Grace Period (On Sale Now)

Here's the original essay that became the foundation for the book.

Starting today (July 6th) through this whole week, Grace Period: A Memoir in Pieces, is $0.99 on Kindle. This is my first memoir. (Why, goodness, why did I think it was a good idea to write more than one?!)

Grace Period is about leaving the academy, coming to terms with the end of one dream, and trying to build a life when you no longer know who you really are. I was wrecked when I left academia, and I had no idea who I was if I wasn’t an academic.

I wrote the original essay, “Grace Period,” in 2013. It was my attempt to figure out where I was, if I was ever going to figure out where I was going. It became the foundation for the book thought I had no idea that was what would happen. One essay became…well…more than one. And it took over 50,000 words to finally have an idea, maybe a murky one, of who I was if I wasn’t an academic. This essay was the beginning. I’m still trying to figure out what the ending might be.

I’ve included the original essay below. I hope you enjoy.

In May, I quit my job and moved to Florida. Both decisions might seem big (they were), but they were remarkably easy. My lecturer gig paid little, the teaching load was heavy, and my department was dysfunctional. Leaving behind students, friends, and colleagues was hard. Watching my daughter mourn the loss of her friends was harder.

The move to Florida was unexpected. Out of the blue, my husband was offered a new job with a tech company, which allowed him to telecommute. To my surprise, he took the job, and we decided to move to Florida to be closer to our families. We both walked away from academia, the careers we trained for. That surprised us both. He might go back. I find myself more ambivalent.

Except, I didn’t walk away. Not really. Instead, I embraced a safer option, a year hiatus from the academy. Reassess and figure things out, I tell myself, decide whether to stay or not. Delay the inevitable is probably more likely. It is more like a grace period (maybe). Am I going to pay my “debt” to my academic training? Or am I going to do something, anything, else?

What I know is that now have time to breathe, to reflect, to dream, to recreate, and to mourn. I can decide if there is anything that I will miss about academic life. I can decide to take the parts I like (research and writing) and apply them to other careers. I can decide to walk away. The choice, for once, rests on my shoulders.

Optimism is hard habit to kick.

After six years on the job market, I found myself burned out. I’ve had conference interviews and campus visits. I’ve been a second choice for tenure track jobs multiple times. I applied for jobs while teaching three and four classes a semester. And I finished my first book, wrote articles and book reviews, received a contract for a new book, edited a journal, organized panels, and experimented with an ebook. The harder I worked, I thought naively, the more likely I was to get a job. Optimism is hard habit to kick.

During this past spring semester, something broke. My tireless drive to research and write dissipated. The latest round of rejections hit harder than previous rounds, and I was tired. Why make myself get up extra early to write if there was no tenure track job for me? Why spend the time researching when I would rather spend time with my daughter? Why kill myself for a job opportunity that would never materialize?

I found that I couldn’t do the work I used to love. My motivation stalled. Something broke, and it seemed irreparable. This was compounded by my increasing frustration with my job as a lecturer. I liked my students, I enjoyed teaching, and I despised the undervaluing of teaching by my department head. I disliked the hierarchy of talents, in which tenure track and tenured faculty were valued more than those of us who just taught. Being a lecturer meant that my publications could be brushed aside, and that my experience and opinions mattered less. Frustrating doesn’t quite cover it.

I mourn what my career could have been, and I struggle to redefine who I am now.

The desire to throw up my hands and walk away chased me through the day. There must be more to academic life than this. I hoped for something that would make my training and efforts redeemable, and I struggled to find it. Why should I stay? That thought is a dangerous one. Once it roots, nothing makes it disappear. It remains and confronts. It pounces me in Florida now as I try to figure out what I am going to do next.

I mourn what my career could have been, and I struggle to redefine who I am now. Doubt, my old friend, bubbles to the surface as I ponder what I could do alongside what it is possible to do. The grace period is simultaneously too long and too short. Is it a transition? A reevaluation? A transformation? Is this a shedding of one vision of self to become a better version? Is it a loss of dreams? Is it a moment to dwell in the liminal?

Most days, it is hard to tell. But, I find myself mourning less as days go by. The loss of what could have been is less suffocating and distracting. A transition feels manageable and desirable. The possibilities for what could be are more and more exciting. I might not be an academic after my grace period, and that’s okay. I am more than my training. And so are all of you. It is best to never forget that.

