Monthly Archives: March 2012

You Breathe Differently Down Here

The first class I taught adjunct in Michigan was a last minute proposition: the chair of the Women’s and Gender Studies department called me a couple weeks before the start of the fall semester, wondering if I might be interested in teaching a women’s lit class that had unexpectedly become available. She had pulled my CV from a file drawer; when I planned the move to Michigan more than a year earlier, I sent CVs to a number of colleges and universities, hoping to cultivate exactly this sort of adjunct work. I said yes, met for a quick interview, went home with the stack of books that had already been selected and shipped to the bookstore.

Some were familiar from my own undergrad women’s lit classes, though I hadn’t read or thought about them since: Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea, Emma, The Handmaid’s Tale. Others, like Persepolis, I would read for the first time with my students. The class was small, 12 or maybe 15 women, and met one night a week. I was working part time in an elementary after-school program, so when the kids sat down for their last snack, I would go in the bathroom, change from sticky jeans into something “classier,” as the fifth grade girls always said, and then head across town to campus, trying to make the mental shift from pinecone birdfeeders to textual analysis as I drove.

I wanted to start the semester on familiar ground, and since the books had been ordered, poetry seemed like my best option. I photocopied a few poems and handed them out on the first day; Diving Into the Wreck was among those poems. I taught it because I loved the imagery, the mermaid, the knife, the book of myths, loved the way the very tools you need in the depths, the flippers, are crippling on the descent down the ladder, loved the tension between permanence and decay, damage and treasure.  I let the poem stand wide open for my students, who found their own ladders into its depths: what if the wreck is history? What if it’s a university? What if it’s the love of your life?

I also photocopied an essay from What is Found There: “The hermit’s scream.” I wanted my students to read it not just for the content—a powerful exploration of the relationship between poetry, politics, and current events and the meaning of political activism—but also as a model of how to read thoughtfully. Rich is a writer in this essay, of course, but she is also a reader (as she is in most of the essays in this collection), moving deftly between poems by June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Suzanne Gardinier, theory on nonviolence  by Barbara Deming, images from the first Gulf War. The poems are there in their entirety, so my students could see the way her questions rise up from the center and the margins of the text, from the core of the author’s words and what’s left unsaid.

The essay begins with a poem by Elizabeth Bishop called “Chemin de Fer”; in it, a solitary person walking along a railroad track hears a hermit fire a shotgun and scream “Love should be put into action!”

Love should be put into action. Rich asks:

“What would it mean to put love into action in the face of lovelessness, abandonment, violation? Where do we find, in or around us, love—the imagination that can subvert despair or the futile firing of a gun? What teaches us to convert lethal anger into steady, serious attention to our own lives and those of others?”

Love should be put into action.

I fell headfirst into women’s studies as an undergrad, read the books and theories and poems my professors assigned hungrily, protested, rallied, lit candles at vigils, sat up late at night in dorm rooms listening to bootleg tapes of early Ani diFranco with women, friends, roommates, sometimes strangers, our lives suddenly, certainly, intertwined . The Women’s Studies faculty at my tiny liberal arts college were, and are, thoughtfully, unapologetically, radical. When I teach Rich’s 1980 essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” now my students are quick to critique it as essentialist and hesitant to embrace any connection between women’s intimacy and lesbian identity, but when I read it as an undergrad, I identified immediately with the way Rich places women at the center of women’s lives.

Love should be put into action. “I continue to hear the dirty hermit’s scream and to want it to become a general cry,” Rich writes.

And if there is a line that connects those first feminist awakenings in dorm rooms and classrooms, to the theory I parsed first with difficulty then with ease in grad school, to my teaching, to my mothering, Rich and the hermit articulate it better than I ever could. Love should be put into action.

A couple of nights ago, when I heard, via Facebook, of Rich’s passing, I pulled out The Fact of a Doorframe and read late into the night, and when my almost 5 year old saw it lying on the couch the next morning she asked me to read her a poem. I read her a few lines from Diving Into the Wreck, hesitant to offer her the more frightening or intense images, and she asked, “What does she mean, she breathes differently? Is she a scuba diver or a mermaid?”

She was both, I said. Sometimes, you have to be both.

Reading Adrienne Rich in Oklahoma with a bunch of boys

Reading Adrienne Rich was such an incendiary experience for me that I actually contemplated burning my copy of Diving Into The Wreck when we were finished with it. My friend/roommate/fellow-English-major-cum-feminist was aghast, and I realized she was right. So, my copy of Diving remained intact, though I don’t know where it is anymore. 

My sophomore year in college was epic. I was coming off a fatally fucked up relationship and had decided to do everything different that year. I walked over a mile to school on the first day of that fall semester and surfed into class on an endorphin high. I’d decided to join the women’s rugby team and be social with someone other than my former boyfriend, who’d fled the confines of our relationship to the snowy north. We read Diving Into the Wreck in Mr. Frank’s 2313 course in the English Department at the University of Oklahoma: the first required course for English majors, which schooled us in close reading analysis. It was a room full of college sophomores from a red state – I mean a deep red state; our school color was crimson – who’d idly thought we’d like to continue talking about Wordsworth and Shakespeare rather than train as accountants or engineers. We’d checked a box next to English as our major and declared war with ourselves, unknowingly, because Frank was a bit of a gatekeeper. He insisted that English majors question everything, and do so with perfect grammar. The class was full of boys, and we crammed into a seminar room the size of a tinder box: a handful of us brave enough to sit around the oak table where Frank sat at the head, the rest of the group ringing us in desks shoved against the wall, stacked in the corner.

He broke us in with Hemingway’s short stories. Each week, we wrote an intensive close reading analysis: papers that were two or three pages long, single spaced, which Frank returned covered in meticulous corrections and commentary in blue ink. He’d select one or two to read aloud as examples. We learned about synecdoche and metonymy and to never, ever “violate the chronology” of a text. He chastened me for depending too much on the dash for emphasis; when I switched to semi-colons, he advised me to actually learn how to use them before abusing them. On a friend’s essay, he drew a line under the third paragraph and next to it he wrote, “I stopped reading here.” So before we even got to Rich’s mindblowing stuff, we were poised unsteadily; shaken. Because, we’d thought we were really smart and this would be fine, and we were wrong. We had a lot to learn and a long way to go. Some people saw this as an occasion to dig in and get serious; some started seeing Frank as the devil incarnate. For me, Frank was hands down, the best teacher I had in college: the smartest, craziest, most intense, and most desperate that we actually learn. The guy was basically losing his mind trying to get a bunch of idiots to think critically. He fought the good fight, sometimes putting his purple plastic coin purse on his head to diffuse tension; sometimes pounding his fist on the table, his face red and eyes ablaze, just pissed at us.

This is supposed to be about Adrienne Rich, and it is. We read Diving into the Wreck next. I hung out with a bunch of guys in that class. We were supposed to be friends, or a study group, or something, but mostly we got together and complained about Frank’s class. Initially, we agreed he was a genius, but as the semester wore on, there was less consensus on anything beyond the certainty that he was going to have a breakdown. I was a naïve co-ed and knew nothing about feminism – real feminism, anyway – until I read Adrienne Rich. Starting my feminist education with Rich was baptism by fire: her work is polemical, striking at the foundations of cultural institutions like marriage and motherhood. I don’t remember her WORDS so much as her IDEAS, although rereading “Diving Into the Wreck” I remember spending hours trying to make sense of the knife, the camera, the book of myths; “I go down.”

