Tag Archives: teaching

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. Continue reading

Let’s Talk About Debt, Part 2: The Catch 22 of Grad School Economics

The impossibility of the Grad School Economy really hit home for me last summer (2011). We’d just moved to a bigger place after squashing into a 2-bedroom apartment for years. Like the woman in the Grad School to Welfare article, we live outside our university town because it is more affordable. My daughters were 3 years old and 18 months old at the time, and I was gearing up to take my comprehensive exams in the fall. Because summers in the past have been terribly tight (more on that in a minute), I took a job as a part-time writing tutor at my University. We could only afford half-time childcare for the girls, which meant they spent the mornings at school and I either tutored or worked towards comps during that time: this meant commuting between their schools, my school, and our house all between the hours of 7:30 am and 12:30 pm. So, my schedule looked something like this:

7:30 Leave with both girls and all my school stuff to take Kid 2 to infant daycare in nearby town.

7:50 Drop off Kid 2, drive Kid 1 to hippie daycare for preschoolers in university town.

8:15 Arrive at writing center, check email, tutor anxious grad students on mind-bending dissertations about standardized outcomes language in nursing or African-American porter unions or bio-mathematics.

10:30 Finish tutoring, get out comps stuff and start getting head into game. Read articles, look up references, start taking notes/drafting.

12:00 I just got into a writing rhythm, but I have to pack up and race to hippie daycare because I’m already running late.

12:20 Drive to nearby town to pick up Kid 2 as fast as possible, because if they fall asleep in the car on the way home, then they won’t nap, and if they won’t nap then I am SOL in terms of work time.

12:40 Drive home with the radio blaring to keep kids awake. They scream in my face.

1:00 Shovel food into their gaping maws as fast as possible, nurse one or both to sleep. Get comps stuff out, find where I’d left off, and start drafting or note-taking, while feeding myself with my non-dominant hand.

2:15 Shit! Someone is setting off firecrackers. Please don’t wake up please don’t wake up. If they wake up, I am ruined. RUINED.

3:15 They slept and I got a paragraph of summary written. Now it’s time to be a Mom, fix dinner, clean up, do bath time, and do bedtime.

8:45 They’re asleep! Now I have to decide if I’m going to work some more, have sex with my very neglected husband (oh yeah, that guy), or go to sleep.

9:15 Sleep wins.

Other than being completely crazy-making, the Catch 22 of this economy flummoxed me:

  • If I wanted more time to write, then I needed to have more money to pay for childcare.
  • If I needed more money for childcare, then I needed to spend more time working on a job that paid.
  • If I spent more time working at a job that paid (tutoring, nannying, adjuncting 1-2 sections at a local CC, all of which I’ve done as a grad student), then I had no time to write.
  • If I spent more time writing during “free” time (evenings and weekends), then my marriage collapsed like a dying star and I became a stranger to my children.

We know firsthand how painful and terrifying it can be to go broke. We went broke in 2010, the first summer after our second baby was born. I was too exhausted and clueless and desperate to calculate the full cost of childcare for two children. The pregnancy was a surprise, and I wanted to prove that I could balance family and school, so I was bound and determined to have a sitter for the girls and get some work done (any work, progress is progress, right?). But my summer income is zero: my TAship was a 10-month contract, and July and August are always tight. By the time I realized that there was simply no way for us to afford childcare for two young kids relying solely on my husband’s salary, it was too late to regroup and come up with an alternative plan. I pulled both girls out of childcare and spent that summer as a stay-at-home-mom, letting go of all work time to take care of my family and painstakingly attend to our budget. We made it, but it was extremely stressful, and I lost a lot of momentum towards comping, which was what I felt I needed to do so I could get to the part where I made actual money.

But after that, we prioritized money over grad school progress to avoid repeating that experience: I tutored in the summer, and taught anywhere from 1 to 3 additional courses each semester (in contrast to my usual one). My husband got a promotion at his not-beloved-but-solid job; he also works a second, part-time job every other weekend.

Focusing on income cost me dearly as I struggled to prepare for comps in 2010-2012. I deferred again in Fall 2010, and again in Spring 2011. Last summer, I was determined to comp in September, but Grad School Economics made that impossible. My adviser was skeptical that I would be ready to comp in the spring (2012). I was absolutely determined to make it work, and I took drastic measures to sprint my way towards comps readiness: I hired a cleaning lady, put my kids in daycare full-time, and started writing nights and weekends. I wrote and wrote and wrote, often immediately scrapping what I’d just spent weeks on. I was still floundering with topics and focus: maybe I was just not academically ready to comp at this time, but I didn’t really have the time to come to that realization, nor did I have the time to concentrate and solve that problem. I was out of time: I needed to comp as soon as fucking possible. I was dug in and furiously working away in a not-very-productive manner, but I knew that our family could not sustain this life for long, so I thought if I really hammered at it and got through comps, I could slow back down after that, maybe even work a part-time job while I dissertated and the girls got into school, whatever. I needed to get over this ENORMOUS mountain.

But at my first meeting with my adviser in the spring semester of 2012, it became clear that I was nowhere near ready for comps and had miles to go before I slept. I’d lost my way and would have to work harder, for longer, to reorient myself and get back on track. I was not up for that. It felt impossible to continue in this way, so I quit.

