September 15th, 2014

[cross-posted from the Literary Mama blog]

I am writing to announce that it is time for me to leave Literary Mama. Both my family life (caring both for my children and elderly parents) and work life (directing the Sustainable Arts Foundation with my husband) have grown much fuller these days and I no longer have the time I need or want to give to Literary Mama.

Literary Mama has given me a reliable structure, a supportive community, and a broad platform for my entire writing life as a mother: I started as an editorial assistant in Literary Reflections ten years ago, wrote a column for five years, and have now served as editor-in-chief for five years. Both of my books developed directly out of editorial conversations with contributors. It is hard for me to imagine life without Literary Mama as part of my days! I will miss the editorial staff and the broader LM network of readers and contributors profoundly, but I am looking forward to focusing more closely on fewer responsibilities.

Luckily, we have a deep editorial board, and women with the vision, energy, and commitment to lead LM. I have asked Katherine Barrett, Maria Scala, and Karna Converse to step up and I’m thrilled that they have agreed to serve in these positions: Maria will be LM’s new Editor-in-Chief, Karna will be the Managing Editor, and Katherine will define a new role as the site’s Publisher. They will maintain the same high standards Literary Mama has always been known for, and have plans for some great new improvements to the site. I am confident in their ability to lead LM, and am excited to see how the site will develop under their direction.

Thank you, readers and contributors, for your support over the years. Whether you’ve read an essay, shared a poem, or commented on a column: you are a key part of Literary Mama and you help make it the best writing community on the web. It’s been a privilege to lead the way these past five years, and I look forward to my new role as avid reader.

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Fifth Anniversary Update: Megan Pincus Kajitani

December 31st, 2013

“The other day I was at a theater in San Diego seeing a musical, and in the restroom during intermission I ran into a former colleague from the university career center where I’d worked as a counselor for graduate students after I left my doctoral program. As I described in my Mama, PhD essay, I had loved that job, but chose to leave it after having my first child and being denied a job-share (by a department head who denied job-shares across-the-board).

The colleague in the restroom was thrilled to see me (and I her), and she told me she couldn’t believe she had bumped into me, as they were currently (rather desperately) searching for someone to fill my old job! They had been through two people since I left. It was such a specialized job — counseling doctoral students — and hard to find some who, like me, was a good fit for it. She looked at me with expectant eyes.

“Still only full-timers in the department?” I asked. She made a face, and her shoulders slumped. “Yeahhh,” she said glumly. “Oh well!” I said, and smiled at her. “I hope someday they rethink that one. And I hope you find someone good; the grad students deserve it.” I gave her a hug, and went back to the show.

It only took a few minutes to think about the encounter afterwards (and marvel at the timing), to realize it was simply a validation that I am going in the right direction — which, for me, is not back toward academia. I have plenty of friends from my academic days now on the tenure track, or working as adjuncts, or “between jobs,” or in university staff jobs, and I wish them all well, and I honor their commitment to staying on their career paths within the academy.

For me, though, the flexibility and freedom and creativity I have as a work-at-home mom simply fits me better than even that job I loved. Since Mama, PhD, I’ve had a second child, we’ve had some health crises with our kids, and my husband and I decided to homeschool them, as well as launch our own online education businesses. It’s a full and busy life, and I’m pretty happy with it.

When I talk with my academic friends, I feel the familiar strain I remember in myself from being a research university doctoral student, and from counseling them for two years. I wish things were getting easier for them all, but I’m not sure I see much difference from out here at this point. They’re still struggling to find good, tenure-track jobs, to keep up with rigorous research and teaching demands, to negotiate for better salaries and benefits and childcare options on campus, to resist discrimination for their gender and/or color. There are, of course, many rewards of the academic life, but I must admit I still see a good deal of struggle as well.

As I launch into the world of online education myself (from outside of the academy), I hope for my academic sisters that the evolution toward more flexible, online courses in all levels of education creates more opportunities for them inside academia as well.

