Well, for months now I had been using the hashtag #tenuregrind to explain how my life, my brain and my spirit was feeling. I felt as if my life was becoming (for the first time) focused on those things I was supposed to be doing in the way I was supposed to be doing it to make it this academic game. But, something else happened along the way. I realized a little too late that I went about it all wrong, because, I became extremely stressed out. My digestion was off, every time I ate my stomach reacted violently, I was in pain, I was angry and disorganized, I felt swollen all over, my sleep was erratic, my frustration with my children escalated, and my quality time with my husband suffered. It was all natural – right? A part of the #tenuregrind. This is the culture of “not taking care of yourself in the pursuit of taking your career to the next level.” However, if you are not healthy, how can you enjoy the fruits of your labor?
So, I have jotted down 5 of my first few lessons learned and I want to share them.
Lesson #1: Look inward, figure out what is going on and what it is that you do. This lesson has helped me in trying to craft my narrative and to pull together the resources that exemplify my career. It has made me reflect on my work and the contributions I am making to the discipline. And in the process, helped me to begin to figure out why food was hurting me.
Lesson #2: Go to the doctor! I have seen my GP, my OB/GYN, and a few specialists along the way. I have been to more doctors in the last 6 months than I have for the past 3 years (other than doctors related to my having 2 children recently). This was an important lesson, you body tells you things you try to ignore and one of those things for me was that I need to pay attention to what I put in my body, but also how I react to the pressures of life.
Lesson #3: Drink more chamomile tea. Yes, this seems simple. But it is also a metaphor for take it all in with a bit more calm, worry won’t change things. Think about how it feels to sit down and do nothing. Speak with kindness to everyone (well most) folks you encounter, it works to not walk with anger as well, even when some folks make you mad. It makes you process the distractors with a little more ease. One of the most important things I have started to do is to just listen to my children’s laughter and laugh with them. Its ok to smile, laugh and be silly, being serious about tenure is not going to make it go faster.
Lesson #4: Find something that makes you happy, makes you think about good and peaceful thoughts. I found gardening. I discovered that as an archaeologist, its really a natural thing to want to play in the dirt on another level. It brings me peace, it provides some much needed vitamin D, and I always get a sense of accomplishment when I have done my therapeutic session outside. Recently, for Mother’s Day, my husband replanted our vegetable garden from a few years back and it brought such joy to my soul – especially the fact that there was something so simple that could bring me joy – I had rediscovered what a hobby is (and I didn’t even have to include it in my CV).
Trevor and Ololara planting our new veggie garden.
Lesson #5: Tenure is a process, let it happen and be patient. It takes time to build a career, it takes time to write a book or an article or dig a site, so therefore it takes time to craft a narrative that not only talks about the great scholar you are, but gives the right people the roadmap to making sure that promotion is yours. Don’t take things for granted, but learn that self-praise is ok. Learn to write about yourself and learn to do it well, so that there is no question just how fly you really are. Find a mantra to get you through it and just keep at it and then let other people read your stuff – it is worth it! It took effort to do all of those things, it will take effort to wait and let the tenure process unfold naturally.
So, those are my first in a series of lessons learned entries. I plan on making this blog work for me through this upcoming year. I am looking forward to the challenges, because as my godsister Yaba Blay reminded me, we have to calm down and find healthy ways to do this job. We need to check in with each other, make sure we do not loose our souls in the process, (shout out to Kerry Ann Rockquemore and the National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity!) and remember that we are human beings.
So, my new routine is to write everyday, but I also garden, I garden often, especially before I settle down to write. I get out of the house most days and change my writing venue, because as a productive academic, I’ve got a lot more going on then just tenure right now. My new hashtag these days is #healthtenurepraxis. I breathe more, I eat less, but with quality in mind and I understand that this is only the beginning!
Me after brief remarks to then Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and audience at the “Telling the Whole Story: Women & the Making of the US,” National Park Service and the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites, State Capital, Washington, DC.