(To be continued!)

Google Diaries: We know you quit grad school.

When Lauren and I initially created Mama Nervosa, we imagined a space where we could write about the whole, weird range of experiences that make up our lives and identities: watching tv, mothering, unsuccessful crafting, writing, teaching, and figuring out who we are and what we do beyond grad school.

It turns out that this question of figuring out life beyond grad school resonates with a large number of people, many of whom find us by searching some variation of the phrase “I quit grad school now what” on google. I quit grad school. I want to quit grad school. Should I quit grad school? I want my husband to quit grad school. How do I tell my wife I quit grad school? My personal favorite: quit grad school no job 2012. It’s a tiny diary entry, a moment of grief and hope and desperation poured out into the google search box.

We’ve both written about leaving grad school, but while Lauren is saying her goodbyes this week, I said mine a long time ago. Eight years ago, in fact, a number which completely shocked me when I did the math this morning. So what have I done since I sent that fateful email? Continue reading

Fresh Beats, Gators, Surrender

So I didn’t do much (okay, any) writing last week. But I promise, I wasn’t slacking!

What I did:

1.)    turned in my grades

2.)    spent 2 days in professional development seminars

3.)    went to my nephew’s track meet

4.)    planted lime basil seeds

5.)    hung out with my sister and her new baby

6.)    cheered for the otters at the zoo

7.)    cheered for Margeaux when she stood up for the first time

8.)    bought a new round squishy ottoman so Margeaux has a safe place to stand up

9.)    taught D and Lucy how to use a lint brush so they can clean the cat hair off the new ottoman

10.) chased the cat around to squirt peroxide on his gross open wounds twice a day

11.) vowed to never let the cat outside again Continue reading

(Chat) The Push-Pull of Motherhood, Careers, and Other Grown-up Pursuits

This week’s chat is our take on the whole Mommy Wars/The Conflict/work-versus-home dilemma we face. Ultimately, we agree that there needs to be less at stake for mothers who want to both be there for their kids and have a working life of some kind. We also wonder what alternatives there are to identifying through an occupation, and how do you become a “real” writer, anyway?

12:20 PM Lauren: Holly slept through the night last night, for the first time in her life.

In her own bed, too.

12:21 PM Jennifer: WOW. AWESOME!!!!

Do you feel like a new, well-rested, human person?

Lauren: Well, I woke up at 5 convinced she was dead.

So I’m still kind of tired.

12:22 PM But yeah, it’s exciting. It was April when Robin started sleeping through the night as a toddler, too, so maybe this trend will stick.

Jennifer: I hope so!

Lauren: Me, too.

12:23 PM So, how’s the old work/life balance treating you today?

Or identity-discovery-through-vague-means?

12:24 PM Jennifer: Today was Wacky Wednesday, so it took longer than usual to get ready. But the girls were very happy and excited, and my schedule is more flexible, because it’s exam week, so we actually had a really nice morning.

12:25 PM Lauren: Nice!

Jennifer: Of course, next week I have 2 days of professional development and 2 field trips to the zoo and no childcare lined up yet, so this happiness probably has an expiration date.

Lauren: I *hate* the scramble for childcare.

12:26 PM And I don’t even have family around for that kind of thing!

12:27 PM Jennifer: I’ve been thinking since I posted yesterday about why is it that I feel stressed so much of the time when I have what appears to be a functional balance. And I think child care is a huge part of that stress.

The cost to put the girls in full day care would negate my financial contribution completely.

12:28 PM Lauren: That makes sense. Just the fact that your schedules shift every week, so you can’t just say M-F 12-4 or whatever…

Jennifer: But also, our schedule is different every single week, because Tyler’s schedule is different every week.

Right.

Lauren: Yeah, that’s our situation right now. Which is why me going to making very little money but staying home more doesn’t make much of a difference.

(Can we have a moment to acknowledge how much retail SUCKS?)

12:29 PM Jennifer: It’s so hard. So hard.

12:30 PM And because we are pulling multiple sitters/moms/sisters as child care, every week is a weird patchwork: on Monday, Dad will be home, and on Tuesday, mom will drive you to school but Grandma will pick you up, and on Wednesday the other Grandma will watch you all day and take you to school, and on Thursday…

12:31 PM Lauren: I have to say that sounds nightmarish to me, I hate that scrambling. We went through that last year when Holly was more of a baby…

OK, every morning you’ll both go to daycare but I’ll pick you up BEFORE lunch.

Then in the afternoon, a babysitter will come but different sitters at different times, oh wait she’s suddenly unavailable, how will I ever get anything written, etc etc.

12:33 PM Jennifer: Right. It’s insane. But any time we talk about going to a more structured care schedule, the cost seems insane, and then we start saying, oh, wait, sometimes you’re off on Wednesdays, so why would we pay for care every Wednesday when at least 1 of those we won’t need, etc, etc.

Lauren: Totally.

This makes me so glad our daycare has us pay ONLY for the hours we use. But yeah, most places you pay for a “slot” rather than per hour, which makes it really expensive.

12:34 PM Jennifer: Do you try to work at home while you are also parenting?

Lauren: Not really. I pretty much gave that up when Robin was a toddler and kept trying to “help” me grade or read with me.

I just end up getting really pissed about being interrupted.

