5 Freelancing Hacks That Will Improve Your Adjunct Life

https://www.flickr.com/photos/denisecarbonell/2099081714/sizes/m/
Flickr image courtesy denise carbonell

Friends have complimented my work boundaries. That is, my no-bullshit approach to getting everything done and committing the appropriate amount of personal resources to each of my projects so as to avoid burning out. I’m telling you, this has been a hard-won way to live, there have been stretches of years during which I ran hot at full speed + did burn myself out.

I want to share with you five things I learned as a freelance Editor and Writer that translate DIRECTLY into the world of adjunct professorship.

1. Money F*cking Matters

It is certainly my impulse–and I think a lot of adjuncts have this problem–to totally live, eat, sleep, and breathe the teaching. But for what I’m getting paid, I just can’t. You can’t either.

That is, you have to allocate a number of hours that means you have time to do all the other things. Pick a dollar amount that you need to make per hour, figure out how your adjunct pay breaks down into that figure, then WORK THAT NUMBER OF HOURS. Do what you have to do: set a timer, set up a standing appointment with your hair dresser, best friend, acupuncturist, mom, or yogi to get you away from the teaching space at the end of that time.

If you have multiple teaching gigs, and if you’re adjuncting you probably do, spend the most amount of time on the school that pays the best, even if students at the other schools are needier.

Look, if you sweat blood in service of these really wonderful jobs, and do it in exchange for too little cash (which is kind of an unfortunate truism about them), you’re going to resent it. You’re going to ultimately take it out on the students. Don’t do that. It’s not their fault. And you have an obligation to provide some value. Which brings me to number 2.

2. No Is Not a Dirty Word

Protect your mental, emotional, and physical health by saying no. You will have more energy for teaching. Maybe that means saying no to a third section of a class on a day you’re not already teaching. Your dean/chair will understand. They know what you get paid. Maybe you resist the temptation to give them supplemental readings that are SO INTERESTING! Maybe that means sending a student who is way, way behind in her writing skills to the University Tutoring Center instead of helping them word by word, even if you totally love to do that sort of thing. It definitely means saying no to students who think they need you to meet with them on a day on which you are not at their school. Be firm, and kind, and remind them of your office hours.

I am reminded of this wonderful thing by Elizabeth Gilbert.

For me, saying no to myself has been the hardest thing to learn (and I’m still learning). No, April, you may NOT make that deeply involved handout that will require hours of research, or hours of finding the perfect image. No, April, you may NOT spend an hour grading every paper. No, April, you may not make shit harder on yourself by doing grades on paper, even though you completely romanticize the grade book. Spreadsheets are good. The time you spend figuring out how to tell them to do your math for you is well spent. Which is a good segue to number 3.

3. It’s not cheating to use the internet to save time

This is what I mean: unless you are some kind of genius on the cutting edge of your field (and if you are, you’re probably not adjuncting or reading my blog), there’s already a handout or resource available for free on the internet about whatever you want to teach. Google it. Copy, Paste, Edit, Go!  There are loads of study and discussion guides available about everything. If you’re out of mental energy at the end of a super long day but you still have to plan the following day’s lesson, or if you’re teaching something you’re not 200% familiar with, Get Ye To Yonder Interwebs! I teach writing and reading, so I rob stuff from Purdue’s Online Writing Lab all the time. I always give them credit, right on the handout.

It’s not that I don’t know the stuff I’m teaching, it’s that it would take me a LONG LONG time to write, revise, obsess, and create the perfect thing, which I WANT to do, but which is energy I need to use doing something else that pays better.

If you worry about losing credibility with your students, don’t. Your students won’t notice. And if they do, you are modeling information literacy. And that, friends, is an unbelievably useful skill.

4. But Sometimes, You Gotta Work for Free

I don’t mean in exchange for publicity or some other nonsense proposed to you by a person in a more advantageous situation than yourself. I mean, in adjuncting (and in freelancing), there’s a certain amount of stuff you have to just be willing to donate your time doing, but here’s my rule: don’t donate time unless it’s a new or more impressive line on your CV. That is, only work for free if the payoff is a direct, personal advantage that will allow you to advance your career.

Here are some possibilities in adjuncting:

1. Writing Syllabi. I am lucky to be in a school where I am barely supervised in the development of my courses, and developing syllabi from scratch is a rockin’ thing on the CV of a person whose University teaching experience could be described as “1-3 years.” I write them between semesters and do not calculate that time into my above-referenced hourly wage.

