Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Ker-Plunk Theory of Time Management

Did you ever play Ker-Plunk? I remember it never quite living up to the awesome early nineties hype of this commercial:

Basically, you started out the game by putting all these little sticks through some holes in the middle of an hourglass style plastic tube. Then you dumped marbles in the top, which were blocked by the sticks. Then you took turns pulling the sticks out, hoping that the marbles wouldn't fall. If they did, you were, as the commercial jingle made clear, "sunk."

This game popped into my head the other day as I thought about some time management struggles I'm having.

Last January, I joined a roller derby league just as the new semester started. I was juggling teaching, studying for my doctoral exams, and being a wife and mother with practicing roller derby at least twice and week and attending fundraising events for the league as well. I was also running two or three times a week and lifting weights. 

I remember it being hectic but not impossible. I remember it fitting together into a nice little nest of busyness.

Then I broke my ankle.

I've only been to a few practices (off skates, just to help with officiating) since then. I want to go to more, but I cannot for the life of me figure out how I made the time in my schedule to make this happen. 

I think it might work a lot like those Ker-Plunk sticks; once you've pulled them out, the marbles shift, and you can't put them back in.

It was less than a year ago, but the metaphorical marbles of my life have shifted drastically in that time. I passed my doctoral exams, which were the motivation for joining the league in the first place. I needed a way to get out of my head, to do something so physically demanding that it made me 100% present in the moment and not anxiously running over the dates of ancient rhetoricians' beheadings. Now I'm working on a dissertation, a task of an immensely different nature and one for which I very much need to be in my head, not out of it. 

I was healthy and active before the ankle break, but now I'm limping most days and can't run or jump. I have faith that I'll get these skills back, but being surrounded by friends who are jumping, skating, and generally demonstrating a bodily ability that I can't have right now makes me sad--even if I know it shouldn't.

There are plenty of other times that the marbles have shifted. Having a baby definitely threw all the previous time management rules out the window. Becoming a full-time faculty member did it again.

Those, though, are the kinds of major, rule-changing life events that I expect. It feels a little harder to deal when the marbles fell all on their own, when something else (beyond my control) pulled the sticks out.

Sometimes not being able to find the time is a tool we use to block ourselves from facing the realities surrounding the way we set our priorities. Sometimes it's the buffer we use to help us make decisions about what really matters. And sometimes it's hard to tell which is which.

Photo: Julep67

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Why Don't You Have Your Man Doing That For You?

I was just outside mowing the lawn, you know, like people do. A man walking by stopped on the sidewalk and was yelling something at me that I couldn't hear over the whir of the motor in the incredibly manly machine I was wielding.

It looks a lot like this. Can't you feel the testosterone glowing off the screen. 
I, figuring that someone must surely have something important to say if you're stopping me from mowing (hey, maybe I'm about to run over a nest of kittens; I'd want to know that), stop the mower and look up, sweat dripping into my eyes, pretty clearly annoyed, "What?"

"Why don't you have your man doing that for you?"

I was thrown off. Now I was annoyed, confused, and insulted. "He's at work," I said, which was the truth, then turned back to re-starting the mower. 

The guy now looked confused, too. (What was he expecting me to say, I wonder.) "Oh, um, I guess you gotta work, huh?" But then he saw that I didn't get the mower started on the first pull (it's old, and it doesn't like being stopped mid-job for no reason) and his machismo perked right back up as he took a few steps toward me. "Looks like you need some help with that!" he gleefully declared, clearly feeling he had won this little "debate." 

Just then, thankfully, the engine roared to life, and I said, "Nope. Got it!" and started mowing again. Then the man seriously stood there watching me for a good minute. I heard him yell, "He's at work, huh?" one more time before he finally turned around and walked on. 

As I finished the methodical task of mowing my front lawn, I thought of all the other responses I could or should have given him:

1) I just spent two grand on this damn bionic ankle. You better believe I'm going to put it to use. 

2) I enjoy yard work way, way, way more than I enjoy housework. 

3) Oh, I'm sorry, do you mow your lawn with your penis where you're from? We use hands. Different strokes for different folks. 

But one of the main things I thought about was this: if that man was that impressed with my ability to walk back and forth in a line for the eleven minutes it takes to mow my postage stamp-sized front yard, what would he think of my mother, a woman who has mowed five acres of land by herself for decades?

Here's the bottom line, if my "man" didn't have enough respect for me to know that I could walk back and forth while pushing a wheeled hunk of metal in front of me without his help, I wouldn't have much use for him. Thankfully, that's not the case. 

