Archive for Academia

Why I Chose a Bible as My Literacy Artifact

Last week I wrote about the process I went through to choose a lit­er­acy arti­fact. I was to share this object with my col­leagues at the pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment work­shop I was attend­ing at Michi­gan State. It wasHoly Bible Pink Cover to rep­re­sent some story of my lit­er­acy and edu­ca­tional jour­ney. In that post I explained the var­i­ous objects I con­sid­ered and then ulti­mately revealed the arti­fact I chose: a Bible.

In today’s post, I explain why I chose the Bible as the arti­fact that best rep­re­sents my story about lit­er­acy and edu­ca­tion. Some peo­ple may not think that the Bible would have much of a role on edu­ca­tion, learn­ing, or lit­er­acy. It’s a book, and we know books can teach, but the Bible is not con­nected to school­ing (at least not pub­lic school­ing) and it doesn’t explic­itly teach about learn­ing to read or write. How­ever, the Bible did impact my devel­op­ment as a learner, as a student.

What fol­lows is not a straight­for­ward, lin­ear nar­ra­tive about the Bible’s impact on me as a learner. I pro­vide a mere glimpse into its impact on me, a few sto­ries that con­tribute to some part of the story. The story is not a com­plete (or com­pletely accu­rate) his­tory. I do not want to share every story and expe­ri­ence; some things I still like to keep to myself. And I hon­estly can’t pin­point all of the ways the Bible has impacted my edu­ca­tion (or my life). Plus, this is my per­spec­tive; my par­ents might have a dif­fer­ent story to tell.

The Bible is the first book I remem­ber. I car­ried one to church with me. My par­ents read it to us as kids. My sib­lings and I put on drama skits for my par­ents and oth­ers who would watch in which we acted out sto­ries from the Bible. We used the Bible to plan and study and learn the sto­ries. We used the Bible as part of our weekly fam­ily devo­tion­als. When I learned to read, I began read­ing the book by myself. I con­tin­ued to read it grow­ing up. It was the cen­ter of our church ser­vices, at least metaphor­i­cally. Preach­ing, teach­ing, singing, and fel­low­ship­ping were cen­tered on this object and its mean­ing. The Bible was the lens through which I looked at life. It is a part of my lit­er­acy story like no other object is.

When I was around eight years old, my dad decided that it was time for me and my older sis­ter Kim to start read­ing the Bible every day. He bought both of us a new Bible, one of those “Read through the Bible in a Year” ones. We were excited to get new Bibles. I remem­ber the first one he got us: it was red and each day included a pas­sage from the Old Tes­ta­ment, New Tes­ta­ment, and Psalms. This Bible would allow us to read through the Bible in a year. Each day, we read the pas­sages and then signed our name when we were fin­ished. We couldn’t play out­side or watch TV until we had com­pleted our daily Bible read­ing. On some nights, my par­ents would quiz me over what I read for that day. Other times my dad would ask me ques­tions about the story to see what I knew or what I had learned. These con­ver­sa­tions often devel­oped into longer dis­cus­sions about what the pas­sage meant or how I could apply it to my life. The Bible became rel­e­vant to me.

For at least ten years of my life, I read through the Bible in one year (I did skim some days and did not always read even when I said I did; I was a kid.). I knew the Bible. I could tell you story after story after story and where that story was found and what it might even mean. I could name ran­dom peo­ple in the Bible. I knew the gen­er­a­tions of the Hebrew peo­ple. I knew para­bles and mir­a­cles and the men and women God used to tell the story. I could quote long pas­sages from the Bible. I knew a lot of mem­ory verses. I was proud of what I knew about the Bible. I gained con­fi­dence in myself because of my knowl­edge of the Bible.

The Bible became a part of me, my iden­tity. (Of course, I didn’t know what every­thing meant and didn’t know how to con­duct exe­ge­sis over a pas­sage. But I don’t think that was the point—to fig­ure it all out. I still haven’t fig­ured it all out!)

This prac­tice of daily Bible read­ing also coin­cided with another prac­tice my dad insti­tuted for me and my sis­ter Kim (and even­tu­ally my brother, too). My father decided that we needed to take notes dur­ing church. As a kid (and maybe as an adult, too), the ser­mon is the longest part of church. You had to sit there, qui­etly (this was of utmost impor­tance), “lis­ten­ing” (to words, names, and ideas you didn’t under­stand), and doing noth­ing (there was no Children’s Church or iPads or iPhones). It was the longest, most dread­ful time of the entire church ser­vice. I tried my best not to be loud, not to fid­get, and not to get taken out to get a spank­ing (this did hap­pen more times than I want to admit). I always became excited when I could tell a preacher was wrap­ping up the ser­mon. Whew. I made it!

My dad didn’t want it to be like this for us, so he came up with a plan. He had an idea for some­thing we could do dur­ing this time, some­thing use­ful and prac­ti­cal. He bought us spi­ral note­books, which we were sup­posed to bring with us to church each time, and required us to take notes over the preacher’s sermons.

This began in the third grade for me. I had to sit there each Sun­day morn­ing and Sun­day night with my pen and paper in hand and take notes over what the preacher was say­ing. I could not sit with my friends in the youth sec­tion; instead, I had to sit with my par­ents and lis­ten and take notes. What’s even cra­zier is that as soon as we got home from church, my dad checked over the notes (yes, checked them) and either approved them or not. He gave us con­struc­tive tips to improve our note­tak­ing skills and helped us to bet­ter under­stand what the preacher was say­ing that we didn’t quite get. I am going to write another post in which I give more details on this prac­tice of ser­mon note­tak­ing, but suf­fice it to say that I believe one of the rea­sons I was such a good stu­dent in high school and col­lege (and grad­u­ate school, too) was my abil­ity to take notes.