My mom, still a research university professor and currently the president of a large academic professional association, has spent her year’s presidency speaking on the platform that academia-as-its-been is changing quickly, and it’s important to see that as an opportunity, and to be a part of that change, rather than resist it. She talks about MOOCS and budgets, and a system that needs to change with the times. I can only hope that part of that change is that “Mama PhDs” have more options, and more opportunities to balance their priorities and achieve their multi-faceted goals.

Many things have changed for me personally in the five years since Mama, PhD was released, but too much has stayed the same in academia for women in particular. Seeing my former colleague in the theater restroom was a reminder of that for me. I hope all of us Mama PhDs (or not-quite-PhDs, or former PhD-seekers) keep pushing for more change, in a positive direction, from wherever we happen to be.”

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Fifth Anniversary Updates: Leslie Leyland Fields

December 23rd, 2013

In the last five years I’ve stepped out of academia mostly, but not entirely. I was teaching in an excellent MFA program but decided it was eroding too much of my own writing.I resigned two years ago. Since then I’ve kept my hand in teaching through writers-in-residencies and college and university visits and guest teaching. With more time, I’ve been able to publish three more books and a number of articles and essays. I am thoroughly enjoying my more flexible schedule, which has translated into more creativity. Not to mention—more time for baking bread, for going on hikes with my sons, for enjoying more of the Alaskan wilderness we live in.

For more information, visit Leslie’s website.

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Fifth Anniversary Update: Angelica Duran

December 17th, 2013

Husband-Sean and I have just entered the empty-nester stage, now that daughter-Jacqueline (Purdue B.A. In Linguistics with minors in English and Asian-American Studies, 2012) is happily married to Peter (Purdue B.S. Astronautical and Aeronautical Engineering, 2012) and happy mothering grandson-Patrick (b. 08/28/12); and son-Paul is set to enter Purdue Engineering in August 2013, where he will be the pianist in one of the university’s jazz bands.

I am amazed at the great strides women are making in higher education, despite the low turnover in tenured positions. I have felt supported in my going up the ranks: I was an Assistant Professor from 2000-2007, and am now an Associate Professor going up for full starting August 2013. I have indeed been offered many leadership opportunities in high administration. I took on being my university’s Director of Religious Studies (2009-13). While I am very pleased with the job I did and was asked to continue on in the position, my passion lies in researching and teaching, so I declined. This was a hard decision since I know one measure of professional success in the field is higher pay and visibility, both of which come with administrative jobs. But I need to follow my bliss. I mentor women and men alike but do note that female students well-populate my office hours, and that our conversations are devoted in some part to professionalization matters. I tend not to forecast, so I find it hard to write anything to answer “what would you like to see happen for women in higher ed in the next 5 years?” except to say that I hope for women what I hope for all, that they strive to live, teach, study, research, and conduct all the other aspects of their job with integrity, compassion, and freedom.

Fifth Anniversary Update: Sheila Squilante

December 9th, 2013

Here There Be Monsters and Mothers
By Sheila Squillante

In my essay, “Student/Body,” which appeared in Mama, PhD, I tell the story of how one of my business writing students suggested, upon hearing that my ultrasound revealed the sex of my child to be male, that we name him Beowulf. “Because, you know,” I remember him saying, “you’re a writer.”

We did not name our son after the hero of that epic poem, though he certainly grew as a heroic part of my imagination while he was gestating, and has grown to become an equally heroic part of the last eight years of my life as a mother.

In 2011, Dancing Girl Press published my first chapbook, A Woman Traces the Shoreline. Something between poetry and prose, it’s a lyric meditation on the experience—body and mind—of being pregnant for the first time. In it, I figure my unborn child—my son– as both the sea monster lurking just off the map edge of my known world, and as the alien lobbing potatoes (which I suppose symbolized the various, endless, sometimes humiliating and ridiculous physical travails of pregnancy) at me in the overly-strange rooms of my pregnancy dreams.

The book is tiny—more like a pamphlet in size—and it would take a reader something like five minutes to read all the way through, slowly.

But, like the Anglo-Saxon poem with its hero and its monster, it is also, at least to this mother, absolutely epic in scope. It is my whole body. The entirety of my mind, which includes my personality, my fears and foibles, neuroses, curiosities and all my joy which I had, until that moment, no idea would expand so hugely to accommodate the love for this vanquishing force inside me.

