Friday, September 14, 2018

Unsolicited Grad School Advice (From Someone Who's in Denial that She Ever Left Grad School)

In the four months since I graduated my Masters program, I have done some reflecting on the madness that is graduate school--this reflection is nothing new, but given that I have appreciated the advice I received from (much wiser) mentors and former grad students, I thought I would give some unsolicited advice about surviving 2-3 years of intense research, teaching, and academia-navigation.

Because while a lot has changed since May, my obsession with lists is not one of them.

This will be a lengthy post--I would apologize, but I've done enough apologizing for a while. So instead, I'll just say you have been forewarned.

1) You have a lot to learn.

There seems to be this expectation among incoming graduate students (myself included) that they should know everything prior to beginning their program. I can certainly see where this expectation comes from--we are frequently told that we have been selected for a highly competitive position, so please don't fuck it up, and that there will always be someone who is better and someone who is worse than us.

And this is all true.

However, professors have been in academia longer than we have (duh), and they have already uncovered the secret that we don't know everything--nor should we. In fact, one positive thing about continuing our education is that we have the opportunity to keep learning in a formal academic setting. We have the wonderful opportunity to learn from our mentors, professors, colleagues, and, on occasion, students.

Yes, you can learn from your students. 18 year olds have wisdom too (also keep in mind that not every college student is a traditional one!).

2) Priorities shift.

I went into my program with ubiquitous feedback that I was a theory person, so I was all "guess I'm a theory person now" (I was also once a formalist/new critic, so people change). When I began my program, I had never formally taught before, so a tremendous amount of my mental energy went into teaching freshman composition. I had a bit of an existential crisis in which I wondered if I had been a pedagogy person all along and was just fooling myself. Family members essentially asked me if I had forgotten that I was also a student. I would just laugh it off, and go, "no, loudly complaining that freshmen in college still don't understand rhetoric is actually my true calling!"

(In reality, I truly adore teaching. But sometimes one just needs some good old-fashioned seething sarcasm).

During my second year, however, I had teaching CO150 on lock (minus a pesky plagiarism case that lasted two months), and was able to devote my mental energy to research and unhealthy obsessions with every YouTuber and feminist theory ever.

Why my colleagues still speak to me, I will never know.

Basically, you will never be able to devote as much energy as you would like to to both research and teaching--but those priorities can ebb and flow, as can your feelings about higher education (but, unlike me, you should probably not make your frustration with academia known to anyone who will listen. This will come back to bite you.).

3) Lean on your mentors...

They are there to help you. They know things you don't. They are cleverly disguised superheroes who seem to lack a need for sleep and vacations.

4)...But not too much.

They are also exceptionally busy humans who have their own research interests and lives. While working with graduate students can be rewarding and fulfilling and whatnot, it is also a giant time suck because we have a tendency to be just a tad needy and obsessive. Respect their boundaries--they've set those up to keep both you and themselves sane. And don't be afraid to let them know how much you appreciate their help--it can be difficult to know when you've made an impact, so any sign of recognition can be hugely helpful.

Also, even if you do not get along with certain professors, be very careful about what you say about them. These programs are small, and any sign of shit-talking will get around. We are all adults who should forego the whole gossip and bad-mouthing stage of our lives.

5) Don't suck up to people for professional leverage.

Academia has its fair share of game-playing, ego-stroking moments. It also has its fair share of smart humans who can see through the "strategic friendship-making." It doesn't take long for professors and seasoned grad students to grow irritated with this game. I have been on both sides of this kind of sucking up and am not fond of the results of either side.

As a first-year in particular, even if you can read people well, there is a chance your initial impressions of the cohort will be wrong. You may think you know who the leaders are, only to find out the people you initially snubbed are powerful forces in the program.

As it turns out, sometimes those leaders can hold a grudge when burned. We can't always be emblems of maturity and grace.

It's in everyone's best interest to be civil to everyone around you--except when faced with someone who's trying to tear you down. Then it's in everyone's best interest to ignore them.

6) Supportive cohorts are best cohorts.

Support and let yourself be supported by your cohort members, even if you're not best friends. Talk to your colleagues who are different from you. Recognize that not everyone can be fully immersed in the program due to external pressures and obligations. Ask your colleagues questions. Learn from them. Challenge the liberal, elitist bubble that is the ivory tower and check your competitive streak--chances are, it's not as cute as you think it is. It's also not the only way to survive in academia.

