What Lauren Learned About Identity & Work via a Craft Disaster (aka “Do it, start it, FUCK THIS IT’S NOT WORKING!”)

It’s time for me to ‘fess up: I did not do the Pinterest challenge assigned to me by Renee, the winner of the Pin Us To It prize at our 4K giveaway.

Now, I bet some of our newer readers, brought here by our connections to other post-academic blogs, are thinking “WTF is this Pinning shit?” So before I launch into a discussion of my crafting experience, let me say this about Mama Nervosa: it’s a non-niche blog. We don’t just write about being ex-grad students, or just write about being feminists, or just write about being Moms, or just write about secretly reading super goofy quasi-pornographic YA lit in sixth grade. We write about all of our experiences, and some of those experiences include stuff that’s very typically feminine or maternal. We simply aren’t interested in fracturing our identities into separate blogs or saying that how we feel about ourselves as brainy feminist women has nothing to do with being mothers or crafting disaster-ers. I’ll try to make some connections between this craft experience and some of the stuff I’ve been thinking as I quit grad school towards the end of the post, so stay with me!

From our inception as a blog, we’ve been preoccupied with Pinterest and lifestyle blogs because they’re such an integral part of the online mommying world (read this recent article from Jezebel for a taste of it). Jen is pretty ok with Pinterest: she recognizes its flaws, but overall, her experience with Pinterest is positive. I… let’s just say I feel differently.

My wonderful friend and doula/nanny extraordinaire, Renee, picked a great family project for the pinning challenge:  a little fairy garden. I appreciated that she picked a project that:

  • Could be interpreted in a lot of ways.
  • Didn’t require a lot of special equipment or any special skills.
  • I could do with my kids.

Jen and her kids had no problem mustering enthusiasm and imagination for their fairy garden.

Buuuuut. My kids were not into it.

First of all, we have this thing at our house. We don’t pretend that things that don’t exist actually exist. Things like Santa or the Tooth Fairy. We are clear that Mom and Dad are responsible for surprises like that. Mind you, we LOVE to play pretend, and can be princesses, ballerinas, dogs, and switch roles (Mommy/Daddy/big sis/baby etc) with the best of them. We can read stories about Santa and the Easter Bunny and enjoy them. We just don’t act like they are real.

This category includes fairies. Fairies are pretend. We love fairies, but when I tried to get the girls enthused about building a play garden for pretend creatures, they just didn’t get it. If fairies won’t actually come to the garden, then why should we build something for them?

OK, so I switched tactics. “Let’s make a garden for itsy itsy spider!”

Itsy itsy spider is a pretend game we play a lot with Holly, our 2.5 year old. If you make your fingers wiggle and crawl like a spider, she will crow with delight, delicately pick your hand up in her palm and coo, “Hiiiii, itsy itsy ‘pider!” or sometimes, “Hiiiii, itsy itsy itsy ‘pider!” She hugs and kisses itsy itsy spider. Perfect: it’s imaginative, it’s tiny, and we can actually do the spider thing and “use” the garden.

We discussed making some rock paths and a house for itsy itsy spider. Aaaand. When I tried to get them do work on it with me, they just wanted to make piles of rocks, or got in fights about who got to live with itsy itsy spider. And I’m pretty strongly opposed to finishing craft projects for my kids instead of doing it with them.


I thought I would do a different project I’d saw on Pinterest, that required no help from kids and would be great for Mother’s Day.

How cute, right?? And the directions are so simple: you use a printed out image as a template, black paper on white, boom. Done. SO SIMPLE THAT ANYONE COULD DO THIS CORRECTLY SIX TIMES AND HAVE MOTHER’S DAY GIFTS AND BONUS ART FOR ONESELF, RIGHT?


First, I had to drive to three stores to find the oval frames that I wanted to use. I wanted oval frames because I’ve been looking at art arrangements and want some diversity to our typical square, black frames (we want to hang our pop art so it looks more like a cool, purposeful arrangement instead of a college dorm). Target only had one, Michael’s only had one, so I went to Hobby Lobby (which I try to avoid, since it supports stuff I think blows). And lo, a bounty of frames in all shapes, sizes and colors spread out before me, at a merciful 50-80% off. Perfect!

I bought 4 oval frames and 2 square, wood frames (they didn’t have all the ovals I wanted, but I figured whatevz, I’m flex). I brought all the supplies home and then spent a week grading, packing my office, and preparing for a big trip.

The day before we left, I sat down to a movie (the enjoyable and almost-too-close-to-home Tiny Furniture by Lena Dunham) to get ‘er done.




First of all, don’t do this project with cardstock for the silhouettes. It was really hard to cut and tended to bow at the edges, so smaller details (like the curve of lips) got lost. And my hand hurt like hell.

Also. Measure shit. I did not consider the difference in sizes between my daughters’ heads. I bought a size that worked great for my 2yo, but none of them work for my 4yo.

5×7 = too small.

I did not figure this out until after I’d cut out all the heads, because I am a flake.

This was the day before I left on our trip, the last day I had to do art projects. This was also time I could have — should have — spent grading. After getting really irritated — I mean, cursing and throwing stuff irritated — I put it all in a basket and said fuck it.