Thankfully, all 60 lbs of his second-grade self is outside of me now, as is his kindergartner-aged sister. I’ve written about her, too, though not in a lyric way, not with the nuance and ambiguity of poetry. Her infant battle with serious reflux and my own with the post-partum depression that accompanied her first year commanded the knife-edge clarity of prose. I carved my way through six months of near continual confusion and crying for us both in my essay, “Cry, Baby,” which was published in Literary Mama in 2010.

My body is a generative, heroic force and my children are the only delivered-whole ( and, yes, even holy)-to -the-blank-page works it has ever produced.

Sheila Squillante is the associate director of the MFA programs at Chatham University and assistant professor of English. She is the author of two chapbooks of poetry and a full-length manuscript due out with Tiny Hardcore Press in 2014. Her poems and essays have appeared in places like the Rumpus, Brevity, Barrelhouse, Quarterly West, Thrush Poetry Journal and Literary Mama. She is an associate editor for PANK Magazine and serving this year as editor-in-chief of The Fourth River, Chatham’s literary journal for nature and place-based writing.

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Five Years Out

December 6th, 2013

Mama, PhD turned five this summer and I had grand plans for a birthday celebration. I imagined a blog tour, visiting the blogs that reviewed the book five years ago; I solicited updates from all the book’s contributors, asking how life — inside academia and out — had changed for them since the book’s publication, and planned to publish them here.

But because the book is a quiet object that sits on my shelf, its birthday was superseded by the more clamorous, insistent demands and schedules of the people (and now kittens) living in my house.

Still, updates from contributors came steadily into my inbox all summer, and I’ll be publishing them over the next few weeks. For now, here’s mine. Tune in for more…

My essay for Mama, PhD, “The Bags I Carried,” began as a chronological list. Although I ultimately smoothed the piece out into a narrative, I still often think in terms of dates and milestones. Reflecting back on the last five years, I couldn’t help but think about what’s changed and what’s not.

2008: Mama, PhD is published, after three years of work.
2013: My second anthology, The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage, is published, after five years of work.

2008: kids in preschool and kindergarten
2013: kids in 3rd and 6th grade

2008: expecting I’ll get more work done when my kids are in school fulltime
2013: understanding that my kids take as much of my attention/consideration/thought as they take, even if they are not in the house as much

2008: six years since I’d been teaching in a classroom
2013: eleven years since I’ve been teaching in a classroom (and thus, more years not teaching than teaching)

2008: youngest child able to sound out his name in the dedication to Mama, PhD
2013: youngest child reads my essay for Cassoulet before publication and says, “It’s a good essay, Mama.” I can’t get a more meaningful review, but the book does inspire some nice ones.

2008: dinner table conversations with the kids about planets and space, interrupted by their loud bodily functions and subsequent giggling
2013: dinner table conversations with the kids about planets and space, interrupted by their loud bodily functions and subsequent giggling

2008: one co-edited anthology with a writer I met through Literary Mama
2013: a second co-edited anthology“ with a writer I met through Literary Mama

2008: wrote a column for Literary Mama about the challenge of continuing to make art after becoming a parent
2013: in the third year of working with my husband to support parent writers and artists through The Sustainable Arts Foundation

2008: “Congratulations on Mama, PhD! What are you working on for your next book?”
2013: “Congratulations on Cassoulet! What are you working on for your next book?”

Stay tuned, I say, stay tuned…

Fifth Anniversary!

July 30th, 2013

The fifth anniversary of the publication of Mama, PhD is today and we’ll be celebrating into the fall with posts from our original contributors, updating us on their lives in and out of academia today.

Please join the conversation in comments here and on our Facebook page.

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Offbeat Mama on Mama, PhD

May 8th, 2012

We love this recent post on Offbeat Mama, in which she compares Mama, PhD to a bible for academic women and writes, “Motherhood is, in a way, the most visceral and physical act of rebellion against academia that I have committed.”

Read the whole post here.

Mom’s Night Out!

April 6th, 2011

Join Caroline M. Grant, Samantha Parent Walravens, and Stacey Delo for a Moms’ Night Out this Mother’s Day week (why should it only last one day?).