And always, always remember to recognize and appreciate your friends and family outside of academia. Let them bring you back to the ground when you're floating on your academic high horse.

7) Challenge academic norms, and do the research that you want to do.

There will always be normalized, academic ways to get the publications or the recognition at the conferences. That kind of recognition fades. You, however, will be tasked with 2+ years of intense research about a very niche thing. If you research something because you think it will win you recognition/reward, you will burn out very quickly.

Even if you initially get some weird looks, do the research that excites you. Chances are there is some academic somewhere that also finds your research exciting.

And remember that academic research manifests itself in so many different ways. The formal, written research paper isn't the only way to do things. Just as the competitive streak isn't cute, neither is technological illiteracy. Take advantage of academia's resources and learn something like audio or video production (this is also helpful for the inevitable job search).

8) Don't get obsessed with academic stardom.

This is a "do as I say, not as I do" moment. It can be enticing to get sucked into the positive feedback and shiny awards. Academia frequently rewards the obsessive academics who are married to their career. Usually those academics (somewhat) easily claw their way to a PhD, and, if they're persistent and lucky, a tenure track job. But--what is the cliché?--the higher you climb, the harder you fall when you exit the intellectual cocoon of academia.

And that inevitable crash can be nearly fatal.

This is a bit of a sore spot for me, and I'm sure at some point I'll write about mental health implications in academia, but it's also worth mentioning that it is a good idea to prioritize self-care and free therapy sessions on campus.

Also, failure isn't necessarily a bad thing--resisting that failure can just make the impending crash worse.

As I'm still a relatively recent graduate, I'm sure I have a lot more to learn--as do all of us.




Monday, September 3, 2018

Living and Dying on the Internet: A Review

When I found out that Alex Day had written a “tell-all” book, I was suspicious. Then curious. I was torn as to whether or not I wanted to financially support an alleged abuser--forget that I’d been financially supporting him by watching his videos four years after the YouTube abuse scandal broke.

For those of you that aren’t like me, and don’t obsess over online figures you’ve never met, you may require some background information about all this. Back in 2014, a scandal broke out in which women were coming forward to discuss being abused, manipulated, and assaulted by powerful male YouTubers. Alex Day, a popular British musician whose fame originated from a series called “Alex Reads Twilight” quickly became the face of the scandal. He was dropped by most companies he collaborated with, disappeared from the Internet for 6 months, and came back as a rebranded minimalist/yogi (as one does). Since then, he has started a new “Alex Reads Twilight” series as part of an agreement with viewers who support his Patreon page, and has continued producing music, and, most recently, a book.


This is a review of that book. 

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51EIOQF6ZdL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

I found myself in a precarious position when I sat down to read this, and not just because I was on a plane. Because I am a person in the world, I have a pesky habit of being biased. And that particular bias came in the form of liking Alex Day. I wanted to believe him. I wanted to trust him. I wanted him to be a matured, reflective, thoughtful human being because I thought he was funny and smart and wanted to continue watching his videos.

Sounds a bit like a partner in denial, doesn’t it?

Alex Day was an influential figure in my life, as he introduced me to the world of YouTube. He inspired me to write. He seemed to have it all figured it out as he gained followers, as his music career took flight, and through it all, he never seemed to take life too seriously. As a result of Alex Day’s charm and my own naivté, I defended him. I defended him in 2014, and was ready to do it again.

Was. But we’ll get to that.

I have many things to say about this book, so I first wanted to address Day’s work on a technical level. His writing is charming and personable. Alex Day, while clearly a more talented and passionate musician than writer, has a knack for connecting with his audience. He tells a story in a captivating--albeit semi-disorganized--manner. It’s enough to pull you in and want to finish the book. As a fellow writer, I recognize what a tough mission that can be to accomplish. If Alex Day’s ultimate goal is to sell his book, he has done that with tremendous success.

However. When looking at this book rhetorically, it’s tough to identify some key points. For starters, I, and the writer himself, fail to pinpoint his target audience. Alex Day refers to the “players” in the scandal so casually, it almost seems that the reader requires some prior knowledge of the YouTube community to fully appreciate this book. There was little to no background information about Day’s more influential girlfriends, and Day refers to his former best friend, Charlie McDonnell, as though he’s a mutual friend. This type of rhetoric makes sense, given that I would probably have no interest in such a book, had I not felt invested in the community. Yet throughout the book, Day makes lazy, half-hearted attempts to pull in the older generation by explaining platforms like Facebook and Snapchat in what feels like a condescending power play.