Although the Bible has been an impor­tant object in my life, my rela­tion­ship to it has changed. The object itself remains the same, but my rela­tion­ship to it has changed. I look at it dif­fer­ently. I read and under­stand pas­sages dif­fer­ently. I no longer “read it like a child”; instead, I read it under­stand­ing that I am read­ing it through a cer­tain lens, com­ing to the text with my own assump­tions, biases, and per­spec­tives. Instead of learn­ing the “right answer” (or how to find it), I have learned, instead, the impor­tance of ask­ing ques­tions. Of pon­der­ing the text, respond­ing to it, ques­tion­ing it, just like I do with other texts I read. When I strug­gled with doubt or faith, I went back to the Bible and inter­preted it dif­fer­ently. When I went through grad­u­ate school, I began to notice much more about social jus­tice, women’s rights, and com­pas­sion. I begin to see how my own per­spec­tive and beliefs impacts what I find in the Bible.

The Bible has impacted my edu­ca­tional jour­neys in pro­found ways, and it con­tin­ues to do so today. These are just a few sto­ries how. What I didn’t know back then is that one day I would marry a preacher and become a preacher’s wife. I won­der if my preacher hus­band is going to make our preacher’s kids take notes over his ser­mon. If he does, I will be the one to check them.

This is my story. Do with it what you will.

The clos­ing line of this post comes from the beau­ti­fully elo­quent (and uncon­ven­tional) CCCC talk given by Malea Pow­ell from MSU. This line was stated at least 10 dif­fer­ent times by the var­i­ous par­tic­i­pants who spoke, and it had a pro­found impact on me in terms of think­ing about story, both telling my own story and lis­ten­ing to the sto­ries of oth­ers. Isn’t that state­ment bril­liantly provoca­tive?


Storying Your Education through an Artifact

“What object would you use to tell the story of your education?”

This ques­tion was posed to me by Jenn Fish­man, an Assis­tant Pro­fes­sor at Mar­quette Uni­ver­sity, who is today’s speaker at the Sum­mer Sem­i­nar in Rhetoric and Com­po­si­tion that I am attend­ing. Jenn asked us before­hand to bring with us an arti­fact that would help us tell the story of our education.

I thought about this prompt for at least a few weeks before com­ing to the con­fer­ence (Isn’t it such a provoca­tive thing to con­sider?). I even posed this ques­tion to my friends on Face­book, who responded with cre­ative and inter­est­ing arti­facts, includ­ing a flute, library, teach­ers, a spread­sheet, a human skull, and a lap­top. Notice that these items were not lim­ited to school­ing; instead, these (smart) peo­ple looked at edu­ca­tion from many dif­fer­ent van­tage points, includ­ing school­ing, of course, but also extracur­ric­u­lar activ­i­ties, hob­bies, places, peo­ple, and extra­or­di­nary objects.

When I began think­ing about how I would answer Jenn’s ques­tion, the object that first popped to my mind was a Bible. But this was not the story I wanted to tell about myself. I didn’t want to be one of those peo­ple who, at least in acad­e­mia, are often viewed as narrow-minded, pre­dictable, igno­rant, judg­men­tal, and hate­ful. I didn’t want to be char­ac­ter­ized, stereo­typed, or judged because of this arti­fact that I might bring.

So I began to pon­der other artifacts.

I looked around my office. I noticed the three diplo­mas hang­ing on the wall. I con­sid­ered bring­ing one of those. I even took a pic­ture of my Ph.D. diploma–just in case I chose to use it. This diploma holds great mean­ing to me, and not just in ways you might think (but that’s another story).

I con­sid­ered telling the story about how I over­came a speech imped­i­ment when I was young. I couldn’t pro­nounce my els, rs, or esses. I couldn’t even say my own name cor­rectly. This story has defined me in ways that I can­not fully artic­u­late, that no one else quite under­stands even when I try to explain. It is con­nected to why I try so hard at things, why being a vale­dic­to­rian and get­ting a Ph.D. mean so much to me. But I couldn’t think of an object to bring. I thought of My Fair Lady but decided against it. I thought of bring­ing a pic­ture of my speech teacher whose name I can’t remem­ber but who, in the sec­ond grade, showed me how, though six months preg­nant, mater­nity pants worked. I couldn’t find a picture.

I also thought about bring­ing a bas­ket­ball. Bas­ket­ball was not the first sport I ever played or the first sport I was good at, but it was the sport to teach me about dis­ci­pline, team­work, ded­i­ca­tion, and hard work. It was also the sport I loved the most, the sport I excelled at most, a sport I now play today with my own chil­dren. I learned about my strengths, my weak­nesses. I noticed that some of my strengths and weak­nesses were innate (I had a log­i­cal mind and could pre­dict where a player would throw the ball and inter­cept it; I was short and could not block a shot); oth­ers were devel­oped in life (I could nail three point­ers from all over the arc; I could throw a ball poorly to a team­mate and get it intercepted).

I learned so much about myself through play­ing basketball.

I learned about life and peo­ple and love.
I learned about good teach­ing through both good and bad coaches.
I learned about pas­sion and prac­tice and per­for­mance.
I learned how to have a good atti­tude, not be self­ish, how to lose, how to win, how to be a good team­mate, how to be a leader, how to for­give other’s mis­takes.
Bas­ket­ball taught me how to expe­ri­ence and live life.

