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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Writing for a Public Audience

Succeeding Outside the Academy Shines a Light on Failure, Too: A Conversation between Kelly J. Baker and Katie Pryal

Close-up of railroad tracks.

Hi readers, this interview appears not only here at my site, but also over at Katie Rose Guest Pryal’s site. I hope y’all enjoy our discussion of careers, shifting out of academia, and the important role of failure.

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From 2013 to 2015, Kelly J. Baker wrote a monthly column for Chronicle Vitae (an arm of The Chronicle of Higher Education) called “Grace Period,” detailing her experience leaving the academy for a career that she made for herself. In 2017, Grace Period became a well-regarded book.

Oftentimes, when we see academics who’ve left higher education and made new careers for themselves, we wonder how they’ve done it. Baker has done more than just talked about her new career: in Grace Period: A Memoir in Pieces, she shared the good, the bad, and the ugly of the transition from the work she knew to the unknown. As readers, we learn about not only the new career, but also the pain and mistakes that it took to get there.

During the same time period as “Grace Period,” Katie Rose Guest Pryal wrote a monthly column for Chronicle Vitae called “The Freelance Academic”—now the basis of a book to be published in June of 2019. Although it is a different kind of book than Grace Period, The Freelance Academic does share one important characteristic: Pryal doesn’t shy away from her pain and mistakes, either.

Last year, Baker published a new book, Succeeding Outside The Academy: Career Paths beyond the Humanities, Social Sciences, and STEM (co-edited with Joseph Fruscione, University of Kansas 2018). Pryal is also a contributor to the book, and Baker was her editor. What follows is a conversation between Pryal and Baker about Succeeding, and failure, and about what it means to leave behind academic life.

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Anger

*Who would I be without my anger? I don’t know.*

My simmering anger has come to define me. It’s familiar, even if it’s not welcome. A steady hum vibrating my bones. Never quite gone because it’s a foundation of who I am.

What I can’t make myself say is that I’m not sure what I’ll do without anger. It’s a long time companion, this rage I have for my father. It used to smother and overwhelm me, but over the years, I sharpened my anger like a sword. It was defense against him. It made me determined. It made me strong. It helped me let him go. I learned to tamp it down and pretend it wasn’t there.

Who would I be without my anger? I don’t know.

I don’t know how to tell her. I keep trying to bring it up but can’t voice the words. Maybe, I’m afraid she’ll convince me to let it go. Maybe, I know she’s right. Maybe, I don’t need it anymore. Maybe, I can move on.

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Read the rest of my latest TinyLetter on anger and learning to let go here.

Or sign up to receive my TinyLetter, Cold Takes, via email each month here.

The Problem With Nice

*Nice pretends to be a virtue, but kindness actually is.*

“I was just trying to be nice.”

“I just wanted to be nice.”

“Not nice,” I say to the toddler after he bludgeons his sister with a random toy, “NOT NICE.”

I find myself thinking about “nice” a lot lately, often before recounting a story of something gone terribly awry. Exasperation lingers in my tone. Frustration coats my words. I was just trying to be nice, but things go sideways. They tend to when I start with nice.

I’m not sure why this happens. Maybe, my attempts at niceness appear as sign of a polite weakness. Maybe, nice renders me a pushover, a people-pleaser, who will go out of her way to remain pleasant. Initial friendliness suggests the desire to be agreeable at all costs, even when other people become increasingly unpleasant. Being nice shows that I can be dismissed without much effort or time. Being nice makes me easy to overlook, ignore, and disparage. (more…)

The End Was Not the End

*Sometimes, a beginning feels like an ending at first.*

When I left academia, I kind of thought my life was over as a scholar, a teacher, a researcher & a writer. More than thought it, I felt it. In my marrow and sinew, in my flesh and heart. My life as I knew it was over. And I was pregnant with my second child, hiding from the Florida summer heat and all my expectations that I shattered with one final, albeit forced, choice. While I was hiding, I was also hedging. One day, I might return to academic life, I told friends, students, and colleagues, perhaps, this isn’t the end. I hedged to make them feel better, which only made me feel worse about the loss and my inability to put together words to explain what was happening.

I’ve written about this before, many times before, but bear with me again. I thought my life was over at 32, almost 33, because everything I imagined for myself finally appeared hopelessly out of reach. I attempted to lean into the change by making a clean break, but my breaks are never quite clean. (The more I want them to be, the less they are.) Instead, I claimed I was in transition, a constant state of flux, which makes little sense for someone who hates change and craves routine, schedule, and rules to follow. And yet, I decided to write about what I couldn’t say.

I started writing to figure out what had happened to me. I started writing to make sense of my past years training to be an academic but also to figure out what my future might be. I started writing not only about my life but also about higher ed to answer the questions that swirled in my head about the profession I thought I loved and understood, only to realize that I didn’t know what that profession actually was. I started writing to figure things out and to try to save my own life by creating a new story of who I was and who I could become.

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