This leads me to question, who the hell is this guy’s editor? And why didn’t he ever think to say, “you might want to identify a target audience”?

Day continues this trend by beginning the book positioning himself as an abuser--or at least an asshole who felt remorse after the fact--only to make a complete 180 halfway through and self-identify as a victim. The turn here is so abrupt, it would make even the most malleable of audiences ask questions.

Those questions could be answered by a reflective section of the book. As Day seems obsessed with recounting the past and defending his personhood through his artistic success and external validation, I was waiting for the chapter that expressed reflection, internal growth, and atonement. That chapter never seemed to make its way into the book, which seems a huge oversight on both the writer and his team. There are hints of remorse, in which Day makes statements like “I wasn’t acting out of kindness. I was acting out of fear. I wasn’t a sex addict. I wasn’t incapable of monogamy. I was just a fucking dick” and “the benefit of accepting you’re the cause of all your problems is that you alone can solve them without waiting on anyone else” (192, 193). This seems a little late for the first real signs of atonement, but it lends itself well to further reflection. Instead, Day goes on to recount further past events and push a victim narrative, leaving the impression that he was fed appetizing lines that would garner financial success and self-gratification.

This persistent contradiction points to another rhetorical issue: Day’s purpose in writing this book is not clear, in that he’s trying to do too much for too many people. At first glance, it seems that Day is trying to make amends for his abuse; at other times, he is trying to defend himself and assert his side of the story. Rather than build trust, Day snatches away a clear narrative that a well-defined reader can hold onto.

It’s possible that Day thinks the second half of his book is full of internal growth and reflection--that reflection, however, is represented by external evidence of support. Day seems to thrive on the kindness and validation of others. We all do, to a certain extent, but the “dangerous abuser” identity that Day so deeply resents seems to stem from the fact that he deems external support as demonstrative of his wholesomeness:

Across all platforms, and against all odds, with me being hated more than ever and accused of more heinous crimes than I’d ever been before, [my] video got over three million views in one week and became my most-viewed video ever….For the first time in my life, my name was in print in a physical thing that was endorsed by a third party--and it was among good-natured, wholesome articles about being kind and compassionate, to boot. (287, 288)

Day’s easily digestible identity hinges on his impulsive, creative spirit, but it is clear that he is also analytically-minded and holds great value in statistical evidence of success. That’s necessary for the success of an online persona, but less so when said persona is trying to win back the support of those he’s burned, either directly or tangentially.

As the book progresses, Day seems to further spiral down the victim narrative--yet this victimization turns aggressive as he confronts the #MeToo movement. This is the exact moment in which Day lost me, both as an engaged reader, and a subscriber: “the MeToo movement has been outstanding overall, but it also carries a lot of collateral damage, like when a controversial article about the comedian Aziz Ansari added him to the world’s no-fly zone by detailing what amounted to a pushy date” (302).

There is a lot to unpack here, and I will try to do so without flying into a fit of rage. The fact that Day uses the words “collateral damage” to refer to the victims of the #MeToo movement speaks volumes about his own perceptions of himself. I won’t go into the nuances of the Aziz Ansari case, but that is rendered irrelevant by the fact that Day’s reference to a “pushy date” includes an implied “mere” before it.

I will lay this out very plainly: you do not have to be a rapist to make a woman feel uncomfortable. Entitlement, pushiness, and control over another person are NEVER okay, regardless of one’s particular circumstances. The fact that pushy dates are normalized in our culture does NOT mean those who push against patriarchal notions of romance are too sensitive, unjustified, or not worth being listened to. It means that change is happening. And people like Alex Day are being challenged for the first time in their professional and personal lives.

Day’s response to this pushback is exactly what makes him so dangerous. His explanation of trigger warnings that follows the #MeToo reference is hostile, grossly exaggerated, and heinous--each word confirms my suspicion that Day is unable to feel empathy for anyone. Not only is this lack of empathy problematic for him as a person, but it is problematic for him as an artist who is “so not mainstream” (which, of course, is why he’s publishing a click-baity book like all those “idiotically mainstream” YouTubers), and it will continue to bite him in the ass if he wants any kind of lasting relationship with his audience.

