By Joycelyn Moody - JMoody's Musings
So, like, you might have noticed that My Girl Roxanne is editor of our WellAcademic newsletter and blog posts. [If you don’t receive our newsletter, sign up here.] Do I owe her big-time or what?! That’s another blog all by itself. Anyway, when Roxanne and I recently discussed our upcoming blog topics, I agreed to offer a post on digital apps; she thinks I use some pretty good ones to manage my life, professional and personal. I was OK with that focus.
But then a sister-colleague made the mistake of asking me if I thought she should add an academic promotion assessment to her already too-full task list through the end of the current term. Since the person she would be supporting was another Black woman, my friend really wanted to do it.*
I replied to my friend with a list of questions, including: How many dissertation students did you say you have this term? How many conferences are you committed to attending before winter break again? Like that. She emailed me back: Our friendship is over. Not really, but…
Right after I sent her that list of questions, I realized it might be honest of me to answer some of those questions for myself. She had probably suffered the same angina that arose in me when I tackled the questions. After recovering from my panic attack, I put off the helpful apps idea in favor of this one (sorry, Rox), because it occurred to me you would find the following helpful.
What luck my colleague asked me to help her think through this; how important community support is for us at every step!
On September 27, I gnashed my teeth and did the math on my own situation. In the interest of being totally transparent below, I need to confess I reluctantly include Saturdays as work days—despite constantly chiding my coaching clients to rest on each weekend. I will get back to having weekends as leisure next semester.
So, I asked myself the questions I’d posed to my sister-colleague:
My spring term begins on January 8 in 2018. Since my discipline’s biggest convention, the Modern Language Association, runs on January 4-7 this time, my winter break will end with finalizing my spring syllabus and last minute edits to my panel paper. I mean, it kicked in at some point that prepping for spring term was not already included in my –mostly self-imposed—obligations over the next few months. I moved on from hyperventilating to cussing when this realization set in. (Roxanne made me add the part about self-imposed duties.)
With trepidation, I calculated the sum of my commitments from September 27 through the start of my institution’s Spring term on January 8:
88 days until Jan 8th minus the following scheduled work days:
5 days Penn State sister-philosophers’ convention
5 NWSA (Int'l Women's Conv)
2 Grading finals (not to mention other grading days)
17 scheduled days
88-17=71 days to play with
From 71 days, subtract the following leisure days:
15 Sundays with My Dearest
5 Thanksgiving Break
5 Holiday break
25 leisure days
71-25=46 - the number of work days I have to complete my commitments before the start of spring semester on January 8th. Needless to say 46 is not nearly enough. Commence full-on panic attack now.
So, Moody, I asked myself, just how many of your remaining TWENTY-FIVE leisure days are you willing to give away before you’re back in the classroom, new syllabus in hand? What could possibly be worth giving up even one of your 25 off days before Spring semester starts? Is the sudden request truly essential service to others, truly so advantageous for your career? You really OK with struggling to find space for one more task?
My self-assessment was an especially difficult task for me to take on. Without Roxanne’s deft math skills and her gentle nudge, I could not have moved from despair to the satisfaction I feel in posting this blog. (Thank you so much, Roxanne!) Whatever your fears, I invite you to sit with a friend and do your own accounting: is there something you’re doing you can choose—without risk to your development and position—to eliminate from your list, to enjoy more rest?
About that asterisk at paragraph 2: Let’s acknowledge the dilemma minoritized women academics face when called on to contextualize another sister’s professional achievements. On the one hand, it’s hard to trust anybody other than another woman of color to name the scholarship in a righteous, intelligent way. We need each other to do the imperative work of explicating—making intelligible, legible—another sister’s years of research, her heart and soul. On the other hand, we remain so few in the higher ranks that we get called on to do more than our share of academic service. Unfair is just one word for our predicament. Self-restraint, well, I had a degree of control over that. Just consider the insanity of my list above.
Consider, too, my colleague’s heartache when I tacitly advised her to review her full task list for its alignment with her earnest professional values. As Professors with numerous additional institutional privileges, both she and I can choose (what) to perform. For my part, I’m ready to audit regularly my commitments, to ensure all of my academic services—graduate teaching, scholarly production, committee leadership—empower minoritized women, they’re services truly worth my time and other resources. Both my institutional colleague and I have the responsibility to preserve our energy so we can work in ways we desire. And we are no less responsible for taking time off to replenish the energies we give the world. AKA she and I, hell, all of us deserve to have a little, err, a whole lotta fun.