I also thought about bring­ing one of my all-time favorite nov­els, The Grapes of Wrath (To Kill a Mock­ing­bird is another favorite of mine.). I read this book my senior year of col­lege. It was in “The Amer­i­can Novel,” the first upper-level Eng­lish course I took after switch­ing majors my junior year. This book changed me. It changed how I viewed the world. It changed the way I approached peo­ple and story. It expanded my under­stand­ing of lis­ten­ing, emphathiz­ing, under­stand­ing. I iden­ti­fied with the Joads and Tom and the pain and suf­fer­ing and loss this fam­ily expe­ri­enced. The sto­ries within this book broke my heart. I quickly bought and read as many John Stein­beck books as I could, includ­ing Of Mice and Men, Can­nery Row, East of Eden, and Trav­els with Charley.

John Stein­beck, I might argue, made me more socially aware.

More aware of injus­tice.
More aware of the ter­ri­ble ways peo­ple treat each other.
More aware that the idea of pulling one­self up by the boot­straps is a myth.
More aware of sys­temic poverty, racism, clas­sism, and sex­ism.
More aware of priv­i­lege.
More aware of my own sub­ject posi­tion.

The Grapes of Wrath gave me rea­son to be angry. To be rav­ing mad. But it also allowed me to under­stand the dig­nity of wrath. It led me to want to fight injus­tice. It changed me.

Even­tu­ally this book led me back to the first book I con­sid­ered as my arti­fact: the Bible. And, in the end, the Bible is the arti­fact I chose. I thought the risk was worth it.

Holy Bible Pink Cover


Going Vegetarian: A One-Week Experiment

Vegetarian Animal Meat CartoonGrow­ing up, I was a meat-eater. I never knew any different.

I am a Texan. Cows and chick­ens and pigs meant about the same thing to me as a rib­eye steak, sausage bis­cuit, ham­burger, or chicken ten­der. I knew the food I ate came from ani­mals. That’s all I needed to know. Meat (and pota­toes) is the sta­ple for every meal, even break­fast. Meat was a part of the norm of every­day life.

It wasn’t until I left Texas that I real­ized I had a name. I was a “meat-eater.”

I first became con­scious of my own iden­tity as a meat-eater in grad­u­ate school, when I was the out­sider, the “meat-eater.” Most of my friends were veg­e­tar­i­ans or veg­ans (a term I learned for the first time).

I was intrigued by these non-meat-eating peo­ple. Why would some­one choose not to eat meat?

I soon learned that they did so for a vari­ety of rea­sons: some moral, some envi­ron­men­tal, some out of con­cern for the ani­mals (And I thought I was the Chris­t­ian!), some for health rea­sons. Other chose to not eat meat because they could. They pointed out that in Amer­ica, there is oppor­tu­nity and means to live this way. They were quick to point out that not every­one in the world could choose to go with­out meat.

They didn’t seek to change my meat-eating habits; I didn’t seek to change their meat-free habits.

But, when I went out to eat with them, I watched what they ate. Lentils and hum­mus and edamame—foods I had never heard of. I asked end­less ques­tions about what foods they ate and what their favorite foods were. I even col­lected their favorite veg­e­tar­ian recipes. When I had a party at my house, I pro­vided both meat and meat-free options.

Soon, I began to try small bites off their plates. I tried food I had never tried before, food I had never even heard of one year prior. I tasted fla­vors I had never experienced.

I began to order veg­e­tar­ian entrees on occa­sion.

I even liked to eat a few meals here and there with­out meat. I tried cook­ing a few veg­e­tar­ian entrees (like a lasagna or a soup), but my hus­band was very, very resis­tant to the idea, so I only ate this way with my grad­u­ate school friends.

Then I moved back to Texas. Back to the Land of the Cow, and the Home of the Steak. Back to big stom­achs and meat, and lots and lots and lots of it. Back to where “veg­etable” equals “potato.”

I began to notice some­thing. I had changed. My rela­tion­ship to food and with food had changed. I no longer looked at food the same way. I no longer thought of ani­mals the same way. Instead of lin­ger­ing at the meat counter, I often found myself lin­ger­ing in the pro­duce sec­tion, exam­in­ing fruits or veg­eta­bles I had never cooked before, like arti­chokes, beets, but­ter­nut squash, and parsnips. I began to buy organic foods on occa­sion. I even shopped at a dif­fer­ent gro­cery store, the one that sold nuts, grains, and beans in bulk bins.

I was different.

Some viewed me as crazy. Oth­ers looked at me oddly. Oth­ers didn’t care. I was called a “hip­pie,” a “gra­nola,” and a “lib­eral.” I was dif­fer­ent from most Tex­ans (except my col­leagues at Bay­lor and other aca­d­e­mics around the state, but most of these aren’t from Texas any­way). My environmentally-friendly, health-conscious lifestyle labeled me.

I was OK with that.

Now, I often eat veg­e­tar­ian meals when I am by myself—at con­fer­ences, at work, at restau­rants in Waco. But not all the time. I don’t think there is any­thing inher­ently wrong with eat­ing meat (many veg­e­tar­i­ans and veg­ans do); I just choose to eat veg­e­tar­ian on occa­sion. Doing so has made me more con­scious, more aware of the world around me.

Now, instead of just plow­ing into the food, I thank God, gen­uinely, for the ani­mal who sac­ri­ficed his life so that I could eat him.

I linger over food, over the meat and veg­eta­bles. I savor my bites. I eat more slowly.

I think about how the food was processed and the work­ers who spent time prep­ping the ani­mal and the meat so that I could eat it “with­out get­ting my hands dirty.”

I talk with my chil­dren about where meat and veg­eta­bles and cheese and milk come from. I encour­age them to try exotic foods.