Just tell the truth

Memoirs are harder to write than people think, but they're worth it.

A few years ago, I applied to an MFA program at the university in the same town where they lived. I set up a meeting to have coffee with a faculty member in the program. He was only a few years older than me. He had a few books out, fiction, but he was pivoting to non-fiction. I had already been writing non-fiction. I had already been writing personal essays.

He bought my coffee to be nice. We both drank our coffee black. We joked about writers and coffee. He asked me about what my writing projects were. I told him. He seemed interested.

And then, we started talking about the difference between fiction and non-fiction. I explained that writing fiction wasn’t quite for me. He countered that he wasn’t quite a fan of personal essays because they were often too much about the personal and not enough of the universal. I countered his counter. He thought we agreed to disagree. I thought he was wrong.

As I was taking a sip of my cold coffee, he leaned over and said, “You know what I love about non-fiction?”

I eyeballed him.

“You just have to tell the truth!” he continued.

For a moment I paused, unsure exactly what to say. I settled on, “Um, okay” and promptly left.

I’ve thought about this writer, this faculty member at a prestigious MFA program, a lot over the last few years. (He probably hasn’t thought of me at all.) I still can’t get over what he said to me. I still can’t get over that he thought that writing non-fiction was simply about telling the truth. As if telling the truth was ever simple. As if telling the truth was somehow easy. As if anyone could tell the truth and create a work of nonfiction.

Yes, telling the truth is important in non-fiction. Telling the truth is important in personal essays and memoirs. But, it is not as easy as just telling the truth. There’s no just in truth telling.

I’ve thought about this writer a lot over the last two years as I found myself writing another memoir (why, Kelly, why?). This memoir is a book about hard topics: grief, trauma, and mental illness. It’s a book in which I tell the truth. It was never easy. Sometimes, telling the truth kicks your ass. It sure did mine. So, I’m not sure truth telling is ever easy.

I’m not sure truth telling is ever easy.

When writing a memoir, you’re not only telling the truth. You’re telling the truth about you. It’s not comfortable to delve deep into your life and confront your flaws and failures alongside your triumphs. It’s not comfortable to look hard at what you’ve survived. It’s not comfortable to sit with all the things that you’ll never get over. It’s not comfortable to put your life—your messy, messy life—on the page and encourage readers to rifle through it.

Sometimes, it feels easier to not tell the whole truth about who you are. Sometimes, it feels easier to hedge or, even, lie. The memoirist faces the choice to lie or tell the truth. I’ve faced that choice again and again. A lie would make me seem better than I am. The truth would expose who I really am, all those flaws that I want to keep hidden and all the terrible shit that happened to me, to the reader and to…me.

When writing a memoir, there’s always an interesting moment when you realize that you can lie to yourself and your reader. You could. Lying would be less painful than being honest. Lying lets you keep the illusion of who you want to be but not who you are. It lets you avoid all that you want to avoid. Honesty, on the other hand, effing hurts. But that hurt leads to growth. (At least, I hope it does.)

I chose honesty time and again, but it razed me to my foundations. And then, I had to try to build myself back up, brick by brick.

Telling the truth requires admitting that you are a fallible, flawed human being who screws up as much as you don’t and who has to live with the consequences of not only your actions but the actions of other people. Truth telling is a humbling enterprise in daily life. But, telling the truth on the page for someone else to read is not just humbling; it knocks you down. Then, you have to decide whether you are going to stay on the ground or get back up.

Telling the truth on the page for someone else to read is not just humbling; it knocks you down.

While writing my most recent memoir, Final Girl, I kind of wanted to stay on the ground. The ground felt safe, cozy even. Getting up meant taking a harder look at myself than I wanted to.

Writing some of the essays for this book was like taking a punch square on the chin. They hurt to write. They hurt to rewrite. They hurt to reread. There are particular essays in this book that make me flinch when I think about them because they are too honest. They expose those vulnerable bits that I would rather not expose. And yet, these essays show exactly how messy I am, exactly how human, and exactly what I managed to survive.