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go do something really amazing like unclog a drain or take out the trash. 

Photo: M01229

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour: How Things Get Done (When They Get Done)

I have the pleasure of getting to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour after being tagged by Renee from Geek Adjacent. (Go over and check out her addition to the series.)

I teach writing to students who typically don't consider themselves writers, so I spend a lot of time thinking about "THE WRITING PROCESS" in its most boiled down, PowerPoint-friendly form, but I don't always spend as much time thinking about how it works in my own life, so I'm thankful for the opportunity to do that reflecting.

What are you working on?

This blog represents my most natural audience-focused writing voice, and that's probably why it's the space that I visit most often. I'm also working on an article about feminism and fitness through a ancient Greek lens since the instruction of fitness and that of athletics often overlapped in ancient Greek culture.

But the thing that consumes most of my writing life (day and night, in my dreams, in my nightmares) is my dissertation.

If you follow the blog, you may have seen my Blogging to My PhD series, in which case you have some idea of what I'm writing about. Generally, I'm arguing that in order to improve the developmental writing classroom, we need to restore invention to developmental students and that we can best do that through agonistic rhetoric.

More specifically, I'm working on the hardest piece of writing I've ever done. I've thought about these ideas for so long that they come spilling out on the page like ink from an exploding pen. Then I stare at them and convince myself that none of it is worth writing because everyone already knows this. Then I'll argue with myself that this isn't true. Not everyone knows this; I just feel that way because I've been thinking about it so long. Of course not everyone knows this. In fact, hardly anyone knows it, so maybe it's actually important. It's at that point--that brief moment of optimism and purposefulness--that I swing back the other way and convince myself that not only does no one know about this, but no one cares. Absolutely no one wants to read this thing. It's an act of futility. I take that pendulum ride at least once a day. It's great fun. 

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I think my blogging is very informed by my academic pursuits and the way doctoral work has prepared me for research and analysis. I'm not the only person blogging through this lens (go to Sociological Images. Right now!), but I do think that it's a rare intersection of academia, personal blogging, politics, and pop culture.

As for my dissertation, I am using works of fiction as a site for exploring better teaching philosophies, and that's a pretty unique way of making an argument. In fact, it's so unique that I anticipate it being a point of tension during my defense. In my daydreams, the conversation goes like this:
The committee: "We see that you have made the unconventional choice of using works of fiction instead of actual classrooms to make recommendations for teaching approaches. Why did you choose to write about The Crying of Lot-49 and Erasure instead of simply turning to the ethnographic studies of actual developmental writing classrooms?" 
Me: "I'm a grown woman. I can do whatever I want." 
Then the dream ends as my husband interjects and says, "I recommend you don't quote Beyonce during your defense."

Why do you write what you do?

I write a lot of the pop culture analysis because I find it genuinely fun. It's like going to a playground. This series on women tearing each other down in songs was one of my favorites to write.

I also write a lot of social justice posts about race, class, feminism, and oppression because it makes me feel less powerless when I'm looking out at a world of flaws. The conversations and relationships I've built out of writing posts on those topics have been immeasurably important to feeding my soul and broadening my perspectives.

Finally, I write about education and developmental students because it is my vocation in the cheesiest, most overwhelmingly sanguine way possible. I believe in my job, and I see the opportunity to write about it as the icing on the cake.

How does your writing process work?

Some days we could shorten that question to simply ask "Does your writing process work?" In a good month, I get to say yes at least half the time.

For as long as I can remember, writing has been a part of my life. I used to write poems and short stories on scraps of paper and napkins and have them tucked into my pockets. I used to hide a sheet of paper under my notes in math class so I could write. The margins of my history notebook were filled with stories. Frequently, I will toss and turn in bed with an idea itching at the tips of my fingers and the edges of my brain. I've learned to just get up and write. It's the only way I'll get any sleep at all.

The actual process, though, depends on the work. If it's an academic paper, it's two parts the appearance of procrastination to one part over preparation. I read, read, read, read, read all of my source material until it barely makes sense anymore, marking it up and pulling out quotes, and thinking about it while I go about my day-to-day life. Then I sit down at the blank page on my computer closer to the deadline than I would like, looking like I have nothing done, but really it's all been cooking for days, weeks, even months. Then it all spills out in a jumbled mess of ideas and too many quotes with no thesis in sight. Finally, the point appears about three-fourths of the way into the thing, so I have to pull it to the top and start over. Voila. A paper is born.