Ironically, Day points out that “the mark of a good person lies in that person’s capacity to apologise for what they’ve done, take responsibility for their actions and make sure they learn from the pain they’ve caused in order to make sure they never do anything like it again” (220). This is all true and sounds lovely on a page, but Day’s Trumpian references to his “haters who spent the last few years calling [Day] abusive” indicate that he has learned none other than marketing his own narrative to a freshly captivated audience.

In stating, “I want to make art that’s better than I am,” Alex Day ultimately makes a choice (313)--he is so afraid of being creatively stifled, that he sacrifices the help he is so clearly crying out for in order to maintain his professional and artistic identity. Maybe Day recognizes that choice, and is fine with it. Maybe this book is one giant “gotcha” moment for the sake of publicity. We can speculate and theorize all we want, but in doing so, we are giving Day exactly what he wants. Our energy goes into the motivations of an abuser who is not interested in receiving the help he needs. Instead, our focus needs to be on the victims. We owe it to them not to separate the art from the artist. We owe it to them to refuse to look away when abuse occurs right in front of us. We owe it to the victims to fight back against and call out dangerously drunk-on-power figures like Alex Day.

Friday, August 17, 2018

When Your Anxiety Isn't You, and Other Obvious Revelations

A few days ago, I conferenced with a student who was preparing to take the ACT. She scribbled furiously in her planner, requested to schedule tutoring sessions 5 days a week, and told me she would breathe after the test was over. It took everything in me not to hold a counseling session with her right then and there. But I later realized that holding an emergency therapy session wouldn't do much good, as I was in the exact same position as her.

When asked if I want to have students that remind me of me, I usually say "no that would be horrible! My office hours would be packed, and I'd be berated with essay drafts and constant requests for reassurance." I love learning from students who know how to enjoy life, how to live in the moment--except when said moment leads to poorly executed essays. That I could do without. But with this girl, I felt tremendous compassion and drive to show her that maybe relaxing and getting help at 17 would prevent a nervous breakdown at 25.

Because nothing says "good teacher" quite like projecting your own shit onto your students.

The thing about anxiety is that it's sneaky. Unlike an eating disorder, which is, y'know, clearly bad, anxiety lends itself to efficiency, discipline, and organization. Many of us anxious types are graduate students in the making, thriving in a culture driven by intense desire to please and claw one's way to the top. Yet these positive qualities, when left unchecked, can be overshadowed by panic attacks, obsessive tendencies, and irrational thought.

So that's fun.

As it has been well-documented, I am a millennial stereotype, so my "check yourself" moment was incentivized by a breakup. It hadn't really hit me until that moment that my mental health issues were turning me into a bit of a terrible person, and that I should maybe examine that further. To further stereotype myself, I read a book called "You Are a Badass" (which is true), and deemed myself totally cured of all anxious thoughts forever and ever (which is not). I was on such an empowerment high, that I started doing all the things: I bought a "single and thriving" table (apparently furniture stores are very popular post-breakup venues). I took pole dancing classes. I asked out a guy I liked. I decided that I would finally be good at things like cooking and fixing household items. Ask me how many times I've made a dish from the symbolic "life is different now" cookbook I bought.

For the first week of this empowerment high, I felt totally unstoppable, despite others' repeated attempts to stop me. As it turns out though, feminism is still a necessity due to people's highly volatile reaction to strong, confident women who also happen to look like they're 18 years old, but that's a story for another time.*

The thing about highs, however, is that they are bound to end (why this took me 25 years to figure out, I still don't know). I saw the anxious thoughts start to creep in, and grew irritated that it was getting in the way of my master plan to be okay. I watched myself get irrational and weird. It felt as though I were another person, watching myself crumble under the stress of a negative work situation and ten thousand life events that were happening all at once. Those pesky panic attacks were getting in the way of my female empowerment, damnit, and I was not going to let that happen.

When this out-of-body experience happens, it's almost easier to get help--rather than feel like I have to change the very core of my being, I'm just trying to rid myself of this pesky fear that I will be a homeless bum if I stop doing everything, or that everyone I care about has surely died in a car crash. The American health care system hasn't made it easier to get help however, which further blocks out people who feel like they're spiraling and don't know where to start.

While part of me is oversharing because I'm me and that's what I do, the other part is thinking about that student that I conferenced with. It can be very easy to write off getting help when you're conquering the world and thinking more logically because maybe, just maybe, things aren't so bad. You may know every possible way to take care of yourself, but you can't self-care a certain brain chemistry away.

