I’m going to be a WAHM. What does that even mean?

Today on Slate, my editor Dan Kois has a thoughtful, revealing and multifaceted piece that expands upon the veritable shit-storm of critique he faced when he admitted on air (during the legendary Mom and Dad Are Fighting podcast with Allison Benedikt, where I get all of my parenting advice) that he harbors a “secret disdain” for stay-at-home parents. Of course, his feelings were not as simple as that. (I’d recommend a full read of the piece, or you can just jump down into the comments and have a shit-fit like most Slate commenters do; that’d be fine too).

Anyway, my precious 38 years of passively observing the “mommy wars” are over. Simply by lugging this 9,000-pound fetus around for a few more months and then (all deities willing) shoving her out into the world, I will be a “mommy wars” soldier, and that shit’s going to be weird. Because first of all, where do I even fit on this spectrum? (And does this singular post now make me a “mommy blogger”?)

Once I finish my November columns at Slate I’m going on a reduced publication schedule, and I’ve been shedding dissertation clients since October. Beginning in about a week and a half, I will be on self-sanctioned, unpaid “maternity leave,” end unknown (I am, even as things dwindle, already going a tad stir-crazy. Today I cleaned my apartment unprovoked; I even spent 45 minutes outside raking leaves in my Delicate Condition.)

Since I am a full-time freelancer, I “get” to stop working whenever I want, for however long I want — provided that I can support myself financially, of course. But that’s just the thing. Since I’ve been living in St. Louis for nearing on the last two years, the staggering affordability of the area — and the fact that until I got pregnant, I worked three jobs — has enabled me to sock away some savings, for precisely the purpose of self-funding my “maternity leave.” That, combined with the incredibly fortuitous fortune (redundant!) of selling a book to a major publisher last week, means that so long as I continue to live my cheap lifestyle, I can support myself and half the baby for at least the first few months of her life.

Of course, I’ve also got a book to finish now (and it is, indeed, Book Tunnel Vision City around here until she comes), so even if I keep publishing columns at a reduced frequency and don’t go back to dissertation coaching, fairly soon after the baby arrives I will be going back to work. It’s just that I won’t be going anywhere when I do.

I will, provided that fortune continues to smile upon me amidst all of my failures, work largely from home for the rest of my working days. The disadvantages of this are many: If my husband ever leaves his current job, we will have to pay for our own health insurance, which for a family of three will be pretty substantial; I have to pay quarterly taxes and I NEVER get the amount right because I am an IDIOT, but I’m scared to hire an accountant, though now that I’ve sold this book I probably should — anyone know a good accountant? I also get no sick days and no vacation; every single day I miss of work with my clients is a day I either have to discount them for or make up; this “maternity leave” is the first time off I have had in over a year — I did not even take Christmas off last year; I spent it writing this book review for Slate, and on and on and on.

But the advantages outweigh the perils considerably: My work is flexible and it can be done in spurts — if all I’ve got is two hours between 11 and 1 a.m., that’s when the writing gets done; I have no boss; I can sexually harass my “officemate” as much as I please; I can wear whatever I want to the “office”; I can take naps or clean the house between appointments (as I have done this week); I get to claim our second bedroom as my workspace on our taxes (though that will change once the little fucker is here). I love working from home — in fact, I’d even go so far as to say that once you start working from home, it’s PRETTY TOUGH to go back to any other way — especially if, like me, you don’t really like being around peers, which I don’t. My mom keeps asking me disapprovingly if I’ve made any friends at prenatal yoga yet, as part of her long-game harping on me for being a loner, and I answer her EVERY TIME that no, I am a loner, and very much prefer it that way, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy hanging around with my own kid because people generally do, but I have absolutely no need or desire to take up with some sort of St. Louis mommy group (also, am I even allowed to? See below).

