My sabbatical is not what I expected. My “time off from teaching” has made me feel vulnerable and I am still trying to figure out why.
I feel like I am standing still thinking and the world is spinning, turning, churning and blowing up all around me. This is what my post-tenure feels like. It is not what I expected, in fact, most of this journey has been a bit of the unexpected. During my time off, I had plans. I had lots of plans, yet, I feel as if my feet are solidly in mud, not quicksand, just mud. I am not moving and writing and producing with the speed I thought would come naturally. The things I accomplish seem selfish, they seem as if they do not matter in the scheme of things. I am not always sure about exactly what I am doing most of the time or why.
Taking on this new identity as writer has also added a level of uncertainty. I thought it would be easier – this writer thing, not sure why, but I felt so liberated when I stepped off that ledge and claimed myself a writer, but now I feel as if I am in an abyss (with feet in mud, which is hard to do at the same time). So many things are happening in the world, in the country, at my university, in my own house, that I want to write about it all, but the thoughts and the words seem so jumbled and complicated that sentences escape me.
I wanted to go to Ferguson for Moral Monday [#FergusonOctober] or at least write about my feelings on the current state of affairs there, but the moment was fleeting and it passed quickly. I still had to attend to affairs at home, especially at some critical moments with my oldest child.
I wanted to write a strong piece about my decision to no longer celebrate Columbus Day [#IndigenousPeoplesDay] and my process of re-connecting with my Eastern Band Cherokee roots, but I missed that moment as well. On that day, I thought a lot about my family origins in Eastern North Carolina, my great-great grandparents, Ransom and Elizabeth Shaw, but that is a far as I was able to go with that moment and those feelings.
Recently, there have been some disturbing moments at UMass Amherst, as students find more and more racist and threatening graffiti on the doors of their dormitory rooms [#WrongDoor]. These realities are not surprising to me, for I have been listening to our undergraduate population talking about issues such as these on our campus, but now that it is being put on display for all to see, the larger conversation has to happen (and our Chancellor is on it in a good way). This campus, where I call home is reflective of larger evils – and yet, again, I could not find the words to express my thoughts on the subject fast enough.
And I cannot forget the topic of Ebola and the panic the media re-packages as information. The approach to how we in this country understand the disease is frightening. I am more concerned about the lack of awareness and preparation for the thousands and thousands of health workers in our fair nation, than thinking that I am going to get it by walking down the street in Western Massachusetts. The real tragedy is the thousands of people who have lost their lives to the disease in places like Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. I am not sure that cutting off flights to certain countries is going to keep the disease in one place. However, in this country the disease brings to light disparities in health care, the villainization of countries in West Africa and all of the people from there [#IamLiberianNotaVirus] becoming the target of a new form of racism. I swear I feel like it is a flashback to another deadly disease and the association with a particular country and people some 20 years ago. Yet, my strong feelings and opinions stay trapped in my head with no way out and really nowhere to go.
Because, what is time off to a person who has never really understood what taking time off really means. To a person who realizes that even when the body is at rest, the mind is still in action, in movement and in process (at least mine is). I think I am beginning to understand the real meaning of the post-tenure sabbatical. Or at least be at the cusp of understanding what it might mean for some of us. I have three children and a husband, so going off to travel for a semester or a year to write and research is not really an option for me, but I am in the process of healing or trying to understand who and what I am in this universe of scholar. For without this ability, the words may begin to mean less and less – even if they come out quickly enough.
My sabbatical is not what I expected. For the first time in a long time, I am standing in place and learning how to be okay with the stillness.
Its been a difficult day, not because of any one particular thing, but because of many things. I think about the tasks on my immediate “ToDo” list and none of them seem to keep my interest. I know I have a serious deadline that is about to pass me by. I know I have obligations at work that I need to address on a daily basis. I know there are things at home that have to be maintained and tended to, but then I cannot help but to think about the murder of Michael Brown, yet another young Black male shot down at the prime of his life. Shot down for no reason.