Until next time,
By Nichole Guillory (WellAcademic Guest Blogger) - Mothering in Color
What is the KKK, mom?
[Readers: I’ll pause here so you can think about how you would respond if your nine-year-old son asked you this question and so that you might imagine the dread that came over me as I thought about a response.]
The question caught me off guard early one morning as we were driving to school. Nicholas heard it mentioned on NPR news coverage of the Charlottesville events. As with so many news events lately, I was unprepared for my son’s question. I fumbled through an answer and provided minimum details, mostly historical information: what the letters KKK stood for, when and where it was started, what its purpose was.
That was the easiest and least painful question Nicholas had for me that day. I thought my initial answers were enough, but harder questions came later.
What is white supremacy? Did the KKK kill black people? Do they still kill black people? Why did they hate Black people? Why did they also hate Jewish people? Why were the police members of the KKK? Are any police in the KKK now? How did they get members? How do they get members today? How can we find out who’s a member? Do you think anyone at my school belongs to it?
If you haven’t noticed already, Nicholas is curious and asks a lot of questions, and most of them don’t have simple answers. His questions always prompt me to think. They rarely shock me into silence.
But this is what has been happening more often since Friday, January 20, 2017. Tweets, executive orders, un-Presidential responses, non-responses, and equivocating responses complicate our conversations. I sputter through answers and hope that I’m providing some clarity.
I had expected a slow steady trickle of changes aimed at dismantling the modest gains in healthcare, banking regulation, justice reform, marriage equality of the last eight years. I was unprepared for—I can’t say exactly why—the rapidly running river of hate-driven, border-closing, rights-reducing policy decisions made in such a short amount of time. As a result, I have been mothering from a defensive position for the last nine months. That is, something happens, I scramble to make sense of it with my son, we take a family self-care break, and then repeat. This is a familiar cycle for mothers of color, especially now, but how sustainable is it for our own emotional well-being and our children’s? Charlottesville was a wake-up call. It prompted me to change how I mother my son through these difficult times.
l now refuse to let every ugly truth revealed to Nicholas define my conversations with him, define how I mother him, define how I teach him about life, especially about difference. Like all good teachers who don’t teach to a test handed down to them from people who don’t know (or care about) their students, I resist having a curriculum about race dictated to my child and me. Good teachers don’t use other people’s pre-packaged lessons on race and racism. They find openings where other teachers can’t to enact transformative teaching. The transformative approach as it has been applied to education, my academic discipline, requires that teachers “be willing to deconstruct their own existing knowledge, explore alternative perspectives critically, research and include voices and ideas other than those traditionally presented to us, and [for teachers who belong to the dominant culture] address their own roles in perpetuating racism and oppression” (Cumming-McCann, 2003).
And what are parents if not teachers? [Thanks, Roxanne, for reminding me of this.]
Mothers of color practice transformative teaching in our homes all the time. We help our children unlearn oppressive ways of thinking, think and question critically, and love ourselves and our communities. For my child’s sake, I’ve become more intentional about my transformative mothering because these times call for it. Every new troubling incident has the potential for what those of us in education call inquiry learning. That is, a problem comes up, Nicholas has a question he wants answered (also known as an inquiry opportunity), and we work together to unpack complex ideas so that he has more complete information to draw his own conclusions. This is a very different approach than the Heroes and Holidays strategy I used during the Obama years. [See “What’s a Mom to Do in the Age of Trump?”] Even for me—for someone who does “diversity” work in teacher education—this kind of mothering is difficult.
With the barrage of problems that comes up almost daily, I realized that if I’m feeling ill equipped to handle such big questions with such a young child, you might too. There are no simple answers or sure-fire strategies for such complicated matters. In my original ending for this post, I provided a list of resources that I thought might help moms navigate race and racism talks with their children. In the end, however, I decided that what is most important is to offer you my story. Sharing our stories is as important now as it ever has been. Audre Lorde (1984) reminds us to share “what is most important… even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”
Imperfect, unfinished, and messy as it (and I!) may be, the story of the day Nicholas asked about the KKK helped me articulate and enact a process of transformative mothering. I hope it helps others to do the same.
