In the Midwestern state where I live, autumn blew in last week, unexpectedly after what we thought were endless warm days. For those of us who teach, autumn arrived a long time ago, in late August or September, regardless of the weather, in the moment we stepped back into the classroom.
All 3 members of Smart Women Write participated in #WomensMarch across the U.S. We’ve joined together to recap our experiences here to tell the story of 3 Americas that aren’t in the Northeast.
I am not good at being kind to myself. For more than two decades, I have been a self-starter, a highly motivated individual with often singular focus on a certain goal. I am very good at getting things done, and have been ever since high school. Time management comes easy; I have a strong, innate sense of time and how it will flow through my fingers once I set my mind to a task. It is not foolproof, but I am good.
This is handy for many points in life. Grad school, writing a book manuscript, reading tons of books each year, managing motherhood and career, teaching high school – everything I do relies on my ability to get things done.
The election of the new president of the United States was the inglorious epilogue in the global spread of regressive, dangerous ideology. To the smart women who write, it feels like a very clear confirmation that something beautiful and important in the soul of not just the nation, but the world, has died.
Without consciously having orchestrated it, each of us (Tanya, Bryna, and Angela) wrote about living and writing and working with this stark confirmation fresh in our hearts these past few weeks. If you read all three posts together, they look a little bit like the disjointed phases of grief.
Early November usually looms with promise for me. At school, we end our first term with a lovely three-day weekend (for grading, admittedly) and the promise of a new term chock-full of exciting topics and the bonus of time to rest and plan ahead during the holiday breaks. This year, I was more excited than ever. I was confident that after all the stress of the election cycle, things were going to turn out well. I was certain that Hillary was going to win the election and become our first female president.
This past week flashed me back two years to another November. Continue reading ““Children will listen””
“Mom, I want to be Elsa!”
It’s been about two months since my son first told me that he knew exactly what he wanted to be for Halloween. At first, I thought it was just a passing phase. He’s three, after all, and in August I didn’t expect him to be so sure of what he’d want to be for Halloween.
But week after week, it’s stayed the same: “Mom, I want to be Elsa!”
At first, I just laughed or told him, “Okay, let’s think about it.”
I wasn’t about to tell him no outright. I can’t do that: if I believe that girls can dress as anything they want to (superheroes, ninja turtles, you name it), then why should I tell my son he can’t dress as anything he wants?
Right now, my three-year-old son is really into magic. Sometimes he’s a witch, donning his $3 Target bargain witch hat and pointing my old Harry Potter magic wand at me. At other moments, he goes full-on Elsa, because Frozen is alive and well in this household. With his imagination, storytelling seems effortless. He can evoke a mood in a moment, switching gears so quickly from one scene to the next. He has never written a real word in his life, but he’s very good at making things up as he goes along.
I like to think he gets his wild imagination from me. Some of my earliest memories involve playing Heidi with my friend, usually as we listened along to the storybook-on-tape. We took turns being Heidi and Clara, and the most important scene to re-enact was the one where Clara falls on the mountaintop and there’s no way to get her back to her wheelchair. This was the dramatic climax, folks, and I was the boss. I made sure that we performed that scene exactly the way I envisioned it in my head, and my son clearly has the same intentions with his own daily play. Continue reading “No Spells for This”
I’ve spent most of my life with Ray Bradbury’s voice in my head, as told by my dad.** Years ago, my Dad met the author, who told him “Write 500 words every day.” It’s part of that short-story-a-week idea he’s better known for – at that pace, you’ll have a short story in a week.
I hear the 500-word mantra in my head nearly every day; it’s following the rule that’s been most difficult outside of graduate school. Then, 500 words a day was easy. All I had was time to read and write. Not any more. In the past five years, I can show you every excuse in the book about why I never wrote. At first, it just wasn’t a priority. I was intellectually exhausted after six years of graduate school and the emotional challenges of the job market. Switching gears to high school teaching brought new challenges, mostly in relation to time. My days became more structured; my nights (and weekends) full of grading and lesson plans and just getting through that first year. Pregnancy and motherhood in the second year and after shifted my life in ways I had sort of imagined, but couldn’t fully prepare for. Continue reading “To Learn the Trick*”
Let’s start with the basics:
I’m Tanya Roth, and I completed my PhD in American history at Washington University in St. Louis in 2011. My research specialty is women in the Cold War military. These days, I teach at an independent K-12 school in the St. Louis area, and I really love it. (There’s not much opportunity to talk about military women in the Cold War, but my background does come in handy.)
I still struggle to call myself a writer, even after spending years blogging and writing a dissertation, a novel draft, short stories, and now, the manuscript for my book. I was a reader first, and my love of writing came from that. I grew up in a house filled with books, a tradition I maintain in my home office where I write. (I don’t keep count any more because they just seem to multiply daily.) Once I became a history teacher, I turned my classroom into overflow shelving, which seems appropriate since classrooms are great places for history books.
For more than five years now, I’ve been helping high school students discover the more fascinating parts of American and world history. I also love helping my students learn to write well; teaching writing is one of the best things I get to do as a history teacher. I’m head over heels for my career, and I’ve had the privilege to work with amazing students. When I started working on my book this year, I discovered that this experience has also made me a better writer. As a teacher, you think all the time about how to make things accessible – but this is always a work in progress..
I’m also a little taken with my family, which includes my husband (a geotechnical engineer), my three-year-old son (he’s still working on what he wants to be when he grows up), and my dog (he thinks he’ll be human when he grows up, but we did name him Sirius, so we deserve it). They’re all important, and as it turns out, they play a not-so-insignificant role in navigating my writing life these days. Right now, writing is hard to do when the school year is full swing and I’m running ten directions from activity to activity.
But at the same time, I’m eager to write more than lesson plans. For about a year now, I’ve been diving back into the writing life, learning how to balance teaching, family, and writing. I’ve got a long way to go, but my biggest accomplishment so far has included a first draft of my book, which makes me pretty happy.
At the moment, the book is tentatively titled Flirting with Equality: American Women in the Cold War Military. In it, I uncover all the contradictions and complexities of women’s military service from the end of World War II through the 1980s. For a moment after World War II, it looked like American women might become the nation’s next best military weapon. It didn’t quite turn out that way, but when Congress passed legislation to put women permanently into the military starting in 1948, they set the stage for exactly the types of debates we see today about women’s proper roles in national defense. Even more than that, my work shows how ideas about what women’s place in society, politics, and the workforce have changed in the past seventy-five years.
Next up: find an agent, and keep writing all kinds of things, from nonfiction to short stories to personal essays. I have a few ideas under my hat that I’m ready to pull out. I’d like to explore some historical fiction and draft some personal essays. Now that I’m further along with the book, I plan to write a few articles. At the moment, I’m also feeling pretty inspired by Ray Bradbury’s advice to write a short story every week, which may turn into my new goal. Follow along here to find out!