2. Advising Undergradutes. Some of my colleagues advise students. I would advise students for free, because a) it is fun, and b) it can be done during office hours in which one often hears the whistling of the wind against the prairie.

3. Advising a club–this is not exactly free labor because Adjuncts are often offered some extra cash or, if they’re lucky enough to be visiting or 3/4 time or full-time temporary (or whatever your school calls it), they may be offered an exchange of some sort: advising a club means you teach one fewer sections, but get the same money. But advising a club is heavy lifting (probably more hours than teaching, at least in the beginning). And while the joyous part of it is that you work with high-achieving, super-involved students, the disadvantage is it probably means some evening and weekend work, and going out of your comfort zone to write a grant or manage a budget or interact with school bureaucracy, all things that may come with a time-intensive learning curve.

5. If you hate the job, you don’t have to keep doing it.

All you need to be an adjunct is a master’s degree and a pulse. There are other gigs, and no university expects adjuncts to be long-term employees. That means many of the rules that apply to other jobs do not apply to adjuncting: you get no credit for showing up early and staying late. You get no benefits. You do not get a living wage. Therefore, do not feel strange loyalty to the institution that let you break into the field. Do not worry about personality conflicts (like, for example, if your dean or supervisor hates you cos you have breasts or just doesn’t get your communication style), do not worry about disappointing your boss, even if you adore her (or more likely him). Use a bad experience as a stepping stone to get into a better situation, and for chrissakes learn from it.

Maybe you don’t teach for a semester while you look, and maybe you fall into a better gig, or a full time job in another field, or the perfect school for you. But you do not, not, not stay teaching in an adjunct situation that diminishes you personally, professionally, or creatively. There is absolutely no advantage to that for anyone.

Fin

Do not misunderstand. I am not advocating being a shitty adjunct professor. I am advocating being a damn good adjunct professor while honoring your personal boundaries + the boundaries of your tiny paycheck. Do the best you can for your students, but be realistic. Do not do more than you can. Even if you want to. It’s not sustainable.

Take some of the excess (if you’ve got it) you’d like to devote to your delightful, eager, remarkable students whose energy is an eternal well of encouragement and joy, and funnel it toward this cause: make your experience public. Advocate for adjuncts, for labor, for aid to our broken, fucked up, awful, unfair economic system in this gorgeous land of opportunity.

That is all. Sending love.

In Response To Haughty Posts About What Food Servers Wish You Knew -or- 4 Important Things About Tipping

From Flickr user torbakhopper
From Flickr user torbakhopper

My current money-getting gig is as a food server at a brew pub. I generally LOVE my job. I am energized by hanging out with people, I am witty and friendly so I often get laughs + big tips, and it’s fast, fast money which leaves me lots of room and time for writing, grad school, running, and being a momma + lady friend.

Do I want to do this job for the rest of forever? No. But I am glad it’s a skill I have. I like to say, “It’s the closest thing there is to having a money tree.” Need cash? Pick up a shift. Usually around $100 in your pocket.

But it is hard work. It’s hard physically and intellectually and emotionally. Sometimes, people are jerks. You have to be nice anyway. Always you have to hold at least eight things in your mind at once. It is not a job that just anyone can do. Sometimes, after busy weekends, it hurts your body, especially when you’re not 22 anymore. Ha.

People I don’t know are constantly touching me. People ask dumb questions about my tattoos. Men look at parts of me that have nothing to do with their hamburger (uh, no. Not a euphemism.). People tell me how much they want to do x artistic thing if I happen to mention I’m a writer, because they ask. I do not volunteer information about myself as a general rule, or unless I’m making fun of myself. For example, on Sunday morning, I told a table I could see was good-natured + full of humor that, “I usually go home and cry after brunch.” They laughed.

But whenever I read things like “Servers Not Servants: 31 Things Your Waiter Wishes You Knew”, I go through this cycle. First I’m all, “Oooh. Yeah!” And I get all fist-pumpey and self-rightous. Then, I go to work, and I start to notice how frequently people interrupt me when I’m talking to them, in the middle of answers to questions that they asked me. And I get annoyed and I stop liking my job.

Then I start to notice all the other bullshit from the article (or some other like it), and I get really super pissed.