I hear that he would have been off to college yesterday. I hear that he was a young man that was about change (if even for himself and immediate community). I hear that he said something along the lines of “my hands are up”. How is this possible? It seems like only minutes ago, another Black man, Eric Gardner was yelling about not being able to breathe, and now he too is dead. What does that mean today? What do these words mean, I thought they were ways to say STOP or TRUCE. But clearly, when you are face to face (or even running away) from someone that feels that you are a threat (even if you do not know why) it does not matter what words are spoken.
I have to say that today was one of those days where I wanted to throw my hands up. I needed to write something, but didn’t want to write another “scared for my sons” kind of blog…but I ended up doing it anyway. The names keep multiplying, we are adding too many names to the list of victims, that I feel like I cannot keep up and that is not a good thing. I am hoping that these incidents do not make some of us become complacent, for now is the time to stop this from becoming common place.
I cannot be complacent, I grew up in New York during a time that spanned the regimes of Mayors Koch, Dinkins and then Giuliani. I knew police brutality first hand and so did all of my friends. All of this was before 9/11 and all of this was when there were no campaigns to get to know your local police officer or campaigns to help you connect with your local precinct or see the NYPD as allies. It was the age of plungers and 41 shots, and it was scary. It has tainted how I feel about the police to this day and I am feeling those brutal dark memories resurface.
Today, the town I live in is really small and ironically, I know my local police and they know me. There is no hate and my children know them and see them as people that are around to protect. However, I still teach caution. They are still young, but it doesn’t matter, I need them to know the truth and that truth is, that their trust in the police – even from their town can lead to death somewhere else, even with their hands up.
So, after I put in a day’s work toward my goal to meet this pending deadline. I came home and hung out with my children and I turned on James Brown. It was quality time. We danced and we sang and we danced some more, because sometimes, you have to breathe,love your children and remember to bring truth to power and keep moving – with your hands up!
So, I leave with this, its not James Brown, but a song that we have been singing around the house over the last few days. The Bob Marley song, War, based on a speech originally given by Haile Selassie I’s address in NYC to the United Nations in 1963:
“Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war and until there are no longer first-class and second-class citizens of any nation, until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes. And until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race, there is war. And until that day, the dream of lasting peace, world citizenship, rule of international morality, will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained…now everywhere is war.”
So, it’s just another TBT (Throw Back Thursday), right? Well, I have never really indulged the whole #tbt thing, but today I was feeling quite nostalgic. Part of my nostalgia (and sadness) was sparked by some recent posts by two friends, Marc Anthony Neal and David J. Leonard. These two men, who I admire on so many levels, posted some Facebook statuses over the past few days that really started me to thinking about my own life and balancing act between family and the academy. They were not just talking about family balance, but real-time and consequences and privilege. It really hit home.
I decided to write down my thoughts sooner than later on my blog for once, because I am at that moment of a “could be crisis,” where I have some choices to make. I am not going to get into details about the differences between men and women in the academy, the varying demands on our time, how these issues affect single parents or people of color in ways that are not always clear or transparent. I am not going to detail how race, class, or hetereosexism affect us all in the academy in very different ways. That would be too much work right now, at this late hour, I am just getting my thoughts onto the screen and wondering if I am making the right choices.
My entry into the academy was quick, constant, scary and fluid. I finished up that dissertation, got a post-doc, got married, had the first child during my first year of marriage. Post-doc ended and boom, a job (it really wasn’t that easy, but I am summing up to get a point across). This is what we all dream about, this was the way it is supposed to happen, right? I am not really complaining, but I am saying that time flies and that is the scary part. My first son was only 15 months old when we first moved to the Amherst area, he is now 8 years old and we are well on our way to being here for a decade. I have been in the game of archaeology for 20 years and I have had my share of ups and downs and doubts and stumbles, but the central question is now that I have tenure, does the pace ever slow down or do I just keep going and increase it to get over the next hurdle (and there are more, believe me)? I think about conversations I have had over the past few months, like: What is your next field site? Are you working on an article? When will your second book be out? Do you already have a contract? Will you start to be on those cable shows? What is your next big move? Makes my head hurt just to think about one or two of those questions on a cool summer night in July.
