By Joycelyn Moody - JMoody's Musings, Writing
Stop, right now, before you advance another step through your early semester research plans.
Remember: writing anxiety blinds. It blocks your view of files you’ve repeatedly drafted for your Most Significant Project Yet.
Survey your research folders – have you mislabeled an indispensable file? Is one folded into the obscure corner of a rarely consulted folder-within-a-folder, a document incomprehensibly unrelated?
It’s time now to scour your laptop for any duplicates of a daunting manuscript you’ve produced once - OK, twice - before. As I often say to my coaching clients, leave no pyrite unturned in your search for jewels you’ve unwittingly buried.
I found buried treasure on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At an Inkwell retreat last July, my alumni buddy C and I were sitting across from one another on the last retreat afternoon, angled toward a pristine view of spectacular foothills and contentedly fashioning introductions to our respective books. Progressing this far had been both my ideal retreat goal and hers: We each wanted to leave with a fully outlined introduction.
We’d been extraordinarily productive, finally thinking through resources we’d wanted to read sooner, dumping chunks of new information into the intro doc, unpacking long theoretical paragraphs, and the rest. We knew we’d made notes “toward” an introduction in the past, but they were nothing as good as what the retreat coaxed out of us and never anything as thorough as what we’d accomplished.
Still, C and I searched our Dropboxes for words like intro and introduction and a few project keywords. We got results of all lengths in conferences papers, PowerPoints, and grant proposals. In course prep files and mandated annual review dossiers. Deep satisfaction.
Until. Gradually, we got clearer and clearer: we hadn’t never drafted our respective introductions, as we’d thought; in fact, we’d actually written “the” intro to our book projects many times over. I mean, in my own standout folder labeled “CHAAA” (for A History of African American Autobiography for Cambridge University Press), among the dozens of subfolders, I had gone looking for variants of the CHAAA intro. I stopped counting at number five, as in Five Forgotten Documents.
Ironically, when I was editor of African American Review years ago, we implemented a forum we called “Forgotten Mss.” Here’s how I described it back in 2005: “Editor's Note: AAR is pleased to present [this] new feature column. Because so much of African American literary, print, and cultural production remains unknown and/or ignored, and so much scholarly attention (even within these very pages) is yet devoted to the most canonical texts and topics of black literary and cultural heritage, AAR will occasionally publish short complete or excerpted texts, long neglected but noteworthy.” In other words, I designed the column to showcase print documents that had fallen out of literary flavor (and just favor) and into the archives, where it was there, too, relegated to those special collections of the neglected. Right now, though, my innovation seems like a bad joke I played on myself.
C and I attracted a lot of attention as we faced what we’d neglected. In the residence’s luxurious living room, we pulled back in dread from the quiet corner where we’d sat. We probably started shrieking a few seconds before we heard ourselves. Our respective searches turned up one file after another, each created in our own inimitable Times New Roman, endless files of “new” introductions. Other retreaters came to check out the fuss, then left, shaking their heads as if such oversight would never happen to them.
But it does, and more times than anyone wants to think about: anxiety blinding us to our multiple re-dos of a high-stakes writing project. (Even trying to write this blog in ways charming and useful to you has jacked up my blood pressure.) C and I felt we were writing some of the most critical books of our lives. Emphasis on felt, as in emotions. Intimidation and fear and conviction that any particular manuscript we had jolted into being had not been good enough to remember. In our minds, then, each iteration just. kinda. vanished.
So, we simply started over – and over – and over and.
The redundancy felt both painful and wasteful. Reassuring, too, yes, but depressing. I admit I took pride in the writing already done—hey, those pieces weren’t all bad! The retreat had both exposed and abated our writing tremors. We’d forgotten our duplicate manuscripts partly out of self-condemnation - they weren’t good enough, we weren’t - but perhaps what’s more awesome was the insight into the intricacies of diverse academic writing processes: beauty, community, and sincerity enable clear-eyed production.