What big idea conversations are you having with your children? I’d love to hear from you…
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.
By Roxanne Donovan - Writing
COMPLETE WELLACADEMIC BLOG POST. This to-do stood out among the others. Its silent recrimination ringing loudly—Why haven’t you gotten to me yet?
The answer boiled down to one word: Fear.
Fear and I go way back. Her presence inexplicably comforts me even though she can wreak havoc on my life, reminding me of a self more imagined than real.
Fear is best at derailing my writing. Her whispers—you’re not good enough, you have nothing important to say, you’re more lucky than skilled—made writing excruciating. Every. Single. Moment.
It is excruciating still. Sometimes. And the distance between always and sometimes is a huge win.
The journey to this point has not been easy. Fear is a worthy adversary, even for a psychologist trained in ways to cope with emotions. And I’m not alone. Many writers struggle with Fear in what appears to be a losing battle. And that’s not okay. Because Fear is vulnerable, wins are possible.
It’s worth repeating: wins are possible. Here are a few ways I use science to help me (and my clients) triumph over Fear.
Pull Fear from Darkness to Light
I thought I could hide from Fear. Crouched in shadows, I held my breath and waited for her to recede. But the dark is no place to face Fear. Avoidance feeds fear, helps her seem larger than life, uncontrollable.
Pulling Fear into the light makes her more tangible. The more visible Fear is—her contours and angles—the easier to deal with her.
So I named her and her goal. This is Fear, a.k.a. Imposter Syndrome and Anxiety. She tries hard to keep me from writing.
This small step makes Fear easier to recognize. Hello, Fear. I see you’re back.
Acknowledging Fear before she does damage opens the space to bring her—and myself—out of the shadows. In the light, I’ve discovered that…
Fear has preferences
Fear loves to, prefers to, show up when I’m writing something new (like this blog post) or writing in a new(ish) voice (e.g., autobiographic) or writing with others I admire. It sucks when all these things intersect, which is happening more and more.
Fear has stamina problems
Fear is strongest early in the writing process. She knows if she keeps me from starting or stops me from finding my rhythm, she wins. Her strength, though, wanes over time. Knowing she can be beat means it’s vital I write through Fear.
Fear has selective memory
Fear is amazing at recalling harsh critiques. Gentle critiques? No worries, Fear can sharpen them until their points penetrate any armor.
Positive feedback? In those rare moments of recall, Fear is adept at distorting the message or messenger. She only said she liked it; it must be crap if she didn’t love it. He’s too nice to tell me the truth.
Recognizing that Fear’s whispers aren’t my full truth is an ongoing struggle; Fear’s voice sounds deceptively like mine. But I’ve found effective interventions. One is creating a gentle counter-narrative that challenges Fear’s penchant for the negative. My writing is good enough. I chant this mantra each time Fear starts her whispers. I initially repeat it without conviction knowing that writing as if I believe still works.
Compiling positive feedback into an easily accessible document is another way I challenge Fear’s whispers. Savoring the positive emotions that come up while reading the feedback dials down Fear’s volume, which makes hearing my counter-narrative easier.
Shame is Fear’s superpower
Fear thrives on shame, a feeling of unworthiness. The result: a pull to hide Fear, to perform (or fake!) a competence and ease in writing that I don’t truly feel. This inauthenticity only amplifies my shame which in turn amplifies my desire to perform.
Vulnerability is Fear’s kryptonite
Breaking out of the shame-performance cycle requires vulnerability. By vulnerability, I mean taking the risk to speak my writing truth to other writers, repeatedly. Why? Sharing Fear with empathic others makes her burden easier to bear. Equally important, it reminds me I’m not alone...and neither are you. Fear is a part of our lives, even those academics who make writing look easy.
Caveat: For women of color, hiding Fear can be an adaptive way to cope with daily indignities and systemic oppression. So be gentle with yourself if enacting vulnerability takes time. A trusting network of confidantes is something that must be nurtured to grow. Organizing a writing sister circle whose expressed goal is to provide compassionate accountability is one place to start.
Shout out to my sister circle: Joycelyn, Nichole, Griselda, Karen, and Jackie (my biological sister who is also an academic). I am grateful beyond measure that you welcome and encourage my authentic self, enabling me to face Fear, practice self-compassion, and get back on the writing path when I diverge. As I did with this post.
In peace and solidarity,