Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The Chronicle: 10/31/2003: When Tenure Isn't Enough

This article doesn't really describe my life, but it's close:"I began to wonder if being a healthy adult and being an excellent professor were mutually exclusive at my college." If reading the article requires a subscription, sorry!
The Chronicle: 10/31/2003: When Tenure Isn't Enough

Edit: OK, it does require a subscription. So here's a sampling:


When Tenure Isn't Enough
Overworked and unhappy, a tenured professor decides she wants out

I just resigned a tenured position. I did everything right. I worked hard to earn a Ph.D. I landed a tenure-track job at a small, liberal-arts college. I excelled in teaching, research, and service. The year I earned tenure I also received the highest faculty award given at the college. And then I quit ... with no other job in sight.

Gender, personality, and college culture are all factors that swayed my decision. Female professors, especially at my patriarchal college, are implicitly expected to do more of the scut work. Committee assignments, work with student organizations, advising, and assessment all seem to fall heavier on the average female professor.

No matter how much I did, I always got the impression that I should be doing more. I remember once questioning why I didn't get the highest rating for college and community service on my yearly evaluation. I had done numerous activities that I thought clearly merited an excellent rating. The administrator told me that I could get the highest rating only if I worked so hard that I totally collapsed at the end of the year. Anything less than that was not considered excellent service.
I began to wonder if being a healthy adult and being an excellent professor were mutually exclusive at my college.

By the way, this particular professor is childless. So it's not only an issue for moms--as she and Lisa Belkin both point out in their pieces, it's an issue for the American workplace generally. Why do we define ourselves through our jobs? And why do only moms get the free "get out of the workplace" pass? Not all moms, not most moms, I know...but there is a tacit understanding in our culture that mothering is important enough to give up even the most important job for. Not, however, fathering. And not at all, being a good person. Or am I overstating?


You've already read this one, right? The Opt-Out Revolution. Salon's Joan Walsh had a great response:Clueless in Manhattan. Here's a sample: "I also believe that modern feminism, disproportionately represented in the '70s by childless women, didn't tell the truth about what motherhood would feel like, which is part of why Belkin and her subjects are so confused, and feel like they're telling some new forbidden truth. It's a truth all right, but it's not forbidden; it's just partial and incomplete."

They're talking about what women want in Canada, too. Here's an excerpt from a great piece: When the rare man leaves the work force to tend to children, it should be noted, no one suggests he's being kept or is a man of leisure. Last year, Fortune magazine ran a gushy cover story titled "Trophy Husbands," which reported on the growing number of men who are staying home to raise families while their supercharged wives work. The subhead enthused: "Arm candy? Are you kidding? While their fast-track wives go to work, stay-at-home husbands mind the kids. They deserve a trophy for trading places."

Meanwhile, its cover on women who dropped out to stay home was titled "Goodbye Boss Lady, Hello Soccer Mom." It's all so predictable.

Read the whole article here:NATIONAL POST

Monday, October 27, 2003


I just learned that Nick didn't know the Cinderella story. I can't remember not knowing it, and I can't remember first telling or reading it to Mariah--I think at some level I thought it was just one of those stories that's in the culture that everyone knew. (I thought everyone knew who Bob Dylan was, too, but it recently came to my attention that Mariah didn't know what his voice sounded like. And references to Barry Manilow are equally meaningless to her, though that doesn't trouble me quite as much...)

It came up with Nick because he wanted me to read to him, and I was tired of all his books. He's big into repetition right now--repetition of chapter books. So we have read Charlotte's Web, The Trumpet of the Swan, Stuart Little, Mr. Popper's Penguins, and Homer Price over and over again. I have also read him the entire Chronicles of Prydain (the 5-volume set by Lloyd Alexander) once, and some books in it more than once, and the other day we finished reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. But for some reason we just don't have shelves-full of chapter books for pre- and early-readers (I think maybe Mariah skipped this stage) and so I was scanning my shelves for something--anything!--new to read, and I came across Philip Pullman's I Was a Rat!. I pulled it off the shelf (along with a few others) and offered Nick some choices. He was curious about the Pullman book but wanted to know more, so I started to tell him.

"It's about the boy--the rat in Cinderella who gets turned into a boy."

"What rat?"

"Well, the rat who becomes a little coach boy. Remember?"


"Do you know the story of Cinderella?"


No joke. So I offered to tell it to him.

OK, big feminist dilemma here. I've written about Cinderella fairly extensively, teach various versions in my children's lit course, know all the parodies and revisions and "PC" versions and everything. I've read The Paper-Bag Princess to Nick a hundred times (give or take...) When I teach Cinderella to my children's lit students they always moan that I've ruined it for them by pointing out the feminist objections to the tale: that it emphasizes female competition, the undesireability of older women, the need for young women to be "saved" by men, the necessity of beauty rather than wit or goodness for that "salvation." There's a lot to object to, and I don't really mind "ruining" it for 20-year-olds, who are old enough to handle some complexity. On the other hand, it's a pretty foundational text in our culture, and it expresses some useful things about sibling relationships, the value of fantasy, and the ability of even the poor and oppressed to make changes in their situations. And, it's a pretty good story--rich with magic and cruelty and happy endings.