Reading Rich in a closeknit group of men with something to prove was, ya know, REALLY WEIRD. I was thrilled to be one of the guys, thrilled to drink Minnesota Spew out of cans and smoke clove cigarettes on the porch, talking about poetry and cinema with other smart people. God, I’d been waiting my whole life for that. But it was uncomfortable. The more we dug into Rich’s radical concepts of gender as social construct, of women as powerful, of society as essentially, profoundly sexist, the more I turned the mirror to myself and asked unsettling questions about my relationships with and to men. I’d accepted some pretty awful treatment from my first boyfriend, and had spent most of my life seeking the approval of men. I recognized myself, and hated myself, in her words. I thought she is right, and in class I spoke up quite a bit, but I also wanted those guys to like me! I wanted them to be my pals! I wanted to date one or all of them! But our gatherings evolved increasingly into pseudo-debates about gender and sex acted out primarily through pissing contests between a few of the guys over who could tell the most offensively racist or sexist joke. Most of the jokes involved turning any conversation into an opportunity to use the punchline “Baby, why you gotta make me hurt you?”

Damn me and my penchant for funny, charismatic men: I had a huge crush on one of the worst offenders in the group. The cognitive dissonance generated by aggressively pursuing this guy and reading Rich at the same time is almost impossible to describe. We hung out some and made out some, but it didn’t really go anywhere. The next semester, I spent an insane amount of money buying a special edition of Army of Darkness as a Valentine’s Day gift; only later would I discover he had another girl in his apartment when I gave it to him. I thought I could wear him down by being his version of awesome, which meant eschewing the protofeminist within and swearing, loudly and in front of people, that if I had a chance I would definitely fuck Britney Spears.

Another confession: Mr. Frank once chewed me out for calling Adrienne Rich a “chick.”

Yes. I did that.

But in the spring, after the class had wrapped up (we finished the semester with an analysis of Vertigo using Berger’s Ways of Seeing), the shine was fading from this social group. One of our members wrote an hilarious send-up of the class that he titled Frank Club, in which Frank had us do a close reading of “Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?” We were each lampooned for our classroom quirks: Brian for always wearing a baseball cap; me for always having something to say; Matthew for taking the conversation in a twisted direction that no one could follow; and the rest of the guys (including my Crush) simply figured out a way to turn it into “Baby, why you gotta make me hurt you?” (This was a brilliant piece of satire and I wish I could reread it.)

I remember a party in early March at our friend James’s house. My Crush showed up and spent the entire time kung fu fighting with this other guy who I thought was a completely phony, pretentious jackass. And for the first time I really looked at him and asked myself how he was different from the jackass. Most of our parties, I’d realized, were really just an exercise in performances of masculinity, and this elaborate sparring was about as close to a literal cock fight as I’d ever seen. And that just no longer impressed me in any way. What was I really interested in, beyond his admittedly extremely good looks?

The next week, I wrote an essay for my Interpersonal Communications class. I had to compare and contrast two relationships in my life. I wrote about my Crush and my Friend, both guys from Frank Club. When I got the paper back, my teacher had simply written, WHAT ARE YOU GETTING OUT OF THIS RELATIONSHIP? next to the section on my Crush.

I thought about all these guys I’d been hanging out with and my extremely bad taste in men in the past and wondered why I was so attracted to charismatic dudes who were easily threatened by a powerful and smart lady. I decided to make a change, and try dating someone nice. Someone who seemed respectful and was a good listener rather than a good talker. Someone who might be threatened by Rich, but didn’t reject her outright. I picked Friend, a boy with a quiet presence, a person I always found myself looking for at parties and always happy to see. Plus, he smoked and god, it was sexy.

I invited Friend over to watch Temptation Island and waited for him to work up the guts to kiss me. It took approximately five hours. Finally, his heart pounding and palms sweaty, he kissed me: a long, soft, lovely first kiss just after midnight on March 29th. In about a month, we were making out to The Bends in his dorm room while the pear trees bloomed, and by the end of the semester, we were In Love. We got married three years later. (Happy kiss-iversary, Brian.)

It’s funny to me that so much about my Adrienne Rich story has to do with my relationships with and to white dudes, but that’s the truth. I started to expect better from the people around me, stopped changing myself to please men, and recognized myself as a smart and powerful person. Pretty soon I was reading Friedan and telling Brian that my worst nightmare would be living in the suburbs with a minivan (how I went from that to, ya know, living in the suburbs with a Camry is a whole other story). I ended up writing a feminist analysis of Anne Sexton’s poetry as an Honors thesis, directed by Mr. Frank. He also encouraged me to go to grad school in American Studies (oh well, can’t win ‘em all).

Rich planted the seeds of feminism in my fertile and doubting mind, and I started making better choices. My whole me was shaped by reading her work and for that, I am grateful.

RIP Adrienne Rich

 “It’s such a portable art, for one thing; it travels. And it is made of this common medium, language. Through its very being, poetry expresses messages beyond the words it is contained in; it speaks of our desire; it reminds us of what we lack, of our need, and of our hungers. It keeps us dissatisfied. In that sense, it can be very, very subversive.”

Lauren and I will be blogging about our own experiences reading and teaching Adrienne Rich later this week. For now:

the NYT obit

a thoughtful interview from 1994


Here’s How I Actually Completed 4 Pinterest Projects!

I confessed in our Pinterest chat last week that I had never actually followed through on any of my pins: all those delicious recipes and adorable crafts and fabulous outfits are elaborate fantasies of the gorgeous, perfect mom I am in my mind. (The mom I am in real life, in my kitchen, is wearing grungy pajamas and drinking coffee from a pint glass. This is my second pint of coffee. I have been out of bed for approximately 20 minutes.)

So here are my attempts to baby step from Pinterest fantasy to reality. I completed, with some degree of success, 3 recipes and a craft project.

Project 1: Key West Grilled Chicken

I forgot to take pictures because I was so hungry, and I substituted tofu for chicken, lime juice from a bottle for fresh limes, garlic powder for chopped garlic, and I sautéed the marinated strips of tofu in a skillet. But I’m still calling it a Pinterest success story! I ate the resulting yummy tofu on a salad of mixed greens from a big plastic tub. Grapes, mango, cherry tomatoes, poppy seed dressing. Yum. I will make this again.

Project 2: Fro Yo Droplets

Drops of frozen yogurt on a cookie sheetSqueeze some yogurt out of a Ziplock bag onto a cookie sheet. Freeze it. Put the cute little frozen drops in a bowl and tell your kids that it’s a “Frozen Dot Appetizer.” Even the kid who refuses to eat yogurt ate mountains of Frozen Dots. They are oddly delicious.

Pro Tip: They melt quickly. Don’t put a pile of them on your baby’s high chair tray for her to eat/play with unless it’s bath night.


Project 3: Funfetti Cookies

Last year I stayed up all night making seahorse cookies for D’s 3 year old preschool class, and then the dog ate them off the table, and then I made seahorse finger Jello, and then I resolved to simplify this whole birthday treat business the next time around.

The girls and I do quite a bit of baking together, and they were very excited to get to use SO MANY SPRINKLES MAMA! IT’S A SPRINKLE PARTY IN OUR BOWL!

Put on aprons, dump in a box of cake mix, crack a couple eggs, stir, add an unholy amount of sprinkles, bake. Awesome. Easy, fun, and Lucy thought the dough was so delicious she sneaked back in to the kitchen to eat some more while I was distracted looking for a white plate to arrange the cookies on so I could photograph them.

