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