I did not know how it would happen. I could not foresee the moment when it all became too much. My shoulders feel curved forward with the weight of all the obligations in my life. I wake up and hit the floor at full speed. There are things that have to be done, there are things that need to be done, and things that should be done. My life is a series of meetings, obligations, laundry, reading, writing, cooking, interpreting, meeting some more, washing dishes, changing diapers, spending quality time with my partner for life, and figuring out how to get that last small person to the potty for real. This is my life. This is that tenure grind I have been talking about for months.
I knew it was coming, I had a plan. I knew how I was going to handle it. I also knew that I wasn’t going to be stressed out about it – no, not me, that was just a false culture that they (whoever they are) create in the academy to provide the proper level of hazing for junior, up and coming tenure-track faculty. Oh, yes, and then there is the fact that I am of African descent (and lately find myself identifying as Afro-Native – a whole different blog entry) and I am a woman. I am on way too many committees, fielding way too many issues of diversity, race and gender, and now, I remember the advice all of my academic elder sista doctas warned me about…I am recreating the very identity I was trying to avoid.
Superwoman alert! I am not a Superwoman, I gave in my resignation years ago, but somehow, I thought I had put her to rest, but it turns out that I just put all her stuff in my closet and forgot to throw all the superwoman accessories away and she snuck back up on me. I didn’t even see her move back in.
How could I, I was either busy or way too tired to notice her sneaking up from the rear. Damn, it happened. I really was under the impression that I could stop myself from getting to this point. But, truth be told, I have not done a good job. I am stressed out. I know that I will post this blog and people will give me advice and they will tell me to take care of myself, but to be honest, I probably would not have it any other way. This is what it is and I am who I am. This is the revolution that was put in me from an early age. I see the academy as a means to make change for those who will come behind me.
Then there is reality. So, despite all my well laid plans, I think my ability to say NO has failed me. I seem to think the more I do the more I can change the world. But, what if I am too tired to enjoy all the changes I have made. This is a dilemma, but it has larger implications. Black female academics with health issues, with exhaustion issues, with issues at home (let’s not even talk about how messy my house is right about now) should not be the norm. I haven’t seen the inside of a gym since it was warm a year ago and I know that this cannot be my life much longer, I am at the saturation point, so understand when I don’t call, when I forget to respond to your text or did not come to that next committee meeting, it is not that I don’t care or that I am blowing you off, I am at a place of rediscovering self-preservation at the moment. I need some time to find that superwoman again, so I can wrestle her to the ground, take out some of my aggression and throw her in the garbage can for real this time. So, reordering my priorities has got to happen, before I fall asleep.
And to be honest, I just hope I don’t oversleep and miss the revolution that I started.
The Mayans had it right
A world came to an end
Ask any parent of six or seven year old children
But there is however a conflict
About the date of this major event
This world ended December 14th in Newtown Connecticut
Our hearts are broken
Our hearts are broken
In what world does this happen?
Our hearts are so tragically broken…
It was Monday, I woke up in a sea of children. All three of my children – 6, 4, and 19 months were in my bed with my husband and I nearly falling off of the edges (I know most parents of young children can relate). It was a moment when I was waking to an aching neck, a contorted back and realizing that I only had about two more hours to get the last winks in. There was only one way to get comfortable – and that would be to remove one (if not) all three of the small children who lay sprinkled (comfortably) about my bed. But this Monday was different. After the tragedy of Newtown, my heart has been just a little heavy. I walk with the feeling of wanting to hold my children a little tighter, be a little more patient when I feel like raising three children is a little overwhelming, and appreciate every moment with them.
So, the result is – we have started playing board games, reading a few more books, and laughing a little louder and running in circles just because we can. It is a time when the tree is lit up at night and we are getting the Kwanzaa candles ready. So, I don’t want to be sad and reflect how much pain I feel for the parents in that small Connecticut town, but reflect on the happy moments and make sure that I remember to keep them going, beyond the tragedy, beyond the tears, and create an atmosphere that makes us all a little happier every day.
Hug your children, and smile more…it helps the world heal a little bit more each day.
