Little Steps Toward Something New

The last few posts I’ve written felt heavy and rightfully so. In those posts, I wrote about feelings I never thought I’d ever share with anyone, much less the entire internet. I’ve thought and written about loss, grief, healing, and how to move forward by telling stories in a new way. I’m not done thinking about or feeling grief. I know I’ll write about it again because processing feelings always takes time. We heal in cycles and layers.

But I’m also thinking about some lighter stuff these days and working on shaping an engaged, meaningful life for which I feel passionate, mad love.

I’ve been learning new things, which always makes me happy. What I love about having a PhD is being a life-long learner and problem-solver. What I love less is remembering that just because I have a PhD, I’m not magically exempt from the excruciating process of being a total beginner at something. I’ve been practicing being a noob this week, which has been both humbling and necessary.  

Webinar: I started missing teaching something fierce lately. I missed students. I missed helped people learn new things and see things in a different way. I started thinking about how I might do some non-academic teaching. Then I wondered why I wasn’t giving a webinar. I brainstormed some ideas about what I could teach. I came up with two viable ideas.

The first idea is teaching non-academic writing for academics.I wrote pretty well in graduate school, but it was in spite of my graduate program, not because of it. I’d never actually taken any writing classes nor made any serious effort to improve my writing style. We often assume that we’ll get better at writing because we have to do a lot of it. Unfortunately, this isn’t actually true. A few academic-specific style guides exist to guide academics towards better writing, but I don’t know anyone who has time to read them. The webinar, then, will be me making suggestions about how academics can improve their writing skills. I’m going to share my experience of reading style guides and trying to apply them to my own writing. I’ve also done a lot of thinking about the emotional roadblocks that hold academic writers back from trying to learn to write well or even writing at all. Finally, I’m going to talk about community and about how making writing more social can help get writing done and improve it.  

The other idea involves blogging life transitions. Life transitions are massively uncomfortable and lots of us (by which I mean me) resist change with everything we’ve got. We want things the ways that we liked them before, especially in the case of unexpected or unwanted life transitions. However, major life transitions also present marvelous moments of opportunity. Writing about life transitions gives us a chance to frame our stories and shape their meaning. Sure, being in transition feels confusing, chaotic, and scary, but we can also choose to tell those stories in ways that empower us to move forward. Writing can help get us through big life transitions because the act of writing helps us put our feet on the ground and establish a new normal. So why not blog about your life transition while you’re going through it and get support and inspire other people?  

I’ve done both of these things, so I think I could conceivably teach them in an hour-ish long webinar. I have never given a webinar before, but I’m not letting that stop me. I’m shooting for maybe August and October. More soon.

Pitching: I just wrapped up taking a how to pitch class. I’ve got a lot of ideas that I want to put out in the world in non-academic form. I want to be freelance writing about all of the things in the world that fascinate me. Pitching, as it turns out, is not a no-brainer. I confess that I’ve found it harder than I expected in a lot of ways. I’m not a great pitch writer. I’ve always been the kind of writer who doesn’t know what she’s talking about until she writes all the way through the idea (see the idea I’m trying to struggle through below), so the idea of pitching something that I haven’t written yet kind of scares me. Like what if I get to the end of writing the thing and it doesn’t match the pitch? Even deeper is the paralyzing idea that maybe I don’t have anything valuable to say at all.  

However, I also know that learning requires investing consistent practice towards a goal, rather than a single effort. You have to practice something a lot to get good at it. The critic in me doesn’t want to practice or learn. Not being wildly brilliant at something makes me feel vulnerable and incompetent. I don’t want people to watch me struggling through something. I’ve been learning to swallow my pride and be a total newbie. I’m giving myself permission to write bad pitches. This week, my goal is to write three bad pitches just to practice writing them. I’m giving myself permission to not only do something new, but to be baaaaaaaaaaad at it.  

Writing New Things: No, I don’t work in academia anymore. Yes, I am still fascinated by the world around me. I’m struggling through an idea that I want to get out in the world. I started writing a piece about the history of science and modern adoption practice. I want to explore how science shaped not only what we believe drives human behavior, but also how those beliefs shaped child welfare policies in the 19th and 20th centuries. The nature versus nurture debate influences how people have treated adopted, fostered, delinquent and unwanted kids. Today, we’re still trying to figure out what ultimately drives human behavior. Are we biologically or environmentally determined? Scientific research and ideas have influenced the answers to these questions in different ways. At some points in history, social reformers thought that delinquent kids should go be raised by (white) Christian families to absorb proper moral values and become upstanding citizens. At other points, people thought that children inherited things like criminality and promiscuity; their inferior genetics made institutionalization or sterilization seem like the only solution to criminal and immoral behavior.  

So where is this piece going? I can’t tell yet. I am still the kind of writer who has to write all the way through an idea to figure out what I’m trying to really say about it. But there’s an idea in there somewhere that I can’t let go. This is the first time that I’m writing about adoption history and I’m a little nervous about that too. I’m working on just getting through the world’s shittiest first draft and then seeing what I’ve got. The writing process has somehow never failed me and at times, seems like nothing less than a supernatural miracle.

Stay tuned.