Even though I have a dif­fer­ent rela­tion­ship with food, I did not become a veg­e­tar­ian. Liv­ing in Texas, being mar­ried to a man who loves his meat, hav­ing young chil­dren, eat­ing at our weekly church potlucks, and liv­ing in a small rural town is not con­ducive to liv­ing a meat-free lifestyle. In fact, I can’t think of one sin­gle restau­rant in my town that serves a veg­e­tar­ian entrée. Sure, some of them serve sal­ads, but the entrée sal­ads all have meat (grilled chicken, shrimp, or fajita beef). Even the single-portion sal­ads often have bacon bits. Mex­i­can restau­rants serve cheese enchi­ladas, but that is not my idea of a healthy, ful­fill­ing meal.

It is dif­fi­cult to eat veg­e­tar­ian in a rural Texas town.

If I lived in a big­ger city in Texas, I would have more access. But, I would still be mar­ried to my meat-loving hus­band. And I would still eat meat. In fact, other than a few Meat­less Mon­days here and there with my fam­ily, I have never gone longer than two meals with­out meat. Seri­ously. I eat meat at least once a day. I don’t want to be a veg­e­tar­ian. I still like meat and want to eat it on occasion.

So, I have decided to chal­lenge myself. I have decided to par­tic­i­pate in a week-long exper­i­ment: to see if I could go meat-free for one full week.

I am in Michi­gan this week, away from my fam­ily and eat­ing in a cafe­te­ria for almost every meal. I have seen signs that there are veg­e­tar­ian and vegan options at var­i­ous cam­pus cafe­te­rias, so I have decided that this week is a good one to do it. I will attempt to take pic­tures and blog about my expe­ri­ences each day this week (depend­ing on how much time I have; If not, I’ll do it when I get back.).

I hope you’ll join me on my journey.


What I Really Do in the Summer

Col­lege stu­dents and pro­fes­sors all over the coun­try are begin­ning their sum­mer breaks. Courses are com­plete. Finals are taken. Seniors have grad­u­ated and moved away (hope­fully find­ing jobs). Cur­rent stu­dents are enjoy­ing the break from the daily grind of read­ing, writ­ing, and study­ing for courses, while pro­fes­sors are appre­ci­at­ing not hav­ing to go into the office every day, tak­ing a break from plan­ning for classes and grad­ing, and hav­ing more time allot­ted to non-teaching aspects of our jobs.

Grad­u­a­tion was a lit­tle over a week ago and since then, I have heard the fol­low­ing com­ments from friends, fam­ily, and acquaintances:

“You’re so lucky to have the entire sum­mer off!“
“Aren’t you glad to be out for three whole months?“
“I wish I had as much time off as you.“

“Are you enjoy­ing your break from work?“
“It must be nice to only work 32 weeks out of a year.”

These comments—while well-intentioned and most likely just meant to start a con­ver­sa­tion about my sum­mer plans—point to some faulty assump­tions about aca­d­e­mic life, espe­cially life on the tenure-track.

Such a per­spec­tive isn’t sur­pris­ing. Most of these well-meaning peo­ple have jobs with clear-cut work hours (8–5, Monday-Friday), vaca­tion time (2 weeks), and sick time (a cer­tain num­ber of hours).* Oth­ers are K-12 teach­ers who actu­ally do have a true break dur­ing the sum­mer, so, they assume, I must have a break, too. My mom, for instance, was a 3rd and 1st grade teacher most of my life (she retired last year), and except for a week or two of pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment in which she was required to par­tic­i­pate, she was “off”. She was not required or expected to do any work dur­ing her sum­mer vaca­tion. Of course, it wasn’t a true “vaca­tion” for her; she was home with four kids dur­ing the sum­mer. But she didn’t have to “work”.

*This doesn’t always apply to many peo­ple I know who own their own busi­ness and do not get any time off (per­haps they don’t have any employ­ees or only have one or two peo­ple or just can’t afford to take off). If they take time off, they don’t make any money or their busi­ness might suf­fer from being closed for so long.

When pro­fes­sors are “off” (i.e., not teach­ing), how­ever, they are *not* on vaca­tion. Instead, we are busy doing the stuff we are unable to do dur­ing the aca­d­e­mic school year. For today’s post, I’m going to debunk this assump­tion that pro­fes­sors are “off” all sum­mer by explain­ing what I will be doing over the sum­mer in terms of my work. My sum­mer plans are specif­i­cally sit­u­ated in my own con­text as a a tenure-track aca­d­e­mic prepar­ing to go up for tenure in the fall. Sum­mer plans and activ­i­ties may not be the same for other aca­d­e­mics, pro­fes­sors, or instruc­tors, espe­cially ones whose pri­mary respon­si­bil­ity is teach­ing (although they prob­a­bly feel pres­sure to write and pub­lish as well dur­ing the break).

1. Read. A lot. I have devel­oped a list of about 30 (aca­d­e­mic) books I would like to read over the sum­mer, which equals out to about 2–3 books a week. I’ve already read three books since school ended, but I have a large stack wait­ing for me. Some of the books are for my research; oth­ers are for my teach­ing. Either way, I have a lot to read. It’s impor­tant to note that this read­ing does not include all the fic­tion and non-fiction I want to read.

2. Write. A lot. If I were rank­ing this list, writ­ing would be at num­ber 1. It is expected that aca­d­e­mics write over the sum­mer, even when we are not paid for our sum­mer work through a sab­bat­i­cal or grant. I hope to send out at least one arti­cle over the sum­mer.