Which brings me back to my original point: How can I even know what sort of “mommy group” will have me if I don’t even know what the fuck kind of “mommy” will I be? I’m taking a few months off from all work but the book manuscript, and I will be our daughter’s primary caregiver while my husband continues teaching. So, since I’ll be at home, parenting, I’m a SAHM, am I not? And yet, I am a professional writer who is, and will continue to be, remunerated for the writing that I file to the various outlets that publish me; I support myself fully with this money, and writing is work — so I’m a WM, am I not? What do I get? Secret disdain from my beloved Dan Kois, or open disdain from the SAHMs who run the “hip mamas” St. Louis Meetup, which is openly unwelcoming to parents who work? Whose ire am I supposed to be provoking, and what cause should be the recipient of my pitchfork? SOMEONE TELL ME PLS.


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Hey, Kids! Leave Those (Older) Teachers Alone!

Today on Slate, I offer a rebuttal of sorts to the recent super-viral Chronicle op-ed by recently-retired professor Laurie Fendrich, which implores scholars of a certain age to “retire already!” so that there will be room for younger PhDs, and that students will get a more current perspective. I was once, in my (comparative) youth and considerable naïveté, of the Boomer-blamer school of thought — but then I thought about it harder for four seconds, and realized that pitting age against youth will do nothing to fix anything. Indeed, I realized, if anything, administrations are rubbing their hands together gleefully every time someone calls for their “most expensive” faculty to GTFO, so that they can be replaced by disposable adjuncts.

Actually, a lot about the “retire already!” mentality upsets me, and I think some of it has to do with the fact that both of my parents are Boomers, and although both are indeed “retired” from their primary occupations of sorts, they continue to be more productive than I am. My mother, 68, enters in, runs and then wins her age division in half-marathons without training. My father, 70, rides a “century” on his bike almost every week. My mother just published, at 67, her first academic book, and her scholarship — a very long time coming, but worth the wait — has been so well-received it’s brought her to conferences all the damn way across the ocean. My father’s retirement from the bench has meant that the University of Oregon Law School finally gets him back into the classroom, where he may be aghast at the amount of texting and off-task laptop use, but he will be as magisterial in his teachings about the Oregon constitution as he has ever been — more so, probably, since he now has twelve years on the bench to draw from. My parents are not doddering. My parents are not irrelevant. My parents and their colleagues do not deserve to be bullied.

Yes, granted, many in their generation have fucked things up royally. They grew up with every possible advantage of the New Deal and then, when they had reaped everything they needed to reap, voted to take it away from the rest of us. That shit was fucked up. (FWIW my parents did not do that!) Is it fair that they have pensions and we won’t? Is it fair that they could pay their own way through college on minimum-wage jobs and we [oh ha ha ha ha ha I can't even finish that sentence because I'm sobbing so much]. Is it fair that many in their number are the self-same New-Deal-reaping a-holes who have decided to “run universities like businesses”? No — but of all the Boomers to get pissed off at, Boomer professors, often the Pinkest of the Pink, are not the problem.

Back during the three weeks I was an in-demand young academic (when I had been awarded the ACLS fellowship and was being courted by several institutions at once), I chose a particular R1 in the flyover (and dumped Columbia! Yes, I dumped Columbia) because they told me they were having “four retirements!” and that, nudge-nudge, winkety-wink, I of course knew what that meant. I very stupidly believed that these “retirements” would carve out another tenure line, and that that tenure line would be for me, since they seemed to like me so much already. So I packed my life up, and within two weeks of being there, as most of the faculty introduced me as “our ACLS fellow who will be here for a year” (the fellowship was for two, so they didn’t even want me for the whole duration they wanted me!), it was apparent that even if they got a new tenure line, it certainly wouldn’t be for me (“We need someone from Princeton!” insisted a senior faculty who shall remain nameless). I would, of course, I was told condescendingly, be welcome to apply. But I didn’t even have time to feel disappointed (in myself, for allowing myself to believe what was clearly a set of lies), because guess what? Those four retirements did not mean jack squat. As far as I know, all four retirees have retired, and to this day there has not been an open search for a junior faculty member.

Anyway, blah blah blah! Here’s a taste of the article; read more here.