Last night, I had a sharp headache that pain medicine (ibuprofen, acetaminophen) wouldn’t touch. I just wanted to be asleep in a dark room. But I was at work because I had to be. Because I need money. Because with jobs like waiting tables, you don’t get paid if you don’t go.

My first three tables were people who pretended to be jokey and fun, but continually interrupted me and acted like rude jerks. Two out of the three tables weren’t good tippers. I felt grumpy and annoyed while I waited on them, these are feelings I do not normally experience toward my tables. I have to wonder now if their poor tips were a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Even in the midst of the dang headache, I realized that I was being poisoned by the article. So I had to make a conscious choice to return to my blissed out state of legitimately enjoying “helping people.” Ha. Semantics.

I play little games with myself to make the job fun + to not allow it to become sucky and dehumanizing the way restaurant gigs can do. I never tell tables my name unless they ask me. If they care enough to ask, they will likely use my name. If I tell them, and they call me Miss or Ma’am instead, it pisses me off. The first thing I generally say to tables is, “What may I bring you folks to drink?” or “Do you know what you would like to drink?” I don’t have an introductory spiel because more often than not, people don’t listen (even if they don’t interrupt), and it pisses me off to repeat the special and the soup after I’ve already said it, minutes before, to people who *seemed* to be listening.

Here’s the thing, I don’t care if you hate where we put you and ask to move eighteen times. I don’t care if you claim you’re in a hurry and then tell me you’re ready to order when clearly you haven’t actually looked at the menu because you ask me what I suggest, what it comes with, what ingredients are in it.

I don’t care if you change your order after your friend goes because what she got sounds better than what you picked.

I don’t care if I recite the soups six times at a table.

I don’t care if you ask me the same question three times expecting a different answer.

I don’t care if you want separate checks.

These things are par for the course, the territory, hazards of the work I do.

I don’t care if you interrupt me. I expect you to. We are transacting. We are not friends.

It is my job to make you believe that we are friends, even though we are not. Maybe this is shallow, but it’s another self-protective measure. Serving is performing. And it is serving. I have the answers to your questions. I know how the food is prepared. I am  your link to the kitchen, the manager, the hosts, etc. I want to get you fed and on your way as quickly and as happily as possible so that someone else can have your table.

Sure, it’s nice if you tell me when I take your order that you’ll want some mayo, mustard, A1, and a side of ranch, honey mustard, and Italian. But if you don’t, and if you ask me for those sauces and condiments and I make 85 trips to the kitchen, that’s cool. It’s what I’m there for.

It’s nice if everyone could order a mid-meal glass of water all at once, instead of folks ordering one-at-a-time. But you know what? Whenever one person asks for water, I make eye contact with every person at the table and cheerfully, as if I haven’t a care in the entire world, say, “Would you like a water, too?” This has proven an effective strategy + it makes me efficient. But if everyone else declines, then someone asks me the second I return with the first guy’s water, the other water goes lower on my priority list. Like, if I get around to it. And when shit like that happens, I recognize I may be forfeiting a portion of my tip. But sometimes, to paraphrase a Six Feet Under character to whom I was once compared, my humanity rises up.

It is my job to know and do all this stuff. To do whatever I have to do in my own head so that I can be pleasant and make your dining experience a good one.

What I’m saying is you go ahead an be as obnoxious as you want to be.

Mainly, what I care about is that you pay me for my service. I forget about every awful way you were if you leave me a nice tip.

20% of your check is minimum. I have a house, kid, partner, and car, just like you. I forfeit my nights and weekends so you can enjoy your time off. If you are unwilling to part with $8 to $30 of your dollars for the privilege of table service on date night, then don’t go out to eat.

It’s absolutely true that food servers make no money per hour. Every money we get paid by our employer (I am on the clock for $3/hour) is eaten up by our obligation to Uncle Sam (from our tips), and many of us have to pay in to our employers to satisfy our tax burden at the end of the year. Sometimes hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Food servers have expenses like every other professional (yes, professional): waiting tables is hard on shoes and clothes. I replace my sneakers at least once a year and I cannot buy the cheap ones. I ruin T-shirts like nobody’s business. My work pants all smell like grease.

At the end of my shift, I am obliged to tip out a percentage of my sales to the people in the restaurant who help me do my job to your satisfaction. Bartenders, hosts, bussers, etc. If I get bad tips all night, my obligation to those other people does not change. I often tip out 30% of my tips. Sometimes more.

