On January 1, 2020, I remember thumbing through Twitter and seeing everyone’s decade in review. Of course, in academia, there are a ton of not-so-humble humble brags (and even more overt I’m-better-than-you-will-ever-be brags) and I was bored and frustrated with the fact that I wouldn’t ever measure up to those who were more productive than me. But life is about more than just what gets published and awards won, right? So, I shared my decade in review, which you can find here. I talked about the good and the bad: I got married, had babies, got tenure and promotion. But I also battled with unsupportive colleagues, endometriosis, secondary infertility, and postpartum depression/anxiety. I got a lot of attention for being authentic and vulnerable, including being able to give a TEDxWVU talk in October about my experience.
It’s funny that people loved my willingness to be real and authentic, because while I do channel my inner-Gina Linetti , I’ve struggled a lot with this over the past nine months. Understatement of the century when I say that our lives have changed so much since March and the start of the pandemic. I spend so much time thinking about when our lives will go back to normal, when my kids can go back to school and be with their friends, when we can just go for a walk around Target to check out the dollar aisle, get soft-serve ice cream at our favorite place 20 minutes south of town, visit my in-laws in Florida and finally (FINALLY) bring our kids to Disney World, and have another lazy lunch with my friends, just drinking beers and sitting in the sun, watching the Mon on the deck of our favorite places.
But then I also ask… do I want to go back to normal? Normal was my kids being in way too many activities because, as a parent, I thought that’s what I *needed* to do in order to stimulate their minds. Normal was thinking that my summers without pay (I’m on a nine month contract, like most academics) was when I could really *work* with my kids in summer camp. Normal is explaining over and over to my kids that “Mommy and Daddy *have* to work in order to have money in order to have these things…” Normal was the neoliberal ideal of what life should be like:
Last week, on the Shelf Love Podcast, host Andrea said “Neoliberal rhetoric and culture teaches us to believe that we all get what we deserve based on how hard we work or how good or deserving we are.” Sigh. SIGH. A year ago, I started working on a project that I thought would be the thing to get me promoted to full professor. I thought it was what my department would want, it was innovative enough for my field, and that it was fundable. I thought my heart was in it. I was so excited about it. I applied for and received a sabbatical. And then COVID happened. I couldn’t travel for my field work like I had planned because of health reasons and childcare. I also… didn’t want to even if I could. My kids needed me at home.
I spent a lot of time freaking out over what to do next. I won’t lie: I cried. I literally cried over this project and the loss of the ability to do it the way I had planned on doing it. And maybe more than once. And I threw myself into the Britney Spears approach to dealing with crises: I decided to WERK, BEEP. I wrote a grant proposal for something that was tangental to my promotion project…. and it wasn’t the best. It wasn’t funded. I kept looking at all these cool projects that other political scientists were working on, and I was jealous and sad. Why couldn’t I be doing that work? Why wasn’t I doing it? Why was I asking questions that weren’t mainstream and what my discipline wanted to read? This has probably been the source of my imposter syndrome over the past nineteen years, ever since I started graduated school. And I’ve gotten more angsty about it since I got tenured.
As academics, we’re socialized to fit the mold: to ask questions, to be critical of the world around us, but only within certain boundaries. When you go to workshops on publishing, you hear two types of advice. There’s the dominant “if your paper keeps getting rejected, it’s because it needs to be strengthened/revised/etc.” There’s also the “if your paper keeps getting rejected, it’s because it hasn’t found its home yet.” I’ve finally come to the point in my career where I very much believe in the second point. Through Twitter, I’ve come to realize how questions about race and gender are marginalized because they’re not deemed “important” or “general” enough for mainstream political science journals. Over and over again, we’ve been taught to color inside those lines, those bounds of our discipline. But, honestly, isn’t life more exciting when we color outside those lines? When we add bits and pieces from other disciplines, their knowledge, their methodological approaches, their critiques?
This year has been tough, but there is a lot that I’m proud of. I’m proud that I worked with three of my close friends/colleagues-turned-coauthors on a project born out of pandemic frustration that was recently accepted at PS. I’m proud of interviewing 30 women to better understand how they were motivated to be politically active in this year’s participation through a romance podcast. (These women thanked *me* for being interested in their stories and for raising their voices… women, are we all walking around with these high levels of imposter syndrome? This was so eye-opening.) I’m proud that I published this work in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog and was able to share it with an audience beyond political science. I’m proud that I co-authored an internal grant proposal with three brilliant women that was rejected. Yeah, I’m still proud of that work. I’m proud of spending a big bulk of my time homeschooling my 3rd grader, after recognizing the limitations he would have on virtual learning because of his ADHD. I *never* in a million years wanted to homeschool my children, and yet, here we are. It’s not for everyone and not everyone has the privilege I have of a flexible schedule, but it’s worked for us. I’m proud that I was named the recipient of my campus’s feminist leadership award for faculty and that I took this to heart. I’m proud of having spoken up when my university and others have done some not so cool (read: neoliberal) things during the pandemic to their workforce. I’m proud to be an example to my kids of how a mom can have a job and still be an involved parent and can talk about what is right and wrong in our world and enjoy watching fun cartoons with them. I’m also proud of my daily meditation practice that has gotten a lot easier now thanks to the Shine app, which was developed by a mainly BIPOC team of women who get what progressive minds need during this challenging time.
Pre-pandemic, I had a goal to not give a fuck about what others thought by the time I turned 40. I had that milestone birthday at the end of March, and while not giving a fuck about coloring inside the lines is a daily struggle, I’m proud to say that I have taken this goal to heart and I am ready to face whatever 2021 might through at us. The easiest and hardest thing you can do is to embrace authenticity, but trust me, friends, it might be the biggest piece of self-care that you can accomplish.