3. Revise an arti­cle that has been rejected. Last week, I received (bad) news that an arti­cle I wrote was rejected to the jour­nal to which I sub­mit­ted it. Rejec­tion is no fun. It can be extremely dis­cour­ag­ing and dis­heart­en­ing to receive such news. You can only send an arti­cle to one jour­nal at a time and they hold on to it between 4–6 months (at best) before noti­fy­ing you of the deci­sion. When you receive neg­a­tive news, it can depress me for days. But it’s the real­ity of aca­d­e­mic life. There’s even a jour­nal called The Jour­nal of Uni­ver­sal Rejec­tion that rejects every sin­gle arti­cle they receive. I don’t plan on sub­mit­ting there, but I find the premise delight­fully ironic.

4. Plan the courses I will be teach­ing in the Fall (and even the Spring). This activ­ity involves sev­eral components:

a. Com­pose a syl­labus. Decide on course objec­tives, assign­ments, grad­ing cri­te­ria, rules and guide­lines for the course. This needs to be done at least one week in advance of the semes­ter and takes a lot of planning.

b. Draft a course sched­ule. Cre­at­ing a course sched­ule for the entire semes­ter before you ever teach a course is prob­a­bly the hard­est part of plan­ning for a course. I begin work on this early and make changes all the way up to the start of class.

5. Plan for next year’s research project. I received a Bay­lor Uni­ver­sity Research Com­mit­tee (URC) grant for a project I’m work­ing on that exam­ines how stu­dents write about the writ­ing they will com­plete in their jobs. I will have a Research Assis­tant and I need to make plans for the aca­d­e­mic year.

6. Com­pose a Research Leave appli­ca­tion. I plan on apply­ing for a Research Leave for Fall 2013 or Spring 2014. This appli­ca­tion is detailed and time-consuming, and I plan to do much of it over the summer.

7. Com­pose an appli­ca­tion for a Sum­mer Sab­bat­i­cal. I would like to have sum­mer fund­ing next sum­mer, so I will also apply for a Sum­mer Sab­bat­i­cal through my university.

8. Update my tech­no­log­i­cal skills. I teach writ­ing and design courses, and my stu­dents and I use tech­nol­ogy every day. I am quite adept at Word, Excel, Pub­lisher, and Word­Press, but I need to enhance my skills in the Adobe suite, par­tic­u­larly InDe­sign and Pho­to­shop. I plan on learn­ing these bet­ter over the sum­mer.

9. Get orga­nized. Shred paper­work. Clean out my office. Orga­nize and delete com­puter files. Go through my email Inbox and delete, delete, delete.

10. Attend pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment sem­i­nars or work­shops. In June, I will be attend­ing a one-week sem­i­nar in Rhetoric and Com­po­si­tion at Michi­gan State Uni­ver­sity.

11. Begin think­ing about and plan­ning for the grad­u­ate course I will teach next Spring. Book orders will be due in Octo­ber, and I need to know early what I will be doing in the course, ten­ta­tively titled “Teach­ing Dig­i­tal Rhetoric.” I will do a lot of research for the course in terms of texts, assign­ments, and require­ments. And, since there isn’t much time in Decem­ber to plan for Spring course, I need to do most plan­ning over the sum­mer and dur­ing the Fall semester.

12. Put together my tenure note­book. More on this in the future.

As you can see, my sum­mer is filled with things I must get done before school resumes in August. Yes, I appre­ci­ate that I have a break from teach­ing and com­mut­ing to the office every day, but it’s not a true break that the word “vaca­tion” entails. I will take a vacation–two actu­ally. One with my hus­band for my 10th anniver­sary and another with my fam­ily to the beach. But, the pres­sure to read, write, pub­lish, and get caught up is ever present in my sum­mer life, even when I’m play­ing with my chil­dren, watch­ing a movie, or hik­ing in the park. That’s just the way it is.


Inventing a Winning Machine

Ear­lier this week, I was look­ing through my 1st grade daughter’s back­pack and found a piece of paper from school with Elizabeth’s writ­ing. Eliz­a­beth wrote the following:

My inven­tion is the mushen that can make you win evry game. I invented the mushen that can make you win evry game.”

Children Racing Black and White

Image cour­tesy State Library by New South Wales. Flickr’s Cre­ative Com­mons License.

Two sen­tences. Two sen­tences that reveal a lot about my daugh­ter. Eliz­a­beth likes to win. She doesn’t like to lose. When given the oppor­tu­nity to imag­ine a machine to invent that would make life bet­ter, eas­ier, she chose a tech­nol­ogy that would make win­ning at every­thing pos­si­ble. (Of course, there are prob­lems with such a tool, because some­one has to lose, right?)

(Funny note: One of my friends told me that her inven­tion already exists; it’s called “The Bribe.” Ha!)

Eliz­a­beth comes by this desire hon­estly (just like she does her stub­born­ness, inde­pen­dence, and strong-willedness). She gets it from me. I like to win. But if I could invent such a machine, I would want the oppo­site of her; I would want some­thing that would never allow me to lose. Because, yes, I like to win, but even more than that, I don’t like to lose.

When Shane and I first moved to Louisville, Ken­tucky (we had prob­a­bly been mar­ried 4 months), my dad was mak­ing a speech in Indi­anapo­lis and we drove up to see him. It’s about a 2 1/2 hour drive to the city. We picked him up at the air­port and walked around down­town for a while, vis­it­ing the stat­ues, parks, and other out­door sights. Indi­anapo­lis has such a lovely feel. We ate din­ner and then were head­ing back to the car (after sev­eral hours of walk­ing around).

On the way back to the car, Shane was argu­ing with me about the route we were tak­ing back to the car. He said the car was the other way; I said it was not, that we were headed in the right direc­tion. This was ten years ago, well before GPS and Smart Phones. Shane kept insist­ing that we were going the com­plete wrong way. He decided to ask my dad what he thought.