I rely on the people I wait on for my entire income.

If I do a good job, tip me 20%. If I do a great job, tip me 25-30%. If I suck, you don’t have to tip me, but remember that everybody has a bad day sometimes. Would you like it if you didn’t get paid on days you felt like garbage at work?

Here are a few little thinking points:

1) If you get a discount, tip on the amount before the discount, and never assume the gratuity is included (ask if you can’t tell, we are HAPPY to answer that question).

2) If you buy merchandise from your server, tip on the total amount of your check, not the total less merchandise. That merchandise is still in her sales, and she still tips out on it, even if you don’t think of a T-shirt, mug, or bottle of salad dressing as a tippable item.  Your server brought it to your table, right? You can usually make a second transaction at a bar or gift shop or with a host if you don’t care to tip on merch.

3) Tip your food server as you would your favorite person in all of the land. Even if she isn’t.

4) Your server didn’t make the food. If you hate your dinner, tell your server, she will do everything she can to get you something you won’t hate. Ask to speak with a manager if you want, provide constructive feedback (what was wrong with your food specifically. “I don’t like it.” is not helpful), and still tip your server well.

That is all.

#YesAllWomen: How The Interwebs Blew My Mind + Cracked Me Open w/ Rage

screen shot of quick Twitter Search
screen shot of quick Twitter Search

I’m sure you’ve heard all about Elliot Rodger and his misogynist manifesto followed by an array of violence where seven people + Rodger lost their lives.

In case you didn’t, here’s a recap.

I’m not glad Rodger is dead. I feel badly for his parents. I think the whole thing is awful and probably, in its rawest most elemental parts, not even Rodger’s fault. I feel awful that I live in a world that would foster an Elliot Rodger and his manifesto. I feel yucky that not enough people (including therapists and police) Rodger reached out to in his time of misogyny said, “Dudebro. Chill. Someday, you’ll have sex and it’ll be great. For now, concentrate on being smart and kind. Let me help you. PS, women are awesome + smart people just like you, not property, merchandize, or beasts to be tamed.”

Honest to god, I didn’t get the #YesAllWomen thing the first time I heard it. I was like, wait, what? Yes All Women What? What single experience could possibly read across cultures for all women? Clearly I was not spending (any) time on Twitter.

Then, a dude explained it to me.

Then, OH BOY DID I GET IT.

I began to pay attention in my own life. I wait tables for money in a brew pub. I love my job. I love people. I typically have a great time at work. But sometimes, way more often than it seems I notice, I act to protect myself. This behavior is ROTE. Most of us don’t even think about it, we just act. To be nice. To be ladylike.

Unfortunately, a lot of us are still casualties of bad socializing or psychosis or whatever other code name  for misogyny is applicable to the male rage that ends so many women.

Anecdote: I waited on a table of a big family. A sweet older woman grabbed my arm and read my tattoo. She looked at me quizzically. She said, “You don’t look like a feminist. You look cute.” #YesAllWomen

At the brew pub, I waited on a pair of old guys visiting from a big city. One of them, after most of their second pitcher of beer and about three hours of bossing me around (read, taking up a table through the dinner rush), told my tits that he’d treat me like a queen if I ever visited his city.

Instead of saying what I wanted to say, which is “Stuff it, Perv.” I mustered a phony laugh and a “Sure!”  from my reserve of phony laughs and crazy-agreeable lady speak. Jack ass didn’t even tip 20%.

I asked myself why I did that.

I did it because of fear. Because I was scared that if I told the old guy to go fuck himself, he would wait for me and do something mean and shitty or just stalkery and frightening to me after work.

I started to pay attention to my feelings around men I don’t know all the time: when I’m running, if I’m alone somewhere, if I’m picking up my kid at school, if I’m walking across a parking lot.

I realized, unconsciously, I give all strange men, regardless of their race or age, a wide berth. Yesterday, I was at the park running and there was an old guy sunbathing with his newspaper. I was a little frightened of him because I couldn’t reckon out why the heck he would be hanging out at the park with half his clothes off, reclining like it’s his fucking living room. He coulda been the sweetest dude on the planet, but the alternative was too horrifying to attempt to find out. #YesAllWomen.

In fact, I might even be a little more tentative around white guys because frankly, they have way, way, way less of a reason to strive to understand what it is to be marginalized in any way. Hence, #NotAllMen, a knee-jerk response to the twitter explosion of #YesAllWomen.