Blog posts usually come out fully formed and roughly in the order they appear. They're always too long, and sometimes I take the time to go back and edit them for length, but sometimes I don't. I love blogging as a genre that allows writing to be a little more raw, a little less polished.

Passing the Baton

Now I get to tag three writers to share their responses to the four questions above.

I've decided to ask three women who I had the pleasure of meeting at BlogHer.

I'd like to hear from Cheryl of Busy Since Birth who, true to  her blog's moniker, seems constantly busy indeed! I'm always amazed at her ability to put out such frequent, meaningful posts and would love to hear how she does it.

I'd also love to hear from Kimberly of Red Shutters who currently has a great post (complete with cute pictures) on how to rock the lunchbox as we head back to school.

Finally, I'd like to nominate Kate from MammaCake who I got the pleasure of getting to know as a hilarious and extremely friendly woman. She also carries around a rubber chicken. You should read her blog and ask her about that. She recently wrote an honest, moving piece about facing depression that has stuck with me since I read it.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

My Feminist Marriage: A Father's Perspective (Guest Post by Scott G.)

Today's guest post comes from Scott G. and is written in response to the Feminist Marriage/Partners Blog Hop. If you'd like to contribute a post to this blog hop, please follow the link!

When my wife and I got married in 2005, she was very much a feminist. I was, by any practical definition, a feminist too: I advocated for feminist viewpoints in conversation, I wanted our marriage to be as egalitarian as possible, I marched with lesbian friends in gay pride parades, and so on. But I didn’t call myself a feminist because I was just plain unaware what feminism really meant, plus I was male so I didn’t think it applied to me. And I just thought it was cooler to call myself other things: hippie, liberal, radical, etc.

What really changed everything for me was having children. When we decided to become parents, we agreed that we’d love a parent to stay home with the kids while they were little. And it quickly became obvious that that parent should be me. I worked as a freelancer, so taking a few years off was no problem, while my wife’s career would’ve collapsed if she took years off. I’m a little more patient and willing to “do nothing” with babies, so personality-wise it made sense too. So we took the plunge, and I became an at-home dad (with a few part-time jobs to keep my freelancing options open in later years).

Our friends and family were outwardly very supportive of that decision, but suddenly so many feminist issues became entirely unavoidable. Strangers would tell me how great it was that I was “babysitting” that day, when I was actually my kids’ primary childcare. Or family would call me “the most amazing dad EVER” when I was just doing what parents all over the world do every day, AND what they also meant to do was make my wife feel bad for abdicating her motherly responsibilities. Resources for at-home parents were almost entirely “moms only,” so I found myself advocating for including dads in parenting discussions. And so, after the whole world hit me over the head with the need for feminism, I finally started to call myself a feminist. I became an outspoken feminist. In a feminist marriage.


I’m a little embarrassed that it took feminist issues affecting me directly (instead of just all the women I’m close to) for me to embrace the term. But now I embrace it wholeheartedly. I pick fights with my fellow men when they get nervous about calling themselves feminists. I point out gender inequality in the workplace to friends who don’t believe it exists. I do not keep silent on this issue, ever.

This has shaped what our marriage is like, very much. We consciously divvy up the housekeeping tasks based on our strengths and weaknesses (and free time) rather than gender roles. We both have close friends of both genders, and we don’t see this as cause for jealousy, or a reason to worry; we’re just friends with the people who we get along with best. We have a framed copy of the Seneca Falls “Declaration of Sentiments” on our living room wall!

And we make a point of subverting gender roles publicly as much as possible. We live in a very conservative part of the country, and simply living in an openly gender-equitable way makes waves in this community. So I make a point of being the parent who shows up at the PTA. I bring baked goods to various events (and I’m a pretty damn good baker, if I dare say so myself). I volunteer to watch friends’ kids when schools are closed. And generally, we let it be known that our roles in a marriage (and in raising a family) aren’t based on our gender but on our individual personalities and strengths. Hopefully we’re making some small difference in our community as it relates to gender norms.

 For me, having a feminist marriage means that we are free to create the marriage that works best for us, not the marriage society expects. We are free to choose the roles that fit us, not the ones that are assumed of us. I love how much my wife and I have both been able to grow and become what our inner selves strive to be, instead of having to stay with what our prescribed gender roles would have us become.

Photo: thepeachmartini

Friday, August 22, 2014

Fast Cars and Broken Hearts: What Makes a Feminist Marriage?

Over the summer, I was teaching a class about success, and one of the paper prompts involved choosing a song and analyzing it through that lens of success. While I was looking for songs to share with the class as possible choices, I ended up listening to Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car."

