on being done

Back in May, my husband reminded me he had Memorial Day off, and my first thought was, “Good, then I can get some work done!” And then I remembered, I don’t have any work. I’m done. I finished my Ph.D. And it was both a happy and a sad thought.

In April, I defended my dissertation. I was awarded a PhD, magna cum laude, a pretty good achievement by all metrics, surely. But when my committee welcomed me to the academic community (their actual words, by the way), I felt no sense of accomplishment, no pride, just weariness and emptiness. It surprised me, and it surprises me still. I worked so hard for this–shouldn’t I feel something?

(My therapist would say, there’s that word again: Should.)


I started my PhD in late 2011, moving to Germany to pursue this dream of a doctorate. I wrote countless grant proposals and scraped together funding from literally a dozen different places. I presented papers at conferences, finding that introvert me actually enjoyed the back-and-forth that conferences inspire, liked the spotlight and the critical questions that came after. I taught classes and realized I was good at research and writing, but I really loved teaching–something that completely and utterly surprised me. I read all the books I could get my hands on, filled notebook after notebook with quotes and ideas and outlines, and slowly began the hard work of having something to say.

Along the way, I moved from Germany to Utah to California, got married, had a baby. And always, always that work on my shoulders, that sense that I Should Be Writing, Should Be Working, or I’d never make it to that promised land of tenure-track, I’d always be stuck wandering in the wilderness. Always that work on my shoulders, and frankly, also always the sense that I was not good enough, would never be good enough, would spend the rest of my life trying to convince others and myself that I deserved to be where I was. Always that work on my shoulders, even through my pregnancy, through my maternity leave and the first year of my daughter’s life. Until it wasn’t there anymore, I was done.


I decided I wasn’t going to be an academic while I was still in Utah, for a myriad of personal and probably not very interesting reasons. I fought it, and then I mourned for quite a while. That’s the only way I can describe it, as a period of mourning, in which I said goodbye to a life spent among books, meaning found in teaching and research and my words on a page.  Most days I’m happy with my choice, and in fact, saying goodbye to that dream opened the door to bigger and better dreams, dreams that fit me more and honor who I’ve become, and dreams that scare and thrill me in equal measure and for that reason alone deserve to be pursued.

And yet. The other day, an acquaintance posted on Facebook that she got an offer and would start her tenure-track job this fall. She and I happened to get our PhDs on the same day. I barely know her, and yet it made me cry, made me question whether I was throwing away everything I’d worked so hard for. What use was a PhD if I immediately left the academic community I’d sacrificed so much for to join?


I never aspired to be a stay at home mom, and I surprised myself when halfway through my pregnancy, I floated the idea to L. that I stay home for a little while when the baby was born. For the first eight months of G.’s life, I had a dissertation and then a defense to hide behind. I had a goal to work towards and checklists to manage. And now I spend my days chasing my daughter around our living room, loving it one minute and wondering if there’s something else I should be doing with my life the next, something unidentifiable but “better” all the same.

(There’s that word again: should.)

At heart, of course, is the question I’ve always struggled with: Without outside accomplishments, outside responsibilities, outside accolades, how do I know that it’s enough?

Or perhaps more accurately: How do I know that I’m enough?




on turning thirty-one

Last year, on my birthday, I had taken the day off from frantic dissertation writing, and was puttering around the apartment, reading whatever book struck my fancy, and slowly getting ready to go into work that afternoon. I was sixteen weeks pregnant and in the magical no-nausea stage that came in between first-trimester and second-and-third-trimester morning sickness for me, and I felt pretty good, truth be told.

And then I saw the blood. I didn’t know a lot about pregnancy at that point, but I was pretty sure blood was not a good sign, especially not that much. I discovered it right as my OB’s office closed for lunch, so I had two hours to wait before I could call them, and then several more hours before they could fit me in for an ultrasound. I spent it lying on the couch and trying not to be anxious and very definitely not googling anything. Those were some long, long hours, and I kept telling the baby inside of me–a little girl, although we didn’t know that yet–to please stay with us, that we loved him or her, that we didn’t want to say goodbye yet.

