Joycelyn Moody - JMoody's Musings
I have parents again. Don’t misunderstand: I’m exceptionally fortunate that all seven members of my immediate, formative family are still alive. Still, because my intersectional identity includes queer, I didn’t have parents in my 50s—not a father anyway. I’ve always had a sorta mom. I lost my only sister, 13 years my junior, in my 30s. I have two brothers still, having lost the eldest about 10 years ago. But all of a sudden, I have parents again. I think other lesbians, especially Black lesbians, especially middle-aged daughters of respectable, southern-born African American Protestant parents, probably know exactly what I mean.
When folks ask me in one way or another about my family connections, I generally reply, “My people don’t do lesbians.” Since most of the population where I live identifies as hetero, my answer often brings quiet, and then a change of the subject.
My immediate family simply can’t accept queer identity and queer (self-)love. From 1994 until I stopped a few years ago, I pleaded with each of my four siblings for any one of them to denounce the incomplete “family” gatherings from which my partner-since-1997 and I have been barred. But they insisted either I was welcome if I’d “stop choosing” my queer lifestyle, or I “just should ignore Daddy.”
Instead, I stopped fighting for a place at tables where my wife and I weren’t welcome. (My wise, beloved son had years before shown me how crucial this act of self-compassion is.) I dutifully continued calling my mother monthly, when my heart felt up to it. I sent her holiday gifts. I was there for her cancer surgery. Where my father had been, an abyss opened.
Then, two days after my father’s eighty-fifth birthday, I suffered a health crisis. (He didn’t come or call.) Then, as part of my rehabilitation, I made a significant choice: I chose to study Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a scientific meditation practice focused on compassion, forgiveness, and awareness. I’m aware of righteous shortcomings critics of MBSR have made. But in seminar with me were a married couple: Latinx lesbians and, like me, critical race feminists who believe that syncretic meditation practices have a fierce role in collective healing.
Recently, I went for a visit without My Dearest and stayed five days with my parents in the lovely suburban home where my partner and I are not welcome together. This time, parents and I were on our best behavior, for which I’m grateful—even knowing how different things would have been had Sweetness been with me.
I’m thankful, too, my parents look good. Physically, they are not frail. My father gardens daily and plays golf several mornings a week. My mother’s graduated from her walker to a cane she half uses and on the wrong leg. Their daily energy shone remarkably. And yet, of course, in their mid-80s, their health is compromised, and they are each needful in their own way.
I know some persons reading this post will feel me on the issues overt and implicit here. Issues like the weight of African American respectability politics and Black Protestantism. On the shock of seeing time pass on our parents’ faces in ways we can’t trace on our own. I know the choices I face(d)—to keep coming out as queer, to try to live authentically, to lose or loose the dearest of family—are choices some (Black) queer readers will have faced and will face again. Trust me, knowing we are legion keeps me standing.
Despite my parents’ expressed feelings of anger, disappointment, rejection, betrayal, and sadness by my “choice of lifestyle” since the 1990s, and the fissures between us that keep deepening, to my astonishment, I now have parents again. Their lives slowing, they remain as vigilant as ever of their Presbyterian, respectability values. I, too, remain steadfast in my struggle for only relationships based on mutual respect and honesty.
Honesty is what my coaching clients, graduate students, sister friends, lover, and son reveal they most desire. These people trust me most perhaps, and they mirror back to me what is most important in human relationships and within the individual person: fidelity, kindness, empathy, evidence of self-compassion.
In my journey as a student of MBSR, I strive to offer lovingkindness to all. I strive to free myself from the burden, the weight of my own despair. I acknowledge the privileges undergirding the quality of health my parents and I enjoy, and I honor the family members who paved our way. I honor this day, the present, this moment, which is all we have.
Until next time,
Joycelyn Moody - JMoody's Musings
My December column about planning physical and mental rest included this sentence: “Folks, I am finally what not saying ‘No’ often enough, what being one soldier in a tiny army waging war against anti-Blackness, looks like.”
This month, I want to reflect on some of the ideas I crammed into that packed sentence. I’ve felt vulnerable since publishing it. The sentence has stayed with me; it’s crept into my driving quiet, and eased into my meditation. I feel like the image of “not saying no often enough” has me looking rough. My partner says I still look all right. But since Thanksgiving, I’ve had one respiratory illness after another, so I look and feel tired.
Treating my chronic fatigue ironically adds three 2-hour training appointments to my week: I’m working out like a dynamo to increase my energy level. If I want to be a soldier in anybody’s army, I need more strength. Anyone who plans to fight against xenophobia and inequality needs a hella lot of strength. And a lotta big sticks.