Which brings up two things. 1) my personal belief that if we are going to end sexism, racism, and all other bigotry, we must accept that we are complicit and begin to see ourselves as part of the problem (that means, stop saying, “but I’m not a racist,” because it’s just not true); then act, moving forward with empathy, with a conscious desire to change our thinking, our emotional responses, and our unconscious and intentional reactions to the subjects of our bigotry. Here’s a humbling appeal from a woman of color to us white women who do not always provide the empathy we demand. And 2) some men, those who would doubtless put themselves in the #NotAll category, do not see this problem for a number of reasons, but the two main ones are lack of empathy + lack of visibility. Here, give this a think.

Anecdote: YESTERDAY, I drove in my car past a very beautiful young woman who was wearing a pair of short black shorts and a sheer tank top with a black bra underneath. My first thought was, “she looks great, I love her outfit.” My second thought was, “But is she trying to get raped?” My third thought was “Ohmigod I can’t believe I just thought that bullshit. Followed by a long self-hating lecture I’ll spare you all from outlining how she can wear whatever she wants and she is powerful and beautiful it is not her job to act to circumvent rape and rape is not a result of women wearing awesome outfits and so on. WE ARE ALL PART OF THE PROBLEM.

And as a counterpoint to lack of empathy? Of awareness? Some men, young men even, are starting to notice and want to help to affect change. Here’s an appeal for more empathy, for all people to be feminists. Let’s all try to be more like that writer’s son. Like that writer for raising a son who can look at himself unflinchingly and honestly.

I’ve been crabby this week. Short with the people I love + generally feeling full of rage. I have these periods occasionally. Ones where, when I learn things about myself and the world around me, I am pissed off. I don’t think this huge social problem is all that’s making me grumpy: I’m at a transitional period in my life + I’m sorting through stuff in my mind that I don’t always understand until I talk it over with my therapist.

And here’s the bullshit thing about my crabbiness: I’m pretty fucking privileged. I get to feel crabby on nice furniture in a house that has plenty of space and always food in the fridge. The ridiculous and horrifying things that have happened to me at men’s hands are pretty minimal compared to what other women have experienced. I know that where I work, there are at least a dozen people who would have my back if some stalkery nonsense happened. I happen to be heterosexual and white, so I live with a nice, tall white dude which is a fine asset. I have a baller education and the freedom to get more, which is also a huge, huge privilege.

I guess the thing that makes me mad is that it matters I’m white and heterosexual. I just don’t understand why it can’t be the same for all humans, regardless. I mean, I can explain why, I can regurgitate the things I have learned (in college, not in my conservative upbringing), I can even sort of understand the fear that makes some of the bad stuff happen.

But here’s the part that I don’t get: We live in a culture where we can use a device that has enough advanced tech in it, it can tell when it’s laying on a table, in a purse, or check your pulse. It can teach you anything you can ask it about. Why the hell can’t we get our shit together to teach our children, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances that differentness is not a cause for oppression. Differentness doesn’t mean that another person’s experience is invalid. All humans have experiences that exist even if we can’t see or understand them. And differentness is a thing to be honored and experienced and edified by. All of us with the same opportunities, working together to make the world awesome? If I could snap my fingers and make one thing happen, I would eliminate hate. We would be so powerful and so. much. happier.

And I’m not the only one trying to make sense of this, weighing in on the Blogosphere. I hope I’m not the only one who’s working hard to abolish her revolting racist, sexist, classist, ageist, internal garbage with which I’ve been acculturated.

One brave journalist spent 8 hours in the chat room Roger Elliot frequented. Another woman tried to make sense of it by writing about her own experiences.

And for some vaguely related historical tidbits, read about the sadly departed Maya Angelou’s history as a sex worker and how uncomfortable book people–the people whom I would wish to be least narrow about acceptable behavior, sexuality, ideas from women–are with her stint as a prostitute. Or about how the Christians are trying to stop Harvey Milk’s Forever Stamp legacy. Because, y’know, he was gay and stuff, and as Westboro Baptist is so fond of reminding us, “God Hates Fags.”

GAAAAHHHHAHAHAAHA!

Scream in the comments if you want. Tell me which link you liked best. Share your #YesAllWomen story. Or tell me how I can be a better ally if you are part of a group my straight, white brethren are so fond of oppressing.