12:35 PM Sometimes I can write (personal stuff, not academic stuff) with the girls playing nearby.

Jennifer: I had to give it up too. Sometimes when I’m in a real crunch to grade I can get a few things done while they watch Dora or something. But mostly it’s a lost cause.

12:36 PM Lauren: I can’t straddle those worlds.

I can move between them, but not inhabit them simultaneously.

Jennifer: Same here. I’m happier and more productive if I draw firm boundaries.

12:37 PM Lauren: So, why can’t we feel satisfied with our partial commitment to mothering/homemaking, and our partial commitment to a profession?

Why isn’t adjuncting enough for either of us? Why isn’t SAHMing appealing?

12:38 PM Jennifer: For me, I think I love my job too much to SAHM. I would miss it. My colleagues, my students, the time in the classroom– I really like what I do.

12:40 PM And I feel like I am maybe unusual in that I also really love the more SAHM type stuff: classroom parties, field trips, going to the Childrens Museum, playing in the garden. But I don’t think I want to give up the fulfillment of my job for it.

12:41 PM Lauren: I have realized that I like the SAHM stuff that involves interacting with the girls.

If I can take them to the park, play with them, hang with them — awesome.

I just need someone else to do the cooking and cleaning while I’m out.

As I’ve said before, I like the maternal but I’m not wild about the domestic stuff when it comes to SAHM.

12:42 PM But I don’t get INTO it the way some people seem to. I don’t relish planning crafts or whatever.

Do you think a full-time CC teaching position would be fulfilling?

It seems like it would be pretty ideal.

Jennifer: I like cooking and gardening. I despise cleaning and organizing.

12:43 PM I would love to have a full time teaching job at the university I’m at. Because the stuff I teach is interdisciplinary (WGS, lib studies) I’m less likely to be a good fit at a CC. But conceptually, yeah: a full time mostly classroom gig is my dream job.

12:44 PM Lauren: Duh, I thought you were at a CC — sorry.

Jennifer: No prob.

I feel like even though it would be more work hours, it would be less stress.

12:45 PM Lauren: Well, having the income of a FT position is really helpful.

No doubt about it. And the benefits.

Jennifer: Right. Better finances means more childcare options means less chaos.

12:47 PM I do like the balance of working very little in the summer and closer to full time in fall/winter.

Lauren: I kind of like a steady stream of work

I wish I could work part-time all the time

And do work I feel really good about.

12:48 PM But I worry that PT teaching is leading to burn out. I’ve felt very checked out an uninvested in my teaching this year.

12:50 PM Jennifer: Do you think that has to do with the status of part time faculty?

Like, if part time were valued equally in the university hierarchy, would there be less adjunct burn out?

12:51 PM Lauren: Maybe.

I really think if I was around more, and had some space on campus, I’d feel more hooked in.

But right now I’m in and out, as bad as any adjunct who’s a ghost, you know?

12:52 PM Jennifer: I recommend pretending that a popular lounge is your office. That strategy has worked well for me. Although it is also kind of crazy.

Lauren: We only have one TA lounge and it’s kind of a drag.

ANYWAY: I think it’s a mindset thing more than anything, but I’m trying some new things out instead of assuming that I have to be or want to be a FT teacher.

Jennifer: What’s your game plan?

12:53 PM Lauren: I have absolutely no game plan.

I am adjuncting one class in the fall.

I just interviewed for a position doing advocacy for a campus union that’s super PT.

Otherwise…..??? I don’t feel pulled strongly to a JOB, you know?

I like the idea of income, and the idea of having somewhere to BE, and of feeling like I make a difference

But I don’t want to just go out and work at Kmart, you know?

12:54 PM I don’t want to work for the sake of working, especially if it means being away from my kids. If I leave my kids, the job had better be meaningful.

12:56 PM Jennifer: Yes. I definitely agree. And I feel lucky that I have stumbled into a job that feels that way. I feel like a lot of what’s missing for me is structural support.

Lauren: YES

Jennifer: I have purpose as a mom and a prof. But I need better pay and health care and more flexible/affordable child care.

Lauren: Don’t get me wrong, teaching is awesome. I LOVE IT. I just need a break from it.

Definitely

12:58 PM Jennifer: I would also like the flexibility to move in and out of full time/part time/time away without fearing that I will be replaced/be seen as replaceable.

Lauren: Right, the dreaded MOMMY TRACK.

Jennifer: Yes.

Lauren: People have been so serious in warning me that I shouldn’t stop teaching

JUST IN CASE

Because ANY GAP in employment is the kiss of death, I guess

12:59 PM It might hint that I think my kids are more important than teaching the 4 adults who attend my reading class on MW mornings.

Jennifer: And how could that possibly be, right?

But ti does feel that way.

it.

1:00 PM Lauren: Especially when they’re very young, yes, my kids trump teaching.

Jennifer: And I don’t even know if that’s a real fear or if it’s just a thing everyone says but that wouldn’t actually matter because I have never attempted to find out!

Lauren: I don’t know if I should be a SAHM but I do think I should be Canadian. I think I’d have thrived as a Mom in a system that pays you for a full year after you give birth.

I needed it to be ok that my babies mattered more for awhile. Not permanently, but for awhile.

1:01 PM Jennifer: Yes: Structural Support. Why do so many Americans think that is bad/crazy/socialist/evil?