Thankfully, I’m not alone in this army, outnumbered though we ultimately are. Other minoritized faculty women—and our shrewd allies—are also fighting against race-based hatred. Sistah-soldiers share their stories of struggle and grief with me all the time. Most are overcommitted in the ways that led to my own need for deliberate rest. which is to say, they need rest, too.
An insight I’ve had recently—and I realize I’m late recognizing this point—is that I keep forgetting that our army is tiny. I probably forget it because we are so mighty. We are powerful. But for all my own literal and figurative strength-training—physical therapy, home, meditation, massage, sister-friendships, and so on—I wore myself out trying to multiply myself on the job, trying to do the work of five faculty sistahs when I am only one person.
There aren’t enough of us minoritized feminist academics. There are not enough faculty women of color to represent us in all the classrooms and boardrooms, on all the committees and platforms where we want our collective perspectives and issues to be raised.
A friend reached out to me the other day. I’ll call her Sheila, though that’s not her real name. Sheila is a Black woman professor who desperately wanted to assist another mutual sistah-colleague of ours.
Aside: Our numbers are so small that it’s actually hard to narrate this experience without worrying that I’ll inadvertently include some details that will reveal the identity of one or the other of these dear friends. In fact, that’s a worry Roxanne and I experience each time we publish a WellAcademic™ newsletter: will our anecdotes unwittingly disclose the identities of the professionals who trust us, given that our focused readerships are so small?
I first became aware of progressive feminist research into this area circa 1995, and I’m discouraged that the demographics of educational institutions remain pretty much the same. It’s a shame that the minoritized women in the academy I know are separated by maybe four, hardly six, degrees. Many of us know each other by name and lineage. We are each other’s teachers, students, mentors, coaches, coauthors, and kin. Systemic poverty and racialized evil keep our numbers low. (One way of generating more of us would be the development of more pipeline programs like the African American Literature & Culture Institute. Call that self-promotion if you want, but I call it begging you to do what you can to replicate yourself, too.)
Back to Sheila. She is a proud person who rarely speaks her stress levels, but in a recent phone call, her voice was strained and tight. Even more oddly, she actually ticked off out loud some of the faculty tasks almost overwhelming her. The year is young—it’s still January as I write this post—so I’m worried about Sheila, concerned she could be following me down the road to chronic fatigue.
And now Sheila was calling on me to bless the fact that she’d agreed to support another sistah-colleague. Been there, bloody heart in both hands extended and determined to help.
I both wanted to encourage Sheila for her willingness to help our sister and to throw up the STOP sign. How to move forward in moments like this is always complicated. Do we take care of ourselves? Do we care for our sistahs? No easy answers--only hard questions and harder answers.
So, I offered Sheila a few suggestions for ways she might assist our other friend, a sister who—needless to say—genuinely deserves the support she was seeking. Sheila responded with gratitude but also with dismay. It was her groan that prompted me to reassure her she could relieve herself of the commitment; she could, in fact, she should, say no to our girlfriend this time because there aren’t enough of us.
“You don’t have to do that for her now.”
Saying no would be more than all right; it would be best. It would save Sheila to fight in our stalwart army another day. And saying no would help keep our numbers rested and ready.
There simply aren’t enough of us yet, no matter how much we want to support each other’s projects, to assist each other in the work we do for the ultimate goal of exposing injustice and righting the immoralities of the institutions where we work. We educate our hearts out to produce an intelligent, informed, and righteous citizenry, but our numbers remain low anyway. We are not to blame for our small populations.
A surge of relief surprised me head-to-toe when Sheila readily embraced this last suggestion. She’d already intuited we minoritized women faculty owe it to ourselves to say no even to each other from time to time.
Such a choice is rarely simple in the injurious academy. Our socialization teaches it’s “selfish,” maybe “unsisterly.” Yet I don’t want another woman faculty of color ever to feel herself a doleful image of “not saying ‘No’ often enough.” Careful self-preservation will remain essential as long as there simply aren’t enough of us.
Until next time,
Innately, I’m a thinker and planner. As an academic, professor, researcher, author, editor, and entrepreneur—not to mention mate and mother—I’ve designed plans for all sorts of institutions and organizations. I’m also a coach in part because I love saying, “What I/we/you need to do is….”
But it turns out I don’t know how to rest. Recently, I happened on Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s book Rest—OK, OK: “I admit I am powerless over lay productivity studies–that my obsession with happiness psychology and neuroscience for amateurs has become unmanageable.” Until Pang, I didn’t even know one needed to plan to rest. For all my knowledge as a teacher and scholar and as a professional coach, I have to learn how to rest if I’m going to restore my energy. Which I now admit, too, I need to do.