Halfway through, I burst into tears. 

This was not the first time I'd heard this song, of course. In fact, I've heard it dozens of times. I wasn't in a particularly mopey mood (I was working, going through many songs that night). What was it that made me so suddenly overtaken with emotion?

I mean, sure, it's a sad song. Here's this woman who saw a relationship as her chance to escape a cycle of poverty and working to take care of her alcoholic father only to end up circling back around to repeat the same cycle with the man she thought would save her. 

I think the simple feminist analysis of this song would end with an admonishment of a woman depending on a partner to save her in the first place, a reading of "Fast Car" as cautionary tale that demonstrates a woman's right and perhaps even responsibility to make it on her own. You know, the whole "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle" message.

But it's not that simple, and that's certainly not why I had surprisingly burst into tears.
The speaker in that song wasn't asking to be saved. She wasn't a damsel in distress standing in a tower hoping the prince would some day rescue her. She was working her ass off, planned to continue working her ass off, and had recognized that she would be much more effective if she could escape the dead weight of a father who didn't help her and instead depend on the partnership of someone who would.
Maybe we make a deal/Maybe together we can get somewhere . . . Starting from zero got nothing to lose   
And you know what? She's right. It is easier to climb out of poverty if you have someone climbing with you. If you find the right partner, you can make a difficult feat a little less challenging.  

The woman in this song pins everything on her romantic partnership, and she recognizes that it is a gamble--a gamble she ultimately lost.

She holds on through imperfections and dashed expectations, continuing to work and trust and believe in the beauty of a true partnership that will give her access to a world she couldn't see herself reaching alone.

But she got in the wrong car.

By the end of the song, she hasn't just given up on the relationship; she's given up on herself.
I'd always hoped for better/Thought maybe together you and me find it/I got no plans I ain't going nowhere
The fact that you can lose yourself through the course of a relationship is the flip side of a more optimistic truth: you can find yourself there, too.

I recently told a friend that marrying a feminist was the most important decision I've made; it has impacted every aspect of my life.

But it's not that simple. I didn't know my husband was a feminist early in our relationship because I didn't know that I was a feminist yet. I didn't know what questions to ask that would turn out to be so crucial later in our life together.
I didn't know to ask if he would get out of bed to bring our infant daughter to me so I could nurse her and still get some rest (I didn't even know if I wanted children). I didn't know to ask if he would  juggle his work schedule with mine so that we could both still pursue our hobbies (I had no idea I would want to play roller derby or do yoga some day). I didn't know to ask if we would split the housework (we were in a dorm; the housework was scarce). I didn't know to ask how we'd afford to live while the two of us (both first-generation college students) went to graduate school and law school.
There was so much that I didn't know. Just like the narrator of "Fast Car," choosing to pin my life to my husband's was a gamble. It was a calculated gamble thread with love, respect, and joy, but it was still a gamble because the intertwining of two lives is not simply a matter of finding someone compatible with who you are today (a feat in itself) but of finding someone whose future self will meld with your future self. It's an act of inevitable instability, one that necessarily requires a leap of faith into the unknown.

So when I ask what makes a marriage feminist, I am not simply asking if you need to marry a feminist. I'm asking how you make the decisions--tiny and huge, day in and day out--that build a relationship based on trust, equality, and respect.

I don't think you have to call yourself a feminist to be a good spouse, but I do think you need to value one another as autonomous people. I don't think you have to split all the bills and all the housework directly down the middle, but I do think that those decisions have to be made with fairness, respect, and acknowledgement of individual abilities and desires. My recognition of myself as a feminist came only through the relationship of mutual respect and autonomy built in my marriage.

I know as a "good feminist" I'm supposed to believe that I don't need a man, but I'd be lying if I said that. I may not need a man, but I need this man to be who I am today. Every decision that we made from the moment we decided we were building a life together shaped and pruned and nourished different parts of me. Without my husband, I would be a very different person, and I think recognizing that co-dependency that drops down into my very identity left me feeling vulnerable and incredibly, incredibly lucky.

I got in the right car.

Photo: anarrestidream, Tim Green

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Feminist Marriages/Partners Blog Hop

I was talking to a friend about relationships and I found myself saying something I didn't realize was so true until it came out of my mouth. "Marrying a feminist has been one of the most important decisions I've ever made," I told her. "That's at the core of everything I've built in my adult life."

My husband unabashedly identifies as a feminist, and that belief manifests itself throughout the partnership of our lives together: home, finances, parenting, personal interactions. We've built a strong relationship that has weathered some rocky storms, and I think that feminism is a big part of that strength.