Then I ask myself a very simple question. Have I lost the ability to be there for my family when it counts? I am there just about every day to pick up children at 3:15 and attend special programs and events and run from ballet to basketball to track on weekends during the school year, but am I really present when I am there? What is on my mind? Am I checking emails or fielding calls quietly because there is some minor crisis or issue at work or with a student, etc.?
Note to self #1: I don’t make octopus shaped hot dogs anymore.
I remember how hard I tried to be everything to my little guy (when there was one). I wanted to know what he liked, if he was allergic to anything, or was he a picky eater, etc. Then I had a second one and she was such a small thing that I wanted to make sure all was perfect for her. Time passed and I realized that I had this thing down, but is it habit or is it that I am busier and I know how to fake it better? This week I have had some pretty sizable deadlines. Important things that had to get in. I spent almost 2 days (off and on of course) in front of my laptop fine tuning abstracts, making travel plans for the next trip to my field site, reading and carefully reviewing grant applications for a panel I am sitting on (due at the end of the week), in other words, I was busy – at home with the children, but busy. Am I really present for my children? The truth is, there is always something else to do, and someplace that I may need to be, and some meeting that is really politically important for me to attend and I am starting to get a little weary of it all.
Note to self #2: I don’t put chocolate chips or strawberry slices to make happy faces on pancakes anymore.
I worked so hard to get to this point, and that is the point. I have worked hard because that is the type of person I am. But, I do not want to look up and notice that there are no more diapers or car seats or children who want to cuddle, just much taller individuals who would have loved for me to be around a little more. I am not panicking, just taking stock of the situation at hand. I will admit, this is a bit of a rant and I am just probably in summer mode with children around me all day every day, but there is some real talk in between the nostalgia and the terror of missing out.
Note to self #3: I am really good at pinpointing details of each of my children’s likes and dislikes, from colors to music to food and snacks.
All is not lost, these days at home has made me smile in wonderment to see three children playing in harmony (most of the time). Playing on the slip and slide, the trampoline, with dolls and action figures, just running around in the back yard, more water games and then (as an afterthought) those electronic devices when they are a little bit tired. All in all, we are having a blast, and that may also be why I am thinking along these lines. This is not normal for us, for me. This week has been harder than most. In trying to have fun and just hang out, things fell behind, emails piled up and I forgot for a moment that the work never really stops, but my children, my small ones will also not stop, they will grow and need and learn and teach my husband and I that our presence (our real presence) is the most important thing we can do in this world, for the rest of our lives.
Microaggression…a theory that hypothesizes those specific interactions between folks of different races, cultures, genders or sexual orientation. The most important part of these exchanges are the small acts of mostly non-physical aggression that in many ways psychologically assault the victim of moments. The term was coined by Chester M. Pierce in 1970.
I begin this entry with a very brief glimpse into my thinking (I promise I will not expose you to too much of this). By trade and training I am an anthropological archaeologist. This means that I focus primarily on the excavating stuff from the ground to recover and interpret the found artifacts (both above and below ground), in other words use the material left behind by people of the past to tell a story. The one thing an archaeologist can usually do pretty well is to dig deeper (every pun intended), look beneath the surface, find the hidden meanings or even question what appears to simply be in front of you. So, this is where I begin my little story about how the reality of the age of microaggression has impacted my life (at the moment).
