By Joycelyn Moody - JMoody's Musings
At a Dean’s mixer last month, I asked one of my favorite colleagues, Ben*, how he’d spent his summer vacation. He told me he wrote a book. He got up every morning by 6, hit the CrossFit gym by 7, and was in his cubicle in the university library by 8. He wrote until he didn’t feel like it anymore, usually around 5 or 6 pm.
Ben told me the cubicle was stark, ascetic, and I conjured up a monk’s cell. No photos, no mementos, nothing but a bookshelf and a desk lamp. Our library has a Starbucks and a cafeteria where he probably ate lunch. Sometimes he’d go stir crazy, he said, and other times he’d take a nap, but mostly it was just him, his Mac, and some books.
I marveled. I was awestruck. Could any minoritized women pull this off? Could I?
I knew Ben as a hard worker. We’d sat together for Faculty Senate meetings; we’d sat together at a campus writing workshop. Once, at a different mixer, we had each been invited to present on our distinctive research projects. I’ve envied his fantastic discipline, and I believed wholeheartedly that he could write, had written, a book in just under four months.
Me: Had you started at all before May?
Ben: No, nothing in writing. Just mulling over the topic.
Me: Did you literally finish?
Ben: Yeah, well, I’ve sent the manuscript to my editor, and I’ll send off the bibliography when I’ve cleaned it up.
Me: [Without enthusiasm:] Congratulations.
After, I polled a few women of color: was that kind of situation possible for them? Could they write a book in four months? Each one laughed at me for a fool.
More than once, though, I myself have had time “off” to write a book. Every time, I faced the same dilemma I still face: do I continue my practice of giving to others more than I give to myself? Only once, as I’ll recall below, did I choose to ignore the onslaught of academic requests I frequently get as a Black woman called to service, even before tenure. It’s the dilemma many of my coaching clients have expressed.
My Love and I have each other, but neither of us has a wife. Ben does, though. For all I know, she’s a White academic, too, as he is, and maybe they’re equally sharing home care. It’s a safer bet, though, theirs is a traditional relationship with Guess Who doing the lion’s share.
My first and second “off” times formed 15 back-to-back months, and by the end I was supposed to have placed a (tenure) book in publisher’s hands. Turning attention to my millennial son over to his father, I started a summer fellowship over a thousand miles away: other Black lesbian academics were my community for the first time. As my fellowship required, I taught a group of reluctant undergraduates. Again, as stipulated, I wrote and delivered a talk about my book project.
Three months later I moved again—this time to Massachusetts for another fellowship. This one provided 12 more months “off’ (nine longer than Ben had). Once more, the terms of the fellowship required that I teach. I’d prepped to move, now I prepped for class. During my orientation, I was shown my study cubicle, a monk’s cell like Ben’s, plain walls, no windows.
How did I spend my time? The first term I taught a graduate seminar. I finished a few book reviews. Re-started my book chapter. Advised my doctoral students back home, some of them on the job market. I read and returned dissertation chapters. I wrote some overdue reader reports. I mentored my new grad students. I visited long-time friends in the area. I spent Christmas break grading seminar papers and attending the MLA convention. For an edited volume, “off” work, I wrote my own chapter, hell to draft.
I’d sold my car back home, and I biked everywhere until I was snowbound. I joined a heaven of Black queer intellectuals. I mentored the grad students among them. I pined for a lover I’d just left; miraculously, she greets me now with kisses every morning. I wrote and gave an open lecture to the fellowship sponsors, the campus community, and the public. I worked in my apartment. I never went back to that cubicle again.
By the time I left Massachusetts for my home in Seattle, I had come out to my mother as queer, and I had drafted two of the six chapters of the book I was supposed to have finished. And yet I had worked very hard across the 15 months I was “off.” The tenure book would come a few years later.
As I said, though, I did write a book once. Six years later, I was awarded a one-month fellowship. My son now on his own. This time, too, the site was outside Boston. All April, I researched my second book in a nurturing archive. I renewed my Boston friendships. I lived in a scholars’ residence.
In May, I left New England for my parents’ home in Kansas City. On May 1, my mother became my wife. As a University of Kansas PhD, I was privileged with a small corner room in the satellite KU Alumni Library two miles up the road from my folks’. It was just off the librarians’ canteen, and had windows on three sides. I arrived by nine every weekday morning, and I left when the library closed at six. My book project was the teacher’s guide to a 3000-page anthology of Black literature.