You know how this story turned out, that we were lucky and didn’t have to say goodbye, despite issues with the placenta, despite gestational diabetes, despite at least a handful of other things my OB deemed “concerning.” We were lucky. But in retrospect that is the moment that this pregnancy turned from something hope-filled and joyful into something scary and fear-filled, something to be endured rather than anticipated. It some ways, that has been true for this first year of motherhood, too.

It is no secret that the transition to motherhood was rough for me, that pregnancy was rough for me, that I have spent a lot of the last year unlearning and relearning things I thought I knew, ways of being, and who I am in the world, that I have run up against the same wall of physical not-recovery time and time again as the fourth-degree tear is so very slow to heal, that I have struggled to retain parts of my old identity and fit them into something new.

Sometimes I ask myself, was it worth it? Is it worth it, to seek wholeness, to be a mother, to do those two things together? I did not know how profoundly motherhood would change me, that the act of carrying and birthing and loving a child would split my heart and my life right open, and how much courage it requires.

And then moments of supreme grace happen, like last night. In the middle of the night, I picked up our baby girl from her crib where she’d startled herself awake, and she nuzzled against me, comfortable, happy, and at home, and fell right back asleep. And I stood there, rocking her, loving her, praying I would always be that safe haven to her, and I knew it was and it is worth it, and I am thankful that she came when she did and would do it all over again and more.

On Mary, Advent, and me

This past Good Friday, my church held a reflective evening service filled with poetry, music, and meditation. One of the poems read was by Rainer Maria Rilke:

Screenshot 2017-04-16 16.38.05

It made me think back to Christmas, when I was six weeks pregnant, and discovered that being newly pregnant didn’t make me feel any closer to Mary than I usually did (which is to say, not very). I hadn’t necessarily expected to, as hearing Mary’s story read always left me feeling unsatisfied. I wanted more from Mary than the story always gave me; I wanted a Mary who spoke and doubted and maybe even railed against what was being asked of her, not a Mary who instantly acquiesced. I couldn’t relate to this pinnacle of womanhood, and honestly, sometimes that worried me. Knowing there was a clump of cells making their way to a baby inside of me didn’t magically change any of that.

But on Good Friday, I listened to this poem read while our baby girl kicked away inside me, reminding me of her undeniable and yet not-quite-real presence with every little jab and poke and flip. This past Lent was a season of uncertainty and vulnerability for me, as I seemed to receive troubling news every other time I visited my doctor, and I discovered the very real limitations pregnancy placed on my body and my life as a whole. I was so afraid we would lose her when I started bleeding at sixteen weeks (on Ash Wednesday–and my birthday–, which seemed a particularly cruel way to drive home how fleeting life is), and I was grateful every time I felt her kick and tell me she was still there, she was strong, she would be okay–and so would I. I held on to that through the long months that were to come.

And it hit me that Good Friday, and with that poem, how vulnerable this parenting and motherhood thing makes you. I didn’t sign up for our Maundy Thursday overnight vigil, but I had a vigil of my own, as that was also the week that pregnancy insomnia began. I spent a lot of time awake at night, thinking about new life and old life and the softness that was and is my body and the hard world outside. How are the two supposed to mix? Do you ever get used to it, as a mother, that the being you carried inside you and protected as best you could for nine months has to make its way into a world that will never be as kind as it should be? I’m guessing you don’t.

And now it’s Advent again. I still want to hear more from Mary. I still want to fill in the silences in her story with what I think she may have thought and felt and said. But Advent feels different to me this year, as I read and reflected on the Magnificat with my own baby in my arms, with my pregnancy still fresh in my memory. I’ve come to suspect that I was sold a bill of goods all those years, that what has always been told to me as meek obedience on Mary’s part was actually fierceness in disguise–a fierceness that the male gospel writers and the male preachers who first told me her story perhaps didn’t have eyes to see–a fierceness that carried her through her own Holy Week and beyond, and a fierceness born out of the softness and vulnerability that motherhood brings.