Girls adding ingredientsGirls mixing eggs wth whisk


Pro tip: The recipe said bake at 350 for 10 minutes, which left the first round of cookies burnt to a sprinkly crisp. Burnt cookies

I turned the oven down to 325 and baked them for 7 minutes. Next time, I would refrigerate the dough.

The recipe made about 3 dozen, plus the burned dozen I threw away, plus the dough Lucy ate. D’s preschool class found them to be so delicious that not a single kid threw their cookie away instead of eating it: the gold standard of snack time.


Project 4: Footprint Butterfly

If you want a surefire way to keep my kids happy, give them some art supplies. Markers, crayons, stickers, glue stick, scissors, paper? They can go for hours. Most of what they produce is not museum quality, but they are super proud of it. T put up an art clothesline in our hallway, and I rotate new art and school papers through every couple of days.


Footprint butterflies are not that kind of art.

I showed them the picture on the iPad and explained the process. Since it was an unseasonably gorgeous day and the baby was napping, we went outside.

They decided they wanted pink butterflies, and helped me squeeze the paint bottles and mix the paint. I dipped one foot at a time in paint, helped them position it on the paper, carried them a couple yards to a bowl of water (if it spilled, I didn’t want the partially completed art to be flooded), and washed between their toes. It took two tries to get Lucy’s footprints on the paper without huge smears of paint near her heels.


When Margeaux woke up, I put her in her high chair, coated her feet in paint, and stuck them to the paper. She shrieked in protest and smeared paint all over my shirt.


I did 4 loads of laundry while the paint dried, then we got out the glitter glue. I helped them make the butterfly bodies and heads; D did her own antennae.


Overall: not time intensive, but messy, and not a lot of opportunity for creativity or interpretation by the kids making them. But the end result will be adorable framed on their bedroom wall (or would be a fantastic gift for a grandma on Mother’s Day), and will be worth holding on to long after most of the hallway art is tossed into the recycle bin. And the paint washed out of my shirt with just a little squirt of dish soap.

So: 4 Pinterest success stories! Maybe next week I’ll try to assemble one of the stylish outfits I’ve pinned for less than $20 at the Goodwill.

Fashion Tips for New Moms: How to MacGyver Your Way Into Being Publicly Presentable

In the spirit of our repudiation of lifestyle blogging and our interest in representing life as we life it, rather than as we wish we live it, I bring to you my New Mama Fashion Tips. These can work for any mama, but are especially useful to mothers in that transitional time after birth, when your body is lumpy, your boobs are leaky, and everything feels exposed and uncontainable and uncertain.

I’m not a fashionista, or even a nice-clothes-ista. On my first date, at age 16, I wore Mom jeans and a boxy, striped t-shirt. I kid you not. My idea of dressing up was brushing my hair and putting on lip gloss. I’ve never developed a personal style or look or signature accessory. I don’t even have pierced ears (I decided in jr high I’d rather spend my money on CDs). Motherhood has only made this aspect of my personality worse, because it’s the best reason to not look nice. First of all, no one faults you for wearing the same jeans every day when you sleep less than 3 hours at a time and have enormous, leaking breasts and look like you might cry. They are not worried about your jeans at that moment. Second of all, there’s absolutely no point in wearing that nice sweater because it’s going to get puked on or peed on, or jelly-fingered, or snot-wiped, before you leave the house. I never struggled against this inevitability, I simply assumed/hoped no one would notice.

Each year in my personal journal, I write a Year in Review survey that includes a question about my “fashion concept” for 2001 or 2009 or whatever. Here are the responses I’ve had over the years (my daughters were born in ’08 and ’10):

2008: Comfortably frumpy? I’m really unhappy with my overall look. Big t-shirts, pajama pants. 

2009: Frumpy evolving into pajama wear.

2010: “Is it obvious that this is a maternity shirt?”

2011: “Can anyone else smell this stinky bra?”

Note the emergent themes of pajama pants and concerns that my lack of appropriate daywear might be obvious to the rest of the world. Fortunately, my audience for daily attire is usually tuned-out eighteen year olds who spend more time looking at their phones than they do me. And I know the Walgreens guy has seen way worse, so.

If you’re a woman for whom personal style is really important, this will probably sound horrifying. Motherhood fucks with our identities in myriad ways, and our ability to maintain cleanliness, let alone style, is profoundly challenging. Even a mama with an underdeveloped sense of personal style can feel bad about wearing an ill-fitting green shirt for the third day in a row because it’s the cleanest thing available. You will look in the mirror and not recognize yourself. I promise it’s a phase. This too shall pass.

In the meantime, I have developed some guerilla mommy clothing tips that I will now share with you. These tips will not make you look nice, but they may help you avoid some embarrassment, and I’ve never seen them mentioned elsewhere.

Tip #1: The roll-top stretchy skirt

I have these in multiple colors and multiple lengths, and usually get them on sale at Old Navy. Roll-top skirts are kind of like yoga pants: stretchy and very comfy, and with the right accessories you can trick people into believing they’re career wear. A nice sweater and a pair of boots makes you look dressed up, but they also look cute with flip flops and a tank. It’s an easy upgrade.


Roll-top skirts come in all cuts, lengths, and colors. You can't have too many.

Not only can you wear roll-top stretchy skirts through an entire pregnancy, you can also wear them throughout the entire year (with or without leggings), and you can roll the top over your tummy and backfat when nursing and babywearing (and nursing while babywearing).

See how the top can cover any gap between shirt and skirt? If she was on the front and needed to nurse, I could pull the skirt up completely and lift my shirt, too.

(Sorry about that gross mirror; that’s just how we roll.)

 Tip #2: Cardigans

A nice cardigan turns any saggy maternity shirt into a decent outfit. It turns a t-shirt into something passable for work. Cardigans hide the spit-up stains on your shoulder, and the milk leak on the front. Hide a nice cardigan in the car and put it on after you’ve changed, dressed, fed, and transported your children. You won’t have to worry about hidden boogers or syrup smears.

Find, save, or buy a comfy, ratty cardigan to sleep in, especially if you co-sleep and nurse at night. Your arms and back will never be cold, even if your shirt is up for most of the time. I love my sleep cardigan. (Try to go for buttons, rather than a zipper. Your boobs will thank you.)

This is my sleep cardigan. It is pilly and missing all but 2 buttons.

Tip #3: Scarves

Scarves hold all the potential of cardigans, but with slightly less warmth and coverage. They’ll mask leaked milk, shoulder stains, enormous bra straps, or just give you a more covered and secure feeling. Plus, they feel fancy, and add color to my typically neutral palette. Pair a scarf with a non-sleep cardigan and you look downright pulled together. Target clearances scarves all the time. I have about 10.


Note the fantastic boob coverage.


Tip #4: MacGyvering Nursing Pads

Maybe this is a less generally useful tip. Maybe some of you have nursing bras with padding, or diligently wash and reuse cloth nursing pads, or are smart enough to squirrel away nursing pads in every conceivable location (purse, pants, car, office, backpack, kitchen, coffee shops, etc) you might need one. Maybe you don’t leak; or maybe you don’t have a bad case of the porn nips after nursing for four years straight.