My dad told him that he thought we were headed in the wrong direc­tion (my way) and that he thought Shane was right and that we had come from the other direction.

Then my dad paused and said, “But I’m going to just keep fol­low­ing her. I learned a long time ago that you don’t argue with Kara. Even when I dis­agree with her about stuff like this, I have learned to go with it. Why? Because Kara is never wrong. Really, she is always right. But, if she IS wrong, then we can give her a hard time.”

We all burst out into laugh­ter. It was a les­son from the father-in-law to the son-in-law. My daughter/your wife is right.

At this point, I started second-guessing myself. I kept walk­ing the way I thought was the way to the car, and, voila, I WAS RIGHT. We found the car, and, whew, I wasn’t wrong.

I don’t like to be wrong. I don’t like to lose. It comes from lik­ing to play games, just like Eliz­a­beth does. Card games. Board games. Sports games. I’m com­pet­i­tive. I don’t like to lose.

When I win, I don’t gloat. I don’t cel­e­brate. I don’t “rejoice” (this is the term I use for ath­letes when they start gal­li­vant­ing down the court after mak­ing a bas­ket or a touch­down, espe­cially when they’re on the OTHER team, and I don’t want to see such cel­e­bra­tion!). Instead, I act like I’ve been there before.

Because I have. I have won lots of things. Small things. Big things. Things that mat­ter. Things that don’t. Things that had major con­se­quences for me in terms of schol­ar­ships, pres­tige, fame, and recognition.

[L]losing draws on my inse­cu­ri­ties of not being good enough, not being smart enough, not being able to do it all. Los­ing hurts. And it hurts real bad. Not when I lose a card game, but when I lose big things.

[One side­note: It is inter­est­ing when I play games with other peo­ple, which I love to do, they ALWAYS strive to beat me. They gang up on me so that I will lose. They tar­get me (in Hearts, Double-9 domi­noes, Monop­oly, etc.) so that I will lose first. Then, they make big shows of it when they win. They rub it in. They jump up and down. They cel­e­brate. They “rejoice.” I guess that’s what I get for being com­pet­i­tive and win­ning a lot. I can take it. It’s just a game, right?]

But win­ning isn’t what moti­vates me; what moti­vates me is NOT los­ing. I’m sure there’s a lot of com­plex­i­ties going on in this state­ment, but let me just say that los­ing draws on my inse­cu­ri­ties of not being good enough, not being smart enough, not being able to do it all. Los­ing hurts. And it hurts real bad. Not when I lose a card game, but when I lose big things.

When an arti­cle I’ve writ­ten gets rejected.

When I don’t get a grant or sab­bat­i­cal for which I’ve applied.

When I don’t get a posi­tion for which I’ve applied.

When I receive a set of neg­a­tive teacher evaluations.

When some­one says some­thing neg­a­tive about me.

When I com­pare myself to other moms. 

When my chil­dren mis­be­have and dis­obey me.

When I fail as a Christian.

My iden­tity is wrapped up in NOT los­ing. And when I do lose, it hurts. So, if Eliz­a­beth could invent that machine, I would buy it. But I don’t think it would be enough to con­front the under­ly­ing inse­cu­ri­ties of losing.

 


Letting Go of Superwoman: Beginning the Process

Superwoman graphicI was at one of my rou­tine doc­tor appoint­ments last year, preg­nant with Levi. After hear­ing the baby’s heart­beat and fin­ish­ing the exam, my doc­tor, who was now see­ing me through my third (and final) preg­nancy, asked me how I was doing, how I was feel­ing about life and moth­er­hood and work and all the other com­mit­ments I have.

She has known me for sev­eral years, since the time before I took a tenure-track job, when I was just writ­ing my dis­ser­ta­tion. She is in her late 50s/early 60s and is the best doc­tor I’ve ever had (Shane even told her that he wishes she could be his doc­tor!).

I guess I looked stressed out or overwhelmed—I don’t know. But before I knew it, words and tears and emo­tions came gush­ing out, like water from an unmanned fire hydrant.

I feel guilty, this is what I told her.

Guilt in regards to my chil­dren: about being a work­ing mom; about not being there at some of their school events; about not tak­ing them to or pick­ing them up from school because I have an hour com­mute each day; about being so tired when I’m home; about being on my com­puter too much; about work­ing too much from home; about not being present when I’m with them; about yelling or scream­ing or being unforgiving.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my job: about hav­ing a fam­ily; about hav­ing chil­dren that pre­vent me from being as pro­duc­tive as some other of my col­leagues; about liv­ing so far away.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my hus­band: about him hav­ing to fill so many of the typ­i­cal “moth­er­hood” roles, such as doing the laun­dry, doing the dishes, putting the kids to bed, or cart­ing the kids to and from school each day, par­tic­u­larly when he did not ask for that or expect it (he is won­der­ful!); about every con­ver­sa­tion we have being about tenure; about being so exhausted in the evening that I fall asleep dur­ing a movie we’re watch­ing together; about him being the go-to par­ent so much of the time; about not hav­ing time to go out on dates (which we love to do); about being stressed, mean, rude, and selfish.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my sis­ters, fam­ily, and friends: about not keep­ing in touch bet­ter; about not being there more when I want to be; about tak­ing for­ever to send thank-you cards, or not even send­ing them at all; about not see­ing them as often as I like; about not notic­ing when they are strug­gling or going through a hard time; about not call­ing to say hi.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my house: about its messy state; about the clutter.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my role as a preacher’s wife: about not being able to teach Bible class because I have no time to prep; about not cook­ing a home­made meal each week for potluck; about not sign­ing up for nurs­ery duty because my hus­band needs me to be in there lis­ten­ing and sup­port­ing him as he preaches; about not fit­ting the typ­i­cal preacher’s wife role (what­ever that is); about being shy.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my body: about being over­weight; about using food to sti­fle my emo­tions; about not hav­ing time to exer­cise; about my body chang­ing through 3 preg­nan­cies and 2 c-sections.

