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Posts Tagged ‘self’

Pretty

This is a piece that I wrote over nine months ago that I hesitated on publishing. Reading over this morning, I am not sure why I was hesitant or what stopped me from clicking the publish button. I’ve lightly revised, but here it is.

“Pretty”

Pretty (adj): attractive in a delicate way without being truly beautiful or handsome.

It all started with a decision about a new pair of glasses. I narrowed my choices down to two frames: one roundish, large, and delicate and the other square and academic. I fell in love with the round ones. They are bigger than my current pair and decidedly retro. These frames seemed like a new start. A new way to communicate my transition from academic to whatever I want to be. These sartorial choice was a move in the right direction, so that my style reflected my attempts to get beyond me as academic. Plus, my five-year old enthusiastically loved them because of the color combination of warm brown and russet red.

Following the advice of Warby Parker, I posted a picture on Facebook to get “necessary” feedback from others. Most commenters liked them, but one of my friends noted that I was “too cute” for these frames.

My confidence deflated. What if these glasses made me look bad? What if I wasn’t pretty in them? I tried on the frames again and again. I polled my husband, my daughter, and my sisters via text. I liked, maybe even loved, the frames, but I worried about my appearence. What would others think?

And then I got angry. At myself. Why did I even care about what someone would think about frames? I’m the one who had to wear the damn glasses. Why did I care? If I liked the way I looked, why did anything else matter?

I’d fallen into a trap that I often set about my looks. I don’t want to be pretty until I do. My relationship with pretty is contentious at best.

I’ll be the first to note that I suck at a certain type of traditional white femininity. I have a pixie cut and visible tattoos. I switch back and forth between my glasses and my contacts.  I rock skull earrings and a smirk. I’m more comfortable in jeans, boots, or flipflops than I ever am in skirts and heels. I wear some make-up (eyeliner is required) and paint my nails (often black). The best I can hope for is cute, but I’ve been told that my “attitude” sometimes gets in the way.

Me and pretty don’t abide one another. We never have. Partially because I bought into the cultural claptrap about how girls and women have to choose smart or pretty. I can handle smart. Beauty is another thing entirely. I know this is a false choice. Yet, I still judge myself by standards of beauty that I detest. I harshly catalog my appearance dwelling on ever-shifting flaws. As a teenager, I hated my nose. I would examine it in the mirror and dwell on its ugliness. Now, my nose doesn’t bother me at all, but I’ve found new “flaws” that bug me.

Why can’t I love how I look? Love seems to far out of reach. I would settle for appreciation or an apprehensive truce.

Much of my body policing, of course, will be familiar to most women. From an early age, we learn to critique ourselves. We become our own worst critics because our bodies matter so much. Cultural value weighs on our flesh and our minds.

I bought the glasses I liked. I wear them well. This is one of my many attempts to come to terms with my body and appreciate it. I want my daughter to be comfortable in her own skin. I can’t teach her that unless I learn to do it as well.

Grace Period

In May, I quit my job and moved to Florida. Both decisions might seem big (they were), but they were remarkably easy. My lecturer gig paid little, the teaching load was heavy, and my department was dysfunctional. Leaving behind students, friends, and colleagues was hard. Watching my daughter mourn the loss of her friends was harder.

The move to Florida was unexpected. Out of the blue, my husband was offered a new job with a tech company, which allowed him to telecommute. To my surprise, he took the job, and we decided to move to Florida to be closer to our families. We both walked away from academia, the careers we trained for. That surprised us both. He might go back. I find myself more ambivalent.

Except, I didn’t walk away. Not really. Instead, I embraced a safer option, a year hiatus from the academy. Reassess and figure things out, I tell myself, decide whether to stay or not. Delay the inevitable is probably more likely. It is more like a grace period (maybe). Am I going to pay my “debt” to my academic training? Or am I going to do something, anything, else? What I know is that now have time to breathe, to reflect, to dream, to recreate, and to mourn. I can decide if there is anything that I will miss about academic life. I can decide to take the parts I like (research and writing) and apply them to other careers. I can decide to walk away. The choice, for once, rests on my shoulders.

After six years on the job market, I found myself burned out. I’ve had conference interviews and campus visits. I’ve been a second choice for tenure track jobs multiple times. I applied for jobs while teaching three and four classes a semester. And I finished my first book, wrote articles and book reviews, received a contract for a new book, edited a journal, organized panels, and experimented with an ebook. The harder I worked, I thought naively, the more likely I was to get a job. Optimism is hard habit to kick.

During this past spring semester, something broke. My tireless drive to research and write dissipated. The latest round of rejections hit harder than previous rounds, and I was tired. Why make myself get up extra early to write if there was no tenure track job for me? Why spend the time researching when I would rather spend time with my daughter? Why kill myself for a job opportunity that would never materialize? I found that I couldn’t do the work I used to love. My motivation stalled. Something broke, and it seemed irreparable. This was compounded by my increasing frustration with my job as a lecturer. I liked my students, I enjoyed teaching, and I despised the undervaluing of teaching by my department head. I disliked the hierarchy of talents, in which tenure track and tenured faculty were valued more than those of us who just taught. Being a lecturer meant that my publications could be brushed aside, and that my experience and opinions mattered less. Frustrating doesn’t quite cover it.

The desire to throw up my hands and walk away chased me through the day. There must be more to academic life than this. I hoped for something that would make my training and efforts redeemable, and I struggled to find it. Why should I stay? That thought is a dangerous one. Once it roots, nothing makes it disappear. It remains and confronts. It pounces me in Florida now as I try to figure out what I am going to do next.

I mourn what my career could have been, and I struggle to redefine who I am now. Doubt, my old friend, bubbles to the surface as I ponder what I could do alongside what it is possible to do. The grace period is simultaneously too long and too short. Is it a transition? A reevaluation? A transformation? Is this a shedding of one vision of self to become a better version? Is it a loss of dreams? Is it a moment to dwell in the liminal?

Most days, it is hard to tell. But, I find myself mourning less as days go by. The loss of what could have been is less suffocating and distracting. A transition feels manageable and desirable. The possibilities for what could be are more and more exciting. I might not be an academic after my grace period, and that’s okay. I am more than my training. And so are all of you. It is best to never forget that.

This piece now appears at Chronicle Vitae.