Shit, telling the truth is never easy. It’s so effing hard. I pivoted between thinking I was too honest or that I was just a whiney asshole. I had to dwell in myself, those things I like and I don’t. I had to dwell in the things that I managed to survive. You kind of get tired of yourself after awhile. Or I do anyway.

But, and this is important, telling the truth about yourself helps you. Truth telling helps you realize where you’ve been and where you are now. It can make you see what you survived. That’s the powerful part of writing a memoir. It gives you a chance to tell your story as you want to. As you need to. At least, I think so. I hope so.

More than that, truth telling offers readers something that resonates with them. A tiny kernel of truth about what it means to be a person in our often-messed up but beautiful world.

Telling the truth about yourself helps you.

I hope that, maybe, my memoirs, like other memoirs, land on something universal about what a struggle it is to be a person. We do our best. And we don’t. We succeed. And we don’t. We screw up and try again and again and again not to. We make our way through this often-painful world trying to live with what we’ve done and what others have done to us. We make our way.

Telling the truth about the ways that we make isn’t ever easy. We don’t ever just tell the truth. To speak the truth means that we’ve had to learn to live with it. To share it with others means that we have to accept truths about ourselves, especially the hard ones. That’s not easy. It’s never easy. But, we do it anyway. And that’s pretty damn amazing.

My newest book, Final Girl: And Others Essays on Grief, Trauma, and Mental Illness (Blue Crow Books, 11/3/2020) is available for ebook pre-order now. The paperback should also be available for pre-order soon. I’ll keep y’all posted.

The Thing about Sexism Ed

How could the book be good when depression convinced me it wasn’t?

Some of you might already know this story. Some of you might not. But, I am going to tell it again anyway. This is one of those stories about the keen difference between what’s happening to a person on the inside and how they act on the outside. It’s a story about depression and its consequences. It’s a story about me, a book I wrote, and how depression lies.

Last year, when I was finishing up Sexism Ed and until it was published, I was more depressed than I had ever been before. There were lots of reasons for this. There’s no reason to get into them.

Depression, if you’ve never experienced it, means that just existing is exhausting.

What you need to know is that I almost didn’t finish the book. I considered walking away from the book contract because every time I tried to work on it, I had to force myself to open my laptop and write. I wrote in bed when I couldn’t bear to be at my desk. Some days, I couldn’t work on it at all. I only finished it because of my partner and the press's editor insisting that the book mattered. I worked on it, even as I wasn’t sure that I could believe her.

Depression, if you’ve never experienced it, means that just existing is exhausting. It is exhausting to get up every day. It is exhausting to interact with people, answer email and texts, avoid phone calls, go to the grocery store, help with homework, and all other every day tasks. Finishing a book felt impossible, even as I hacked away at it.

But once I finished it, I was convinced the book was not good enough, or worse, I imagined it would be an absolute disaster. Finally, everyone would know what a fraud I was. I was terrified that the book would be published, and the reaction would be bad. That, maybe, this book would be the end of my writing career.

So, as the publication date neared, I spent much time in a quiet panic about how bad the book would be and thinking that I should quit writing.

(And this wasn’t my normal “Hahaha, I should quit writing,” but a bone-deep feeling that I should quit writing and maybe all kinds of other things too.)

I kept asking my first readers and my editor if the book was just “good enough” to be published. Not good, I knew it wasn’t good, but good enough. Mediocre even.

How could the book be good when depression convinced me it wasn’t?

And I couldn’t process the strange looks I got when I said this aloud or how my readers were like, “What do you mean ‘good enough’?!” I had baffled them with my questions and desperation. They would say nice things about the book, so I assumed that they were just being nice, not truthful.

Depression was convinced that the book didn’t do anything important or really say anything.

Now, my best friend says my texts get weird when I finish a book anyway because my anxiety is usually riding me hard. But, with this particular book, it wasn’t just anxiety. Depression was convinced that the book didn’t do anything important or really say anything. All of my efforts were in vain, that negative voice in my head whispered, Why do you even write?

When the book came out, I tried to be excited. I knew I should be exited, joyous even. But, I felt nothing. I hesitated to do book promotion. Did I actually want people to read the book? I wasn’t sure. But, I promoted it anyway because I knew I was supposed to. The press deserved my best effort, so I gave it.