Until next time,
By Nichole Guillory (WellAcademic Guest Blogger) - Mothering in Color
I have a confession to make. It’s a big one. Really big. So big, in fact, I suggest you sit down….
and go to your happy place…The beach always works for me.
and do some deep breathing exercises…Inhale, hold it, exhale, and repeat.
and pour yourself a drink….The kind that adults enjoy. Take a big sip of your happy drink because you’ll need it to chase away the ugly truth I’m about to reveal. Ready?
Donald J. Trump is making me a better mother.
Yes, I said it, and no, I am not crazy, at least not this early into his presidency.
If you’ve stayed with me until now, let me explain. How I got to this point did not start on November 8, 2016, but instead with the election of President Obama on November 4, 2008. Nicholas, my only child, was about to turn one. Hope for my son’s future slipped its way back into my life with that election.
While the Obama Presidency did not yield substantive systemic changes that reduced the effects of institutionalized oppression for most people of color, especially people of color who are also economically vulnerable, the Obama years were important to our family. My son in his earliest years conceptualized what race meant in a country led by a President who looked like him; he saw a family in the White House who looked like our family. And when asked what he wanted to do when he grew up, he could literally imagine President of the United States as a real possibility.
I did not realize during the Obama years that I took a passive role mothering Nicholas. Through his questions about difference and discrimination, I relied heavily on children’s books to expose my son to major figures and events in our history. When he showed interest in a particular field, we researched people of color in that area: space, Mae Jemison; baseball, Satchel Paige; guitars, Carlos Santana, to name a few. I relied on National Public Radio—lest you judge, we spend 2-3 hours in the car every day commuting to and from school—to do most of the heavy lifting on topics like immigration, marriage equality, Stand Your Ground, and police brutality.
I realize now I took a heroes-and-holidays approach in helping Nicholas to understand questions of identity, the same approach I critique as a professor who is committed to education for social justice. Before you accuse me of mom-shaming myself, I want to be very clear the approach is not bad; developmentally, it was certainly appropriate. But it was easy. I mostly took a backseat (from the driver’s seat) answering—not asking--questions to help Nicholas make sense of his complicated, messy, and beautiful identity.
And then November 8, 2016, happened. I wasn’t surprised or shocked. I’m from Louisiana, after all, where David Duke, ex-Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, won almost 39% of votes cast (>670,000 votes) in the 1991 election for governor. This White nationalist compliments Donald Trump every chance he gets.
Many months later, I’m still walking around in my post-election feelings. I’m either angry—if it’s a good day—or sad because my son will experience (t)his country’s hostility for the next four years. How is it that Trump, this man, can be helping me become a better mother?
In my circle of moms of color, one thing is always true no matter how different we might be in our parenting styles, economic and ethnic backgrounds, career paths. When someone tries to hurt our babies, there is no one fiercer, stronger, more focused, more badass than we are.
In my assessment, Donald Trump is trying to hurt my baby. And I won’t sit for that. I choose to stand. Nicholas and I listen to the news together, and I ask him lots of questions that prompt him to uncover inconsistencies and contradictions. I’ve turned off NPR for some of our morning commutes so we can start the day in positivity. Mostly we listen to “mom’s terrible music,” and I tell him stories about the times in my life that correspond with the music.
In addition to our family movie and game nights, we also schedule weekly work out/physical activity time together as a family. Nicholas and I dress up and go on dates once a month. We alternate who picks the place, and I always choose free things to do. He calls me a cheap date. We make a “fancy” meal together once a month, and before we eat, we share what we’re most proud of or thankful for.
While you might already have done activities like these, I didn’t do them consistently. I’m still a work in progress, but family care is a regularly scheduled priority now. It has to be in this context.
How are you standing up for your children? I’d love to hear from you…
Next time, I’ll share how I’m processing Charlottesville and other big events/ideas with my son.
Nichole Guillory, PhD, is Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Kennesaw State University. She publishes on the experiences of women of color in the academy. She is mom to Nicholas, the love of her life. We couldn't be happier that she has agreed to pen a new series for WellAcademic, Mothering in Color.