Tales of a Mommy Scholar: a Lesson in Closed Doors

I have to come to the realization that no matter how many times I hit a wall, it will surprise and hurt me every time.

Last night I opened an email letting me know that if I didn’t do the early registration for my field’s big annual conference that it would go up another $50. That got my attention and I quickly grabbed my credit card to pay for my ticket.

This is the early, discounted fee just for entrance:

With this “deal”, a plane ticket around Thanksgiving, lodging, and food (much less trying to find childcare and other expenses that other members don’t have to think about) … I’m looking at a price ticket well past $1,000. Weeeeelllll past.

And to add insult to injury, I’m going to be forced to email the chair of a committee I FOUGHT to get on (and have worked my butt off to contribute to even before our first official meeting)…A committee that has leaders in my field. A committee that signed me for a 3-5 year contract. A committee that a colleague put his name on the line to make sure that I got the final slot. A committee that picked me because I was getting job offers…I have to email that chair tomorrow and offer my resignation because I can’t afford to attend.

I can’t afford to attend because I don’t have a school sponsoring me.

I don’t have a school helping to pay my way because I am a mother.

Once again, I feel discarded. I feel yet another sting over the fact that I was fired. I feel so incredibly unwelcome and I feel like a failure.

I remember during my graduate work coming across an relevant article in a prestigious journal, but the author had “independent scholar” written under his name.

I asked my advisor what that meant and if I could still use it. He paused, rolled his eyes, and said: “That means he can’t get a job. Uggggggghhhhh….technically it’s fine, but let’s see if we can find a scholar who’s actually working.”

Let that sink in. His work didn’t matter. The fact that his work was peer reviewed and in a highly respected journal didn’t matter. He didn’t teach therefore he didn’t matter unless out of desperation.

We are inundated with the fact that the majority of scholars are adjunct–that tenure track positions are all but dead. Although adjuncting has been saturated by women and POC for decades, now everyone is in the pool barely making ends meet.

Yet the fact remains that one is not considered a real scholar with anything to contribute unless they have a tenure track job.

AND the essential benefits toward getting those very few remaining jobs that come from going to big conferences like this are not accessible to the people who need it most because the only real way to afford the ticket is to either have money from somewhere else or to have your school provide funds.

Rinse. Repeat the cycle.

So here I am. Again. Another wall, another closed door, another opportunity for me to feel so much less than.

On my best days I believe in the malleability of my degree and my contributions to the field. I truly believe I can still publish, provide new ideas, and push us all forward without having a teaching position. I believe that other options need to be available and validated in order for the field, graduate programs, and scholarship in general to have a viable future.

Unfortunately, I do not seem to be living in my best days this week.

Letters to a searching person

A few months ago the Mormon world became aflutter over the re-release of the book, “Letters to a Young Mormon.” I ordered my copy and it made me totally rethink my faith, how I approach it, and how I share it.

Basically, the author split up major topics of faith (like prayer, salvation, and heaven) and explained his own beliefs about them to his children/teenage self. It wasn’t about what official teaching is (although that’s there), but really about what HE, as an individual, believes and how he got there. It’s really an incredible revelation and something I would genuinely love to read from all of my loved ones to get to know them better.

What an incredible gift to get the answers to–what, exactly, do you think/believe and how did you get there??

That may sound like an easy letter to write, but it’s complex and intricate, emotional and deeply revealing.

I started to really think about this. I mean really spend time mentally writing myself a letter about what I believe and why as a 34 year old mom. This isn’t what is orthodox or technically correct, but where I truly stand after a lifetime of interactions, disappointments, poetry, books, travel, study, etc.

I quickly had to stop, though, because I realized how many assumptions this kind of exercise entails (especially as a Christian). So I had to step waaaaaay back and ask myself some fundamentals. Here’s a list of some questions I’m wrestling with:

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◦ How do you feel about this quote from W.E.B. Du Bois: “If by being a ‘believer in God,’ you mean a belief in a person of vast power who consciously rules the universe for the (human) kind, I answer No; I cannot disprove this assumption, but certainly see no proof to sustain such a belief, neither in History nor my own personal experience.

If on the other hand you mean by ‘God’ a vague Force which, in some incomprehensible way, dominates all life and change, then I answer, Yes, I recognize such a force, and if you wish to call it God, I do not object.”

◦ Is there a supreme being in the universe?

◦ Is this being omnipresent? Omniscient?