What I’m Into, November Edition


I read five books this month. Most memorable are:

–Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld.

A couple Sundays ago, I got to church bleary-eyed, and the glass of wine I had with friends at lunch nearly put me to sleep. I was tired, so tired. Why? Not because baby was up a bunch that night, but because I stayed up late to finish this book. Or at least, tried to finish it. I finally had to admit defeat right before midnight and finish it in the morning.

Eligible is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, part of this series of Austen retellings. The Bennets–all but Lizzy and Jane–live in Cinncinati, Ohio: Kitty and Lydia are Crossfit enthusiasts this time around, Mary is a perpetual student, working on her third master’s degree, and Mrs. Bennet is obsessed with online shopping and marrying off her daughters. When Mr. Bennett has a heart attack, Lizzy (a magazine writer) and Jane (a yoga instructor) come home for the summer. There, Chip Bingley and his friend Fitzwilliam Darcy enter the story…and the rest is (retold) history.

Sittenfield incorporates many of the details I loved so much in the original, but adds some additional twists. One thing I liked is that Sittenfeld took the meanness out of some of the characters, adding some redemption to Kitty and Lydia, who are both shallow, vain, and frankly unlikeable and unredeemable in the original. (Luckily she leaves Caroline Bingley alone–who doesn’t want to see that bitch taken down?) Highly recommend this book if you’re a P&P fan.

–Artemis by Andy Weir.

I loved Weir’s first book, The Martian, with a fiery passion. It’s nerdy and geeky and about growing potatoes on Mars, for crying out loud. So I was very excited about this book, especially since I love heist stories, and this is one. It doesn’t disappoint. Weir is known for his incredibly detailed world building and exhaustive research, and it shows. Artemis is set on the moon and in a tourist economy, welding plays a huge part, and the protagonist is a female Saudi-turned-moon-resident. Go read it if you like space fiction, or science fiction (with the emphasis on science).

–The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald.

I read this one mainly because it kept popping up on my Goodreads and Amazon profiles. Sara is a Swedish recluse of sorts, who goes to a tiny town in Iowa called Broken Wheel to visit an internet friend/pen pal of sorts. But when she gets there, her friend has died. She stays on, opens a bookstore, and sets about accidentally revitalizing the town. It’s kind of a bookish chicklit, and I liked it mainly for the way it unabashedly celebrates readers and reading.

–Short form:

A Feminist Advent (Or: That’s What Advent Always Is) by Laura Jean. Advent starts on Sunday, and I have conflicted feelings about it. Advent is both my favorite season in the church year and one that reminds me how male-centric the church still is. I actually have a post planned about Mary and Advent and the way we tell her story: it probably isn’t a surprise to you that I think we sell her short in so many ways.

Several highlights from the linked post:

“It is a woman who proclaims the first Christmas message. It is a woman who cries out that God has not forgotten the poor and the hungry, that God has not ignored the violence of the wealthy and the powerful, that the Kingdom of God is on its way and it is literally growing inside her.

One of the most radical things about the Magnificat is that a woman sings a universal song. … Mary’s song is a fierce, unapologetic, and hopeful battle cry to the coming of the Kingdom of God for all people.” Amen to that.

Listening To:

–The Daily on Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts

I was intrigued by this because I would have totally chosen the Boy Scouts over the Girl Scouts when I was growing up. Much in the same way that I ended up quitting baseball once girls had to move to softball–looking back, I think I would have enjoyed softball, but the mandate that girls had to move to their own league as teenagers frustrated me enough to quit. Well, that and the tendon I tore which led to multiple surgeries and all that. But mostly the other thing.

Anyway, the episode interviews two sisters, one who joined the Boy Scouts, one who stayed with the Girl Scouts, and why they chose what they did. It’s a very kid-focused interview and it’s great.

–Fresh Air did an interview with Patton Oswalt, talking about his career, the loss of his wife, and comedy in general, and also talked to Father Greg Boyle, who works with gang members and ex-convicts in LA (to great success, I might add).