Lauren: EYE ROLL

1:02 PM I don’t know but it makes me nuts. Actually…

I think I recently heard that there is a lot of bipartisan consensus among people that more/better family leave is good.

It’s probably businesses that have the clout there,

Jennifer: That makes me crazy.

Lauren: I think it’s interesting that we met in a writing workshop, but neither of us has really considered what role writing plays in our developing sense-of-selves-as-mothers.

1:03 PM Can we talk about fulfillment outside of “occupation: housewife” or “occupation: teacher/whatever thing that is paid”?

Jennifer: YES.

1:04 PM So, the thing about me is that I basically let go of any self-identity as a writer when I left grad school. I had been beaten up for so long about my writing that I just…. stopped.

1:05 PM And then, just before Margeaux was born, I started thinking about blogging, and I talked to Marian (from Runaway Sentence) about the logistics.

And then I found out that somebody else had the blog name I picked out, and so I totally gave up on the idea.

Lauren: Oh no!

1:06 PM Jennifer: And I honestly couldn’t tell you why I decided to go to the workshop with Ariel. There is no logical reason why I should have driven to Iowa in the winter and left all my girls home and gone to a writing workshop when I was not a writer and had actually not written anything in years.

But I did, and there you were.

1:07 PM Lauren: I did it because I needed an antidote to grad school.

I don’t know about you, but writing is working for me: the more I do it, the more I want to do it.

Jennifer: YES.

Lauren: But I have no idea how to translate that into some kind of life path, you know?

1:08 PM It feels like I should DO SOMETHING MORE with it than just post it for free online! 🙂 Yet I don’t know if it needs to be a paid gig or something to “matter.”

1:09 PM Jennifer: Right. the blog has been an amazing, awesome experience for me. I love writing. I love reading your posts. I check our stats. but… are we writers?

If we want to be WRITERS, should we be, like free lancing for Parents magazine?

Is that a thing writers do?

1:10 PM How would we even do that?

Lauren: I’ve looked into it

Jennifer: HA!

Lauren: It looks way too much like doing homework 😛

Jennifer: I love that you have looked into this.

Lauren: It’s a lot of filing and reading to figure out what the editors want and then matching up your voice to theirs.

I mean, I would love to do some freelancing, but I don’t want to write articles like “Ten Ways To Beat the Heat!”

1:11 PM Jennifer: Nope. Well, maybe? No, probably not.

Lauren: I really spent a lot of time one weekend being like “I could do this!!”

And then feeling like I was still in grad school, having to do research to write a paper that would meet a teacher’s needs but not mine.

1:12 PM I want to be able to write in a way that includes my perspective. I want to write personal stuff.

1:13 PM Jennifer: Yeah, me too.

Lauren: I guess I feel like if I’m taking time away from my children, and doing something that requires me to pay for childcare

1:14 PM Then I have to be earning money

Jennifer: Yes.

Lauren: I have it in my mind that next year I’d like to have more time to devote to writing — whatever THAT means — but I don’t know how to have a job that pays enough and takes little enough time that it’s possible to do that.

I love teaching but if I teach more than 1 section, grading will suck up that down time.

I like the idea of the job I interviewed for but it might be time intensive at times, and that makes me nervous.

1:16 PM But I feel like a heel because I am not a “real” writer

Right?

I’m basically taking time off to UPDATE MY WEBSITE

Jennifer: Most days I feel like I’m not a real anything.

I’m not a real writer.

Lauren: It has this cheesy geocities feel to it.

1:17 PM Jennifer: I’m nto a real prof.

I’m not a real SAHM.

Lauren: Right. YES. When do we hit that threshold so we can feel REAL at something?

Jennifer: And the thing is that to my students, I am a real prof. And to my girls, I am a real mom.

1:18 PM Lauren: So whose eyes are we seeing ourselves through?

Jennifer: EXACTLY.

1:19 PM So how do I stop the madness and chaos and self doubt and insane scheduling and too much mac and cheese and find some peace in doing what I’m already doing well, for teh most part?

1:20 PM Lauren: Right.

The whole “bloom where you’re planted” thing

I suck at that. I’m never satisfied with now.

Jennifer: We need a cutesy Mary Engelbreit graphic there.

Lauren: yuck 🙂

1:21 PM Jennifer: I kind of love M.E. Not sure why. More importantly:

WHY AREN’T WE BLOOMING?

Lauren: It’s like we’re blooming, but we can’t see our own blooms, because we are wearing the BLINDERS OF PATRIARCHY

1:22 PM Jennifer: ALSO THE BLINDERS OF CAPITALISM.

Lauren: Fuckin’ capitalism man.

1:23 PM Basically: how can we feel really good about the non-Mom stuff we want to do, even if it doesn’t pay

And about the Mom stuff we do want to do, that isn’t Pinnable

1:24 PM Jennifer: Yes. I want to be able to see my self and my strengths more clearly. I want to be able to enjoy the days I spend with my girls and the days I spend at work.

1:25 PM I want good healthcare and flexible, reasonably priced child care.

I can’t figure out if these desires make me feminist or Buddhist or Socialist or all 3.

Lauren: I want better maternity leave so you don’t have to plan your birth around a semester schedule.

Jennifer: YES.