Follow Me Down the Rabbit Hole

from Flickr user Smath.
from Flickr user Smath.

This morning, I got knocked on the chest by equal parts nostalgia, outrage, and WTFship. It was the sort of morning where spending an hour on Facebook made me feel like a more informed citizen and reminded me how big the world is. Sometimes, facebook is good like that.

First, let’s talk two icons from my childhood/pre-early teen years: Monica Lewinsky writes about her affair with Clinton + Rob Lowe’s moving essay about sending his older son off to college.

Two sentences from the tiny amount that’s available from the Lewinsky piece without subscribing to Vanity Fair really got my feminist hackles up. 1) Lewinsky saying she regrets it, but that it was consensual. Fine, fine. BUT WHY DOES SHE HAVE TO SAY IT?? If it were a male intern + a female president, we’d be way angry at the female president and talking about what a stud the intern was. I don’t remember a single person saying “shame on President Clinton.” I remember lots and lots of people slut shaming a very young female intern. 2) Lewinsky says she heard Mrs. Clinton blamed herself for the affair because she was “being emotionally distant.” Women blaming themselves for the bad behavior of men (and men blaming women for the bad behavior of men) is a huge part of the reason I need feminism. <– Rage, Nostalgia, WTF?

The Lowe essay? I wept. Just read it. <— WTF. And a little bit of nostalgia.

And then, THIS BULLSHIT. A whiny white boy from Princeton “checking” his privilege. This is thematically relevant because I was young + dumb and clueless (even if I was intellectually apt, as he clearly is) like this kid around the same time Lewinsky + Lowe were pretty omnipresent in the news/entertainment/network TV world. I also would’ve once pulled a stunt such as this: misunderstanding the entire point + then using my stunning awareness of multiple meanings of words to take “check your privilege” to mean “examine the history of your privilege, then act like an indignant asshole” I am sure I also participated in slut shaming Lewinsky at the time. I am ashamed. <— WTF + nostalgia over being young and stupid once, too.

And then the lovely open letter followup from a saner, more reasonable, less Fox-News-Informed voice. <— relief.

And this video, while clever and entertaining, filled me with rage. Ignore the year-ago date and spend 1.5 minutes of your time. I watched it with Child leaning over my shoulder, and she asked me “what is that all about?” While I was explaining it to her, saying it out loud with words that I made with my vocal cords and tongue and teeth, I got so. Friggin. Angry. <— WTF.

Anybody else refreshingly enraged by Facebook rabbit holes recently?

Running Makes Me a Better Writer; I Bet It Would Work For You, Too.

From Flickr user Robin McConnell
From Flickr user Robin McConnell

I used to feel outright hostile toward fitness/body progress shared on social media.*

So I asked myself why.

All I could come up with was dumb fear that:

a) I will be judged when I backslide,

b) I will be judged because I am still chubby, even though I exercise,

c)I will become one of those one-gong bangers and ONLY post about fitness.

Here is why I have decided to change.

a) Fuck people who judge.

b) see letter a.

c) Why would I ever worry about that? I am far too interesting with too many pursuits and obsessions to limit myself to posting about fitness.

In case you are also loathe to mention progress on social media, I encourage you to adopt a self-restricting policy: I allow myself one weekly post (on Facebook only) about fitness, typically after my first running workout of the week, and typically discussing my amazement that I continue to make progress and it ain’t even that ouchy.

This one had twenty-five likes + a half dozen comments
This one had twenty-five likes + a half dozen comments

NOW.

All the exercise bloggers and google searches you can imagine will tell you that exercise helps you sleep better.

That is truth.

I get good rest, and I require fewer hours of it, then I wake up with beautiful, fully-formed thoughts happening in my head, which often, eventually, make it to the page.

Running between 1.5 and 2 hours each week with increasing intensity has, in the first five weeks alone, given me back more energy and a more whole sense of wellness than two years of more Zumba than that (even though I still love Zumba and go when I am not feeling too shin-splinty/muscle achy).

More energy means I do things–even dumb small things like bending over and picking up a sock, or putting shoes in the closet or doing the dishes instead of sitting round thinking about how I’m too bushed to do those things. My body feels better, so I am more efficient which means, you guessed it, more time for writing.

And also more food. I love food.

Running is trusting your body.

Writing is trusting your mind.

This is a symbiotic relationship, and weekly practice helps me extend that self-trust to other areas which is a thing I struggle with.