The final arguments from Fendrich—and the boomer-blamers who agree with her—are that old professors cost universities too much money, with their pensions and benefits and whatnot, and that they are clinging to their jobs out of sheer self-interest, thus directly preventing recent Ph.D.s like me from entering the field in full-time jobs. Listen. Even if the alleged “wave” of boomer retirements—promised to every generation of Ph.D.s since Foreigner topped the charts—were to actually happen, guess what? It would do jack squat to fix the dire situation in which American higher education finds itself. It would probably even make things worse. So as a “young” person whose very academic career was allegedly thwarted by all these selfish coots, I implore you: Leave the coots alone.

MERRY JOB MARKET MISERY-SPIRAL SEASON! Now interview some adjuncts.

Today I have a new article on Vitae, in which I give a gentle, balanced, citation-packed critical eye to some of the longest-standing reasons for snubbing long-term contingent faculty on the job search. Just kidding, I rip them to shreds (with a bonus AbFab reference, sweetie darling). Here’s a taste:

Myth No. 2: Someone in a long-term contingent position has a dissertation, research topic, or methods that are “stale.”

Hmm. But what about that senior faculty member—lets call him O RLY—who defended his dissertation in 1985, published his first and only monograph for tenure in 1991, and has written but a smattering of book reviews since? Why do departments feel the need to base of their few tenure-track openings on the abject need for some voguish “turn” that will be ancient history in three years? “Fresh,” by definition, goes “stale.” Quickly.

Every single person on a search committee is also by definition “stale,” simply because they have been working for an institution long enough to be on a search committee. Having this kind of double standard for job candidates is not only counter to the department’s best interests, it is also fashion victimhood at its most ridiculous (all right, second-most ridiculous).

I hope my ex-boyfriends enjoy reading about themselves, and my in-laws enjoy reading about all the guys I did it with before I got married (for the second time)

PM announcement

There are a lot of people who deserve my undying gratitude for bringing this moment into the world. But you’ll all have to wait until I compose the book’s extremely witty acknowledgements to experience the full extent of just how thankful I am.

For now, this preliminary list of names that by no means encompasses all the people I owe: Amy Boutell, Dan Kois, David Haglund, Colin Dickerman, and the incomparable and spectacular Alia Hanna Habib.

Thank you.

I Leave You People Alone for One Week: A Higher-Ed Bullshit Roundup

For the past few (many?) days, I’ve been taking a reprieve from being worked into a tizzy about higher-ed issues. Some of the reasons for this are sad — as you’ll see below, we had a death in our family — and others are just run-of-the-mill pregnancy related, and others still are pretty good, but largely personal stuff I want to keep to myself (it’s amazing, two months Facebook-free, how quickly the concept of “keeping things to myself” returned to my repertoire, and how pleasurable it is to do so).

At any rate, I took a minor hiatus from my perch as Her Pissed-Offedness – and during that time a complete and utter perfect storm of bullshit came deluging down upon us all. I don’t even know where to begin with all of it, so I’ll just start at random.

Story 1: Education Professor writes hugely viral Time article with the thesis that college tuition is too high because of instructional costs, and that “sages on stage” are too “removed” intellectually from students to teach effectively—ergo, all college courses should be taught remotely, for free or peanuts, by fellow students or recent grads who got an “A” in the course. I realize that this asshole is just trolling the world and it’s useless to even respond, but come on.

Okay. Just for “fun.” Let’s unpack the many, many eye-fork-pokingly stupid parts of this “argument” (which, by the way, leads me to believed that perhaps at that particular School of Ed, the professors aren’t too intellectually “removed” from your average freshman dipshit).

FIrst of all, the idea that tuition is too expensive because of instructional costs. Complete and utter bullshit; everyone knows tuition is too expensive because of state disinvestment, and then many rungs down the ladder comes all the rock walls and lazy rivers and puppy massages during finals or whatever, and the absurdly top-heavy administrations. Saying that tuition is too high because of instructional pay is exactly the same as saying that the Gap is too expensive because they pay their workers too much. The Gap is too expensive because they jack prices sky-high in the name of “luxury.”