1:26 PM I feel so grateful and lucky that we got pregnant with Margeaux when we did, because if we hadn’t, I don’t know if we would have tried for another month, because a July birthday seemed really scary if I was going back in August.

Lauren: Totally

1:27 PM I remember doing those feverish calculations in my mind as a grad student

How can I plan babies so as not to fuck up everything?

Of course when push came to shove we just rolled the dice and hoped it wouldn’t be too disastrous.

But those semesters were incredibly stressful. I was back in the classroom — not for long, but still having to negotiate all that shit — 4 weeks after birth.

I’m not one of those bounce back from birth mamas

1:28 PM I like to sit for like, 3 months, and do nothing after I give birth

I needed more down time.

1:29 PM Jennifer: I feel like the moms I know who have been able to immediately reintegrate into normal adult life are moms who are DISCIPLINED. I’m just too… loose, I guess.

1:30 PM Lauren: I’m just a mess, kinda, I need a lot of adjustment time.

Jennifer: Again: If we were Canadian, this would not be an issue.

Or Scandanavian.

Lauren: (I’m geeking out because Obama is speaking at Iowa right now and I’m streaming it!)

Right.

One of the things I think I’m learning from rereading Feminist Mystique

Is that women go through some identity shit when their babies aren’t babies anymore

Jennifer: YEAH OBAMA!

1:31 PM Lauren: In the 60s, the only option they felt they had was to become

a Mom again

They would just have another baby to maintain the necessity of their devotion or whatever

Or some would go on to a career or whatever, but that was viewed as a huge deal

Now we have more options, more acceptable options anyway

But I think we may just be hitting a sort of identity THING that women at this stage may go through

1:32 PM What’s next? Who am I? Etc

I just want to keep doors open to possibilities beyond a job in terms of fulfillment. But I know I need something more than “just” mothering.

Jennifer: Yes. And I think if you are part time, it’s harder in some ways to sort through because I can’t fully integrate into any of the worlds I move through.

1:33 PM Lauren: Yes, the shifting is so hard

Jennifer: I can’t join the playgroups, or keep going to breastfeeding support group to be social, because I have to work.

But I can’t go out with the women at work, or go to the more social events (like holiday parties or retirement parties) because I’m needed at home.

Lauren: I have absolutely NO social life.

Jennifer: It’s hard.

1:34 PM Even to get together with my friends with kids, it’s hard.

Lauren: I have been asking other Moms how they do this and it sounds like a job itself

Making calls, following up on things, having parties and snacks

Facebook event creating, etc.

I wish, wish, wish I didn’t live 20 min away from most of our friends. But that’s another topic altogether.

1:35 PM Jennifer: I fantasize about living in a neighborhood with other parents who I like and who have casual social gatherings.

I know people who live in neighborhoods like this, and I envy them deeply.

1:36 PM Lauren: I basically want to live in a housing co-op

I really should have been a hippie.

1:37 PM Jennifer: I want the support network: I want to be able to say to my neighbor, Can you pick D up from preschool on Wednesday when I’m at the zoo with Lucy and I’ll be by to pick her up from your house in an hour?

Lauren: Can you watch Holly while she naps so I can pick Robin up from preschool?

1:38 PM Jennifer: Can you watch Lucy while I take D to get a tetanus shot because she cut her finger on a can in the recycling bin?

Lauren: Can you take this $10 and get me some milk and bread while you’re at the store so I don’t have to run errands with no bra on and screaming children?

1:39 PM Jennifer: This is why people used to live with their extended families.

Lauren: The whole village thing really makes sense.

1:40 PM Jennifer: Because it creates flexible support, which is what we seem to need most, especially when we are trying to be present in more than one grown up world.

Lauren: Right

To not have either mothering nor working make or break the other thing

1:41 PM Being a mom shouldn’t negate my ability to work

Working shouldn’t negate my ability to be a good mom

Jennifer: The stakes shouldn’t feel so high.

1:42 PM Lauren: RIght

Not at this vulnerable time of intense personal transition

This has been a lovely chat!

You need to prep, though, right?

Jennifer: I should try and finish grading this batch of essays before I go in to hear their presentations.

1:43 PM This has been an awesome chat.

Lauren: Have a great class!

Jennifer: Enjoy Obama!

Lauren: You know it!

1:44 PM Jennifer: I’d offer to find an ME Bloom Where You’re Planted image, but wordpress hates it when I use pictures.

Lauren: I’ll take care of it 🙂

Jennifer: Thank you 🙂

TTYL!!

Lauren: TTYL!

You can’t throw a shoe without hitting a recent post about The Mommy Wars or Elisabeth Badinter’s controversial book The Conflict, so I’ll spare you the links. What do you guys think?

 

Off balance

Since giving birth to Dorothy 5 years ago, I have done every possible combination of staying at home and working. I worked full time for the first year of her life, lost my job unexpectedly and stayed home for the next 7 months, then went back to work part time as an adjunct prof, teaching 2 or 3 classes during fall and winter semesters and staying at home during the summers. I had 6 weeks of paid maternity leave after D was born, I was unemployed when Lucy was born, and we planned Margeaux’s birth for summer so that I wouldn’t have to take fall or winter semester off. I have had very little structural support in the way of maternity leave or formal child care; we rely on friends, family, and a couple trusted baby sitters to care for the girls when T and I are working.

