What Does Your Writing Need?

The Seed: Hire me to edit and proofread your work!

The Sprout: If you’re struggling to extend or shorten a piece for publication, need proofreading, copyediting, developmental and/or structural assistance, or could just use a good brainstorming session to breathe new life into an old piece—contact me. I’m skilled at working in a variety of genres, from journal articles and academic book chapters, to dissertations and MA theses, to nonfiction and fiction pieces.

The Forest

My first deep dive into the inner workings of a soon-to-be-published text happened when I fact-checked Lennard Davis’s Obsession: A History in 2008. I was the lone MA student in Davis’s Discourse, Culture, Mind seminar and volunteered to fact-check his book for two reasons:

(1) I wanted to impress this professor who had recently called out a PhD student for not knowing the Greek history of the marathon (the student had casually asked how long the professor’s upcoming race in California would be) and

(2) because the task was introduced as an opportunity to get deeper into a text than we’d ever gotten before.

In case you were wondering, I did an extremely thorough job—chasing down errant citations, adjusting chronologies, verifying names, places, and other details—but my efforts didn’t seem to impress the professor. In grad school, excellence is expected.

He was right about #2, though, and it made not achieving #1 not only bearable but insignificant.

When I rolled up my sleeves and jumped into the pages of his manuscript, I learned about obsession in a way that felt internal—like I was intimately acquainted with the subject in a way that I hadn’t experienced before as a reader.

Beginning in 2009, I began to copyedit journal articles and book chapters for members of the Criminology, Law, and Justice faculty at UIC. In subsequent years, I edited a number of dissertations and advised on MA Capstone papers. Along the way, I realized that editing was one of my favorite ways to re-read. Sure, I was helping my mentors and peers, but I was also learning how to deepen my analytical skills and attention to detail.

The more work I edited, the more confident I grew.

Today, I can tell you without reserve that I love the often-messy process of editing. I enjoy working with authors—helping them peel away what’s unnecessary to find the true direction of their work. My work often involves strategizing with writers to help them expand or update a piece. Often, the structure is the only thing preventing a piece from achieving its aims.

Since moving Portland, I’ve been welcomed into a neighborhood writing group for people of all skill levels working in a variety of genres and a monthly group of people working on novels and short stories intended for publication. Hearing people read their creative work aloud has inspired me to think outside the box when considering academic writing. I also see a future in editing creative work.

As someone who has written in a variety of genres (poetry, nonfiction, short fiction, performance ethnography, journal articles, book chapters, and a dissertation), I bring my creative eye to the editing process. I don’t see the work as merely fixing typos, improving flow, and reorganizing A and B. Rather, when I first read a piece, I’m looking for what I can only describe as the “soul” of the piece.

What does this text want to be? How can I help it achieve those aims?

The rest of the work certainly isn’t easy, but when I have an understanding of what the piece in front of me seems to want to be, I move forward with the idea of shaping and trimming, adding here, pinching there, getting everything into the correct form. In fact, I imagine the process as I would a reductive sculpture. I’m no artist, but when I work with a manuscript, I honor the author’s original intent by shaping the text, remaining sensitive to those elements that make the piece uniquely the author’s own work.

Over the past week, I edited a number of texts that were extremely different from one another; I moved from personal essay to dissertation to book chapter. It was exciting to work with these researcher/authors so close to the completion of their projects and publication of their texts.

As writers, we can feel so immersed in our own work that knowing what to cut or add or adjust can often feel impossible. That’s where I come in—when I suggest that a paragraph from page 23 would actually work better on page 7—it’s something that I probably wouldn’t be able to see so easily in my own work. Because I’m an impartial observer as well as someone who has been writing and editing for years, it’s easier for me to spot.

So, if you’re looking for some assistance shaping a piece or just need someone to fine-tooth-comb your work for typos and those grammatical errors that always slip through, hit me up.

I generally charge by the hour, but can also negotiate a project rate. Because I’m a sweetheart, I have a sliding scale for graduate students, early career people, and creative writers.

aristide
Aristide Maillol, Enchained Action 1906. I have always loved this piece.

 

Resources

Davis, Lennard (2008). Obsession: A History. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

My Professional Editing Site

My CV

To Err is Human, To Fact-Check is Divine

The Seed: It is important to avoid perpetuating misinformation.

