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.

My New Book is...Final Girl.

It's a collection about survival not brokenness.

Yesterday, Final Girl: And Other Essays on Grief, Trauma, and Mental Illness, my new book, was released, on Valentine’s Day of all days.

This is the super secret project that I have been tweeting about. It's from Raven Books, the nonfiction imprint of Blue Crow Publishing, and it's part of Raven Shorts, essay collections of around 100 pages on one particular topic that are available as ebooks only. (And Raven Shorts are FREE books!)

Final Girl, then, is another collection of essays (I love essays), which I have been working on because I can't—obviously—just work on one book project at a time. (This is a problem. Goodness.) Some of them are previously published. Others are new. All of them have been revised to fit together and tell a story, which I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to tell.

It's about being broken by people who are supposed to love you and figuring out how to pick up the pieces.

This collection, then, is somewhat different from my other two. It's not a collection that has anything to do with academia, transitions, sexism or labor. Instead, it's a collection of deeply personal and terrifyingly vulnerable essays. It’s collection about the aftermath of abuse, trauma, and grief. It’s a collection about coming to terms with mental illness. It's about being broken by people who are supposed to love you and figuring out how to pick up the pieces. It’s also a collection on learning how to mend.

It's about learning how to tell a story about survival not brokenness. It's about convincing yourself that you finally believe that story.

For years, I have been planning an essay collection on my childhood and trauma, since I wrote my very first essay about this topic in 2015. In my head, I titled it, Not My Father’s Daughter, because I have pushed myself for decades to not be anything like my biological father and to pretend that the emotional and mental abuse that I suffered through never really happened. It seemed like an apt title until it didn’t. Because I realized that I refused to let him be the center of story for any longer. It was my story, not his. The collection, then, is named after one of the hardest essays that I have written, “Final Girl,” because I was a final girl, and it was about time to make that clear.

So, as you might imagine, this collection was a bit difficult for me to pull together, emotionally and mentally. I had to look at essays that I have written over the span of the last few years about my childhood, my biological father, and his family. I had to think about what I inherited from him and how I somehow managed to survive him.

I reckoned, directly, with what it meant to survive and be a survivor.

Reading them side-by-side was something (and not a good something) to experience, and I still can’t read the collection without crying. But, I also found some clarity that I have been seeking. I learned something about myself that I hadn’t yet acknowledged, which is that it is sort of amazing that I am still standing after all the attempts to break me. I reckoned, directly, with what it meant to survive and be a survivor. And I realized that I refuse to be ashamed of what happened to me anymore. It wasn’t my fault, and I might actually believe that after 38 years.

I am so proud of this book, and to be honest, a little nervous about it being out in the world. I hope you'll consider reading it.

Here's the description:

When the people who are supposed to nurture you hurt you the most, how do you reckon with the story of your own survival? Final Girl shows that you can grow stronger from circumstances that could break anyone.

This striking essay collection is not about brokenness, but rather about the slow realization of what the author survived and how she grew stronger from a place of vulnerability. Kelly J. Baker writes, "Survival was the story that I kept writing toward; it was the story that I kept trying to tell. It was the story I had to tell, often without quite noticing. It was story about abuse, brokenness, and what it might mean to mend." 

These stark, haunting essays reckon with what it means to be shattered by those you love and trust and what it takes to pick up the pieces in the aftermath. Baker tackles family trauma, parental abuse, grief and her own mental illness. By facing the things she would like to forget, she shows us how some trauma sticks with us no matter how we try to move past it. What does it take to learn to live with the trauma we experience? You survive it, and you mend yourself, and you surround yourself with love.

If you want to get a feel of what the collection is like, check out the excerpt, Failing Perfection, over at Disability Acts.

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.

Loading more posts…