Moment went #1:
One morning I was brushing my 5 year old daughters hair. I really take the time (most of the time) to keep her loving her hair because she can wear it so many different ways. We braid it, ponytail it, twist it, cornrow it, and even blow dry and straighten it on rare occasions– it is a labor of love. So, on this day, I was going to do her hair the same way I had done it the day before, for when she left for school she was happy with her hair and thought it was really cute. Well, this day, she held her head down and asked if I was going to do her hair like I did yesterday. I said yes, and then she asked me not to. I asked why? And she said, “they made fun of my hair yesterday, they said it looked crazy.” She was hurt (really hurt), these are the moments that she does not tell her teacher, she does not know exactly how to. In many ways, she doesn’t know why it hurts so much. It’s just hair, right? I am just glad that she is able to tell me, to share with me, so I can use it as a moment of healing and learning and building trust with each other. The layers are there, it will take our life together to make sure she grows up an learns to navigate these seemingly innocent moments.
I think I may be directly impacted because of several factors in my current life are different. First, I am married and attached to an educated, nurturing man of African American/Haitian descent that is there for the family and doing things in the community. I say this because I have had those moments when people complimented me on marrying someone that is so incredible (why? Because it is rare for a Black man to hold all of these balls in the air?). My husband, as incredible as he is in not as rare to me, I have had many men in my life who fill these roles and many more and so does he. Second, I am a mother of three children. Two boys and one girl. We live in an environment that is very different from the one we grew up in. Pelham is not the Bronx and Pelham is not Brooklyn. Our children are often the only ones that look like them in their classrooms. I listen very closely to what my children bring home. The things that they may see as normal. We as a family talk about race – for our children to successfully navigate this country (and where we currently live), they have to have to skills to understand who they are and what is not okay. We do not have a choice in these matters. Third, I am a professor teaching at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI). I teach about slavery, race, gender and class (and sometimes all of these together) and I have to understand that the stuff I teach can be painful for some, shocking for others and even angering to some. My students have reacted in a variety of ways. I am getting used to not having every class I teach (mostly smaller classes with 30 or fewer) filled with folks that love what I do or what I am teaching. The honeymoon is over and now, I have come across students who are downright hostile and see me as scary, angry, racist and sexist. And let us not forget the often heard label of “making everything about race.” I have observed that the students are changing. They are more angry than when I arrived at UMass Amherst only 7 years ago. The subtle ways in which aggression is exercised is deep, much deeper than a surface analysis would reveal.
My son, who will soon be 8 years old on Friday, asked me why there are not more Black people in his class or school? He felt that things would be a little bit different if he was in school in a place like Ghana or Brooklyn (he thinks globally). My son is absorbent (in other words he soaks up everything around him). He is quite thoughtful and has had his experiences of being singled out and made to feel different. He is longing for less work, I think, by less work, I mean, it takes a lot for our sons and daughters to not see the difference, even if everyone around you is telling you they do not see color. We all see color, even as children, because of the houses we come from, the television we watch, the ads we are exposed to, the activities we participate in. Color is everywhere, and it is for this reason that I often feel sad for my son, because he is right, why aren’t there more people that look like him in his class. He too has come home with some really insensitive quotes from his classmates. Sigh.
I have been trying to keep my anger at bay. I have tried to curb the pure rage I feel on a regular basis. I know that at moments the work I do is difficult and the results will often have consequences. However, as I completed my first year as Undergraduate Program Director for my department, I reflect on the stories that I heard from anthropology majors of color that sat in my office, as if in therapy, to just share with me their experience at UMass, in our department, in Amherst, in Western Massachusetts. These talks ranged from angry seniors who could not wait to get out of here, struggling underclassmen asking for help to navigate to crying and painful testimonies that hurt me to my core. Many of these students had or have resigned themselves to just expect living with microaggressions in the classroom, it is a part of life, they just lived with it. How is this okay? And how is this okay that they are not telling too many people (or no one). This creates a pain that is not easy to explain, or fix quickly in counseling, or even tell your parents or friends. Our children are losing the ability to tell us what is happening, they are losing the vocabulary because the methods of these subtle aggressive acts impact the heart and the soul and makes you wonder if you are not crazy. Is it because they don’t have the vocabulary or we have neglected to continue to teach them how to talk about it out loud?