When readers started to tell me nice things about the book, I was baffled and uneasy. When they told me it was important, I wanted to argue with them.

But, I mean, authors shouldn’t argue with readers about how bad their book really is. So, I kept my mouth shut. I offered gratitude, all the while I continued to assume the worst.

Authors shouldn’t argue with readers about how bad their book really is.

Sexism Ed came out a month before I asked my doctor for help, went to a psychiatrist, was diagnosed with a mood disorder, got medicine, found a therapist, and finally started therapy.

Now, it takes a while for medicine to work and to get the dosage right. Weeks and weeks passed by. Nothing happened. My therapist explained patiently about how depression was impacting me and how it lies.

It took months before I felt like myself again. One day, I realized that I was smiling, and it wasn’t fake. It was genuine smile, and I had forgotten what that felt like. It took months for me to realize that I was a good human, not just a good enough one.

And yet, I still wasn’t sold on Sexism Ed because on its close association with my depression. I couldn’t think of that book without thinking about how depressed I was. But, I started to listen, really listen, to what people close to me said about the book. I listened to readers. I tried hard to believe the things they said. And one day, I did.

And began to understand that the book was good, not good enough and definitely not a disaster. That it said important things. That I should be proud of my accomplishment. That the book meant something to other people. That, maybe, just maybe, it could mean something different to me.

And then, two things happened. First, Book Riot named Sexism Ed, one of the five books that you should read to understand higher ed. To read Derek Attig’s article and see my book as one essential to understanding higher ed was joyous and surprising. Attig wrote that the book was “both meditation on and battle plan for the future of academia,” and I couldn’t have been more proud. Second, Sexism Ed is a finalist for a Foreword Indie in Women’s Studies. When I received that news, I was in the middle of session at a conference. I almost squealed in excitement, but then, I had to work not to cry. Tears, not of sadness, but joy.

Depression almost stole all my joy about the book, but somehow, I am gaining that joy back.

I have come to realize, perhaps, that I wrote a book that was so much better than I imagined. That depression almost stole all my joy about the book, but somehow, I am gaining that joy back. That maybe my book was actually badass. That maybe I should glory in what I accomplished in spite of my depression.

And now, Sexism Ed is on sale for $0.99 for a week, so I hope you’ll consider getting a copy of this book that makes me proud, even as it reminds me of how I struggled. It’s an artifact of where I was and where I am now. It’s a symbol that I managed to overcome.

And I hope it helps you learn something about how sexism continues to be a problem in higher education and how we can imagine a better system, if only we decide to try.

Cold Takes: A Sort of Manifesto

I am over the hot take.

Fireworks in the night sky.

I am over the hot take. I have been over it, maybe since I first heard the term, but I have now reached a point of no return.

You know what I’m talking about. You’ve read one, or ten, a hundred or even a thousand.

A hot take is a type of take that offers a quick and messy view of an event, a moment, or a person. It’s a take that moralizes with little reporting or nuance. It’s an opinion, often paraded around as news or that pretends to be analysis.

It’s a take so hot that it scorches the brain with ineptitude and shallowness while giving us easy to bandy about evidence that shores up our own opinions. It’s a take that often confirms our own view of the world. Or it doesn’t, so we discard it quickly and look for the next take.

In our saturated 24/7 media culture, hot takes dominate and overwhelm. Magazines and newspapers seek to have the first piece up about whatever is happening right now and the quickest opinion somehow emerges as necessary and important, when it is, perhaps, neither. Writers react and write rather than pause. Urgency replaces thoughtfulness.

Everyone wants to be the first one to say something, anything really, before the news cycle moves on.

And provocative and polarizing opinions prevail. Pundits stake their claims, no matter how cynical, silly, offensive, dangerous, or stupid. Everyone wants to be the first one to say something, anything really, before the news cycle moves on. (And it moves on so damn quickly.)

The story of the moment appears like a firework shooting up into the sky, bright and mesmerizing. It’s hard to take our eyes away from it. The hot take is the boom in its wake, which makes you clap your hands over your ears. And all those hot takes disappear just as suddenly as the firework’s flash and noise.

In the rush and the heat, I fear we all lose.