What? A lively conversation about the struggle and juggle of motherhood today. Free and open to the public.

Where? Books Inc., 2251 Chestnut Street, San Francisco

When? Tuesday, May 3 at 7 p.m.

Who? Samantha is editor of the new anthology, Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career & the Conflict of Modern Motherhood; Caroline is co-editor of Mama, PhD: Women Write About Motherhood and Academic Life, and Stacey is a Wall Street Journal editor and founder of Discussion Divas

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Engineering Motherhood

October 4th, 2009

Jennifer Eyre White was another writer on our wish list. Elrena and I both loved her very funny Literary Mama column, Degrees of Freedom, and I had been lucky enough to meet her a few times and exchange work with her  in a small writing group. But we had to talk her into contributing, not because she was so busy (though she was) or because we couldn’t pay much for her contribution (though we couldn’t) but because she wasn’t sure her contribution would fit the book. Jennifer was a “non-traditional student,”a woman who tried five different high schools before finally dropping out at seventeen; “I spent most of my time,” she writes, “working for an ice-cream store, drinking beer, wearing trampy clothes, and making bad dating choices.”

But after a couple years of fairly mindless dead-end work, she decided she needed a change:

“It was then that I decided to become an electrical engineer, convinced it would be my ticket out of intellectual petrifaction. Choosing electrical engineering wasn’t a well-informed decision; in spite of having an engineer dad, I’d never actually figured out what engineers did. My dad didn’t talk about his job, and my own observation was that mostly what he did was tinker on his Corvettes. … I assumed that if I got an engineering degree, I too would learn the secrets of working on cars. I now know that this particular goal would have been better served by an auto-shop class.”

The goal might not have been expertly considered, but the journey certainly was, and Jennifer’s essay describes her careful route, via community college (where she met her husband), then a junior transfer to UCLA for her degree in electrical engineering, then a spreadsheet-organized plan to be a grad student mom:

“As I’d hoped, being a mother and a graduate student turned out to be a great combination. I had plenty of time with Riley, and enough time away. I did brain things, and I did mom things. If she was sick and I needed to be home with her, no one cared that I didn’t show up for class; I never had to call in sick or apologize for missing a big meeting. I didn’t have to hoard my vacation and sick days like a candy bar on a desert island. I didn’t have to worry whether my co-workers (or my boss) thought I was a flake. Later on, when I tried juggling an engineering career with one, then two, then three kids, I realized just how much harder it was to be a working mom than to be a student mom.”

Today, Jennifer writes, “Your email. . . made me want to tell you how writing my Mama PhD essay has affected me.  As you know I was a fighter plane and sports car groupie long before I became an engineer, and if I’d had a clue what I was doing I should have chosen to become a mechanical engineer rather than an electrical engineer (EE’s don’t take classes in stuff like aerodynamics since we’re too busy studying circuits and semiconductor physics and that sort of thing).

“Writing my essay for Mama PhD reminded me of my original love of overpowered machinery and it made me sad that I never learned about the stuff that interested me — so I recently registered for an online class in airfoil design. I’m happy to report that, unlike when I was in grad school in the mid 90’s, lots of excellent engineering schools have online grad-level courses now. This is great for people who work and also, of course, for moms!

“The only question is whether I can remember the prerequisite material fast enough to keep up. It’s slightly terrifying. Oh, and writing the essay also made me really want to go back to driving a ferocious sports car rather than a minivan.  Still working on that one.

Some time later, Jennifer sent me another update, demonstrating how flexible working student moms need to be: “I switched classes from Airfoil Theory to Dynamics because of a work conflict (well, not only did I switch classes, I switched colleges, since I needed a later start date).  I’m really excited. But I know I will be severely overwhelmed.”

Jennifer is one of several contributors to the book who do not hold PhDs — some of them are still working on the degree; some are deciding whether to finish it; some, like Jennifer, never wanted that particular degree, or needed it to pursue a career in their chosen field. But all their stories shed light on the challenges of combining motherhood and academic work, and we’re happy Jennifer’s story is in the book. And now we’ll look forward to seeing her airplane designs.

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