◦ Do supernatural beings and forces exist (even if there is a Supreme Being, or not)?

◦ Have you ever had an interaction with something not of this world?

◦ What happens when we die?

◦ Does Karma or eventual justice exist?

◦ Do other gods exist even if there’s a supreme being?

◦ What do you think about pre-destiny? Is some being behind it?

◦ Do individuals (some or all) have supernatural powers (dormant or otherwise)?

◦ How was the world created? Do you care?

◦ Why are you here?

◦ Do people reincarnate?

◦ Is the supreme being interactive with humanity?

◦ Do you believe the supreme being talks to you? Is it obvious or do you feel like it’s a code you need to unlock to hear/see/feel/understand?

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I invite you to read “Letters to a Young Mormon” for inspiration.

I invite you to write these letters for yourself. Wrestle with exactly what you believe and why.

I invite you to share what you discover with loved ones. With yourself. With me, if you want a safe sounding board.

I invite us all to take the luxury, and yet necessity, of time to think, question, push, and discover who we are at this moment. This isn’t a binding contract. This isn’t how you will feel in a year, 5 years, 25 years…it is who you are now.

I can’t wait to meet me. I hope you feel the same way about you.

Welcome Back! The academy hates women with young children…

The last time I wrote in this space was November 2016. I think that pretty much sums up why I disappeared for two years.

Unfortunately, things seem darker in the world now and God forgive us for the damage we cause others and this planet because of our idolatry to violence, money, and whiteness.

As for me personally: I got my PhD, I learned I was pregnant the day before I walked across that stage, I left my job because childcare is too expensive, and I had a baby boy.

For better or worse I’m a stay-at-home mom now. Something I NEVER thought I would be.

Here’s why I’m back…

Since I graduated a little over a year ago, I have had three job offers…yet I’m jobless. My job search has been just one of many assaults from my peers with the message that I am not welcome–not because I’m a woman, or progressive, or have little experience, but because I have two very young children. In case you think I’m projecting, my firing from the third job was directly because I was pregnant. They didn’t even try to hide it.

I can’t say I wasn’t warned.

I had no less than 3 female professors approach me during my doctoral work to tell me never to tell anyone I was pregnant or had children “until your youngest is 7” (said one). Running around in my circles had naively persuaded me that those times were over…especially in progressive spaces. Don’t convince yourself that they are different. They’re not.

Even during the writing process I saw no less than three male colleagues put their families aside for “a few months” in order to finish. Yet I was constantly being told that I was being selfish or a bad mother for taking my weekends to write instead of being with my baby. Those three colleagues? All have tenure track jobs. I, on the other hand, have been taken off of one committee, two panels, one “think tank”, and have been fired from a job due to pregnancy/children.

But even if I COULD get a job (even an adjunct position), I have come to the realization that I’ve been sold a lot of smoke and mirrors.

Here’s what you’re going to hear regularly if you’re in academics: schools and departments are shrinking (if not closing all together), tenure track positions no longer really exist, get adjuncting jobs (as much as you can) and MAYBE one of them will hire you in some capacity, your adjunct position (if you can even get one) will pay you about $2,000 for a semester of work (trust me, it’s an INSANE amount of work), to barely have a livable wage (that only pays once the semester is over–try coming up with rent on that schedule) you need to piece together about 10-15 adjunct jobs a school year (most of them in geographical locations very far apart), offer to teach for free, you won’t actually get to teach or write on your topic very much if you get a position, etc.

I’ve been brainwashed into thinking this is not only ok, but my dream fulfilled.

What am I doing this for? Why keep begging a community that doesn’t want me and abuses their workforce to let me in?

That’s why I’m back here.

We’ve been told there’s only one way to succeed and be a scholar…but that one way isn’t really attainable anymore. It’s almost impossible to get, but you are inferior and flawed if you don’t get it.

The problem with brainwashing is that no amount of reality or positive thinking corrects everything (especially in your wider community), but I’m going to try anyway.

I have nothing left to lose.

Here. In this space. I am going to try to create something new and unique to me and my voice. I want to show that PhDs are malleable and valuable outside of the one path. I want to show other academic mothers that they don’t have to stay in a toxic, misogynistic working space. We can still publish, contribute, network, and be valuable members of the academy without that one path.

I hope this works. But I know it’ll be an awesome ride of it doesn’t.

I thank you, my amazing dialogue partners, for helping me create and think and grow.

Welcome and welcome back!