Getting sweaty reduces stress.

Reducing stress reduces anxiety.

Lower anxiety means fewer excuses about why I am not writing, fewer minutes wasted fighting with my inner critic.

And sharing about it on Facebook means I get support and kudos from friends. I hear their stories about running which helps keep me going. I remember that my friend who runs the NY Marathon told me she didn’t lose a bit of weight for six months after she started running, that another friend started with Couch to 5K three years ago and now runs triathlons. And then, people share with me things like this, to which I shall submit before summer’s end. And this, which gave me laughs and warmed me from my bellybutton to my nose, twice.

Also, the most helpful thing I’ve ever found on reddit is the running subreddit. LOADS of good info and experiences.

What about you? Do you run? Do you post about fitness on Facebook? What do you think of all this?

*I’m still not sure about the weight loss progress bathroom mirror selfies, ugh.

Holding the Disk At Bay: The Power of Clear(er) Self-Perception

From Flickr user Dani P.L.
From Flickr user Dani P.L.

The current working title of my memoir is I Am Coming In From the Other Side: This is Me Finding My Way.

While drafting, which took place over a couple of years, starting in mid 2011, I had to get into sticky, uncomfortable places with myself. I had to think hard and look hard about choices I’ve made and why I’ve made them and whether or not I’m proud of those choices. I had to take a hard, honest look at interactions I’ve had with other people and figure out what was really going on.

I had to think about my parents, a lot.

There were moments of triumph and pride and breakthrough, yes.

But there were also dark moments of crippling self-scrutiny, self-pity, and clear, sharp anger with myself, with situations I put myself in, frustration with myself at all the things I couldn’t possibly have known.

There were moments during the drafting that I felt clearer than I’ve ever felt.

But then, after, about a third of the way through the fifth or sixth round of substantive revisions, and at a fortuitous break in my generally high levels of productivity, I felt like the clarity shattered around me. Like I was standing inside a light bulb that someone BBed.

I understood, beyond intellectually, the titular metaphor in Plath’s The Bell Jar.

I understood the impulse to end it all.

Those two things scared the shit out of me.

I spent too much time on TV and not enough on writing or being a connected mother and partner. I wept what felt like constantly. I couldn’t even think about myself, but I worried about myself unrelentingly. It was like being numb but in deep, un-feelable pain at the same time.

So I started going to therapy, which was a thing I’d been thinking about doing for a years.

I now feel  like I’d been fingering the edges of this great disk of anxiety that was just kind of hanging out inside me, barely holding it at bay while it influenced me in ways I didn’t recognize and couldn’t understand.

I have only just begun to untangle this with my counselor.

But I have reinhabited myself; my self-comfort, self-confidence has started to return. My focus on the important day-to-day stuff sharpens with startling ease and quickness. I found my way into my MFA paper. I have begun to learn how to recognize and stop specious feelings of guilt. I have started to practice, at my counselor’s urging, really looking at what’s happening when I have a stress response or when I get a big feeling, so I understand triggers and can use them for good instead of evil.

Nothing in my life is different except for my understanding of what’s going on in my body. I needed help to figure it out.

I also needed the honest desire to do so.

I feel powerful and alive and hopeful in ways I have not for some time. Getting these back are like re-encountering old, dear friends with whom everything is easy and good.

So you’ll be able to imagine the empathy I felt when watching this documentary trailer: The Brainwashing of my Dad. I wish I could give money to the Kickstarter Campaign, but I missed it.

My dad experienced a similar thing ten years after Jen Senko’s dad. I cannot WAIT to watch that movie, to look at the locus of my dad’s strident, wrong-headed politics, to have affirmation that the religious right (or whatever its most current name is–T-baggers?) are intellectually irresponsible.

The ideological, philosophical, and religious differences between me and my parents, and my personal, persistent inability to shove myself into a box that would please them, are really the root of my desire to write  a memoir at all.

And even though it has been hard and intense, I’m really glad I had the freedom to do it, I’m really glad for the lessons about myself I’ve learned in the process, and I am wildly grateful that I live in a time where even poor people can get health insurance and afford to go to counseling.

RAGE AGAINST THE PENIS PUMPS!

From Flickr User ChadMageria
From Flickr User ChadMageria

Samantha Bee did a spot on The Daily Show about Medicare funding penis pumps. Now, I know the spin is outrageous, and sometimes rhetorical, and meant for entertainment, but usually there’s truth to what they report on The Daily Show.