Guilt.

Guilt in regards to my rela­tion­ship with God: about not pray­ing or read­ing the Bible as often as I desire; about going for weeks with­out even talk­ing to God; about won­der­ing who God is; about doubt, doubt­ing cer­tain things I grew up believ­ing but that I now question.

Guilt.

About every­thing.

Think­ing and talk­ing through many of the ways I was feel­ing guilty didn’t take too long (she is a busy doc­tor after all). When I was done, she said she under­stood. But she also told me to stop. Stop feel­ing so guilty about things. Just stop, she said. Stop feel­ing guilty about not liv­ing up to my own or society’s  expec­ta­tions of what makes a good mom, wife, employee, or friend. She pointed out that I wasn’t Super­woman; no woman is. And, yet, we all think we need to be her in order to be loved, admired, respected, or valued.

Her words res­onated with me. I went home from the doc­tor feel­ing bet­ter. I resolved not to feel guilty. My chil­dren love me, my hus­band loves me, my par­ents love me, my friends and fam­ily love me.

I can give up my per­fec­tion­ist ten­den­cies. I can­not do it all; I am not Super­woman. I can just be myself—that’s all I can be. But I don’t have to feel guilty anymore.


Why It’s Important to Mentor Female Graduate Students and Young Professors

Academic Mentor Cartoon

In acad­e­mia, talk abounds about grad­u­ate edu­ca­tion, tenure, get­ting a job, low wages and poor work­ing con­di­tions, and bal­anc­ing per­sonal and pro­fes­sional lives. One recent arti­cle in The Chron­i­cle of Higher Edu­ca­tion by Berke­ley Pro­fes­sor Mary Ann Mason is par­tic­u­larly sober­ing. Mason’s arti­cle, “The Future of the Ph.D,” addresses sev­eral inter­est­ing points about the over­abun­dance of PhDs and the lack of tenure-track jobs. She also points out how dif­fi­cult it is to have a fam­ily and a tenure-track job. Here are a few quotes I found provoca­tive (if you are inter­ested, you should also read through the com­ments sec­tion of her arti­cle; so many heart­felt, reveal­ing and per­sonal responses that pro­vide their own form of mentoring):

In a sur­vey we con­ducted of all doc­toral stu­dents at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, more than 70 per­cent of women and over half of all men said they con­sid­ered a career at a research uni­ver­sity to be too hard-driving and unfriendly to fam­ily life.

A male Ph.D. stu­dent in the sur­vey char­ac­ter­ized the com­mon sen­ti­ment when he wrote that he was ‘fed up with the narrow-mindedness of sup­pos­edly intel­li­gent peo­ple who are largely worka­holic and expect oth­ers to be so as well’.”

A female stu­dent wrote, ‘Since begin­ning my doc­toral work, I have become con­vinced that very few, if any, female pro­fes­sors are able to have sta­ble, ful­fill­ing fam­ily lives of the sort that I wish for (a sta­ble mar­riage and children)’.”

Female grad­u­ate stu­dents who do become moth­ers dur­ing their doctoral-study years are very likely to give up on their dreams.”

“Too few uni­ver­si­ties are pay­ing atten­tion to the needs of graduate-student par­ents, or pro­vid­ing men­tor­ing on how to bal­ance fam­ily and career in a stress­ful pro­fes­sion in which, arguably, the most seri­ous stress—obtaining tenure—also occurs dur­ing the years when women will have children.”

These find­ings do not come as a shock to me as a pro­fes­sor. I have now expe­ri­enced what it’s like to be on the tenure track, which is dif­fi­cult in and of itself. But I also know what it’s like to be a woman, a mother, and a wife in this highly stress­ful job.

But as a grad­u­ate stu­dent work­ing on my master’s and then Ph.D., I never would have guessed it was this way–so dif­fi­cult to “have it all” and find bal­ance between work and home.  I even had won­der­ful men­tors through­out grad­u­ate school, but we never really talked about mar­riage and chil­dren or what it would be like to have a fam­ily and work in academia.

With results and out­comes like these–where women are leav­ing the pro­fes­sion because they have babies, or where they leave because they are denied tenure at such high rates (moth­ers even higher)–we are not left with many options. Even though more than half of grad­u­ate stu­dents are women, if we do not deal with the inter­sec­tion of a woman’s per­sonal life with her career, then we are not going to have a range of women in acad­e­mia. We might still have unmar­ried women or women with­out chil­dren, but we may lose a large per­cent­age of women who can teach and men­tor oth­ers about what it means to have a fam­ily and a career in academia.

In short, we need men­tors. We need moth­ers who are will­ing to share their experiences–the good and the bad; the sac­ri­fices they have/had to make; the joys that have come along the way; and why being a mother in acad­e­mia might still be worth it. We need moth­ers who talk frankly about hav­ing chil­dren in grad­u­ate school, about hav­ing chil­dren on the tenure-track, about not hav­ing chil­dren at all. We need moth­ers to share their sto­ries, for it is their stories–our stories–that will edu­cate oth­ers and bet­ter inform female grad­u­ate stu­dents about the real­i­ties of being a mother in academia.

I hope you will share your story; it may make all the difference.


Don’t Patronize My Pantry!: A Rhetorical Analysis of Organization Images on Pinterest

Sev­eral months ago, I was perus­ing Pin­ter­est and saw this image of a pantry (we’ll call it Image A). Many, many peo­ple were pin­ning this pic­ture at the time, and it soon became a very pop­u­lar pin on the entire site.