So: what to do? Tell him the "real" version (and if so, which one?) or alter it? But wait, I need there to be a rat-coach boy, or the whole thing makes no sense. And really the rat-coach boy is fairly insignificant in my understanding of the tale (which is, of course, why the Pullman book works).

So I told him the classic version, pretty much straight out of Perrault. (No rat boy in the Grimms as far as I could remember...) It was a pretty bare-bones version, nothing fancy, but it did have the pumpkin coach and the various animal transformations.

And that was it. He didn't ask me to read the Pullman book after that, and he hasn't mentioned it again. Instead we read Regarding the Fountain, a complex novel-in-letters and memos and newspaper clippings by Kate Klise. I have no idea how much of it he got--it's really more a book for independent readers in, oh, 3rd grade and up--but he got enough. Puns and everything. And there were no references to Cinderella.

Sunday, October 26, 2003


We've got the pumpkins carved and Mariah's been working on costumes so I guess it's almost Hallowe'en. Feels like sacrilege to say it, especially when you've got two kids, but I don't really care about Hallowe'en one way or the other. I actually really like All Saints Day, which is Nov. 1. It's a great opportunity to think about all sorts of saints, canonized or not, people who've made a difference. Plus the music is usually terrific. But I've never been a big one for costumes--not since the days of the gypsy costume made by wearing Mom's clothes, makeup (!), and curtain rings for earrings. Since then it's all gone downhill, if you ask me.

But we've got carved pumpkins sitting on the porch, and I've already bought the candy, so I guess we're all set.

Monday, October 20, 2003


So, the phone was out because the phone company was upgrading our line in preparation for our DSL installation. Woulda been nice if they'd warned me...

giving in

Nick's home sick, sort of. He complained of stomach and head aches this morning, and despite not having a fever and eating a perfectly reasonable breakfast he insisted that he couldn't go to school. I was trying to be hard line with him--after all, he really didn't seem sick to me, and I had lots of work to do myself, and I didn't want him to manipulate me. Then I remembered 6th grade, when I missed school, oh, one or two days a week, it seems. And I remember how much my stomach hurt, those mornings, though it's true I usually felt better by mid-day. And nothing was wrong with me, or nothing any physician could diagnose, at any rate. Eventually my pediatrician gave up and prescribed valium. Yes, valium, for an 11-year-old kid. I was so impressed by myself, however--that I actually needed "tranquilizers"! That someone thought I was going crazy!--that I think I only ever took one, and I went back to school. In hindsight it seems that I was anxious about our upcoming move, and having trouble adjusting to the idea of adolescence (in my case, still several years away).

Anyway. I remembered that my mother sighed, and tried to get me to eat breakfast, and sent my siblings off to school, and let me stay home. And I still got into college, yes, and graduate school, so apparently those days spent at home (staring into the windows of my classroom, truth be told, since it was right across the street) didn't do much harm. And being believed, I truly think, helped me.

So I let Nick stay home, though I don't know what it is that he's trying to stay away from. We're not moving, after all. But he's been having a tougher transition to 1st grade than any of us expected--he loves the teacher, and the kids, but he's been having a harder time following the rules than he did last year or the year before, and I'm a bit bewildered by that. And a big part of me thinks the rules are stupid and he's just fine, but then again they are the rules and I'm kind of stuck there.

So he's been home all day. He changed back into pajamas and dutifully got back into bed when I suggested that maybe he needed some more rest, but he's been up and down all day since then, finding things to do, things to talk to me about, lunch to eat, games to play. And, finally, after only 4 hours of that, I suggested Loony Tunes. I admit it, I'm the one who brought up TV. We taped a few hours of Saturday morning cartoons before we yanked the cable last week, and Nick can watch these same few hours endlessly. I hope he doesn't, today, but I was feeling a bit crowded, anxious about my work, and in need of a little quiet. So there it is--he's plugged in and I'm typing away here.

And apparently our phone is out. Or at least I couldn't get a dial tone last time I tried, and, yes, I checked, and the extension in Mariah's room is NOT off the hook (that was the problem last time). So here we are, Nick and me, at home in the world.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

time for a change?

I'm feeling antsy, unsettled. This has been going on for a while. A couple of years ago--actually, yes, almost two years ago exactly--I began to think I was feeling a call to ordained ministry. For a while exploring that kept me from feeling antsy--or, if I did, I attributed it to the fact that I was still exploring, not actually making the change. Then, I decided (or was it decided for me? anyway) that probably ordained ministry wasn't my call. So, fine. I had a great summer after that, feeling very centered and happy even if I wasn't particularly getting any work done. I knew I'd be teaching writing in the fall, and working on Literary Mama, and otherwise doing cool stuff, so I felt as if things were going in the right direction.