I don’t think I’m giving away any secrets when I say that adjunct teaching doesn’t pay particularly well. I value the opportunity to teach regardless of the pay because I love to be in the classroom, writing on the board, talking about books and ideas that transformed me; because I love the moment when a student realizes something about herself and her place in the world for the first time; because teaching gives me a reason to keep reading new books and a community to talk about those books with; because my colleagues are smart and funny and thoughtful and kind; because my students are often all those things too.

In addition to trying to work my way through what seems to be an endless number of essays and reading prep self-evaluation worksheets this week, T and I are also trying to figure out what our fall schedule will look like. This schedule involves full day kindergarten 5 days a week, half day preschool 4 days a week, me working 3-4 days per week, T working 5-6 days per week (but his schedule and days off vary each week because he’s in retail), ballet on Fridays, and Margeaux, who snuggles and plays full time.

The practical choice right now would be for me to stay home, or to only teach night classes so I could cut my on campus hours to the bare minimum and do all the driving to school and ballet. I could possibly SAHM full time, or easily SAHM by day, adjunct by night: keep up with the laundry and dishes, sign the permission slips, cook healthy meals, have a few hours with Margeaux each day while the girls are at school. We would certainly save money in gas and food. The household would run more smoothly. I would have more time with the girls. We would eat better. I could use our moms and babysitters to cover a few hours here and there while I went to the Valentines party or the pumpkin farm or got my hair cut.

Financially, there is very little to gain from teaching days instead of evenings; to any outsider, SAHM by day, adjunct by night probably looks ideal. So why did I sign on for a full schedule for fall, teaching 3 classes? Why bring on the childcare stress, the driving, the frustrated students who email me and don’t understand why I don’t respond immediately when I am at home on my off days, making macaroni and cheese and folding mountains of leggings and Hello, Kitty underpants? Why cobble together a childcare patchwork of grandmothers and babysitters on a week by week basis that will leave me stressed and exhausted as I struggle to keep up with driving and Halloween parties and prepping and grading and maintaining an on campus presence so my colleagues know who I am if the interview for that elusive full time position ever comes around?

One reason is that I am afraid if I opt out of the standard academic work day, if I no longer see my colleagues on a regular basis, I will cease to be thought of as a viable candidate for a full time job, should that job ever exist.  Out of sight, out of mind. The quality of my teaching wouldn’t change, but if a 3 page essay jams in the copy machine and no one is there to replace the toner…. Or something.

I share an office with approximately 8 other part time faculty, which means that outside of my allotted 3 hours per week, I work in a lounge. And while this set up isn’t ideal, I have grown to appreciate certain aspects of the arrangement: I am in the middle of the hall. Want to go to the bathroom? You walk past me. Want to make a photocopy? You walk past me.  My presence in the lounge is a clear and obvious reminder that I work here and I want to continue to do so.

But beyond the desire to maintain a physical presence, I value the interaction I have with my colleagues. One of the hardest things for me about being a SAHM is the isolation, the long hours, the endless housework.  I find myself crawling under the table and picking up the Polly Pocket boots for the 200th time and wishing a trap door would open that would drop me into an alternate universe with money trees and robot housekeepers and an awesome playgroup full of moms who are sassy and spunky and feminist and okay with drinking wine roundabout 4 pm. Coming to work means the opportunity to talk to people I like and respect. I value this community. I like having the opportunity to talk through a new ad I’m thinking about analyzing in class, or find out what new book someone is using in the Life Journey class, or share how I used that theatre of the oppressed power game. Coming to work in the evening, arriving to a mostly empty building, might pay the same amount of dollars. But the entire experience would change for me in a way that I find hard to accept.

Even though it would simplify the laundry and the driving and the cooking. Even though it might mean more time with the girls.

Here’s the thing: I am good at my job, and I find it fulfilling and challenging, and I don’t want to give it up, or do it on lesser terms, even if doing so would simplify my kids’ routines and commutes.  Is that selfish?

But also: I am a good mom, and I find it fulfilling and challenging. So why am I so certain that being a SAHM is the wrong choice for me, when practically it’s so obviously the right choice?

And for the record: although I don’t find it fulfilling, T and I have learned to manage the housework with enough success that we don’t usually run out of clean underwear or spoons or milk.

So shouldn’t all that add up to something pretty close to domestic bliss, the perfect balance? Work 3 days a week, home 4 days, clean spoons and chocolate milk for everyone? Why is it such a struggle? Is it the identity push pull, the sense that I really should choose one or the other and immerse myself? Is it fear that I must be selling someone short—my kids, my students, my professional identity? If the goal is work/life balance, I have that. I don’t have Friedan’s problem with no name; I have some weird new hybrid problem. It probably has 3 names, or a hyphenated name, or it goes by some nickname unrelated to its given name. Whatever you want to call it, today I feel like it’s got me beat.

4 Roads Not Travelled: What I Should Have Done Instead of Going to Grad School

Every day, someone finds our blog by googling about quitting grad school. This is awesome: welcome. I hope our writing has been helpful to you. I also thought it might be wise to have a landing strip for folks googling  “Should I go to grad school?”