I was in the bookstore a few nights before Christmas to buy a Scrabble™ game. A friend had agreed to try out a new ziti recipe for me if I’d also let him beat me at Scrabble. I’m lousy at most board and parlor games, so I’m inured to losing. Stunningly uninspired to fight to win. The ziti was my prize, so getting whupped at Scrabble™, Shit Happens™, Spades, any game—well, yawn.
Once upon a time, I was competitive. I’d be like, “C’mon!” and “Bring it!” Once the poster child of high accomplishments, I am worn out. Folks, I am finally what not saying “No” often enough, what being one soldier of a tiny army raging against anti-Blackness, looks like. I couldn’t take on another task if I wanted, and in the haze of this malaise, I don’t want to. I’m shedding responsibilities like nobody’s business (that’s a pun). You couldn’t pay me to _____. If my life depended on it, I couldn’t _____. You get the idea.
And now I am even saddled with the work of planning deliberate rest, if I am to follow what seems the common sense—wisdom, really—of Pang’s book, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less. (Note my critiques, though: Pang, who cites the restoration processes of numerous White, male creative persons, doesn’t seem to have met even one poor or Black person or working woman ever, and throughout Rest, mind-wandering is advocated more than mindfulness; notably, meditation doesn’t appear in the index.) I urgently need to return to the Elohee Center and Bald Mountain and our WellAcademic retreat in the worst way. And I’ll get back there next May.
Meanwhile, I am resting and wrestling with Pang’s concepts of “deliberate rest” and “deep play.” Pang defines the latter as sustained rest in scheduled creative activities involving physical movement such as sailing, skiing, landscape painting, foreign traveling, or mountain climbing. Uh-huh, my new hobbies might be more like finally creating a household budget we can stick to and dragging a Black woman friend with me to join the local group meditation center, to recover from over-exertion, to rehabilitate.
Deliberate rest takes the less costly form of planned, conscientious, significant time away from whatever constitutes one’s work, again rest being a conscious and active goal. Pang offers one example in Charles Darwin’s afternoon walks of several miles, around his own back yard, after his morning labors. Now that I can do.
And I need to, to regenerate not so much to rejoin the too-tiny righteous army but to be able to remember how awful depletion and over-commitment feel. I need deliberate rest now because I am in fact joyless. For my many self-care rituals have proved inadequate against the number of heavy stressors I’ve faced recently. My habits of daily meditation, regular massage and reflexology, acupuncture, sufficient sleep, an 80% vegetarian-Mediterranean diet, investment in hobbies such as reading for pleasure simply haven’t been enough to sustain the physical and emotional power I believe define me.
So, I must rest. But first, I must learn how to rest.
Until next time,
By Joycelyn Moody, JMoody's Musings
Last Sunday I met a radiant sister Black professor who teaches at another university in town (I’ll call her “A” to protect her anonymity). A thrilling oddity in San Antonio (seventh largest US city), where the population of African Americans has remained a constant 4% since I moved here over a decade ago. Sister professor, possibly a new friend. Unlike me, though, this other professor is also an Associate Dean. That position adds a whole other level of stress.
Still, Dean A cast a pleasant, vibrant demeanor. When she mentioned having served her institution for over 20 years, my research background and the many, many conversations I’ve had with other women of color in the academy kicked in: she’s undoubtedly suffered from the toxicity of injustices and “interlocking systems of oppression” that relentlessly plague academic sisters. Our conversation proved me correct, unfortunately.
My first inclination as a way to sustain connection with Dean A., to help her cultivate a wider network of not only Black academic women’s support but also minoritized educators of all ethnicities, and to envision her having the extraordinary experience I’d had recently among WellAcademic retreat participants: I invited her to attend our 2019 retreats for women of color faculty.
More than anything, what Roxanne and I want for those we encounter—as WellAcademic coaching clients, as retreat participants, as newsletter subscribers, as readers of our blog posts, in on-campus workshops—is to share our unique strengths and gifts as feminist scholars of the African diaspora. As our mission statement announces, we have dedicated our own professional lives to providing others, especially academic women of color, with enriched productivity through reduced life stress.
Meeting Dean A last weekend, I immediately imagined her as an ideal WellAcademic retreat participant, someone who’d almost certainly experience some of what I had in early October 2018.
