On trying not to lose sight of pursuits well-loved

I’m going through a dry spell right now: books sit next to my bed, unopened, and my ebook readers are chock full of titles I’ve planned to get to for weeks. I stop by the library at school daily, cast longing looks at the neatly-arranged displays, sneak peaks inside the covers of titles waiting to be processed, and move on my way.

As you can see, it’s not that I’m stuck without anything to read: something else has gotten in the way. This happens from time to time, mostly when work sneaks up on me so heavily that my brain is too full to step away for a bit, to get some respite amongst the pages where I know I really need to be. When I’m overwhelmed with life, it’s easy to forget that reading offers me beauty and relief from the stresses in the outer world.

I’m starting to find my way back in. Last week, Madeleine L’Engle taught me that “A book, too, can be a star, ‘explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,’ a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe” (Newberry Acceptance Speech, p. 245, Square Fish paperback edition).

Somehow, last week I managed to make time for Madeleine in a moment between things. I’ve read A Wrinkle in Time at least three times in my life now, and the first two times left me underwhelmed. I have a sense that I vehemently disliked it as a child; I tried it again in my twenties and still didn’t get it. I saw the previews for the new film and thought I should try again. I haven’t seen the movie yet (come on, spring break), but it seems to me that if someone loved this book so much that they envisioned something that looks so spectacular, then I must be missing something.

I tried again. This time, I get it. I can see it now more clearly and moved seamlessly through the tesseract with Meg and Charles Wallace and Calvin O’Keefe. I adored Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which.

And it helped. I expanded my universe and my imagination in a moment when I didn’t think I could, and things became better.

Last month, author George Saunders came to town as part of his book tour for the paperback release of Lincoln in the BardoWhen that book came out more than a year ago, I couldn’t put it down. It’s set over the course of one night in a cemetery, and I stayed up well past my bedtime – in the comfort of my own bed, of course – sobbing through the pages.

The author event wasn’t quite what I expected – these things usually being sessions in which the author talks for a bit, then reads from their work – but it was far better. Saunders didn’t read from the book at all, but talked about his creative process and the two-decade-journey to create the book. I’d forgotten so much of the story, but hearing him talk about it, it all came back and I found I wanted more. Happily, there’s an audiobook featuring more than 160 people’s voices (including a few famous people) – and it is sublime.

This weekend, while driving to and from a distant family event, I listened to most of it and felt better. And sad. (It’s a sad story, and yet…not.)

Slowly, very slowly, it feels like things are turning around. Perhaps it’s that Mock Trial season has ended and we’re reaching the final two months of school. Maybe my impending spring break – and the warmer spring weather – are putting my mind at ease. I like to think Madeleine and George have been more than a little helpful in inspiring me to think about the world anew again.

Sometimes, in these craziest times of the year, it’s easy to lose sight of the things I love most, and oh-so-nice to get a glimpse of where I love to be. Those are the moments that help propel me on to get around the next corner and to the place where I can dive into a new set of pages.


The Long Twinge of Grief of the Left-Behind

In his novel Paper Towns, author-historian-vlogger-nerdfighter-extraordinaire John Green writes that “It is so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.”

Well, it is. But it isn’t.

I “left academia” nearly seven years ago, and even though I’m incredibly happy with where I landed, I think there will always be that twinge that pops up every-so-often, that wistful longing of “if only I could have made it.”eastman_johnson_-_the_girl_i_left_behind_me_-_smithsonian

I’m not always very good with staying up on Twitter, but about two weeks ago I caught Erin Bartram’s post on leaving academia the day she tweeted about it. In “The Sublimated Grief of the Left Behind,” she writes eloquently and passionately about her decision to leave academia, to not pursue another round of the academic job market, and the grief, of course, that comes with that.

I nodded as I read it. I’ve been there. A bit differently, of course, but I’ve been there, and I have felt that.

Continue reading “The Long Twinge of Grief of the Left-Behind”

Learning St. Louis

Note: want to write with us? See this post and apply by March 10!

The bus bumped slowly through the sprawling shopping complex, squeezing past rows of cars and pausing as shoppers sped in front of its path to get on with their shopping. We kept going, past the Trader Joe’s and World Market, even beyond Total Wine and More. We reached the back of the parking lot, just before an intersection with a small industrial road. We were looking for a plaque, our guide told us, but all we could see was the trash dumpster.