I thought, I can’t believe it. Sometimes dear Sam Bee goes over the top.

So I googled.

Lo and behold: The Atlantic, CBS, NBC, hell, even fucking Fox News corroborated. But only in the context of the government paying an average of $360 per pump. I googled that, too. There were a number of fine, fancy, multi-speed models for well under $100.

Then I cried. For like an hour. Big sobs. For people who are born one sex, but identify as another, whose choice to do so is suspect. For anybody who was not born into favorable class, race, ethnicity, sex. For my sweet girl, who has to grow up in this world full of asinine, inexcusable double standards like this one.

I cried for the shot abortion doctors, for myself and other women who’ve paid thousands of dollars for birth control, for young, poor, or sick women whose access to reproductive choice is constantly under attack by the very same population who need a medicare funded penis pump. By the very same population who called Sandra Fluke a harlot for advocating for the women’s health issues related to birth control.

By the very same population who would not consider gender reassignment a viable option for government funding, or other-gendered people to be a part of this conversation at all.

Look, It’s not about the penis pump. It isn’t.

I identify as a sex positive feminist, that is, I am a feminist who likes sex and thinks people should have it if they want to, whatever kind they choose, and does not, in general, view it as another conquering act by men, but instead a mutually enjoyable pastime, when between consenting adults.

Of course, I know that makes me a slut.

But let’s be for real. Penis pumps and birth control (including abortion) are not perfectly analogous. First, do penis pumps ever prevent life-threatening medical events? Do penis pumps ever prevent men from living in constant pain and/or extreme bleeding? Are penis pumps ever a surgical procedure requiring anesthesia (and therefore its own set of separate life risks)? These are honest, not rhetorical questions. We’ll get to the rhetorical part later.

So why is there no debate about government funding for penis pumps (only noting the fact that medicare is over paying), but there’s constant debate about government funding birth control, abortion, sexual reassignment surgery, etc.

Penis pumps do fall safely on the spectrum of reproductive choice, for whatever reason a man wants or needs one (recreation, medical inability to achieve an erection, curiosity), the ability to get and maintain an erection, a healthy, normal part of the male sexual experience, is a reproductive choice. To ejaculate or not to ejaculate?: That is the question.

Why the hell is nobody picketing the penis pump clinic? Unnecessary ejaculation (that is, sex for pleasure) is interpreted by both orthodox Judiasm and Catholicism as sinful. Where are the lines of Catholics outside the VA clinic? Why has nobody ever anywhere written a sign that says, “GOD SAYS NO PUMPS!” and “PENIS PUMPS ARE MURDER!”

Let me be absolutely clear, I have no issue with government funded penis pumps, as long as government funding things that make it easier for men to enjoy their sexuality are treated with the same scrutiny as those that enable women, transgender people, and homosexuals to do the same.

Here are two recent pieces of news: From the National Women’s Law Center discussing the state-level overreach into reproductive choice; And a piece in Rolling Stone about the stealth war on abortion. You can read as much as you want about that, just google “laws preventing women’s access to reproductive choice.”

So now, in the case of the government funded penis pump; I’d like to use some of the rhetorical devices that have been developed by enterprising conservatives for discussing non male, nonwhite, non cis-gender, use of, pursuit of reproductive choice, enjoy:

Men who can’t get erections do not deserve access to penis pumps because they’re being naturally selected against.

God hates men who need penis pumps.

If a man really, really wants an erection, the penis has a way of just getting it up.

An inability to get an erection must be God’s punishment for bad sexual choices in a man’s past.

If a man is being raped, his body has a way of shutting that whole thing down so he can’t maintain an erection. What if these penis pumps, that act against God’s will, are appropriated by rapists?!

If a man can’t get an erection, it’s because God doesn’t want him to.

Penis pumps are unnatural, an abomination, a cosmetic device. A man should have other ways to derive sexual enjoyment than via his penis.

A man does not deserve a penis pump because his inability to get an erection is not a life-threatening condition.

A man does not deserve the choice whether to get an erection, wanting to get an erection when he can’t makes him a slut. A gigolo. A person of low moral standards.

I know! Let’s make a law: if a man wants a penis pump, he should have to endure a probe ultrasound (into his urethra), without local anesthetic, narrated by his doctor, to ensure there is actually a medical problem that warrants one.

Can you think of any others?