When Roxanne and I held our first retreat on Bald Mountain at Elohee, I performed two roles: (1) WellAcademic coach and (2) retreat participant. In preparation, 14 retreat participants signed up for 20 to 40 minutes of private coaching with me. At Elohee, heart after heart opened to mine in trust, humbling me. I’ve flattered myself a creative thinker, tactically intuiting when to go deep and rapid fire versus when to work more contemplatively and long-view. Moreover, I’ve savored my research into self-improvement, rereading and applying it through Black feminist theoretical lens.
During my WellAcademic coaching sessions, I felt rejuvenated by the individual connection with clients seeking to regain their paths. At the same time, I gained a new solemnity, a serenity, about my skills while coaching clients. With them, I was experiencing both dynamic personal growth through the incremental “Breakthrough Sessions” Roxanne had crafted for us—then gently led us through—and developing the precious intimate group bond emerging in our sister circles.
We’d accepted Roxanne’s call to Elohee for insight and renewal, for sisterhood and rejuvenation. Having participated in numerous workshops with my astounding business partner before, I knew the other participants and I would inevitably have an extraordinary experience. Whatever the others expected, my own expectations were truly exceeded. The difference lay in the fact of community: while Roxanne was our indisputable fulcrum, magic lay in our collectivity.
I doubt many of us anticipated the powerful experience we’d create together.
Almost each retreat participant arrived with trepidation about WellAcademic’s deliberate timing at institutional midterms. Most divulged the challenge of permitting herself to break away for her own revitalization just when others feel free to demand more from us—make-up midterms at students’ convenience, belated committee meetings on chairs’ timetables, and so on. Even retreat participants “on leave” arrived almost panting, as if we’d run the distances from Cincinnati, Madison, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Miami, doubled over by the demands we make on ourselves and we face (or face down) from others who claim power over us.
I’ll close with two short lists.
What I expected:
What I gained/Hadn’t imagined receiving:
Until next time,
It’s actually still midsummer, but for those of us on the academic clock, time to break away is nigh. A change of scenery, however you can seize it, can bring a vital breath of fresh air. So before your semester starts or kicks into full gear, I’m thinking new inspiring, invigorating scenery is in order.
What do you need?
For starters, a public library card. I live in San Antonio—a vast metropolis with a wide network of public library branches, but maybe it’s not exceptional in its offer of digital and virtual as well as print texts including pulp fictions. Check ’em out. Next up to get a new view: a fit-enough body. (More on physical needs below.) Disposable income doesn't hurt, but you probably need less than you think. Essential requirements: self-trust, curiosity, an open heart, appetite and wanderlust, more humility than judgment, a supple—not obstinate—attitude. Just generating that list starts a tug in me.
When to go?
As far as I’m concerned, we're already running late. Anyway, it’s always time to go. This disposition is insane for a number of reasons, starting with I have the worst sense of direction of anyone you know. Like really, stepping off an elevator, for example, you know how one direction leads into the hotel lobby and the other to a dead-end mirrored wall? I invariably walk into the mirror. You can bet on it 99 percent of the time. It’s sad, really.
So, you would think my wanderlust would be like lukewarm. No. In fact, I’ve recently returned from two states in Brazil—Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais. It was my first trip to Latin America—which is saying something given that I currently live three hours from the Mexican border and I grew up on the Gulf of Mexico. It was an extraordinary experience, to say the least, one that’ll take a long time to process what I learned in both formal and informal professional settings. Expect to hear more about it here, from time to time.
I went to Brazil to participate in the annual symposium of the International Auto/Biography Association of the Americas. A small conference: about 70 artists, educators, and other intellectuals gathered to speak the same language; in our case, not Portuguese but life writing. A thrill to catch up with long-time colleagues and to meet newbies to our circle. Abstracts shared loud, expanded from the print iteration.
Back to the body. Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais reminded me vividly of accessibility limits in New York City my vertigo and I negotiated there last June. So, whatever your ability level, I advise calling ahead to make sure your needs are accommodated at each planned site; scope out transportation options beforehand; don’t be afraid to ask for what you need to make your visit stress free; and scour the web for relevant reviews.
Can’t get to Brazil or out of town at all? Here are five budget-friendly scenery-changing possibilities.
1. Public library card: books on travel, travel writing, transnational and decolonial literature.
2. Outdoor FaceTime. Call a friend who lives in a different climate or region. Check out the interior of a friend’s new home in a distant city.
3. Evening and/or Sunday drives: Sweet Lorraine (my newly irrevocable spouse—gulp) and I drive the 45 minutes to Canyon Lake and eat bad fried food at a seaside café. Sometimes we silently—intuitively—make a pact not to talk much the whole way there and maybe back, too. Glorious time and space to daydream, follow one thought to another. Sure-bet return: harmony and equilibrium restored.