I started Weight Watchers in the second week of May, and by September, I’d lost 30 pounds. The rigor and regimen of my research program, and the counting of WW “points,” reinforced each other. I took a long twilight walk after work. No novels: I read grad students’ exams at night. I co-directed two dissertations. I read some tenure dossiers.
Mom did my laundry and bought the essentials. I took a cooler of salads for lunch. My parents marveled at their daughter’s discipline. I emailed my editor. She emailed me more. Once, I participated three hours by phone in a doctoral exam. I wrote more readers’ reports. I drafted a syllabus. I laughed with my son, in love with his two –year-old twin siblings; his father’s by a later marriage.
Somedays, for a change, I walked four blocks uphill to a community college to read in a girlfriend’s campus office; she was away for summer fun. My academic community afar checked in. I lunched with a grad school friend; she still lived in Kansas.
Yes, I was lucky and gifted beyond belief, but do believe me.
All spring and summer, My Sweet Thang saw house after house, buying our first home back home. She paid the earnest money. When we spoke to the lender, I was in Kansas, braced for a tornado.
Back then, paper was king, and just after Labor Day, I came home to nine pounds of paper proofs. My family and I sang to the new baby birthed at last.
Jubilant and skinny, I went home to a house I’d never seen.
How can a woman of color write a book in four months? Single, mothering, partnered, someone to maintain quotidian duties. Tenured or not, she should, as I did not, expect a lag in her professional responsibilities. Even when she wants to, she won’t ignore students. She will still assess the tenure cases of minoritized faculty around the nation. Our author will need a good library a few blocks close, and another regimen, for balance. Exercise and good food. She will need her own room, and someone else’s funds, plus a wealth of health. A wife would be good, but slovenliness is fine. She will need good luck. Perhaps a coach. A community who calls. She will work very hard—on the book and much more. She will love herself more for her efforts.
[*Ben is not my colleagues real name. ]
Until next time,
By Nichole Guillory (WellAcademic Guest Blogger) - Mothering in Color
This has been a year. Nationally, we have been disgusted by the inhumanity of those in power, and we have consoled each other through several successive natural and unnatural disasters. Locally, we have seen an increase in the number of racist incidents in public schools, and at my own college campus, we have experienced several administrative decisions that seemed antithetical to a welcoming, transparent, and inclusive environment. Through all of these incidents, the young people I work with at my university are a constant reminder to me that the (other)mothering spaces we create for students are absolutely necessary.
Before I outline some characteristics of these spaces, I want to make clear that mothering spaces are not to be confused with mammy-ing spaces, where a Black woman professor agrees with everything her students say and does not challenge their long-held beliefs no matter how problematic they might be; who chooses to avoid difficult conversations about race, gender, sexuality, and class difference and the intersections of these; and who does not highlight how privilege and power work to maintain inequity.
[Some of you unaccustomed to the hardships of working while Black and woman may stop reading at this point because I have dared to suggest that contemporary academic work places sometimes conjure Old South politics of servant-served relationships between Black women and their White colleagues. If so, I’ll miss you. Those who dare to read on, I welcome your fortitude.]
Don’t take my word for it. I respectfully encourage you to ask your Black woman professor friend—wink wink—about her experiences and if she’s honest, she will tell you that when she agrees with the majority, does not ask questions, exposes inconsistencies, or points out potential problems, things go much more easily than when she does not. In a mammy-ing space, Black women professors must lose their agency and become passive players in the educational enterprise.
A mothering space in an educational setting is exactly the opposite. While it will take varied forms, fundamentally it is an empowering and culturally sustaining space that allows our students to see themselves reflected in the curriculum, encourages them to be their authentic selves, prepares them with frameworks to help them make sense of interlocking systems of oppression, and supports them to develop their own praxis for change. These are the kinds of educative spaces historically marginalized students need and deserve to have, especially now, and these are the kinds of spaces necessary to the overall health of schools and universities.
Lest I become too reductive, I want to make clear that mothering spaces are not biologically determined as the domain of cis-women. Let my articulation of such spaces be an all-call to the professoriate writ large. Long before I became Nicholas’s biological mother ten years ago, I constructed mothering spaces for my non-biological sons and daughters because the world does not always want students from historically marginalized communities to be fully human. With almost 25 years in teaching, here’s what I prioritize in the design and teaching of my courses and in my mentoring of students:
Priority #1: The self in the context of the collective.
