AcWriMo Reflection 3

So I’m writing three reflections in one day (maybe two today and two tomorrow, we’ll see) because I also coach swimming and there was a swim meet this weekend, and while the meet is done by 11am, I, too, am also done by 11am because I’ve been up since 5:30 and standing for 4-5 hours.

Anyway, Saturday’s prompt is about describing the object of affection at the center of my project.

You.

I mean, this is weird and assuming more than 6 people are reading this blog (which they aren’t, which is fine, that isn’t the point) but the object of my affection are my readers, specifically the readers who related to what I wrote, and who saw pieces of themselves in what I wrote, pieces that they hadn’t seen articulated before, not on the pages of a major higher education publication.

To get emails from readers who would thank me for what I wrote. To get messages from people in situations worse than mine asking me to write about it, to bring attention to it, to shine a light in places not usually seen in higher education (basically anywhere that isn’t an ivy, a rich SLAC, or an public state R1).

To become a part of something larger than myself, finally.

I was a contingent faculty member writing from the middle of nowhere at a relatively nothing school. I was the majority of us who work in higher education.

The object of my affection are the people still teaching at those schools. We all have our own reasons for staying or for going, but those who do stay, they need to know that they are seen. I see you.

In a roundabout way, I’ve come to what my book offers: this is a perspective that still hasn’t been told, widely, in higher education. I want my colleagues to feel seen, to feel heard, however imperfectly, to feel like someone, finally, has told a piece of their story, of our story.

That’s the unique thing. I was writing from Morehead, Kentucky, from a regional, state, comprehensive. Who has written from there?

Me.

The object of my affection are those who work where no on ever write about or looks.

AcWriMo Reflection 2

Today’s reflection prompt is only obliquely related to what I’m working on/through. I don’t really have a theoretical approach, as it isn’t a traditional academic project. I guess narrative, creative non-fiction? But rather than tie myself up in knots about how my project doesn’t “fit”, I want to focus on a part of the prompt that did resonate with me:

Reflect on the unique contribution of our project

Ok, so this I can do. Now, this was an easier question to answer when I first started blogging; my unique contribution was that no one else was really writing about the things I was writing about, especially not on an internationally-recognized platform like IHE. Now, everyone seems to be writing about it (which is a good thing insofar as that the issues like sexism and adjunctification have gained a visibility heretofore unseen, but a bad thing because UGH WE STILL NEED TO BE TALKING ABOUT THIS AND WHY ISN’T IT GETTING ANY BETTER).

This is a challenge because the novelty has, in fact, worn off. Another comment I got from the reader was that this was, essentially, old news. Everyone already knows all of this about academia. So what? Why does it matter? What do we do?

After writing yesterday, I’ve been reflecting on the idea of decisions, of deciding, of agency. And maybe that’s what could make my project unique is to really highlight the decisions I made to reclaim my agency within a system that would rather me not have much, if any, agency at all. I made unconventional decisions in a time and space where these decisions were somewhat dangerous (peer-driven learning, mental health, parenting, wifing, etc).

So, in the introduction I outline the decisions that lead to the situation where I concluded that I needed to start writing again, honestly and transparently (or at least as honestly and transparently as I could, which is more than many other people could at the time). But, what I don’t make clear throughout the rest of the manuscript is how/why I made decisions moving forward, and the impact of those decisions, for better or for worse.

Here are some decisions, post-starting the blog:

  • I decided to prioritize teaching
  • I decided to be student-centered
  • I decided to write about adjunct issues
  • I decided to write about mental health
  • I decided to write about money
  • I decided to write about class
  • I kept deciding to prioritize my research
  • etc

Now, this may not seem groundbreaking, but I think it is a unique take, insofar as it does represent the choices of someone within the system, and how to come about those decisions, as well as living with the consequences.

This is the thread I need to make more explicit, I think, in the work. I’m still leery of creating a narrative about individual agency triumphing over systemic oppression, but I think reminding people they still have agency in a system that seeks to dehumanize them can be empowering.

I just threw up in my mouth a little just writing that last sentence.

I have to decide, just like yesterday in deciding my manifesto, what this collection contributes, other than “unique perspective.”

AcWriMo Reflection 1

So, today is November 1, Day 1. Margy has asked us to write down the manifesto for our project.

Oh.

Yeah.

About that.

This one hits close to home. The reader report I got said that it wasn’t clear who the audience was for my work, nor was it clear what the point was. So, what is the manifesto, then, of Bad Female Academic?

I started College Ready Writing so I could feel less alone. I started BFA to let others know that they weren’t alone either. But then, what’s the point of gathering them all up into a collected volume? What’s the narrative arc?

I’m thinking of re-titling the collection How to Be a Bad Female Academic, inspired by just finishing the book How to Write and Autobiographical Novel, but also a call-back to a book that launched my academic publishing career, How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired. In both cases, the writers sort-of conclude that you just…let it happen.