–Pop Culture Happy Hour did an episode on Murder on the Orient Express and cozy mysteries–my love for cozy mysteries knows no bounds so I was all over that.


Black-ish. There was a Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast about it, and I was intrigued enough to finally watch an episode. (Yes, I know I’m several seasons late to the party.) I’m now in season two and loving the Johnson family.

Thor: Ragnarok. My sister babysat while L. and I went out to dinner and then to the movies, and I loved every minute of it. (Well, except the sexualization of the Hella character. Seriously, can we stop doing this thing where women can only draw power from their sexuality?) But the fight scenes were epic and frankly, that’s mostly what I’m looking for in Marvel/superhero movies.


Dissertation writing (almost done!) and playing with this little girl, who is the light of my life at almost four months old. She’s learning new things every day and it fills me with delight to see her grow. Balancing taking care of her and writing my diss is a little hard at times, but I feel so lucky I get to be with her all day, every day.

Getting outside more. I’m still not fully healed from the fourth-degree tear, but I’m slowly getting back to exercising. We went on a hike with friends on Black Friday (#optoutside, thank you REI), and although I was in significant pain that weekend, it felt totally worth it. Mostly because we saw a banana slug eating a banana (so meta!) although the views at the top were great too.

Linking up with With I’m Into at Leigh Kramer!

What I’m Into, October Edition


According to my Goodreads list, I didn’t read a lot in October. (That would explain why I’m six books behind in my 100-book yearly reading challenge instead of my usual five or so ahead.) Most notable books are probably:

It Looks Like This by Rafi Mittlefehldt. Mike moves to a new town with his parents and sister, where he meets Sean. They play basketball and do homework together and slowly develop a relationship, but as the book blurb says, someone is always watching. The book is very tightly written and doesn’t go out of its way to announce itself as LGBT fiction (in the same way that hetero fiction doesn’t–the characters just happen both to be boys). **spoiler alert** there’s a little bit of the “bury your gays” trope going on, but there’s also a lot of love and acceptance, sometimes from unlikely places. Four stars.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. I loved this book so much and don’t know why it took me so long to read it (I’ve owned a copy for at least a year now and probably longer). I don’t know what to call books like these but I love this genre of fantastical, mysterious, nerdy adventure stories. Sloan’s new book, Sourdough, is on my hold list at the library. Four stars.

This is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick. This book tackles the art and science of placemaking, or how to feel at home wherever you find yourself living. I loved it. You can find a full review here. Four stars.

Shorter pieces:

Jenny Rosenstrach wrote a post on Dinner: A Love Story about her favorite things to gift people. I loved this idea and have been thinking about what to put on mine all month.


Grace and Frankie. Grace and Frankie are polar opposites: one’s a hippie artist, the other a classy, classic lady. Yet they find themselves living together after their husbands, partners at a law firm, leave them for each other. Lots of raw honesty and grace in this one, and a lot of humor too.

The Orville. Captain Ed Mercer finally gets his own ship–but his crew includes his ex-wife as his first officer, along with a motley assortment of other intergalatic species. I’ve watched just enough Star Trek to get what is being subverted in this series, and I’m digging it, the occasional slow episode aside.

Parks and Rec. I blazed through the entire series again, because I will heart Ben and Leslie forever.

Listening To

Lots of podcasts, including three from the Utah-based show Radiowest.

Radiowest: A Conversation with Tom Christofferson
Tom Christofferson is the brother of LDS Church apostle D. Todd Christofferson. Tom asked to be excommunicated from the church years ago, as he couldn’t reconicle being both Mormon and gay, but has since then rejoined the church–a decision that included leaving his partner of many years. He wrote a book about his experiences (That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective on Faith and Family) that I am definitely going to pick up.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to make of this episode. It sounds like he made a conscious choice and is happy with it, but I so wish we lived in a world in which that wasn’t a choice he had to make.

