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2013: Year in Review

2013 was more eventful than other years. I won the Chancellor’s Award in Teaching Excellence, and then, I quit my job as a lecturer. My family moved to my home state of Florida. We bought a house. The Zombies Are Coming! was published in July (Listen to me talk zombies with Carol Howard Merritt and Derrick Weston of God Complex Radio.)

In August, my big girl started voluntary pre-Kindergarten. In September, I had a healthy baby boy. Just two days ago, I celebrated twelve years of marriage with my husband.

It was a big year.

I also started writing more, including a column for Chronicle Vitae. Here’s the list of my pieces that were published in 2013. I’m proud of all of them because they signal a move to try new things and maybe start a new career. I’ve listed them in chronological order.

1. Evil Religion? Then & Now, The Christian Century, May. It was sixth most read post for this column.

2. Can Brad Pitt save us from the (secular) apocalypse? Then & Now, The Christian Century, July. Pitt’s manscarf cannot distract from the reliance on yet another white savior.

3. Walking Dead and Zombie Ethics, Religion Dispatches, October. We save the world, bullet by bullet, and we feel fine.

4.  After Halloween, more zombies, Then & Now, The Christian Century, November. The zombies, they won’t go away, which is good for me but bad for the rest of you.

5. The zombie preppers among us, Washington Post’s On Faith, October. Some people believe that the zombie apocalypse could really happen, and I document zombie preppers.

6. My Post-Academic Grace Period, Chronicle Vitae, November. This is, hands down, my most important piece of the year followed closely by Not A “Real” Academic.

7. How to (Not) Avoid the Job Market, Chronicle Vitae, December. Ever wonder what the job market does to someone psychologically? I explain.

8. The Creepy Surveillance of Elf on the Shelf, Religion Dispatches, December. This was the funnest piece to write. Elves, even creepy ones, were a nice distraction from zombies.

Elf Surveillance

Yesterday, Religion Dispatches posted my piece on Elf on the Shelf as a prelude to surveillance culture. Here’s an excerpt:

“I need to be good because of the elf that lives my room,” my five-year old explained.

“The what? Who lives where?” I ask.

“The elf that knows if I’m bad or good,” she replies.

 “There is no elf in your room,” I say.

“Yes, there is. He’s invisible,” she notes.

I sigh wearily.

I lost this argument, like many other Christmas-related debates in our household. When I told my daughter that Santa can’t fulfill every gift on her list, she declared that “he’s magic” as if that would solve the problem. Her imaginary elf is a version of The Elf on the Shelf, an androgynous, rosy-cheeked elf toy that monitors children as Christmas approaches. 

The elf emerged from The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition co-authored by mother and daughter, Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell. The book alone has sold over six million copies since it was released in 2005. The story presents a “scout elf,” who journeyed all the way from the North Pole to watch children to find out whether they are naughty or nice. The elf surveils children during the day to uncover bad behavior, then it returns to the North Pole every night to report back to jolly old St. Nick.

For $29.95, parents can purchase the book and toy to start a new tradition—it is available in light or dark-skinned varieties and accessories allow families to transform the elf into a boy or girl. There are two rules that govern children’s interaction with their elf. First, the elf is magic, and a child’s touch can compromise its ability to return and report—its enchantment disappears if a child touches it for any reason. Second, the elf cannot interact with children during the day because its role is to observe and listen. The creators, however, encourage children to talk to their elves—especially to share secrets. The elf can learn more about the children, the more they share. Telling the elf secrets seems to secure a space on the nice list.

Read more.

How to (Not) Avoid the Job Market

This post originally appeared at Chronicle Vitae on December 11th.

When I decided to take a year away from academia, one of my goals was to avoid the job market. For six years, fall was a time of anticipation and dread as I waited to see what jobs would be available. How many jobs this year? How many could I apply for? What were the application requirements? How would I balance teaching, research, and job applications? How much would I despise myself after I had all the rejections in hand?

I hated job season, but I couldn’t really hate it either. The drudgery of compiling applications, and the critical self-scrutiny that accompanied it, were tiresome, but applying was the only way to get an elusive tenure-track job. Thus, I prepared for the market by crafting (and recrafting) research and teaching statements, updating my CV, and writing letters for each position. These tasks took much time and effort.

Yet the most painful part of the process was asking recommenders for letters year after year. I tried to act confident and self-assured when I politely requested letters again and graciously accepted their assurances that this year (unlike other years) would be my year. I even garnered enough optimism to halfway believe them. That optimism required equal parts hope and delusion, and to muster those simultaneously took exhaustive amounts of mental and physical energy, without which I might not have applied to any jobs. With them, I faced sleepless nights and gut-wrenching anxiety. Hope and delusion pulled me through multiple job cycles. This cycle, however, was different because I was not “on the market.” I’d opted out.

When this fall rolled around, I felt no trepidation. I had no need to gird my optimism and stave off my anxiety. I did not have to look obsessively at the American Academy of Religion’s jobs site to see which new jobs were posted. I did not frantically search the H-Net job guide for some position that might be a good fit. I did not need to strategize with mentors about how best to showcase my talents to search committees.


Academic Writing Month/Digital Writing Month

Since my poor blog has been abandoned in the rush of the fall semester, I’ve decided to hop on the bandwagon on both Academic Writing Month (#acwrimo) and Digital Writing Month (#digwrimo). Much like National Novel Writing Month, the purpose is to motivate writing. Lots of writing. However, since I try very hard to not be a crazy person, I am not setting a 50,000 word goal to complete by the end of the November. Instead, I am using this project as way to get some lingering work done AND reset my writing habits. Or perhaps, I should say making my writing habit again, rather than the fits and starts I have suffered through this semester.

As many of you know, I had my first writing summer, in which I only had to write with no class prep, readings, or student emails to deter me. While it was joyous, I think it also conditioned me that writing could only happen when I had long swaths of time. When the semester hit with three classes, job applications, conference papers, and dreaded email, I did not fall into my previous habit of writing any time I could, but rather I created writing days.

Writings days are not necessarily a bad thing, and thank goodness that my schedule allows for such a thing. But, I made the mistake of assuming that writing should only happen on those days and not all the time. Moreover, if something happened on a writing day, like a sick pet or child, then I could not write, which makes me a bit antsy and grumpy.

All of this to say, my previous habit of writing frantically anytime I could made me much happier than attempting to create distinct writing and teaching days. Thus, I am embracing my previous model of write and research anytime I can including, but not limited to, my writing days. This month provides me the excuse (or goal?) of making my writing a top priority and not letting other things encroach on the happiness that I derive from both my academic work and blogging. I feel better about myself as a scholar and a person, when I am able to get projects done, small or big.

So, here are my goals for Academic Writing Month/Digital Writing Month:

Finish overdue review (1200 words)

Review new book for the Bulletin (1000 words)

Complete two conference papers (2000 words maybe)

Blog three times a week (1500 X 4= 6000 words)

Write every day (500 X 30= 15000)

Start Chapter One of the zombie book  (1000-20000 words)

Article Revisions (500 words)

Goal: 25,000 words from 11/1 to 12/1

My current word count is 1200 (on a review and still not done) and 442 for the blog for 1642 words. Hooray!