But maybe you’re like me and the only nursing bra you can convince yourself to buy is a fairly cheap (but supportive and functional!) Medela with no nip coverage, and you flake out on nursing pads all the time. If so, then this tip is for you. As a new mother, I was especially self-conscious about my breasts. If I didn’t feel like I had everything locked down and was definitely not going to accidentally squirt my students in the face with milk, then I felt uneasy, awkward, and distracted. But, I often ran out of pads and needed backup, and had only the stuff available in the office supply closet to work with. Since a paperclip bomb won’t approximate modesty or absorbency, I have used these things instead:

–       Toilet Paper: Fold it up, tuck it in. It won’t absorb much but it will mask your nipples. Facial tissue works well, too, and has the bonus of being softer.

–       Paper towels: see above, plus more absorbency. The better quality the towel, the better this works. Even the scratchy brown public restroom towels can work.

–       Panty liners: These actually work VERY well, and for awhile I just used Kotex instead of the pricier nursing pads. The sticky backing holds them in place, and they are absorbent (though if you leak in waterfall mode rather than dripping faucet mode, they may be overwhelmed). These are EXCELLENT NIGHT NURSING PADS, because you can line a sleep bra with several so you have coverage no matter where your nipples roam as you toss and turn.

–       Bandaids: Yes, I have done this. Provides excellent, smooth nip coverage, not great absorbency though. Not so convenient if you’re doing a lot of nursing at the same time. You may need more than one Bandaid.

–       Baby socks or small baby hats: These are functional but look lumpy. Best if paired with a scarf or cardigan to mask those.


Brawny, I need you in so many ways.

Tip #5: Cut your hair

We all want to be Tami Taylor. We want to rock the long locks. I mean, I’ve wanted hair like that since I was 6 and saw Crystal Gayle on TV.

I want to be her in every single possible way.

But when you bathe twice a week and only have a glance in the rear view mirror at a stop light for the purposes of self-styling, long hair just doesn’t work. There’s a reason Moms cut their hair off. For me, long hair gets stringy and I end up pulling it into a ponytail all the time. With a bob, my hair looks shiny and full even if it’s day 3 without a shower. It frames my face, which is more flattering than a severe bun. I do nothing to it other than wash it.

If you’re a new Mom, give these tips a try. Sometime soon, you’ll wear makeup again, and you’ll brush your teeth twice a day again, and you’ll begin to see how Moms live day-to-day with a baby and it will feel doable. Promise. In the meantime, I’m rockin’ some Brawny pads and a brown scarf that yesterday, had poop on it, but Mama thought ahead and did me some laundry. Look out, employees of Lowe’s: you’re about to notice neither my nipples nor the blobs of oatmeal on the neck of my sweater. BOOYAH.

Four Bad Omens

1. I got an email from the faceless bureaucracy of my institution that I’ve been listed for “termination” from my TAship starting May 11, so unless I email them and change everything, my university life will end in six weeks. And obviously I knew that would happen, but seeing it in black and white felt strange and sad. I feel like my departure is an unremarkable event: my students don’t understand that I won’t be back in their program next year, that a new teacher will teach their future teammates and friends. Every summer means a shuffle in the TA offices, so who knows if my officemates will realize or care that I’m gone (except R, my office BFF. Shout out!). The regular rhythm of school life means people won’t notice I’m gone until next year. But for me? This is it, and it’s big, and it’s scary. Lately, I feel like I’m in the middle of a dream and I’m about to wake up to some brutal reality.

2. That would be true if I had a chance to dream, but sleep has been a precious commodity in our house. My kids have never been good sleepers. They both nightwake long past whatever fool age bullshit websites say they should, no matter what advice book we follow, and my 2yo is an early bird (which is why MN is often updated at 6 am). After our 2nd was born, we did a divide and conquer thing that has been mostly good, but lately we’ve had a hankering to sleep in the same bed at the same time, so we launched a big “YAY LET’S SLEEP IN YOUR BIG GIRL BUNKBEDS PLEASE GOD” campaign and it went fine until it did not go fine and the past four nights I can’t sleep away from them because I’m not used to it, and I can’t sleep with them. I end up on the bottom bunk with my 2yo, then my 4yo starts crying and leaves to find her Dad. So we essentially end up in the same configuration we have been all along, in different, smaller, shittier beds. Please don’t offer me advice or admonish me for our choices: I am so beyond the capacity for polite disagreement right now. Truth is, I don’t want to sleep with anyone, ever again. I want to mummify my torso in duct tape and sleep in a dark, quiet place for 8 hours. PAST 5:30 AM.

Me & Holly at 6am

3. Typically, March is a blustery and sunny month in Iowa, but it’s been downright summery for weeks now. My yard is full of daffodils in bloom, and the hydrangeas and rose bushes are greening up. Last night, the girls and I walked around collecting magnolia petals, pinecones, and rocks. I went to my local garden center and bought packets of seeds to try and fill in the weird gaps and, ya know, parts of the yard I don’t want to mow, but the guy there warned be that this is just a phase, it’s bound to turn bad, it’s bound to snow and snap and frost and nip all this new life in its bud. So instead of enjoying this, I keep wondering, when will it change? When will it go bad?

4. This strange sense of paranoia reached new heights when my in-laws emailed us to ask if it would be all right if they arranged a place for us in the country in case of the apocalypse. They watched this History Channel documentary that connects what we feel are legitimate concerns about fossil fuels, industrial agriculture, and general American idiocy to other, less legitimate, more insane worries about artificial intelligence and terrorism. Basically, the film posits that very soon, we’ll run out of gas, our water supply will become so overpolluted that we can’t drink, and people will still be wandering around wanting their grande lattes, and then everyone’s HOUSE ROBOTS will take over the planet at the same time some terrorist decides to finally shoot off that nuclear warhead he’s been sitting on all these years. Just like the collapse of the Roman Empire.

In the most respectful way, they would like to “dialogue” with us about this because they have been, and are, “concerned about the world situation.” I just don’t know how to respond to this. These are people who prepared for Y2K by purchasing gold coins, a flourmill, and a generator. They’re serious. They mean it. And my first reaction is: absolutely not. Predictions of the world’s demise have been wrong 100% of the time. Is the country really the best place to be at the end of the world? It sounds lonely and hungry to me. Stay in town? Forage, loot, and squat? Plus by most peoples’ definition, we already live in the country, in a farm town of less than 2k. Is this country spot in Oklahoma (where they live) or Iowa (where we live)? It’s such an outrageously expensive way to show their love. Couldn’t they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on the girls’ education? Investing in a hope for their future, rather than the fear of Armageddon?

Yet I hesitate to reject it outright. I’m feeling rather desperate for a lifeline myself, and if you consider the way we’re squirreling away money “just in case” I don’t get work, lying awake at night doing mental math, and eating PB&Js at the office instead of Bread Garden or Thai Spice, our outlook is just as bleak, perhaps on an exponentially smaller scale. How can we refuse their offer to survive the end of the world, especially when it feels like everything that’s going right, right now, feels like it’s about to go terribly wrong (except sleep which is already at end-times misery levels)? At least they seem to care whether or not we’re sticking around.

If you’re interested in radical, beautiful plans for the apocalypse, consider backing The People’s Apocalypse, an anthology project by Ariel Gore and Jenny Forrester. It shall be superfun and there are rewards for every level of contribution.

(Chat) PINTEREST: Thinspo-for-the-home or divine inspiration?

This is the first in a new feature on our blog, which I’m realizing as I type that we haven’t named. But whatever: it’s CHAT! Jen and I will get together once a week to talk about some topic on our minds, and then share it with you. We hope it’s just the start of a broader conversation.

This week: PINTEREST! Love it or loath it? Inspiration or desperation? Time-waster or under-ass-fire-lighter? Below, we wonder if some crafts are more like porn than creative acts, and if design boards are just thinspo-for-the-home.