This is a reflection of that initial uncomfortable feeling of being a woman of color in a predominantly Euroamerican environment and never knowing where to get your hair done. Then when you finally take a chance because you are desperate, you realize as soon as you walk in the door that all the stylists in the salon are praying that you are not their next appointment. You are being shot looks of an interesting variety. The first instinct is to leave, but you stay. Someone is washing your hair and not knowing which, if any, of the products they use will work on your hair, so they just use what they can. Then you walk over with your hair ablaze and watch them just continue to touch your hair over and over again, moving their heads from side to side as if they are studying what lay before them, and you know they don’t exactly know what to do next. Then the stares and glances from the other women in the salon continue. They are trying to figure out why your hair looks that way. Then, ultimately, when it is blow dried, flat ironed and clipped at the end, laying flat down my back and a stylist (who also happened to be the owner) walks by and says, “Wow! Your hair is so long, I could not tell when you walked in. It actually looks nice.”
The final moment is about me. It is about coming into my own and being able to recognize these microaggressions when they are thrown directly at me. I have worked hard to be where I am and now, having just been awarded tenure, I feel as if my power (or at least my permanency) is a real thing. I have never been soft-spoken and have always contributed to most conversations and meetings I am a part of. However, on so many occasions, I get the distinct feeling that some of my colleagues still see me as either a child, someone who has just arrived on the scene (clueless), or someone who snuck in the room as a favor to someone else. Not anymore, I will begin to call these moments out, but also begin to develop my own language to navigate these moments, for they are now a part of my everyday. And in creating that language I will also be able to create a language at home to help my family and my children.
And to end with a few random last comments and moments (ad-lib):
Don’t be so passionate about things. Everyone is not as strong and opinionated as you are, they could take what you say in the wrong way.
People do not even try to say your children’s names correctly.
People are surprised when you are out and about (restaurant, meeting, lecture, conference presentation, cultural event) and your children are well-behaved.
People cannot believe you were awarded tenure.
Wow, you were really good at that program.
Oh, I didn’t know you were invited/I didn’t know you knew/surprisingly, I heard your name brought up at this or that meeting.
I have to admit, I am still learning. I am still trying to figure out how the shift is happening and how our lives are changed because of it. I do not have the immediate solutions, but the beginning is to know that these microaggressions exist and they do, they really do.
To think that this could have gone on sol long!
In a move that was hailed by the anthropological community, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office announced on Wednesday morning that it had canceled six federal trademark registrations for the name “Washington Redskins” citing testimony and evidence that the Washington, DC- based football team’s name is “disparaging to Native Americans” and thus in violation of federal trademark laws banning offensive terms and language.
While the decision today means that the team can continue to use the term, the phrase is no longer owned by the organization, meaning it will be difficult to stop others from using the term, and thus limiting its financial benefit to the club.
Dr. Bernard C. Perley, a Native American and anthropologist, released the following statement in the wake of the government’s decision:
Today, I am celebrating the US Patent and Trademark Office’s decision to cancel the six trademark registrations of the NFL Washington professional football…
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In the coming weeks, I will be exploring the idea of microaggression on many levels, here is just the beginning.
Think everyday, interpersonal racism is a thing of the past? In progressive politics, most of the action has moved on from the Civil Rights struggles of the past to a focus on societal or “structural” racism. But, wait, not so fast — there’s a new word on the street that the old-style social racism is still with us, 24/7. That word is: microaggression. And you’re about to start hearing it everywhere.
A student at McGill University recently had to apologize publicly for the “microaggression” of “emailing a doctored video of President Obama kicking open a door” as part of a joke about midterms. Campus newspapers have begun denouncing the evils of such small, apparent slights.