The mental health stigma is very real and very ingrained in people who make it their sole purpose to be "just fine." But it is way harder to come to terms with the fact that you waited until your body was like "hey, we're kind of freaking out here" than to feel awkward and judged in a therapist's lobby. Sometimes therapy isn't available for those who don't fall into a privileged elite class (what is a blog post without a little political commentary, right?), but sometimes it's a matter of preventing lasting health consequences.

*There are, obviously, more pressing needs for feminism like abuse and intersectional issues, but women hating other women is a product of misogyny, and should be examined as a feminist issue.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Hired Education: Career Advice from Someone who Doesn't Know What She's Doing

I have only been a Masters graduate for about a month now, but I began that soul-sucking, hair-tearing, and other-cliché-causing process of job searching since March. It made the emotional roller coaster of grad school seem like nothing--in any given week, I went from excited, to nervous, to despairing, to hopeful, to hopeless, to eating a tub of ice cream. I was so sure I wouldn't find a job remotely related to my field, I applied and interviewed for a vet assistant job at an animal hospital I'm pretty sure was a "forced positivity" cult.

Others told me, "you will find a job. Trust me, you will." I did not trust them. Instead, I looked up things such as "how to be homeless," and "should I sell my soul to the sciences?" But today, I'm going to show up in your Internet-space uninvited to tell you why you should trust those people who are saying those things, as well as give you some unsolicited advice about landing said job.

Because nothing says "obnoxious blogger" quite like a list, am I right?

1) Start early.
This is essentially my mantra for everything in life, but it's especially important in regards to the job search. I didn't start looking at job postings until I was actively applying. When I looked at the CSU administrative jobs page, I realized that while the job descriptions fit my career goals nicely, I was missing a lot of the preferred (and sometimes required) skill sets. Had I looked at the jobs page a semester or year earlier, I could have started building those skills. Granted, you never know what jobs will be available at the time of your search, but I've noticed that many of the administrative jobs I applied to required similar skills and experiences.

I will say, however, that I started making connections early, and that is a hugely important step, even if it doesn't land you a job right away. For instance, having gained a preliminary interest in instructional design, I met with an instructional designer early on to discuss career options. She appreciated being able to help a fellow Rhet/Comper, and, almost poetically, that job opened up a month before graduation.

2) Don't despair: ditch the "worst case scenario" mindset.
I have a habit of conjuring up the worst possible outcomes in my mind (not the aforementioned "how to be homeless" Google search). But you will drive yourself mad if you maintain this idea that your degree and life amounted to nothing, and you might as well live in a cave.

I once received advice from a professor who said that "when you're feeling worthless, look at your life as a data set. Take your life experiences and résumé as evidence that counters the hypothesis that you're not good enough." Then he went on to tell me I wasn't good enough, but that's beside the point.

You have a degree. You have unique qualities and experiences that you can bring to a job. And if your dream job committee doesn't hire you, someone else will. It just takes time. Which brings me to my next point.

3) Be patient (and do not, for the love of everything good in this world, compare with your colleagues).
It's easy to deem the academic calendar as the norm. Things happen far in advance in academia--I knew that I would be heading to grad school in August by the start of April. But even if you're applying to academic jobs, the timeline is much tighter (and can also change).

I applied for a teaching job at CSU in February, and got rejected in May. Then, just yesterday, something changed, and I was offered some sections. I remember, after applying to 30+ jobs, despairing that I wasn't even getting interviews, only to get interviews two months later. Recognize that hiring committees have hundreds of applications to wade through, and just because you aren't hearing anything within two weeks, doesn't mean you're automatically rejected.

It also means that just because your colleague was offered a full-time job before you, that doesn't mean you will never get a full-time job for as long as you live.

4) In order to have a realistic timeline, keep a spreadsheet.

As much as I'm obsessed with organization, it's not in my nature to keep a spreadsheet. But once my partner was all, "hey, you should probably keep a spreadsheet," it changed my life completely. I had a visual representation of when I applied, when I should follow up, and what my follow up status was. I was able to create a system in which I would follow up after two weeks so I wouldn't have to play any guessing games.


5) Be prepared--but not too prepared.
This is a tricky one. I don't need to tell people who go on for advanced degrees to be prepared--for many of us, research is more akin to an obsession than an obligation. When I started interviewing, I had a tendency to be over-prepared, for fear of freezing up during a question (especially during phone interviews, which are quite possibly the most dreadful experience ever). What I realized, though, is that by getting to the interview stage, I had already established that I was qualified and knowledgable. What the committee wants to know is if you are a person that could see themselves working with. I initially had an air of desperation and "yes ma'am, no ma'am." It's not cute in dating, and it's no more successful in job interviews.