3. Ditto for a short drive into Texas Hill Country vineyards. Boo and I both sample just enough wines to be able to drive home unless the mood strikes for an impromptu overnight.
4. Like your library card, most cities and towns offer public transportation to local museums.
5. Some public transportation routes will also take you to a nearby nature preserve, a city park, or a tourist attraction (think roller coaster or Ferris wheel if a carousel doesn’t shift your gears fast enough).
Looking ahead to fall travel, I’m crazy-excited about our upcoming WellAcademic Fall Retreat. I know firsthand the rejuvenation that comes from breaking away with other writers and thinkers. Good talk, good food, peace for reflection, stunning scenery all await. Come join us!
I’d love to hear about any of your happy travels. Please share in the comments below.
Until next time,
For the longest, I had a teeming stack of textbooks and school papers on my nightstand. Think Harryette Mullen’s enchanting Sleeping with the Dictionary. Then, motivated to write earlier on work-week mornings, I removed all stimulating electronics and books from my bedroom for better sleep hygiene.
Gradually, though, I relapsed into bringing in a book or two for night reading. Not inclined toward self-flagellation (well, maybe, but not concerning books), I’m accepting my bibliophile tendencies (euphemism for nerd, or in my case, blerd). Still, I’ve disallowed all work-related books, and paring down can be good. Seems like it’s always all about the balance.
I know a lot of y'all reading this love a good book, too, so I thought I’d share my musings about what’s been on my nightstand—and what’s still there as summer arrives.
Still there: Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women—you could say I’m a Gay fan. (Hey! That’s a pun. Didn’t intend that, at first, I swear.) Signed by the author, too, after a reading at BookPeople in Austin last July. Fans, eat your hearts out. (But err-- Dr. Gay, if you’re reading this, I was the very cute, Black baby boomer, gushing, purposely at the end of the line.) Thus far, I’ve been fascinated by these particular, and particularly, Difficult Women, so I’m still slowly savoring a story on a random night. Generally, I like to have short fiction on hand, precisely for their conciseness. Who doesn’t love a vivid world that wraps up in less than an hour?
I also thrill to quizzes—the kind in women’s magazines and the New York Times that assess the health of your sex life, physical body, productivity, family relations, like that. I’m proudly not yet married, but for nightly browsing, I nonetheless bought John M. Gottman and Nan Silver’s second edition of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. It’s full of all manner of soft-to-severe interrogations for couples. My Not (Yet) Wife, a clinical psychologist, looked on with both rolled eyes (which, by the way, Gottman famously cites as a death knoll in romantic relationships) and soothing words: “Buy it if it’ll make you feel safer, dear.” Of course, I quizzed her ad nauseum on our last two-hour drive to the beach in celebration of our 22nd anniversary. What better way to ….?
A close friend who died a year ago was always trying to get me to read Zadie Smith. When it first came out, I got halfway through Smith’s White Teeth when Smarter Me sweetly assured Good Student Me I didn’t have to finish reading a novel I wasn’t enjoying, even though, or especially since, I’d devoted so much time to it. But after my friend died, I started listening to an audio version of Smith’s more recent novel Swing Time about Black British Gen X women. Highly recommend, especially for readers who enjoy mentally leaving home, as this contemporary story makes transatlantic and diasporic migrations across multiple continents and into the psyche. On my night stand, I had a library print copy, to take in all the details—visual as well as verbal—one misses with audiobooks. Word to the wise: an audio version runs about 14 hours.
Finally, Claire of the Sea Light might prove a quick-read for most, but I’ve been so wiped out by the time I hit the hay each night, I’ve hardly managed to read two paragraphs before dozing off. I closed this Edwidge Danticat novel with more insight into the ways we make decisions for others, often unwittingly. More insight into how we compel others in our sphere to confront and grapple with the proverbial action-reaction-consequences of our own lessons. Luminous, to steal an adjective from the cover blurbs. Claire’s story is set on the Haitian coast, where she is only seven years old. Yet Danticat’s affecting novel surveys primarily adult decisions and the entanglements they activate. Kinda (positive) spoiler alert: Claire of the Sea Light ends happier than other fiction Danticat’s won prizes for. Still, it’s African diasporic feminist teachings are breathlessly powerful. I’m glad I read it. Who knew I am such a sucker for “elsewhere” explorations.
Claire retired, my night table presently holds only a coloring book and Difficult Women. Soon, though, I’ll have my turn with the local library’s copy of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, and the copy of Lonely Planet Rio de Janeiro I ordered for a summer conference should arrive soon. (Yeah, that’s me boasting.) But wait. Would the latter count as a schoolbook? All about the balance.
Until next time,
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,