Here’s what they are: The concept of microaggression has leapt from the shadows of academic writing into the bright light of general conversation, especially in the wake of widely consulted work by professors Derald Wing…
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When I was much younger, one of my favorite things to do was to sit down and lose myself in a good historical documentary. I loved how these shows made history come alive, how the facts seem to be filled with vibrant color and texture. I soaked up every minute of these talking documents. However, the best part of these films were the academic experts. The fact people. They seemed larger than life, they seemed to know so much about the topic, they were brilliant. It was what I wanted to be when I grew up. This was because I had to drastically alter my original “when I grow up” aspirations. Primarily, I wanted to be a Black female Quincy M.E. (a show about a Medical Examiner, starring Jack Klugman – just in case anyone reading this has no idea what I am talking about). I realized that this career path was not going to work because my lack of tolerance for blood and guts on a daily basis was going to stand in the way. The back up plan was to be a police detective, which could be a slight problem with my growing up in an age of New York City style police brutality and having complete mistrust of “New York’s finest.” And I wanted to go straight to detective, not walking the streets in a uniform that I did not find the least bit attractive. Plus, I just wanted to go straight to solving intense mysteries, doing research on the crimes, a Black female Sherlock Holmes (USA style). That also seemed a dead end, and I realized I might have to see bodies, bones, blood and other such things that were not going to work for me in the long term. So, the alternative was to not be a detective of crime, but a detective of history. I remembered back to sitting for all those hours watching the experts on those historical documentaries, that was my calling. So, I became a history major and after a long story about the ups and downs of my love and hate relationship with the archive, the historical text, the inherent racism, sexism, classism, etc. I was introduced to the world of historical archaeology. Wow, the best of both worlds. I had the document, I had the material, and I had the ability to be a real time detective! But now what? I am an Assistant professor on the cusp of getting tenure, I teach from the huge class to the intimate seminar, I have a lot of community connections that I have to keep fresh, I am conducting research at at least 3 sites, I am an Undergraduate Program Director invested in making sure our program is tight, and I am a wife and mother of three. So, as I get caught up in the every day, the inability to find a moment to finish that article that I have been working on for a year and making sure I know what I am talking about in those lectures I do multiple times a week, I realize that I have not been on one of those historical documentaries. And I can’t figure out why? Recently, I have watched so many friends appear on CNN, the Cobert Report, The Daily Show, Melissa Harris Perry, MSNBC, writing for the Huffington Post, Salon.com, Crunk Feminist, the Feminist Wire, Essence, and many other popular venues that I follow on Twitter or Facebook, etc. And each time I see them, I send congrats and I am so happy that it feels like I am on there with them. I watch every clip with pride, but to be honest, there is also some envy. I have come to wonder why not me? Do I have valuable things to say? Am I doing all this slightly in the wrong way? Do I need to step up my blog posts? Actually work at my Youtube page? Get a Public Persona Facebook page? Create a webisode series? Damn, what does a sister have to do to get “invited?” And then I take a break and a breath. And remember, that to appear on these shows is not the only reason I do what I do and that is okay. Maybe it is not in my immediate path and the only people who ask me why I have not been in or on these venues are my family, because they love me and I love them back for their love and confidence. I have a lot going on in my life with a bunch of stuff on many plates (while technically I only have two hands). I still hold hope for the call about that historical expert moment, for I know it will come, even if it is a short 5 minute Youtube video project. I want my identity as a Black Feminist Archaeologist to be taken seriously, not lightly. I do not want to be a novelty, I want to represent the real thing. I do not want to be trivialized and made into a sound bite, I want to add value to the conversation. That is my hope, but if I get that call, believe me I will be putting that right on Facebook and Twitter and letting the world know. But until then, I can keep my integrity and stay humble. However, if you want to book me, feel free to look up my blog and my email. I am more than willing to give it a try. Blog out…
This has been an incredible year. I have been working very hard this year and through all of this work, productivity, and accomplishment, the main thing that 2013 has taught me are basic (and really crucial) life lessons. They became so crucial, that I am not sure how to even capture the extent to my personal growth in a short blog post. But, its worth a try.