The Sprout: We live in a particularly divisive political moment. It’s a good time to remember that we don’t always need to respond to current events as they happen. It’s OK to let some events unfold, reserving judgment, waiting until more solid facts/evidence are available. While there is quite a bit of pressure to “choose sides,” resisting the urge to immediately form a firm opinion is not a terrible idea.

The Forest

Our world has changed over the past few decades. The way news is delivered has certainly changed. We now receive moment to moment updates. During a newsworthy event in earlier decades, a “breaking news” story might have briefly interrupted your episode of Cheers. We can now read tweets from people in dire situations, giving their version of events as they happen, while reporters on a 24 hour news cycle are pressed to make pronouncements without accurate facts based on evidence.

My intention in this blog is to examine narratives, both personal and communal. Sometimes, this will entail taking a more nuanced look at a current event and/or ongoing social issue. Before I get into that, I wanted to write about the importance of accuracy and evidence when making an argument.

If I learned anything in my doctoral program, it’s this: check the facts. Check them again. Cross check them. Look at the evidence. Seek out opposing arguments/facts/evidence. Look deep into the footnotes. Question even seemingly mundane statements. Ask the golden question—who benefits?

I often read/hear arguments that rely on obvious factual errors. Many of these erroneous arguments could have been rectified with just a moment of verification. The tendency to argue without foundation is compounded by misreading, failing to read beyond headlines, and taking initial statements at face value.

One example of this occurred recently on Twitter when a food writer uploaded a photo of herself drying a chicken with an expensive hair dryer. When you clicked through to read her article, she explained that a traditional method of getting the crispiest skin on roast chicken was to air dry the bird. This can take a long time. For example, Peking Duck is air dried for about a day. Innovative chefs have been experimenting with different techniques. One of these methods proposes the use of a hair dryer.

The tweet picked up traction and was featured on Twitter’s front page as a Twitter “moment.” From there, the tweet went viral and the author began to tweet about the numerous people who responded negatively to her tweet without having read the article. Think-pieces were written in response to her tweet and the corresponding article. In the end, it seemed that people had a visceral response to the image she posted and responded without reading the accompanying article.

The problem with our current state of discourse is that it’s difficult having a conversation in any medium—online, face to face, through email, etc.—with people who don’t share your exact perspective. I hope to provide a more nuanced take on current events related to my area of expertise in future blog posts.

look deeper

 

Resources

A food writer shared a neat cooking tip, but got a flood of hate and mockery in return.

Even in the Kitchen, Women Can’t Win

Hair-Dryer-Roasted Chicken Wins the 2018 Award for the Whitest Thing on the Internet

Healy, Kieran. (2017). Fuck Nuance. Sociological Theory, 35(2) 118–127. http://kieranhealy.org/files/papers/fuck-nuance.pdf

How a tweet about a chicken and a hair dryer got its own news cycle—The Verge

Liberals are terrible at arguing with conservatives. Here’s how they can get better.

Part II: Self Care & Survival in Academia

The Seed: Self-care is important and PhD students require more support than they can realistically provide for themselves.

The Sprout: A focus on individual self-care places a heavy burden on PhD students to sort themselves out. Equally overburdened professors are not equipped to properly support their grad students. Recent studies highlighting the prevalence of mental health issues in the PhD student population demonstrate the need for a more organized institutional and cultural response to this problem. In this piece, I’m looking into the context of self-care and grad school because that’s a world I know. I imagine, however, that my thoughts can easily apply to a number of different contexts.

The Forest

Hey PhD student—you’re not alone. But it sure does feel that way sometimes.

Often, as doctoral students, we find ourselves overwhelmed, confused, and overburdened. These feelings can be difficult to share—especially when our colleagues might seem to have their shit together. Because of this, it often seems like we’re the only one struggling.

Two years into my doctoral program, I was part of a group of fieldworkers who were about to interview teenagers who exchanged sex for things like money, food, shelter, and clothing.

Experienced researchers in charge of the project said we’d hate ourselves at some point. We would be sitting in our nice warm homes with food in our refrigerators wondering about the 15-year-old we’d interviewed that morning who was counting the days until she could go to hairdresser school. We’d feel horrible when the young person we were interviewing sobbed while sharing his story, but we couldn’t hug him or even pat his arm because it was against the rules. During that project, most of our self-care involved checking in with each other, sharing stories, making sure we drank enough water, getting enough sleep. Because we were all going through the same thing, our individual self-care was reinforced by a community feeling.

