Let the Light In

My latest academic piece is a chapter in an edited book on women in academia.  It’s incredibly personal and was very difficult to write.

The struggle I had with writing this piece differed from my normal struggles because it brought me back to a series of  intense times that started in my late adolescence, with the loss of my mother, and continued through my early career, with the adoption and health concerns of my older children. These are events that I generally try to forget, even though they shaped (and continue to shape) my career and my life in important ways. They remind me of very dark days, days which often made me want to disappear.

When I first saw the editors’ comments on my piece, I was deeply conflicted.  Their comments were spot on and will be helpful in revision, but they mean that I have to reopen the piece, and work on it again.  Each time I think about revision, I think of each individual incident in the manuscript, and I feel a deep pang of pain, regret or resistance.  It is not a simple revision.

But, I was inspired this weekend by the vulnerability and honesty of a dear friend, in her blog and in her testimony at church.  It made me realize that though this piece is hard, it is important, perhaps the most important piece I’ve written, at least for myself.

I am walking away from the darkness of silence and towards the light of honesty.  And by moving toward that light, I hope that some of it will come into the dark places that still occasionally haunt me.

A Pause to Refocus

It is the end of another semester. Final classes have been taught; projects have been assessed; dissertations have been read.  While there is much research, writing, revising, preparing still to be done, there is also the need to pause…to breathe…to reflect.

In some ways, this semester has gone by in a blur.  Perhaps, this blur was due to busyness or the fact that I was shepherding two dissertation students towards to finish line.  Perhaps this blur was due to the fact that faculty life has become a bit of a routine, or that surviving faculty life has become a necessary routine.  Perhaps this blur was akin to the zen state that I achieve when running (after the first mile) where I am just in motion, but not necessarily thinking deeply.

But, as I pause now, I think about why I teach and why I treasure teaching so much.  I think about who my students were at the start of this semester and how they’ve shared that they’ve grown throughout the semester.  I think about the ways in which they learned to frame their thinking with new language and the ways they now see literacy as meaning making beyond traditional texts.  I think about how they realize now that relationships with students are equally, if not more, important to teaching content.  I think about how they understand that many times students will take away skills more than facts and will remember who a teacher is rather than what specifically they may have taught.

I think about how I’ve changed this semester, more sure now of the importance of identity to teaching and the importance of having my own identity and commitments reflected in my research agenda and in my teaching.  I think about the journey of the last 5 years as an assistant professor and how being an academic is becoming more of an identity that I embrace.  I think about what that means to the outside world v. what that means to me.  I think about how I serve and why I serve and how that connects to who I am and how I view my work as contribution.  I think about engagement and what that means — with whom do I engage? How? For what purpose?

The blur is beginning to come into focus.  It has been a full semester, a productive semester, an intentional semester, a growing semester.  It is the end of another semester, a time to pause, breathe, reflect, regroup.  And, I am ready to take what I’ve learned and explore what is next.

Note to Self…

My new life mantra…

It’s a stressful time of year.  In the past 3 weeks, I have graded over 100 individual assignments (averaging 5-7 pages each), I have chaired 2 successful doctoral defenses (with minor revisions pending), sat on a 3rd doctoral committee, submitted 2 manuscripts, conferenced with 17 cross-curricular groups on their final projects, recruited in 4 classes for my current research study, attended and chaired a session at the major research conference in my field, taken on a volunteer service position in my field, sung with my church choir in a gospel concert, and run a half-marathon (with a new PR and raising over $1650 for clean water in Africa).

Today, for really no reason, I started tearing up while talking about the Retention, Tenure and Promotion policy revisions in my department meeting.

Okay, it really wasn’t for NO reason, but it was a little uncharacteristic of me. I’m emotional, but not usually when it comes to policy, and this particular policy, while related to a process that determines my future in academia, is actually, shockingly, not one that I’m so stressed over.

Well, okay, I am so stressed over tenure and promotion, but really, did you see what has happened in my life in the past 3 weeks?  And that’s not me in a rush to make my tenure file look better.  That’s just me working.  So, if that’s not enough, I really can’t do anymore.  And, I’m not in the business of worrying about things I can’t do anything about (I’m trying to get out of that business in fact).

But, I was emotional because: 1) in the past 2 weeks, I’ve been frustrated that what I’ve said has landed as something that is completely different from what I meant; and 2) when I get busy, I fall into the trap of thinking that I have to prove my worthiness.

But I don’t.  The fact is that with or without tenure, with or without an academic job, with or without a new PR on my run, with or without a boatload of publications or a book deal or stunning teaching evaluations, I am worthy.  I contribute because that’s who I am, not because it proves what I’m worth.

Sometimes we are all misheard and misunderstood.  It happens.

Sometimes we cry in the middle of meetings, surprising everyone including ourselves. It happens.

And sometimes, we just need to chill out. Good vibes. Everyday all day.

Being Intentional

I waste a lot of time.

For people who know me, this may seem like a surprise as I also get a lot of things done pretty efficiently.

But, the truth is that I spend a lot of time negotiating with myself, distracting myself on Facebook, stressing about small decisions, worrying about what people will think of me, etc.

This time wasted keeps me from what’s really important.  It’s not that I don’t have enough time (this may or may not be true. I really don’t know); it’s that I’m not using my time intentionally and thoughtfully, with focused energy towards the goals and with the people that are most important to me.

I recently returned from the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting.  I was renewed in my commitment to do the work that I really love, study what’s important to me (no matter who cares about it, confronts me about it, or doesn’t give a hoot about it), and be open in my humanity.

Then I came home, and went back to my old patterns, not taking time to read, write, and reflect.  Instead, I’ve been swayed by the allure of constantly refreshing a Facebook feed that has me struggling with my legitimacy–not raising enough money for my charity run; not being x, y, or z enough as an academic; not having a grandiose party ready for my almost two year old for her birthday; worrying about what people will think if I do post about an issue or how I’ll be judged if I don’t post about an issue.

It is a grandiose waste of time.

I’m not saying that I’ll never be on social media or that I’ll be miraculously efficient with my time and energy, but what I’m saying is that I am aware that, although the arc of my academic career is long and I am just beginning it, there is no time like the present to begin focusing on the work that is truly valuable to me.  And, in my personal life, there is no time like the present to begin focusing and being the most present that I can be to the precious moments I spend with my children, moments that are not guaranteed, moments I cannot take for granted.

So, today, I sat down and began to write what I love about my life, what I’m tired of, what I need to change, what I want, and how I plan to get there. Baby steps perhaps, but important first steps on a greater walk with intentionality.