Now it's the fall, and I am teaching writing, and Literary Mama will launch in less than two weeks, but I'm just feeling stuck and bored. I haven't been writing much (not that you noticed, right?). I'm too busy to really get to work--or that's what I say to myself--but then I feel too boring to write, anyway. I've been knitting a lot, which I decided today is, for me, creativity lite--it keeps me occupied, makes me feel as if I'm making something, but it's not really what I want to be making. (OK, it's fun to make stuff, and I'll get some good Christmas presents out of it, but it's not my life's work, that's all I mean.)

So, what is my life's work? Is it teaching overprivileged kids, maybe getting them to recognize their privilege? Writing every now and then and hoping someone reads me? Raising good kids, loving my husband, contributing to my church? Those are all important, I know, and I am fortunate to be able to do them all, not to mention the luxury of getting paid and having medical insurance. Nothing to sneeze at, I know.


I feel antsy.

Stay tuned.

Friday, October 17, 2003

too long between posts

...and I have no excuse except that I've been watching too much baseball, and my teams lost. (As a Mets fan I have no particular stake except in seeing underdogs win, though, so at this point I guess I'm with the Marlins...)

and I've been busy at work, and we had houseguests, and I think I'm coming down with a cold.

Still, I'll try to get something up this weekend. I started scratching out notes on a pad as I sat on the grass watching Nick's "soccer game" this afternoon (four-on-four, no-defense, half-field, everyone under 8--you see why the scare quotes) and I had an idea or so but I'm just too tired to type it all in now.

TODDLER is out, though! I'm in it! Go buy it!

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

kids and friendship

Sometimes I envy my kids their friendships. Both of them have friends who have known them almost since birth. In Nick's case, I especially love to see him play with Marina (she of "Help me Hell"). They have the kind of friendship only kids whose parents are friends can have, I think. We have done stuff together as families since long before Nick was even thought of, so he has just been incorporated into the larger group, as has Marina. We're lucky they get along--it doesn't always work out that way. Some years ago we were friends with another couple who had a son Mariah's age. When they were kindergartners, they were inseparable. Mariah hates me to tell this story, but they even used to kiss whenever they met. At one point I swear they were experimenting with making out--when they were in about first grade. But then something happened. We took a joint vacation at the beach one year--I think Mariah may have been in third or fourth grade. And, basically, they refused to play together, only nagged and whined at each other, but also refused to be separated. It was hell. Here we were having this great time with the parents--cooking fabulous meals, staying up late at night drinking on the balcony, hanging out for hours at the beach--and the kids were completely unable to be in the same room without fighting, but wouldn't go into different rooms. Aargh!

Of course now that couple is divorced and we don't see them any more. Not that we had anything to do with that.

But the thing about these friendships is the confidence they seem to inspire. Mariah still does have one very good friend from our earliest days here--they met when she was not quite four--and although they have only spent one year at the same school, in the 10 years of their friendship, they are utterly confident in each other's friendship, care, and love. They don't talk every day, but they are in some significant way deeply connected--and expect always to be.

I know they may not be. I moved when I was five, and again at eleven, and have no friends left from either of those early periods. My best and longest-connected friend and I met on the first day of ninth grade, and I'm pleased and sometimes amazed that we have stayed connected. There have been long periods of disconnect, but we still come back to each other. And there's never anything to explain. Newer friendships, important and strengthening as they may be, always require a certain catching-up, a certain period of sharing histories, before they are fully as comfortable as these old ones.

Sometimes I think it's possible that Mark and I will spend the rest of our lives here, and that in that case our kids will always be able to connect with the friends they've made here. While the idea of living in the same place for the rest of my life is actually a little more frightening than appealing (and I do like it here, that's not the problem), the benefit to my kids makes me feel better about it.

On the other hand travel is good for you too.

hopelessly behind

I can't believe it's been over a week since I posted. Well, of course, I can. It's been busy at work, and I'm trying hard to stay off the internet on weekends. So that doesn't leave much time for updating the blog. Go read Linda's at Plotsville instead! I love what she's saying about Jane Eyre. It's hard to know how autobiographical the novel is. Brontë certainly knew what it was like to be dependent--that's why she and Emily went to Brussels to try to upgrade their teaching and governessing skills. They never did manage to get any students at the school they tried to open in their home, but they did work as teachers and governesses before finding some measure of success as novelists. And writing, difficult though it can be, was a far lesser servitude than teaching, which really was like being a glorified servant when the Brontë sisters were doing it.

I think I'll save Jane and Rochester's first meeting for another post.