When I interviewed for the job I eventually accepted, I was so exhausted, I thought, "I'll just go for it and be myself." I still prepared, but left room for me to just...talk. I made jokes, talked about this blog, and called my former supervisor a superhero. I was, like, a person in the world with a personality. And apparently that worked in my favor. 

And, always remember that this too shall pass. 


Breaking Up With Yoga

So I'm not exactly breaking up with yoga per se--more like casually seeing. I still try to do yoga at least 3 times a week (often with my favorite yogi YouTubers Adriene and Kassandra), but I'm taking a little break from capital-y "YOGA." I've been doing this for a while now, but only now have I gotten comfortable in distancing myself from an identity that was integral to this blog (it was, after all, the second necessity).

I have no qualms with the actual physical practice of yoga. As someone who suffers tremendously from anxiety disorder, I attribute yoga to my increased sense of calm, as well as my ability to make rational decisions and maintain a positive attitude. I have also struggled with disordered forms of eating and self-loathing for roughly 9 years, and yoga has taught me intuitive eating and self-care. It is a practice I hope to carry with me for the rest of my life.

But, for peace of mind and acceptance, I have to finally shed this "yogini" identity.

From the start of this blog, I struggled with feeling like I didn't quite fit in the yoga world. I reconciled this point by coming up with "Lipstick Yogi" trend, and deeming myself oh-so-clever. I had discussed feeling like an imposter, an outsider far more than interested anyone other than myself. I thought maybe there was something wrong with me, and that if I just drank a green smoothie or did sun salutations at 5am every day, I would be more "spiritual."

Only now can I propose that maybe there is something wrong with yoga.

In fall of 2015, I applied for a yoga teacher training based on the studio owner's suggestion that I do so. From day one of my yoga teacher training, I felt like something was off. I never clicked with the owner, and I felt expected to pour heaps of money into the studio because I was an active member there for so long. I got the sinking feeling that each lecture with the owner was an episode of "stars: they're just like us!". I was also expected to miss a week of college classes (something that was never mentioned when I registered for the training) to go to India and pay for the owner's meditation retreat because she just felt that "it was right." When I brought up my concerns with the owner, she gathered the teacher trainers together for a meditation practice and said "see, I did this for you."

While I was upset and confused about seeing a place that I loved and trusted as a manipulative business practice, enough time has passed for my bitterness to fade. However, this extreme wake-up call solidified some of my suspicions about yoga as a whole.

I understand that yoga studios are businesses, and have to make money to survive. But what I can't stand is that most studios are cleverly disguised as therapeutic safe-havens that have no interest in your money--that they are glorified parents, just interested in your well-being. I highly doubt I would have had to register for my studio owner's retreat, had that been the case. Being a holistic center that focuses on self-care is no excuse to not lay out a clear business plan that informs its customers just how much they will be paying, and why. Adding on costs and payments isn't a change in the winds, or an intuition about the well-being of a yogi. It's a scam.

One of the biggest lessons that yoga taught me is, paradoxically, what got me out of yoga. I should have trusted my intuition before walking into that teacher training, and I should have stood up to the owner when she engaged in practices I didn't trust. But I'm also thankful that I stayed as long as I did because it showed me that the studio lifestyle might not necessarily be for me, and I can do without the spiritual accessories of yoga.

So, in light of this change, I have decided to take this blog in a different direction. As yoga is no longer a primary necessity in my life, the original title feels outdated. So, for now, we'll call this "coffee, kitties, and corruption," as I'm a sucker for alliteration, adore coffee and cats, and cover issues of corruption in higher ed. It's not a perfect title, but it no longer feels like I'm trying to squeeze into an identity that no longer fits.

Hey 6 years into a blog, change is bound to happen.


Sunday, June 3, 2018

Academics Aren't on YouTube, and We Should Be

From day one as a graduate student, I shouted my love of YouTube from the rooftops. Given that YouTube as been a significant part of my life since 2011, I was ecstatic to apply an unhealthy obsession an interesting hobby to my scholarly endeavors. I recall, during our Rhet/Comp meet and greet, my professor had barely finished asking "so what do you want to study?" and I said, "YouTube. There's like, no scholarship on it, so there's definitely a gap in the literature!"