I finished ONE and I’m keeping it.

Here’s the thing about me: I will start it. I will do it. But I am not great at keeping it going. I lose energy fast. I lose enthusiasm. You can see this in the numerous, brief affairs I’ve had with domestic interests (crochet — I did finish a project or two!, knitting, canning, gardening) and career paths (I tallied up the # of careers I considered just during graduate school and it was something like 14). I started a grassroots organization and it did great for awhile, but when the going got tough (that means that members weren’t doing the things we needed them to do), I lost steam. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m lazy. There’s a huge gulf between the kind of person I want to be (a finisher, a bring-it-on-home-er) and the person I am (get-the-ball-rolling-er). I would like to be a finisher. I would like to be the kind of person who writes a whole book, or knits a kickass barn quilt, or makes silhouettes for her family, or gets a law passed, or writes a dissertation. I would love to do those things. But that is (apparently) not my style.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I work my way through some of the inventories in What Color Is Your Parachute 2012. And here’s where I connect all the dots. One of the exercises asks you to think about all the jobs you’ve ever had and what you liked about them. It’s simple listing but themes emerge quickly.

I like work that is:

  • Social. I like people.
  • Collaborative. I like working with people, and prefer it to isolation.
  • Low pressure (so, not based on commission!) and gives me a lot of positive feedback.
  • Includes a lot of variety and novelty.
This isn’t about what it would GOOD if I liked or whether or not these attributes make me a great worker. It’s simply about preferences. And yeah — these preferences taught me a lot about who I really am, as a person and a worker, rather than who I want to be. The results gave me some serious pause, as I’d never realized how important it is for me to not have to stress too much about outcomes (I will probably have to get over this no matter where I work), and not to focus so much on an end project but have lots of new things come my way.
This is what has made me a great teacher. I love students, I love peers. I love changing up my curriculum, testing new strategies and methods, and having a fresh start every few months. I love getting positive feedback in evals and from my bosses and colleagues. (Of course, I do worry about outcomes, but my outcomes are generally good, and it isn’t high stakes at college in the same way it is in high school — one of the reasons I moved away from HS teaching in the first place). It’s what makes me a great teammate, because I come up with lots of possibilities and ideas and can get the ball rolling (I’m just not great at bringing it  home — but in a collaborative setting, that’s not such a big deal).
I’ve been thinking a lot about — and working diligently toward — starting a freelance writing and editing career, but now I am seriously reconsidering it (at least, reconsidering it as a full-time venture). While I love creativity (and I have a whole post coming up about creativity) and the variety possible in freelancing, there are a few things about it that seem like it would be a poor fit:
  • I would be working on my own.
  • It is high pressure — I’d need to make money, I’d need to get projects done on time.
  • It is outcomes focused.
I’m moving forward with it because I want to see what happens, but my eyes are open to the likelihood that having writing and editing as anything other than a great side gig would be problematic for me. Or rather, I would be problematic for it.
This leads me to the realization — fueled by mind-boggling budget calculations — that I really ought to look for an actual job that would provide the structure I seem to require and interaction I thrive on, rather than trying to fly solo. Which means I applied for a job this week, one I really, really hope I get an interview for (and you know, get hired for, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself). It would be a social environment, working with students, and the hours (I think) would be very reasonable for our family. It would be good financially and personally.
As Jen said, I encourage anyone leaving grad school to read What Color if only because it helps you think through things in a different way. Grad school really wants us to be a certain kind of person, and we’re all quitting because we didn’t fit that (or it didn’t fit us). What Color helped me articulate this in a new way, and come to some pretty important realizations about myself that I never could have admitted to in graduate school (where, come on: tenure, publication, presentations, dissertations — these are all solo projects that are heavily outcomes-oriented!). It opened my mind to the possibility that I might not know everything about myself. This is exciting, because it means there are new things I may have never considered that are ahead. It’s also a little disappointing to admit to myself how much I suck at finishing things. That’s hard work. But it ought to pay off in a working situation that will be much more personally rewarding than continuing to fool myself would be. At least, that’s my hope.

5 responses to “What Lauren Learned About Identity & Work via a Craft Disaster (aka “Do it, start it, FUCK THIS IT’S NOT WORKING!”)

  1. “Here’s the thing about me: I will start it. I will do it. But I am not great at keeping it going. I lose energy fast. I lose enthusiasm. ”

    You and me both. And yes, I do think that this is part of the reason why academia and I never really gelled together. I loved teaching – write a lecture; deliver it; done. Write an assignment; give it out; grade it; done.

    But the unending writing/editing/nothing-is-ever-perfect-or-finished thing about EVERY OTHER ASPECT of academic work drove me batsh*t. And, yeah, now that I think about it … is probably part of the reason why I wanted to leave and grew to hate academia. Heh.

    As for crafting – I give you credit for even trying. Most of the time I don’t even bother trying, since (1) I know I’m not particularly crafty or artistic, and (2) I give up too quickly. So…I just buy the collage frame from Target and go from there. 🙂

  2. Pingback: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to (mostly) Love Oklahoma: A Tulsa Memoir Part 5 | mama nervosa

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