I was fortunate to have a supportive community of colleagues, a caring advisor, and kickass mentors who energized me as I worked to complete my doctoral program. But a number of obstacles can trip up even the most promising PhD candidates. These difficulties exist in addition to institutional gatekeeping practices such as preliminary exams, dissertation proposals, IRB reviews, dissertation research, writing, and defending.

Even when PhD students hit every mark—when we publish in decent journals, win prestigious awards, and are recognized for teaching and research—we might not take a beat to enjoy the milestone or success. We’re operating in a group of people who are all smart and who are all expected to publish, win awards, and show promise as scholars and educators.

In years past, an academic career was regarded as a fairly low-stress job. This has changed for a number of reasons—the shrinking of the tenure-track job market heading the list. This volatility is based on the changing university environment, an increasing reliance on adjunct faculty to teach courses, and a decline in tenure-track positions. Doctoral students often enter their programs with very little understanding of the vagaries of the job market. When we do begin to get an inkling that the competition might be tougher than we thought, we’re often reassured that we’re doing all the right things.

Now, aside from the actual work involved in earning a PhD, and the pressure to publish, present at conferences, and hone our teaching skills, increased competition for positions (even low paying adjunct jobs), and financial concerns, means that mental health issues are on the rise in graduate student populations. For years, official data did not reflect this trend. Some researchers suggest that anecdotal reports of increased mental health issues provide a more accurate picture of the situation for graduate students because of concerns about retaliation, stigma, and potential impacts on their future careers. This lack of data is changing. For example, a recent global study, “Evidence for a Mental Health Crisis in Graduate Education,” reported “strikingly high rates of anxiety and depression” for graduate students. As one writer put it:

Many PhD students are so accustomed to hard work and self-discipline that they beat themselves up when their efforts to manage depression fail to generate perfect results.

Individual responses to this problem are not enough. An institutional response and a cultural shift may be necessary to prevent and intervene in mental health crises.

In my home department, I worked with others to organize a monthly PhD student roundtable that brought us together to share information about professionalism, but was also meant to uplift each other. I recently came across the email announcement I sent out for our October 2013 wellness-themed meeting and it reminded me that I’ve been interested in self-care and grad students for some time now.

I’m collecting stories for future PhD student-focused blogs. What did you wish you knew before you began your doctoral program? What resources do you need as a current grad student or recent graduate? I’d love to hear from you if you’re a current PhD student/candidate or recent graduate/early career academic—tell me what your journey’s been like.

 

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Resources

Academic Mental Health Collective—mental health blog for grad students and post-docs

Breathing Techniques for Reducing Anxiety

Feel Like a Fraud?—APA article about dealing with impostor syndrome.

Graduate School is a Means to a Job—Chronicle article offering grad school advice you can begin to follow in year one.

Navigating Grad School with Mental Illness—five pieces of advice for dealing with mental illness in grad school as well as advice for professors who are working with/mentoring students coping with mental illnesses.

The Professor is In – this website, blog, and Karen Kelsky’s book of the same name provide a wealth of resources for graduate students who need advice about everything from writing CVs, choosing advisors, presenting at conferences, and many more issues. She also provides advice for academic job seekers and early-tenure track professors.

This is Your Mind on Grad School—A Berkeley Study.

The Versatile PhD—resource for students considering alt-ac or non-ac careers.

Self-Care & Survival | part one of two

The Seed

Taking care of yourself can be hard work. Perspectives that position self-care practices as vapid indulgence are only telling part of the story.

The Sprout

Self-care—most recently understood as #selfcare—is often thought of as an indulgent phenomenon where people, usually white women, deal with unpleasant daily realities by immersing themselves in comfortable and soothing activities such as binge-watching TV shows, face masques, and nail art. This form of self-care is often seen as narcissistic, basic, and entitled. The deeper story is much more complex.

The Forest

[a five minute read]

The concept of self-care is nothing new, but the buzz swirling around lately often portrays self-care as an elite activity, a marketing ploy, a narcissistic performance, an ostrich-like retreat from real world problems, shallow comfort-seeking, and a millennial obsession.

Self-care (the ideology) has morphed into something different from self-care (the practice).

Part one (this piece), touches on the radical history of self-care and how this useful practice became co-opted.

In part two (next week), I’ll talk about what happens when we rely on individual self-care as a solution as opposed to communal and systemic solutions to problems that affect us all.