Radiowest: Essential Oils and the Age of Anxiety. Based on this New Yorker article, the episode explores the phenomenon that is essential oils among Mormons. I listened to this on our drive to Idaho and it gave me a lot to think about with regards to Mormonism and gender (one of my research focuses).

Radiowest: Martin Luther and the Birth of the Reformation. Craig Harline is a BYU-based historian, the author of one of my favorite Mormon books ever, and has a new book out about Luther. (In case you missed it, it was the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation, which has all us Protestants and/or religious history nerds excited.)

Every morning, I listen to Up First, usually while I’m making breakfast or getting dressed. It’s a ten minute NPR podcast that gets you the most important news of the day, so I feel like I’m at least halfway informed about what’s happening in the world around me. My sister told me about The New York Times podcast The Daily, which takes one topic and explores it for twenty or so minutes each day and operates on a similar premise. Well worth your time.

And finally, NPR’s Code Switch did a really interesting series about a new charter school for African American boys in DC, where they practice restorative justice and aim to close the achievement gap. The series, “Raising Kings,” included an episode about the “making of,” where the reporters–all people of color themselves–talked about what it was like to be at this school, what they loved, what concerned them, etc. I really recommend this one.




a reflection on pregnancy, two months postpartum

Pregnancy was really hard on me.

I feel silly typing that, because untold people are out there being pregnant every day, and many of them even enjoy it or at least get through it with a lot more grace than I did.

I may have gotten a lot of grace, but I sure didn’t exhibit it. It wasn’t as much the physical aspects, although I complained about them plenty. I could deal with the fatigue, the 30+ weeks of nausea, the loose joints, the nerve pain that had me literally crying towards the end whenever I tried to get out of bed, the blood sugar spikes that came with gestational diabetes, the heartburn, the low-lying placenta that had me on modified bedrest for a good chunk and took exercise off the table for my entire pregnancy, all the other aches and pains that had my doctor saying, “Yes, I’m sorry, that comes with the territory and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

But I didn’t deal well with the mental aspects. I’m not going to say a lot about it (some things are private, even on the internet), but it had a lot to do with prior traumas which reared their heads in ugly and unexpected ways. Pregnancy thrust me into limbo and an extensive identity crisis–and not because I didn’t want a child. All I’ve ever wanted is a family of my own, and now I was getting one. Yet it upended my life in ways I had not foreseen and couldn’t deal with.

It didn’t help that I was so far from family and friends and many of my coping strategies were now off limits. Whatever the case, it made most of my pregnancy an exercise of endurance rather than hopeful anticipation. It’s not a coincidence that I had been thinking of going back to therapy for a while and finally did so in the third trimester.

And then G. was born. I ended up with a fourth-degree tear that will require an upcoming surgery to properly repair, and a postpartum period that was so lovely in some ways and so, so painful in others. There were some shaky moments in there when I was hit by postpartum hormones and uncertainty about the future and felt incredibly out of sorts, but by and large, any signs of postpartum depression has passed me by. I’m lucky there, I think. I’m still taking pain killers every day and paying dearly for every walk I take, but I’m doing a million times better than I was at 20 or 30 or 39 weeks, and I’m grateful.

Through all of this, I mostly complained about the physical aspects because I felt that was expected and maybe accepted. I didn’t really know how to talk about the other stuff, how it made me feel like there would be nothing left of me by the time it was over. (I see now how women turn into mothers and lose themselves. I see that so clearly.) I still don’t really know how, though I’ve tried with some people I trust.

By now, I’ve heard a lot of stories from other people recalling their own pregnancies and deliveries. Some good, but many not so good. I wish my pregnancy had been easier, or I had been hardier; I’m not quite sure where the blame lies there. But I mostly wish these stories were part of the public discourse, pregnancy not reduced to something natural and mystical and therefore easy or a dismissive joke about irritability and weird cravings. I wish it wasn’t relegated to something women talk about among themselves. Because yes, finally getting to meet G. made it all worth it, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. But I won’t pretend it wasn’t hard, and I don’t think I should have to.