I was, as it often turns out, exceptionally wrong, as there is tons of scholarship on YouTube (see Lehua Ledbetter's work on rhetorics of identity in the beauty community and Samara Anarbaeva's article about identity on YouTube as a whole, for instance), so I was by no means forging a completely new path in academia (oh, what a foolish first-year I was!). I got an education on cyberfeminism, the slippery nature of identifying authenticity online, and digital manifestations of intersectional feminism. There was a consistent emphasis on the practical nature of academia--several scholars noted that in order to "do" cyberfeminism, we should venture outside of our scholarly bubbles, and engage with those in the digital world, translating our ideas into something accessible and digestable.

At first, this idea scared me. Many of my professors and colleagues assumed that, because I liked to study YouTube, I also created YouTube videos. While I did go through a "Jenna Marbles wannabe" phase my freshman year of college, for the most part, my insecurity about my face, voice, and intelligence kept me from creating content on the very platform I spent so much time analyzing.

Perhaps part of this fear stemmed from the observation that, despite encouraging digital engagement, very few scholars vlogged on YouTube. There are "highly academic" videos that viewers would have to actively seek out, but for the most part, daily vloggers and beauty gurus are separate from the scholarly community.

There are exceptions of course, as Lehua Ledbetter refers to her own insecurity about being "found out" as a beauty guru, and I have stumbled upon a student who recently got his PhD at Oxford and vlogged the experience:



Simon Clark in particular has gained quite a following, and has discussed moving into using YouTube to be a full-time science educator. This is the kind of digital engagement scholars call for, but both YouTubers here seem to exhibit a sense of shame in making these career/life choices. They'll say things like "I know this is weird, but..." or "as my channel grew, I felt an increasing sense of terror and anxiety that I would be "found out”—as an academic, as a feminist, someone who should know better than to participate in activities that seem fundamentally at odds with the professional identity that I had so carefully cultivated over the years. I was participating in discourses of consumerism, female gender performance, and appearance that did not align with my beliefs about who I should be as a woman of color, and liberal academic" (Ledbetter). There's almost this sense that YouTubers who also exist in the academy should pick one or the other, or that scholars can still be deemed serious "despite" their work on YouTube.

One of my primary goals as a grad student was to truly bridge that gap between scholarly and popular audiences. I felt tremendous guilt for not creating a YouTube video for my final project, so, a few weeks before graduation, I made this, and showed it to the entire Rhet/Comp cohort during final presentations:

I, like Lehua, felt a tad insecure for showcasing a quirky sense of humor I usually leave outside of school. I cringed at my makeup puns and watched with horror as the most scholarly of scholars wrinkled their eyebrows and looked exceptionally confused. But, I ultimately recognized that I had to get outside of my academic comfort zone to reach teen girls and send along the message that watching a beauty video isn't going to turn them into an anorexic Kardashian right then and there. And, as an added bonus, it encouraged me to reject stereotypes about what it means to study English, and to integrate wit and voice into my academic writing, thus further pushing the boundaries of what scholarship can and should look like.

It seems quite obvious that YouTube scholars should perhaps create content on YouTube, but I have rambled on about its benefits anyway. There are academic topics, however, that don't as obviously lend themselves to YouTube, and this is where scholars could break the mold even further.

Like a true academic, I'm going to elaborate on this point with a "call to action": I have been working on the Center for the Study of Academic Labor website, and have compiled resources for adjunct support and activism. In searching for sources, I investigated YouTube, hoping that there was an ex-adjunct (or even a brave current adjunct) who could tell her story in a vlog format. Outside of Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education, I couldn't find anything. In fact, the adjuncts who did identify themselves seemed to create soft, cushy content, saying things like "teachers talk about you!" but forgetting to mention the poverty wages, lack of benefits, and zero job security that come with the job.

(Vlogger name: Hannah McNeely)

Making content about adjunct exploitation can be tricky, especially given that speaking out against treatment of adjuncts can result in getting fired, threatened, or harassed. Most adjuncts aren't in a position to tell their stories, which I totally understand and respect. But maybe those who benefit from a tenure track position, or who quit academia, could stand in front of a camera and vlog about these very real issues that affect students and families alike.