Academic Mommy check in:
So, today I decided to keep true to my therapeutic practice seeking behavior and took my 17 month old toddler to the child sing along at my local library. This was a first for me, I usually cannot get it all together to get to these programs from place to place, let alone remember what days they happen. So, this was a big step. Arrived a few minutes late and it was jumping, I mean packed with Moms, Dads and a Grandmother. The singing was in full swing and we squeezed in and settled in for the experience. First of all, I had just woken Mr.Toddler up (tried to keep him up, but lost the battle just around the corner from the library). So, he had just woken up to look around, see strange faces and we sat right next to a strange woman singing with a guitar. He wasn’t really sure of the whole scene and in all honesty, neither was I.
Now, don’t get me wrong, its a small town and I knew some folks there, but in terms of diversity – I was it. (until about 15 minutes in an Asian Mom and son walked in to join). It was one of those many moments where you are acutely aware of your Blackness. This may also be exasperated by my being an anthropologist and not able to turn off my “study people” function, but this was a cultural (ok, lets be blunt) a racialized moment. I looked around and all I could feel was Whiteness, New England, Happy Valley Whiteness. Then once I caught my breath I realized that I did not know most of the damn songs the woman was singing. And everyone was singing and jumping and moving arms at the appropriate words and moments. It was crazy. I guess I had never bought into the whole children song movement. Or maybe we just didn’t sing these songs in the Bronx? Whatever it is I began to notice other subtleties.
I looked around and looked at the children. Many were well behaved, but a few were doing ANYTHING they wanted to. Even attempting to climb the singing woman or handle her guitar. And everyone just smiled. Some had to take there children off to the side and peer over the bookcases because the sit down time was just too lengthy or something like that. Then I looked at shoes, yes, shoes. The shoes of children fascinate me. I have an almost 4 year old and she loves shoes. I have avoided getting too many cheap and trendy shoes in favor of expensive, trendy in other ways, footwear that is only worn for a short moment in each child’s life. Organic clothing, cloth diapers,lengthy nursing mothers – you get this idea. Its like peer pressure for quality. At the same time, I think about the fashionista girl I have in my house who loves ghetto fab clothing, sequence, and colorful everything. Her self expression and confidence is amazing. As I look at my Mr. Toddler, he has on some cool duds, all courtesy of his older brother (our first child who had way too many clothes, because we didn’t know any better). I made a decision, I was going to let go of my peer pressure to buy $60 shoes for a 4 year old, especially when she really wanted the Dora light up sneaker and the Sparkle Toes. Flash makes her happy, not ergo fitting, organic, made in the right place (or so we think) shoe that makes us feel good about our purchase. Plus the fact her feet keep growing and we struggle to make sure bills are paid, not the Zappos and Piperlime account!
Then the next thing that hit me was that this was my slow day. The day I try to finish up around the house and get some errands done, respond to the growing body of unanswered email, finish laundry we neglected over the way-to-short weekend and just chill and prep for the rest of the busy week. Monday and Friday Mr. Toddler and I hang out (unless I have a meeting and then it is childcare juggle). The folks around the room were stay at home folks, who do this a lot (this is an assumption), who value social time and children’s sing alongs. I am sitting in this circle, looking around, feeling my pocket vibrate as the emails once again pile up and remember I have to send in an abstract for my next speaking gig. I am not in this world, I am not only marked as a Black woman surrounded by all this love and child-centered philosophers, I am busy as hell and thinking about how happy we are when we just kick it at home and have snacks and laugh and dance as we listen to music from folks like Jennifer Hudson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sweetback, Sade, Gilberto Gil, Lazaro Ros, and Marc Anthony on Pandora. This really made me feel like an outsider, as if I was not a part of this Happy Valley scene. At this moment, my mind and spirit tells me that that is ok, I am doing it like I need to do it to make sure my children can understand the world, not only their immediate environment.
So, let the programs continue. We will show up from time to time. But real talk, I am ok with being my inner ghetto self. It just feels right.