I depend heavily on the use of the autobiographical both in written assignments as well as a mode of analysis of and engagement with readings. I always begin with some form of autobiographical writing connected to course content so that we can introduce ourselves to each other and begin to share our perspectives. In doing so, I hope to create a space where students want to share some of what they have experienced and connect with others. Additionally, I depend on Kimberlé Crenshaw’s intersectionality framework to help students understand the context for identity and the role power plays in its construction.
Priority #2: The dialogic.
In my classes, we often meet in a circle so that we can better listen to and engage with each other, so that we are accountable to each other, so that we can dialogue with each other. Dialogue is evident in my selection of readings too. I choose pairs of readings that present different perspectives on a single topic, or I choose a classic text juxtaposed with a contemporary text for comparative study. I often use the dialogic as an approach to teaching, especially when co-teaching is an option. Students benefit from two instructors who are not in the same discipline or who use different frameworks to structure their classes. Through the dialogic, students learn how to evaluate perspectives and draw their own conclusions.
Priority #3: The voices of historically marginalized scholars.
I deliberately choose to center voices that are typically omitted from required reading in other courses. That we take the experiences of historically marginalized students as central to our learning and that we use scholars from historically marginalized communities to analyze those experiences allow students to understand their experiences in new ways. Students also learn that we have a significant intellectual lineage, past and present, of extraordinary thinkers. And that they are next in line.
Priority #4: Action.
Almost every course I teach requires students to take what they’ve learned and apply it in some way in a historically marginalized community. We don’t begin with the belief that our communities are lacking, but we identify community assets and develop projects that build on those in order to make some kind of positive impact. Making a difference in our own communities often has the effect of reducing some of the hopelessness students feel about what’s going on nationally.
Priority #5: Revolutionary love.
This is the most important characteristic of mothering spaces. In our rush to “cover” as much content as possible at the college level, we forget that relationship building is often more important for students from historically marginalized communities. Showing students that I care about them, that their well-being matters to me, that if they’re absent from class, we’ve lost the opportunity to learn from them that day, that I will tell them the truth even though they may not want to hear it, that I support them and hold them to very high standards at the same time, that I ask them to thank a classmate publicly in our last class for something they’ve learned during the semester: these are all acts of revolutionary love for our students, love that just might inspire them to show this kind of care to others and to themselves.
As you head into a new semester, I invite you to think about your classes and what they might become for students if we thought of them as mothering spaces instead of pass/fail, meets/not meets, covering content only kinds of spaces. They just might excel beyond our expectations.
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 - Wellness, Holidays
In these last days until Christmas, many who celebrate are running around trying to find the perfect gift. Before you head to the mall one more time, take a moment to think about what you are giving. Not all gifts are created equal. Delete off that list the clothes, electronics, and toys you planned to buy, because…
MORE STUFF DOES NOT MAKE US HAPPIER
Okay, I’m exaggerating a little for effect. There are some caveats. First, this applies only to those who are financially secure, not to the financially vulnerable—like those who regularly experience food or housing insecurity. Second, we do experience a short blip in happiness when we get stuff we want. BUT it is temporary, and we quickly get back to baseline.
So if you really want to find a gift that is remembered and savored for more than a blink of the eye, research suggests giving experiences not things.
Not sure what would make a memorable experience gift. Here are five suggestions to get you started.
1. Weekend trip.
This is well-suited for couples, friends, and families—think a camping trip to a nearby park, a two-day hotel reservation in a close city, an all-inclusive spa getaway, whatever. You are only limited by your imagination (and budget).
2. Annual membership to a museum or science center.
Pick a place you know the recipient will be excited about. Consider a family membership for those with kids.
3. Tickets to a play, concert, or sporting event.
Just make sure the type of event suites the recipient’s taste, that you gift more than one ticket (no one wants to do this stuff alone), and the date will likely work for all involved.
4. Classes to learn a new skill or refine an existing one.
The categories here are endless—wine tasting, painting, photography, Tai-Chi, dancing, pottery-making, yoga, singing, piano, swimming…I could go on. Just make sure you gift more than one set so the person can bring a friend or two, which ups the joy and memorability factors.
5. Season passes to a nearby amusement park.
This is particularly great for families. What kid doesn’t like to splash around, eat junk food, and ride roller coasters.
In peace and solidarity,