An organized pantry

Image cour­tesy of bhg.com

User com­ments about this pantry ranged from “The most orga­nized pantry ever!” and “My dream pantry,” to “I love all the can­is­ters!” and “I wish my pantry looked like this!!”

Last week, I came across this image of another orga­nized pantry/cupboard (Image B). It, too, was pop­u­lar with Pin­ter­est users.

Organized pantry

Image cour­tesy of thesocialhome.blogsot.ca

I did not pin either of these images. (I do have an Orga­ni­za­tion board, though.)

I was not enticed by the beauty or seem­ing sim­plic­ity or amaz­ing orga­ni­za­tion (com­plete with labels, no less) of these spaces. No clut­ter. No mess. I was not jeal­ous of these pantries. Nor do I want my pantry to look this way.

Here’s why:

1. These pantries do not oper­ate under the “Less Is More” men­tal­ity.

They, instead, scream, “Buy more! Use more!” “Then, once you buy all this stuff, buy bins and can­is­ters and con­tain­ers and bas­kets to hold all of your stuff.” “Buy, buy, buy! Then, orga­nize every­thing in neat, tidy con­tain­ers so that you will feel bet­ter about all the stuff that you have.” (Is that too cynical?)

2. These pantries (espe­cially Image A) empha­size a para­dox: Most of the items in the can­is­ters con­tain food for chil­dren, but any­one with kids would not have GLASS con­tain­ers in their pantry, and def­i­nitely not where kids could reach them.

It is an under­state­ment to say that obvi­ously no kids live in this house, yet the mes­sage being sent is that this pantry is per­fect for par­ents with kids (just look at the gum balls, the gra­ham crack­ers, and all the individually-wrapped snacks).

Chil­dren make messes of things. Chil­dren get in the pantry and take things out of it. Chil­dren crawl on the shelves to get things down. Chil­dren would BREAK these glass can­is­ters. Every sin­gle one of them. And then they would get hurt.

3. These pantries are too unre­al­is­tic and make good people–organized people–feel guilty about their own pantry, their home, and per­haps even their lives.

These images com­mu­ni­cate that hav­ing an orga­nized pantry is a moral issue. A dis­or­ga­nized pantry (or home, or life) means that you are morally infe­rior, morally rep­re­hen­si­ble, morally dis­gust­ing because you may have live your life in more of an orga­nized chaos (like I do). That you don’t take care of your things. That you don’t care about your home, or your fam­ily, or the tone you want to set.

4. These pantries do not fos­ter the same men­tal­ity about food that I do. First, these images say, “Buy junk food and processed food and food that will last on your shelf for years. Buy all kinds of food that is not nec­es­sar­ily good for your chil­dren.” In fact, it’s most likely bad for your chil­dren to have so much processed flour and sugar. I do see the whole grains and nuts in Image B. That’s good food for the family.

Sec­ond, these images com­mu­ni­cate that you should hoard food. Instead of buy­ing food when you need it, you should store up for your­self “trea­sures on earth.” This pantry really is a hoarder’s dream (of course, it wouldn’t be this organized).

Finally, these images say that you shouldn’t feed your fam­ily fresh, local pro­duce (many pantries do con­tain such foods).  You shouldn’t offer your kids apples, pears, onions, or pota­toes. No, only prepack­aged, highly refined foods are the way to go…at least if you are going to keep your house organized.

5. The pantry in Image A is enor­mous, unre­al­is­ti­cally big, and it makes peo­ple with­out over­sized pantries wish for more: more stuff, bet­ter orga­ni­za­tion skills, less clut­ter, bet­ter taste.

Most peo­ple I know do not have a pantry this large. I know many peo­ple with pantries larger than Image A (I do not judge you), but, let’s be hon­est, the vast major­ity of peo­ple are quite lim­ited in their pantry space (just think of your typ­i­cal single-family home, loft, or apart­ment). Some places don’t even have a pantry. Instead, peo­ple use the kitchen cup­boards. Even Image B, though it is in a small space doesn’t seem like this is the only pantry in this person’s kitchen (Where are the opened bags of chips, pret­zels, or cereal?).

6. These images imply that the peo­ple liv­ing in these homes do not cook, which both­ers me because of the impli­ca­tion that they do. 

If you are a cook, you know how messy kitchens get. Three meals a day = messy! And if both par­ents work or if one par­ent stays home, you know that the kitchen doesn’t always get cleaned up right away. Per­haps not even the next day…or the next (should I admit this?). Cook­ing is messy. It is not as tidy, neat, and clean as these images imply.

7. Finally, the worse part is that try­ing to live up to the stan­dard set in these images, for order and clean­li­ness (and god­li­ness), can make you depressed, anx­ious, and lonely. It can even lead to self-loathing and self-hatred.

  • When your house does not look per­fect, you (I) get stressed and over­whelmed. can­not function.
  • When your house looks lived in and well loved but not neat and tidy, you (I) get frus­trated, angry, and mean.
  • When our houses don’t t look brand new in mint con­di­tion, we don’t want peo­ple to come over. Our home doesn’t look like those Pin­ter­est images.
  • Our friends don’t want us to come to their home because they think you expect their home to be in such mint condition.
  • We stay secluded because we don’t think we can live up to soci­etal expec­ta­tions of order and orga­ni­za­tion and we don’t want to expe­ri­ence the neg­a­tive judg­ments peo­ple might make about us.

No good can come from pro­mot­ing images like these. I’ll take my pantry over these any day. My well used and not-so-neat (but still orga­nized) pantry could out-cook theirs every time.

My Pantry