Posts Tagged ‘writing’
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.
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.
*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.
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.
*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…)
*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.
*The academy has a gender problem. And it’s not new.*
So, Sexism Ed has been out for 28 days. (Who’s counting? I am clearly.) And there are few things that I want to direct your attention to.
First, The Revealer published an excerpt recently, which is one of my favorite essays on all the men who pretend to be allies, but really aren’t. Here’s a glimpse:
A man, who claims to be an ally and/or a feminist, has become a red flag for me. Especially if he loudly proclaims to be an ally. Especially if he looks around to see if everyone is paying attention to him. Especially if he insists on telling me about his feminism in detail while ignoring my arched eyebrow.
Second, David Perry was kind enough to interview me about the book and sexism in higher education more broadly at The Pacific Standard. We talked about the push back I received for even bringing up sexism in academic circles:
I received emails, comments, tweets, and messages from academic men, who wanted me to know that sexism wasn’t a problem in academia. They told me about how their universities (or colleges) had women presidents. Or how their departments had a lot of women. Or how there were women in their grad programs. Or how they knew a women academic once. They sent me anecdote after anecdote about how women were doing fine in the academy to tell me that I was wrong. It was bewildering to see so many men try to shout me down for mere mention of a gender problem, which really just seemed to prove my point.
Previously, David also hosted my cover reveal, in which I wrote a whole essay (of course!) about how I came to write the columns for Chronicle Vitae that eventually became the foundation for the book:
What I found instead was that I would write about sexism, and later contingent labor, in the academy for the rest of my life. The limits that I thought I would encounter were not there. The academy has a gender problem. And it’s not new. This shouldn’t have surprised me. We live in a patriarchy, but I had hoped that academia was somehow better than the culture surrounding it.
Third, I am guest hosting this week at Nonfiction Fans: Illuminating Fabulous Nonfiction over on Facebook. I’ll be giving away a copy of Sexism Ed and a copy of Grace Period later in the week. So, make sure to pop by and ask me questions. Here’s part of my interview that started off the week:
You’ve written books on very different subjects. How did that happen?
Oh, boy, I do *write* on very different topics from white supremacists to zombies to sexism, which tends to surprise people, who, I guess, think writers stick to one topic or two. I write about what interests and fascinates me but also I write about topics that make me nervous and uncomfortable. It’s kind of like, “What’s keeping me from sleeping at night? Yes, I’ll write about that.” But, I also like to write about topics, in which we already assume we know the shape (narrative) of the story, so that I can show how the topic is always more complicated than the popular assumptions about it.
Check out the full interview here.
And finally, I wrote about my very complicated feelings about this particular book in my most recent TinyLetter:
An author is supposed to be elated when her book is published. She’s supposed to shout from the rooftops (or tweet or email or message) about her accomplishment. She’s supposed to be beaming with pride. She’s not supposed to look weary when you congratulate her about her new book. She’s not supposed to seem bummed.
(If you haven’t signed up for my sporadic newsletter, you can here.)
Lovely readers, I have a small request for you. If you pick up Sexism Ed (or any of my books), please let me know. It is the best feeling in the world to know that someone is reading my book or books.