My answer is: No. Don’t go to grad school. If you want a “yes” or a “maybe,” talk to someone else. I think more people, including advisers and professors, should actively discourage people from grad school. Even the smart students. That’s what I want to do with this post. I wish someone had said this to me, given me pause, made me reconsider. There were a lot of yeasayers when it came to grad school. I want to be a naysayer.

Don’t go to grad school.

I’m about two weeks away from being done with grad school. I go through phases where I feel profoundly bitter about my lousy decision-making, and I’m right smack in the middle of one right now. Bitterness is a common post-grad school emotion: for example, after leaving grad school, my husband changed his Facebook info to “Studied: Bitterness. Degree: MA in unemployable bullshittology.”

So yeah, take this with a grain of bitter salt. This is from my perspective, bla bla bla disclaimer.

I generally pride myself on being a smart person, someone who can see the big picture, weigh pros and cons, and come up with solutions to problems. I like being decisive, and I like being right. Hell, that’s one of the reasons I thought I was a good candidate for grad school.

A very quick sum-up of my grad school experience: I enrolled in a PhD program in American Studies, an interdisciplinary field, immediately after graduating from college in 2004. I quickly became disenchanted for a variety of reasons I won’t get into now. In 2007, I decided to leave that program with an MA and considered many, many, many other paths before applying to (get ready for it) another PhD program, this time in literacy education. It was a much better program and I learned a lot, but even so, after five years, I am now leaving that PhD at the comps stage. All told, I’ve been in grad school for eight years, and will leave with 2 Master’s degrees and a boatload of mostly useless credit hours.

Grad school has been an exercise in wishy-washy hemming and hawing, and pretty much every decision I made from the type of degree to pursue to the courses I took was wrong. It has been a comedy of errors, and sometimes I can laugh about it (really, most of the time I can), but right now I’m thinking about what I should have done instead of going to grad school.

Become a High School English Teacher

I was an Education major in college and came within an inch of finalizing my teaching license by the time I graduated. I student-taught 9th and 12th grade in a suburban high school, which was a fantastic experience. I should have earned my license and become a teacher.

I had good reasons for not wanting to become a high school teacher by the time I wrapped up my BS Ed degree. No Child Left Behind was just rolling in like a tsunami and I could see the impact it would have on classroom teaching practices, school budgets, and teacher life. I did not want to experience that. At 23, I didn’t feel quite ready to sign up for my lifetime career, and I wanted a chance to get out of Oklahoma. I was having a ball in my upper division, honors courses and wanted more of that. I was newly engaged and my partner also wanted to go to grad school. So, there were reasons.

That being said, I could have, maybe even should have, finished up that teaching license so that HS teaching would have been an option at any time when grad school started sucking (which it did almost immediately). While there are serious drawbacks to HS teaching, I love working with teenagers, especially goofy, immature, at-risk college freshmen. They are essentially high school students. I love teaching books, writing together, and the buzz of the classroom. I would have been happy in high school.

I could have taught for several years before having kids, and might have been able to arrange a part-time schedule when they arrived, or at the very least have paid off my student loan debt and put aside some money before they showed up. I can’t quite quantify for you the benefits of having earned money for most of my adult life, versus having borrowed my way into crushing debt. Even a few years of teaching experience would have been invaluable in terms of understanding what I truly wanted in a job and a graduate degree, so it would have helped me make better choices if and when I did pursue graduate studies. I still might pursue this avenue: ten years later, I am securing my teaching licenses in Oklahoma and Iowa so that I’m never more than a few bureaucratic steps away from being eligible to teach in public schools.

Earned a Master’s in a Traditional Humanities Discipline

I did not understand the differences between an MA and a PhD at all before deciding to go to grad school, and this led to some extremely bad decision-making. Retrospectively, I can’t emphasize enough the value of an MA, even if you drink the kool-aid and go on to a PhD (don’t do it!).

An MA provides a breadth of knowledge that is essential to teach at the college level, as well as make decisions about dissertation research. There’s no way I could have been competitive for English or History faculty positions at 4-year schools with the scattershot coursework I took in my interdisciplinary humanities PhD program. I did not have a solid grounding in any area or field because my program let me design my own very special and unique “plan of study” (ha) and didn’t require me to have a certain number of hours in a single discipline. Ergo, my Am Studies MA is a patchwork of English, History, Comm Studies, and Anthropology courses, and I am not qualified to teach any of these at the college level.

I can and do teach at a community college, which I adore. I wish I’d known that this was an option: I could have done Master’s work in English and likely landed a teaching gig I’d have enjoyed, without all this unnecessary extra coursework. But, because I don’t have a ton of graduate course hours in English, I’m not always eligible to apply for CC English positions, because they want that breadth of graduate coursework (MA-level courses in Brit Lit, Am Lit, etc). By definition, the “Master’s Degree” is the teacher’s degree. I currently teach developmental reading and writing, and I like this very much, but I am disappointed that there are limitations to the jobs I can apply for because of my crappy coursework.

I could have earned a traditional MA and had that intellectual experience I was seeking after college, figured out that PhD students are wackadoodles, and then left. I could have gone on to do just about anything without sinking myself further into debt. I would be exactly as competitive for jobs as I am now, with two truncated PhDs. That extra coursework is doing nothing for me in terms of job apps. The only thing my additional years of coursework has brought me is more teaching experience, but I could have been doing that anyway (profitably!).