On placemaking, or a review of Melody Warnick’s This Is Where You Belong

Melody Warnick is no stranger to moving–or the itch that inspires it–, and considers herself pretty proficient at the practice. But then she and her family do move number 6 so her husband can take a tenure-track job at Virginia Tech. Faced with the reality of yet another new town, she longs to put down roots. This Is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Live is her attempt to figure out what it is, exactly, that makes a place feel like home.

ThisIsWhereYouBelong_CVF_110316.inddIn the book, Warnick talks to placemaking experts (as an aside, am I the only one that reads books like these and finds all these cool careers she didn’t know existed but sound really fun and interesting?) to find out ways to jumpstart feeling at home. She has chapters on volunteering, getting involved with local politics, making neighbors into friends, and even how simply walking somewhere creates a bond between you and where you live in a way that driving won’t. At the end of each chapter she includes a “Love Your City Checklist” with a variety of actionable ideas you can implement in your own community. There’s something for everyone there, and you don’t have to do them all–one of her main points is that just trying at all will be extremely helpful in establishing a sense of place.

I read the book with great interest since I’ve moved around a fair amount–it’s nothing compared to some people, but it’s enough to make the ‘where are you from’ question a slightly convoluted one. The book helped me understand why I felt at home in some places and so displaced in others.

If I think about why Germany and I didn’t mix, well, a large part of that was probably because I wasn’t doing any placemaking of my own. I walked a lot and took public transit, so scored high on that list, but my life there was pretty restricted to the university and my apartment. Mostly due to the language barrier (completely underestimated how long it would take me as a shy introvert to even try to talk German outside of language classes), but honestly also because I spent a good chunk of my time there battling clinical depression without realizing it. When I left Germany in 2013 for a fellowship in Utah, I had very little to show for my time there, and I kind of regret that.

I jumped at the chance to leave Germany, and moving to Utah felt like a breath of fresh air, albeit fresh air with a lot of culture shock. Utah was an interesting experiment, in that it was supposed to be a short-term home for me (the fellowship was nine months), so any placemaking I was doing in those early months had that in the back of my mind. Until I met L. and suddenly I was there for the long haul and had to step up my efforts.  Two things stand out for me there: I took a small seminar-type class at the university and met some other grad students, and I joined a fabulous friend’s fabulous book club. I distinctly remember meeting a friend one Saturday morning at a coffee place in my neighborhood, maybe a year and a half in, and thinking, ‘this is it, now I’m home.’ And that’s pretty much when L. got the California job offer and we made plans to move again. I thought moving with someone would be easier, and in some ways it was, but in some ways placemaking as a trailing spouse is especially hard. Or at least I found it so. I made L. promise we could stay here longer than two years, and I set about the task of building a new life, again.

I found myself nodding at a lot of what Warnick wrote, in the sense that she describes a lot of things I had done unconsciously in my attempt to settle in, like volunteering, or eating local, or just wandering around the neighborhood. I ended up signing up for a century that first spring, and I got to know so much of the peninsula while training (I’d go out on 40-60 mile rides every week). And because we only had one car and I didn’t have a job yet, I spent a lot of time walking to and from downtown, or the grocery store, or around the block with the dog. So I got to know my way around pretty quick. That, coupled with a new church where I quickly started volunteering, our commitment to trying out all the breakfast places in town, and finally landing a job of my own, meant I felt much more at home at the one-year mark than I had ever done in Germany and Utah.

The longest I’ve ever lived anywhere is the ten years we spent in California when I was a kid, so I can’t really fathom staying in one place for 15 or 20 or however many years and becoming a real local. But one of the things I appreciated about the book is that you don’t have to be–Warnick includes both long- and short-term strategies in her book, and implementing them will help you feel at home wherever you are, however long you stay there.

One last note: even if you’re not like me, you’re not a Mover, you’re a Stayer, there’s probably a lot you can learn from this book. You might instinctively being doing much of this already, but I bet there’s a tip or two in these pages that will make you love where you live, even more.