We have two boards at Pinterest that illustrate our points below, one that focuses on what we like about Pinterest (where we see promise, things we may actually do) and what we dislike about Pinterest. I should note that Jen is a fairly avid Pinner, and I have dabbled but am overall unimpressed. We are not saying that Pinterest is pure awesome or pure evil, but that it’s a complex and interesting phenomenon that we find intriguing.

And now, the chat!

3:18 PM Jennifer: Hello!

3:19 PM Lauren: Hi! This is going to be funny because when people read this, our names will be Jen/Lauren and “me.”

3:20 PM Jennifer: We should probably fix that. You should know that while I am chatting, I am also feeding Margeaux overpriced squishy organic baby food.

Lauren: I do not know how to fix that. I am somewhat tech savvy. But not that tech savvy. Maybe when you save it changes the names?

That is the best kind of baby food.

3:21 PM Jennifer: I bet I could find recipes for homemade baby food on Pinterest.

Lauren: You could totally do that. We should try to do that right now.

Jennifer: But then it wouldn’t be in this awesome package that attaches directly to a spoon.

Lauren: No way, that sounds awesome.

3:23 PM Yes, I have not only found baby food recipes, but also a baby food jar chandelier, baby food jar cupcakes, and magnetic spice jars made out of baby food jars.

3:24 PM Jennifer: I should totally pin those. I’ll get to them right after I bake that 8 layer rainbow cake.

3:25 PM Or the baked oatmeal. Or the Key West grilled Chicken.

Lauren: That kind of brings together everything that is awful and awesome about Pinterest: something you might actually use, something no one should ever do/care about/use, and something to make you feel bad about the things you wish you’d do but never will.

Jennifer: I don’t even eat chicken, for the record.

3:26 PM Lauren: Ha!

Jennifer: I’ll be honest: I have never actually cooked a recipe I pinned on Pinterest.

3:27 PM Lauren: People swear by Pinterest as a way to find great recipes, but I don’t get how it’s any better than googling “black bean tacos” and reading the recipe.

3:28 PM Jennifer: I like the idea that all those recipes are there waiting for me, as though I had cut them out and stuck them in a folder.

3:29 PM For me, that’s the appeal beyond googling: the organization.

Lauren: Pinterest is full of possibility but it seems like there’s very little follow through. I’ve seen bloggers with “Pinterest challenges” where they vow to actually do projects they’ve pinned.

3:30 PM Jennifer: If we do that challenge I’m starting with Rolo cookies.

And I’m unpinning those elaborate bunk bed plans.

Lauren: I used Pinterest the most when I was decorating my daughters’ room and I pinned all this “inspiration”

3:31 PM But then the final product really didn’t resemble those pins, and in fact, juxtaposed, it looked kind of homely and embarrassing. That made me kind of hate Pinterest, because it’s a great room and was done on a budget.

But since every square inch of the walls weren’t covered in fanciful art, and I didn’t customize the knobs on the dressers, somehow it didn’t feel good enough.

3:32 PM Jennifer: I actually have intentionally stopped even browsing decoration inspiration my dream home type pins.

3:33 PM I realized looking at that stuff was making me depressed.

Perhaps because most of the people I follow are facebook friends from high school and once I started looking at those pins I became convinced they were all living in enormous beautiful houses and I hated them.

Lauren: I posted a few new boards to our account and tried to find some examples of the kinds of things I do like and don’t like about Pinterest, and under don’t like I posted a few images of people’s decorated LAUNDRY ROOMS and GARAGES.

3:34 PM (

Jennifer: YES! I saw a bunch of those types of pins come across my account today.

Lauren: WTF? Am I crazy or is the garage supposed to be a stinky mess?

3:35 PM Where are our kids supposed to be dirty?

Where can we pile the sheets our 4yo just peed on?

3:36 PM Jennifer: In my garage right now: 2 turkey fryers Tyler uses for brewing beer, an ugly table from a garage sale, an old set of shelves with a jumble of gardening tools, 4 bikes, a tricycle, a big wheel, a cozy coupe… organize that Pinterest!

And spiders. at least a thousand spiders.

Lauren: Ha


3:37 PM I was thinking that Pinterest fuels lookism. Morality = aesthetics.

The better you are as a person or a parent, the prettier the things are in your life. The better your crafts, the more elaborate your tooth fairy rituals.

3:38 PM The absence of any other images — anything simple, messy, or imperfect — implies it’s lack of worth.

Jennifer: Yes. Yes. Yes.

And yet: I keep going back for more.

Lauren: Have you heard about the whole Thinspo controversy at tumblr and now Pinterest?

3:39 PM Jennifer: No. Tell me more!

Lauren: So, Thinspo is short for “thinspiration”

Which means these are boards/images that girls and women use to inspire them to be thin.

It used to be called “pro-ana” aka pro-anorexia.

Jennifer: Oooohhhhhh….. pro-ana I know.

3:40 PM Lauren: So, tumblr and Pinterest have these Thinspo boards/circles popping up

Because they are visual-intensive social media sites. And girls are using these sites to fuel notions that being thin is something to aspire to, posting their stats, posting meals/diets and challenges to lose weight, etc.

3:41 PM And I’m thinking, isn’t everything on Pinterest, sorta, Thinspo for our entire lives? Isn’t the logic that if we are good enough/disciplined enough/organized enough, we can achieve perfection (even if it’s perfection in knitting)?

3:42 PM Jennifer: I just searched it on Pinterest. This is really disturbing.

Lauren: Yes. We will not link to evil, evil Thinspo.

Jennifer: Ok. I have to stop staring at those images.

Lauren: And people are upset about it, and I think that’s totally appropriate, but what I’m saying is, I’m not sure other aspects of Pinterest are that different (except it won’t destroy your bones or kill you if you try to make that paint chip art).

3:44 PM Jennifer: Right. Instead of beating myself up about being fat I’m beating myself up about not being the kind of mom who makes string art easter eggs and dips my kids feet in paint then makes footprint butterflies and frames them.

Lauren: Right

Is it really that different from images of housewives/mothers in the1950s/60s?

3:45 PM Jennifer: No. It’s the same oppressive bullshit. Just on an iPad. And we take Xanex to cope instead of Valium.

3:46 PM Lauren: I guess what bugs me is, blogs and Pinterest are supposed to be from real people. But increasingly, they do not match up with my lived experience.

As I was looking at Pinterest today, I was wondering what the difference is between looking there and looking at, say, a fashion magazine.

Are the images any more realistic than highly edited, styled, commercialized publications?

3:47 PM Jennifer: No.

3:49 PM And I think it’s easy to fall into the hate on Martha Stewart and the skinny girls trap. That’s not where I want to land either.

Lauren: It feels more insidious to me because there’s less psychic distance between me and that mommy blogger… she feels more real, so it feels like I should be able to achieve her level of contentment and organization.

Exactly. Like, I was doing a search on Pinterest for fashion for curvy girls, and all the pins were either 1. famous people in gowns or 2. not curvy girls!!

3:50 PM Oh, I misread your point

Yes — I want to avoid black and white, us vs them stuff.

3:51 PM Jennifer: Because it’s more complicated than that. I have occasionally made delicious food and done awesome art projects with my girls. (Not on the same day.) But if you could see my house right now? It’s appalling.

Lauren: Yes.

3:52 PM I feel like I go to social media craving authentic connection with other people.