I understand that many of us don't have the time or resources to devote a serious amount of energy to YouTube (although, many of the video production resources that are available to students are also available to faculty!). But it may be worth trying out a video or two and further bridging the gap on a platform that could very well erase some of the mystery and misunderstandings surrounding academia.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Identifying Goals, Or, I was an Insufferable Mess for Two Years

I have been a Masters graduate for roughly three weeks now, and, as I mentioned in my last post, have already been on a rollercoaster of emotions. This isn't a surprise to me--in the weeks and months leading up to graduation, I recognized that I would likely be an anxious mess (or, more so than I already am) upon foregoing my student identity. Losing a 24 year old identity can be scary for the reflective of sorts, so, like the true type 4 INFP that I am, I have taken to writing about it.

One of the hardest things about coming out of this intense 2-year period is realizing that I didn't get a lot of choice regarding where to focus my energy. While this is a common feeling for any student, I didn't realize the severity of this circumstance until like yesterday. College was demanding in its own right, but I had ample opportunity to explore professional, social, and personal identities. Having evolved into a less irritating, whiny, and narcissistic person by the time I got to graduate school, this kind of exploration was less necessary, but it was still an extreme transition to go from someone with two jobs, vastly different kinds of friendships, and interdisciplinary interests to either a comp teacher or a digital rhetoric scholar. That's it. Two hats.

Do you know how hard it is to mix and match with two measly hats?

My focus on these two identities was intense. I neglected essentially every social role I'd previously held while thinking, "yes, everything is fine, I'm juggling everything and have a life--look, I was in the mountains just 10 short months ago!" I insisted that I still had hobbies--like watching YouTube--only to realize that I'd maintained that hobby because, in the end, it was research. I had assumed that because I felt confident for the first time in my life, I didn't have any personal issues to work out. While I appreciated being able to fully immerse myself in my graduate program, it left me with a sense of loss and purposelessness immediately after coming out of it. Turns out, only feeling confident and worthwhile when you are pumping out research isn't exactly the healthiest thing.

I am feeling this sense of loss, and I'm still working on three academic projects. I can only imagine what will happen when I'm truly done.

It's easy to transfer a sense of worth from my job as a student to my job as an instructor/tutor. Professionally, I am still comfortably situated (okay, situated) in higher education. Despite the extreme irony in working on a website that discusses the dire nature of being an adjunct, only to face a very likely possibility of becoming an adjunct myself, I am in a place where I don't need to support a family and can continue to scrape by. I can still quantify my success, no matter what career I end up in. I am, quite honestly, a budding workaholic (hire me, plz!) and can pour my entire identity in my work. But maybe, after going through a jarring realization that there is little of myself left, maybe I don't want to.

The thing about working is that eventually you won't be (profound moments with Kira, everyone!). Whether that means during the summer, weekends, or retirement, there will be some moments in your life in which you have to get a grip of who you are outside of what you are paid to do. Yes, I was fortunate enough to apply my hobby to my scholarly work, but I can't just traipse around parties going, "have you considered the feminist implications of the beauty video lately?". I have a track record of going into brief moments of insanity during times that I'm not working--nothing big, just the usual nightly fear of getting robbed and murdered, and destroying the health of my body, mind, and all of my relationships. I'd rather not have to deal with these pesky depressive episodes every time I leave a job or take some time off.

I have had this desire to live authentically outside of work for a while now, but it wasn't until I visited with one of my best friends from high school that I fully grasped how to do that. A minor reality check was when she asked me, "so now that you're done with grad school, what kinds of hobbies will you revisit?", only for me to draw a blank. On a grander scale, however, we chatted like no time had passed, remembering the cringe-worthy stories that we posted for the other to read on Google Docs, our yoga adventures, and that time I accidentally encouraged a group of frat brothers to yell "tits out for the boys!". I articulated feeling 16 again, and recognizing that "student" wasn't a major facet of my identity at 16.

Feeling an itch to produce some form of writing, I was inspired by my friend's reference towards the fiction I wrote. Despite feeling irrationally terrified of creative writing (no mention of Judith Butler or phrases like "it is important to note that"? Madness!), I wrote some pages of a slightly-too-formulaic, slightly-too-autobiographical story. Hey, some habits are hard to break. But, at the very least, it's a habit I haven't been able to visit in 2+ years.

So, it's time to identify some more goals that have nothing to do with my professional or scholarly identity. If any of y'all have ideas for hobbies I could try or adventures I could embark on, feel free to share! And to those of you who are currently in grad school, take a weekend off, spend less time on an assignment than you might be inclined to, and remember your worth outside of your intellectual pursuits.

And in the spirit of reconnecting with the old,

Namaste.