With that in mind, I've partnered up with K. M. O'Sullivan to host a blog hop reflecting on feminist marriages and partnerships. If you would like to participate, write a post that reflects on the role your partner's status as a feminist (or not) impacts your relationship. Then follow these rules to get them all linked up and easy to share.
  • The blog hop will run until Sunday, August 31. Plan to make your post go live and share it any time before then.
  • Once you've posted the post on your own blog, come back to this post and scroll to the bottom. Click on the blue button to add your link.
  • Please be sure to check out some of the other posts and comment. 

Photo: Thomas Favre-Bulle (Creative Commons)

Monday, August 11, 2014

These Books Don't Close

My heart hurts.

My head, eyes, and back also hurt. The latter are from staying up most of the night watching footage of the riots in Ferguson, MO unfold as I listened to sirens blaze past my windows heading toward the damage. At one point, I had a trifecta of data: a medical scanner application open and playing on my phone, an array of Twitter feeds spread across my computer screen, and the local news stations flickering across my television.

Mostly, though, my heart hurts.

My heart has hurt every time I've heard of an unarmed black man killed by authorities, and surges of that pain resurfaced as I clicked through each story in this article from the Root collecting many of them. I read the names: Ervin Jefferson, Timothy Stansbury, Sean Bell. The list goes on, and now we add to them Michael Brown.

I think about how any sons I have will face that level of scrutiny and that history of pain, and I shudder.

I also think about my friends who are police officers, called to stand shoulder to shoulder in riot gear on what became an increasingly violent and terrifying night. I think about their families, worrying if they will make it home safely. I think about the quick decisions they will have to make, the stress they must be under.

I think about my city, some of it literally in flames.

I think about all of the people, miles and borders away saying, "That's St. Louis for you." Dismissing the pain, the anger, and the fear with a shrug and a quiet nod at making the right choice to live somewhere else.

I think about my neighbors barricaded in their houses out of fear, wondering if it will be safe to send their children to school in the morning--wondering what they'll tell them when they ask what's going on.

I think about the family of Michael Brown and how difficult it must be to even process what's going on around them through their grief.

Mostly, though, I think about the one thing that I've been trained to think about: the story.

That's all I know to do. Read. I've been doing it all my life, a task formalized by degrees but at heart just a part of human nature. I want to read the story. I want to find the characters, the setting, the themes, and I want to read through the ups and downs until there is a conclusion.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch published a great piece about the history of St. Louis, context that is crucial to understanding what you're seeing in the news if you're not from here.

It talks about people like my dad, who was a teenager when his family fled the city for rural Missouri in the 1970's in the midst of other violent, racially-charged upheavals, making them just one of the many participants in "white flight" that left the region economically and philosophically shaken.

It talks about a racial distribution of power that gives some background for reports like the one that surfaced in the aftermath to show the racial profiling data of Ferguson.

Mostly, though, it reminds us that the story is not simple:
It's a false dichotomy, a lazy narrative, to see this region as divided among racists whites and angry blacks. That's not reality in many neighborhoods and families here. But it's the loudest, most visible part of the discourse. Like much of America, St. Louis has an undeniable problem talking about or dealing with issues involving race.
A lazy narrative. That, out of all of this pain and hurt and anger, is something I can understand.

It's also something that I have seen over and over and over again this weekend. The number of false dichotomies keeps piling up:
  • Protester vs. Looter
  • Urban vs. Ruler
  • Cop Hater vs. Racist Apologist
  • Peace vs. War
  • Black vs. White
  • Urban vs. Rural
But nothing is that simple. We aren't reading a book where the themes have been neatly laid out before us as we prance to the moral at the end.

There can be both protesters and looters; the latter presence of destruction does not negate the initial presence of peace.

You can love, trust, and support individual officers while still recognizing systemic issues in a troubled justice system.

You can want peace but find yourself fighting a war.

It's easy to sit back and fill our minds with the story. We have plenty of content. I was doing it when I sat in my bedroom perched over Twitter feeds with the TV and medical scanner playing. I was reading voraciously, eager to find some meaning, place the characters, and get to a conclusion.

But this is not a story. This is an ongoing struggle that reaches far beyond any one character perspective, far beyond any one incident on any one day.

We want to be readers and find the simple spots on the ground to stake our claims. There is comfort in that, and that comfort looks all the more appealing in the face of the pain and the fear. But this isn't a book. We can't close it, and nothing is simple.