I want to share something. And I look for myself in others, and all the things we do when we seek community.

3:53 PM But I don’t see myself on Pinterest. In a weird way, it just archives our collective cultural fantasies, or at least the fantasies of middle class ladies.

Jennifer: Yes. We all want that gorgeous outfit and that enormous kitchen and those clean shiny garages and entry ways.

3:54 PM But instead I am wearing shorts from Goodwill and there are Cheerios on the floor and my kitchen is so tiny I have to fold my chairs up after every meal.

Lauren: Right.

And my laundry lives in a basket and my beds are never, ever made.

3:55 PM I guess no one aspires to that.

3:56 PM Jennifer: I make my bed sometimes. But yeah, I think we’re afraid to acknowledge that this is what our real lives look like because shame! Judgment!

Bad mom!

Lauren: It’s weird because I think the fact that Pins are images really dehumanizes our lives. We never see children making the art, or people eating the food, right? We lose sight of the sort of visceral pleasures that things like creativity and togetherness are supposed to draw out.

Instead we focus on the aesthetic appeal or the product.

Jennifer: Oooooo….. that’s REALLY interesting to me.

Because yeah, the pleasure for me is in the doing.

3:57 PM But that’s completely absent.

Lauren: I get really frustrated with craft Pins because they seem way too focused on reproducing a perfect product, rather than the process.

Right? Especially with children: I mean, there’s no way my kids could recreate the perfect owl mobile or whatever.

The adorable children’s rooms are never in use, or the clothes aren’t on bodies.

It’s very commercial in that way.

3:59 PM Jennifer: I keep pinning outfits that I fantasize about wearing when I’m done nursing and my wardrobe doesn’t revolve around easy access to my breasts. But it’s been driving me crazy that there are no people in any of the fashion pins. How do I know if I can wear that?

Lauren: YES

Exactly. Show me that shirt on someone with actual boobs so I can see if it would be flattering and sexy (good) or lumpy/awkward (bad).

4:00 PM Jennifer: Also hips.

Lauren: But I guess that furthers the notion that these Pins aren’t really for people, they’re for our ideas about ourselves.

4:01 PM Jennifer: Right. And I’ve found that I enjoy imagining myself as a person who wears stylish clothes, does crafts with my kids, and cooks elaborate desserts.

Lauren: Certainly: I love the idea of a home with eclectic bookshelves and walls with neat art, both commercial and handmade.

I guess I wish people used Pinterest to say something like “Here’s how I…”

4:02 PM Like, here’s how I found jeans that fit.

Here’s how I used some leftover gift wrap with my kids.

Here’s how I… made leftover beans into something other than fucking burritos.

Helping Pins, not Judging Pins.

4:03 PM Jennifer: Here’s how I made a delicious cocktail with Juicy Juice and some odds and ends from my liquor cabinet.

4:04 PM Lauren: Right. With a real picture, not a staged, photoshopped image.

Jennifer: Here’s how I found a style of shirt that doesn’t make me look pregnant.

Lauren: I mean, couldn’t we use an entire board of that??

Jennifer: YES.

Lauren: I’m 5’1″ and curvy, these clothes work for me — etc.

Then maybe we could take delight in our actual lives.

4:05 PM Jennifer: Let’s call it Realspiration.

Or some other catchy spiration.

Lauren: Right

This is the whole point of counterpinning.

Lives as we live them, not as we wished they were.

4:06 PM Then maybe Pinterest could be less like Metropolitan Home and more like Shape of a Mother 


Jennifer: Because it’s not that I want to wallow in the half chewed Cheerios. It’s just that the leap from where I am to the fairy garden treehouse bunk beds is too far.

Lauren: (Spo sounds so close to spooge to me. I have a hard time using it without giggling.)

4:07 PM Jennifer: HA!

Lauren: Right — babysteps.

Here’s what’s achievable!

You could really actually do it!

You could really actually paint a room green and buy some JC Penney bedspreads and make a room as cute as my kids’ room. Here are the real kids playing on the real bed.

4:08 PM Here is the reading nook where the book basket is perpetually full of play food and that’s ok!

4:09 PM Jennifer: Yes. Process, pleasure, play, possibility.

4:10 PM Lauren: They all begin with P so they should totally work at Pinterest.

Jennifer: Not owl mobile craft porn.

Lauren: YES.

It is sort of pornographic.

In the way that porn objectifies pleasure.

Jennifer: In all the worst ways.

4:11 PM Lauren: I mean, some craft posts really do seem to make kids the objects, rather than the subjects, of joy/fun/whatever.

We sort of act out fantasies of good motherhood ON our kids with our aggressive leprechaun visits or whatever.

Jennifer: You will inevitably feel dissatisfied with your real life owl mobile partner!

4:12 PM Lauren: Your kids will inevitably not make the googly eyes perfectly centered on the die-cut circles!

Jennifer: The owl always ends up looking drunk and mangy.

4:13 PM Lauren: So you Pin owl crafts all night on the internet instead of doing owl crafts with your real kids.

Jennifer: But they loved using the glue stick, and isn’t that the point?

Lauren: Exactly. I mean, there doesn’t have to be a goal when you craft with kids. Sometimes I just put shit on the table and see what they come up with. Today we use scissors! Today it’s stickers!

4:14 PM Jennifer: Resolved: in the next week I will cook a food and do a craft from Pinterest and post pictures of the process.

Lauren: Sweet!

I have a post about post-partum fashion tips in the waiting.

Jennifer: And I will do them with my kids, not alone at midnight so the owls turn out perfectly.

4:15 PM Lauren: Excellent. You should take some kind of staged shot with the clock just to prove it ;).

Jennifer: I need those fashion tips!

Lauren: They mostly involve MacGyvering breast pads.

Jennifer: Nice.

4:16 PM Okay. You should go get your darling daughters, right? I feel like we’ve definitely got something here.

Also, Margeaux just pooped.

Lauren: Yes. This is a good time to get my real children and make them campbell’s bean and bacon soup for dinner, w hich is their (disgusting) favorite.

Duty/doody calls.

4:17 PM Jennifer: Drive safe.

Lauren: I will figure out how to post this and I’ll put it up tomorrow.

Let your post breathe :).

Jennifer: Awesome. You’re the most awesomest co-blogger ever.

4:18 PM Lauren: You are the awesomest blogging soulmate in history!

Jennifer: High five!

Lauren: Top Gun Windmill


Jennifer: TTYL!

Clearly, our jury is out on Pinterest: there’s promise and concern – legit, we think — here. I (Lauren) left the chat with a greater appreciation for the promise of Pinterest and ways it could function differently than it does now: for example, sharing more process-oriented images, and finding more awesome art. If you’re interested in contributing to these “counterpins” — pins that focus on doable projects; real visions of women, bodies, homes; and the creative process, follow us at Pinterest or drop us an email and we’ll add you as a collaborator.

lauren(at)mamanervosa(dot)com or jen(at)mamanervosa(dot)com

Jen promises to do some process posts this week!

Here are other recent commentaries on Pinterest:

Mom-101 on the darker side of Pinterest.

NPR tries to nail down the appeal of Pinterest.

Her Bad Mother talks about Pinterest as a storytelling venue, and as a space for men, too.

Bitch Magazine explores lifestyle blogging in general.

New Domesticity tackles all these issues and more, although she hasn’t covered Pinterest specifically (yet!).

And we got the idea for a weekly chat straight from Tiger Beatdown.

