while the kids have been out of school/preschool for the holidays. I finished my deadlines in December, applied for an MFA program, and spent time with my family without worrying what comes next. For the first time in awhile, I feel refreshed and ready to take on the new year. I have quite a few plans and so many essays that I want to write, and I can’t wait to share what I’m thinking and working on. Soon, but not yet.
I’m looking forward to my writing life in 2016, but I’m glad for 2015 to be over.
Rather than do a list of my most popular essays, I want to share with y’all the essays that I wrote that proved to be my favorites. Some I enjoyed writing, but others were painful. One of these essay took me 48 hours to write, but another took me over two years to finally complete. The topics range from beauty and motherhood to tenure to professorial appearance to coffee to Taylor Swift to pandering to mansplaining to story. Here they are in no particular order. I hope you enjoy reading them.
“You’re Beautiful,” Brain, Child, February 2015.
My daughter also finds beauty in me, usually in the moments when I think I’m anything but. In the mornings before coffee, without my trusty under-eye concealer and the benefit of a hair brush. In the afternoons when my energy and patience are low, she tosses the compliment around haphazardly ignoring whether it landed. In the evenings while she snuggles close, she whispers, “You’re beautiful.” She touches my cheek or holds my hand. I hold her tightly, forcing myself to remember these fleeting moments and her kind words.
“Out for Coffee,” Killing the Buddha, July 2015.
More importantly, I think of him because I have passed our ritual on to my children. On a whim, I started taking my daughter out for coffee a few years ago. She, of course, was too small for coffee, so she drank milk and eventually hot chocolate. Our coffee dates allowed us to spend time together, just the two of us, to talk and to be quiet. I wanted us to have time where we ignored the world and stepped out of ordinary time together. I drank brewed coffee and watched her transition from toddler to big girl to preschooler to Kindergartner to first grader. I listened to what she wants to tell me.
“The Altar of Taylor Swift,” Sacred Matters, March 2015.
I was raised on country music (and Michael Jackson). Or maybe, country music raised me. Its rituals and lessons are as familiar as they are ordinary. There’s a morality that makes it clear that God is present, prayers are necessary, and your actions define who you are (for better or worse). Long-suffering mamas can cure what ails us, and cowboys can take us away to a better future. Truth can be found in conversations on front porches and while driving on dirt roads. Hearts get broken. Hopes get dashed. Dreams fall apart; sometimes they never get put back together. People leave us. Alcohol helps us forget — if it doesn’t kill us first. Steel guitars, accents, and the familiar lyrics were the rhythms of my childhood.
“It’s gonna be forever or it’s gonna go down in flames: Tenure and (In)Justice,” Marginalia Review of Books, June 2015.
Some might want to stop me right here to explain that academia is a meritocracy, in which hard work, quality scholarship, and intellect are rewarded with stable employment. Academia, you assure me, is built on merit. The deserving get tenure and all the security it (supposedly) promises. Justice is implied. While visions of meritocracy might help you sleep at night, the dire job market in the humanities, in which tenure track jobs are increasingly rare, should keep you up.
“I Look Like a Professor,” Chronicle Vitae, August 2015.
In short, I’ve been routinely dismissed for not looking the part. Countless interactions with people inside and outside the academy make it clear that I don’t match the cultural expectations of what a professor and scholar should look like. (When I’m with my sister, she loves to tell people that I have a Ph.D., purely because of their comical reactions as they glance at me: astonished looks, unhinged jaws, nervous laughter, and sputtering.)
“Men: Stop Explaining, Start Listening,” Women in Higher Education, September 2015.
This is just one example of how academic men explain things to me. I’m a petite and young-looking blonde, which is the bat signal to men that I need the world explained to me. By my looks, they surmise I cannot possibly fathom it on my own.
Men explain my areas of research, the job market, career options, my essays and even my approaches to parenting, with little knowledge about the topics or any consideration of what I might already know. They act as if I fundamentally lack knowledge.
My PhD cannot trump my gender.
“On Academic Pandering,” Chronicle Vitae, December 2015.
Don’t I know it?, I thought bitterly as I read her essay. It made me sigh rather than cry. My anger smolders; it is a constant companion that never quite disappears. I am so over the white patriarchy that Watkins describes and I’ve attempted to circumvent. I’m weary of the litany of abuses, harassment, and violence women face in our larger world. I’m exhausted by the misogyny that still exists in both literary and academic circles.
“Story,” Cold Takes, November 2015.
The timing was also off. This story began at the wrong place. It started too late. I should have pushed back further to that anxious girl from Jackson County, Florida who was never sure of her place in the world. How she clung so tightly to a version of success that would take her away from home. How she loved home and hated it for as long as she could remember. How far, far away seemed so appealing and safe. How she desperately hoped getting away would make life easier. How tired she was of hard and complicated and divorce. How she learned to run away. How the distance would come to break her heart.