A traditional MA would still have been beneficial if I’d moved on to a PhD. Another drawback to leapfrogging all that MA coursework is that PhD course reqs are geared towards specialization and research, not establishing a broad knowledge base. Thus, I was really hamstrung when it came to conceiving of a decent research project. I had to read, on my own, the entire back history of any field I was interested in, because I had not sat through the coursework that would have provided it. This was especially true in my Education PhD: I just didn’t have the background to dream up a good research topic in a field where I’d mostly taken courses on how to do research. I needed that interim step.

Found a Professional Master’s Program

I toyed with going into counseling or social work. I could have done an education-focused MA in student development or athletic services. In fact, my adviser is eager for me to switch to a Reading MA because it would be “right up my alley.” Any of these programs would have been interesting and challenging, and would have the benefit of actual applicability to a job I might have enjoyed, with the possibility of making more money as well. I knew absolutely nothing about professional Master’s programs when I wrapped up my college career. I wish, wish, wish I’d been less embarrassed to talk to my education profs about my interest in pursuing grad school (I felt guilty that I didn’t want to go right into teaching) so MAYBE someone could have floated one of these great options in my direction. I wish I’d done more research.

Opened up a dozen credit cards and spent a year bumming around in Europe with my husband.

I went to college in those days when credit card companies would set up tables in the south oval and give you free shit if you got a card. I wish we’d opened up a ton and racked up tens of thousands of dollars in debt traveling in Britain, Germany, France. I wish we’d bought unnecessarily elaborate travel gear and taken a hundred thousand photos. I wish we’d lived for two weeks in some ritzy hotel in Rome, smoked a ton of pot in Amsterdam, and bought ridiculously expensive Eiffel Tower souvenirs for everyone in my family. I wish we’d had our luggage stolen and slept in iffy hostels and skinny dipped in the Adriatic.

Wannabe Rick Steveses

I would have accrued less debt and wasted less time than I have in grad school, and my God, the memories! I don’t know if, between a family and student loan debt, I will ever, in my life, be able to afford international travel. It would have been foolish and irresponsible, sure, but so was grad school: at least this would have had bucket list payoff.

Tick, tock

Despite our morning struggles, we had some definite successes this week.

We bought D a tagalong bike for her birthday, and although she was initially terrified (she actually ran and hid), she did eventually climb on, cling to the handlebars for dear life, and discover that she LOVES riding behind T. SUCCESS!

The girls have slept all night, every night in their big girl bunk beds, and we have had no violations of the 4 cardinal bedtime rules (I stay in my bed, I am quiet, I lay down with my head on my pillow, No kickers). SUCCESS!

We are still working on the finer points of ladder safety: Do not climb the ladder while eating a chocolate egg. Do not climb the ladder while snuggling 5 stuffed unicorns. Do not climb the ladder while carrying 24 puzzle pieces. But despite the repeated falls, no one has been injured. SUCCESS!

Because of D’s birthday, and because I am reaching the end of the semester in my Life Journey class, I have been thinking a lot about growing up and growing old. My students are reading Emily, Alone by Stewart O’Nan, and we watched the Frontline documentary Living Old. Yesterday some of them cried quietly during class discussion. The conversations this week have been difficult, but powerful: they trust each other enough to ask hard questions. They are thinking about their parents and grandparents; they are thinking about their own lives unfolding; they are, we are, grateful that spring seems to be here for real, that the threat of winter has mostly passed.

As a parent, as a professor, in some ways I’m always longing for the next step: the big girl bike, the big girl bed, Muppet Babies instead of Dora the Explorer,  the thoughtful discussion that happens between students without me having to repeat and filter their thoughts back out in the form of another question or prompt. Growth, achievement, milestones. Tick, tock, tick tock. For me, the pleasure of seeing them (my daughters, and my students, for that matter) emerge and reemerge as inquisitive, intelligent, increasingly independent individuals outweighs, most days, any sadness over the passage of time.

Except where Margeaux is concerned.

Image

Exactly the right age for a kitchen sink bath.

Margeaux, who is right smack in the middle of my most favorite age, between 6 months and a year. Crawling, babbling, smiling, laughing, she says mama when she reaches for me and hop hop hop when she plays with her frog rattle. I freely admit I don’t want her to learn to walk. Maybe because she’s our last baby, maybe because it all felt a little precarious when I was hospitalized with preeclampsia after her birth, maybe because that year between 1 and 2 felt like such a struggle with D and Lucy, maybe because right now, there’s nothing she needs or wants that I can’t give her freely. It’s not complicated.

She still wakes up around 4 am to nurse, and I usually bring her back to bed with me. I love the moment when she throws her chubby arms up over her head and sighs and drops off into baby dreamworld, tummy full, safe and warm. When D was a baby and my nephew was about 5, I asked him what he thought D dreamed about. We were watching her nap, and she was making soft little sleep sounds. “She probably dreams about girl stuff,” my nephew said. “Like horses, and fruit.”

Chubby arms, mama mama, hop hop hop. Baby perfection. If I could, I’d hush the tick, tock and stay in bed, dreaming of horses and fruit.

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.

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.”

In grad school, THAT IS NOT A COMPLIMENT.

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?”

“Yup.”

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.