So, what do you think about Pinterest? We’re interested in the diverse experiences, uses, and views of Pinterest and we’d love to hear your thoughts, here or on any of our boards at Pinterest.

This blog has been created entirely by grad school quittas.

When Lauren and I met at a writing workshop a couple weeks ago, it was immediately clear that we were soul mates. Not only had we both traded tapes of jam bands and hung out in sketchy houses with hippie boys we only sort of knew, we had also both started and then left graduate programs, and had, against all odds, gone on to live moderately successful lives. We raise daughters, we sometimes wash dishes, we are productive citizens!

And so when Lauren wrote her amazing, hilarious, ripped straight from my soul post about being a grad school quitta, I knew I had to write at least a little about my own journey out of the trenches  of grad school.

See how I didn’t say quit there? I almost never put it that way. I like to say I left. And unlike Lauren, I didn’t really agonize or deliberate or try to draw friends and family and internet strangers  into heart wrenching conversations about the pros and cons. I just wandered away.

In the beginning, it all looked very auspicious. I went directly into the PhD program from undergrad: graduated in June, packed my stuff, spent a couple weeks at my parents’ house, then packed my car and drove to Iowa. My parents drove with me to help me move in. My mom ordered curtains for me at JC Penneys.

I started in a PhD program because I felt a calling to teach. I know that sounds cheesy and New Age, but it’s as true and simple as I can make it. I sat in undergraduate classrooms with amazing, thoughtful, powerful, inspiring professors and I knew I could, would, should grow up to be those women.

I did not know that you should not tell your graduate school professors that you came to grad school because you want to teach. I cannot count the number of times that faculty said to me, “Oh, you’ll grow out of that.” Like teaching at the university level is a pair of childhood overalls, destined for a garage sale. You’ll grow out of that. You’re so young.

That burned a little, then and now, but it’s not why I left.

What I tell my students now about grad school is that the key to grad school success is building a relationship with a mentor who understands and respects your work AND understands and respects you as a person. I did not know how to cultivate these relationships, and that cost me dearly.

I struggled to write in a voice that was appropriately, academically obscure. I got feedback like, “This reads like it should be published in a popular magazine.”


I discovered that I had strong teaching instincts, that I felt comfortable in front of a classroom, that students listened and responded to me. I worked hard to build a classroom presence that combined all the elements of my best undergrad profs: nurturing and respectful but challenging, with high expectations. I grew into my desire to teach, not out of it. And I found teaching mentors who valued my skills and my desire and kept pushing me to read and think and talk about pedagogy.

In the end though, I left because the dissertation monster I had created (and for grad school insiders, I left ABD, meaning that I had passed comps and written a dissertation prospectus) was eating me alive. I ignored most of what I knew about myself when I wrote the prospectus. I developed a project based largely on ethnographic fieldwork—interviews—without ever taking a fieldwork methods class or practicing interviewing anyone.  I created a committee of anthropologists when the people I was fascinated by but afraid to approach were in other departments doing very different kinds of work. Having children has forced me to develop all kinds of interpersonal skills, but at the time, I was basically terrible at talking to strangers. Why did I think I would be able to do fieldwork?

The core of my fieldwork was supposed to happen on an East Coast Phish tour; I was supposed to be interviewing women who were members of a women’s fan organization, trying to get them to talk about feminism, if they identified as feminists, what they thought about feminism. Not long after I bought my tickets, Phish announced that they were breaking up and that these were the last shows they intended to play together. This changed my plans considerably. We scrambled for Tyler to get tickets to come with me, we traveled the coast with a rag tag bunch of hippies, we had epic adventures that I will save for another post.

And I came home from that tour knowing that whatever I was going to write about those experiences, it was not going to be a dissertation.

I talked to Tyler about my decision to leave; he worried about how I would find a job. In retrospect, this is kind of hilarious. A PhD in women’s studies is not exactly an employment fast track.

In the end, I emailed a favorite professor from undergrad who confirmed that I would still be a worthwhile person if I left with an MA, and then I emailed my committee and said I was done. No fuss, no fanfare, no drama.

One committee member emailed me back to attempt to dissuade me. Her email actually included this line: “NNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!”

My advisor wrote a short, polite email saying she wasn’t surprised.

One of my teaching mentors, who I trusted enough to have confessed my misgivings about the project, wrote a kind, supportive note acknowledging that the prospect of writing a dissertation I didn’t love was perhaps inhumane.

And that was it. My MA came in the mail. I had a lot of conversations that went like this:

“What happened to your dissertation? Did you just stop working on that?”


In the early days of my quitting, I felt like I had to explain a lot of things about why I left. (I still sometimes feel this urge with people I meet in a university setting.) I felt like I had to describe in detail the strengths and weaknesses of my program, my advisors, my committee, my prospectus.

The hardest thing to learn about being a grad school quitta, in my experience, is also the most freeing: nobody cares about your story. It turns out that once you’re outside academia, people are familiar and comfortable with the idea of leaving one thing in order to do another, giving up something that makes you unhappy in order to try to find something more fulfilling. People move, switch jobs, look for a new church, try a new gym. Imagine my surprise when I realized that an MA is not actually evidence of failure to most people.

I don’t regret starting grad school, and I don’t regret leaving, though I do sometimes imagine how it might have played out differently if I had the personal and professional strengths I do now. What do I regret? That I quit writing. That I lost touch with friends who stayed in the program because I didn’t know what to talk to them about anymore.  That I let myself feel like a failure for so long.

Because I teach adjunct at a university, I still get asked if I’m planning to finish the PhD. In that space, it can be hard to convey that my life does not feel like unfinished business. I read, I write, I teach, I garden, I agree to let the girls ride their scooters around the block and spend 45 minutes traveling 100 yards while they bump slowly from one side of the sidewalk to the other, I play air guitar to the Fresh Beat Band. Just because it’s still unfolding doesn’t mean it’s unfinished.




Radical Thing-Doing and the Opposite Day Rule

On Wednesday, I spent 36 hours completely computer-free. I had wasted the entire weekend obsessing over the possibility of a freelance writing career. My thought process went something like this:

I could definitely do this, holy shit, $150 for 750 words? I can write that in my sleep. Really, freelancing is exactly like school, its just homework and you have to figure out what the teacher wants and I can totally do that, I’m a professional student. I could write about disc golf, I could write stories about bugs for children; I could write about being a student-athlete; how about the science of tickling. I can interview everyone I know and use facebook to annoy my former students. I can definitely write erotic stories that don’t prioritize nudity for this lingerie catalog; I could probably throw together something about CSAs or some shit for this agriculture press, and is it unethical to write for the Boy Scouts? I’m going to spend my entire spring break downloading articles from the University library so I can have the latest research on hand and then translate it for the everyday mom, who wants a sassy friend to talk to her about life without judging her, according to these submission guidelines…

This is your brain on graduate school: you get excited about using a week off from teaching to do research, alone, indoors. Clearly, being a student for a quarter of a century has worn deep ruts into the pathways of my brain, and it’s quite a struggle to pop my wheelbarrow out of those trenches (as I have mentioned). I keep trying to find something to do that feels like it matters, and my brain is resistant to valuing the work I do as a mother as enough to count as that “something” (more on this later).

I read an article by Anne Lamott about “how to find out who you really are.” She offers this advice:

 We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be. The only problem is that there is also so much other stuff, typically fixations with how people perceive us, how to get more of the things that we think will make us happy, and with keeping our weight down. So the real issue is how do we gently stop being who we aren’t? … I began consciously to break the rules I learned in childhood: I wasted more time, as a radical act. I stared off into space more, into the middle distance, like a cat. This is when I have my best ideas, my deepest insights… Every single day I try to figure out something I no longer agree to do.
Read more.