I have learned patience. I think I have said this in a couple of entries recently, however, this patience I now speak of, is a patience with myself. A patience that is not easy in a world of overproductive women and men, who never stop, never look up and almost never venture to look inward to see the damage that is possible from all of this “success.” With this new found patience I have found the ability to give myself permission, permission to find me and those things that give me pleasure and happiness. And 2013 has taught me to look for that happiness in the strangest of places, like my own home – wow! Imagine that!
One of the first things that have happened is that when I take those conference and lecture trips (that have started to slow down), I am beginning to remember how to enjoy myself, meet up with friends and get a few moments of sleep in a hotel room, something I used to be unable to do until very recently.
I got a massage in the month of December (the first one in 2 years), and it felt wonderful. The rest of the day and evening was also relaxing, so that I think the massage was able to settle in nicely into much much neglected mass of tight muscles.
I started to regularly go to hang out with my friends and fam at TRGGR Radio on Friday nights on 91.1 WMUA. We broadcast every week from 6-8. How do I find the time and energy? Well, for me, the music, the conversation and the company are energizing, they offer a life source that is soul satisfying. I love being a part of the TRGGR family! Much love to Chris and Rec.
I have learned to search through Netflix and find a show to cling on to and just watch. Watch until I am tired, caught up, or just forgetful of all those “pressing” things that just have to get done. In 2013, I have enjoyed, American Horror Story, Sons of Anarchy, The Walking Dead, The Killing…I think you see a pattern here. Ok, I might have a taste (no pun intended) for the macabre, the slightly scary and for some, downright depressing. However, these shows provided a space for me to explore my understanding of the spirits and reconnect with my spiritualist side; indulge the wanna be detective within; and prepare myself to survive anything (such as a zombie apocalypse or the tenure process – similar in many ways). These shows were a metaphor for so many things that have happened in my life lately and more importantly, I have enjoyed the escape.
I have learned to close the laptop and put together a Lego set with my 7 year old, color and decorate a card with my 5 year old with stickers and markers, or cuddle with my 2 year old while we read his favorite book for the hundredth time. I laugh more, I run around the house, I cook dinner earlier and we sit down and talk again as a family. I show up at 3:15 and see my children after school, mostly because I can and I know that it will not always be like this. They are growing with me, but now while they are small I get to watch and see and share, soul satisfied.
I have reconnected with my partner in crime, Trevor Baptiste, my husband. We have been together for 12 years and married for almost 9 years and we found that spark again and it is amazing. We talk and share and laugh and spend alone time together. We play again (and I mean that on many levels *smile*). We see our home as our sanctuary and prepare for the bigger things in life that will allow us the space and wherewithal to travel as a family, travel as a couple, to make memories everywhere. But this year, this tenure year, I value my little brown house with my husband, three children and cat. Soul satisfying.
The time I spend close to home, has helped during this hellish year, career-wise. The transition of tenure and promotion is brutal on the mind, body and spirit. Everyone told me this was the case, but it is true. It was my home life that kept me sane through the process of almost loosing myself (that and watching the Walking Dead with Trevor). I was on the edge, but I was able to get back, when I almost thought I wasn’t going to make it. My home, my faith, my spiritualist side kept me grounded and able to keep things in perspective and to see the value of living in the moment, to get to the next one.
I have cut back some of the background noise in my life. I have given myself permission to let go of guilt. I will never change what folks think about me, people will always be there to critique, love or judge – it is no longer my concern. Ah, now that one feels especially liberating and soul satisfying! I think I have held on to things that should have been recycled many years ago, as I clear out my shelves, I have found a little more room for myself (I love when thoughts rhyme). So, I have given no highlights to my accomplishments or my speaking engagements or my conference papers or other things that have become synonymous with all things Whitney Battle-Baptiste, I have simply listed a series of indulgences, and given myself permission to make a completely selfish blog entry (but wait, aren’t most blogs about self in a world of selfies, Facebook, Instagram, etc?). So no need for a disclaimer, just more about me on my blog.
