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.

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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.

 

Catalog of Wounds

Fever
Sore Throat
Rash covers his face, arms, legs, and tummy.
Tears
“Nah” on repeat as he swings his arms wildly
More tears
Flinging himself on the ground in protest
To the doctor
“Rock baby,” he says, “rock baby”
He cuddles close.
“Mama, up! Up, Mama!”
Strep throat.

Fever
Sore Throat
“My tummy hurts,” she says, “and so does my head.”
She mumbles and forgets to pay attention.
“Can you hear me? Are you listening?”
Hearing loss
Everyone speaks louder and louder.
To the doctor (again)
The nurse washes the wax from her ear.
She cries quietly.
“Can I sit in your lap?,” she asks.
She climbs up and barely fits.
I refuse to recognize what this means.
Ear infection.

Dogs fight outside.
Gashes
Growling
Cuts and blood
The old dog limps.
To the vet
The young dog howls and whines.
Clean the wound.
Feel her leg.
The vet assures her leg is not broken.
Staples seal the wound.
The old returns home and promptly sleeps.

Sore throat
Headache
Tears
Anxiety
Stomach ache
Fatigue
Worry
I catalog the wounds of our week:
Bumps, bruises, bug bites, scraps
Aches, pains, and general distress.
Gashes, infections, and viruses.

Their bodies heal.
My children play.
I give motherhood a chance for one more day.

Running In The Rain

Today, I ran (and walked) in the rain. A whole 5K with Chris, who is training me up to a full run. We are on week three of a nine-week plan. I have tried to start running many times before. I always quit.

Week three is usually the point where I mumble “screw it” while out of breath and go back to walking. Or decide that my particular human body is not meant for exercise. Or sob about how out of shape I am. Or proclaim that I am not a runner. I usually fail, not spectacularly, but gradually. I make excuses. I avoid work outs. Then, I decide that I’m a failure at running just like I’m a failure at bead work, knitting, all kinds of crafts really, academia, writing, and my life.

I am a master at self-hate. I am my worst critic. One small failure sets off a cascade of critical evaluation of how I got HERE. Whether it is on the side of the road heaving for breath, pondering the end of my academic career, or worrying that I lack the hustle to be a writer. I am remarkably good at accounting failures and doubts; I seem to pay little attention to successes.

This morning, I woke up and heard the pitter-patter of the rain on my window. I cursed that today was a running day. I hate running, I mumbled. I hate rain, I moaned. I hate being wet even more, I thought as I scowled. Was I really going to run today in the rain with the slick streets and puddles filled with pollen? I wasn’t sure.

I decided to put on my running clothes anyway. “Let’s get this over with,” I told Chris. I strode out the door with gritty determination that I would not be defeated by the rain or running. I would get through this run, damn it. And I realized something as the light rain covered me.

I’m tired of being (and feeling) defeated. This run nor the rain would defeat me today. I would be successful.

So, I ran up and down the hills of our neighborhood dodging puddles. I ran as my shoes filled with water and squished with every step. I ran as my water droplets coated my glasses and obscured my vision. I walked to recover from my running, but I kept running. I was completely soaked by the time we reached home. It was glorious.

Today was our fastest pace so far: 14 minutes and 48 seconds. This is only ground-shattering record for me, and that’s okay. I did something that I wouldn’t have imagined I would ever do. This is not because of my lack of imagination, but rather a reflection of the limits that I set and reinforced for myself. I have cultivated a habit of limiting myself, of creating boundaries that I won’t cross. I make it about identity rather than about ability.

After all, I was a not a girl who ran. As a child, I had asthma. I suffered from deep, lung-rattling coughs, wheezing, and lack of breath. This coughing, and the fear that I might stop breathing, made my mom overly cautious. When my asthma flared up, I slept in an upright recliner hacking and wheezing in attempts to breathe. I doubt my mom slept at all. Her fear that I might not catch my breath meant a moratorium on running and athletics. I can remember being scolded about running or even walking too fast. My cousins would run around the yard while I sat and watched them. My early brush with asthma compounded my already bookish tendencies. I was terrible at athletics. I was clumsy. I wanted to turn attention away from my body rather than toward it.

Running was not for me, but I wanted to run to so badly.

I was not a woman who ran either. I attempted running in college, in graduate school, and after graduation. Every few years, I would try to finish a couch to 5K plan. I never managed to make it to my desired 5K. Running was too hard. I kept telling myself that I couldn’t do it, so I stopped trying.

Still, I yearned to run.

Three weeks ago, I decided to try running again with Chris’s help because he’s an avid runner. He’s also practical. “No one likes running when they first start,” he said. “You have to train your body to run,” he offered. “You’ll eventually be good at running,” he said with a smile. I didn’t believe him.

When I started training, I would chant my hate of running in every footfall. Hate, hate, hate, hate, HATE. I would never like running. I would never be good it. By the end of the week, I realized that I didn’t actually hate running (jogging really). I enjoyed the movement. I liked to MOVE.

Today, I ran, not jogged. In the rain. With my partner who loves me and encourages me. I’m beginning to peak beyond those limits I created for who I’m supposed to be.

I am a woman who runs. I would have never expected that. Clearly, my expectations keep me from reaching. It is time to break them down and create new ones that reach beyond what I thought to bigger visions what might be possible.

On graduate school orientation

A colleague suggested that I write a series of reflections of what I would say to my younger academic self. Hindsight, of course, allows me to tailor advice knowing what the outcome will be, but these reflections also allow me to think about my journey to academic to something else in a way that I haven’t before. Here’s my first in the series, Notes to a Younger Self, which starts at almost the beginning as it should.

On graduate school orientation

You are going to cry after graduate school orientation. You are going to cry A LOT. This is okay. After all, this is the first time you been gathered together with all the other smart kids. You are used to being one of the only smart kids in the classes at your big state university. Now, you are confronted with all the other students who are also used to being the only smart kids.

This is what I know about you, Kelly. You feel outgunned. You want to panic. I need you to take a deep breath.

Just breathe and listen.

I know what you are doing right now. You are looking around the seminar room at all those students sitting around the gray, awkward table. You listen attentively as they describe their training and their summer adventures. You are waiting for the inevitable moment when you have to explain why you should be here too. You don’t feel like you belong. You begin to question your decision to go to graduate school. You are pretty sure that you will fail melodramatically.

I know what you are thinking. All these students seem smarter, more eloquent, better trained, and more ready than you. Many of them described European vacations, summer research, and other things that seem forever out of your reach. I know one guy will tell the group that he got married and his truck got struck by lighting. I know that you’ll be hesitant to note that you’ve been married a mere eight months. What you don’t know is that this guy is a member of your cohort, and he’ll become a dear friend. His humor offers you brief respite. Continue reading On graduate school orientation