I like this idea of “radical time wasting” but I don’t think it will work for me. Thing is, I’m already quite lazy. I’m already proficient at dicking around. This might surprise a lot of people who know me as one of those overachieving How Does She Do It? kind of ladies; but seriously, ask my husband or my BFF from 6th grade, whose nickname for me was “Lazy Bum” because I would rather sit inside reading stacks of Seventeen back issues than go for a bike ride.

I’ll tell you how I do it: I don’t do my homework. I’m smart, but I’m not a hard worker. I can talk the talk, but I do not walk the walk. I’ve been a hardcore dilettante, flitting from field to field and subspecialty to subspecialty without ever really digging in. I Google it; I master it; I write a seminar paper about it and then immediately get bored. I am a high-functioning academic: I hide my problem under a veneer of extreme efficiency and a steady stream of bullshit in my classes. Let me tell you about the privileged subjectivities and hidden curricula of the first-year writing classroom; let me demonstrate the ways in which the home pregnancy test interpellated women into technicians of the maternal self by bringing the laboratory into the private home.

Compound my inability to nail down a specific field of inquiry with a complete lack focus and a serious case of baby fever, and you have a student cruising for dismissal as early as my second year in graduate school. Reading through my journal, nearly every entry is a variation on the theme of I should be writing a 15 page paper and reading this giant text on post-nationalism, but instead I’m watching Veronica Mars and eating taco dip! And then the next, OMG I have so much work to do, I don’t even know what I did all day yesterday… oh that’s right, I spent the entire afternoon arguing with people about circumcision at Baby Center!!

My grad school time wasting became a cycle of self-indulgence and repentance: I can justify going down any rabbit hole, especially if it means signing up for a bunch of new mailing lists and reading pages and pages of Wikipedia entries. Bonus points if there’s a facebook group for it. BS carried me through coursework but it’s not enough to sustain me through comps and a dissertation, projects I am not remotely interested in pursuing, I’ve discovered.

So, it seems unlikely that radical time wasting might help me discover my true self, having BTDT. Instead, I will try Lamott’s broader argument, which is to go against whatever your pattern is; whatever you’ve been taught is necessary or right. To get the wheelbarrow out of the rut, don’t feverishly roll it back and forth and expect change (this is, disputably, the definition of insanity): “You take the action and insight follows: you don’t think your way into becoming yourself.” Instead of radical time wasting, I think I need Radical Thing-Doing.

Inspiration: Pippi Longstocking, Thing-finder

So, I’m instituting an Opposite Day rule. I’m doing the opposite. Whatever my habitual action is, I will do the opposite. (I’m differentiating “habitual action” from “instinct” here, although they feel very similar. It feels instinctive to try and fill the void; it feels like a primal and gut-level response. But I really think it’s just my wheelbarrow worrying those selfsame grooves, and that means it’s an action borne from fear, anxiety, uncertainty rather than insight, desire, or conviction. Beneath those habitual actions is my actual instinct, the voice that has been quietly cheerleading this whole quitting thing, encourages me to shut the laptop and pick up a book, and orders me to pick the girls up early from daycare instead of making yet another To Do list.)

Habitual Action: Spend all day trolling job sites, draft letters of application, update resume.

Opposite Day reaction: Delete files; fold laundry.

Habitual Action: Make a huge to-do list of a million things I will accomplish this week!

Opposite Day reaction: Do the dishes. They always need to be done. It’s not a fucking mystery.

Habitual Action: Write outlines for entire novels.

Opposite Day reaction: Write a blog entry; post it.

The more I try to mentally roadrun my way through this process, the crankier I am. I’ve been a total bitch to my kids for no reason, with the thought “Leave me alone, I’m working!” running through my mind, when in fact I am not doing a damn thing other than perpetually loading my inbox. On my day off from the computer, I found that the less planning I did, and the more action I took (towards accomplishments like Get all the gross leaves out of the peony bed because I think they need light to live), the clearer my mind felt.

I am actively questioning the role of online life in my ways of thinking and my deprogramming from academia. I want blogging to be a purposeful part of my rediscovery/self-invention process because I know I want to, somehow/someway, be a writer, and this blog has brought that to the forefront of my mind. But, I see how this is playing with fire a bit, and I need to cultivate some new ways of being online that mean more meaningful writing (drafting, blogging, thoughtful response to others) and less mindless reading (facebook, facebook, facebook). How do you handle this balance in your life?

By the way, thank you for all the comments, follows, shares, and positive feedback. It’s been so gratifying to be read and appreciated by people all over the world. — Lauren & Jen

Roots and Shoots and Fences

I’m thinking about boundaries lately.

We spent an amazing afternoon at the Naples Botanical Garden when we were on vacation last week. If you find yourself in SW Florida I definitely recommend it: very walkable (and stroller friendly), lots of shaded chairs and benches, beautiful plants (of course), and a thoughtfully-designed children’s garden.

Here’s why my girls loved the Children’s Garden: water feature to splash around in, playhouse with brooms, gated gardens with low fences and gates they could open themselves, watering cans you could fill at a hand pump, tree house with bouncy bridges and a balcony you could climb up to, small hidden garden with plants growing in funny containers like cowboy boots and toilets and purses.

Girls watering plants outside playhouse

Watering the plants outside the playhouse.

Here’s why I loved the Children’s Garden: excellent placement of benches and swings, looped paths so even when you wander away you pop right back out where you started, and clear sightlines.

mama and baby on bench

Enjoying the breeze.

Margeaux and I spent a long time swinging and enjoying the breeze while the girls filled watering cans, opened and closed gates, swept the playhouse, smelled herbs and flowers, made friends with another little girl, and talked nonstop about bugs and sunshine and vacation and whatever else 3 and 5 year old girls talk about.

It’s this amazing moment in my parenting life, when they are beginning to be independent in so many ways. Amazing, and lovely, and scary. Because I worry about what happens when they’re out of sight, out of reach. Will they fall in the water? Will they get stuck in the tree house? Will they encounter a scary stranger who offers them candy and lures them to a van? I know, rationally, that like every living thing they need space to grow in. The roots start to ball up in the pot and the leaves twist back on their stems as they struggle for the sunlight. I don’t want to be the dreaded helicopter parent, filling their watering can and carrying it for them and telling them where to pour. Part of the magic of this moment is watching them realize that they are capable of so many things.

Girl peeking out from treehouse

Look at me! Mom! Look at me!

But they are still so little, and the world is so big, and so it is such a feeling of pleasurable relief to walk into a space that feels as though its creators understood exactly what I’m always hoping for: a comfy seat to watch them grow and explore and reach and sometimes fall or spill or figure it out on their own or with a little help from a sister or a new friend. A clear view of the world as they move through it.

I’m longing for this clarity in the rest of my parenting life. What school do we choose for kindergarten, how many hours a week can I work without going insane or becoming a terrible mother, will they fall out of a bunk bed, will the baby choke on a Polly Pocket shoe, how do I know where this path goes? There’s no design to my actual life and sometimes that lack of design doesn’t feel wide open and wonderful it just feels terrifying: how the fuck do we get down from this tree house? Boundaries, expressed clearly and thoughtfully, offer a safe place to put down roots AND plenty of room to grow. I know how to build that garden. I am still trying to figure out how to build that life.