Tag Archives: Writing

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

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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!)

Excerpt from Pigs Are People, Too (and a Tribute to A Superhero Mama Writer)

Last week, Jen wrote about her first moves towards prioritizing writing in the middle of the frenetic life of a mother of young children and part-time teacher. She introduced our mutual friend, Shell, as an inspiration and a fellow mama-ex-academic-writer-kick-ass-person working very hard to get her own writing project off the ground.

Shell is raising money through IndieGoGo to finish and self-publish a memoir and manifesta for fat women. Shell writes, “Fat women are everywhere. And we are hungry for honest stories about what it’s like to be fat, for the truth about the conflicted feelings we have for our bodies, for funny empowering tales about body-image, and for the all-too-rare point of view that fat phobia—not just obesity–is an epidemic worth fighting… We need some experiences out there that share the truth of living fat, not the sob story of how we got there, or the success story of how we got out, but what we experienced from those around us while we were/are in it; the reality of living as a fat woman in America.”

Jen and I think this is a project worth funding. Let me tell you some things about Shell:

  • She works in a full-time administration position and also teaches nights.
  • She’s been a single mother, teen mother, welfare mother, working mother — and she is an amazing, feminist parent raising incredible young people.
  • She finished a PhD and, while not a grad school quitta, is a total quitta empathizer.
  • She taught in the same program for at-risk college students as me, and she worked miracles with young people who everyone believes can’t make it in college. No kid could resist Shell’s honesty and hilarity. I’ll never forget her story about teaching an article about homophobia in sports to a room full of football players. AWESOME. She is HARDCORE.
  • She was my doula! She pressed on my lower back while I labored with Holly, and fed me spaghetti after the birth. Check it out.

Shell & I with Holly, who is minutes old.

Basically, Shell is an extraordinary person who deserves the satisfaction of publication! She’s raising 2k to upgrade her computer and pay for some dang summer camp so she can have some time (remember, she works two jobs) to write. Please consider supporting her campaign. Read an excerpt from a work-in-progress chapter about being fat and vegan (gasp! at the same time!). Continue reading

Milestones: Finding Time to Write

Mama Nervosa reached an amazing milestone this week: 10,000 views (and counting).  I know some of our readers are amazing and talented writers who run successful blogs that average 10,000 views a week, and we hope to get there someday. But for us, 10,000 is an enormous accomplishment. I can’t speak for Lauren, but for me? 10,000 means I can give myself permission to ignore the laundry for an hour and sit down to write.

Lauren and I met at a writers’ workshop in Iowa City; a mutual friend (and amazing writer) organized the workshop as part of Ariel Gore’s Literary Kitchen workshop series, and I signed up in a moment of temporary insanity. Because here’s the thing: even though I have imagined that I wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, I have spent most of the past 8 years (since leaving grad school) not writing at all. A fling with livejournal, a few letters, a lot of emails, the occasional witty facebook comment. That’s it. Not an essay, a chapter, not even a journal entry—and I journaled avidly from third grade through college and most of grad school. Even when working on a feminist book project with friends from undergrad, I primarily read and edited other people’s work.

I didn’t stop thinking of myself as a writer, which is weird, in retrospect, since I was very obviously NOT WRITING. Maybe it was my lack of do it start it keep it going capability, maybe it was all the negativity associated with writing in grad school, maybe it was just a natural shift as my location and day to day life and priorities and identity changed in ways large and small. But when Shell posted the workshop on her facebook, I knew, instinctively, that I needed to go. Even though I wasn’t a writer. Even though I had a small baby who was still breastfeeding. Even though I had no idea what the workshop would actually entail.  I signed up, paid, pumped a freezer full of breast milk, and got in the car.

At the workshop, I wrote and ate and drank and talk and danced and read my work out loud and listened to feedback from a room full of smart, thoughtful women, all talented writers. I wrote an essay about Phish tour that I’d been burning to write since I let the dissertation go. I remembered how good it felt to sit in a quiet room full of books all by myself with a laptop or with paper and pen and have the time and space and confidence to put the words on the page. And when Lauren (do it start it keep it going!) asked if I wanted to blog with her I made another crazy leap of faith and said YES, ABSOLUTELY SIGN ME UP. I neglected to tell her that I have never blogged before and I am largely technologically inept. I did not stop to think about how I was going to find time to write blog entries in between the laundry and the teaching and the parenting and the gardening and the trying to figure out how to come up with enough money to buy tickets for The Fresh Beat Band from stubhub since the good seats are all sold out but I already promised D we would go.

But here we are, 10,000 views later. I am still trying to find/make/steal/borrow time to write. I am ignoring a MOUNTAIN of laundry even as I type. So when I saw Shell’s kickstarter campaign go live today, I made a contribution, and I’m hoping some of you will consider contributing too. She’s trying to raise the funds to finish her (gorgeous, hilarious, heart-breaking) memoir. Shell is a kick ass mama, an amazing writer, a beautiful woman, and an honest friend. She was a foster kid and a teen mom and now she’s a PhD. She was a voice of clarity during crazy grad school nights, she is a hero to me as a mother and a feminist, and she is a powerful enough force to inspire me to show up at a writing workshop when I had no idea if I could write a single word.

So give what you can– and if not to Shell’s project, to some other mama who is trying to find the time/space/cash to do the work that means the most to her. Let’s face it: it’s insanely hard to do this on our own, and we all have resources we could use to help one another. Maybe you have food, or money, or time, or skills or connections that could bring someone else that much closer to living the dream. Look around. Ask around. Figure out who needs what you’ve got to offer, and give generously. Life is too short not to share the wealth.

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

Out with a Bang: Exiting Grad School With Grace and/or Guts

If, like me, you’re quitting grad school after this semester, congratulations! I don’t know about you but I’m simultaneously freaked out by the end of my graduate life in a week, and extremely ready to move on. I’ve been thinking about the many ways one could end grad school on a high note.

Continue reading