Second of all, an Ed professor should be the last person to claim that some undergrad who got an “A” is equipped to teach his fellow young wo/man. There was just a huge exposé about how ed-schools are the grade-inflateyest racket of them all. But the rest of us are not much better, and aside from a few tenured hard-ass holdouts, we know this. These days, getting an “A” in a class means that you have sort of “mastered” enough of the material to fulfill all of the “requirements” on the 95-page syllabus, and/or that the professor just doesn’t want to deal with your parents’ lawsuit later. Even a great student who really deserved her “A” will still not be intellectually ready to teach the material. LIke, even the best students are susceptible to the great game of Instructional Telephone, where we spend 45 minutes talking about Dante’s circles of Hell and I make ONE Kardashian joke five minutes before the end of class and they walk away being like, “Hell is for the Kardashians,” and then five degrees of Telephone later, the “students” are no longer reading Dante at all, but just listening to Taylor Swift and talking about their moms.

I guess I agree that this particular PhD who wrote this particular dumb-ass article shouldn’t be anywhere near students, so that’s something.

Story 2: Self-congratulatory tenure-track preener writes obsequious, tone-deaf viral op-ed in Chronicle of Higher Education about how if only the rest of us were “young and prolific” like him, we’d succeed like him. Being taken quite seriously by the scores of equally-preening comments.

Guess what, you smug little fuck? I don’t usually bring the full Schuman down upon randos with no power, but by trolling all of us “bitter-grapes” failures, you are straight-up asking for it, so here goes: I was more prolific than you in graduate school. I published in better journals than you did, I presented at fancier conferences than you did (including a 45-minute invited colloquium in Austria), and I am savvy enough not to think a book chapter matters for shit, and I had an actual research-based monograph coming out with a good university press (still do!), and I did my PhD in five years (which included a year abroad where I had to do research and create output in a language other than English), and. IT. DIDN’T. MEAN. SHIT. Because. You. Got. Lucky. You. Fucker. (And you went on the easiest Humanities market there is.) But, sure, go to sleep every night in a fluffy nest of your own self-satisfaction. You still live in Kearney, Nebraska, so the joke is really on you.

Story 3: Florida college president forbids faculty from speaking to student newspaper about their labor dispute; insists “faculty hours and pay have no effect on students.” *sets room on fire*


These stories don’t seem related (other than that they are all by or about assholes), but they are, because each perpetuates a very harmful lie about the state of higher ed today, and all the lies are interconnected.*

Behold: there is nothing wrong with the current system of academic labor (Story 2) because the “best” candidates win out—in fact, if there’s anything wrong with academic labor (Story 1), it’s that professors are, indeed, paid too much for doing a bad job. And, for that matter, what professors are paid or their working conditions shouldn’t matter to students anyway (Story 3), which of course enables the argument of Story 1 in the first place—meanwhile, as long as obsequious Story 2’s are out there denigrating the narratives of people on the wrong side of the labor continuum, those narratives will continue to be dismissed as the “whining” of “bitter grapes” failures.

This is why—even though it comes at the risk of what little job security they have—it is more crucial than ever that the marginalized voices of higher ed speak up, and loudly.

Because the real common thread all three stories have is that all three of their higher-ed visions hurt students tremendously: If students are taught by their fellow idiots, college courses become the world’s least-fun game of Telephone (annoying enough in the humanities; actually deadly in the sciences); if adjuncts and other “failures” continue to be marginalized and ignored, the students taught by them will continue to be underserved.

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming of me eking out the last two excruciatingly shitty episodes of Gilmore Girls while I knit tiny hats — I’ve made it this far, and I feel like I owe it to the baby to finish what I started.

(*Also, capitalism. Shit-tons of bootstrappy malarkey. Also, BOOTSTRAPY MALARKEY is a great band name for a fusion Irish folk/American folk band, called it.)