I may still do a little “year in review,” but right now, I have to get back to making rubber band bracelets on my daughters new loom and play catch with my sons, so I’ve got to go.
–a satisfied soul
Many of my posts lately have been about exhaustion, the pressures of life pulling my body in multiple directions, the crazy expectations I place on myself, my inability to say NO effectively, and well, just being plain tired. Well, this post is no different, except it includes some thoughts on a rainy, cloudy and cold Thursday afternoon, sitting in my dining room among the trees of Pelham.
I have come to realize that I do not value my own time. I have come to realize that I often put the needs of others before my own. I have come to realize that despite my appearance of strength, I am tired, in pain, and struggling physically, mentally and spiritually inside. I know this as plain as the nose of my face. I get wake up calls every now and again by way of getting sick so I have no choice but to slow down; pushed to the point where I have to ask other people in my life for help, because I physically cannot be at multiple sites at the same time; allow myself to trust that the people around me can handle anything with the same force and passion that I think I possess (because they can – especially my partner for life – Trevor!). However, my ability to show up is becoming harder and harder to do. And it is translating into just being there is not enough, I have to be able to function while there.
A moment: I was in class the other day, going over our reading assignment to my Intro to Anthropology course. I was breaking down the main themes of the chapter; plugging through key concepts that I wanted them to take away from the reading; impressed that they were actually responding and had done the reading and I realized that nearly every word I tried to write on the board was not coming together correctly. I could not spell a single word correctly (plus my eyes were a little blurred). This is in part because I am overtired, but also because I have not had the time that to follow up on my recent eye exam and get real glasses (damn, that is bad). It has also become obvious to me that running around doing things and showing up to do other things has become more important than going to the doctor, the dentist, the therapist, the gym? Well, I am partially in denial, but the evidence is clear. I have not figured out when to do these things. When in my 24 hour day are these things supposed to happen? How? How in that 24 hour day do I make it happen?
Let someone else do it: Well, the issue with that is that there are not many of me. There are not many in my field that look and write and create the projects that I have started, so, I get asked to show up to many places and speak for the invisible people (that aren’t really invisible, just not at the meeting) – and I guess that is what diversity often looks like. But, what is the toll on the physical and mental well-being of the Black academic? Who at times needs (or feels the need) to point out what should be obvious, but is never talked about; bring attention to the gaps in institutional structures, department policies; or issues of hiring, retention and support for the future of a University, program or department. And then there are those phone calls and follow ups that I have not made to community groups and stakeholders, which is usually a bad thing.
Another moment: I had to write an email last night to my graduate students, telling them that I could not come in today. My children have a half day; I have a conference paper to write like yesterday; an NSF draft due date at month’s end; a book review for a major journal due next month; corrections to my Annual Faculty Report, also due yesterday; advising undergraduates for registration next week – which is now; prepping for a brand new large lecture class next semester; and oh, yeah, I have no idea what I am making for dinner.
I think I will start the search for who I really am, or who I thought I was before becoming this person I am. I think I lost her somewhere between cooking dinner, putting the laundry away and spending time getting to know all the complexities that are my children and how they are growing and changing and learning.
And a few last things: Those three journal articles that I cannot seem to finish…I am not doing them today or tomorrow. I still need to go to the doctor, the therapist, the dentist and the gym. And the funny thing is that on my way to this week, my phone hit the concrete hard and broke, completely dysfunctional. I have not been swamped with all that is my mobile-centered life for a few days. I wonder, if the phone hitting the floor and breaking was the beginning of my becoming whole?