But that’s not active, not action, not a plot arc.

And trust me, don’t think that I haven’t considered the fact that if I can’t answer this question, come up with a manifesto, that this book is never going to get published.

Part of the problem is that I don’t know if my story is one of triumph or tragedy. I think I was treating it as comedy, but there wasn’t a convincing enough punchline. No catharsis at the end. I wanted people to laugh but all they did was shrug and say, good on ya.

I’ve been watching a lot of Nanette.

I also don’t want people to despair. I don’t offer any concrete solutions to the problems of sexism and classism in higher education because I don’t know if there are any. Which is also why I can’t frame the narrative as a triumph either; sure, I made it through and became successful, but my way was so idiosyncratic that in no way could it ever be replicated, or recommended, either. I don’t feel like I’ve triumphed; I feel like I survived. And it is a survival that I do not want to frame as a triumph.

No, I may have personally triumphed but the larger tragedy remains: the systemic limitations with higher education. I maybe overcame them, slightly subverted them through my success as a online academic, changed a couple of minds, helped some people, but I don’t think I made any real difference, and that’s not my tragedy, but the larger tragedy of academia.

I don’t want my story to give you hope, nor do I want my story to plunge you into despair.

I want you to feel less alone in your struggle to belong, to fit in, to succeed. That you are not alone in feeling this way – frustrated, beaten down, exhausted, elated, energized, stimulated. The paradox of being in higher education in this moment is hard to live with. There is a cognitive dissonance required that is required that I’m trying to get at in my writing.

Being successful, however you define it, in academia is hard, but not impossible. I’m not even sure if I’m successful on my own standards; I am successful because I’m at Georgetown, which is cultural capital that is external to my own sense of success. Not saying I’m not proud of the accomplishment, but does this mean that I can finally call myself successful?

Or maybe success is impossible. I’ve seen too many people smarter and more capable than I get beaten down, driven out of academia, largely in the form of full-time, well-paying work that never manifested. I know people who have stayed and found success, people who have left and found success, people who have stayed and not found success, and I know people who have left who have not found success.

Maybe it is a comedy after all. A comedy of error. Maybe reframing it as an ironic “how to” non-guide is the frame, the narrative arc, the manifesto. There is no right answer.

I know that artificially creating an arc won’t help, and just making up a manifesto that I don’t believe in won’t help either. Then maybe it’s the action of the book, but part of the issue is just how passive the whole system made me, make us. Ok, so there are points of choice, points where I say enough, and points where I make decisions. Maybe that’s missing. I reflect on the decisions I made BEFORE starting the blog, but very little about the decisions I made after I started writing.

So, it’s about decisions, then. It’s about the decisions we make and how we live with them, how we are made to live with them.

It’s not much, but at least it’s a place to start.

Two thick manuscripts being overlooked by a Princess Leia figurine

AcWriMo Reflection 0

So, this month, I’m participating in #AcWriMo (although the book I’m writing/editing isn’t really academic). I was lamenting the fact that I’m a terrible editor on Twitter, and found out about ScholarShapes’ #AcWriMo2k18 daily reflections. So here we are. Not wanting to put them on my main blog or spam my tinyletter subscribers, and wanting to do more than just tweet, I decided, heck, sure another subdomain, another WordPress install, why not.

And maybe I’ll make this an annual thing. Who knows.

So, the first pre-reflection was to think about the energy we feel around the project we’re taking on this month.

Oh man, where to start.

The plan for this month was to edit my memoir. And then I got a reader report back for my Bad Female Academic manuscript that I thought I was done with. Apparently not. I happened to get the feedback on the same day I spent the whole afternoon in urgent care to get my ankle X-rayed to make sure that it wasn’t broken. I hadn’t, although my pride was certainly bruised from spraining my ankle while walking. Needless to say that I wasn’t in the best headspace to hear the feedback.

I also have ADHD, which manifests itself in me as server impulse control. I mean, there are a ton of other ways the ADHD manifests itself, but in this case, the impulse control issue was combining with my rejection sensitivity dysphoria in very powerful ways. Ways that made me take the feedback harder than I should. Ways that made me write an angry/sad email. Ways that engaged my stubborn side.

I am committed to this manuscript and damn it, I am going to get it published even if it kills me.

I’m not sure that’s the kind of energy I should be bringing to this. Stubborn, frustration-fueled energy. I mean, it’s good insofar as it is more powerful than the “OMG this will never be good enough so why even bother” energy, the despondent energy that leads to too many projects being abandoned. But, is it the right energy to make the changes that need to be made?

Like I even understand what those changes are.

Anyway, I’m hoping these reflections will work to focus my energies in more positive ways than they currently are. I have the energy, the drive, the desire to get this DONE, not just because I want to get it done so I can move on to one of the next (counts) four projects I have, but also because this really means something to me, and I want to get it right. I want to get it done because I believe in this book, and I believe that it can make a difference.

Let November begin.