It took a moment, but we finally saw it: there, away from the bustling shops, right next to the dumpster, in a place no one ever goes. “Commemorating Evans Howard Place, 1907 to 1997, By the City of Brentwood”.


If it hadn’t been for this trip, the first of several mini tours of St. Louis I’m taking this year through the Cultural Competency program at my workplace this year, I would have never noticed this. I don’t shop at the Brentwood Promenade often, but it’s a well-known spot for St. Louisans. I didn’t know, but I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that it stands on what was once an African-American community of more than 800.

Continue reading “Learning St. Louis”

Writers Wanted

Copy of smart womenSmart Women Write is a blogging platform by and for cerebral self-identifying women and non-binary writers engaging with the creative process. We are seeking to add another blogger to our team.

Our current fields of expertise are in history, digital humanities, public humanities, translation, gender studies, and education. While our current authors hold terminal degrees in their fields, this is not a requirement. We are looking for writers who can help diversify our offerings in the following fields, which you should define broadly: reportage, creative writing, digital media creation, technical writing, editing, and publishing.

Bloggers each contribute a monthly blog post of no more than 1,000 words and share in the management of our social media. Our blog posts address the various types of writing we do, work-life balance, reflections on the creative process, self-care for writers, how-to guides, and current events explored through a writer’s lens.Smart Women Write began in August 2016 as a labor of love; it’s an inclusive and affirming space where we can write and explore ideas. At this time, the site is not monetized and the blogging team does not receive any financial remuneration.

To apply, please send a cover letter and 2-3 writing samples (pdfs or links if online)  to smartwomenwrite@gmail.com by March 10. In your letter, include your fields of interest/expertise, some ideas for blog posts you would like to write, and links to your social media (we are not checking for numbers of followers, but would like to see the ways in which you engage with the world). We will contact successful applicants for informal skype interviews by the end of March.  Before applying, please familiarize yourself with our tone at www.smartwomenwrite.com and @SmartWomenWrite on Twitter.  

Applications from women or non-binary writers who are disabled, queer, undocumented, and/or of color are especially encouraged. We are also open to submissions from writers outside of the US.

The End of Time, and Regeneration

Acc Syllabus

The new year is barely underway, but one major part of my life this school year is about to come to a close: my 20th century world history course.

I teach on a trimester system, so technically the course won’t end until around Valentine’s Day, but we finished content this last week because the students wrap things up with a major documentary project. I entered the new years prepping lessons for a final week of topics, and now I’m finalizing a final exam they’ll take on Thursday and Friday. After that, they piece together a documentary they’ve spent all year working on, and before we know it, we’ll all be done.

Continue reading “The End of Time, and Regeneration”

Teaching Apartheid

Five months later, I think of South Africa often, but nothing took me back to South Africa like this past week.

My 20th Century World History Accelerated (aka honors) students are studying nationalism and decolonization in these weeks before winter break. Mostly, the unit gives them a general narrative thread (in their homework) along with a few case studies (in class). I’d really love a full term on any one of the case studies we have, but this gets them started and exposes them to some history they’ve never thought about.

As a case study, South Africa is an interesting starting point, since it’s not about independence from European power (as they see in India or Congo). Independence from the apartheid regime is certainly key, though, as is nationalism. While apartheid South Africa looks different than many other places we could examine, it’s a powerful case study any way you look at it.

I also think that the story of resistance to apartheid, and the ways in which the South African people have tried to move forward, is one that connects well to recent publicity around police brutality and Black Lives Matter in the US. The story of Hector Pieterson, in particular, connects well to the topic of state intervention against peaceful protests.

In this post, I’ll take you through how I taught apartheid (and the end of it) in South Africa this year in one 90-minute session. Below, I talk about how I revamped the class this year and my goals with the new approach, the way I framed the class, what I’d do differently, and offer the resources that helped me make this class.

Continue reading “Teaching Apartheid”

Holiday Quick Hits

We’re taking advantage of the holiday to have a brief break this week, but there are plenty of great posts to read in the Smart Women Write archives while we’re away!

Looking for something to read this holiday season? Bryna’s Post-Ac Reading List isn’t just for those who have left (or are leaving or thinking of leaving) academia behind.

Conference season is also nearly here! If conferencing is in your future – whether you’re presenting, sitting in the audience, job seeking, or hiring – Angela’s Networking Guide is a must-read (and must-share)

Some of us also spend our holidays at the movie theatre. Justice League just came out, so maybe it’s a good time to revisit Tanya’s early summer post Waiting for Wonder Woman.