1.

Queer/feminist/trans/people of color engaging in activism aimed at social change have been aware that they need to love and care for themselves and each other in order to survive. Audre Lorde, a Black lesbian writer, poet, activist, and teacher who also struggled with cancer, wrote:

 “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Audre Lorde,  1988

Within communities working towards social change, self-care is regarded as a political act, yet the current conversation about self-care seems to center more on comfort and avoidance of unpleasantness. There are a number of factors influencing this shift—political polarization and ever-increasing reliance on social media for connection are just a few.

Most everyday forms of self-care kind of suck, a friend recently reminded me. It involves remembering to get a mammogram and getting your teeth cleaned. It also includes mundane things, like making sure you have enough toilet paper and are working on establishing strong boundaries for yourself. These things might not look like self-care because they’re not soothing. They’re mundane, and (as already mentioned) some of them are either difficult or tedious or both.

As one blog post I recently read put it, many things currently hyped as self-care involve practices that calm us down (drinking tea, warm baths, Netflix binges) when, in fact, some forms of self-care may require the opposite. As they put it:

All of these activities are designed to engage the parasympathetic nervous system, which governs rest and recovery. But some forms of care require strenuous activity and adrenaline, the domain of the sympathetic nervous system. One way to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, is to allow the sympathetic nervous system enough freedom to release trauma from the body. When a person is having a panic attack, it rarely helps to try to make them calm down. The best way to handle a panic attack is to run.

When corporate sponsors are selling us the idea of self-care as soothing and calming practices and suggest items that are supposed to make us feel like some version of “our best selves,” what about those forms of self-care that are messy, dull, and strenuous?

Many people I know are actively dealing with major life crises in addition to the contemporary political malaise/freakout that’s been happening since November 8, 2016. For them, self-care is coping and trying to survive another day. For these people, self-care might mean trying to breathe and remain calm when someone’s tried to get you kicked out of a bathroom for merely existing. It could mean working on writing projects while waiting for immigration paperwork to finally come through. It could mean letting go of perfection when trying to single parent three children after your husband has committed suicide. It could mean getting a pet as a companion or rehoming a pet you can’t keep.

And yes, in there we might drink some tea, binge us some Netflix, get our yoga on, immerse ourselves in warm water, and maybe get our nails done or dye our hair a fun color. And we know that those things often help, but they’re not the only way to take care of ourselves. These are the pleasant self-care things we might do in addition to the not-so-pleasant things that also make up self-care practices.

Self-care has become co-opted.

Many forms of self-care are now considered frivolous and selfish. Although I haven’t yet explored the many hashtags associated with self-care on social media sites, the phenomenon has been described in many articles and think-pieces as a marketing strategy that uses Influencers to demonstrate how we’re supposed to be doing this self-care thing right. Self-care (the ideology) has become equated with happiness, beauty, and comfort (which helps to explain the hygge craze). But self-care, the often shitty practice of slogging through the day with a minimum of damage to ourselves and others, doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with that paradigm.

In a way, I see this disconnect related to the sentiment on a card I recently sent a few friends:

Broken

My friends and I interpret this reference to the wabi-sabi practice of mending broken items with gold as a metaphor for resilience. As we live our lives, we are constantly offered opportunities to build up reserves of strength and learn coping tools that contribute to more resilient selves. Where some might see the flash of the repair as merely adding beauty to take our eye away from the brokenness of the piece, for my friends it’s different. They use the fact that they are shattered to build something new.

Stay tuned for part two of this exploration of self-care, the ideology and practice.

how do you practice self-care?

I am writing a piece about the politics of self-care and the complicated nature of loving ourselves in turbulent times. On the surface, messages reminding us to practice self-care and self-love may seem practical and logical, but there’s often something deeper and darker lurking under the membrane.

This has me thinking about what self-care looks like for me. What kinds of things do I do that feel like self-care? What do you do? Does it change from year to year, day to day, minute to minute?

What does self-care look like when it’s not co-opted?

Today, this is what self-care looks like for me:

Remembering to breathe

Slowing down

Enjoying the outdoors

Helping others

Being true to myself and respecting my nature

Reflecting on the best uses of my time

Helping to build a community where we uplift each other

When I am at peace with myself, I am energized and am better positioned to set and accomplish goals that serve myself and others.

Stay tuned for my lengthier piece on this topic coming soon.

Aimee

caribou mosssmaller