Yes, experts, journalists, and analysts can respond in fast, smart ways. Quick commentary does not always equal bad commentary, but it often is. Hot takes feel sloppy and contrived. (And even the label, “hot take,” appears too closely related to one of my favorite descriptors, “the hot mess”).

They lack the information we actually need as an event unfolds. They cling to tired narratives of how the world works. They plug stories into well-worn cliches whether the stories belong there or not. They offer judgment but are often light on facts. They never quite dig deep enough. They don’t question the rush, the urgency, but feed it. People clamor to have a say, but do we really want to listen? And days later, italicized corrections abound at the bottom of the page. Facts emerge as rumors. Apologies are issued. But, who’s paying attention by then?

Instead, I want something else. Something less like a firework that doesn’t leave me covering my eyes or shaking my head waiting for my hearing to recover. I want the cold take, the thoughtful, distanced view. A slower piece built upon context, history, reporting, and analysis. That builds the story however it needs to go, not the tired, expected path. That takes the time to dwell and think. That questions the narratives we prefer and searches for new, better ones. That seeks answers that aren’t easy or predictable. That avoids the cut-and-dried versions of life that hide the mess and contradiction to make everything seem simple, when life never really is.

I want the cold take, the thoughtful, distanced view.

I want my takes ice cold. Without easy moralizing. Without opinion pretending to be analysis. Without the frenetic rush. I want takes that weather time and not dissipate in a hour or a day. Takes that stand out from the ever-present noise of the internet. Takes that make us stand still for a moment. Takes that require a pause, so we can reflect and think and learn.

And, as a reader, I need takes that require me slow down to appreciate them and guide me through difficult topics in spite of their difficulty. I hope for takes that aren’t simply placeholders, but say something important that we must hear. They should show us something we didn’t already know or make us question what we assume is common knowledge. These takes shouldn’t shy away from ambiguity and nuance. Instead, they should reside in both. Maybe, even dwell in them. It might be too much to ask, but I also want them to be as lovely as they are true.

I prefer cold takes, and I hope you might too.

This essay was originally published at my site on October 1, 2015. I updated and revised it for 2018. Because, dude, 2018, should make us all stop and think about what the hot take is doing to us and what else we might need right now.

New Year, New Newsletter

Hello, dear reader,

As 2018 comes to a close, a dumpster fire of a year, I am re-evaluating a lot of things, including my newsletter and how I've been reaching out and writing to you, dear reader.

You might have noticed I sent less letters this year. There were lots of reasons for this. I was finishing and then promoting a book (Sexism Ed!). I was working to get a handle on my mental health, which remains a work in progress. I helped launch and now edit a new magazine, Disability Acts. I was working on other books (zombies! zombies! zombies!) and book proposals. And this year, I needed to keep my attention and energy on my family. All of this to say, 2018 was a lot.

It was not the best year, and I am painfully aware that other folks have had it so much worse. Sometimes, we have a hard year or years. Sometimes, we are just glad for them to be over. Sometimes, we learn something from the hard. Sometimes, we don't know or plan or prepare. Sometimes, we have to be still and sit with what's happening in our lives. Sometimes, we have to reckon with our place in the universe. Sometimes, we don't want to reckon.

And back to this newsletter, I have decided to move it from Tiny Letter to Substack. And due to the wonders of technology, I am able to move your subscription, so you don't have to lift a finger. Here's a glimpse, if you want to see what's happening. Please note that the content of the newsletter will remain the same; everything will just be at another site. (Thank goodness). And still free!

So, thanks for sticking it out with this newsletter. I am glad that I can write for you, and I am even gladder that I can continue to write for you.

I often think of that moment in We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems, in which Gerald (and I am a Gerald) notes that he just wants to be read. When I read that book for the first time to my kids, that line made me tear up . I knew Gerald's plight and recognized that frantic note that coated his words. Being read is privilege, and no writer is ever guaranteed readers. We often write having no idea if anyone will pick up our books orj read through an essay. We never know what might land or resonate. We never know what happens to our words when they are out in the world. To be read, then, is a joy that I come back to again and again. Thanks for bringing me joy.

Here's to hoping that 2019 is a better year for all of us.

Best wishes to you, dear reader, and happy holidays.

Loading more posts…